IPv6 is the next version of the Internet Protocol, replacing the current version IPv4. The new standard, which is under the auspices of the IETF, is meant to fix a number of problems in IPv4, most notably a limitation on the number of IP addresses that are available. You see the effect of Ipv4's limitations every time your system logs onto a DHCP service. In an era when refrigerators and automobiles are going to require IP addresses, more addresses are needed. Beyond that, IPv6 improves upon routing and network autoconfiguration.
You'll likely find IPv6 as an option in your current operating system (see www.ipv6.org/impl/index.html), including: Macintosh, Windows, ten versions of Unix, OS/390, OpenVMS; it's built in to a number of vendor's routers as well. Given that IPv6 is meant to coexist with IPv4, that is, you can run both on the same system, the question is "Should you install IPv6?"
The first thing you need to know is whether your application supports IPv6. A page of known compatible applications may be found at: www.ipv6.org/v6-apps.html. It's a surprising list that includes everything from Web servers to mail servers to the network game Quake. If you have an application that supports IPv6, then it is definitely worth deploying that extra addressing service. IPv6 doesn't add a lot more overhead to your system, but unless you want to provide v6 services or access v6 sites you might want to wait a while before adding that service to a system that is tight on resources.
Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.