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27 May 2008, 11:01

Thorsten Leemhuis

A first impression of Fedora 9

After half a year of development and a delay that has almost become traditional, the Fedora Project has now released version 9 of the distribution – codename Sulphur – which consists exclusively of open source software. It offers a range of new and updated software, such as the current Linux kernel 2.6.25, the new Glibc 2.8, the X server 1.5, GNOME 2.22, KDE 4.0.3 and the beta version of the OpenJDK Java runtime environment.

Two weeks later than originally planned, the Fedora Project, which is significantly sponsored and influenced by Red Hat, has released its Linux distribution Fedora 9, code name Sulphur. Designed by Red Hat to be a community distribution, this is the second version of the Fedora Project in which the community was actively involved to a substantial degree. Typically for Fedora, the result is a distribution with very current software components.

Basic system

The Fedora Project based the new distribution on Linux kernel 2.6.25, which was introduced less than four weeks ago. Compared with other distributions, it contains only a few patches in the sources for the standard Fedora kernel; the largest of them is a patch to elevate wireless networking drivers and the wireless subsystem approximately to the level offered by kernel 2.6.26, which is currently under development. Developers have already activated the Ext4 file system in the kernel for testing and development. The Ext3 successor is also already supported by the installer if a special parameter is submitted.

The kernel for Xen now uses the generic paravirt_ops Hypervisor interface introduced with Linux 2.6.20. In previous distributions the developers relied on the Xen kernel based on Linux 2.6.21 from previous versions of Fedora. Using the generic paravirt_ops allowed them to improve the distribution's hardware support by switching to the new Linux 2.6.25 kernel. However, this does mean that, while previous versions of Fedora could also operate as Xen host systems, the Fedora 9 Xen kernel can only be operated as a guest system under a Xen host. Although support for Xen hosts was originally planned for this distribution it wasn't completed in time and has now been placed on the roadmap for Fedora 10. Developers may add support for operating Xen hosts by supplying an update. Paravirtualised Xen guests, however, can be started with Xenner under KVM, provided the respective CPU supports virtualisation.

Glibc version 2.8 is Sulphur's standard C library – most of the Glibc developers work at Red Hat and continue to develop the C library within Fedora, generally releasing a new Glibc just before a new version of Fedora arrives. The Fedora Project has skipped GNU Compiler Collection 4.2 and gone straight from GCC 4.1 in Fedora 8 to GCC version 4.3. Version 4.3 contains numerous improvements.


One of the programmers responsible for Fedora's X server also manages the release of version 7.4 and originally planned to release both of them at almost the same time – however, the new release hasn't materialised, so Fedora 9 includes a preliminary version of 7.4 as well as the X server 1.5 intended for this version. Among other things, the new version offers an improved start-up time and better dynamic integration of input devices during operation.

In addition, developers optimised start-up speed and the access to PCI/PCIe devices. The necessary alterations to the graphics drivers were already integrated in all the popular open source drivers at the same time. However, AMD and Nvidia have not yet updated their proprietary drivers, and the two driver packages don't yet work with Fedora 9. Only one beta version of the Nvidia driver can be persuaded to co-operate to some extent using a trick.

For Radeon graphics cards, Fedora installs the ati X driver package with a driver called radeon which supports not only past Radeon chip models but also the current series X1000, HD 2000 and HD 3000 as well as some of the recent AMD graphics chip sets; 3D acceleration, however, is not available with the latest Radeon graphics cores. Alternatively, radeonhd drivers for the latest Radeon GPU generations can be installed separately via Fedora's online repositories. For testing, Fedora developers also integrated some kernel and X patches the Linux kernel uses to control the graphics mode. This is, for example, said to prevent the display from flickering when switching between the X server and the text console; switching is also said to be faster. However, so far these features only work with recent Intel graphics hardware.

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