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Internals

The new version of Fedora uses a kernel based on Linux 2.6.38, released in March. All signs suggest that the kernel version will not change over the roughly thirteen month period for which this version of Fedora will be maintained. Since the introduction of the new update policy shortly before the release of Fedora 14, the Fedora Project appears have stopped delivering major kernel updates in new main development tree versions – prior to version 14, this was a frequent occurrence. New and updated drivers in new kernels had previously resulted in hardware support gradually improving over time.

Fedora now uses biosdevname (more details of which can be found in the Kernel Log) to assign network port names. Where the BIOS (via DMI etc.) does not provide the information required to use the designation given on the casing or port, instead of naming the first network device port in the second PCI/PCIe slot 'eth0', it may now be called something along the lines of 'p2#1'.

Fedora is one of the first distributions to use the /run/ directory, announced in late March, to store operation-critical files such as lock and PID files. This is particularly important for services such as systemd, udev and mdadm which are launched very early in the boot process and are therefore unable to use /var/lock and /var/run/, due to the risk that a different disk may be mounted to these locations later in the boot process.

Grub legacy has been retained as the boot loader, though consideration is being given to switching over to grub 2, which is also included. Fedora now uses XZ, a variant of LZMA, to compress its Live media; this compresses files more efficiently than the previous gzip, so that spin images are now either smaller or contain more software.

Ext4 must be used for the root partition when installing from Live media, but the experimental Btrfs can be used when installing from other media. Previous versions of Fedora required users to enter specific boot parameters in order to use Btrfs. Some Fedora developers are mulling over elevating Btrfs to default file system status in Fedora 16, but whether this will actually come to pass depends largely on the reliability of the tool for checking and repairing Btrfs disks, a significantly improved version of which is due to be released shortly.

For developers

Most of the Python programs included with Fedora use Python 2.7.1. The interpreter for Python3 has been upgraded from version 3.1 to 3.2. A new generation of Ruby on Rails has been ushered in with the switch from 2.38 to 3.0.5.

Fedora 15 includes version 4.6 of the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC). The switch from version 4.6 to 4.7 of the GNU Debugger (GDB) brings a number of debugging improvements, details of which can be found on the feature web page. For Java, Fedora now includes the IcedTea6 1.10-based OpenJDK and the IcedTea-Web Java Plugin.

Version 3.0.3 of project and build management tool Maven, which is written in Java, is also included. The Tryton application framework, written in Python, is included for the first time.

And there's more

Some of the other changes in Fedora 15:

  • Fedora 15 for the first time includes BoxGrinder, used to generate appliances (packages designed for specific usage scenarios, consisting of software and the operating system components required by that software). BoxGrinder is able to generate appliances for use in virtualisation solutions and cloud platforms including Amazon's EC2 and VMware products. Background information can be found in the Red Hat blog posting "Spotlight Feature: Building Appliances for the Cloud with Fedora 15".
  • Also new is firewall daemon FirewallD, which allows changes to be made to firewall configuration without requiring a firewall rebuild afterwards. Services can interact with FirewallD via D-Bus to request changes to the firewall, etc.
  • Fedora can now mount eCryptfs-encrypted containers in a user's home directory automatically at logon. An explanation of the steps required can be found on the wiki page.
  • Fedora includes a beta version of the largely rewritten Powertop2, which can be used to trace energy wasting devices and optimise systems for energy-saving.
  • RPM makes the leap to version 4.9, which is faster and fixes some "annoying bugs".
  • A revised version of the SELinux Troubleshooter tool should be more user friendly. It is used to diagnose and deal with issues causing blockages or alerts.

Summary

Fedora delivers two major changes which are not yet included by default in any other major Linux distribution: GNOME 3 and systemd. Both have been running reliably on two systems in regular use in our editorial office since the release of the Fedora 15 beta. Indeed the beta of Fedora 15, which was released a week prior to the release of the final version, has failed to exhibit any notable problems.

The Fedora Project is, however, going to need to be prepared to take a lot of stick for the switch to GNOME 3, plenty of which has been forthcoming along with the pre-release versions, with some users being not at all keen on the next generation GNOME desktop. Consistent positive criticism has also been heard. Opinions on the Unity interface in Ubuntu 11.04, released a month ago, were similarly divided. (thl).

