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Customize Your New Red Hat Fedora

Red Hat users have long been able to select the packages they want to install on their systems. The latest Fedora release improves that customization and puts Red Hat squarely in the face of custom Linux appliance builders, such as rPath, that have recently begun to challenge Red Hat's dominance in the Linux market.

Fedora 7, released today, allows users to build their own custom versions of Red Hat's community Linux offering using tools Red Hat is open sourcing.

"The overall theme of everything we've been trying to do with Fedora 7 is to think about Fedora 7 as a remix," Fedora Project Leader Max Spevack told internetnews.com. "Our goal is to turn Fedora into an open source platform where users can go to mix and match however they see fit using tools that are open and transparent."

The toolchain used to build the system and the whole Fedora distro-building process is now being pushed out into the community, said Spevack. The new transparency and tools provide a unique perspective, giving users full insight into how an entire operating system is developed. Spevack also noted that the new tools make it possible for users to replicate the Fedora process and build their own distros.

At the heart of this build-your-own-distro capability is Revisor, which, Spevack said, is basically a wizard that lets users go through the thousands of Fedora packages and check off what they want in a custom build. Users can also build out a LiveCD or a USB bootable install.

While the new Fedora offering of customizable Linux may sound a lot like what former Red Hat engineers are doing at rPath, Spevack argued that there are some key differences.

The obvious difference is that Fedora 7's build service is local and not Web-based like rPath's. The plan according to Spevack, however, is to have Fedora's build Web-based at some point soon.

"The main difference is the freedom of the backend," Spevack said. "Our GUI app is basically just a graphical app on top of already open source tools that someone could use from the command line. With rBuilder you can't look behind the scenes as far as I know."

There is one other potential issue, as well. In order to take advantage of the custom build feature, you need to be running an RPM package-management-capable system like Fedora.

Fedora 7 will be the first official release from Fedora that includes a LiveCD, which enables a user to run Fedora directly from a CD/DVD drive without the need to actually install it onto a hard drive. Previously there had been a community effort called Fedora Unity that built a LiveCD, but it was not part of the official Fedora release.

Spevack explained that Fedora was built on the efforts of Fedora Unity in order to do Fedora 7's LiveCD and Revisor.

"Fedora Unity is more necessary than ever; in fact the two lead developers -- the guys that built Revisor -- don't even work for Red Hat," Spevack said. "It really is a victory of how we try to allow innovation and freedom within Fedora to get stuff done when the biggest part of the release is a tool written by community members. It makes me, as the person in charge of Fedora, very proud."

Fedora 7 is the first release from Red Hat since the inception of the Fedora Project that is not called Fedora Core. Prior to the Fedora 7 release, Red Hat had broken the project into two separate camps -- core and extras -- which have now been merged into one Fedora release. The extras included third-party applications and non-free tools while core comprised the core of the Linux distribution as strongly influenced by Red Hat's engineers.

Fedora 6, released in October, is one of the most popular Linux distributions, hitting the 2 million mark in March.

Spevack is very optimistic about the adoption rate for the new Fedora 7.

"Hopefully it'll be kind of similar or more," Spevack said. "Truth is whether it blows it away or it falls flat we'll stick the stats up on our site and not everyone else would be willing to do that."