November 8, 2011

Q&A with Fedora Project Leader Jared Smith on Fedora 16 and Beyond

Today's the big day for the Fedora Project. After six months of hard work (give or take a few days for schedule slips) the Fedora 16 release is out the door. To get the "behind the scenes" look at this release, we touched base with Fedora Project Leader Jared Smith.

Jared SmithIf you're curious about all the nooks and crannies in the Fedora 16 release, check out the really detailed release notes on the Fedora Project docs site. You can also get good overview of Fedora 16 from Carla Schroder's preview of Fedora 16 from last week.

But we also wanted to talk Fedora development, upcoming features, and challenges. For that, we turned to the FPL himself. Every Fedora release cycle its challenges — what in the F16 release cycle was the biggest hurdle?

Jared Smith: There were a number of hurdles. The biggest hurdles were probably covering some corner cases in GRUB2 support, as well as dealing with some regressions in glibc. What's new in Fedora 16 for end users? What kind of features will Linux users really like?

Jared Smith: For end users, the biggest visible difference is likely to be the GNOME 3.2 desktop. The new support for online accounts, the new contact manager, and the new Documents application should help round out features that were missing in the GNOME 3.0 release. Users interested in cloud computing will also find a number of new cloud-related tools, including Aeolus Conductor, OpenStack, HekaFS, and Pacemaker Cloud. Fedora 16 will also be the first Fedora release with Amazon EC2 images available on the day of general release. Fedora tends to debut features that wind up in Red Hat Enterprise Linux when they've matured. What's new in Fedora 16 that might be interesting to enterprise users in a few years? What's getting closer to maturity?

Jared Smith: I'm probably not the right guy to ask about what might be interesting to enterprise users... I have my own opinions, but I can't say whether or not they'll make their way into RHEL. That being said, I think it's obvious that file systems, virtualization, and cloud computing are all hot topics. Where does Fedora stand with ARM development? Is there an ARM version of F16?

Jared Smith: ARM is getting a lot of press lately, and the Fedora ARM team has been hard at work pushing Fedora development for the ARM platform. ARM (along with other platforms such as PPC) are considered "secondary architectures" in Fedora, meaning that releases don't coincide with the release of primary architectures.

Work is nearly completed on having Fedora 15 ready for ARM, and the ARM team is currently discussing skipping the Fedora 16 release and working directly on Fedora 17 with the intention of trying to have it ready on the same date as the primary arches. There's a fair bit of work ahead (especially considering the different variants of ARM processors and support for things such as hardware floating point units), but it's exciting to see progress being made very quickly. This release is dedicated to Dennis Ritchie. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Jared Smith: Most of us that know of Dennis Ritchie's contributions were saddened to hear of his passing, and we thought that dedicating the release to him would be a fitting way of remembering his pioneering work. I don't think it's an exaggeration at all to say that most if not all of the work we do in Fedora today has been influenced by him. Btrfs was planned to be the default filesystem for this release, but missed F16 – what happened there?

Jared Smith: As often happens in our feature process, features are proposed but then withdrawn if they aren't "fully baked." In the case of BTRFS, the maintainer stipulated that he would only push the filesystem as the default in Fedora 16 if he felt comfortable with not just the state of BTRFS itself, but with the ancillary tools as well. From what I understand, the recovery tools are still being worked on. I still expect we'll see BTRFS as a default filesystem in Fedora in the next release or two. GNOME 3.x has been, to put it mildly, controversial with many users. How is GNOME 3.2 improved for the average Fedora/GNOME user?

Jared Smith: I think the GNOME developers have taken some of the feedback they received and tried to improve things in GNOME 3.2 desktop. For example, the titlebars are smaller and the handles for resizing windows have been enlarged. Notifications can now be turned on and off. In addition, the new online accounts, contacts, and documents functionality helps round out the desktop in areas where it was previously a bit weak.

Every large rebase of code is painful, and doubly so when it is a desktop environment, but I've become quite used to the GNOME 3 desktop, and now find it a bit clunky to go back to Gnome 2.x. I don't expect that GNOME 3.2 will win back all of the people who left for other desktops, but I do think it's a significant improvement over 3.0. What's coming in Fedora 17 that you know about?

Jared Smith: Java 7 should be the default in Fedora 17, where it's only a tech preview in Fedora 16. I wouldn't be surprised at all if we saw BTRFS as the default filesystem in Fedora 17.

The Anaconda installer team is also planning a major rewrite of the user interface, which might be done in time for Fedora 17 as well. I'm sure we'll also continue to see updates and improvements all over the map, from end user applications to administration tools to development tools and virtualization and cloud computing. And as I said earlier, there are plans to have great ARM support in time for Fedora 17's release as well. Anything we haven't asked about that's important to mention?

Jared Smith: I guess I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Fedora is more that just the bits and bytes we put on the CDs every six months – it is as much about the community of friends we're building in the process.

The last six months have shown that we have a strong community of people working in lots of different aspects of the release process, and having a good time too. For example, I'm currently returning from the FUDCon conference in Pune, India. The conference was the biggest FUDCon we've ever had yet, with over 500 participants.

I'd like to thank all of our great contributors and volunteers around the world who pour their hearts and souls into making Fedora what it is. I'm proud to be associated with such great people. Thanks for your time – and good luck with the release!

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