After devoting the bulk of its efforts over the past couple years to realizing the advanced server technology goals of Red Hats Enterprise Linux product, the community-powered Fedora Project has turned its attention toward catching up with the distribution and packaging advances of its Linux rivals.
eWEEK Labs tested the fruit of these efforts—Fedora 7—and we were impressed to see how amenable to customization this popular Linux-based operating system has grown.
Fedora 7s tools for building custom versions, or spins, will make it easier for groups to create Fedora variants, in the way that Ubuntu backers have spun off the KDE-centric Kubuntu and XFCE-based Xubuntu from the projects GNOME-oriented offering.
Fedoras new tools also open the door to building so-called software appliances.
Whats more, Fedora 7 has continued to make progress on the advanced technology fronts that dominated previous Fedora releases. In particular, Version 7 sports a noticeably more mature version of Red Hats graphical virtualization manager.
With that said, Fedora remains just as bleeding-edge as ever, so groups and individuals considering Fedora 7 for its leading-edge components should expect to devote extra time for testing.
As many of the Fedora developers who occupy the projects mailing lists will point out (with varying levels of patience in their tone), if youre not prepared to encounter some bumps on the road to stability with Fedora, youre better off running a different distribution.
For instance, Fedora 7s release notes point out that the project has—for now—dropped support for the popular Zope application server and the Plone CMS (Content Management System) because these packages dont support the new Python 2.5 with which Fedora 7 ships.
Also, we found that on the Thinkpad T41 with which we tested, hibernate no longer functions—hibernate did work for us with earlier Fedora versions. The project has switched power management frameworks, and this is the likely cause of the breakage we experienced.
If youre looking for an all-free, Red Hat-flavored Linux operating system with good stability, we suggest CentOS 5.
Fedora 7 is available for free download at http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/, either by downloading its CD images from an FTP mirror or by fetching the images via Bittorrent.
Fedora 7 supports the x86, x86_64 and PowerPC platforms. In addition to the Thinkpad with which we tested, eWEEK Labs tested the 32-bit x86 version of Fedora 7 on a handful of VMware virtual machines, hosted from ESX Server 3 and from VMware Workstation 6. To install Fedora 7 on ESX Server, we had to switch from ESXs default LSI virtual SCSI adapter to the alternate BusLogic adapter.
Spin Your Own
Fedora 7 is the first Fedora release for which all the tools used to assemble the distribution are open source and available to the entire Fedora community. Previously, Fedoras so-called core packages had been built solely by Red Hat, using internal Red Hat tools. A second, "extras" group of packages was built with community-accessible tools.
Weve long wished for greater cooperation among the various community-run Fedora packaging projects, and we hope that these structural changes make this cooperation possible.
In the short term, users may take advantage of Fedoras opened build tools in the form of Revisor, a graphical interface through which we were able to create custom Fedora spins.
We started the process by feeding Revisor a kickstart file, which is an implement for conducting unattended installations that should be familiar to Red Hat veterans.
We could create Fedora releases out of the Fedora 6 or 7 software repositories or from Red Hats development software channel, also known as rawhide. Wed like to see support for creating CentOS spins as well, which should be fairly easy to add to Revisor.
We selected packages to include in our custom release using Fedoras graphical software installation tool, Pirut, which is embedded within Revisor. Our experience with the software selection portion of Revisor was a bit spotty—for instance, the search tab of Piruts interface didnt work for us, so we had to select our packages by drilling down through the tools categorized package list.
We could output our releases in the form of DVD or CD-based installation images, or as Live CD or USB memory stick formats, from which we could boot a system into our new Fedora respin.
In addition to the structural changes that the Fedora project has made to its software repository framework, the team has noticeably sped up the distributions Red Hat Package Manager/Yum package management backend. Also, as we mentioned earlier, Fedoras graphical tool for creating and managing virtual machines is much improved as well. For one thing, the tool now lists idle VMs alongside running VMs, which is something that only the systems command-line tool was capable of in previous releases.
Fedoras virtualization tool can also now manage VMs based on the new KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) virtualization system that ships with the Linux kernel in addition to the Xen virtualization system to which the tool had previously been limited. On the Fedora 8 road map is support for securely managing remote VMs, which is a capability to which were looking forward.
Fedora 7 now ships with Red Hats very good troubleshooter for the systems SELinux (Security-enhanced Linux) enhanced security framework switched on by default. The SELinux troubleshooter is key for figuring out hard to locate SELinux errors, which makes SELinux much easier to run on deployed systems.
Also, Fedora 7 ships with a standalone SElinux configuration utility, which opens the door to accessing the systems promising multilevel security and network port control capabilities.