- New 2.6.15 kernel
- updated desktop and user tools
- new GCC 4.1 compiler
- integrated Xen 3.0 virtualisation
- Mono project integration
- latest Apache, MySQL and PostgreSQL servers
- Many of the new features are hard to find
- documentation is sparse
- community support only
Fedora Core 5 is the latest Linux release from the Red Hat-sponsored Fedora Project, a free-to-download distribution that's mostly community developed and aimed at developers and hobbyists. As such it’s very much cutting edge, with Fedora Core regarded as a test bed for upcoming technologies. Technologies that could, eventually, make it into the commercial Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) product, but only when fully proven and debugged. The Fedora release cycle is much shorter than for RHEL. Indeed, it’s just nine months since version 4 was released, although a lot has happened in that time.
The most obvious change is a brand-new Fedora logo and a 'bubbly' blue theme on the desktop. Fedora Core 5 also includes the latest 2.14 release of the GNOME desktop, which is installed by default with KDE 3.5 as an option, if preferred. The latest GNOME power manager and screensaver are similarly included as standard, plus a brand-new GNOME User Share facility for simple peer-to-peer file sharing.
Still on the desktop, Firefox is configured as the default Web browser, along with the OpenOffice.org 2.0 office suite and Evolution as an email client. On the server side, you get the latest Apache 2.2 Web server, along with MySQL 5.0 and PostgreSQL 8.1 database servers.
Most of the big changes, however, are to be found under the surface -- starting with the Linux kernel, which is updated to 2.6.15 in this release, plus numerous bug fixes. A new GCC 4.1 compiler is also provided -- which, incidentally, was used to compile all of the Fedora Core software. The X Windows subsystem is similarly enhanced in this release -- as is SELinux, which provides a secure reference policy to prevent unauthorised modifications to the OS.
Elsewhere, the Novell-led Mono project makes its debut in this version of Fedora Core. The open source equivalent of Microsoft’s .NET, this powers a new Beagle desktop search tool, a photo management utility called F-Spot and Tomboy, a Wiki-like note-taking program. Unfortunately, these are not all configured by default, which is a bit of a shame.
The latest Xen virtualisation software, due to be included in RHEL 5 later this year, is also in the new Fedora Core software. In fact, Xen was in the last release too, but is better integrated in version 5 and is based on Xen 3.0, launched at the end of last year. However, don’t expect an easy ride to virtual machines with Fedora Core 5. A fair amount of work is still required to configure the Xen software and get it working (there’s also a health warning telling you not to be surprised if it 'eats your data, drinks your coffee or makes fun of you in front of your friends!').
Still, that’s what Fedora Core is all about -- trying out and experimenting with the latest Linux technologies for yourself. And to that end you can, if you want, simply download the OS from the Fedora Project Web site or one of its many mirrors. However, with five disk images involved that can take a long time -- and you still need to burn the images to CD. So why not do what we did and buy ready-burned disks from one of the many specialist suppliers willing to download the software for you? We used Tuxdisks, who supplied us with all five Fedora Core CDs for the princely sum of just £7.99, including VAT and overnight shipping.
Of course you still have to install it, but (as with most Linux distros these days) that’s no harder than for Windows, and you don’t need any fancy hardware. In fact, although optimised for Pentium 4 processors, you can run Fedora Core 5 on any PC with a Pentium-class processor or equivalent; there's also support for 64-bit Intel/AMD and PowerPC systems. At least 256MB of memory is required for a graphical interface, with 512MB or more recommended while most disks, network adapters and graphics cards are supported -- including those found in notebooks -- with wireless networking another standard option.
We had no real problems getting Fedora Core 5 up and running. Indeed, we found it no harder to configure or use than most other Linux distros -- either as a server or on the desktop. What you don’t get, however -- and can’t expect to receive -- is a high level of support. Red Hat doesn’t provide it, and when things go wrong your only real source of help will, typically, be an online forum. In fact, a bug was found as soon as the software was released, which prevented custom binary video drivers being installed.>/p>
You'll also have to scratch around for documentation, which could pose a problem as a lot of the new features in Fedora Core simply aren’t configured -- or even installed to start with. This means a lot of digging around before you can start to look at them.
Still Fedora Core 5 is a great distribution for developers and enthusiasts, and we found it pretty stable too. But it’s not for the faint-hearted and beginners, in particular, would be better off with Ubuntu or one of the other distros aimed at the newcomer. Moreover, it’s not a commercial OS and certainly not something you’d want to use to host mission-critical business applications.