What's new in Fedora 11
by Thorsten Leemhuis
It's not just the new design and updated software that brings a sparkle to the eleventh version of Fedora (Leonidas), there are also a whole raft of technical enhancements. Fedora once again finds itself in the vanguard – expect to see many of these changes coming to other Linux distributions in the near future.
A little over six months after releasing Fedora 10 (Cambridge), the Fedora Project has now made its successor, Fedora 11 (Leonidas), available to download. As is par for the course with Fedora, the new version arrives just a tad later than originally planned and comes equipped with a broad range of the very latest software, including the recently announced OpenOffice 3.1 and a pre-release version of Firefox 3.5.
And there's much, much more – the project wiki lists a total of more than fifty new features on which the developers behind the largely Red Hat-sponsored project have been working. And even that covers just the major new features in Leonidas – many minor, but by no means insignificant changes fail to make the list and only reveal themselves on closer inspection.
One of the most obvious changes is support for kernel-based mode setting (KMS) on Intel chip-sets with integrated graphics and almost all Radeon models. Fedora 10 was able to use this technology – which involves the kernel taking much more control of the GPU, including dealing with screen resolution settings – but only with some Radeon chips. KMS does away with the flicker when starting the X server or switching to the text console, as long as the kernel and the GUI operate with the same resolution. Multiple X servers can now run in parallel with full functionality on different consoles. KMS also brings some indirect benefits for configuring multiple monitors and deals with reinitialisation of the graphics core after suspend to RAM, which should improve the reliability of system-wide hibernation.
With KMS support in the Linux kernel version used by Leonidas (2.6.29), X server 1.6 with Direct Rendering Infrastructure 2 (DRI2) and UXA 2D acceleration architecture, Fedora 11 is using precisely those components on which Intel's future graphics drivers will be based. This may be one of the reasons why, on our test system at least, we experienced none of the many problems exhibited by the recently released Ubuntu 9.04 with some Intel chips.
Fedora is the first major distribution to use KMS with Intel chip-sets with integrated graphics, of which dozens of different versions are available. Some indeed are widely used, and sometimes with exotic set ups. Some field testing is therefore going to be necessary before we see how good and how robust KMS support really is.
It's a similar story with the latest Nouveau graphics driver, which Fedora by default configures for modern NVIDIA hardware. It can deal with two-monitor configuration using RandR (resize and rotate extension), offers Xvideo support for GeForce 3 series and higher GPUs and can address some recent NVIDIA GPUs which are not supported by the previous 'nv' driver for NVIDIA chips, which of late has suffered from sluggish development.
- CD and DVD ISO images containing complete installation media for updating or installing Fedora are found on both the Fedora 11 Desktop Edition and KDE Desktop Edition web pages, as both GNOME and KDE installs are contained in the same image file.
- Fedora 11 KDE Desktop Edition (CD-ISO)
- Download further spins (XFCE, Fedora Electronic Lab, Appliance Operating System/AOS, Games, etc.) via BitTorrent
- List of all active mirror servers
The kernel offers KMS support for some NVIDIA GPUs based on the Nouveau code. As this is still a work in progress, the Fedora development team has left this deactivated by default – it can be activated using the kernel parameter "nouveau.modeset=1". The still experimental 3D options offered by Nouveau are not available in Fedora 11, as they are still some way off being ready for prime time.
(No) third dimension
Desktop effects with NVIDIA graphics cards still, therefore, require NVIDIA's proprietary driver. As this is not available under an open source license, it is not included in Fedora, which restricts itself to open source software only. Likewise AMD's proprietary graphics driver ("Catalyst" or "fglrx"), the latest version 9.5 released in May, also happens to be incompatible with the Linux kernel version 2.6.29 used in Fedora 11.
Version 9.3 of the Catalyst driver can no longer be used, as it is not compatible with version 1.6 of the X server, used in Fedora 11 (and for that matter Ubuntu 9.04). This was the last version still to support the R300, R400 and R500 series GPUs used in Radeon models 9500 to X1950. Fedora uses the open source "radeon" driver for these GPUs, on which it also provides 3D support. The version included with Fedora 11 does not provide 3D support on newer Radeon HD 2000, 3000 and 4000 series graphics hardware, but does provide Xvideo and RandR support.