The Wonderful World of Linux 2.2

Mr. Pranevich gives us a look at the changes and improvements coming out in the new kernel.
Video

Perhaps the most surprising and cutting-edge addition to the Linux kernel for inclusion in version 2.2 is what is called the “frame-buffer console” driver (or fbcon, for short).

Previously, the Linux kernel (for Intel-based machines) understood and manipulated the video devices only in text mode. Graphical support was to be provided by two other systems: svgalib for console-based graphics and a specialized X server for window-based graphics. This kludgey system often required configuration information to be repeated, and each system supported only a limited slice of the myriad of video devices in common use.

Since this addition is rather new, it remains to be seen whether it will truly replace the previous long-standing duality. Unfortunately, it will be nearly a year after Linux 2.2 ships before this new system is robust enough to support the cards and technologies we already take for granted as working. My personal opinion is that this is the right idea, but I will hold judgment until I see exactly how far Linus and the developers decide to take this feature.

It is also possible to remove support for “virtual” terminals as provided by the kernel. This allows very memory-conscious people to save just a tad more.

Although unimaginable to the desktop user, Linux can now work even better on systems that do not actually include any sort of video device. In addition to being able to log in over serial or networked lines, as Linux 2.0 and previous Linux versions allowed, it is now possible to redirect all the kernel messages (usually sent to the console directly before any hardware was initialized) to a serial device.

Amateur Radio

Linux 2.2 supports a large array of solutions for amateur radio operators, including a large number of enhancements from Linux 2.0. Unfortunately, this is not my forte—I've never even seen a Linux-based amateur radio station.

Networking: Ethernet, ISDN and the Lowly Modem

I don't have much experience here; I've been using the same network cards in all my machines for several years. However, it is not hard to see that the number of Ethernet and ISDN devices supported in Linux 2.2 has risen sharply. I have been told that newer solutions such as cable modems are also supported.

On the low end, not much has changed. PPP, SLIP, CSLIP and PLIP are all still available for use. I guess some things don't need much improvement. Each of those drivers has been updated in one way or another.

My only gripe in this regard is the continued non-support of so-called Winmodems. Not that I blame Linux for their absence (making modems that are 80% software is a dumb idea anyway), but the idealist in me hopes that one day these pesky devils will be supported like their more usable cousins.

Networking II: Under the Hood

On the protocol front, a lot has happened that I simply don't understand completely. The next-generation Internet protocol, IPv6, has made an appearance. SPX, an alternate version of IPX, is new as well. DDP, the protocol of choice for AppleTalk networking has also been added. Just as you would come to expect by now, the existing protocols have been improved. I only wish I had the need to use some of this stuff.

The list keeps going, however. Linux 2.2 will have an excellent new networking core, new tunneling code, a new firewalling and routing system called “ipchains”, support for limiting bandwidth consumption and a ton more.

File- and printer-sharing protocols have also been markedly improved and enhanced. SMB, the protocol for accessing MS Windows-based shared file systems, has been improved with bug fixes and the like. If you are a fan of NetWare, you'll be happy to know that Linux 2.2 supports a large number of improvements in this area, including access to two different kinds of NCP long file names. Trusty NFS has also been improved, both at the server level and the client level. Finally, those guys over at Carnegie Mellon University have been hard at work developing the new distributed network file system, Coda. This file system supports a large number of highly requested features, including disconnected operations for laptops, an advanced cache system and security improvements.

And, Finally

There's quite a lot that honestly doesn't fit into any of the categories above.

For one, the old system of loading “in and out” drivers (called modules) has been replaced with a system that doesn't require a separate daemon and allows for a smaller memory footprint. This is the kmod system which replaces the kerneld system. I have to say I think this is a good thing.

Also, the old method of access to file systems has been replaced by the “dcache” system, which may be the fastest virtual file system for any OS currently on the market. It makes you proud to support Linux.

Joseph Pranevich can be reached via e-mail at knight@baltimore.wwaves.com.

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