Red Hat has pushed out the first beta of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, an upgrade that includes virtualisation technologies to help companies get more use from their hardware.

The final version of the product is due to ship by the end of the year, although it remains unclear if Red Hat will hit that target. RHEL 5 Beta 1 was originally due to ship in July, with a second beta in September.

The beta appears to be aimed mostly at existing subscribers to the Red Hat Network. Non-customers can try out the software but they have to contact a local Red Hat office or apply. It is for testing purposes and Red Hat emphasised it's not intended for production use. It's asking for feedback to hone the final version of the product, and wants to hear about how it is implementing the open source Xen virtualisation technology in particular.

Xen allows companies to run multiple operating systems on a server at the same time, making better use of computing power that's often otherwise left idle. Virtualisation on mainframes has been around for a long time, but it's now being adopted on lower-end servers as well as they become more powerful.

Novell has already incorporated Xen into its Linux distribution, SuSe Linux 10 Server, released in July. And Microsoft has said Windows Longhorn Server will be compatible with Xen-enabled versions of Linux, allowing customers to run Linux and Windows side by side on the same server.

Other new features in the RHEL 5 beta include the disk dumping tool Kdump, which can speed reboot times and is handy for developers who have to reboot systems several times a day, and the SystemTap and Frysk analysis and development tools.

The beta also includes a technical preview of what Red Hat calls its stateless Linux technology, which reduces dependencies on individual clients to make the OS easier to manage and modify remotely.