Linux kernel version 3.13, the latest release of the open source operating system, is out as of Jan. 20. Alongside the usual slew of code updates that only geeks can fully appreciate, this release brings with it some key new features that could impact the future of open source platforms for e-commerce, personal computing and more.

Like most updates to the Linux kernel, the code that does the heavy lifting behind the scenes to make Linux-based operating systems work, kernel 3.13 includes a lot of new features that users at home are unlikely to find exciting, if they understand them at all. Improvements to the btfrs and XFS file systems, network-protocol tweaks, enancements to the SELinux security framework and much more are all on the long list of new features in this latest release.

But several of the most prominent changes will likely prove attractive beyond programming circles. In particular, Linux 3.13 introduces the following:

  • Changes to the way the kernel handles disk drives, which maximize the performance of solid-state (SSD) disks, now a very popular storage solution for both PCs and enterprise servers.
  • Power-management improvements for AMD Radeon graphics devices, which are found in plenty of PCs and laptops. The updates save energy to increase battery life and provide faster performance from the graphics cards.
  • Updates to squashfs, the read-only file system that powers most "live" CDs and USBs for Linux distributions. By improving performance, these changes promise a better experience installing Linux or running it on devices without permanent storage.
  • Enablement by default of the TCP Fast Open feature, which, when supported by Web browsers, can speed up the loading of Web pages.
  • Support for near field communication (NFC) transactions, wherein devices that are in close proximity to one another exchange data through the air (well, actually, through radio waves). In conjunction with the proper hardware and applications, this feature could help make Linux a natural solution for e-commerce payments and other situations requiring the fast and seamless communication of information.

This impressive feature list reflects Linux developers' concern not just for the platforms where Linux and open source software have traditionally been predominant, such as servers and some PCs, but also emerging and next-generation devices. Many of these updates benefit mobile users, a group whose embrace of Linux—whether in the form of Android or, perhaps someday, Ubuntu—is not likely to abate soon. They also help to ensure that Linux remains an attractive solution for a variety of applications in the worlds of the cloud, Big Data, personal computing and the enterprise.