Red Hat has scheduled a March release for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL5), the latest version of its open source operating system, while it tries to fend off new competitive threats from Oracle and the Microsoft-Novell partnership.

Red Hat chief technology officer (CTO) Brian Stevens discussed the RHEL5, the competition, the Fedora Project and other issues at the InfoWorld Virtualisation Executive Forum in San Francisco:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 (RHEL5) comes out in March. What are some of the features that will move virtualisation forward and keep Red Hat competitive?

Stevens: “RHEL5 is a scalable, full native 64-bit platform. In the second quarter of 2005, there was a crossover point where more 64-bit x86 systems were sold than 32-bit systems. So there is this untapped (64-bit) capability within the IT shops as many systems are still running 32-bit applications on 64-bit systems. With RHEL5, we aim to help allow IT and independent software vendors (ISVs) to realize the power of 64-bit computing on these multicore architectures. There is a lot of untapped capability in performance there so we aim to help that.

“As to virtualisation, it comes as an integrated feature set for RHEL5.”

How has the move by Oracle to undercut you on the price for their Linux support and the partnership between Microsoft and Novell affected the direction you are taking Red Hat as CTO?

Stevens: “It hasn't really affected the day-to-day activities because Red Hat is focused on creating value for customers. We have developed really close relationships to understand where we need to drive technology to make a meaningful impact on their businesses. We focus on the fundamentals, not on something else. If you start to think about what is going to create revenue for the company versus what's going to create value for the customer you're thinking about it the wrong way. Our results for the last quarter show that we are largely unaffected.

“We look at the vibrancy of the Fedora Project, our open source community. Fedora is Red Hat's vehicle for bringing advanced technology really quickly to end-users. The last release of Fedora has been out for about four months and we are averaging more than 100,000 downloads a week and 1.5 million downloads total. Compare that 100,000 a week to Oracle with their release of Oracle Linux. We reach in seven hours what they reached in their very first month of releasing that source code.

“With the Novell-Microsoft deal we continue to believe interoperability is important. We didn't see anything new and meaningful in that interoperability agreement. With RHEL5 we're going to show rich compatibility between Windows and Linux. We already have that. We are absolutely open to and willing to work with Microsoft under an interoperability agreement but one that does not require our customers to pay an IP [intellectual property] tax on Linux.”

What are your projects for the coming year besides RHEL5?

Stevens: “We'll continue an initiative we started last year around Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP). It's going to transform how you manage messaging systems in grid environments. We'll be bringing that to a bunch of test customers this year. AMQP is about allowing you to have data sources and data feeds that can scale across grid environments.”

Anything else?

Stevens: “We're leading the work in Linux around predictability with a project called Real Time. It's not just about dropping latency, even though it does that. It's around how we get determinism. It's really critical that the workloads you're running, whether its multimedia playback or transactions, know that there is a sort of boundary on the completion of transactions. Real Time is basically a re-architecture of how the Linux kernel does locking and scheduling. We've had a team working on this for the past year and a half and we will be working with customers under a proof of concept through the course of this year.”