Why choose Fedora or Red Hat Enterprise Linux?

Each Linux distribution adds some extra features to distinguish one from another. This book excerpt outlines many of those features in detail.

To distinguish itself from other versions of Linux, each distribution adds some extra features. Because many power features included in most Linux distributions come from established open source projects (such as Apache, Samba, KDE, and so on), often enhancements for a particular distribution exist to make it easier to install, configure, and use Linux. Also, because there are different software packages available to do the same jobs (such as window managers or a particular server type), a distribution can distinguish itself by which packages it chooses to include and feature.

Fedora is continuing the Red Hat Linux tradition by offering many features that set it apart from other Linux distributions. Those features include:

  • Cutting-edge Linux technology -- In Fedora Core 5, major features include the latest Linux 2.6 kernel, Security Enhanced Linux, and X server from X.Org. New features for managing Global File Systems (GFS) and clusters were added to Fedora to be shaken out for RHEL. You can get your hands on the latest of those and many other new Linux features before they go into commercial Linux products.
  • Software packaging -- Red Hat, Inc. created the RPM Package Management (RPM) method of packaging Linux. RPMs allow less technically savvy users to easily install, search, manage, and verify Linux software. With RPM tools, you can install from CD, hard disk, over your LAN, or over the Internet. It's easy to track which packages are installed or to look at the contents of a package. Because RPM is available to the Linux community it has become one of the de facto standards for packaging Linux software.
    Tools such as yum and Package Updater, which are built to take advantage of RPM technology, have been added to Fedora to extend your ability to install and update packages. Those tools can point to online repositories, so the latest software packages are often only a click away.
  • Easy installation -- The Fedora installation process (called anaconda) provides easy steps for installing Linux. During installation, anaconda also helps you take the first few steps toward configuring Linux. You can choose which packages to install and how to partition your hard disk. You can even get your desktop GUI ready to go by configuring your video card, user accounts, and even your network connection.
  • UNIX System V–style run-level scripts -- To have your system services (daemon processes) start up and shut down in an organized way, Fedora and RHEL use the UNIX System V mechanism for starting and stopping services. Shell scripts (that are easy to read and change) are contained in subdirectories of /etc. When the run level changes, such as when the system boots up or you change to single-user mode, messages tell you whether each service started correctly or failed to execute properly. Chapter 12 describes how to use runlevel scripts.
  • Desktop environments (GNOME and KDE) -- To make it easier to use Linux, Fedora and RHEL come packaged with the GNOME and KDE desktop environments. GNOME is installed by default and offers some nice features that include drag-and-drop protocols and tools for configuring the desktop look and feel. KDE is another popular desktop manager that includes a wide range of tools tailored for the KDE environment, such as the KDE Control Center for configuring the desktop.
  • Desktop look-and-feel -- With the latest Fedora release, Fedora Core is establishing a strong visual representation that includes the new Fedora logo on screensavers, backgrounds, login screens, and other desktop elements.
  • GUI administration tools -- There are some helpful configuration tools for setting up some of the trickier tasks in Linux. Several different GUI tools provide a graphical, form-driven interface for configuring networking, users, file systems, security and initialization services. Instead of creating obtuse command lines or having to create tricky configuration files, these graphical tools can set up those files automatically. (Prior to Fedora Core 2, many of these GUI administration tools were launched from commands that began with redhat-config-*. Now, those commands have been renamed to start with system-config-*.)

NOTE: There are advantages and disadvantages of using a GUI-based program to manipulate text-based configuration files. GUI-based configuration tools can lead you through a setup procedure and error-check the information you enter. However, some features can't be accessed through the GUI, and if something goes wrong, it can be trickier to debug. With Linux, you have the command-line options available as well as the GUI administration tools.

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  • Testing -- The exact configuration that you get on the Fedora or RHEL distribution has been thoroughly tested by experts around the world. The simple fact that a software package is included in Fedora Core or other Red Hat Linux distributions is an indication that Red Hat and the community that supports Fedora and RHEL believe it has achieved a certain level of quality. By opening testing of early versions of Fedora to the open source community, many more bugs have been uncovered and fixed than might otherwise have been the case.

