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Hands on with the new Fedora 10

Fedora 10 has just been released to the waiting masses. Andy Hudson takes the distro for an early test run, exploring the new features and seeing how it stacks up against the other major players in the Linux league...

Key software

  • Kernel 2.6.27.5
  • Glibc 2.9
  • GCC 4.3.2
  • X.org 7.4
  • Gnome 2.24.1
  • KDE 4.1.2
  • Firefox 3.0.4
  • OpenOffice.org 3.0.0

As you're probably aware, Fedora is a community-based distribution that has backing from Red Hat, the largest Linux vendor in the world. Having this backing means that Fedora can work with a wide selection of developers all over the world, including some who are employed by Red Hat to work solely on the distro. Fedora itself is a descendant of the original Red Hat Linux which was discontinued a little over five years ago in favour of moving to a more community-focused approach, in tandem with in-house development for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, for which Fedora is considered by many to be up-stream and which provides a useful proving ground for many new technologies and packages.

Fedora 10 is based primarily on the 2.6.27 kernel, giving you access to the very latest and greatest that the kernel developers can offer, along with minor enhancements that come from Red Hat kernel developers and other members of the Fedora community.


Availability

As usual, the Fedora project offers a wide number of mirrors that you can use to obtain the different flavours in which Fedora 10 is available, including the traditional DVD alongside Live CDs for Gnome and KDE depending on which desktop environment you favour. BitTorrent distribution is usually very well served by the Fedora project, so if you're in a hurry then this is probably the way to go and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping others download (as long as you're allowing uploads!). For this review we snagged a copy of the Gnome Live CD which we then installed to our test machine to give it a good going over. We've also been closely tracking the development of Fedora, including the Alpha, Beta and Preview releases, all of which allow us to give you our informed opinion of Fedora 10.

Fedora 10 is available principally for i686 and x86-64 compatible processors, although versions for the PowerPC platform are also available. But enough about the background to the distro; let's take a look at some of the new features with Fedora 10, some of which should whet your distro-installing appetite!


Bask in the blue sunshine - the solar theme
combined with Plymouth makes Fedora incredibly
easy on the eye (click for bigger).


Beautiful booting

Performance benchmarks

Fedora 9

GRUB to login screen: 58.4s
Login to desktop: 12s
Launching Firefox 2: 1.4s
Shutdown: 14.5s
Geekbench score: 2271

Fedora 10

GRUB to login: 52.2s
Login to desktop: 14.9s
Launching Firefox 3: 2.4s
Shutdown: 11.6s
Geekbench score: 2260

(Test hardware: 2.4GHz
Intel Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM)

The first thing you'll notice is the vast increase in bootup speed thanks to the implementation of Plymouth - the replacement for the ageing and increasingly fragile RHGB. Along with the improvement in speed, the general look and feel of the initial boot process feels a lot smoother thanks to work done to minimise all the different handovers between the BIOS, GRUB, RHGB and finally a smooth fade into the GDM login screen. Whilst not complete for all graphics chipsets (you get the best effect from Radeon-based cards) it's certainly a big step in the right direction and helps Fedora move ahead in boot up times. We appreciate that this isn't going to be particularly significant for the server market, but certainly it will make a difference for laptop and desktop users who shutdown after each use. Also of note is the beautiful animation scheme that Plymouth delivers; not just content with a simple status bar moving across the screen, you instead get the Solar animation - reminiscent of a blue sun with solar flares. If Mark Shuttleworth's 'Pretty is a Feature' is anything to by, then Fedora has just run up and tweaked his nose quite severely!


Onto the desktop

Moving on into the distro itself, it's a stock Gnome 2.24.1 implementation, complete with the usual applications that Fedora typically bundles. As mentioned later, OpenOffice.org 3.0 makes its first major appearance in one of the major distros, a long with the usual raft of improvements to the standard desktop software. Planner, a project management tool, also makes an appearance; to our mind it is a useful application that seems to have come and gone in different releases. In any case, we're glad it's back in because we certainly can't work without our intricately designed Gannt Charts. NetworkManager is still the management tool of choice for switching between different networks; we've never had a problem whilst using it, and we can report that it now extends onto working with mobile broadband solutions. This is a growing market, particularly in the UK and we're glad to see support for it within this venerable distro.


Setting up a 3G modem is a straight-forward
affair - be online in seconds!

Also in, by the skin of its teeth, is Pidgin. Although the vanilla Gnome desktop has moved to Empathy as its primary instant messenger application, the Fedora team decided fairly late on to not use it as the default within Fedora 10. The main reasons for this appear to be do with Empathy's stability, and the current thinking is to do the Pidgin-to-Empathy switch sometime during the Fedora 11 release cycle. Of course, things can (and do) change rapidly within the open source world so we'll keep a close eye on this and see what comes of it. Another feature that was sadly dropped from this release was OpenChange, a fairly important inclusion for businesses as it allows native MAPI connectivity with Exchange servers.


