Fedora Core 5: Shape Shifter - 1

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2006-04-17

Fedora Core 5: Shape Shifter - 1

Red Hats Fedora Core 5, which hit the Internet late last month, shines in the server and developer roles with which Linux has come to be identified. In addition, for many scenarios, Fedora has matured enough to perform well as a mainstream corporate desktop.

Click here to read the full review of Fedora Core 5.


Red Hats Fedora Core 5, which hit the Internet late last month, shines in the server and developer roles with which Linux has come to be identified. In addition, for many scenarios, Fedora has matured enough to perform well as a mainstream corporate desktop.

During tests, eWEEK Labs was impressed with the fast-moving distributions updated SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux) and Xen virtualization components, broadened programming language and tool support, and hot-off-the-compiler GNOME 2.14 desktop environment.

Fedora Core 5 is freely available and may be downloaded from an FTP mirror or through the bittorrent peer-to-peer network. (Instructions for both methods are available at http://fedora.redhat.com/Download/.)

Security and bug-fix updates for Fedora are also freely available and easy to fetch using Fedoras yum package manager. Whats more, since Fedora is so closely related to the widely used Red Hat Enterprise Linux (and is rather popular in its own right), companies that deploy Fedora Core 5 shouldnt have trouble finding administrators with experience using the distribution—another potential cost savings, compared with more esoteric Linux distributions.

Click here to read more about the release of Fedora Core 5.

Fedoras prime rivals in the popular free-of-charge, general-purpose Linux distribution category are Debian 3.1 and CentOS 4.2. Debian boasts excellent software packaging tools and broad availability of ready-to-install applications, and CentOS is a free clone of Red Hats enterprise Linux distribution.

Fedora Core 5 ships in three separate versions: for the x86, x86-64 and Power PC processor architectures. We tested the x86 edition of Fedora on an Intel Centrino-based notebook, an Intel Pentium 4-based desktop and a handful of VMware virtual machines.

Using a Fedora Core 4 machine serving a Mediawiki site, we set about to upgrade to Fedora 5. For some past Fedora upgrades, weve been able to install the "fedora-version" package and then run "yum upgrade" to bring all of our packages in line with the new release. This time, however, our efforts at conducting this sort of in-place upgrade were frustrated by various unmet dependencies.

We therefore turned to the tried-and-true (and Red Hat-recommended) upgrade route of booting from the Fedora 5 media. Fedoras installation and upgrade application, Anaconda, carried out our upgrade smoothly, and, once our machine rebooted, it was again serving our test Mediawiki site without a hitch.

New in Version 5 of Fedora Core are a couple of graphical software installation tools, Pup and Pirut. Both offer passable, if somewhat crude, front ends for Fedoras yum updating software. (In Version 4 there had been none at all, however.)

Its good to see improvement in Fedoras built-in package management tools, but, for ease of use, the software installation tools that have us most rapt are those set to ship with Ubuntus forthcoming Dapper Drake release. On Fedora, we preferred to use Yumex or KYum, both of which live in the Fedora Extras software repository.

As the close cousin of RHEL, Fedora enjoys very good support from software makers, both open source and proprietary. If your vendor explicitly supports only one non-commercial Linux distribution, Fedora Core is likely to be it—a significant competitive advantage for Fedora.

Fedora also enjoys good support from a handful of community-supported software repositories, which push Fedoras available, prepackaged software close to the amount available for Debian.

Were somewhat disappointed, however, that these repository projects havent managed to cooperate better during the past couple years. Where most Debian packages coexist peacefully in one large repository structure, the Fedora-targeted packages that community projects produce sometimes conflict or overlap with each other, which can be confusing to manage.

Next Page: SELinux and security.

SELinux and Security

Since Version 2, Fedora Core has been leading the implementation charge among Linux distros for SELinux, a framework that came out of the National Security Agency for tightening Linuxs permissions scheme.

In SELinux, system permissions are described in policies. New for Fedora Core 5, the SELinux policies are based on a more modular reference policy. As a result, developers may now build application policies into their software packages, which makes Fedoras SELinux more manageable for administrators and more accessible for developers.

Also new is an MLS (multilevel security) policy for deploying a system with support for multiple levels of data classification, as youd expect to find in a trusted operating system such as Sun Microsystems Trusted Solaris.

For more information on Fedora Core 5s implementation of SELinux, the project has prepared an excellent FAQ page, including information about SELinux overhead (roughly 7 percent, according to the FAQ), building your own policies and troubleshooting SELinux errors on Fedora.

Its a Xen Thing

Fedora 5 ships with an updated version of the open-source Xen hypervisor project, which first appeared in Fedora in Version 4. We noticed right away that the Fedora team has smoothed out some of the under-the-hood wrinkles that had marred Fedoras previous Xen implementation. For instance, Xen requires particular modifications to a systems C library to avoid a specific performance hit; with earlier Fedora versions, this called for some hackery to get Xen working properly.

Also, the new version of Fedora ships with a basic script for creating new Fedora Core 5 Xen guest instances. The script creates a blank system image in a file and launches Anaconda to install Fedora on that image. After some fiddling about, we were able to create several such instances, administer them through SSH and serve a test Plone site from one of them.

However, if Red Hat developers intend to give VMware, Microsoft and other vendors in the server virtualization space a run for their money, they have quite a bit of work ahead of them: The Xen engine may be in place, but Red Hat must cluster a solid suite of management tools about this core if its to compete effectively.

Should Red Hat be exhibiting "Xen"-ophobia? Click here to read Jason Brooks column.

Fedora Core 5s default desktop environment is GNOME 2.14, although KDE 3.5.1 and XFCE 4.2.3 are also available. According to the GNOME project, this latest version of GNOME contains speed enhancements for GNOME applications, such as the systems log viewer. Sure enough, during tests the log viewer was noticeably snappier to launch and use.

Our favorite addition to the desktop is the Beagle search application, which brings to Fedora the same sort of desktop search functionality that the Google Desktop does for Microsofts Windows or Spotlight does for Apples OS X 10.4.

Another new GNOME feature we appreciated was the Deskbar, from which we could launch Beagle and Web searches, execute applications, look up contacts from our address book, and perform a handful of other useful operations.

However, two of the most promising additions to GNOME 2.14—the system lockdown application, Pessulus, and the user profile editor, Sabayon—arent included in the standard Fedora Core package set. Sabayon is available in Fedoras Extras repository, but wed like to see the project focus on embracing these components, as they make it easier to manage Fedora desktops.

Next Page: Evaluation shortlist.

Evaluation Shortlist


CentOS Projects CentOS 4.2 CentOS is a freely available clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux that offers a more staid development pace than does Fedora (www.centos.org)

Software in the Public Interests Debian 3.1 Debian 3.1, aka Sarge, is a very good Linux operating system with a vast repository of precompiled software packages (www.debian.org)

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

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