Red Hat’s Fedora today debuted a major new release that in many ways offers more than any previous version of the community Linux effort.
That’s because Fedora 8, codenamed “Werewolf,” is actually more than just a single release of a single distribution. In addition to a myriad of new features, the release offers at least four different custom versions, or “spins” as Fedora calls them. The spins included in the Fedora 8 release offer packages targeted to specific users like developers and even game players.
“Fedora 7 was so much about infrastructure and under-the-hood changes, and now Fedora 8 is showing that with our infrastructure in place, custom ‘spins’ have been thriving and there is a laundry list of new stuff,” said Fedora project leader Max Spevack. “There is so much new stuff that it shows that Fedora is good at innovating and putting new technology into the Linux world and into the hands of users which is one of Fedora’s core goals.”
The ability to generate spins made its first appearance as part of the key infrastructure changes offered by the previous Fedora 7 release was.
Fedora 8 gets at least four listed spins: a KDE version that replaces the GNOME Linux desktop, a developer release that has tools specifically geared for developers, an Electronic Lab release for hardware developers and a gamer-friendly release complete with a Linux version of Quake 3.
“Some of our community was just tired of people saying you couldn’t run cool games on Linux,” Spevack said.
Fedora 8 isn’t all about fun and games, though.
The release also includes new firewall and network management tools. The system-config-firewall tool is a GUI that that helps users better control their firewall security and access settings.
“This new tool makes it simple for anybody to tweak and administer the firewall settings on their system,” Spevack said. “Improvements range from a wizard which walks you, step by step, through configuring your firewall, to a simple checkbox interface for opening and closing services to the outside world.”
Fedora 8’s new network manager 0.7 release adds further network stability and manageability enhancements for both wired and wireless networks.
The bevy of new firewall and network management capabilities potentially could pave the way for a future network router-specific Fedora spin, although Spevack didn’t say whether such a plan is in the works.
Virtualization also gets a bump with new secure remote management capabilities for the Xen and KVM hypervisors. Fedora’s virt-manager application can now securely manage multiple remote virtual servers. Spevack said the new virtualization security features represent yet another step in Red Hat’s continued development of virtualization technology on Linux.
“Each of our last several releases has had something new in virtualization,”
Spevack said. “Originally, we considered virtualization to be successful if
we could get it running. Now we’ve gotten to the point where more focus is
on making sure remote stuff is secure. It shows that the virtualization work
we’ve been doing is useful, and as such, more work is being done on making
sure everything is good and secure.”
Fedora 8 also takes aim at a long-standing and often frustrating issue for users — namely the ability to play proprietary media formats, such as MP3s on their desktops. Thanks to an application called “Codec Buddy,” Fedora 8 will attempt to deal with the issue, which has prickly legal and philosophical implications.
Red Hat is in the United States, there are certain patent and copyright laws that prohibit Fedora from redistribution of proprietary codecs, Spevack said. Additionally, Fedora has a strong Free Software position and does not include software that requires further proprietary licensing.
The application aims to sidestep these issues by pointing users to a location outside of the U.S., from where they can freely download a legal MP3 decoder at zero cost.
“Codec Buddy is an attempt to help users who want to get at patent-encumbered media files in a legal way,” Spevack said.
Not everything that Fedora had originally planned to be in the Fedora 8 release actually made the cut, though. Among the items left out this time around is the Free IPA (Identity, Policy, Audit) framework, intended to be an easy way for system administrators to install, setup and administer centralized identity management and authentication.
Fedora had hyped Free IPA capacities as recently as this summer.
Spevack blamed the feature’s absence in the release on the developers’ feeling that it wasn’t quite ready when they did a final “feature freeze.” Nevertheless, he did say that Free IPA remains part of the overall Fedora project, and it could still end up in the Fedora 9 release, scheduled for 2008.
The Fedora team will be closely watching how many people will end up using Fedora 8, which makes its debut nearly four years to the day after Red Hat launched the first version of Fedora Core.
The group has kept reasonably transparent and accurate usage statistics for its releases since Fedora 6, which topped out at nearly 2.9 million unique installations. Spevack said the Fedora 7 release ended up with about 80 percent of Fedora 6’s users, at just over 1.9 million .
Those stats may seem misleading at first: It’s not that Fedora lost users, it’s actually more likely that users simply don’t upgrade for every consecutive release. Spevack said Fedora will be able to draw broader conclusions about uptake with the Fedora 8 release.
“Conventional wisdom is that even release- and odd release-numbered Fedora distro users do their installs every other release,” Spevack said.
Uptake will also likely be helped by another factor: the expected end of official support for Fedora 6. Fedora supports each version for only a month after it’s succeeded by two subsequent versions — which means that Fedora 6 users will have only one more month before their distro is no longer supported.
“We’ve kept track from day one of Fedora 6 and when that hits end-of-life in a month, a lot will upgrade to Fedora 8,” Spevack said. “We’ll learn if people actually do update every time or every other time. I think we’ll see a big number, but we’ll find out.”
The Fedora team won’t be the only ones monitoring the success of the distro, since features from it may ultimately end up in the enterprise.
The project is a freely available community replacement for the legacy Red Hat Linux product, which hit its end-of-life with Red Hat Linux 9 in 2004. Since then, Red Hat has focused its commercial efforts on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) line, which draws on Fedora as a base and development community.
Continuing those efforts, Red Hat yesterday expanded RHEL with new virtualization, on demand and appliance offerings.