     

  • Automatic updates -- The software packages that make up Fedora Core are constantly being fixed in various ways. To provide a mechanism for the automatic selection, download, and installation of updated software packages, Red Hat created several different facilities.

    For officially supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux distributions, the Red Hat Network provides a focal point for software updates. Using the up2date command, as an RHEL user you can receive critical security fixes and patches very simply over the Internet.

    With the addition of yum software repositories on the Internet that include Fedora Core packages, whole sets of RPM software packages can be updated with a single yum update command. In Fedora Core 5, a new Package Manager window and Package Updater (Pup) window provide the first graphical tools with Fedora to install from software repositories on the Internet (as opposed to local CD or DVD media). Pup, in particular, can be used to easily get the latest software enhancements and fixes.

 

New features in Fedora Core 5

The major components in Fedora Core 5 include (with version numbers):

 

  • Linux kernel: version 2.6.15 — This reflects a major upgrade over the 2.4.22 kernel included in Fedora Core 1 and a more stable kernel than the 2.6.11 kernel included with Fedora Core 4.
  • GNOME (desktop environment): version 2.14
  • KDE (desktop environment): version 3.5
  • X Window System (X.org graphical windowing system): version 7 (X11R7.0)
  • OpenOffice.org (office suite): version 2.0
  • GCC (GNU C language compilation system): version 4.1
  • Apache (Web server): version 2.2
  • Samba (Windows SMB file/printer sharing): version 3.0.21b
  • CUPS (print services): version 1.1.23
  • Sendmail (mail transport agent): version 8.13.5
  • vsFTPd (secure FTP server): version 2.0.4
  • INN (Usenet news server): version 2.4.2
  • MySQL (database server): version 5.0 (represents a major upgrade)
  • BIND (Domain name system server): version 9.3.2

TIP: If you want the latest features in Linux when looking at different Linux distributions, compare the version numbers shown above. Version numbers and names that Linux distributors such as Mandrake, SUSE, and Red Hat associate with their releases can be arbitrary. By comparing versions of the kernel, KDE and GNOME desktops, and GNU compiler they are using, you can tell which distribution actually has the latest features.

 

Fedora extras

While not a new feature of Fedora Core itself, the tight integration of the Fedora Extras repository with Fedora Core, and greatly improved Extras packages (in number and quality), make it an excellent asset for Fedora Core. Also, as Fedora continues to consolidate its distribution, some popular packages have been dropped from Fedora Core. Fedora Extras has become the place where many of these second-string software packages (such as extra word processors, Internet tools, and window managers) are finding new life.

Many of the packages dropped from Fedora Core have been added to the official Fedora Extras software repository. So, with yum configured as described in Chapter 5 and an Internet connection, installing abiword word processor is as easy as typing:

# yum install abiword

Finding and learning about packages in Fedora Extras has improved greatly as well. Fedora Extras software repositories enabled with the RepoView feature let you browse packages by category or alphabetically, then read descriptions of any packages you choose. An example of such a repository is available from the Fedoraproject.org.

More than 1600 unique RPM packages are maintained by Fedora Extras for Fedora Core 5, with multiple versions of each package bringing the total to more than 3500 packages. Packages available from Fedora Extras for Fedora Core 5, such as WINE, audacity, freeciv, kipi-plugins, and others, are either described or noted throughout the book.

 

Desktop features

The most obvious and striking new feature of the desktop for Fedora Core 5 is the new Fedora look-and-feel. The new logo, which includes an "f" (for freedom), an infinity sign (to represent unlimited potential), and a cartoon-like dialog balloon (indicating that people have a voice), is included on backgrounds, screensavers, login screens and other desktop elements.

The Fedora look-and-feel applies to both GNOME and KDE desktops. Other enhancements for Fedora Core 5 desktops apply specifically to those two environments.

GNOME desktops

For GNOME 2.14 desktops, the GNOME Screensaver has replaced Xscreensaver as the default and the GNOME Power Manager replaces the Battery Charge Monitor. You may also notice subtle differences in the GNOME file manager (Nautilus), such as the ability to see files, and not just folders, in the tree view. Places and bookmarks can also be viewed from the Nautilus side panel.

