Fedora 10 debuts with nips, tucks

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The Fedora Project today will take the wraps off the open development Fedora 10 release, six months and twelve days since Fedora 9 came on the scene and more or less in sync with the six month development cycle that the project has established for the code base that eventually becomes Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

According to Paul Frields, Fedora's project leader, the bits comprising Fedora 10, code-named "Cambridge," will be distributed starting at 10am Eastern time today. And while the software has lots of nips and tucks, and lots more people contributing to the project than even a year ago, the release will probably be seen as incremental by most users.

These are bleeding edge users, by the way, who like that sort of thing and don't mind that they are not going to be able to get tech support from mother Red Hat when they use the freebie edition of the company's sponsored Linux distro. (Technically, Red Hat doesn't control the Fedora Project, and technically, Fedora is its own thing, distinct from RHEL). In any event, incremental is always better than revolutionary.

Fedora 10 is based on the Linux kernel, which was announced on November 7. As Greg K-H, one of the kernel maintainers at Red Hat rival Novell, put it when the updated kernel came out: "It contains a wide range of bug fixes, and all users of the 2.6.27 kernel series are strongly encouraged to upgrade. Very strongly. Did I mention that you all should upgrade? Seriously, what are you waiting for? Running those old kernel trees prior to .27? Are you crazy? You really want to run this one. It's all shiny new and has that lovely new-kernel smell that we all know and love."

What I was trying to figure out as we were going to press was if this kernel had support for the new "Shanghai" quad-core Opterons, the current Core i7 "Nehalem" processors for PCs, and the future Nehalem octo-core Xeons and their QuickPath Interconnect. Frields was checking on that, but said he could not imagine this support was not in the latest stable kernel. (I'll let you know in a bootnote as soon as I know).

In addition to sporting a new kernel (which presumably smells like a dried grain of some sort, and one would hope it was malted barley), Fedora 10 includes the latest OpenOffice 3.0 office automation suite as well as the Gnome 2.24.1 graphical user interface. The latest rev of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, 8.10 - which was announced on October 27 - was not able to include OpenOffice 3.0 because of delays in that project. This only matters if you think of Ubuntu and Fedora as competitors. And even then, it doesn't matter all that much.

What is interesting this time around with Fedora 10 is that the KVM hypervisor (short for Kernel-based Virtual Machine) that has been an option in RHEL 5.X and in Fedora 9 is now installed by default. KVM was developed by a company called Qumranet, which created it for desktop virtualization and which was acquired by Red Hat back in early September for $107m. KVM is important because it is a virtualization technology that is already part of the Linux kernel tree, unlike the open source Xen hypervisor, which is a bit of a bolt on. Xen is, of course, the default and embedded hypervisor on RHEL 5.X right now. Fedora 10 includes KVM at release 74-5 and Xen 3.3.0-1. The libvirt, virt-manager, and related tools that are part of Fedora and that can manage KVM and Xen hypervisors have been updated as well.

Having shelled out a lot of cash, Red Hat is pretty pumped about KVM, and as Fedora project manager, Frields isn't being subtle about Xen. "People should look at that as a harbinger," he says. "Fedora has always been the trendsetter for Linux technologies, and a lot of the technologies in Fedora become de facto standards."

The libvirt and virt-manager tools have been extended so admins can manage remote virtualized PCs or servers and their storage from across the network rather than from directly booting onto the PCs or servers.

Fedora 10 has a number of neat-o features that Linux enthusiasts will want to take out for a spin. The Network Manager now has an "instant on" collaboration feature that allows for a machine with an Ethernet or mobile broadband connection to share that connection with other wireless machines in its vicinity.

Fedora 10 also has a new graphical boot system, called Plymouth, that has been driven down into the kernel to make Linux booting a lot faster. For now, it works on ATI Radeon cards, and support for integrated Intel graphics chips on PCs was pulled at the last minute. So, Intel graphics chip users, you are going to get a text-based bar showing the state of your system load - and so will anyone else using a non-ATI card until support for more cards is added to Fedora.

PackageKit, a software management feature that debuted in Fedora 9, has been enhanced with some intelligence so it can see when you need a particular piece of software - for example, a specific codec to listen to a specific kind of media file - and can then go get it for you. Frields says that this way of using PackageKit to get codes lays the foundation for automatically getting other kinds of code, such as fonts, drivers, and even whole applications, when it becomes apparent that an end user needs it. And this, Frields believes, will give Fedora an edge over Windows on the desktop. "We are in the business of giving away software, while they are in the business of selling software." Fair enough.

Looking ahead, because you always have to in the IT world, the Fedora 11 steering committee just met last week and approved May 28, 2009 as the launch date for Fedora 11. Now, while Frields was in no position to make any commitments, it is probably Fedora 11 that will be the foundation of what will eventually be the commercially supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6. That is the release to watch out for, even if Fedora 10 is the one to play around with now.

One more thing of note. A year ago, the Fedora Project made it easier for people to join the project and participate, moving from a largely Red Hat-controlled body of around 1,900 people to what has become a 17,000-strong body of contributors to the Fedora cause. Not everyone is contributing code, of course, and Frields admits that the core number of coders probably hasn't increased all that much. But the change has been apparently good. "The result has been a major increase in the amount of work getting done through Fedora," including artwork, documentation, testing, and so forth. There are even over 600 designated Fedora ambassadors now, evangelizing about the wonders of Fedora and helping in the open source cause.

Looks like Red Hat is taking some pages out of the Red Cross playbook. ®

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