If thirteen is supposed to be an unlucky number, why tempt the Fates and launch the beta of a thirteenth version of a product on the thirteenth of the month - and on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission to the Moon, which damned near killed its three astronauts? And particularly when you have code-named that release "Goddard," after the American father of modern rocketry?
Well, you launch the first beta of Fedora 13 on a day like today precisely because of the triumph of intellect over superstition and - in the case of Apollo 13 and hopefully all open source software - of good engineering over bad.
As is usually the case, the new Fedora - Red Hat's development variant of Linux - has a bunch of nips and tucks and tweaks. You can see the Fedora 13 features list here and the talking points memo for it there.
One big change is that Fedora now includes a drop-in replacement for Microsoft's Exchange Server messaging and groupware. Specifically, the development Linux includes the open source Zarafa groupware program, created by the Dutch company of the same name. So if you are feeling lucky, you can sneak into the data center and replace all of those Windows/Exchange licenses with the Fedora/Zarafa combination and test out how compatible it truly is with Microsoft's Outlook client. (If the end users don't notice, then tell the IT bigwigs how it costs half as much to support Zarafa as it does Exchange, according to the company).
Fedora 13 also now has NFSv4 as its default, and the updated file system supports both IPv4 and IPv6 protocols so customers can now use mixed environments. (Red Hat reminds everyone that Fedora was the first distro to have NFSv4, and it is the first to use it as a default). The Fedora project continues to work with the btrfs file system, which worked with Fedora 10 and which was added as an experimental file system with Fedora 11.
With Fedora 13, btrfs can now take lightweight file system snapshots that can be booted and mounted as you please. This is great for developers, since they could create a snap of the file system to test some programs on, and if they completely screw it up, they can mount the uncorrupted earlier file system and be right back where they started.
Developers will also like some of the tweaks to the SystemTap monitoring tool, which has static probes for looking into high level programming languages and runtimes for Java, Python, and TCL. SystemTap can now cope with mixed Python and C/C++ libraries, and it supports Python 3 side-by-side with Python 2.6. Fedora 13 also has the NetBeans 6.8 integrated development environment, which the Fedora project says is the first IDE to support the entire Java 6 EE specification.
On the graphics driver front, the free and unemcumbered radeon driver has been tweaked to support newer ATI graphics cards from Advanced Micro Devices, including initial support the R800 cards. Fedora 13 adds "very experimental" 3D support for the similarly open source nouveau driver for Nvidia graphics cards. Red Hat and Fedora allow the use of closed source, proprietary drivers, but Red Hat wants the Linux community to make the radeon and nouveau drivers better. It remains to be seen if they will ever be as good as the vendor drivers, but that is clearly the goal.
Fedora 13 can also now use PackageKit to automatically search RPM repositories and install printer drivers for USB-linked printers, which means that live images of Fedora no longer need to have every possible printer driver on them to be installed locally.
The current plan is to freeze Fedora 13 on May 4 and compose the release candidate on May 6; the final release is expected on May 18. You can get the Fedora 13 beta here - if you can't wait that long or you want to help complain about bugs. ®