Fedora 14, the latest release of Red Hat's fast-moving, community-supported Linux distribution, hit the Internet earlier this month bearing its typical crop of updated open-source software applications, with a particular focus on updated developer tools, such as the latest versions of the Eclipse and Netbeans Integrated Development Environments. As far as new features are concerned, Fedora 14 is a fairly modest release, particularly when compared to the latest from Fedora's chief Linux rival, Ubuntu.
The Fedora feature that most caught my eye was the addition of software packages to enable Spice, the remote desktop protocol that Red Hat picked up in its 2008 acquisition of Qumranet, the creator of Red Hat's KVM open-source hypervisor. While KVM was fairly quickly digested into the distributions of Red Hat and other Linux vendors, Spice has proven more of a challenge, due in large part to the fact that it started out as a proprietary technology.
Even now, Spice, which promises improved performance compared to the typical Linux remote desktop protocol, VNC, is not yet integrated with the virtualization management tools that ship with Fedora, which keeps the feature firmly planted in the "tech preview" column for the present.
For Linux-savvy users who are invested in Red Hat's products, Fedora 14 will serve well in any of the many roles that Linux plays. Generally speaking, however, Fedora 14 fits best as a developer workstation, as a sort of general-purpose server or as a tech preview of the components that will soon appear in Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its clones.
The relatively short life span of individual Fedora versions means that these systems require next-version upgrades about once a year, so an interest in- or at a least a willingness to- stay on the cutting edge is a prerequisite to running this distribution.
Fedora 14 is available as a free download from http://fedoraproject.org/get-fedora, with separate versions that support the x86 and x86-64 platforms. Both flavors are available in the form of LiveCDs, which allow for testing without making changes to a machine's hard drive, as well as in the form of DVD images, which contain all available Fedora software packages, and network install images, which weigh in at under 300MB.
I installed Fedora instances using all three sorts of installation media, and with the network install image in particular, I was really impressed by how much the Red Hat and Fedora team has done to streamline the process of configuring a network interface, hooking up to an installation repository and kicking off the install. With other distributions and with earlier versions of Fedora, I've been accustomed to much more hassle with network-based installs.
Also on the deployment front, Fedora 14 is the first release of the distribution in quite some time to ship with an easy path to deployment on Amazon's EC2 service. I cruised over to my Amazon AWS account, searched for Fedora in the store of images, and sure enough, found x86 and x86_64 images for Fedora 14 right alongside those for Fedora 8, the last version with this sort of EC2 attention.
It's not as though users weren't able to create EC2 images on their own, but going from an install to an EC2 image isn't quite as simple as installing an OS on virtualization platform such as VMware, and a Web search for "Fedora EC2" turns up a surprising number of references to users struggling with the old- and no longer supported- Fedora version.
Speaking of virtualization-and of struggling-I had a tougher time testing the Spice remote desktop protocol packages that ship with Fedora 14 than I would have liked, due to the early state of that software's integration with the distribution. I set about testing the new feature by installing the 64-bit version of Fedora 14 on a server in the lab (the server-side portion of Spice won't work on a 32-bit system) and creating a pair of guest images, one running Windows XP and the other running Fedora 14.
I used the standard Fedora virt-manager tools to create these instances, and, on the Windows XP VM, to download and install the qxl graphics driver required to take advantage of Spice in the client. I then shut down my guest instances and started them up again outside the standard tools by running the qemu machine emulator and virtualizer on which the Red Hat virtualization stack relies directly from the command line with the appropriate Spice arguments. I then connected to these instances from a separate Fedora client on the network, and noted improved sound performance and better responsiveness.
Lost in this shuffle, however, was network access for my guest instances, as I had trouble replicating the horde of command line arguments that Fedora's virtualization tools abstract away. I intend to test Spice further, and I hope to see more Linux distributions take up the technology in the coming months.