Linux Kernel 3.0

Last week began with speculation about a new kernel version number that ultimately resulted in the first big number change for Linux in more than a decade. Along the way, we also saw new Linux distribution releases, including Fedora 15 and the first beta of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.7.

1. Linux 3.0

Make no mistake about it, after two decades of being the leader of the Linux community, Linus Torvalds still makes the big decisions.
This week, Torvalds made the huge decision of starting a new numbered version of Linux, advancing the kernel to Linux 3.0, with a first release candidate debuting early Sunday. The Linux 3.0 kernel came after a week of discussion, which began with Torvalds first mentioning that he was considering advancing the number to Linux 2.8, instead of having a Linux 2.6.40 kernel release. "The voices in my head also tell me that the numbers are getting too big," Torvalds wrote in a mailing list posting. By the end of the week, Torvalds was advocating for a 3.0 release, as Linux is now entering its third decade. While big number version changes can often represent binary compatibility or big feature change issue with a software project, that's not the case with Linux 3.0. The 3.0 nameplate is a time-based thing, and it isn't about new features. Considering Linux 2.0 came out in 1996 and the more recent 2.6 branch began in 2003, the big number change is a long time coming for Linux. While some software projects, like Google's Chrome, change major version numbers every three months, Linux has iterated on the 2.6.x branch for more than seven years. The change to 3.0 may seem a bit arbitrary, but it makes sense on many levels. The time has come for a number change as Linux enters its third decade.

2. Fedora 15

This past week also marked the debut of Fedora 15, codenamed 'Lovelock.' While Linux 3.0 isn't about new features, Fedora 15 is about features, most notably the GNOME 3.0 desktop. Fedora 15 is the first of the big Linux distributions to integrate GNOME 3 and its associated GNOME Shell user interface. Fedora 15's GNOME 3 desktop stands in contrast to the Unity desktop that rival distribution Ubuntu debuted in April. While Fedora is a big backer of GNOME Shell, the project also realizes it's not for everyone and includes fallback mechanisms for older hardware as well as other desktop options, including KDE, Xfce and LXDE. Time will tell whether users prefer GNOME Shell to Unity or if they end up rejecting both desktops in favor of something else.

3. Linux Mint 11

For Ubuntu users that don't want Unity and don't want to move to Fedora (or something else), there is Linux Mint. Over the past couple of years, Mint has emerged as a community favorite alternative to Ubuntu. Based on Ubuntu, Mint takes the best of Ubuntu and aims to make it even easier to use. For GNOME users, Mint has elected not to use either GNOME shell or Unity, providing users with a more traditional user interface. Given the backlash in some corners against Unity on Ubuntu, it's likely that Linux Mint 11 will attract more than its fair share of Ubuntu 11.04 refugees. Will those former Ubuntu users stick with Mint over time? Considering Mint is based on Ubuntu, that's a bet that doesn't carry too much risk.

4. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.7

No, it's not a major new version number of Red Hat's Enterprise Linux (RHEL), but RHEL 5.7 is still an important release. This past week, Red Hat released the first beta of RHEL 5.7 with new driver and stability updates. RHEL 5.0 first came out in 2007 and has since been superseded by RHEL 6, which came out at the end of 2010. There is a class of users that don't magically switch overnight to major new releases (if ever) and that's why RHEL 5.7 is important. Looking beyond the usual set of driver updates, Red Hat (NYSE: RHT) also packed in at least one new feature too. RHEL 5.7 supports OpenSCAP, which is an open source implementation of the Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) framework for creating a standardized approach for maintaining secure systems. While RHEL 5.7 isn't a major new release, for Red Hat's RHEL 5 customer base, it's a solid update that will refresh their installed servers.

5. Puppy Linux

Linux users come in all shapes and sizes. While big vendors like Red Hat target mission-critical enterprise systems, other distros, like Puppy Linux, serve a different audience. Wary Puppy Linux is a minimal Linux distributions that requires less hardware resources than other distros. This makes it ideal for older hardware that other distros (and any other OS) would deem to be obsolete. This past week Wary Puppy Linux 5.1.2 was released with the promise of even better support for older hardware.


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