Linux 3.2 Kernel: What To Consider Before Updating

A kernel update offers advantage, yet can also create big headaches without proper preparation and testing.


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

Posted January 30, 2012

Matt Hartley

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There are few things in life more exciting than a new system update for your favorite Linux distribution. Often, system updates can bring performance enhancements or simply address problematic security issues. These updates are generally considered a good thing. But when it comes to installing kernel updates, there are some critical factors that must be considered.

By now, you've likely heard all about the new 3.2 Linux kernel. While the new 3.2 kernel does offer some worthwhile benefits, this doesn't always mean that everything is going to work as expected for every person upgrading.

I guarantee you as various users upgrade their Linux boxes, the Linux forums will be filled with people questioning why something working previously doesn't any longer. It's not an opinion, it's a simple fact of life that comes with certain types of system upgrades.

In this article, I'm going to explain what you need to know before attempting to upgrade to the latest kernel.

Is upgrading really necessary?

For the most part, keeping your system up to date ensures that you're avoiding bugs and getting the latest hardware support possible. The downside to this is, sometimes with the new additions offered, other issues surface as well: regression issues can crop up, also once working hardware can present undiscovered bugs, among other hassles.

Obviously this isn't always the case, but it's something to consider as you get ready for the 3.2 kernel. Another reason to keep things up to date is to prevent exploits from becoming a problem.

Updates come in all shapes and sizes. The most common updates handle issues with desktop managers, software and other related factors on the Linux desktop. But when it comes to kernel updates, some people will choose to hold off on updating due to the deep changes it can make to a Linux PC.

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A kernel update not only addresses security patches and bug fixes, but sometimes also enables worthwhile new hardware compatibility as well.

The problem is that distributions such as Linux Mint put kernel updates under a Level 5 notice, indicating that upgrading the kernel may "potentially" break the user's system. Ask an advanced Linux user, they will tell you this is nonsense.

To be clear, I am not advocating that anyone should put off updating their kernel. After all, we had an important kernel update here recently that needed to be patched immediately. Sadly though, there will still be those that put off their kernel update due to the reasons outlined above.

As a general rule, I've found it best to keep an eye on important kernel upgrades. Even though it can lead to hassles, the best approach is to keep your system up to date as to avoid any security snafus down the road. Better to have to work through a few bugs than find yourself the victim of a nasty exploit on an unpatched system.

Kernel 3.2 – preparing for the update

In a word, performance is the biggest reason why people will be upgrading to the latest 3.2 kernel. The new kernel offers long overdue battery life improvements, exciting advances with various Linux file systems, improved process handling, plus a laundry list of other great features.

This kernel release is all about making your Linux box hum along nicely while getting the most out of the system resources available. In addition to all that, new wireless support is being introduced and existing wireless support is supposed to get some needed attention as well.

Now comes the big question: should you update to 3.2 immediately? Speaking for myself, I tend to lag behind a little bit when it comes to heavy updates like this.

While I try to stay current on various security concerns surrounding kernel updates, I'm also wary of experimenting on the PC I use daily. Therefore I tend to update my notebook, netbook and other secondary PCs first. This way if there is a glaring bug that could affect most systems, I’ll catch it early.

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Tags: Linux, Linux kernel, software updates

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