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Fedora, Still Pushing The Envelope

The latest release of Fedora is out, offering a number of major improvements over its predecessor. Just exactly what does it have to offer the end user, and is it worth the upgrade?

The Fedora project releases a new release every six months. Now, the latest version has been unleashed on the world, but is it a worthwhile upgrade?

Originally expected to arrive on the 3rd November this year, Fedora 12 “Constantine” was slipped by 2 weeks. The decision to do so was made before the first beta release was complete, after which time the release date did not change.

It’s not the first time a Fedora release has slipped. In fact the previous version, known as “Leonidas”, was also delayed by two weeks.

When Fedora slips a release however, you know they are only doing it because it’s the best thing for the community.

In relation to the slip of version 12, Fedora developer Adam Williamson wrote on his blog:

“We’re still pushing to make the Fedora 12 final release on time but without compromising on quality… We’ll make the right decision either way, if we ought to slip the release we will do, and Fedora 12 should be one of the highest quality Fedora releases for a while.”

That shows how dedicated the Fedora community is to creating a quality product. Later after the “Go/No Go” meeting, the release went ahead as planned and “Constantine” was born.

It’s a Feature

This new release includes an impressive set of features.

Firstly, there’s the usual updates to the latest GNOME and KDE desktops and of course Linux kernel. On top of these however, the Fedora project has made some exciting improvements.

Although its still called the “i386″ architecture, the 32bit version has been built for i686 processors and later, as well as being optimized for the Atom processor. This was done by setting the GCC CFLAGS to “-march=i686 -mtune=atom”. As such, Fedora loses the ability to run on i586 and older computers, but gains performance on popular Atom based netbooks.

Speaking of netbooks, Fedora 12 comes with the ability to install a Moblin desktop which is specifically designed for netbooks with small screen resolutions. Combine this with the a system optimized for the Atom processor and users can have a brilliant netbook experience.

Some of the other improvements include; an updated version of the Theora video codec “Thusnelda”, DisplayPort support for Intel video cards, even better support for webcams over Fedora 11, the introduction of clustered Samba with GFS2, the lowering of processes privileges from root where possible, the ability to install packages via the web browser, greater support for mobile broadband, reduced power consumption, support for Bluetooth audio devices, much needed PulseAudio improvements, and (if anyone cares) full support for IPv6 in NetworkManager.

Constantine also has support for multiple pointers in X, as well as tablet support working out of the box.

In the virtualization space, Constantine comes with a myriad of improvements to Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) including reduced memory overhead with Kernel SamePage Merging (KSM) and better performance thanks to support for Huge Page Backed Memory.

Other virtualization improvements include; improved I/O when using the qcow2 disk image format and the ability to edit guest disk images, being able to hotplug extra network cards in guest machines without a restart, simplified configuration of complex networks, and the ability to lock a guest machine’s ABI to avoid a hardware change when QEMU is upgraded.

There are certainly some amazing new improvements, so how does this compare to previous versions? Like this:

Fedora 7 “Moonshine” had 21 main new features;
Fedora 8 “Werewolf” also had 21;
Fedora 9 “Sulphur” increased this to 30;
Fedora 10 “Cambridge” had 28;
Fedora 11 “Leonidas” had a massive 51; and,
Fedora 12 “Constantine” has 42.

Although it didn’t top the list, Constantine is no slouch when it comes to the number of main new features and was bettered only by its predecessor, Leonidas.

The Fedora project has managed to include all of these updates within a tight 6 month cycle and still create a high quality product. Initial reviews appear positive, but it’s early days and time will tell if this remains true longer term.

Packages

The installation of Fedora is very straight forward, yet very powerful and flexible. After an install, not yet one day after the release, the system prompted that 45 updates were already available. All of these were downloaded with ease, but one new tiny feature made a huge difference overall.

Introduced in the previous release and now enabled by default is the Presto plug-in for Yum, Fedora’s package manager. It has the ability to save bandwidth by downloading deltas and then re-building the update package RPM, rather than getting the full update.

Just how well did this work on the available 45 updates? Yum provides the answer, and the result is impressive:

"Presto reduced the update size by 91% (from 57 M to 5.5 M)."

That’s amazing. Finally with Constantine, the Presto plugin is enabled by default and users everywhere can experience faster, leaner updates. This is especially important for those still on slow Internet connections.

Defending Your Freedom

One of the greatest aspects of Fedora is their uncompromising stance on freedom. The project actively promotes not only the use of free software, but also free file formats and codecs.

In 2006, a review of then current Fedora Core 6 called for the entire project to be scrapped because it didn’t include proprietary software and drivers to make things “just work.”

“I appreciate the fact that distributions like Fedora Core are still focused on free-as-in-rights software, but today’s Web content requires more proprietary browser plugins than yesterday’s did, and today’s hardware is increasingly designed to be dependent on proprietary binary blobs in the form of firmware and driver packages… I say pack up, move on, and let Fedora Core die.”

Just over three years later, Fedora is still here and more popular than ever. Fedora could have compromised along the way as others have done, but they haven’t.

The result is an outstanding operating system which is constantly pushing the envelope in terms of features and stability. In fact, this new release includes some new open firmware, which will enable various Broadcom based devices out of the box.

Activate Fusion

“That’s nice,” I hear you say, “but I live in the real world.” Not a problem. While the Fedora project actively discourages the use of proprietary codecs, file formats and drivers, the excellent “RPM Fusion” repositories can provide everything a user might want.

Activating it in Fedora is as simple as downloading the RPM Fusion package, which will configure the repositories for you.

If you’d prefer, Fedora re-spin project Omega, can provide all of this out of the box. There’s also another project called easyLife, which will install various proprietary drivers and software and automatically configure your machine.

Full Steam Ahead

Leonidas was the most ambitious release ever and this new release of Fedora 12 builds upon its solid base. Constantine provides an even more polished user experience, while at the same time introducing a copious amount of new features.

This new release certainly feels very solid and is definitely worth the upgrade, today. Due to Fedora’s stance on free software, users might not get the same “out of the box” experience that other distributions might offer. Even so, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Either way, using only free software certainly helps to make Fedora more stable and it’s great for users who don’t need proprietary software.

That aside, Fedora 12 “Constantine” continues the tradition of pushing the envelope of free software and could just be, the very best Linux distribution of 2009.

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