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Red Hat has announced the first and only beta of its next Linux development release, Fedora 12.

Emperor Constantine the Great knew a good means to hold a crumbling empire together when he saw it - namely, Christianity - and by code-naming the 12th release of Fedora after Constantine, Red Hat is by no means suggesting that the Linux empire is crumbling or that the warring between the political, military, and religious powers that led to Constantine's ascension to rule is somehow also going on in the Linux arena. Rather, Red Hat is emphasizing Constantine's openness to new ideas.

Fedora 12 will be released in November, and it has a number of new virtualization features. The release will support Kernel SamePage Merging, or KSM, which allows two identical memory pages to be merged by the kernel into a single page shared by two processes, according to the documentation for the new virtualization features. What this means is that multiple, similar guest virtual machines have a smaller memory footprint because they are sharing some memory.

Fedora 12 also supports KVM Huge Page Backed memory, which the notes say "reduces cache pressure." (We are all suffering from that these days, right?) Red Hat says that it has also made some tweaks to the qcow2 native disk image file format for KVM-based virtual machines to improve I/O performance, and the performance improvements are good enough that the company says that users who had been snubbing the qcow2 format because of performance issues should give it another try.

Fedora 12 also will be able to see network adapters as they are plugged into a box (a hot add, in the lingo) and will be able to see SAN-based storage as well. The release also includes a new libguestfs library and guestfish shell that allows virtual machine images to be managed outside of the KVM and Xen hypervisor environments.

The release also includes enhancements to the PackageKit software package installer that will make it easier for application software makers to have PackageKit install their code on machines. The updated PackageKit will have a browser plug-in that will allow applications to be installed using HTML tags.

NetworkManager, which as the name suggests manages network connections in Fedora and which was substantially enhanced in Fedora 11, now has a signal strength and network selection indictor that makes it easier for you to jump onto a broadband connection. NetworkManager can also be used to configure static network connections if you are working from a desktop

Finally, Fedora 12 will include Theora 1.1, a video encoding program and format for streaming video that is open source and free of any licensing issues. Red Hat says that it believes that the Theora format will "meet or exceed expectations" and allow for the sharing of "crisp, vibrant media" in both downloadable and streaming formats.

You can see the full Fedora 12 feature list here and download the Fedora 12 beta here.

Bootnote: In the wake of the publishing of this story, a more detailed new feature list for Fedora 12 came to light, which includes a bunch of things that are probably more interesting to desktop users, such as improved graphics and sound. You can see that better feature list here. ®

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