Issue #8 June 2005

Meet Fedora™ Core 4

What’s new

Fedora Core 4 (Stentz) is the latest release, from the project sponsored by Red Hat Inc. Every new version of Fedora Core comes with interesting new features and many bug fixes, but this time another new entity— Fedora Extras—also comes to greet us. “Fedora Core 4 continues our tradition of syncing to the latest and greatest open source releases, including GNOME® 2.10, KDE 3.4.0, Firefox™ 1.0.4, OpenOffice.org 1.9.104, and a 2.6.11-based kernel,” Red Hat desktop team lead Havoc Pennington said.

Desktop improvements

The GNOME 2.10 desktop has several new productivity boosting tools along with some changes in the behavior of how pop-up windows work. In previous versions of GNOME, when using instant messaging clients like GAIM, the moment a message appears, the window tends to steal focus from what you’re currently typing or doing, showing you your instant message. This behavior is similar to clicking on a link in an e-mail and having Firefox pop-up in front of your e-mail message.

This breaks the train of thought. As a productivity boost, as well as one for the security heads (no more typing passwords into IM chats!), GNOME 2.10 now sports the focus stealing prevention feature. This means that when a new pop-up window appears, it will not steal the focus from what you’re currently doing. However, this means that people won't know if someone responded to them on an IM chat, right? So a patch was added to allow a noticeable glow in the taskbar whenever an item attempts to steal focus, keeping the user notified.

Glowing effect on taskbar
Figure 1. Glowing effect on taskbar

In regards to additional tools, the panel items supported have increased. The first noticeable change from previous versions of GNOME is the Main Menu, as it now contains the options for Applications, Places, and Desktop. Applications, as the name suggests, allows you to browse all installed applications that have menu entries, while Places takes you directly to your Home folder or allows you to search for files or connect to servers supported within Nautilus (like FTP, SAMBA shares, WebDAV, or even SSH). The Desktop menu provides options to tweak user and system preferences as well as lock the screen or log out.

When Bluecurve, the default theme for the streamlined GNOME and KDE desktops, first came out during Red Hat Linux 8.0 days, two camps of people existed. Some embraced it, and the others never did. The default theme in the GNOME Desktop for Fedora Core 4 is now Clearlooks.

PDF readers have been around for a while. New to the latest Fedora Core release is Evince. It currently handles PDF and Postscript documents (with the option of handling more as plugins are written) and has replaced ggv and gpdf in Fedora Core 4. It features page thumbnailing, indexing, and a streamlined search.

Evince displaying thumbnails
Figure 2. Evince displaying thumbnails

GCC

Fedora Core 4 effectively became the first Linux distribution to ship the GNU C Compiler (GCC) version 4 as the default compiler. In fact, all packages that are shipped within Core and Extras have been rebuilt with GCC4. It is also safe to say that most of the packages have been compiled with the -D_FORTIFY_SOURCE option, which basically makes applications compiled with it a lot more secure, as there’s compile-time buffer overflow detection, and low overhead runtime overflow protection.

Provided along with the GCC4 stack is the new GCJ (Java compiler) and Java toolchain. Included within Fedora Core 4 is the Java runtime library as well as a slew of other utilities including the popular Tomcat5 server.

Tomcat running a free JVM
Figure 3. Tomcat running a free JVM

Java enablers

Thanks to the GCJ stack, there are a few notable inclusions and utilities that many Fedora Core 4 users will appreciate. These are Eclipse and OpenOffice.org.

Eclipse is a full-featured IDE written in Java and now natively compiled using GCJ. It handles Java, C, and C++ projects and has an array of available plug-ins to extend its language support.

Native Eclipse
Figure 4. Native Eclipse

OpenOffice.org is arguably the most popular open source office suite available. While version 2.0 has not been released yet, with a time frame of about 3Q 2005, the milestone release is in Fedora Core 4. It is definitely a lot more feature packed (better presentation software Impress, the inclusion of a new database frontend and backend called Base, better handling of file formats, etc.) than the 1.1.2 that was shipped in Fedora Core 3. However, the inclusion of Base required Java, and along with that, OpenOffice.org now has a lot of report generation and XSLT filters enabled for use, all thanks to GCJ.

OpenOffice.org Base
Figure 5. OpenOffice.org Base

While a milestone release is currently included, it is by no means unstable or unusable (in fact, this was written with milestone 104!). When OpenOffice.org is released proper, an update will be provided to all Fedora Core 4 users, via the Fedora Updates channel.

