Linux Kernel 4.1 Released

Version 4.1 of the Linux kernel was released this week, and it includes a number of new features in the following areas.

Power Management

Several power-saving features have been integrated into the kernel, and the majority of them target high-end Intel chips. The improvements consist of tweaks to improve performance and reduce power consumption, and early reports claim they can help extend battery life by up to an hour.

EXT4 Encryption

It’s now possible to encrypt EXT4 filesystems, thanks to code contributed by Google. The code originally was developed for Android and has been pushed up-line to the mainstream kernel. This will be interesting news to government contractors and others who work in secure environments, where filesystem-level encryption is mandated.


Version 4.1 includes improvements that effect several GPUs, including the GeForce GTX series. NVIDIA enjoys a troubled relationship with Linux, to which many users and developers will attest, and the company’s unwillingness to release open-source driver code has created a lot of problems for the kernel team. Linus has been quite vocal on the subject. Here’s a brief summary of his views on the subject (contains cursing):

The new version includes improvements that make it easier to configure Nouveau for the GeForce GTX 750. In the past, the process involved the manual extraction of firmware blobs, which is exactly as painful as it sounds.

Intel GPU support in virtual machines had been a bit troublesome in the past, but Linux 4.1 now supports XenGT vGPU for use with the Intel Xen hypervisor. A version for KVM is in the works too.

Version 4.1 also supports DisplayPort MST for Radeon cards.

Better Laptop Support

Updates to the Atmel MXT driver mean that the touchscreen and touchpad of Google’s Pixel 2 Chromebook are now fully supported.

Linux 4.1 also now can control the keyboard backlights on Dell laptops, which is great news for midnight typists!

The updated Toshiba ACPI driver now supports a host of fancy features, including adaptive keyboard buttons, USB sleep and charge, hotkeys, keyboard backlighting and more.

Game Support

X-Box One controllers gain force feedback and rumbler support in kernel version 4.1.

These changes are just the highlights; there are tons of other entries in the change logs.

Currently, 4.1 has not yet made it into the repos of the major distributions. That’s understandable, as it’s only just been released, but it’s only a matter of time until it is included. For instance, Ubuntu will start supporting it in October 2015. If you want to start using it before then, you can install it from a custom repository (as provided by the community), or compile it from source.

Oracle has spun a new version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) it claims is more than 75 percent faster at OLTP tasks and 137 percent faster in SSD access.

Oracle has spun a new version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) it claims is more than 75 percent faster at OLTP tasks and 137 percent faster in SSD access. The “Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel” was announced at Oracle World, which also featured announcements of Oracle Fusion Applications, MySQL 5.5, Java enhancements, and a Linux-ready “Exalogic Elastic Cloud.”

Oracle continues to resell RHEL in the form of its own Red Hat Enterprise Linux based Oracle Linux, which has been previously called Unbreakable Linux. Oracle Linux will still be supported, but the similarly RHEL-based Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel is now “the only Linux kernel Oracle recommends for use with Oracle software,” says the software giant.

Oracle unveiled the kernel yesterday at Oracle World in San Francisco, along with making many more announcements on everything from MySQL to Java (see farther below).

Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel is more than 75 percent faster than a RHEL kernel in OLTP performance, and 200 percent faster than Infiniband messaging, claims Oracle. It is also 137 percent faster in solid-state disk (SSD) access when used with Oracle software and hardware, says the company.

The new kernel provides optimizations for large NUMA (Non-Uniform Memory Access) servers, and improved power management and energy efficiency, says Oracle. Other touted improvements include fine-grained CPU and memory resource control.

Reliability is said to be increased via support for Data Integrity Extensions and the T10 Protection Information Model, which combine to stop corrupt data from being written to storage, says Oracle. Additional touted reliability features include hardware fault management and low overhead performance counters for tracing.

Derived from the stable 2.6.32 Linux kernel, the distribution will continue to track with the mainline Linux kernel, says Oracle. Existing Oracle Linux 5 and RHEL 5 customers can upgrade without a reinstall, and third-party applications that run on RHEL 5 should run unchanged, says the company.

Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel underlies a newly announced version of Oracle Exadata Database Machine and the new Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud, a hardware/software cloud-in-a-box system (see farther below).

RHEL by any other name

The new “Unbreakable” kernel is essentially just another version of RHEL that is primarily optimized to support the Exalogic Elastic Cloud, as well as NUMA servers, writes Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in a Computerworld blog on the announcement. While the “unbreakable” term suggests a hardened kernel, such does not appear to be in evidence.

Vaughan-Nichols, a self-proclaimed “Cyber Cynic,” openly doubts the Oracle performance claims for the kernel, and says he is “totally unimpressed” with the new offering, which he says is more about corporate politics than technology.

