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Stephen Shankland

Staff Writer, CNET

BOSTON–Red Hat’s next product for Linux enthusiasts is slated to support two significant new features, the first for IBM’s Power processor and the second for software that lets the same computer run multiple operating systems simultaneously.

The features are planned for version 4 of Fedora, a Linux edition geared for enthusiasts who want the latest technology but who don’t need much in the way of technical support. Red Hat uses Fedora as a proving ground for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which comes with long-term support but, unlike Fedora, isn’t available for free.

Fedora hasn’t lived up to Red Hat’s initial hopes, but the company is trying again to build a robust community of outside programmers to help assemble and support the package. Part of that effort will be the first-ever Fedora User and Developer Conference–FUDcon–that will take place here immediately after the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo.

Fedora is available in two versions, one for 32-bit x86 processors such as Intel’s current Pentium and one for 64-bit x86 chips such as Advanced Micro Devices’ Opteron. Red Hat also plans a version for Power chips, such as the PowerPC used in Apple’s G5 computers and the Power5 used in IBM’s OpenPower Linux servers.

The simultaneous support for multiple operating systems comes through open-source software called Xen. Unlike “virtual machine” competitors VMware from EMC and Virtual Server from Microsoft, Xen requires that an operating system be modified to support it.

The ability to run several operating systems is useful for many tasks, such as when the interaction of several machines has to be simulated and when servers are juggling multiple simultaneous processes.

Fedora Core 4 is scheduled to arrive May 16, with a first test version Feb. 21, Red Hat said in a mailing list posting this month. In the posting, developer Bill Nottingham said the company might also shift more software from the Red Hat-controlled Fedora Core to the Fedora Extras software that the company hopes outside programmers will maintain.

Red Hat’s product is filled with open-source software packages, but the company is trying to lure more programmers into the fold with its Fedora project. The effort faces competition not just from other Linux versions such as Canonical’s Ubuntu, but also from Sun Microsystems’ OpenSolaris project.

Red Hat has had some successes, though. The first 64-bit x86 version began as an outside program, and the PowerPC version followed the same track.

Other features slated for Fedora Core 4 include a faster start-up time; newer graphical interface software from GNOME and KDE; new graphics software from Foundation; and, possibly, 2.0. In addition, Red Hat will use version 4 of GCC–the compiler software programmers use to translate their own projects into instructions the computer can understand–if it’s ready in time.