Hoping to further entrench its credibility as a top tier Linux player, Novell on Thursday became the first vendor to ship a retail version of the open source operating system based on version 2.6 of the Linux kernel that takes advantage of both 32- and 64-bit platforms.
The 9.1 version of SuSE Linux Professional not only runs on Intel's 32-bit desktop chip but works with AMD's 64-bit Athlon chip and Intel's Extended Memory 64 Technology. It is the hope of company officials that the new version gives them a chance to close down the distance on market leader Red Hat, which will not deliver a version with the 2.6 kernel until later this year.
"The fundamental advantage of [version] 2.6 is, it gives you much more bang for the buck if you want to continue using existing hardware. Applications will run three to five times faster for things like databases and Web servers. The improved multi-threading and memory management will help run large multimedia apps much better," said Charley Ungashick, Novell's director of product marketing.
But while the product's support for 64-bit chips as well as larger storage volumes will likely be appealing to compute intensive users, how appealing it will be to more typical desktop users remains a question for some observers.
"The 2.6 improvements will help performance, scalability and reliability and those things are all good. But my sense is the 64-bit extensions make more sense on the desktop where people are doing graphics visualization, and sophisticated content numerical analysis or modeling. But if someone is doing typical productivity apps like e-mail and spreadsheets, it will not a significant difference in performance," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of System Software Research for IDC.
Kuznetzky added that what also might enhance the product's commercial success is Novell's offer to indemnify corporate users of the product thereby reducing concerns about future litigation against them by The SCO Group.
Novell attributes its ability to deliver a version of Linux incorporating the 2.6 kernel earlier than its competitors to its Auto Build technology, which allows the company to create multiple versions of the same product for different platforms.
"It has to do with [AutoBuild] and the way we engineer our products. We can deliver simultaneous support for a range of architectures and platforms. So we can bring to market a retail product with [version] 2.6 that is not just for x86, but also for the AMD 64 and Intel's Extended Memory as well," Ungachick said.
In tandem with the Professional Edition Novell also announced SuSE Linux 9.1 Personal Edition, which comes with a version of Linux that can be booted and used from the CD drive, called LiveCD. This enables users to try out the product without having to install it on their machines.
"LIVE CD doesn't require any modifications to your hard drive to run a full desktop version of Linux. It will actually mount your existing hard drive so you can get at all of your documents. If you decide you like it, you just pop that CD out and pop in CD number 2 and install it," said Ungashick.
As with the Professional Edition, Personal Edition users can chose to have the product automatically set up a partition on the hard drive that allows them to boot Windows as well as Linux.
Both versions also include the latest Gnome and KDE desktops.