Enterprise users can now download an update of SuSE Linux's enterprise server software that offers improved hardware support and enhanced storage access.

Service Pack 3 for SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 includes a new version of the kernel at the heart of its operating system software: kernel 2.4.21 is capable of managing up to 2,000 physical hard disks compared to 600 disks in the earlier 2.4.19 version.

The new software also allows up to 27 large hard disk drives to be bundled with redundant, reliable access paths in a process known as "multipathing," the Nuremberg, Germany, software vendor said.

Service Pack 3 supports the latest member of IBM's thin-blade server family, the BladeCenter JS20, while providing improved support for x86 hardware, Intel Corp.'s Itanium systems and mainframes.

The update is available for free to enterprise customers participating in SuSE's maintenance program, according to SuSE. It can be downloaded direct from the company's maintenance Web site.

The latest service pack complies with the Defense Information Infrastructure Common Operating Environment directive used for rating the suitability of IT products for deployment in US federal departments, SuSE said.

In addition, SuSE has started distributing a free version of its desktop operating system, SuSE Linux 9, which is targeted at the consumer market. The commercial version of the software, which was one of the first home-user operating systems to run on Advanced Micro Devices Atholon 64 processor, has been available since late September.

The free downloadable version contains the entire operating system but lacks several other software applications, such as Macromedia Inc.'s Macromedia Flash, which can't be included because of licence restrictions, said SuSE spokeswoman Martina Krahmer.

While users can install the FTP (File Transfer Protocol) version of SuSE Linux 9 from a network or hard drive, they can't create installation CDs, according to Krahmer. Nor do they receive support or documentation, she said