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Linux 2.6.33 Boosts Graphics, Dumps Android

The Linux Kernel Races Forward

  • February 25, 2010
  • By Sean Michael Kerner
A new kernel release makes its debut, with Nvidia and without Android, and top Red Hat and Novell kernel developers share their inside views.
Sean Michael Kerner

A new Linux kernel is out this week with changes that aim to benefit both end-users and Linux developers.

The Linux 2.6.33 kernel is the first new kernel release of 2010 and follows the 2.6.32 kernel release by nearly three months. Key to the new update are enhancements in graphics and storage capabilities.

"The most noticeable features in 2.6.33 are likely the Nouveau and DRBD integration (and a lot more people will notice the Nouveau part of that)," Linux founder Linus Torvalds wrote in a mailing list posting.

More people are likely to notice Nouveau is because it is a user-facing technology that is meant to improve Linux graphics. Nouveau is an open source graphics driver for Nvidia graphics cards that's been built by open source developers -- that is, Nvidia didn't contribute the driver code, but rather, it was reverse engineered by the open source community.

The drivers are not entirely complete, however, according to the Nouveau FAQ. For instance, 2D is supported while many 3D capabilities are not yet officially supported.

Still, Linux kernel developer and Novell staffer Greg Kroah-Hartman told InternetNews.com that the inclusion of Nouveau means that even more devices are now supported by the kernel.org releases.

"It's just a constant onward move toward supporting more and more hardware," Kroah-Hartman said.

While new graphics hardware is being supported in 2.6.33, the release is actually dropping support for Google's Android. Kroah-Hartman noted in a Linux git development system comment that the drivers were no longer being maintained.

"These drivers are no longer being developed and the original authors seem to have abandoned them and hence, do not want them in the mainline kernel tree," Kroah-Hartman wrote.

Kroah-Hartman, who is also a, expanded on the comment earlier this month, in a detailed blog post that indicated that without additional help from Google developers, Android code that's heavily dependent on development in Google's kernel tree can't be merged with the mainline Linux kernel.

He also said in the post that he plans on providing additional details at the CELF Embedded Linux Conference in mid-April.

New storage, virtualization enhancements in Linux

The other new feature noted by Torvalds in 2.6.33 is Distributed Replicated Block Device (DRDB), which is intended to help serve as the basis for high-availability clusters and a network-based RAID approach.

Graphics and storage aren't the only areas seeing enhancement in the Linux 2.631 release. For one thing, the release includes improvements to the "perf" system for performance monitoring.

Such new in-kernel tracing tools make life much easier for kernel developers, Kroah-Hartman noted. Perf first made its debut in the Linux 2.6.31 release.

"A user will only see these indirectly as more bugs are fixed faster, and the kernel is tuned better for real workloads," Kroah-Hartman said.

KVM virtualization also gets some attention in the Linux 2.6.33 kernel. Tim Burke, vice president for Red Hat Enterprise Linux engineering at Red Hat, told InternetNews.com that the majority of upstream KVM development is done by Red Hat -- confirmed in a recent study from IBM -- so the improvements are certainly important to it for use in its enterprise products.

"Some of the most interesting recent developments have been optimizations to leverage the scalability and I/O capabilities provided by the latest generation of Intel Xeons (Boxboro-EX) and AMD's Magny-Cours," Burke said. "A result of this work is that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the first operating system to support Intel's new SR-IOV capability, which allows virtual guest instances to have direct access to device registers, obviating a need to hop indirectly through the hypervisor for every I/O operation and packet send/receive."

From Red Hat's perspective, though, the 2.6.33 kernel release isn't about big, new features.

"From a new feature perspective, we found 2.6.32 to be a more compelling kernel release because there haven't been as many groundbreaking changes in .33," Burke said. "Rather, it's been mostly cleanups and bugfixes, which is a good thing. It's healthy that not every kernel is a feature frenzy, and the community collectively takes a pause to ensure stabilization."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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