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Fedora 9: Linux Desktop Alive and Well at Red Hat

The latest release of Red Hat's community Linux distribution, Fedora 9, a.k.a. 'Sulfur', is out. The Sulfur release adds a host of new features, including virtualization, authentication, networking, file system and yes, even features that will benefit desktop users.

The new Fedora is the first under the direction of Fedora Project Leader Paul Frields, who took the helm in February of this year. Fedora 9 is an important release for Red Hat, as it serves to underscore Red Hat's commitment to community Linux development and toward the Linux desktop.

"The Linux desktop is absolutely not dead and if you look at the list of continued work that Red Hat invests heavily in you'll see that the desktop is an important place to be technology wise," Frields told InternetNews.com.

Earlier this year, Red Hat revealed that it would not be offering a paid commercial version of Linux for the consumer desktop. Some media outlets erroneously reported that Red Hat was abandoning the Linux desktop, which is not the case.

Frields point out that Fedora 9 includes the new KDE 4 Linux desktop, improvements to the GNOME Linux desktop and work around policy and packaging that make the Linux desktop more usable than ever.

"All of those things really put the lie to any claims that Red Hat is abandoning the desktop," Frields said.

The PackageKit effort in Fedora 9 is one key improvement that will benefit Linux desktop and server users. PackageKit is a GUI package management toolkit that enables Linux users to manage different types of Linux packaging formats.

"People really like the idea that we can stop talking about package management back-end and make thing easier for users," Frields explained.

PackageKit is an open source effort that isn't limited to just Red Hat's RPM package format (that is also used by SUSE and Mandriva), but could also use the DEB package format that is used by Debian and Ubuntu.

Don't expect to be able to mix and match different Linux packaging formats on the same system though. PackageKit has a different idea in mind.

"The idea is not to mix DEB and RPM but to present a unified set of tools whether you're on a platform that uses DEB or used RPM," Frields explained. "It's not about rebuilding one package into another format."

Frields commented that PackageKit is designed so that regardless of what distribution a user is running an application or user could call a PackageKit function to do package management.

"So it mean that if developers want to call PackageKit functions in their applications whichever platform they're running they'll be able to do that," Frields said.

Though Fedora 9 will integrate PackageKit by default, the overall PackageKit effort is a community effort that is not driven by any one distribution. Frields noted that other distributions participate in the development of PackageKit including Ubuntu.

"I think it's inevitable that people will move to a cross distribution tool like PackageKit," Frields said. "What you're looking at here is a successful project that drives interest in Linux overall without being to distribution specific."

Fedora 9 also includes what Frields described as a persistent non-destructive Live USB for running Fedora. The Live USB enables a full Fedora 9 distribution to run on any USB memory key provided there is enough space available.

Fedora 9 does not destroy any existing material that may be on the USB key and will run in a persistent state allowing a user to update and add applications as well as store data.

FreeIPA, which is a new solution for Identity, Policy and Audit, finally makes its debut in Fedora 9. FreeIPA had originally been scheduled to debut in Fedora 8.

FreeIPA aims to be an easy way for system administrators to install, setup and administer centralized identity management and authentication. Red Hat is already working on an enterprise grade version of the technology to be called Red Hat Enterprise IPA.

Overall, Frields is very optimistic about the prospects for Fedora 9, with his optimism fuelled by a very healthy dose of solid statistics.

"We know that we have a contributor base just about that is just about as big as Red Hat's entire employee roster with over 2,000 contributors," Frields said. "Seventy-five percent of those contributors are not Red Hat employees. We have over 2.2 million verified installations of Fedora 8 and we expect to see same thing for Fedora 9. If you look at the statistics alone it's showing a good story."