Fedora 13 is right around the corner. Code-named "Goddard," the Fedora 13 release sports tons of updates from Fedora 12 and some really exciting new features that will have Linux power users running for their CD burners. You'll find everything from better printer support to experimental 3D support for Nvidia cards and filesystem rollback. Ready to roll up your sleeves? Let's take a look at the best of Fedora 13.
Fedora's focus is slightly different than Ubuntu, openSUSE and some other Linux distributions. The project is focused on emphasizing software freedom and being first to innovate and ship new features. While Fedora isn't the most polished Linux distro you'll find, it's one of the most exciting to use. If you're on Fedora 12, we've got seven reasons you should be thinking about upgrading to Fedora 13 now or when it's officially released late this month.
Latest and Greatest
Fedora users typically don't like to get behind the curve. One of the watchwords for the Fedora project is "first," and that means (in part) being fast to put the latest software from upstream in the hands of users with each release.
Fedora 13 is no exception. The latest Fedora release comes with KDE 4.4 and GNOME 2.30 desktops, Firefox 3.6.3, OpenOffice.org 3.2, the 2.6.33 Linux kernel, and hundreds of other package updates. Each of these upstream updates brings improvements that you won't want to miss.
One of the updates in F13 that has seen a lot of work from the Fedora community is NetworkManager. The 0.8.1 release of NetworkManager, which isn't officially out yet, comes with a lot of updates for better mobile networking, IPv6 support improvements, and much more.
My favorite feature? A command line interface for NetworkManager, finally! The lack of a command line interface has been a big void. The CLI interface for NetworkManager isn't quite as flexible as the old tools just yet, but it should come along nicely now that it's finally being shipped.
Experimental Nouveau 3D for Nvidia
For a long time, Linux users with Nvidia video cards have had to either choose proprietary drivers for the cards, or cope with the bare minimum of features from the open source driver. Even if you don't have a philosophical problem with non-free software, there are plenty of practical reasons to prefer an open source driver. Nvidia's proprietary drivers may be out of step with more recent kernel releases, there are licensing issues with shipping Nvidia drivers, and so on.
The Nouveau driver has been in the works for some time to provide a full-featured replacement for the proprietary drivers. After much work, Nouveau is starting to support 3D. It's still experimental, but users can get the mesa-dri-drivers-experimental package for F13 and give it a go. According to Adam Williamson, it works acceptably on a 9400 GT Nvidia card. More than acceptably, actually -- well enough to play Quake 3. And really, do you need anything more than Quake 3? I didn't think so.
In my tests, I found that the Nouveau driver worked great for single-head video, but choked on dual-head output. If you're running dual monitors with an Nvidia card it might not be quite ready for prime time. But it's very much worth a look for any users who have a single-head setup and Nvidia card.
Automatic Printer Driver Installation
It's 2010 and we still haven't achieved a paperless society or flying cars. Fedora 13 does nothing to solve those problems, but until we have a paperless society Fedora 13 will at least let you print a bit easier.
When connecting a USB printer or hooking up a network printer, Fedora 13 should automatically look up the packages/drivers that you need and offer to install them. The idea is that hooking up a printer should "just work," with a minimum of fuss. I've had good luck with CUPS printers and my Brother laser printer so far.
Pour Some Sugar on Me!
Fedora is a project that's very concerned with education. One of the features in Fedora 13 that is of interest to the education community is the Sugar Learning Environment. If you're not familiar with Sugar, it's the desktop that was developed for the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO computers, and is also being developed for other systems. It includes a user interface specially tailored for kids, as well as a platform for learning activities that can be used in education.
F13 will ship with Sugar 0.88 and an extended Activity set. If you're interested in using Linux for education, Sugar is a great project to get involved with. It's not the environment I'd want to use for day to day computing, but if you've got younger kids around, it's an interesting tool to get them started with computing.
System Rollback Using Btrfs
Another experimental feature in Fedora 13 that's worth a look is the system rollback with the Btrfs. The Btrfs filesystem (pronounced "butter eff ess," which will help you understand some of the horrible puns you may see...) is a copy on write filesystem that's in the mainline Linux kernel as of the 2.6.29 release. It was originally developed by Oracle but is seeing a lot of interest from other parties, like Red Hat and Fedora.
What's so special about Btrfs? It enables filesystem "snapshots" that can be used for system recovery. Let's say you have Btrfs enabled and install a package that breaks your system. You can roll the system back to an earlier snapshot and recover the system from there. It's not fine-grained, though -- so a rollback takes you to the state of the whole filesystem. Other files that have changed in the interim will also be rolled back. But the snapshots don't go away, so files created later aren't deleted.
Again, this is an experimental feature. To enable the feature, you have to either migrate your filesystem from Ext3/Ext4 to Btrfs or passing the installer a boot parameter (btrfs). Otherwise Btrfs doesn't show up as an option during install (the older boot parameter was "icantbelieveitsnotbtr" -- told you the puns were horrible!). Michael Larabel on Phoronix has a good overview on the feature and how to enable it.
This is yet another good reason to select separate partitions for / and /home. If you want to do rollbacks on / they don't need to affect the files in your home directory. Better yet, leave the home partition formatted with Ext4 and use Btrfs for only the root partition while Btrfs is still considered experimental.
Python Debugging and Parallel Installs
Fedora 13 has two really nifty features for Python enthusiasts. That's the language; if you're into snakes I'm not sure Fedora has anything specific for you.
The first is a parallel install of Python 3. A lot of the tools used with Fedora depend on Python 2, but Python 3 is where it's at for future development. Python 3 was released in 2008, so it's well past time to enable it for developers. The parallel install feature will allow developers to work with Python 3 without losing all the Python 2 goodness.
F13 also sports extensions to the gdb debugger so that it can be used to debug Python libraries and scripts to show Python function calls interactively using an interface similar to top.
Not so interesting if you're not into Python development, but even users who don't work with Python will eventually reap the benefits of the parallel installs and better debugging. As a side note, I mentioned Quickly as one of the cool things being done with Ubuntu. I'd love to see Fedora (and openSUSE and other distros...) including Quickly and Acire at some point and a bit more cross-project cooperation to make entry level Python programming as easy as possible.
Join the Fun
If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can get in on the fun early. I've been running the Fedora 13 beta since its release in mid-April. You might encounter one or two glitches, but it's been mostly stable and suitable for my day to day work. Watch the Fedora website for more information on the final release of Goddard.
Fedora 13 is a power user and developer's distro. I don't recommend it to everyone, but it's a great distribution for tracking upstream development and it has a great community. Don't take my word for it, though! Take Fedora 13 for a test drive today.