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The 2.4.0 kernel is out, finally. In a move timed to conflict badly with LWN's weekly edition publication cycle, Linus Torvalds announced the release of the 2.4.0 kernel on January 4. It has been a long wait, but the end product was well worth it. Much has been said about what's in this release: fine-grained locking (and thus better SMP scalability), Itanium support, 64GB memory support, devfs, completely rewritten firewalling, raw I/O, greatly increased device support, etc. Those looking for a comprehensive list of new features may want to have a look at Joseph Pranevich's Wonderful World of Linux 2.4 document.

Some people have questioned whether this kernel is really ready for a stable release, considering that patches were going in at a steady rate right until the end. The answer to that question, simply, is that it is as ready as it could be made to be. All of the major problems which could be found by people who run development kernels have been found. There are certainly problems remaining in this kernel, but it is going to take a new, larger community of users to flush them out.

Last October, LWN wrote about the need to get the user community involved in testing of software releases. There is a price to pay for the benefits of free software, and helping to find the last glitches is part of that price. But many people won't do that testing until they see a real release. Linus has explicitly recognized the need to widen the testing community in this way:

But that's very different from having somebody like RedHat, SuSE or Debian make such a kernel part of their standard package. No, I don't expect that they'll switch over completely immediately: that would show a lack of good judgment. The prudent approach has always been to have both a 2.2.19 and a 2.4.0 kernel on there, and ask the user if he wants to test the new kernel first.

That way you get a completely different kind of user that tests it.

So 2.4.0 may not be perfect, but it was released at this stage for a reason. When the first silly problem turns up some will probably complain that it was rushed out for PR reasons, but that is certainly not the case. 2.4.0 was not "rushed" in any way.

And it is quite stable for almost all those who try it.

--- jmc ---

Linux, PDAs and the consumer. The Personal Digital Assistant - PDA - has become the indispensable device for the new millennium that the Apple II was to the spike haired world of the 1980's. Linux users are constantly on the prowl for ways to use their favorite OS with the latest portable device, from the popular Palm Pilot to the Compaq iPAQ handheld to the G.Mate Yopy. All of these devices come with standard notepads, address books, and calendaring tools. Some, like the iPAQ and Yopy, run either with Linux as their OS or can be installed with Linux while others, like the Palm, simply have various Linux-based tools for syncing data between the device and a Linux PC.

Finding a PDA that runs Linux turns out to be simpler than finding software for syncing data between the PDA and the PC. The reason is not because syncing is hard to do - with the Pilot it's rather simple - it lies in the fact that marketing is only concerned with hardware sales. Software is free, and syncing to Linux-based PDAs often requires nothing more than the use of existing network tools.

So how do we find out which PDAs will be preinstalled with Linux? You can start with the newly announced Linux/PDA Quick Reference Guide from LinuxDevices.com. This guide provides information on PDAs that use Linux as their internal operating system, Linux-based operating system packages that support multiple PDAs, plus a list of relevant articles for further reading. They also carry older articles on the same subject:

And what about news this week, you ask? Well, earlier this week Conversay announced they will incorporate their speech recognition and text synthesis engine into the Yopy. The completed product is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2001. And Agenda Computing, Inc. announced it would demonstrate its $199 Agenda VR3 Linux-based handheld during the Consumer Electronics Show this past week. Finally, Wired's look at the Consumer and Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas suggested that there is yet another Linux-based PDA on the horizon. The StrongARM based Linia, which sports 16MB of memory and 8MB of flash memory, runs Linux and comes from Royal Electronics.

With all these PDA's floating around, where is the syncing software? You know, that software that lets you keep your PC in sync with your mobile data. For most Palm users the answer is simple: the Pilot-Link software tools handle the chore manually but gracefully. This is a set of command line tools, one each for Memos, Todo lists, and for transferring Palm database and program files in general, plus a lot of extras. The package is not very user friendly - no graphical interfaces. Fortunately, a slew of GUI-based tools also exist: JPilot, KPilot, GNOME-Pilot, and XNotesPlus, to name a few. Information for using the Psion is also available online. Most Linux-based PDAs (those which run Linux as their OS) tend to use regular network tools (rsync, ftp, and so forth) to transfer files to and from the device, so special software really isn't necessary. In fact, on some devices (like the Agenda) you can remotely log in to the system. The PocketLinux project will provide even more seamless integration between PC and PDA using Linux on the PDA along with Java (Kaffe) and XML.

