Operating system faces challenges, opportunities from all sides.
Linux, the scarcely decade-old open-source operating system, looks to have reached a sort of critical mass and has entered into an awfully busy period in its development. Theres a major kernel update around the corner, an audacious licensing challenge with which to contend, and a rush by virtually every major enterprise IT vendor not located at 1 Microsoft Way to jump on the Linux bandwagon or help take up the reins and drive its development.
Linux on handhelds
Linux has a tendency to make its way onto all manner of computing devices, great and small. Heres what has been happening with Linux in the handheld computing area:
Motorola Inc. launched last month its first smart phone, the A760, to run Linux.
At LinuxWorld, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. demonstrated a handheld device powered by its Alchemy Au1100 processor and running a Linux OS based on Metrowerks OpenPDA suite.
In August, Metrowerks released CodeWarrior Development Studio for Sharp Zaurus Application Development 1.0, a programming tool for Linux handhelds.
Also in August, Opie, the Open Palmtop Integrated Environment, saw its 1.0 release. More information on the the graphical user environment for handhelds running Linux can be found at opie.handhelds.org.
However, the data centers and cubicles of enterprise IT still hold plenty of challenges for Linux, particularly if the operating system is to continue its spread upwardinto larger, many-processor serversand outwardto claim a share of the client market that now belongs almost exclusively to Windows.
One of the biggest issues facing current and potential Linux users is the looming 2.6 release of the kernel, which is available in beta form from kernel.org and expected to be released this fall. Linux vendors will build the kernel into their distributions soon thereafter.
The 2.6 kernel release includes improvements across the gamut of systems running Linux, from large multiprocessor servers to desktop computers to embedded devices.
For example, the new kernel supports NUMA (Non-Uniform Memory Access), which will enable multiprocessor systems to use system memory more efficiently. In addition, the kernel is optimized to take better advantage of Intel Corp.s hyperthreading capabilities. This will enable companies to get the most out of their hardware.
Both desktop and server implementations of Linux will benefit from the kernels new device model, which will improve support for hot plugging and Advanced Configuration and Power Interface.
The 2.6 release also includes reworked audio and video subsystems, and the fact that the kernel will now be pre-emptible should improve multimedia performance as well as make systems feel more responsive.
These sorts of basic architectural improvements may smooth the path for desktop Linux, but the toughest challenges in this area involve packaging and delivering Linux to companies in an effective, manageable form.
Leading Linux distributors Red Hat Inc. and SuSE Linux AG market desktop-oriented operating systems that do a good job of managing most common computing requirements by combining the very good KDE (K Desktop Environment) or GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) desktop environments with key applications such as the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, Mozilla Web browser and Evolution mail application. (See our review of the Red Hat Enterprise 3.0 beta.)
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