A new architecture

While many users are enjoying their x86 and x86_64 based systems, there’s been a growing number of Apple users wanting to get on the Fedora bandwagon. The community around this are the Fedora/PPC folk (PPC, being short for PowerPC, the processors in current Apple computers). While there have always been unofficial PPC snapshots in the development repository since Fedora Core 2, there never existed an official release. With Fedora Core 4, the PPC architecture has been added to the default distribution set (alongside x86 and x86_64) and will be CD or DVD installable on the day Fedora gets released. Now, go liberate your iMac®, iBook®, Powerbook®, Mac® mini, and G5! Yes, that's right, it also installs and works on 64-bit PowerPC™ machines like the G5. Refer to Installing Fedora Core on the Mac mini for details.

Xen and virtualization

Xen is defined as a “paravirtualizing virtual machine monitor,” or hypervisor. What this really means is that you can execute multiple virtual machines on a single physical system with close to native performance! Xen 2.0 is currently only available on the x86 architecture; work for it to run natively on x86_64 and PPC is in progress.

Fedora tracks Xen's unstable development, and it is worthwhile to note that when you want to play with Xen, you are required to booted in the xen0 kernel and balloon the memory down for your current system so that your guests will have memory. Disabling SELinux while using Xen is rather important—otherwise its path-based checks will make Xen not work. Another worthy thing to note when running on laptops is that Xen doesn’t support power management or CPU frequency scaling.

Rik van Riel, Red Hat Senior Software Engineer working on Xen, expects Xen 3.0 to be released sometime this summer, and it will take a few months to stabilize after that. He adds, “Chances are, Xen is the virtualization technology, so I recommend that people try it out to get some experience with how it works.”

To cut your teeth with Xen, visit the Fedora Xen Quickstart. Also refer to Xen, Virtualization on Linux.

Xen in action (courtesy of Rik van Riel)
Figure 6. Xen in action (courtesy of Rik van Riel)

Trimming the fat

During initial development stages, Fedora Core 4 on the x86 architecture would not even fit on the usual four CDs that were planned for distribution. Keeping with the idea of having only one program for each class of core applications, only one tool (the best) to satisfy the job should be included.

With this, several packages that people might have relied on have been removed out of Core and are generally available in Extras.

  • Abiword, Gnumeric (GNOME Office), and KOffice—duplication with OpenOffice.org
  • bzflag, gnuchess, and a few other games—they do not really belong in the Core of the OS
  • exim, a mail transfer agent (MTA)—duplication with Postfix
  • XFce 4 desktop environment—duplication with GNOME and KDE
  • Xemacs—Emacs is already in Core
  • xmms media player—duplication with Rhythmbox

For a more complete list of packages removed from Core, refer to the Fedora Core 4 Release Notes.

Fedora Extras

Fedora Extras has been launched and works out of the box on Fedora Core 4. It currently provides over 700 source packages that work alongside Fedora Core and has over a hundred maintainers for packages. This number is rapidly growing as more people become interested in contributing a package in Extras. The sub-project is also coordinated by the members of the Fedora Extras Steering Committee.

Warren Togami, a Fedora Engineer at Red Hat was asked what he thought about Fedora Core 4 and Extras, and he said, “Distributions always improve. The more exciting part is the rapidly expanding community participation in both Core and Extras.” And he’s right, during the release of Fedora Core 3, a goal was to have public CVS repositories available—this is now available for Core and Extras.

For more information on Fedora Extras, refer to Fedora Extras: Everything but the kitchen sink.

Fedora documentation

The Fedora Documentation Project has taken on leaps and bounds since the last Fedora release. There is now a Fedora Documentation Steering Committee with the goal of making the project a success. Led by Karsten Wade, there’s now a lot of activity with new editors and documents cropping up. The latest, by Stuart Ellis and Paul Frields, is the Fedora Installation Guide.

Further reading

For more information about what Fedora Core includes, the upstream websites are usually a lot more thorough in providing resources about the software.

About the author

Colin Charles is a consultant, author, and student who's actively involved in the OpenOffice.org and Fedora projects. He has an affinity for Fedora/ppc. Besides tinkering with computers and other electronic gadgets, he has interests in bowling, cycling, chilling out, and watching movies.