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25 May 2010, 18:59

Rock it

What's new in Fedora 13

by Thorsten Leemhuis

Known as "Goddard", Fedora 13 not only boasts a current software selection and a modernised design, it also offers an extensive range of technological improvements. As usual, the distribution demonstrates its pioneering role in this area and many of its advanced features are likely to appear soon in other Linux distributions.

Fedora 13 Launch
Almost exactly six months after releasing Fedora 12, the Fedora project has released Fedora 13, a Linux distribution promoted via the slogan "rock it" and named after rocket scientist Robert Hutchings Goddard. With this release, the Fedora project stays true to form in two ways: The distribution was released two weeks later than originally scheduled and offers tons of technological advancements that are bound to appear in many other distributions in the near future.


Like previous versions of Fedora as well as version 10.04 of Ubuntu, Fedora 13 primarily uses graphics drivers with kernel-based mode setting (KMS). In some respects, Goddard once again takes the lead in terms of KMS support, as Fedora supports Intel and NVIDIA graphics chips via the current versions of's "intel" and "nouveau" graphics drivers, which rely on KMS -- as a result, disabling the technology via the "nomodeset" kernel parameter no longer solves problems that may arise due to KMS. Setting the parameter now causes the X Server to default to the generic VESA driver, which only offers basic functionality and is not adequate for general use.

Test area

The Fedora project's is mainly sponsored by Red Hat, and parts of the distributions developed by the project are used as a basis and test area for components used in Red Hat Enterprise Linux and other products.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6, however, which is expected in a few month's time, will largely be based on the predecessor of Fedora 13, because the development of this distribution for corporate customers – usually called RHEL6 – already began several months ago. However, some of the RHEL6 components do have their origin in Fedora 13 – for instance parts of the installation program, as Fedora 13's new dialogues for volume configuration can also be found in RHEL6. This is not unusual and recent versions (5.1 to 5.5) of the originally Fedora Core 6-based RHEL5, which is now three years old, also contain components of much more recent versions of Fedora.

Nevertheless, the KMS-reliant graphics driver for Intel graphics chips will probably soon appear in other distributions, because it supports some of the current and forthcoming graphics chips better than older drivers, which work both with and without KMS. The situation is similar with the Nouveau driver because the version included in Fedora supports something long hoped for especially by users who prefer open source software: 3D support in an open source driver for GeForce graphics chips. While this feature has explicitly been labelled as experimental in Fedora 13 and is only available after manually installing the "mesa-dri-drivers-experimental" package and restarting the X Server, it performed without major problems in various short tests and, with some further development, is likely to hit the top of the wish list in other distributions with an open source focus, such as Debian or openSUSE.

Still classified as experimental in Fedora 12, the 3D support of Radeon series 2000, 3000 and 4000 graphics chips has now fully matured and is enabled by default. Those who have a Radeon graphics chip can, for now, still disable KMS if they encounter problems, because the relevant driver currently also works without KMS. This driver and the kernel's KMS drivers also offer rudimentary support for the Evergreen graphics chips available on Radeon 5000 graphics cards since last autumn. The Fedora developers say they have improved the DisplayPort support in the Radeon and Nouveau drivers.

Incompatible's X Server version 1.8.0, which was released in early April, is responsible for displaying the graphical user interface. Some of the proprietary graphics drivers, which are, as usual, not included in Fedora, don't co-operate with this version -- for example's NVIDIA's Legacy driver for older GeForce graphics cards. NVIDIA's current Linux driver, on the other hand, is compatible and available to install manually from add-on repositories such as RPM Fusion; nevertheless, installation remains much more complicated than in distributions like Ubuntu.

Users of recent Radeon graphics cards will probably find X Server 1.8 particularly cumbersome, as AMD's Catalyst and Fglrx graphics drivers for Linux don't currently work with this version. This has almost become the rule in Fedora and other distributions which use recent versions of X Server, because it sometimes takes AMD months to adapt its proprietary drivers to new major releases of X Server – it usually only happens just before a new version of Ubuntu is released with a modern X Server. This affected the users of Fedora 12, which was released in November, because the series 1.7 X Servers only became accessible with version 10.04 of Catalyst, which was released at the end of last April.

In Fedora 13, AMD's sluggishness will particularly aggravate the owners of series HD 5000 graphics cards, because these cards can now only be addressed via the rudimentary driver mentioned earlier; the situation is also likely to displease gamers who want to use AMD's driver with series 2000, 3000 or 4000 cards, because Catalyst offers considerably better 3D performance than the open source drivers included in Fedora. For these users, Fedora 12 will probably remain the preferred choice, at least for now.

Next: Desktop, On demand, I/O

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