If you follow Linux closely, you won’t be surprised by the news from the Linux Plumbers Conference in Richmond, Virginia — an invitation-only meeting of top Linux kernel developers — that the recently released Linux 6.6 is the next long-term support (LTS) release for the Linux operating system. .
Some people thought the next release might be the not-yet-released Linux 6.7 kernel. After all, the Linux kernel maintainer for the stable branch, Greg Croah-Hartman, said that the last kernel of the year will be an LTS release. However, the massive 6.7 update is now not expected to see the light of day until sometime early next year.
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It should be noted that the first version candidate for 6.7 was only released on November 12. As Linus Torvalds wrote, “This is our largest merge window ever, with 15.4 thousand unmerged commits.”
Linux 6.7 will also include many new features, such as the bcachefs file system, a powerful new copy-on-write (COW) file system that features new features while maintaining high performance. Linux 6.7 will also include support for Nvidia’s GPU system processor (GSP) firmware in the open source Nouveau graphics engine and several networking updates. It’s a big release in every sense of the word.
Meanwhile, Linux 6.6 offers many good features. This includes the KSMBD In-Kernel SMB3 Server, Earliest Eligible Virtual Appointment First (EEVDF), and support for Intel’s Shadow Stack. You can already find Linux 6.6 running high-end distributions, such as Arch Linux, openSUSE Tumbleweed, and Fedora Linux. By next year, the engine will be in major distributions, including Canonical’s next LTS release, Ubuntu 24.04.
As an LTS release, the Linux 6.6 kernel will be supported until December 2026. In the future, there will be fewer LTS Linux kernels. As Jonathan Corbett, Linux kernel developer and executive editor of Linux Weekly News, explained at the Open Source Summit Europe, from now on, the LTS for the Linux kernel will be reduced from six to two years.
Currently, there are six LTS Linux kernels – 6.1, 5.15, 5.10, 5.4, 4.19, and 4.14. Under the process so far, version 4.14 will be released in January 2024, and another kernel will be added. However, from now on, they will not be replaced when kernel 4.14 and the next kernel are discontinued.
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The explanation for this shift is based on two main factors. First, people don’t use older LTS versions. Why spend money and time on projects when they are idle? The other main reason is that the Linux code maintainers are exhausted. There is too much work and not enough hands to handle the load.
Now, if you really want to keep a specific Linux kernel running for a very long time, you have options. One is to use the Linux Foundation’s Long-Term Civil Infrastructure Platform (CIP) kernel. These kernels run environments for industrial devices using CIP and Debian 11 reference hardware – they are not for general use.
However, if you really want a kernel you can rely on for a decade, Canonical recently confirmed support for the Linux kernel it uses in LTS Ubuntu releases for 10 years. As Canonical explained: “Canonical’s maintenance and support efforts are completely independent of the upstream LTS and will continue as before. Despite the changes in upstream LTS support, Canonical remains committed to providing reliable support for the Ubuntu kernel, ensuring that the Linux community and businesses can Continue to rely on stable and secure software.”
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So, if you want to stick with, say, Ubuntu 20.04 for your PCs until early 2030, Canonical will enable you to do so. The company is putting the “long” in long-term support.
Given the rapid pace of change in computing, a two-year major LTS support window for the Linux kernel may be what most of you will need and use.