Linux.conf.au: Latest Linux kernel release due early March

2.6.33 to include reverse-engineered drivers for nVidia chipsets

LWN.net president and key kernel contributor Jonathan Corbet

LWN.net president and key kernel contributor Jonathan Corbet

The latest release of the Linux kernel, 2.6.33 is expected to be out by the beginning of March and among its new features is a reverse-engineered driver for Nvidia graphics chipsets.

Jonathan Corbet, Linux kernel contributor, co-founder of LWN.net and the lead author of Linux Device Drivers, Third Edition, will give Linux.conf.au attendees a full update on the Linux kernel at the conference on Wednesday. He told Computerworld version 2.6.33 is “pretty well along in production”.

“All the features have been added and we are testing stablisation now,” he said. “One of my favourite things would be a driver called Nouveau.”

The driver has been reverse-engineered for Nvidia graphics chipsets, which constitutes a major part of the desktop market. Nvidia doesn’t cooperate in terms of drivers so the effort has involved about a dozen developers from all over the world, including Australia.

“It has been a master reverse engineering effort,” Corbet said. "In the last year we’ve seen a great deal of work done on graphics drivers.”

For any one kernel release there are about 1100 developers involved. Bug fixes make up a substantial part, but there are also more extensive changes. The last kernel update, 2.6.32, was released in December 2009.

The latest Linux kernel will include dynamic ftrace, which allows a sysadmin to add a probe to the system and see what's happening and answer questions about the operating system and user programs, including mission-critical applications.

“It’s our answer to DTrace in Solaris,” Corbet said. “It won’t be entirely there but we’re a whole lot closer.

“If you’re looking at an organisation like a bank’s transaction processes or Google, they are really dependent on dynamic tracing.”

Tracing has provided one of the biggest challenges for the upcoming kernel release. The other major piece of work has occurred around scalability — not just very large systems, but very small ones too.

“It goes in both directions. The challenge is keeping up the pace of development.”

About 2000 developers work on the Linux kernel worldwide and about 50,000 changes are made to the code every year.

“The market for Linux is better than ever, especially when you consider it’s increasingly embedded in system such as smartphones,” Corbet said.

He added Windows 7 was still relevant for the desktop and he didn’t expect that to change but the desktop was giving way to other personal devices such as smartphones and E-readers.

“Nearly every electronic book reader out there runs Linux,” he said.

Corbett co-founded Linux Weekly News when he began his own Linux consulting business.

“We thought we’d take all the effort we were putting in to following what was happening in the industry and it was a way of drawing attention to our consultancy,” he said. Today, more than 4000 individuals and 100 companies subscribe to the site

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