A week after celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Fedora Project released the Fedora 20 (“Heisenbug”) beta on Nov. 12. Thanks to a few stubborn Heisenbugs, the release was several weeks late, but that is but a blip compared to some of Fedora’s more historic delays. It’s the price you pay for hooking yourself to a project that prides itself on being the cutting edge sandbox, not only for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), but for Linux distributions in general. Despite Fedora’s continual innovations, it’s always been a bit behind Ubuntu on ARM support. That’s changing, however, with Fedora 20’s primary support for ARMv7.
Fedora 20 brings plenty of improvements that are due to reach final form in the first half of December. These include an enhanced NetworkManager, a user interface for virt-manager, thin provisioning for LMN thin clients, and GNOME 3.1. Sendmail and Syslog are no longer defaults, with SystemD replacing Syslog, and there’s an experimental version of the Wayland windowing manager. (For the full rundown on Fedora 20, see Fedora’s Fedora 20 change-list and Red Hat’s Fedora 20 beta announcement.
Perhaps most significant for the long run, Fedora finally supports ARM as a primary architecture. By elevating ARM to a place next to Intel Architecture, Fedora is giving developers more confidence in an ARM/Fedora pairing.
Progress on Fedora’s ARM Support
Fedora has supported ARMv7 as a secondary architecture for some time, reaching maturity in this January’s Fedora 18 (“Spherical Cow”), which offered specific support for devices such as the Pandaboard and Beagleboard. The project extended that secondary support to ARMv6, enabling the Fedora-based Pidora distribution to provide a faster and more robust Fedora remix for the ARM11/ARMv6-based Raspberry Pi.
According to the Fedora 20 announcement, Fedora’s “ARM team has made massive strides over the past year,” and the improved support will “satisfy end users and developers targeting the ARM platform.” In response to a request for clarification as to the difference between primary and secondary support, Fedora Project Leader Robyn Bergeron had this to say: “It mostly has to do with our testing/release criteria. All primary architectures or desktop environments need to meet all the release criteria in order for Fedora to be released; secondary arches don’t block the release.”
The primary support is currently limited to 32-bit ARMv7, such as found on the Cortex-A9 and –A15 processors inside most smartphones and tablets, as well as a wider range of embedded equipment that also use lower end Cortex-A5, -A8, and –A7 SoCs. This should expand the support for Fedora on ARM-based industrial computer modules and computers, as well as consumer electronics equipment.
Although embedded Linux devices typically use more lightweight custom Linux distributions, often based on Debian and/or Yocto code, a fair amount of higher-end equipment offers full Linux distros. This is typically Fedora or Ubuntu on x86, and Ubuntu on ARM. Now, Fedora hopes to even the score on ARM as well. Other Linux distributions such as Arch and OpenSUSE are also ramping up their ARM support.
It’s unclear whether the Fedora project will rekindle its mobile device ambitions, which blossomed and faded five or six years ago along with Moblin-based netbooks. So far, however, I’ve heard of no major planned counterpoint to the Ubuntu Touch platform for phones and tablets.
Fedora AArch64 Preps for 64-bit ARM Servers
Since Fedora is the upstream contributor to Red Hat, the primary impact of ARM Fedora over the long run will be on the emerging market for ARM-based servers. More power-efficient ARM servers are in growing demand as datacenters seek to reduce energy costs.
Some micro-servers run on ARMv7 Cortex-A15 processors, but most server and high-end networking manufacturers and customers are waiting for the 64-bit ARMv8 code found in Cortex-A57 level SoCs. They may not have long to wait. This year, the Fedora Project has been plowing considerable resources into its experimental 64-bit, ARMv8 AArch64 version of Fedora. In June, Red Hat and Applied Micro used AArch64 to demonstrate the first “general purpose operating system” running on the latter’s 64-bit ARM X-Gene system-on-chip.
Last month, Dell demonstrated a 64-bit ARM server based on the same X-Gene/Fedora combo. Cavium is collaborating with both Red Hat/Fedora and Canonical/Ubuntu on its 64-bit “Project Thunder” ARM SoC.
Ubuntu has more mature ARMv7 support, but appears to be in about the same position as Fedora when it comes to ARMv8. This is where things start to get interesting.