“[CEO Larry] Ellison hasn’t been able to damage Red Hat nearly as much as he wanted to,” writes Vaughan-Nichols. “So, now he’s resorting to an announcement that’s more noise than news.”

Will VMware buy Novell’s SUSE?

The announcement comes at an interesting time for enterprise Linux, as Red Hat continues to dominate and thrive in a fast growing Linux server and cloud market. Meanwhile, rival Novell — which sells SUSE Enterprise Linux for both the server and desktop — is once again being rumored to be up for sale, or at least the SUSE Linux part of its business is. This time the rumored suitor is virtualization firm VMware.

Other smaller players, including Canonical (Ubuntu), are also staking claims in the Linux cloud market.

With Oracle’s acquisition of Sun last year, the company is now a much larger player in the Linux world, and appears to be taking on its old “coopetition” partner Red Hat more directly. Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems and renamed it Oracle America in January.

Oracle tips Java directions

This summer, Oracle made a stir when it sued Google over Android’s use of Java. Now, it has tipped plans for Java that include some device-oriented enhancements, such as optimizations for smartphones.

During the opening keynote of JavaOne 2010, which is part of Oracle World, Thomas Kurian, executive vice president, Oracle Product Development, outlined plans for the future of the Java platform. Highlights include:

  • Java on Devices — Oracle is modernizing the Java mobile platform with “Java with Web” support for consumer devices. Planned enhancements include new language features, small-footprint CPU-efficient capabilities for cards, phones, and TVs, as well as “consistent tooling and emulation across hardware platforms,” says Oracle.
  • Java Platform, Standard Edition (Java SE) — Java SE is being optimized for new application models and hardware, including extended support for scripting languages, increased developer productivity, and lower operational costs.
  • Java on the Client — Oracle is planning an enhanced programming model that combines “the power of Java with the ease of JavaFX.” Java Client enhancements include advanced graphics and high-fidelity media, as well as HTML 5, JavaScript, and CSS Web capabilities, plus native Java platform support.
  • Java Platform, Enterprise Edition (Java EE) — Java EE is evolving, making application servers more modular, with improvements including dependency injection and reduced configuration requirements, says the company.

Other Oracle World announcements

Oracle has spun out a flurry of enterprise-related announcements during Oracle World this week, many touching upon Linux. Below are brief summaries, more or less in chronological order. Each title offers a link to full stories by our more enterprise-focused sister publication, eWEEK.

  • Oracle’s Ellison Introduces Exalogic: New cloud-in-a-box system — Oracle CEO Larry Ellison moves Oracle’s cloud strategy into a new phase, announcing a Linux-ready Exalogic Elastic Compute Cloud package that features hardware and software to run public and private clouds.
  • Oracle introduces MySQL 5.5 release candidate — Oracle announced the availability of the release candidate for the Linux-compatible MySQL 5.5, the world’s most popular open-source database. MySQL 5.5 improves performance and scalability when running on the latest multi-CPU and multicore hardware and operating systems, says Oracle. Meanwhile, InnoDB is now the default storage engine for MySQL Server, delivering ACID transactions, referential integrity, and crash recovery.
  • Oracle OpenWorld 2010 largest, greenest Oracle Event ever — Oracle OpenWorld attendees take San Francisco by storm, but some JavaOne folks feel slighted about accommodations despite this being a “green” conference.
  • Oracle introduces Oracle Fusion Applications Oracle announced a suite of modular business applications called Oracle Fusion Applications. Spanning 100 modules in seven product families, the applications include financial management, procurement and sourcing, project and portfolio management, human capital management, customer relationship management, supply chain management, and governance risk and compliance software.
  • Oracle outlines road map for Solaris 2011, promises Express release — Oracle sheds light on the upcoming Solaris 10 OS, and pledges to deliver an Express version of the OS by the end of 2010.
  • Oracle now caching more data, BI in storage arrays — Oracle Executive Vice President John Fowler tells OOworld attendees that having in-house engineers working together on storage and databases has made a big difference in new-product performance.
  • Oracle, Amazon Web Services certify Oracle products on EC2 — A day after Oracle CEO Larry Ellison praised Amazon Web Services for getting it right in the area of cloud computing, Oracle and AWS agree to certify and support Oracle products on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud.
  • Oracle Agile PLM 9.3.1 targets pharmaceutical industry — Agile Product Lifecycle Management 9.3.1 debuts at Oracle OpenWorld, with claims that the health care IT software will allow pharmaceutical companies to better manage the drug development process from end to end.
  • Oracle pushes partner specialization, value-add opportunity — Oracle’s product portfolio isn’t the only thing that has grown in the past year — its partner Specialization program is growing as well.


Yesterday’s announcement by Oracle on Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel may be found here, and today’s announcement on Oracle’s Java plans may be found here.

The ComputerWorld blog on Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel may be found here.