The default IM client that never was - at least
not until Fedora 11.

A lot of people use IMAP or even POP support within Exchange, but by far the most used protocol is MAPI, something which we have had to live without. Having MAPI support built into applications such as Evolution would break another of Microsoft's vice-like holds in the business and corporate market. Not only would it allow access to email but also calendars, contacts, tasks, notes and public folders; the importance of this cannot be underplayed as even Microsoft seem unable to support MAPI for their Mac Exchange client, Entourage. Of course, by the time Fedora 11 comes onto the scene, OpenChange may have made its way into the other distributions and will hopefully help give Fedora and Linux in general a foothold in the corporate email arena.

Another nice touch when you install Fedora is that the Anaconda installer can now submit bugzilla reports directly, making this process infinitely easier. Of course it requires a working network connection, but nonetheless it can only help to identify and remove any bugs from this venerable installer.


PackageKit is closely integrated with Fedora,
leveraging Yum and RPM under the hood.


Office updates

Another key feature of Fedora 10 is OpenOffice.org 3.0, making Fedora the first major distro to include it in the DVD install. If you go with the Live CD then you'll get AbiWord instead which is due to space restrictions on the CD. OOo 3.0 is a major coup for Fedora, with Ubuntu 8.10 not slated to get it until early December and even then only via the Backports repository. The inclusion of OOo 3.0 is a major publicity boost for Fedora, not to mention the many benefits that it brings. Improved performance and an enhanced feature-set will further endear OOo to the masses, with the list of supported file formats ever growing; you can now open Office 2007 XML files, although you can't export in that format. Other improvements abound for core applications such as Calc and Impress, with particular attention being drawn to the new presenter console view within Impress. This is something that Powerpoint has had since Office XP and can be very useful if you do a lot of presentations, allowing you to view the presentation on the projector whilst seeing a more informative view from the computer that's running the presentation.


Impress 3.0 is now a real PowerPoint beater.


Delving deeper

Moving under the hood, Fedora also includes the first real glimpse of the Advanced Message Queing Protocol (AMQP), an open protocol standard for middleware. Some of you may be scratching your heads trying to work out what exactly middleware is, but it's quite simply the layer of software that sits between numerous disparate systems and allows them to communicate and exchange information. Middleware can be found in many large companies, but we've mainly come across it in the banking environment where they routinely use mainframe and legacy systems making such inter-system communication a challenge. It's no real surprise to learn that AMQP started off life in a large US bank, and has now been adopted by a working group that includes Red Hat, Cisco and other major corporates including both Microsoft and Novell. It's undeniable that it's not likely to be used in anger with a Fedora deployment, but rather Fedora is being used as a proving ground before it ultimately arrives in a future version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Staying under the hood, the Fedora team has worked to include the latest version of RPM (4.6) into Fedora 10. Whilst this might not mean much, it's good to see movement in this long neglected package management system so that future versions of Fedora, and other RPM-dependent distros can start to move closer to the performance of apt. Although not a final version of RPM 4.6, the groundwork laid in Fedora 10 will pay dividends moving forward.

Moving well away from the corporate sphere and into the living room, a fair amount of work has gone into LIRC, to improve connectivity with remote controls to further enhance Fedora's media centre credentials. Also within the multimedia realm, PulseAudio has been improved upon to make it more stable and reliable, with real gains in power consumption over Fedora 9. This has been achieved by undertaking a fairly extensive re-write of the core of PulseAudio to deliver timer-based audio scheduling, something which our Mac OS X and Vista friends already enjoy. Most people should notice an improvement in audio playback, with a serious reduction in any drop outs.


Although they don't supply patent restricted codecs,
Fedora does try to make things a little easier.


The bottom line

So, do we recommend Fedora 10? A tremendous amount of work has taken place in a release cycle which has also had to cope with a major infrastructure breach during its development. Importantly though, Fedora is starting to work on some of the aesthetical portions of the distro, in an attempt to bring it to a level par with Ubuntu. The main difference is that Fedora sticks rigidly to its interpretation of free software and doesn't entertain the kind of controversy that seems to hit nearly every Ubuntu release. The developers have given us a decent distro, and one that will reinforce Fedora's long term ambitions by providing a platform for growth. The distro itself has come a long way over the last five years; we certainly hope that the work that has been carried out can be matched, if not exceeded over the next five. If you've not tried Fedora, or have moved away from it in the past then you should definitely take a look - existing users will be rubbing their hands with glee over this solid release.

Grab a copy of Linux Format 115 (on sale 8 January) for our full review of Fedora 10, and the complete distro on the DVD!

    http://www.linuxformat.co.uk/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req=viewarticle&artid=3&page=1

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