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Fedora 17: Mm.. this stew of beefy source tastes just right

No miracles, just more seasoning

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The meat inside the beef stew

While much of the focus in Fedora lately has been on GNOME 3.x (since the distro has served as a showcase for GNOME 3), KDE fans need not feel left out: Fedora always updates KDE to the latest release, which in Fedora 17 means KDE Plasma Workspace 4.8. The big news in this version is Dolphin 2.0, a significant rewrite of KDE's default file manager. Dolphin 2.0 includes a new "view engine", which should make browsing files faster, particularly with large directory listings and slower hard disks.

As with GNOME, the KDE update brings the latest versions of Kate, Kmail, Gwenview and the rest of the KDE application suite.

The desktop updates may be the most visible changes, but under the hood is where Fedora 17, like most Fedora releases, really starts to distinguish itself from other distros.

Fedora 17 uses version 3.3 of the Linux kernel, which includes support for the Btrfs and ext4 filesystems. Fedora 17 will default to ext4. It is technically possible to install Fedora on Btrfs, but the process is tedious and definitely not for the faint of heart. The kernel also brings support for the gma500 graphics driver, so Intel's Poulsbo chipset should finally work for Linux users.

Fedora 17 marks the first steps in Fedora's great migration to a saner file organisation: the "unified file system" layout. Instead of the current separation between /bin and /usr/bin or /sbin and /usr/sbin and so on - all of which dates back to Unix disk space issues that were solved decades ago - everything will now live under /usr. It sounds more traumatic than it actually is; most users will never notice the change thanks to copious symlinks that make everything look pretty much the same for now.

Eventually, though, the directories really will be gone, leaving a cleaner and more predictable structure for application developers to work with. Fedora is the first of the major distros to tackle the unified file system, although most will likely follow suit.

Anyone looking to use Fedora 17 as a platform for the open-source cloud computing project, OpenStack, will be happy to know that Fedora has updated to the latest edition of Openstack, called Essex. Fedora also includes all the necessary OpenStack components like the Horizon web interface and the Quantum virtual networking service.

As is typical of a major Fedora update, Beefy Miracle packs in a ton of updates for developers, including the latest versions of scripting languages like Ruby, PHP and Python. There are also some new developer tools in Fedora 17 like the "Juno" update for the Eclipse SDK.

Getting touchy

Among the other major backend improvements in this release is the new multitouch support. Of course there's not much you can do with that at the moment since Fedora-based tablets aren't yet rolling off the production lines. But this release links together a full multitouch stack that runs from the kernel to the X server to GTK+ 3.4. All that remains to do now is for actual applications to implement multitouch. Then the Fedora tablet production lines can fire up.

For now the idea of a Fedora tablet still sounds far-fetched. In the mean time, however, the Fedora Project has continued its tradition of solid desktop releases. While it’s not miraculous Fedora 17 is certainly beefy: it makes a great platform for GNOME 3 while the underlying core has the kind of small but welcome improvements we've come to expect from a new version of Fedora. ®

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