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Red Hat goes one louder with Fedora 11

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Linux distributor Red Hat and its affiliated Fedora Project, which creates the development release that eventually becomes Red Hat's commercially supported Enterprise Linux distro, have gone one louder this morning with the release of Fedora 11.

The new release has incremental improvements to lots of features, much as prior Linuxes have had, and the fact that there are no earth-shattering feature changes is really a testament to the fact that the Linux kernel and its related systems software and application stack (yes, I know Linux is not an operating system, strictly speaking, but to some ways of thinking, neither is Windows) has become a mature and credible alternative to Windows and Unix. Even on laptops and desktops.

Fedora 11 is based in the Linux 2.6.29 kernel, which has a feature called relatime that has been merged upstream into the Linux 2.6.30 kernel backported to the 2.6.29 kernel. This relatime feature is a tweak to atime feature the required for POSIX compliance, which keeps timestamp information on when files in a machine were last accessed; it lets the kernel take some shortcuts so it isn't burning up power and time to keep updating this timestamp. The improved relatime function in Fedora 11 will help make laptops (which have slow disks to begin with) run less clunky and also conserve battery power.

Fedora 11 includes updated graphical user interfaces, with Gnome 2.26.1 and KDE 4.2.3, as well as the cutting-edge Firefox 3.5 beta 4 Web browser and the OpenOffice 3.1 office automation suite. According to Paul Frields, Fedora Project leader at Red Hat, the underlying hardware virtualization abstraction layer, QEMU, which actually emulates the processors and other features in a KVM-based virtual machine, and the KVM hypervisor have now been merged together. The KVM hypervisor is already part of the Linux kernel, and now QEMU will be as well. "So now we have QEMU, KVM, and the kernel all moving in harmony," says Frields.

You can't exactly say that about the relationship between the open source Xen hypervisor and either Windows or Linux. Which is one of the reasons why Red Hat bought Qumranet for $107m last summer. The other reason, you will remember, is that Red Hat wants to make and sell its own freestanding virtualization tools for desktops and workstations. Anyway, Fedora 11 now includes QEMU 0.10.4, which is wrapped into KVM 84 in a single package called pngqemu-kvm and the older kvm package has been made obsolete.

Frields says that Fedora 11 includes a new virtual machine creation wizard, and that SE Linux mandatory access control can now be wrapped around virtual guests running atop Fedora 11, a feature called sVirt. The virtualization code inside Fedora has also been changed so the SASL protocol can be used to allow system administrators using vinagre, virt-viewer, and virt-manager can log into Fedora servers and desktops remotely and securely. Moreover, administration of machines can be set up in groups, allowing admins only to access specific machines rather than every Fedora or Red Hat box they can see on the network.

The PackageKit application installation feature of Fedora continues to evolve in the 11 release, and now the operating system can find missing fonts or file viewing applications if a file you are trying to use calls for them and automatically install them. Over time, Frields says, the Fedora project wants to make this "a more robust desktop experience", and says that what the project would love to do is add some social networking functionality to PackageKit so that, for example, if you needed to open a particular kind of media file PackageKit would not only know who you are, but who your peers are who use Fedora, and make recommendations about which viewer you might want to choose to automatically download.

The kernel mode graphical boot system, known as Plymouth - which debuted with Fedora 10 six months ago and supported a subset of ATI Radeon video cards - has been updated to support more ATI video cards, as well as some nVidia cards and the Intel graphics chips that had their support pulled at the last minute from Fedora 10 back in November. The Plymouth boot tool is used to speed up the boot process, which can be painfully slow because of the way graphics cards were previously handled in Linux.

You can take a tour of Fedora 11's features here, read the release notes here, and download the software here. ®

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