May 26, 2009 Rebooting your PC after updating software is one of the more tedious aspects of working on computers. New award-winning software, called Ksplice, however, addresses this by enabling important updates, like security patches, without the need to restart – at this stage – Linux-based computers.

According to MIT’s Technology Review, the software is structured so as not to interfere with the operating system, which continues to run, while updates are being installed. This can be critically important to internet services running on Linux, such as e-mail and web servers, which require security updates but continual availability.

A tricky process, Ksplice works at a different level of computer architecture. While most update software uses the same programming language as the operating system, Ksplice sidesteps this by analyzing the changes that an update makes at a low level and implementing them using the lower level language, avoiding the need to restructure instructions in a higher-level programming language.

The start-up company Ksplice Inc, founded by MIT engineering graduates Jeff Arnold and its chief operating officer Waseem Daher, recently beat five finalists to clinch top prize in this year’s MIT Entrepreneurship Competition – which apart from bragging rights included $100,000 in start-up funds.

To date, Ksplice reboot-free update technology works only for the Linux operating system, although the software could be made to work on other operating systems in the future.

Ksplice is meant to work for all security patches. “If you don’t have a complete solution, it’s basically useless,” Daher told the Technology Review. In a three-year test period, Ksplice installed 88 percent of Linux security updates automatically without a restart.

Michael Hicks, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, warns that the software needs to prove it can do the job reliably and safely. While he is impressed by how much Ksplice can do automatically, he believes more research is needed, something he is doing himself.

Iulian Neamtiu, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of California, Riverside, says the technology could be an enormous boon if it could update the operating system or applications on laptops, desktop PCs or cell phones.

Ksplice plans to license its technology directly to software vendors and then provide the expertise to maintain the system. It will also offer a subscription service.

Paul Best