Linux Kernel Upgrade Faces More Delays

Executives at Linux vendors Caldera Systems and Red Hat yesterday said they expect no ill effects from continuing delays in the shipment of an upgrade of the open-source operating system's kernel.

The Linux 2.4 kernel originally was expected late last year but was delayed to July. Now, it looks likely to slip a few more months beyond that date, with products based on the new kernel unlikely to be available before fall.

The 2.4 kernel is highly anticipated because it will offer increased symmetrical multiprocessing scalability, which could be a boon for users who want to run corporate applications on Linux-based servers.

The current 2.2 kernel is generally considered to scale well only up to four processors, but the new version is expected to support 16 or more processors.

Linux 2.4 is also due to provide better support for the Universal Serial Bus, which is important for uses of the operating system in desktop PCs and network appliances.

Despite the anticipation, though, Red Hat and Caldera said they're not worried about the delay.

"We're very supportive of (Linux developer Linus Torvalds) taking the time to get this right," said Drew Spencer, chief technology officer at Caldera in Orem, Utah. For Caldera's current users, Spencer added, the 2.2 kernel works fine. "2.4 will help us address new customers," such as those requiring bigger servers, he said.

"The kernel is only one of the things that make up Red Hat Linux," said Erik Troan, director of operating systems engineering at the vendor.

Troan, who heads a team that includes several Linux kernel developers, said advances in the operating system's C library, compilers and user interfaces keep the software moving forward with or without a new kernel release.

Red Hat will probably make the 2.4 kernel available to its users within four to 12 weeks after Torvalds says the code is ready, Troan said. That could mean November or later for shipments by Red Hat, he added.

Because so many vendors' revenues are at stake and the progress of Linux is being watched so closely by users and the media, the team developing the new kernel team is under "tremendous pressure," Troan said. "That's probably one of the reasons they are slowing (the release) down."

Some observers have voiced fears that the delay will spark doubts about Linux' open-source development process.

But Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group, disagreed. "I don't think this reflects on the open-source process," Claybrook said. "I think the open-source development methodology is just as valid as proprietary development. There's no big difference."

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