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Red Hat opens up Spice desktop virtualisation protocol

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In keeping with its practice of eventually open sourcing the software technologies it acquires or creates, commercial Linux distributor Red Hat has said that it has let go of the code behind the Spice protocol. This was a key ingredient of the Solid ICE desktop virtualisation platform that it got its hands on when it bought KVM hypervisor maker Qumranet in September 2008 for $107m.

Red Hat threw down its own server and desktop gauntlet in February of this year. It said it would back away from its support of Xen and roll out standalone Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization (RHEV) hypervisors and management tools for servers and desktops as well as embedding the KVM hypervisor inside its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) distro.

The standalone KVM hypervisor went into beta in June, while KVM was embedded as the preferred hypervisor in the RHEL 5.4 update in September. The RHEV Hypervisor, or RHEV H for short, plus its companion RHEV Manager (RHEV M, and explicitly for managing KVM on servers) went commercial in November.

The SolidICE virtual desktop infrastructure tools based on the KVM hypervisor are being rejigged as the RHEV Desktop edition, and will consist of a bare-metal or type 1 hypervisor for PCs and the tools to manage desktop operating systems and their virtualisation layers. While the RHEV server and tools are separate products, they are sold as a bundle that costs $499 per server socket for standard support and $749 per socket for premium support. Red Hat has not said what RHEV Desktop will cost when it is delivered in early 2010. It has also not been more precise about the date on when RHEV Desktop will come to market: the software is currently in private beta testing.

In the original SolidICE VDI tools, the Spice, which is short for Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environment, was an alternative to Microsoft's Remote Data Protocol used for linking PCs to remote servers. SolidICE lets users access their remote PC instances running on servers through RDP or through Spice, which was optimized for LAN (rather than remote WAN or dialup) connections. It was specifically intended to do a better job rendering multimedia (graphics, video, and audio) than RDP does and to use much less resources on the servers that back-end the VDI setup.

Having open sourced Spice, Red Hat will now try to rally support around the protocol and get the open source community to help make it better. The focal point for Spice development is www.spice-space.org, not the Fedora Project where Red Hat's Linuxes get bolted together before being hardened for the commercial RHEL releases. Most of the Spice code is distributed under the GPL v2 license, but some bits of code use LGPL or BSD licenses. You can get the Spice protocol specs here.

In a separate announcement, Red Hat said that 200 members of the Fedora Project met in Toronto for the FUDcon developer's conference and began the task of hammering out what features will be going into Fedora 13. The Fedora 12 release came out in mid-November, and the project says that it is going to try to get back to a May Day and Halloween release schedule in 2010.

The expectation is that Fedora 13 will have a smaller number of new features than Fedora 11 and 12 had, and that the project will work on making the fit and finish of the software better. The most important thing for Red Hat is to take a snapshot of Fedora 13 and ruggedize it with the most current possible and stable Linux kernel, to get RHEL 6 into the field around the middle of next year. ®

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