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15 March 2011, 09:24

What's new in Linux 2.6.38

Thorsten Leemhuis

A quite minor change in the process scheduler makes systems with 2.6.38 feel much faster, and more far-reaching changes to the VFS (virtual file system) make some tasks much faster. Some of the changes to driver code that deserve mention include Wireless LAN (WLAN) drivers and expanded support for current graphics chips from AMD and Nvidia.

Ten weeks – that's all the time that Linus Torvalds and his colleagues needed to complete version 2.6.38 of the Linux kernel, which was released last night. The kernel was almost ready a few days ago, which just goes to show that the kernel developers now only need around 65 to 80 days to produce a new version; a year or two ago, they generally needed around two weeks longer.

In detail

This article provides an overview of the most important changes of Linux version 2.6.38. More detailed information can be found in the Kernel Logs of the "Coming in 2.6.38" mini series, released over the past few weeks on The H Open, which form the basis of this article.

In these articles, you will find the more detailed source articles that cover the important changes in each particular area. There is also the "Minor gems" section which lists the many other changes not mentioned in the main article but which, for many users, are still of great significance.

For example, in the article on Drivers, "Minor gems" lists the numerous patches to support the video hardware on different PCs, notebooks and motherboards, and lists the changes to the V4L / DVB subsystem, which includes the addition of product names for TV hardware that the Linux kernel now recognises.

Nevertheless, there is no shortage of changes, such as the auto grouping of processes within a session, which has caused a lot of commotion in the Linux online world as it is expected to considerably increase the reaction speed of the desktop environment under certain ambient conditions. The second major change concerns the Virtual File System (VFS), which mediates between the file system code and user space. Torvalds has been waiting for the integration of these patches for some time and expressed his excitement in two emails, in which he talked about how much faster "find" ran in a simple file system search.

Some of the other changes will probably be just as important for some users, such as the graphics drivers for new graphics chips from AMD and Nvidia or the new and improved Wireless LAN (WLAN) drivers for chips from Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, Ralink and Realtek. In contrast, server admins will probably be more interested in such things as the new SCSI target LIO and Transmit Packet Steering (XPS).

The following Kernel Log provides an overview of these and numerous other changes in Linux 2.6.38. Sooner or later, they often even affect Linux users who do not compile the kernel themselves. Future Linux distributions will be based on kernel 2.6.38 or its successors, thereby bringing these improvements to users; for example, Ubuntu 11.04 and Fedora 15, which are expected at the end of April and in mid-May, respectively, will both be based on 2.6.38. And as usual, this Kernel Log ends with an outlook on some changes that should be included in the next version.

Next: Wonderpatch and Graphics

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