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Cool features in Fedora 13

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The next Fedora release, Fedora 13, will be named “Goddard”, after the famous Rocket scientist Robert H. Goddard. Goddard has some really cool new features; Fedora traditionally includes leading-edge features to their releases, usually sacrificing stability in favor of innovation.I must admit I love that they don’t treat the user as an idiot, but sometimes they go a bit far.

Let’s focus on the upcoming release of Fedora 13, planned for May 11, 2010, which will include the 2.6.33 kernel. The last Alpha version still ships the 2.6.32 kernel.

Features planned for the final version:

NFSv4

NFSv4 aims to offer increase performance and seamless transition for the end-user. Fedora is the only distro till now integrating it. Fedora 13 will have NFSv4 protocol by default, enhancing the mounting of NFS servers over IPv6.

boot.fedoraproject.org

boot.fedoraproject.org (BFO) is one of the unique features in Fedora. This effort by Fedora community hopes to completely remove DVD installations in long term. It allows users to download a single, tiny image and install current and future versions of Fedora without having to download additional images. BFO is a way to boot hosts in order to run install or other types of media via the network. It works similarly to a PXEboot environment, can also be considered as a Fedora branded version of boot.kernel.org. BFO is based on the work of the BKO project: Booting your machine over HTTP.

Design Suite Spin

This suite will contain all the required applications targeted at designers. Here is a list of the applications that are going to be included. The Fedora Design Suite includes well-selected applications, fitting a variety of use cases. Whether you decide to work on publishing documents, creating images and pictures or even 3D content, the Design Suite has a fitting tool.

Zarafa

Zarafa is an open source groupware suite that can be used as an Exchange replacement for Web-based mail, calendaring, collaboration and tasks. Features include IMAP/POP and iCal/CalDAV capabilities, native mobile phone support, the ability to integrate with existing Linux mail servers, a full set of programming interfaces, and a comfortable look and feel for those used to Outlook, using modern Ajax technologies. [Online Demo]

Btrfs

One of the features though that has just been proposed for Fedora 13 is rather interesting and that is system rollback support via Btrfs file-system snapshots. While Btrfs is still under heavy development (though it has been in the mainline kernel for nearly a year) and it still has room for performance improvements, it does have a nice set of features like online volume growth, online defragmentation, transparent compression support, SSD optimizations, and copy-on-write snapshot support.

Fedora 13 is trying to leverage the Btrfs snapshots support in the distribution. Thus, a yum plug-in would create a Btrfs snapshot before every yum transaction, be it upgrade, update or clean up. This will let us roll back to the previous stable system in case of a glitch. Users could also create their own Btrfs snapshot at anytime. If one of the package upgrades has gone awry or another serious problem found, the user could reboot and select an earlier snapshot to boot.

The Btrfs file-system snapshots are copy-on-write and non-destructive when rolling backwards and forwards between snapshots. However, this support wouldn’t be ideal for an average end-user since they are snapshots of the entire file-system, thus inclusive of the /home/ directory by default. Switching back to an older Btrfs snapshot would also revert the user’s data.

Implementing Fedora system rollback support via Btrfs snapshots would require patches to Palimpsest, yum, Btrfs, and GRUB. This work is not fully done yet, so it might not make it openly into the final version, but it will definitely arrive with Fedora 13. Btrfs though will not be the default file-system in Fedora 13, so this feature will only be able to those that opt from using the default EXT4 file-system. The Btrfs file system also allows us to defragment the drives online.

Btrfs lets you take light weight snapshots of the filesystem which can be mounted or booted into selectively. This means, before doing something crazy with your system, you can easily take a snapshot of the partition and in case something bad happens, just boot into the older snapshot. If you have selected one or more partitions as btrfs, then Fedora will automatically create new snapshots with every yum operation. You will also be allowed to select which snapshot to boot into. This is indeed an amazing addition.

NOTE: as stated above, the Btrfs is not available as the default file system and has to be installed separately. The Alpha release does not explicitely offer it as an install option. Since Btrfs is still considered experimental, the cheat-key “icantbelieveitsnotbtr” at the installation boot prompt will allow you to use it. I believe the parameter will soon change from ‘icantbelieveitsnotbtr’ to just ‘btrfs’. Just for information.

System Rollback feature with Btrfs

Other features already present in the Alpha release

3D Support for Nvidia Systems

In addition to the experimental 3D support for certain ATI chipsets introduced in Fedora 12 the mesa-dri-drivers-experimental package now includes 3D support for Nvidia systems via the free and open source Nouveau driver and your early testing and feedback is appreciated.

Improved Software management

Performance of RPM has improved considerably with the integration of RPM 4.8 Beta 1 which is included in this release. A number of other enhancements included ordered erasures, smarter dependency loop handling, revamped Python bindings including compatibility with Python 3.x and a large number of bug fixes.

Topology Awareness

Both the kernel space file system code and the IO stack now have the ability to use information from certain types of storage about how best to layout data. Specifically, the kernel exports information about the optimal byte alignment for a partition, the optimal and minimum IO sizes and whether or not the device is rotational. This work is done in the kernel, users can query /sys/block/sda/queue for example to see these and other parameters. Note that not all storage devices export this information and that work is ongoing to take advantage of this information in the various file system tools like mkfs.

Enhanced Init System

Upstart has been updated to 0.6 which provides a incremental step towards moving to native Upstart scripts in a subsequent release of Fedora.

Installer Changes

The Anaconda installation program’s user interface has been upgraded, with a simpler workflow for desktop and laptop users, enhanced options for advanced storage usage, and more understandable dialogs. Of course it still retains the powerful kickstart capability for automating the installation process.

The default size of partitions has been readapted to modern hardware. The /boot partition now defaults to a size of 500 MB during a fresh installation, to aid in later use of PreUpgrade and the dracut utility.

On systems with more than 50 GB of free space, the /home partition is now created separately during a fresh installation. A separate /home partition makes it easier to perform some backup, upgrade, encryption, and re-installation procedures.

Firefox 3.6 Web Browser

Firefox 3.6.1 is included in this release. In Firefox 3.6 Personas are built in. HTML 5 video can now be displayed in full screen, support for the WOFF dont format is added, and better Javascript support which includes better speed and improved overall browser responsiveness.

Firefox 3.6 uses the Gecko 1.9.2 web rendering platform which renders web pages faster and provides support for the new CSS, DOM and HTML 5 web technologies.

Better Webcam Support

Fedora 13 now includes out of the box webcam support for a lot of so called dual-mode cameras. These are cheap still cameras (which usually hold only on board storage, no memory card slot), which can can also function as a webcam.

For a list of all webcams and applications with which Fedora 13’s improved webcam support has been tested, refer to the BetterWebcamSupport feature page.

NetworkManager

A command line interface (CLI) for NetworkManager is included in Fedora 13. The NetworkManager applet contains support for current signal strength, cellular technology (GPRS/EDGE/UMTS/HSPA or 1x/EVDO etc), and roaming status for Mobile Broadband connections.

NetworkManager now has support for connecting to the internet using a cell-phone paired via Bluetooth using Bluetooth Dial-up Networking (DUN).

KDE 4.4

This release uses KDE 4.4 by default as the KDE Desktop environment. KDE 4.4 offers new features such as PolicyKit 1, KAuth backend, and improved PulseAudio integration. In this release KNetworkManager is used instead of nm-applet.

In summary, we want to emphasize the fact that Fedora is the most advanced Linux distribution today, although they sometimes tend to de-focus the desktop user in the conceptional picture.

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