The latest version of the Linux kernel, 5.17, has been released with bug fixes to reassure users worried about Specter attacks and improve hardware support despite a brief delay. The security changes and hardware support are welcome, but other than that, there’s not much to be excited about in this release.
5.17 has been delayed, but Linus can explain it
While the release of 5.17 has been delayed, Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds seems to be taking it easy, presenting it as an opportunity to improve the release and avoid embarrassing bugs in the release.
Torvalds published on the Linux kernel mailing listthe main hub of Linux kernel development, explains the reason for the delay:
“I am happy to report that it was indeed very quiet. […] We probably could have skipped it without many downsides, but we made a few last-minute resets and fixes and avoided some brown-paper bugs that would otherwise have been stable fodder, so all is well.
in the another message to the listTorvalds attributed the delay to the need for further security fixes after the Specter attacks.
What’s new in the Linux kernel?
The main security fix in the Linux kernel with 5.17 is a change in the kernel’s random number generator from the SHA1 algorithm to BLAKE2s, which it says promises more security and faster performance LWN. Random number generation is important for cryptographic functions and secure internet connections.
Another focus of the new version is improved hardware support. The kernel has added support for AMD’s forthcoming P-State power management system, which is said to offer better performance. There’s also improved graphics, network, and hardware monitoring support.
Now it’s up to the distribution maintainers
With the new kernel version, the hard work now falls to the Linux distribution maintainers to integrate the latest version into their systems, as few people install the Linux kernel directly. This means it will take some time for the kernel to show up in the repositories of major distributions like Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora.
Technical users who want to try the new kernel can download and compile the kernel themselves from Linux kernel website. Aside from those companies that rely on the security of Linux on servers, and whose sysadmins probably swallowed antacids prior to the announcement, this release will likely be of interest primarily to developers.
How soon will you get the new kernel?
The Linux kernel is a rapidly evolving project with frequent releases, and distributions have their own release rhythms. While Debian Stable tends to integrate new kernels after extensive testing, a rolling release like Arch Linux will integrate them much faster. The cadence of software releases is something that differentiates Linux distributions from one another.
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