What's new in Fedora 12
by Thorsten Leemhuis
The twelfth version of Fedora is equipped with a current and comprehensive selection of software packages that offer a whole range of technological advancements. Several of the new features, which include extended hardware support for kernel-based mode setting (KMS), 3D support for recent Radeon graphics cards, and the emerging KSM (Kernel Samepage Merging), are also likely to turn up in other Linux distributions in the near future.
Only a few days after the release of Ubuntu 9.10 and OpenSuse 11.2, the Fedora project, which is largely sponsored by Red Hat, has made Fedora 12, its updated Linux distribution code-named Constantine, available to download. This version was released without the Fedora project's usual last minute delays – yet the new version of Fedora offers a respectable number of improvements and a comprehensive range of current software.
As usual, the new version of Fedora includes several quite recent developments that are also likely to turn up in other Linux distributions in a few weeks or months – kernel-based mode setting (KMS), for instance, which has already been used extensively since Fedora 11 was released about five months ago, has been further improved and is now used on the majority of modern systems. Then there are the numerous improvements in the field of virtualisation – for example the emerging KSM (Kernel Samepage Merging) technology, which reduces the memory requirements of large virtualisation environments.
Constantine's new features also include several Moblin components and the use of Delta RPMs. In addition to these advancements, the Fedora wiki lists forty further new features of Fedora 12. Various minor, but by no means insignificant improvements are only mentioned briefly or not mentioned in the list at all – for example the default use of Delta RPMs, experimental 3D support for recent Radeon graphics hardware and numerous improvements to the open source drivers for NVIDIA graphics hardware.
Now also increasingly used in other distributions, kernel-based mode setting (KMS) with its jerk-free, animated startup was probably one of the outstanding new features of Fedora 11. With Constantine, the Fedora project has taken the next step and activated KMS with many GeForce GPUs as well as Radeon's series 2000, 3000 and 4000 graphics hardware. Since the KMS support for old Radeon graphics cores and for almost all modern motherboard chip-sets with Intel graphics core also remains available, the distribution now covers almost the entire range of graphics chips sold in large quantities over the past few years – as a result, Fedora 12 will offer KMS on the majority of modern PC systems.
The graphical user interface is provided by X.org 7.5 components – including X Server 1.7.1 with its X Input Extension 2.0 (XI2) support. Fedora 12, like the previous version, configures the relatively young "nouveau" open source driver for NVIDIA hardware by default. This driver has been improved considerably since Fedora 11. Unlike the "nv" driver used in many other distributions, it is capable of accelerating 2D video with current GeForce chips. Nouveau is also capable of multi-display operation, which can be configured using programs like X RandR or gnome-display-properties. Like the drivers Fedora configures automatically for AMD and Intel GPUs, nouveau supports RandR.
Initially the most important components of Fedora 11, which was released last June, were expected to form the basis for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 (RHEL6), which is scheduled to be released next year. Since the Red Hat distribution for corporate customers hasn't even become available as public betas yet, it now seems likely that at least some small, or possibly even large parts of Fedora 12 will be incorporated into the sixth series of RHEL.
However, the version of nouveau included in Fedora 12 does not offer any 3D support. It does, however, reportedly support waking up from system sleep states like suspend-to-RAM (ACPI S3). The nv driver doesn't offer this functionality, causing many users to switch to NVIDIA's proprietary driver to utilise this power saving mode in the past.
3D for new Radeon hardware
Included in Linux 2.6.32, the changes responsible for the support of KMS in recent Radeon GPUs make 3D acceleration possible in Radeon's series 2000, 3000 and 4000 graphics hardware. However, Like the Mesa driver, which is based on it, the developers still classify this code as experimental. The 3D support for recent Radeon GPUs is, therefore, disabled in the standard installation, but can be activated simply by installing the "mesa-dri-drivers-experimental" package. In a short test on a system with 790GX graphics (Radeon HD 3300), Compiz worked just as smoothly as the Extreme Tux Racer game.
The current versions of NVIDIA's proprietary Linux graphics drivers work with Fedora 12, provided KMS and some of the protective SELinux mechanisms have been disabled. Other well-known proprietary Linux graphics drivers like AMD's previous and current versions of Catalyst and the oldest version of the legacy drivers for old GeForce graphics cards are not functional because they don't cooperate with the series 1.7 X Server released in early October. Similar difficulties also occurred when other Fedora versions were introduced, because the graphics card vendors usually need several weeks or even months until the drivers cooperate with the latest kernel and X.org – particularly AMD is often several months behind. Occasionally, GPU vendors don't adjust their drivers for new versions at all, or quietly discontinue the maintenance of their drivers, which will sooner or later also affect the users of other current distributions.
The Fedora developers have reportedly also improved the distribution's monitor control via DisplayPort. If several monitors are connected to a system, Constantine will automatically configure them as an extended desktop rather than for mirror operation.
Having, with Fedora 10, introduced numerous webcam improvements that have since also been included in other distributions, the Fedora developers have continued to improve this area in Fedora 12, for instance expanding libv4l to include white balancing, gamma correction and a white list with information about camera mounting directions. Constantine also offers several improved or newly written webcam drivers that have already been, or are about to be, included in the official Linux kernel – including two drivers for various models in Logitech's QuickCam series.