Fedora Core 5: Shape-Shifter

Review: Fast-moving distro has matured to work well in server, developer, desktop roles.

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

In tests, eWEEK Labs was impressed with the fast-moving Red Hat 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. (Red Hat recently announced it is acquiring JBoss.)

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 are available at fedora.redhat. com/Download.)

Security and bug-fix updates 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 RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), companies that deploy Fedora Core 5 should not have trouble finding administrators with experience using the distribution—another potential cost savings, compared with more esoteric Linux distributions.

Fedora Core 5 ships in three versions: for the x86, x86-64 and PowerPC processor architectures. We tested the x86 edition 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 upgrading 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 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 Fedora Core 5 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 were none at all.) 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 Dapper Drake release. On Fedora, we preferred Yumex or KYum, which live in the Fedora Extras software repository.

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

Fedora also has good support from some community-supported software repositories, which push Fedoras available, prepackaged software close to the amount available for Debian.

Were a bit 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 one another, which can be confusing to manage.

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 can 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.

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.

However, if Red Hat developers intend to give VMware, Microsoft and other server virtualization vendors a run for their money, they have a lot 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 to compete effectively.

Fedora Core 5s default desktop environment is GNOME 2.14, although KDE 3.5.1 and Xfce 4.2.3 are also available. (For more on GNOME, see story on Page 45.) Our favorite addition to the desktop is the Beagle search application , which brings to Fedora the same sort of desktop search functionality that Google Desktop does for Microsofts Windows and Spotlight does for Apples Mac OS X 10.4.

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.

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