After three years of development, the long-awaited Linux 2.6 kernel is expected to be released later this month.

However, distribution makers say it will still be several months before an enterprise-ready operating system based on the kernel will be released.

Leigh Day, Red Hat spokesperson,

says the 2.6 kernel will be distributed free in a general purpose operating system through The Fedora Project, where Red Hat tests newer technology, sometime in the beginning of 2004.

“”It will not be part of our product that’s available through the channel, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, until probably fall of next year,”” Day added. That version will be called Enterprise Linux 4.

Red Hat only released its Enterprise Linux 3, based on the Linux 2.421 kernel, in October.

“”We need to take time to test and harden the technology to make sure that it’s fully integrated into the distribution,”” Day explained.

“”Since we have very strong relationships with hardware and software partners, we need to make sure that all of the interdependencies are worked out before we make it available to the general market.””

Red Hat distributes its products through Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Fujitsu Ingram Micro and Tech Data as well as its direct sales force.

SUSE Linux, the second-leading provider of Linux distributions, plans to ship SUSE Enterprise Server 9 with the new kernel next spring.

Jim Elliott, IBM Canada’s Linux advocate, said the company will start its formal testing of the enterprise versions for hardware and software certification when it gets the beta versions from SUSE and Red Hat early in the new year.

As for product release dates, Elliott estimates probably sometime late third quarter or early fourth quarter of fiscal year 2004, placing priority on heaviest used software, such as IBM’s Websphere application server.

With the Linux 2.6 kernel, IBM is planning to focus on Linux as a client as well as a server in 2004.

“”Along with products such as Star Office from Sun and Ximian from Novell, Linux is at a point where it can be used by more desktop users,”” said Elliott.

At present, Linux is a niche player in the desktop market with one to two per cent of market share made up of engineers or single, specific application environments, he said.

Mark’s Work Wearhouse, for example, runs all of its cash registers on a Linux platform.

On the server side, the return on investment will lie in the 2.6 kernel’s ability to run on larger servers, said Elliott.

Companies will be able to run Linux distribution on multiprocessing systems with up to 64 CPUs–an improvement that’s expected to make Linux more appealing to corporate customers.

“”For 2.4, you could run on a four-way or an eight-way system and eight-way was stretching it,”” said Elliott. “”With the 2.6 kernel, it should run very well on a 16-way or even more depending on the configuration of the machine.””

Day made a similar comment when asked about the 2.6 kernel’s improvements.

“”We expect the kernel to include some very robust features and enable high performance and reliability,”” she said, citing its ability to handle large mission-credible workloads.

Other features of the new kernel include enhanced support for embedded computing devices such as cell phones and internal networking design developments.

Asked how Linux will be sold to the small and medium business market, Elliott cited cost as a major selling point.

“”Linux has attractiveness there as a lower cost of total ownership,”” said Elliott. “”Especially if you already have an existing Unix environment, Linux is just another Unix from an application, programming or operation point of view.””

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