Review The competition between Ubuntu and Fedora's entered a new phase, with Tuesday's release of the Fedora 14 beta.
Final releases of each Linux distro's next update are due next month, and Fedora - the duller cousin - shadows Ubuntu in two areas where the Canonical team are pushing hard: netbooks and cloud computing.
Fresh from looking at the Ubuntu 10.10 beta earlier this month, I assessed the Fedora 14 beta code - available here.
Like Ubuntu, Fedora 14 may actually be most notable for what isn't included: GNOME 3.0. The massive overhaul to the GNOME desktop has seen a series of delays that have forced the more mainstream distros to push back their plans for including GNOME 3.0.
While Fedora 14 is unlikely to elicit the same sort of mainstream user enthusiasm you'll find surrounding Ubuntu and its continuing onslaught of newer, shinier features, this release is still notable for several worthy updates.
Two of the biggest changes in the Fedora 14 beta include the new libjpeg-turbo and Spice, a new tool for virtualization.
Old Spice for new servers
The libjpeg-turbo support uses the enhanced fork of the original libjpeg project to add numerous performance improvements providing faster JPEG handling. For those running Fedora as a web server, that means faster compression and decompression for apps working with image files. The updated library should also speed up any other applications working with JPEG images, including photo managers, video editors and PDF readers.
The other big news is Spice, the Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments. Spice is part of Red Hat's Qumranet acquisition, which also brought the now standard KVM virtualization to both RHEL and Fedora.
The goal of the Spice project is to improve remote access to QEMU virtual machines. For those running Windows clients in a virtual machine Spice includes a few Windows helpers right out of the box including a video driver, an agent for performing operations inside the guest system and virtio serial drivers for talking to the agent.
Although Spice has been available in the Yum repos since Fedora 12, the new tools make getting Spice up and running much easier and should be good news for those with multiple virtual machines to manage.
The cloud gets an update, too.
Fedora 14 will mark the first time that Fedora will concurrently release all its usual spins and a new Amazon EC2 image. That's great news for those using Amazon's cloud hosting to run Fedora machines.
Until now, the most recent Fedora release available for EC2 users has been Fedora 8 - if you wanted a more recent version of Fedora on an EC2 instance you'd have to install it yourself. Thankfully, once Fedora 14 is finalized and released, that will no longer be the case.
This release will also see the expansion of Fedora's netbook "spin" - as the Fedora project calls them - integrating MeeGo for mobile devices. For most users that means netbooks, though MeeGo is designed to support multiple platforms - think in-dash car systems, handsets and more.
For Fedora 14, the core MeeGo 1.0 packages are all available either as separate spin through Yum - yum groupinstall meego-netbook. The MeeGo integration builds on the foundations laid by the Moblin code in previous Fedora releases. The MeeGo Netbook UX is built on the GNOME Mobile platform, extending it with new technologies like Clutter, GUPnP and libsocialweb.
Netbooks and devices are something Fedora's competitor Ubuntu's been pushing trough the new Unity interface in the planned, netbook edition of Ubuntu 10.10.
Fedora is a somewhat GNOME-biased distro, but there are KDE spins. Fedora 14 beta comes with KDE 4.5, the latest stable version of KDE. Version 4.5 now includes the WebKit rendering engine in its libraries, meaning applications can use WebKit to display content with the same level of integration as you'll find in the older KHTML framework.
Languages of choice
Other smaller changes in Fedora 14 beta include updates for popular scripting languages Python, Ruby and Perl. The updated Ruby packages mean Fedora 14 will support Ruby on Rails out of the box. For Python developers the ability to run Python 3.0 alongside older versions - which was introduced in Fedora 13 - remains available, making it easy for those looking to upgrade code without the need to install Python 3.0 from scratch.
The distro will also include support for D, a systems programming language that combines the power of C and C++ with the productivity-friendly approach of modern scripting languages like Ruby and Python.
Fedora 14 might lack some of the visual splash and flashier "everyday user" features Ubuntu 10.10 has focussed on, but the beta is shaping up as a great upgrade for those who want a faster system with all the latest tools. It's also a very user-friendly distro, especially for those just looking to get work done without the bells and whistles.
The concurrent EC2 releases will also mean Fedora may well be powering a cloud-based service near you. Given the project's focus on constantly improving developer tools and eschewing unnecessary features, Fedora may well end up the workhorse of EC2. ®