June saw new releases of two of the worlds most significant Linux distributions—Red Hat Inc.s Fedora Core and Software in the Public Interest Inc.s Debian—both of which are popular, freely available and capable of serving well in roles from the server room to the desktop.
Fedora Core 4, which undergoes a version upgrade two to three times a year, represents the vanguard of open-source software and tends to lead other distributions in the implementation of new technologies, such as SELinux (Security-Enhanced Linux) and Logical Volume Management.
Version 4 performed solidly in eWEEK Labs tests, as have previous versions of Fedora, but the distributions rapid release pace means that organizations will have to upgrade about once a year to keep up with the projects security updates.
Fedoras fast pace works best in desktop roles, where up-to-date end-user software quickly accrues the most noticeable improvements. Version 4 ships with KDE 3.4 and GNOME 2.10, a prerelease version of OpenOffice.org 2.0, a kernel based on Linux 2.6.11, and Version 4 of GCC (GNU Compiler Collection).
In addition, Fedora ships with a set of configuration tools that are easier to use than those that come with the newest release of Debian, 3.1.
In particular, while using Debian, we missed Fedoras display and service configuration and utilities, as well as Fedoras handy NetworkManager subsystem, which makes switching among network connections much simpler than on Debian systems.
In stark contrast to Fedora, Debian is (in)famous for its road-map conservatism—the last stable version of Debian to ship, code-named Woody, was released nearly three years ago. In the interim, the Debian project has updated Woody only to patch security vulnerabilities.
Debian is also available in Testing and Unstable branches, but these versions gain up-to-date software at the expense of the security update coverage that the Stable branch enjoys. The Debian team plans to continue offering security updates to Woody for the next year, after which time organizations running Woody should upgrade to Version 3.1, also known as Sarge.
The typically long life of Debians Stable branch makes the distribution a good fit for server implementations, in which stability is usually more important than currency. In addition, Debian boasts the best software management tools of any operating system weve tested, Linux-based or otherwise.
As to components, although Debian is still, for the most part, a step behind Fedora, Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux Professional and other distributions, Debian is fairly up-to-date for now—Sarge ships with GNOME 2.8, KDE 3.3, OpenOffice.org 1.1.3 and GCC 3.3.5.
Sarge is built on either Linux kernel Version 2.4.27 or Version 2.6.8. We chose the 2.4.27 kernel at installation time, and Debians software management tools made it easy for us to later upgrade our kernel to 2.6.8.
Organizations enamored of Debians structure (as we have become) but interested in running newer packages, particularly for desktop deployments, can look to one of the many Debian-derived distributions, such as the excellent Ubuntu Linux.
As with previous Fedora versions, Fedora Core 4 supports Intel Corp.s x86-64 and i386 processor architectures; new in this version is support for IBMs PowerPC and PowerPC64 systems.
Broad processor architecture support has long been a competitive advantage for Debian, which supports 11 processor architectures, including the i386 and PowerPC chips on which Fedora runs.
Support for x86-64 in Sarge wasnt complete in time for the official release, but the x86-64 port team has released a stable version of Debian for Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s AMD64 and Intels EMT64 (Extended Memory Technology 64) processors. This stable Debian version will receive security updates over the same term as the rest of the Sarge ports.
For more information about the architectures on which Debian runs, see www.debian.org/ports.