Commercial Linux distributions have provided much of the driving force
behind the increasing adoption of free software. These distributions tend
to be high-quality products, and most Linux users end up running one of
them. One disadvantage of commercial distributions, however, has typically
been the relatively closed nature of their development process. It is hard
to know where a distribution is going until the next release arrives;
consider how surprised many Red Hat users were when the expected Red Hat
Linux 8.1 release turned into Red Hat Linux 9 with a number of
disruptive changes. This situation is not unique to Red Hat; of the commercial
distributions, only Mandrake has really gone out of its way to open up its
development process to its users.
The evolution of Red Hat Linux into Fedora has changed things. Red Hat may
still guide Fedora with a firm hand, but the process is now being carried
out in a relatively open manner, with input from the wider community. As a
result, it is possible to develop a reasonable idea of what will appear in
the Fedora Core 2 (FC2) release, which is now scheduled for
April 5, 2004.
From the beginning, FC2 was destined to be based on the 2.6 kernel. It
will thus likely be the first big-name distribution to be truly committed
to 2.6, rather than just offering it as an option. There may be a backup
2.4 kernel available for systems that simply can't run 2.6, but its use
will probably be rare.
FC2 is not stopping at adopting 2.6, however; this distribution will also
be set up to use the NSA Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) subsystem.
SELinux is packaged with 2.6 (as a Linux security module), but actually
making use of it is not just a matter of turning it on. SELinux is based
on a complex, rule-based mandatory access control mechanism which requires
that a whole set of rules and policies be created. To this end, Red Hat
Russell Coker, who got his start in this area doing SELinux work for Debian.
Russell's SELinux work will show up in FC2, and, after the Fedora users
have shaken out the bulk of the problems, in the Enterprise Linux Advanced
FC2 will also include full IPSec support, given that the requisite protocol
support exists in 2.6. Not everybody is happy with the choice of
IPSec-Tools for configuration and management, however.
A big issue on the fedora-devel list was whether GNOME 2.6 would make
it into FC2. Nobody spoke against the idea, but Fedora leader Michael
Johnson did point out one issue with GNOME
and Fedora: how their respective schedules work together. GNOME tries to
make releases every six months, while Fedora is trying to go a little
faster than that. The result is that, sooner or later, Fedora will miss a
major GNOME release and spend a few cycles catching up. Recent discussions
suggest, however, that GNOME 2.6 will be in FC2. The FC2 release
schedule should allow the developers plenty of time to incorporate the
imminent KDE 3.2 release as well.
Web browsers are a topic of conversation. It may be hard to remember that,
only a few years ago, the only real browser alternative for Linux was the
proprietary Netscape 4.x release - and we were glad to have it. There are
now so many browsers available for Linux there there is no real hope of
including them all. For FC2, it looks like the choices may be Konqueror,
Epiphany, and Mozilla. In the future, when Mozilla Firebird stabilizes
somewhat, it may replace Mozilla "classic" in Fedora.
There have been a fair number of requests to drop sendmail in favor of a
more secure mail transfer agent. Postfix would appear to be the preferred
replacement. There does not appear to be a whole lot of desire within Red
Hat to change the system's MTA, however, so sendmail looks likely to hang
around for a while yet.
One user requested a natively-compiled version of the Eclipse development
environment. That wish appears likely to come true; the FC2 schedule
states that a number of Java components, compiled with GCJ, are on the list
to be incorporated into the distribution.
There is a fair amount of interest in a "bare-bones" installation mode. A
minimal install could be used for old and small systems, or as a base
platform for a subsequent network install (much as Debian installations can
be done). This "bootstrap" install option may well show up in FC2.
Some desired packages will be kept out as a result of licensing issues.
Thus valgrind, though often requested, is off the list; it apparently
suffers from software patent problems. MySQL 4.x is also an interesting
problem; with the 4.x release, the license on the MySQL libraries was
changed from the LGPL to the GPL. That change makes it harder to write
proprietary applications using the libraries, which can be a
concern for distributors (UserLinux is coping with similar issues).
The MySQL 4.x library license, however, also blocks the use of
MySQL with PHP, which has a GPL-incompatible license. A MySQL/PHP adaptor,
as a derived product of both systems, cannot be distributed. So MySQL 3.x
will likely be in Fedora Core for a while yet.
The actual Fedora Core 2 release will doubtless contain some surprises.
But it will be, by far, the most open release ever to come out of Red Hat.
This visibility into the development process will give Fedora users the
opportunity to be better prepared for future releases (a good thing, since
quick upgrades will be required to keep getting security patches) and to
have some influence on how the distribution is developed. It is too soon
to say whether Fedora will be a success, but the new approach to its
development is already showing some benefits for its users.
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