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Red Hat Fedora 11 Focuses on the Linux Desktop

Red Hat Fedora 11
Linux vendor Red Hat (NYSE:RHT) is ramping up for its next community Linux release as Fedora 11, codenamed "Leonidas" hits its preview milestone release today -- showing off the future of Linux technologies.

Fedora 11 includes new open source technologies that accelerate the Linux desktop from a number of different perspectives. Boot time is improved, as is device connectivity, while server-side installations will benefit from a new Linux filesystem and enhanced virtualization capabilities.

The Fedora 11 Preview milestone comes at a closely watched time in the operating system market, as Linux rival Ubuntu ramps up its efforts while Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows 7 nears release following Windows Vista's lackluster reception.

"Fedora 11 preview is a snapshot of the future of Linux technologies throughout the field," Fedora Project Leader Paul Frields told InternetNews.com. "When you look at the virtualization or kernel features in Fedora 11, you'll see the sort of things that are going to be important to business users and enterprise customers down the line."

Today's milestone release of Fedora 11 is officially called the "Preview Release" -- the final version of Fedora 11 is currently scheduled to be available on May 26.

"The preview release is the third in our set of test releases for Fedora 11, it's a way for a broader set of people to set of community members and the public to see how things are progressing," Frields explained. "The preview tends to be very close to our final release. It still has some issues in it that we're trying to resolve, but it represents our best take on what the final release will look like."

While Red Hat is often thought of as concentrating on the enterprise server with its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) releases, Frields argued that Fedora 11 has more of desktop focus, continuing efforts that Fedora 9 and Fedora 10 introduced to make the Linux desktop experience better for users.

The PackageKit application, which first debuted in Fedora 9, gets a major boost. PackageKit is a GUI package management toolkit that enables Linux users to manage different types of Linux packaging formats. In Fedora 11, PackageKit has been expanded to provide automatic font and MIME type installation.

So if a user encounters content or a font that isn't already installed on their system, instead of getting a broken link or the media not playing, Fedora will easily enable users to get the additional files they need.

"PackageKit is all about enabling a better desktop experience for Linux users," Frields said.

Another new desktop improvement is a feature called DeviceKit that alerts the system whenever new hardware devices are plugged or unplugged. Going just being basic notification, DeviceKit also provides policy control for devices so that in an enterprise deployment scenario, usage for certain items like USB keys could be restricted.

"DeviceKit is not just a way of exposing hardware but it's also a way of providing policy tools for access to hardware," Frields said.

DeviceKit replaces older Linux systems for managing hardware devices, including one called "udev," which Frields noted never providing a way of setting policy and were difficult of desktop users to control.

Faster boot time is also a key feature of the Fedora 11 release. Frields noted that on a system that can boot Fedora 10 in 30 seconds, Fedora 11 is aiming to have a 20-second boot time. Faster boot times for desktop Linux is a key improvement in rival Ubuntu's recent "Jaunty Jackalope" release as well, which claims a 25-second boot time.

However, Frields said comparing boot times across distributions is a difficult task, likening it to an apples-to-oranges comparison. He argued that faster boot times come from a number of optimizations, including simply not loading up all services at startup.

"We're using the kernel mode setting feature so we're no longer starting a whole, heavy X11 stack in order just to show people a pretty graphical progress screen for booting," Frields said. "Now with kernel mode setting we can provide the same experience but at a tiny fraction of the time cost and that has helped quite a bit."

Challenges

While the upcoming Fedora 11 release will introduce new enhancements, Frields noted that the long-term challenge for Fedora is about focus.

"One of our challenges continues to be one of community-building and making sure we build out the ability for people to contribute to Fedora," Frields said. "At the same time, we also need to maintain focus on the objectives that we have for the distribution."

Fedora is a fast-moving Linux distribution, not intended to be a long-term enterprise release. As a result, Frields said Fedora needs to resist the urge to set up long-term support, which is something that Fedora discontinued when it ended the Fedora Legacy project in 2006.

For those that need or want long term support, Frields noted that Red Hat has its Enterprise Linux release, and there is also the CentOS clone as well.

"We need to continue to keep our eyes on the prize," Frields said. "To me, that is making sure that Fedora is at the forefront of innovation and making sure we're delivering the future first to home consumers and to business users. We are showing them the technology that they will want to invest in for the future."