Red Hat and Novell are both launching big upgrades to their Linux servers next month.

Novell will announce its Open Enterprise Server and Red Hat its long-awaited Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 at the LinuxWorld conference in Boston.

Novell's new server combines versions of both NetWare and Novell's Enterprise Linux Server 9, along with a number of services including file, print, management, and collaboration that can be delivered across the environments. It will announce pricing and availability at the show.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, on the other hand, is the first version by Red Hat to contain Version 2.6 of the Linux kernel. It reportedly contains a rewrite of the Linux I/O subsystem - the part of the operating system that oversees the transfer of data among components - along with an improved version of the Logical Volume Manager hard drive partitioning software.

Enterprise Linux 4 will also contain security features taken from the US National Security Agency's Security Enhanced Linux project. It will also feature improved device and power management capabilities.

Novell's server also contains the 2.6 kernel but its execs say it is the bundled applications and services that will make it more attractive to corporate buyers. "To compare the products based on just the kernel would be only half the story," said Charlie Ungashick, Novell's marketing director. "Both companies are moving beyond base Linux distributions. With OES we have all these services around the core product like the directory and enhanced support for printing and remote access,"

Some analysts agree that at this particular stage, solutions matter more than pure technology at the kernel level. IDC analyst Al Gillen said: "The game isn't necessarily just about what version of the kernel you are on. As you start to look at moving Linux up-market you need to be concerned about the other services and applications that accompany the operating system and that make it more applicable for enterprise workloads."

Offering a road map for its server products Ungashick said Novell plans to deliver a new client for Linux around mid-2005, a version of OES for AMD and Intel's 64-bit chips in September of this year, Version 10 of the SuSE Enterprise Linux Server in February 2006, and the follow-on to OES, code-named Cypress, by August of 2006.

Separately, Red Hat is planning to release Version 2.0 of its Java-based Application Server (RHAS) by the middle of the year. The company will add several enhancements for enterprise users along with, it hopes, certification for Sun Microsystems' J2EE 1.4 specification.