But what exactly does a PDA do? PDAs are simply mobile data folders. The data there still eventually ends up on your PC. That situation will remain for the foreseeable future, at least until internet appliances have reached a much larger level of acceptance by the general public. This week, a few more tentative steps were taken towards reaching that acceptance. The developers of the empeg car radio, JB Design of Petworth (United Kingdom) were selected to produce the PenguinRadio internet appliance for PenguinRadio, Inc. While satellite bandwidth may bring in higher quality audio streams, it remains to be seen if radio stations will be allowed to play them.

In the true consumer mode, where the consumer will never know they have Linux, DaimlerChrylser showed us what cool will look like in the future. The auto maker introduced its newest concept car - the Dodge Super8 Hemi - at the North American International Auto Show. The buzz: Its Linux based multiple-PC Infotronic system is running Red Hat 6.2. "Each computer contains a miniature (PC/104 based) PC compatible computer board running Red Hat Linux 6.2. At the moment, the concept car prototypes contain large amounts of system RAM (128MB) along with multi-gigabyte disk storage, in order to ease the pain of the software developers."

Linux and PDAs are good partners for many reasons, but for the consumer it's a toss up. On one hand the devices running Linux are plentiful, but on the other hand they aren't in production. On one hand software to sync devices exist, but on the other hand manufacturers don't explicitly support that software.

That's too many hands, but then who ever said the Linux world didn't offer options?

--- mjh ---

Interview: Bruce Momjian. Thanks, once again, to Maya Tamiya of ChangeLog, we are happy to present this interview with Bruce Momjian, conducted at the Linux Conference 2000 Fall in Kyoto, Japan. Bruce, of course, is one of the PostgreSQL core developers and is also the Vice President of Database Development at Great Bridge. The interview covers a wide range of topics, including the current state of PostgreSQL, licensing issues, Great Bridge and corporate involvement with PostgreSQL in general, and much more.

For those with low-bandwidth connections, there is also a low-image version of the interview available.

The Filesystem Hierarchy Standard v2.2 is coming. The FHS is part of the the Linux Standard Base project; its purpose is to define the proper locations for files in the system. Application writers need to know where to find (and put) things if they are to write programs which work on multiple distributions, so this effort is important.

The 2.2 revision specifies more things, cleans up some obsolete things, fixes mistakes, and generally is a more comprehensive standard. It is still far from complete, however; but completeness may not be a reachable goal. For example, there is still no specification of where boot-time initialization scripts should live - a major incompatibility between distributions, currently.

At one point the LSB planned to resolve this kind of issue by specifying an "install init script" command instead of a file location. That is a perfectly good solution, but it does point out the need for a complete Linux Standard Base. The FHS is a good standard as far as it goes, and it has brought about some consistency between distributions. But it can't do the whole job.

(See Rusty Russell's FHS page for information on the changes going into 2.2, or to download the entire document).

Berlios software repository. LWN suggested that alternatives to Sourceforge - for the sake of competition - would be a good thing. Well, recently a new project at at the German GMD Institute has appeared, called Berlios (in German). According to our source, this project is the result of discussions between open source developers and government officials at the 1999 Wizards of OS conference. For more information in English, check the developer site instead. (Thanks to Florian Cramer).

Technocrat.net shuts down. Bruce Peren's online magazine Technocrat.net is closing down. For the past year and a half the site has focused on technology policy in an attempt to educate policy makers as well as the general public on how technology should be viewed and how it should be used. It has developed a small but strong following; its founder, however, was evidently hoping for more.

According to Bruce:

I've not had enough time to run the site, and plans to fund a professional staff for the site fell through. Readership has gone low enough that there's no longer much reason to keep the site alive. Thus, I will no longer be accepting new articles or comments, and will take the site down in a week or so.

Technocrat was a valuable resource, and it will be missed.

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: Free Intrusion Detection Systems, security reports for Reiserfs, IBM HTTP, lots of new tmp races, LinuxPPC updates.
  • Kernel: 2.4.0 is out - what next? Zero-copy networking.
  • Distributions: New CD-based distributions, Debian, Linux-Mandrake and Slackware News, additional mini-distribution updates.
  • Development: Mozilla 0.7, Compaq OSDB, Mailman 2.0.1, Spork, and TCL Wrapping.
  • Commerce: Turbolinux to sell IBM Linux-based software, For the Desktop, SlickEdit, Opera and more.
  • Back page: Linux links, this week in Linux history, and letters to the editor.
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:

January 11, 2001


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