February 7, 2001

2.4 kernel: You don't need it

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -

We waited. And waited and waited some more. As if this whole 2.4 kernel release was going to be a life-changing event. We were excited, and pundits explained why we should be excited. And we waited. And as we continued to wait, we started to wonder -- is this new kernel business worth all the hype?Then, finally, it just... happened. Without so much as even one press release, without any slick advertising campaigns or major announcements. It was simply there. We thought we heard, within the community, a collective catching of the breath, and perhaps one giant "woo hoo!" But after that? Nothing much.

Media like 2.4

Within the press, however, big hoopla has been made and continues to be made with entities like the Open Source Development Network (OSDN, owned by VA Linux, and parent network to NewsForge) holding "2.4 Kernel Month" celebrations. Even the ultra-ever-so-coolSlashdot (sister publication to Newsforge) is doing some gushing. They're set to interview Linus Torvalds as part of Kernel Month festivities.

And Moshe Bar, whose August 1999 "Previewing the 2.4 Linux Kernel" column at BYTE advised experienced Linux users not to rush out and grab the new kernel as soon as it appeared, has changed his tune and now says that, with the capabilities 2.4 provides, it's something we all need.

For-real Linux people are ... underwhelmed

But let's look at what's really going on. It appears that most Linux users are not speeding over to kernel.org to download 2.4, but instead are taking a rather cautious wait-and-see position. Paul Foster, president of SLUG (Suncoast Linux Users Group) points out the obvious when he tells us that it could be a foolhardy proposition to install and use the ".0" version of any software (2.4.1 was released recently). And another obvious question begs an answer: Wouldn't it be easier and safer to just wait for the new distribution releases?

Smitty, another member of SLUG, is doing just that. "I will purchase the next Red Hat or SuSE with the 2.4 kernel," he says. "That way, all apps for 2.4 will be included and very little, if anything, will be broken." So far, SuSE's scheduled February 12th release of SuSE 7.1 looks to be the first distribution to ship with the 2.4 kernel. Red Hat says that RH 7.0 is 2.4 "ready," which is marketing-speak for, "you can compile it and put it in yourself, because we got tired of waiting for the damn thing, and besides, Walmart wanted 7.0 on the shelves for the Christmas rush."

Even Miguel de Icaza, Open Source advocate and CTO of Ximian, is sitting tight with 2.2 and says he's probably wait for version 2.4.7, or "something like that." de Icaza says he's too busy with work to worry about getting the new kernel to work right, and besides, 2.2 is doing the job for him.

We're not saying, "don't download and compile the new kernel." On the contrary, it sounds like fun, and apparently it's fairly easy to do. Douglas Koobs, a self-professed Linux newbie, says he managed just fine. "I am using Mandrake 7.2, and followed guidance from the book 'Linux for Windows Addicts' by Michael Joseph Miller. Everything seemed to work, and I was able to boot with the new kernel."

However, it didn't go completely smoothly after that, says Koobs. "The sound and ethernet card no longer worked, even though I did include them as part of the kernel and not as modules." He even booted back to the old kernel, but still had the same problem with the sound and network card. "Rather than try to fix it, I just re-installed Mandrake. When I get another box to play with, I'll try again."

2.4 did bring a few changes

Yes, there are advancements that big businesses have reportedly been waiting for with bated breath, like scalability, large file-system support, and expanded hardware support. Come to think of it, lots of users have been waiting for expanded hardware support, too. But hasn't that expanded support tended to be a function of new distribution releases?

Take USB support, for example. This is one of the biggest selling points of 2.4, at least among the desktop audience. But MandrakeSoft and others have backported USB support into their distributions using the 2.2 kernel. Some Linux distributions already support the latest hardware, either with specific drivers or generic ones that work just fine.

There now, it's all good

There's a message in all this, and that is: You really don't need 2.4. Nevermind what the industry media say, nevermind what NewsForge says, or LinuxToday, or Slashdot. Pay attention to what the "grass root" is doing. Which is nothing. They don't need 2.4 because they're doing fine with 2.2.x. And if they're doing fine, then you'll do fine as well.

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