Sources of further information

The desktop version of Fedora 15 is available for downloading as a LiveCD or install DVD image from either the main download page (x86-32) or from the alternate mirrors page (x86-32 and x86-36 versions) of the Fedora Project web site. The mirrors page may be the better choice as the local mirrors should provide a more reliable and speedy download, alternatively BitTorrent can be used. Spins are available from another site which also has background information describing the intended hardware platform and application for each of the spins.

There is a mass of information on Fedora 15 available from the Fedora web site, via the home page or from the documentation page. The release notes give an overview of the important new features and in some cases describe them in some detail. The Fedora developers maintain a list of frequently encountered problems with Fedora 15 on the project wiki pages.

In the accompanying text of this feature there are many links to further information on the improvements in Fedora 15. The Fedora release notes page gives a good short overview of the innovations in the new release while the Fedora 15 Talking Points and the release announcement provide this information in more detail.

Spins, remixes, etc.

The Fedora 15 package repositories contain more than ten thousand packages which the Fedora project combines to create different variants of the distribution.

The largest variety of software and the greatest number of installation options can be found on the "traditional" installation media the project offers for download as CD or DVD ISOs for x86-32 and x86-64 systems. There is also a lean variant which, similar to the boot images at boot.fedoraproject.org, enables users to install via the network. In all these variants users have control over the selection of packages to be installed and can, for instance, choose between GNOME and KDE. While less mainstream applications and desktop environments such as LXDE or Xfce are not included on the CDs and DVDs, they can be selected directly during installation if the online repositories are enabled as an installation source.

In addition, the project offers "Spins" – various live media that contain software collections customised for different groups of users. Like the main installation CD of Ubuntu, the spins are not only suitable for testing Fedora without risk, but also for installing the distribution on a hard disk. However, unlike the traditional installer or the Ubuntu installation CD, this option doesn't allow users to select a file system for the root partition and installs Ext4 by default – on the other hand, this installation method is really fast.

The Spin regarded as most important by the project is the desktop Spin, which includes GNOME and has been given a prominent place on Fedora's main download page; the KDE Spin can also be found there. Like the package repositories and the ISO images of the traditional installation media, both Spins are available on hundreds of mirror servers located all over the world. A dedicated web page offers further Spins – including several with desktop environments such as LXDE or Xfce, one which offers the Fedora Design Suite, a security Spin, a Sugar on a Stick Spin, and a gaming-oriented games Spin. The latter fills up a DVD, but most of the other Spins fit on a CD.

Since Fedora 12, users have been able to transfer the ISO files of Spins and the netbook image to a USB flash drive using such programs as "dd". Those who intend to permanently run a Fedora Spin from a USB flash drive should transfer the files to USB using liveusb-creator, which is available for Linux and Windows and has been used for previous versions of Fedora. When starting the Spin, this program can automatically create a memory area for storing the data written during operation – such as documents or manually installed or updated software.

The programs on the livecd-tools combined with the appropriate Kickstart files provide users with a relatively easy way to create a custom distribution from the packages in the Fedora repositories. If you want to share your remix you're not allowed to use the Fedora trademark; this can easily be achieved by replacing three packages. The project's naming regulations also prohibit that such custom distributions be called Spins when they are shared. Instead, the project recommends the term "Fedora remix" to designate the distribution's origin, but avoid any confusion between custom installations and Fedora's own distribution variants.

Only the traditional installation media allow fully or partially automated installations via kickstart, network installations and the updating of previous Fedora installations. Updating via PreUpgrade is probably the best solution for most users, because this is more convenient and faster, and it also updates packages that are not included on the media.

All variants of Fedora 15, and generally also the remixes, use the same package repositories for manual software installation. It is, therefore, possible to install the packages of the KDE Spin in the GNOME Spin and vice versa. These repositories also allow users to manually install software such as LibreOffice – which is excluded from many Spins due to space limitations – by executing the following command line instruction as root:

yum install \
libreoffice-{calc,draw,graphicfilter,impress,writer,xsltfilter}

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