On the GNOME panel, there is now a trash icon on the lower panel and the new System menu (which used to be called Desktop). Also, you will notice that new applications being opened will blink on the Window List in the panel, to indicate that they are ready for you to view.

Improvements to applications associated with GNOME desktops include changes to the Totem video player, Sound Juicer CD ripper, and Evolution e-mail and groupware client. Totem has a new look that includes a Playlist panel on the right side. Sound Juicer was enhanced to let you extract audio tracks to removable USB devices and network servers (as well as hard disk). Changes to Evolution include a new menu layout and the ability to add memos to your calendars.

KDE Desktops

As with GNOME, look for subtle improvements for the KDE 3.5 desktop. For example, on the pager, you can now see icons representing tasks (on the KDE panel). You can also grab a task and drop it on any of your active desktops.

The KDE window manager (Konqueror) has added an ad-block feature and improved Web searching capability. From the new Konqueror search bar, you can click Select Search Engine and select from among nearly 100 search engines to use for Web searches.

 

Installing and updating packages

Some major enhancements have been made to software installation with improvements to the Fedora Core installer (anaconda) and Package Management window, and the addition of the Package Updater. In anaconda, partitioning has been improved, firewall configuration has moved out of anaconda to the firstboot program, and a feature was added to allow you to log installation messages to other computers using syslog.

Graphical tools for installing packages after initial installation, however, have seen the most dramatic improvements for Fedora Core 5. The Package Management window, which once only allowed you to install package from your installation CD/DVD, is now able to install from any Fedora software repositories you have configured (Core, Extras, or others). With the up2date feature no longer in Fedora Core, the Package Updater window lets you get listings of available software updates to your system, download from Fedora repositories, and install them on your system with just a few clicks.

 

Mono and Windows .NET applications

Software needed to develop and run applications that were developed for Windows' .NET initiative has been created in a project called Mono (http://www.mono-project.com>www.mono-project.com). In Fedora Core 5, the Fedora project has included more than a dozen mono packages needed to develop and run .NET applications in Fedora. Several nice applications that require mono are included with Fedora Core 5, such as the following:

 

  • F-Spot -- Import images from digital cameras, do basic manipulation (rotate, adjust color, attach tags, and so on), add them to albums, and play them in slide shows with F-Spot. (F-Spot is in the f-spot package and can be launched by selecting Applications -- > Graphics --> F-Spot Photo Manager from the GNOME desktop.)
  • Tomboy -- Take desktop notes with Tomboy. Tomboy can relate notes together (as you would in a Wiki) and access them from a Tomboy applet on your GNOME desktop panel. (Tomboy is in the tomboy package and can be started by adding the Tomboy Notes applet to your panel.)
  • Beagle -- Search your desktop computer for documents, images, applications or other content. (Beagle is in the beagle package and can be started by selecting Places --> Search from the GNOME desktop.)

What is surprising and encouraging about including Mono support in Fedora Core is that Red Hat's legal department originally had concerns about patent issues related to including Mono in Fedora Core. With restrictions against Mono lifted, Fedora now has the potential of including a ton of .NET applications in the future.

 

Virtualization with Xen

Xen is virtualization software that provides a way of having multiple operating systems running on the same computer at the same time. Using Xen, companies that are now running Windows, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SunOS and other operating systems on different machines (because their applications require it) could eventually run them on the same physical machine.

One of the greatest advantages Xen might ultimately offer is the ability to quickly move entire running operating systems to different machines. The promise of this feature could allow a data center to use much less hardware, by moving systems to underutilized hardware as demand dictates.

Fedora Core 5 includes software packages that let you try out Xen in Fedora. Because the software is being actively developed, rather than add descriptions of Xen that will be quickly outdated, I suggest you refer to this resource that is being maintained to describe how to use Xen in Fedora Core 5.

 

Enterprise GFS and clustering software

Software that is critical for Red Hat's enterprise strategy continues to be developed for Fedora Core 5. In particular, there is a set of Cluster Configuration System (ccs) packages and Global File System (GFS) packages. There were also many new packages to support Java software development.

 

Chapter table of contents

 

This is an excerpt from Chapter 1, 'An Overview of Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux,' from the book Fedora 5 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 Bible by Christopher Negus and courtesy of Wiley.

This was first published in October 2006

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