Open Source

SolutionBase: Preparing for Fedora Core 5

Linux is gaining ground on the desktop. One of the programs leading that charge is Fedora Core 5. Scott Lowe shows you what makes up the program.

One of the first players in the commercial Linux market place was Red Hat who now, in the commercial space, provides enterprise grade Linux products and support. Red Hat is also the owner of the Fedora Core Linux distribution, which is often used as a testing ground for cutting edge technology in an effort to test inclusion of these technologies into Red Hat's mainstream commercial products.

With support for the latest and greatest, Fedora Core is a perfectly adequate Linux distribution to use for both desktop and server applications, and provides a superbly wide range of features and options. Before you jump into installing Fedora Core on that old server you have sitting in the corner, take a look through this article for the information you'll need to make sure that the server is adequate and that Fedora will run smoothly.

System requirements

A good place to start in the discussion of the installation of any operating system is with the system requirements. Fedora's requirements are pretty lean, although support for today's newest technology is also present.

Processor

On the processor side of the house, although Fedora is optimized for Pentium 4 systems, it supports any Intel x86- or x86-64-compatible processor, including Pentium and Pentium-MMX, Pentium Pro, Pentium-II, Pentium III, Celeron, Pentium 4, Xeon, VIA C3/C3-m and Eden/Eden-N, AMD Athlon, Athlon XP, Duron, AthlonMP, Sempron, Athlon 64, Turion 64, Opteron as well as Intel's 64-bit processor offerings. Pretty much any reasonable processor from Intel or AMD will support Fedora. Fedora is also supported on the PowerPC architecture, but I will be focusing on x86-based systems for this article.

The minimum recommended processor speed for a text-only system is 200MHz with 400MHz recommended for a system that will run a GUI. If you plan to do anything significant with your new Fedora system, don't go less than 1GHz. The old myth that Linux will run great on anything is definitely gone when you start getting into graphical applications.

Disk space and RAM

Fedora's disk space and RAM requirements are very reasonable given the complexity of the operating system and the number of features that you can cram on to a system. In Table A, I've summarized Fedora's disk space requirements based on the installation type and your architecture (32- or 64-bit). Note that 64-bit installations require quite a bit more disk space. Keep in mind that these are very general space requirements. If you add additional items during installation, you will need additional space.

Fedora Core 5's disk requirements are very similar to those for Fedora Core 4, but Fedora core 5's installer does away with the breakdowns shown in Figure A. The space required depends solely on what you choose to install and the upper requirement is still between 7GB and 8GB.

In Table B, I've summarized Fedora's RAM requirements. Make sure to understand that these numbers are just minimums. If you plan to run your Fedora installation as a full-fledged production server, you should definitely install as much RAM as you can afford.

Obtaining Fedora

As a free product, Fedora Core is available for download from all over the place. Since the Red Hat site tends to get busy, I recommend that you make use of one of the dozens of mirror sites that are available; a list of sites is available at http://fedora.redhat.com/Download/mirrors.html. Make sure to select the right architecture: the i386 folder on the mirror site houses the 32-bit installation files while the x86_64 folder houses the 64-bit installation files.

If you're downloading Fedora on the day that a new release is announced, expect significant delays as thousands of other people are also interested in getting the latest version.

The Fedora distro is distributed through the use of ISO files that you can then burn to CDs (or to a single DVD) and use to install Fedora Linux on your server. The number of CDs is dependent on the Fedora version and your architecture (32- or 64-bit). In my examples, I will be installing the 32-bit release which, for Fedora Core 4, consists of four ISO image files. Fedora Core 5 requires five ISO image file downloads (or one large ISO DVD image, which I am using for these examples).

What's new in Fedora Core 5?

Fedora Core 5 as recently formally released but, as with anything, will probably receive quite a few updates early on. However, my focus in this section will be to explain some of the significant improvements that have been made between Fedora Core 4 and 5, and to highlight some of the more important offerings in Fedora Core that may also be present in older versions. This will help those of you that are familiar with Fedora Core 4 as well as those that haven't used this distribution.

Among the items present or updated in Fedora Core 5:

OpenOffice.org 2.0

OpenOffice.org 2.0 is the latest version of the popular open source program and has been available for a little over a year and is included in Fedora Core 5. This version 2.0 upgrade includes a huge number of improvements. I'm not going to list the improvements here since the program has been available for quite some time. If you want to get a list of what has changed since OpenOffice.org 1.1, click here.

Gnome 2.14 (default)

Gnome is the default desktop used under Fedora Core, so I am focusing on its feature-set in this article at the expense of KDE. KDE is also supported in Fedora, but not as well as Gnome. Gnome 2.14 is the version included on Fedora Core 5. There have been significant improvements made in this latest release of Gnome. Most noticeable is the increase in speed of the new interface, even over Fedora Core 4, which included an older version of Gnome. I was actually surprised at how nimble 2.14 felt.

