Introducing the 2.6 Kernel

Scheduler and audio improvements are only two of the features you'll notice when the 2.5 development series becomes 2.6. Here's a kernel hacker's view into the near future.
New Sound Layer

The long-awaited merge of the advanced Linux sound architecture (ALSA) began in kernel 2.5.5. ALSA has a number of improvements over open sound system (OSS), the previous sound layer. Most importantly, ALSA provides a much more robust and feature-filled API than OSS. ALSA drivers and the accompanying user-space library (alsa-lib) allow for the creation of advanced audio applications with minimal effort.

ALSA supports a large number of sound devices and provides a backward-compatible OSS interface. For users who still require or prefer OSS, however, drivers most likely will remain through 2.6.

A Look to the Future

It may be a bit irresponsible to begin looking past 2.6 before it is even released. It is interesting, however, to consider what we may see (or at least want to see) in the 2.7 development kernel. With luck, we will see the long-desired tty (terminal) layer rewrite. The tty layer has grown into a large and confusing hack.

Also high on everyone's wish list is a SCSI layer rewrite. Currently, the SCSI layer is too dumb and its drivers are too smart. It also may be possible to unify parts of the IDE and SCSI layers into a generic disk layer. Whatever the case, the SCSI layer needs a bit of cleanup.

After these items, the rest is uncertain. It is risky to make any predictions; the above are mere observations on what we need today. As always, the actual work in 2.7 will depend on the itch the developers feel like scratching.

Regardless of the future, the 2.6 kernel looks great—excellent scalability, swift desktop response, improved fairness and happily cooperating VM and VFS layers.


Robert Love is a kernel hacker who works on various projects, including the preemptive kernel and the scheduler. He is a Mathematics and Computer Science student at the University of Florida and a kernel engineer at MontaVista Software. He hates fish.