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Hats off to Fedora 9
May 13, 2008

The Fedora project today released a new version of its completely free and redistributable Linux distribution. Showcasing lots of next-generation Red Hat features, Fedora 9 also boasts new features of its own aimed at making the distribution appeal more to newer Linux users.

Fedora 9's more salient new features include:
  • USB drive booting with user data persisting across reboots
  • A nifty graphical Windows utility for creating USB boot drives
  • Installer now supports partition resizing, to better support dual-booting, and LUKS encryption
  • First distribution with KDE 4.0 (though Gnome still default UI)
  • FreeIPA, a new user rights administration tool
  • Sun's OpenJDK
  • GVFS, a next-generation successor to gnome-vfs
  • GDM (GNOME Display Manager) improvements
  • OneSecondX, aimed at faster X Window System launches
  • Network Manager (network setup GUI) now supports static IPs as well as GSM and CDMA network cards
  • GCC 4.3 (4.2 series was leapfrogged)
  • PackageKit, a new backend-agnostic (RPMs or Debs) software installer GUI
  • Firefox 3
  • Ext4 filesystem option (though not default, and no e2fsprogs yet)
  • Lots more

Luke Macken's LiveUSB-creator v2.0

Fedora backgrounder

Many people mistakenly believe that Red Hat started Fedora. In fact, the project began independently in 2003, as a "community" version of the popular Linux distribution. The idea was to emulate the "freeness" and community involvement of the Debian distribution, while still leveraging Red Hat's testing and integration work -- not to mention its more regular release cycle schedule.

It was an idea whose time had come, and it did not take Red Hat long to see that. Later that same year, Red Hat decided to create a Fedora Foundation around the project. It next decided to discontinue Red Hat Linux, the freely available, community supported distribution it had maintained in parallel with its commercial products ever since starting out. Suggesting that Red Hat Linux users adopt Fedora instead, Red Hat said at the time that it just made sense for a community-supported distribution to be governed by a community, not a company. It proved to be sound reasoning.

Red Hat's 2003 decision instantly catapulted Fedora into place among the world's most popular Linux distributions, where it arguably remains today. True, Ubuntu's rocket-ship trajectory catches the eye of more Linux newbies. And, those simply looking for a free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux may turn to CentOS, positioned as a no-cost "re-build" that still complies with Red Hat redistribution licensing. Yet, for developers and others looking for a more modern, up-to-date, fully redistributable RPM-based Linux distribution, Fedora is still the biggest, pardon the analogy, hat in the ring.

Mini-interview: Fedora project leader Paul Frields

The "redistributable" part is key, explained Fedora project leader Paul Frields, pictured at right. He noted that developers can create embedded appliances or enterprise desktop Linux images with Fedora in confidence that they are not accidentally redistributing proprietary software. Users can be confident of not violating any license agreements. The flip-side is that users will have to install any proprietary bits like browser plug-ins themselves (though Fedora 9 actually includes an open source Flash plugin).

Midway through its fifth year, the Fedora project has dutifully cranked out two releases per year, earning it a reputation as one of the better-run open source projects. Once criticized for being too heavily influenced by Red Hat, which continues to support the project, Fedora has about 2,000 active developers and package maintainers today, according to Frields. Asked about overlap of maintainers with the Debian project, he assented, stating, "The ideals we have are highly compatible with Debian, and our package maintainers are very similar."

Both distributions benefit enormously from the work of younger programmers, who are motivated largely by an interest in learning to build and package free software, and to contribute to a dynamic, exciting, high-profile project. Debian's is the larger community -- very nearly every significant open source application is available pre-built, typically for several different architectures. Fedora, meanwhile, may enjoy more contributions from professional programmers, many Red Hat employees. Thus, many Red Hat features make their initial debut in Fedora, and graduate to RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) once they have been hammered on by Fedora users. Frields admitted that Fedora serves as a kind of "technology preview" for Red Hat. Each release is maintained for a shorter term, but the pay-off is a chance to use today the software that others won't get until tomorrow.

And what's next for Frields and the Fedora project? "We've reduced the barriers to joining the project. You don't have to send in a GPG key, if you're an artist or documentation contributor. It's easier to have a project membership account now."

Frields adds, "In the 35-45 days ahead, we'll be rolling out new web properties, including a wiki based on MediaWiki. We hope to implement a single sign-on across all the web properties. And we're putting in place other collaboration tools, including Gobby, and Asterisk servers. So contributors can log into the web app, and request a teleconference, and instantly get a conversation going. And, it's all done with open source software."

Frields concludes, "We want to create a culture of contribution. Our purpose is to push forward open source and free software. Our mission has always been about open source, and making it easier for developers, enthusiasts, and remixers to succeed."

The Fedora sites are currently unavailable, due to high traffic levels, but the Fedora 9 distribution should soon be available here. A "how-to" document on creating a live USB installation can be found here.

Also out is Christopher Negus's book, Fedora 9 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux Bible, available at Amazon, priced at $32. Another available resource is Jason Brook's eWEEK blog post, Two weeks with Fedora 9.

-- Henry Kingman

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