Issue #18 April 2006

Inside Fedora Core 5

by Rahul Sundaram


After more than ten months of active development, a new release of Fedora is out. Fedora™ Core 5 is full of great features: a new version of the installer (Anaconda), new desktop applications (with special improvements for laptop users), loads of security improvements, virtualization capabilities, and much more.

Where it starts: The installer

It's been a while since any Fedora user got excited about the installer because it has become so easy to use and has been consistent across many releases—but nothing in Fedora stands still.

Anaconda, the Fedora installer, has been revamped to use yum to resolve the dependencies among software packages being installed. Concurrently, developers have added interface improvements to streamline the installation process.

Replacing the custom dependency-resolving logic in Anaconda with a yum backend had other advantages as well. For instance, it added consistency for advanced users who upgrade their Fedora system using yum.

Desktop improvements

The change that stands out is the new, consistent look-and-feel of Fedora across the boot menu, graphical startup, login screen, desktop background, and the cool new Fedora screensaver. There is even an OpenOffice template to support this design.

disk image notifications

The GNOME desktop now has a notification mechanism that applications could use to provide unobtrusive, informative messages.


Fedora Core 5 includes the latest desktop environments, such as GNOME 2.14 and the KDE 3.5 desktop, as well as favorite applications such as Firefox 1.5 and OpenOffice 2.0. This version of OpenOffice uses the much-touted open document format (ODF) by default.

And Fedora has a host of other features:

  • There are new handy tools such as the Beagle desktop search tool, F-spot (for managing pictures easily), and Tomboy, an application for taking notes wiki-style.

  • Laptop users will enjoy the introduction of better power management via gnome-power-manager. Wireless network capabilities have been progressing steadily with the introduction of better support for Broadcom drivers. In addition, "software suspend" now works for many more systems.

  • Internationalization and localization have consistently been the biggest community efforts within Fedora. The new SCIM input method is very flexible and provides very easy interfaces for end users to feed content in their native language.

  • Better administrative capabilities are a key focus area now, starting with Sabayon (a system administration tool for managing GNOME desktop settings) and the new HAL policy kit project.

Software package management

For the first time in Fedora, we have a tightly integrated package-management system, Pirut, along with a software updater called Pup, which uses yum internally just as the installer does.

Pirut package manager:

Pirut package manager

Pup software updater:

Pup Software Updater

Security improvements

Fedora Core has always been one of the most secure operating systems in the world, both with features such as Exec shield and SELinux, but also in Fedora's quick implementation of security updates.

SELinux

Fedora became the first mainline operating system to have mandatory access control framework enabled by default (in Fedora Core 3) and SELinux has steadily improved with each version and update. In SELinux, Fedora Core 5 includes a new reference policy, tools such as semanage, and a whole new security model from Red Hat called Multi-Category security using the SELinux framework.

There are many more changes that make Fedora more flexible and manageable for end users as well as for system administrators and developers. For example:

Other security enhancements

There are other security enhancements as well:

The steady stream of security improvements has not stopped even after the Fedora Core 5 release; the latest kernel features an updated version of the Exec-shield.

Virtualization

Virtualization is the technique of running virtual machines (simulations of computers) on a physical computer. The virtualization software in Fedora Core 5 is called Xen.

Although Xen was already available as part of Fedora Core 4, there were opportunities for better integration. Red Hat has been working on a virtualization library called libvirt and an applet gnome-applet-vm for monitoring guest instances easily. There is also better virtualization support within the installer.

Xen 3.0 integration within Fedora Core 5 didn't quite turn out as well as expected, and the installer group is dealing with concerns over robustness, but you can still work with Xen post-installation by following the Quickstart steps from fedoraproject.org's wiki. Subsequent releases can be expected to make virtualization more transparent and ubiquitous.

Freeing Java

Previous versions of Fedora have established themselves as excellent systems for Java development. The trend continues with Java desktop applications such as Azeureus and RSSOwl accompanying the Java group in Fedora Core, which includes OpenOffice Base, Eclipse, Apache Tomcat, and many more.

Azeureus Bittorrent Client:

Azeureus bittorrent client

Beyond Fedora Core

The contributors involved in Fedora are in a long-term quest to both increase the number of packages available in Fedora through Fedora Extras, while simultaneously avoiding duplication and reducing the number of packages in Fedora Core. Now with Fedora Core 5 getting a yum backend, the logical next step is to enhance it to use Fedora Extras—and even custom repositories—during installation. This blurs the already thin difference between Fedora Extras, which is the default repository from Fedora Core 4, and Fedora Core repository—thereby providing a good upgrade path for existing users.

This release includes yum software repositories for source and debug packages, the Fedora Legacy project, and the Fedora Core and Extras repositories:

  • Fedora Legacy is now available as an integrated repository, just like Fedora Extras, although this is disabled by default for now.

  • Fedora Extras, a community effort and repository, now includes over 1,500 packages—with many important software packages.

The Fedora Documentation project—which is already doing a great job as witnessed in the release notes, installation and yum guides, among others—is about to get a major boost with the relicensing of all the Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® Documentation to the OPL license. (This is the same license that the Fedora Documentation is currently under.)

The Fedora Ambassadors project has witnessed strong growth with over a hundred ambassadors from all over the world participating actively in representing Fedora in and around their regions.

The Fedora Directory server project has made its 1.0 release with increased focused on getting the management tools running under a Free software runtime as well as working on integration within Fedora.

The Fedora website team is launching a new content management system based on plone in fedoraproject.org to compliment the wiki.

The Fedora ecosystem is starting to blossom quite well indeed.

Known issues

With a rapid release cycle and millions of users over the world, we inevitably find problems after the release. This time the number of such issues has been low and non-critical. Read a list of the common issues.

What is in the future?

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Fedora forms the basis of the OLPC project, which is intended to make computing much more affordable as an efficient educational tool for children. Virtualization and the stateless Linux efforts are progressing quite rapidly. Further development discussions are in progress.

Fedora Core 5 undoubtedly has been the best release of Fedora to date and we are looking forward to push the edge even more. Expect some major announcements about the project in the near future. Until then, have fun with Fedora Core 5.