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Linux reaches the big five (point) oh

Torvalds has run out of fingers and toes, so version 5.0 RC1 is here

Penguinistas, take heed. The kernel of your beloved OS has rung in the new year with a brand spanking new version number because... Linus felt like it.

Linux fans will be relieved to know that while 2019 should feature a gentler, softer and less sweary Torvalds, the man's ability to make arbitrary decisions remains undiminished. The reason version 4.21 became 5.0 is because "I ran out of fingers and toes to count on."

linus torvalds

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As Torvalds observed, there are a ton of changes in the new kernel with toys aplenty. Raspberry Pi fans get touchscreen support and there is the usual array of GPU and CPU enhancements, including some early support for Nvidia's Turing GPUs, which will be of interest to those following CES 2019.

AMD has also seen some love in the form of tweaks to the handling of CPU microcode as well as the arrival of FreeSync, which synchronises the refresh rate of a compatible display to the frame rate of a similarly equipped Radeon card.

Not to be left out, work has continued on Intel's Icelake graphics and, of course, ongoing mitigation for Spectre V2 and its ilk. NXP PowerPC processor received mitigation this time around while Linux's networking subsystem has been tweaked to at least partially deal with the performance hit introduced in 2018 as a result of handling the Meltdown issue.

A swathe of other new and improved drivers round out the first release candidate as well as ongoing work to deal with the "Year 2038" problem (when the 32 bit Unix time format, er, runs out of seconds). With 19 years to go, there can be little excuse for not being prepared, although we have no doubt there will be the usual panic nearer the time.

So it's all good stuff, but not really deserving of a major version bump. Which is how things have been for for the last few times the big number ticked over.

Back in 2015, when 3 became 4, Torvalds also lamented his lack of sufficient fingers and toes and conducted a poll on going to version 3.20 or jumping to 4. The public, fortunately, agreed with Linus and version 4 appeared without containing "all that much special".

Fast-forward to now, and Linux is a lot bigger (about 6.5 million objects in the Git repo, according to Torvalds) and what would have been 4.21 is shaping up to be a worthy update. But, toes and fingers aside, is it enough to be a version 5? As Linus said: "So go wild. Make up your own reason for why it's 5.0." ®

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