LINUXWORLD: Linus on the Linux kernel

Linus Torvalds wants more battery life from his Sony Vaio notebook, so naturally, better power management is among the improvements planned for the next version of the Linux kernel. That's how it goes when you've been anointed 'the leader of the free world'.

Linus Torvalds wants more battery life from his Sony Vaio notebook, so naturally, better power management is among the improvements planned for the next version of the Linux kernel. Apparently that's how it goes when you've been anointed "the leader of the free world" by your open-source peers.

In an upbeat keynote speech at the LinuxWorld conference, Torvalds, the creator of Linux, briefed a packed conference center on which technical features will and won't be included in version 2.4 of the operating system's kernel, which he said will be pushed out the door by the end of the year.

A kernel is the central component of an operating system, and provides the essential services required by other parts of the operating system.

Power management is high on Torvalds' list of improvements for the next release. "I want my Sony Vaio to stay alive a bit longer," he said.

Better support for USB (universal serial bus), which allows multiple peripherals to be connected to a computer without the need to reboot, along with plug-and-play capabilities will also be in the next kernel, he said. Torvalds is also working on increased support for PCMCIA cards -- the credit card-size devices that slip into a notebook to add memory, storage and modem functions.

For servers and workstations, the new kernel will have better support for SMP (symmetric multiprocessing), Torvalds said. The current Linux kernel scales comfortably to four- or eight-processor systems, and 2.4 will be "much better," he explained. Torvalds didn't say exactly how much better, but implied the improvements will give Microsoft's Windows NT operating system a run for its money.

"I'm sure our friends in Redmond will try really hard and access our test site and find some problems, but they'll have to work much harder at it," he joked.

Support for clustering and DVD (digital versatile disk) won't make the cut this time around, Torvalds said.

"Clustering was another feature we were kind of thinking about, but basically it didn't make it, so we'll aim for that in 3.0 in another year or two," he said.

DVD won't be included any time soon either, thanks to trade secret restrictions over the information needed to decrypt DVD signals. Users who want DVD in a Linux system can buy a separate hardware decoder, or just buy a DVD player, Torvalds said.

Torvalds is ultimately responsible for how the new Linux kernel will look, although much of the work is delegated to colleagues, and the kernel incorporates suggestions from Linux enthusiasts the world over. The kernel underlies the performance capabilities of the Linux releases distributed by Red Hat Software, TurboLinux and others, and so its development is closely watched.

The current kernel (2.2) took two and a half years to get out the door, and that was "way too long," Torvalds said. This time, he and his team decided "not to go for the sky," and have focused on enhancing features in the existing kernel and adding a few new capabilities.

Hastening the introduction of the new kernel seems to have come at the expense of a few features that might have benefitted Linux for use in high-performance computing systems.

Since Intel 's 64-bit processor, Merced, isn't due out until mid-2000, support for the IA-64 architecture won't be in the initial 2.4 kernel.

Also absent will be a journaling file system, which a few developers spoken to after Torvalds' speech said they had hoped for. The file system keeps track of events in an operating system, and can therefore mean faster recovery after a system crash, as well as less data being lost.

The Linux chief followed his remarks with a question-and-answer period. In the laid-back spirit of the open-source community, Torvalds conducted the Q&A with his young daughter draped across one shoulder, and his other toddler propped against his legs, apparently trying to relieve him of his trousers.

Asked whether the involvement of big corporations like IBM and Oracle Corp. with Linux clashed with the community spirit of the open-source movement, Torvalds said he has seen no sign of trouble.

"The commercial people have a different agenda. They support the developers because they love the end result, and the developers just love it when the commercial people hand them wads of money," he quipped.

More information about the LinuxWorld Conference is at http://www.linuxworldexpo.com/.

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