LinuxWorld 2006 Highlights

Linux / Open Source
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The LinuxWorld Conference and Expo kicked off in Boston on April 3. Much-anticipated keynote speakers included folks from XenSource, Novell, and Red Hat. They used the conference as a means to release major news about the controversial virtualization technologies being incorporated into Linux environments as well as Novell's plans for upcoming enterprise development platforms. Other Novell news included the new beta version of Mono 1.2, which allows for hosting existing Microsoft .NET applications from Linux.

SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 is slated for release later this year, and it will include hyped-up applications such as the new Banshee music player and the Beagle desktop search feature, built off the Mono project. This raises interesting questions about whether or not Microsoft should consider releasing more Windows forms into the open-source realm. The new release is also said to include more hardware support, Java support, and new virtual machine support. Novell announced that the developer builds of 10.1 are currently available, and the official version will be released toward the end of the month. You can download the free version from openSUSE.org. For a price of $59.95, retail boxes will be packaged with installation DVDs/CDs and 90 days of support.

Other major Novell news came from Eric Anderson, vice president of Linux engineering, who announced that Novell is currently working on a new Linux build service. The new OpenSUSE build service framework will ease package creation for future SUSE products as well as for other Linux distributions. A server on the back-end will do the heavy lifting of hosting and package assembly, while a client will contain the tools to build the packages. The service will include command-line tools and Web interface support. Anderson reported that, when the service is complete, engineers will be able to create executable Linux packages that can then be loaded onto SUSE platforms and other Linux operating systems. He also stated that this will not only help the development of SUSE products, but also be a benefit to the general Linux community in regard to future package development.

One of the main topics discussed during the conference was none other than virtualization technology. With more and more system administrators consolidating their systems into virtual machines, considerably reducing hardware maintenance costs, vendors are now starting to offer more options to actually accomplish this task. The controversy surrounding such technology is whether or not virtualization software should be rolled directly into operating systems. For instance, should Linux ship with Xen's software? This question was brought up at LinuxWorld, and here are a few responses:

Red Hat's Brian Stevens stated that the company plans to start including Xen's hypervisor within its products.
"The benefits of virtualization are clear," he said. "There will be large cost savings, as server utilization can be driven from 20 percent to 80 percent, with the resultant savings in space and power bills, as well as the reliability it brings and the ability to migrate and isolate workloads in the event of system failure."

However, customers at the event said they would likely not incorporate "baked-in" virtualization technology because it still raises the issue of vendor lock-in and narrows their options. The concern of many customers is that Xen still lacks focus in the enterprise community and that Microsoft's virtual platform automatically creates a vendor lock-in situation.

Another opponent of built-in virtualization was Diane Greene from VMWare. "More importantly, bundling virtualization in the operating system puts the ability to exploit freedom of choice around the software stack in jeopardy," Greene said.

Greene went on to describe ideal conditions, where virtualization technologies should be incorporated into hardware platforms instead of into software. This way, industry standards could be developed to support all virtual machines, allowing them to run on any operating system platform, regardless of the hardware underneath.

The coming year should prove to be interesting, with Novell and Red Hat's support for bundling virtualization into the OS, Sun's upcoming plans to start including it within Solaris, and future hardware advancement from within Intel and AMD's structures. Novell used the opportunity to announce that Xen's hypervisor technology will be completely integrated into its OS this summer. Jack Messman, Novell's CEO, commented that Novell made this move because of proprietary evolution from companies such as VMWare. Red Hat already released news in March about developing relationships with Xen.

Although many are excited to see such revolution in the industry, many are also questioning the outcome. With Red Hat, Novell, and Sun already having sound relationships with proprietary vendor VMWare, that relationship may change over time because of increased competition due to Xen being included in products. Novell plans to eventually move away from proprietary products and start moving in the direction of development and use of open-source products. Sun believes there will be a lot of competition forthcoming from VMWare and Microsoft.

The current market, however, is still geared toward sound products such as VMWare. Sun plans to continue offering VMWare, for the simple fact that its customer base still requires such products.

There are a lot of puzzle pieces to put together before standard adoption of virtualization technology and the operating system are supported by all. The market must come together to actually want such all-in-one software, developers must all be on the same page, and support standards with various software and hardware vendors must be accomplished. Will it be a move that you support? Will it be good for the Linux community as a whole? These are all questions that will unfold in due time.

Max Hetrick is a PC Support Analyst/Specialist who holds a certification as a MCSA. He also has experience with installation and maintenance of Linux operating systems from the PC to server levels. Max can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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