Linux Leaps Forward

Brooks: Red Hat's version jump shows the speed of OS' progress.

I was surprised yesterday morning by a message I received from a Red Hat mail-bot announcing that if I upgraded to a paid RHN subscription, Id have download access to Red Hat 9 a week before it hits FTP servers and retail shelves everywhere.

The early-access-for-paid-subscription deal wasnt strange to see. Giving paid subscribers to Red Hats software update service a first crack at OS upgrades seems like a fair deal, and possibly a good way to stoke interest in the service.

What caught my attention was the version number. Red Hat 7 underwent releases point one, two and three before it reached Version 8 last fall, and here we are at 9, with a nary a point release between them.

This is a break with tradition, and I dont imagine theyre doing it just to one-up SuSE, which is close to releasing Version 8.2 of is own distro—Mandrake Linux has already beaten them both to 9.1, anyway.

Red Hats produced three beta releases since Version 8, and judging from these releases, it looks as though Red Hat 9 will have changed enough for the version jump to make sense.

Red Hats next version will be its first to support ACLs (access control lists) in the ext3 filesystem, through extended attributes. This feature, which will enable finer-grained control over file permissions in Red Hats Linux offering, had been tested in beta software leading up to Red Hat 8, but it was left out due to stability concerns.

[Ed. Upon further investigation of this issue with Red Hat officials, we learned that because of problems using extended attributes and access control lists in combination with NFS and the ext3 file system, Red Hat pulled ACLs out of the product near the end of the development cycle. They have since found the cause of the problem and the feature will be in a subsequent release.]

In the new version, Xfree86, glibc, KDE, and GNOME will all see significant point upgrades, and the OS will ship with an Xft-enabled build of Mozilla, the excellent font rendering of which Ive particularly appreciated while using the beta releases.

Also, the betas Ive been using include a very nice graphical client for configuring Samba shares, a tool that Id found frustratingly absent from previous versions.

Whatever else you read into Red Hats version number jump, it indicates how quickly Linux and associated open source technologies are progressing as their user bases and development communities grow. Red Hats aggressive software upgrade moves may be whats required for it to stay at head of the pack.

This pace of progress can present a challenge to administrators looking to maintain stability on their platforms, but then thats what the Red Hats better-serviced, more conservatively revised, and much higher-priced Enterprise Linux product line is about.

Maybe theres a marketing upside to this name change, after all.

How did the hop from 8 to 9 for Red Hat Linux strike you? Drop me a line at