Now that the 2.6 kernel has been finalised, Linux distributors will build it into their operating systems and bring it to market over the next few months.

SuSE Linux, swallowed up by Novell late last year, claimed that it expected to be several months ahead of its archrival, Red Hat, in releasing a Linux distribution based on the 2.6 kernel. That product will be SuSE Linux Enterprise 9, expected this spring. A few months later, in the fall of 2004, Red Hat will release Version 4 of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux software, which will be Red Hat's first 2.6-based release.

But in the interim, many of Linux 2.6's features are already available in the enterprise Linux distributions from these two vendors, where they have been added as patches to the 2.4 kernel.

Both Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3, which was released last autumn, and SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8, which first appeared a year earlier, now support Linux's new SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) scheduler, hyperthreading, the IPSec standard and asynchronous I/O.

Additionally, Red Hat claims that its distribution actually supports more physical memory - 64GB - than the Linux 2.6 kernel, as well as the NPTL (Native POSIX Thread Library) that is expected to greatly improve the performance of J2EE applications on the free operating system. NPTL will not be supported in SuSE Linux Enterprise until the spring.

The features that users can expect to see when Red Hat and SuSE do incorporate the new kernel are the new device numbering scheme, the rewrite of Linux's I/O subsystem, NUMA (non-uniform memory architecture) support, support for the XFS (Extensible File System) and a new virtual memory manager.