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27 May 2011, 11:10

What's new in Fedora 15

by Thorsten Leemhuis

Fedora 15 becomes the first major distribution to use the new GNOME 3 desktop and to use systemd in place of sysvinit and Upstart.

Two weeks later than original scheduled, the Fedora Project has released the fifteenth edition of its Linux distribution. Named after the city of Lovelock in the US state of Nevada, the distribution includes two major changes which can be expected to crop up in many other distributions: the GNOME 3 desktop, and sysvinit and Upstart alternative systemd. By including these, Fedora once more finds itself in its traditional pioneering position. Fedora 14, released in November, contained far fewer notable changes than has traditionally been the case.

Changing of the guard part I

The most obvious change in Fedora 15 is the switch to GNOME 3, released in early April, to which many Red Hat/Fedora developers have contributed. The third generation of the GNOME desktop (described in more detail in "First look: GNOME 3.0" in The H Open) is the default desktop in the distribution's desktop spin (a Live image which can also be used for installation). The conventional installation medium, available as a DVD ISO image, also installs the new version of GNOME unless a different desktop is selected at install.

The big change in GNOME 3 is GNOME Shell, which requires graphics hardware and drivers with 3D support. Since many virtualisation solutions are unable to emulate 3D graphics and Fedora does not include 3D drivers for those that do, GNOME Shell can't be tested in virtualisation solutions out of the box. Where 3D support is not available, GNOME 3 runs in a fallback mode which resembles GNOME 2 in the structure of its desktop elements and GNOME 3 in its design. There's been a bit of a clear out in some areas, meaning that some familiar GNOME 2 functions are unavailable.

During Fedora 15 development, posts critical of GNOME 3 were sent to mailing lists and posted on blogs by many Fedora developers. Some of the developers publicly stated that they had switched to other desktop environments, in particular Xfce. Version 4.8 of Xfce is included with Fedora 15 and is in many ways more similar to GNOME 2 than are GNOME Shell or KDE 4's Plasma desktop. Fedora now includes version 4.6.3 of the latter, which is no longer dependent on the HAL, has improved Bluetooth support and uses GStreamer as the default backend for Phonon.

Fedora 15
Source: is no longer the standard office suite, having been replaced by version 3.3.2 of LibreOffice, itself derived from Firefox 4.0.1 is the default web browser. Version 0.92 of learning environment Sugar, with which many users will be familiar from Sugar on a Stick (SoaS) or the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project, is also included.

Changing of the guard part II

It's not just the user interface which sees major changes, there has also been an abundance of innovation behind the scenes. Systemd, an alternative to sysvinit and Upstart first released a little over a year ago, takes over responsibility for system set-up in Fedora 15, including mounting disks required for operation and launching background services. It thus displaces Upstart, which was originally created by Ubuntu programmers and which had in turn displaced sysvinit in Fedora 9.

A key feature of systemd, which was originally conceived by two developers from Red Hat and Novell, is that it is able to launch background services in parallel without needing to explicitly specify the dependencies between them. This makes more efficient use of hardware resources, shortening boot times on many systems. Attentive users may notice that launching services in parallel causes the sequence in which services announce that they have started during booting to occasionally vary. Other users are however, unlikely to notice the change at all.

The command line program systemctl is included to permit users to interact with systemd. Chkconfig and service also work in concert with systemd to some degree. Boot parameters from previous Fedora versions such as 'single' and '3' can still be used to start Fedora in single user mode or avoid launching the GUI. There is a Fedora wiki page which lists some of the key commands for working with systemd.

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