This latest Gnome version also sports a number of other enhancements, including:

  • More powerful searching capability built right into the interface.
  • Shared calendaring using CalDAV.
  • Fast user switching.
  • Login improvements (both thematically and functionally).
  • A better Gedit.
  • An integrated screen saver.

The performance enhancements alone made it worth including Gnome 2.14 in Fedora Core 5, and along with the other improvements, the Linux Gnome desktop has come a long way in the past few years.

Get more information about Gnome 2.14 here.

KDE 3.5.1

KDE 3.5.1 is a minor released of KDE designed primarily to correct bugs and make minor enhancements. KDE 3.5 added a number of enhancements to Konqueror—the KDE web browser—and major enhancements that improve the support of removable devices.

Visit the KDE web site for more details.

MySQL 5.0

MySQL is, by far, the world's most popular open source database. The major 5.0 release of this database including new functionality, including:

  • Limited support for triggers.
  • An increase in the VARCHAR data type to 65,532 bytes.
  • The introduction of mysqlmanager, a tool that allows MySQL to be stopped and started, even remotely.
  • Introduction of the BIT data type for binary numbers.
  • A standards-compliant way to access a MySQL server's metadata.
  • Performance enhancements.

For a complete list of what's new in MySQL 5.0, click here.

PostgreSQL 8.1

Personally, I love PostgreSQL, so I'm very pleased to see that Fedora Core 5 upgrades this outstanding component to the latest 8.1 release, which includes a number of enhancements, including:

  • Seriously improved SMP performance.
  • Two-phase commit, which significantly improves the scalability and distribution capability of the database.
  • Shared row locking.
  • Integrated autovacuum.
  • Table partitioning.
  • Compatibility functions that make it easier to move applications that are currently based on MySQL or Oracle.

For a complete list of enhancements and improvements in PostgreSQL 8.1, click here.

Apache 2.2

Fedora Core 5 includes the latest version of the Apache web server, which includes a number of new features, including caching and proxy load balancing, database handling improvements, filtering improvements, authentications changes, support for files of up to 2GB in size, and a whole lot more.

View Apache's new features page for more details.

Firefox 1.5

Firefox 1.5 is the latest release of the world's second most popular browser and includes a number of stability and security enhancements as well as improved support for Mac OS X, support for the .is (Iceland) international domain and patches for a number of memory leaks. If you're interested in seeing the more important bug fixes included in Firefox 1.5, visit here.

Xen 3

Fedora Core 5 includes the Xen open virtual machine monitor, enabling server utilization to be increased from the typical 10-20% up to as high as 80% by combining physical servers into less hardware. Fedora Core is used a Red Hat's technology testing ground and the company has indicated that they plan to include Xen 3.0 in the next release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

Xen is quickly becoming a major consideration in the virtualization world. At present, Xen s somewhat held back by its inability to support Windows guests (not a technical inability, but a licensing one), but once Intel and AMD begin producing large quantities of processors that support virtualization, expect Xen's popularity to explode.

Version 3.0 of Xen includes support for servers with up to 32 processors, PAE support to enable hosts with more than 4GBof RAM, improved hardware support and more.

Visit Xensource for more information.

SELinux

Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) is an effort by the community and the NSA to improve the security of Linux by "enforc[ing] mandatory access control policies that confine user programs and system servers to the minimum amount of privilege they require to do their jobs." (nsa.gov website)

SELinux has been significantly improved in Fedora Core 5 through a switch from strict and targeted policies to the SELinux Reference Policy. The SELinix Reference Policy provides improved documentation (a big deal since security can always be difficult), strong modularity, improved configurability and a lot more.

Package management

Casual Linux users likely hate the idea of installing new software when it comes to dealing with the dependencies that result. Fedora Core 5 addresses this pain by integrating Yum (Yellow Dog Updater, Modified: An automatic package updating and removal tool for RPM-based systems like Fedora) with Anaconda to help resolve dependencies in package selection.

On the desktop side of the equation, Fedora Core 5 includes both Pirut and Pup (Package Update). While not the best tools around, they do provide good package management functions and are a whole ton better than manual package management.

Other improvements/changes

Fedora Core 5 also includes the following:

  • PHP 5.1
  • The Eclipse development environment
  • Fedora Core 5 moves the firewall and SELinux configuration out of the main installation and into the initial system configuration mechanism. You'll see this in action in the next article.
  • Support for using WINS servers to browse SMB shares outside your local network.
  • Power management via Gnome Power Management.
  • Java support.

If you're interested, a complete list of release notes detailing all of the improvements in Fedora Core 5 are published at http://fedora.redhat.com/docs/release-notes.

A step forward on the desktop

Fedora Core 5 is a major step forward in the evolution of Linux—particularly of the Linux desktop. I won't predict whether Fedora Core 5 is the "Windows killer" that a lot of Linux enthusiasts are waiting for, but it is very good, very robust and very fast, even when compared to its immediate predecessor, Fedora Core 4.

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