In a sign that the Linux 2.6 kernel is nearing its final release date, Australian embedded Linux vendor SnapGear has said that it had become the first vendor to include Linux 2.6 in a commercial product.

SnapGear Embedded Linux version 3.0, a Linux distribution developed for specialized devices like MP3 players or gas station monitoring equipment, is the first shipping commercial product based on the 2.6 kernel, according to Bob Waldie, the chairman of the 45-person Linux company. The company's Linux distribution, which began shipping yesterday (Monday), is based on the 2.6.0-test5 Linux kernel.

Though the Linux kernel is still considered beta software, only a few minor issues remain to be solved before it will be considered production-ready, said Andrew Morton, the developer in charge of maintaining the 2.6 kernel. "2.6 is stable," he said. "I've been running it on my machine for a year and never had any issue with it, aside from the occasional glitch."

Morton expects those final glitches to be worked out, and the production-ready version of Linux 2.6 to ship by year's end at the latest.

"A few months ago I'd have said 'by September,'" he wrote in an email. "I'd be offended if we didn't have 2.6.0 out the door by year end." Larger vendors like Red Hat or SuSE Linux will take longer than SnapGear to support version 2.6 of the kernel because they have a lot of non-standard add-ons to the 2.4 kernel that will have to be integrated into their 2.6-based products, Morton said.

"They have gone and made a tremendous number of changes to the 2.4 kernel, particularly in their enterprise products," he said. "They're going to have to sit down and work out what features they want to drop."

Red Hat and SuSE have said they expect to ship products based on the 2.6 kernel some time next year.

SnapGear was quick to support Linux 2.6 because the new version of the kernel includes support for smaller microprocessors that do not have memory management units, said Waldie. SnapGear Embedded Linux 3.0 also takes advantage of the 2.6 kernel's improved support of encryption hardware, he said.