I don’t “review” alpha releases, but I’m very much looking forward to Fedora 12, it’s alpha spin was released today. Currently scheduled for early November, even with some pushback I would expect it out by Christmas, probably thanksgiving. Fedora 12 has a large changelog and feature list, a few big ones based on upstream changes to Gnome, KDE, etc. Last night I downloaded the 64bit live CD and installed it on a virtual machine for some testing. Sometimes working with beta software I forget it’s beta software; so many stable products and distros are beta. Alpha is a whole different ball game. I don’t suggest installing any alpha release on your primary desktop. It’s best left as a testing release for those of us who file bugs. If you want a preview, download the live CD and either boot it live on your computer (without installing) or install it on a virtual box. For my testing I’m using virtualbox on an AMD quad core with 8gb of ram and a nvidia video card. The Virtual machine is set to 2GB of ram, 2 processors, and 64mb video ram (3d acceleration turned on). My base settings for testing Linux distros.
You can view the full release announcement, but I’ll point out a few of the interesting bits.
32bit compiled at i686 – Some of you may recall that they changed the 32bit compile of Fedora 11 to i586, now in 12 it’s all compiled and optimized for i686 with some additional optimization for the ATOM processor common in netbooks. This will cause a speed increase on any modern or slightly less ancient processor. Those of us with 386 and 586 computers laying around won’t be installing Fedora 12 on it without some recompiling, but then we should be thinking about putting those computers out of their misery or running a smaller distro on them. There are plenty of off-the-shelf Linux options left for those old boxes. I’m sure someone, somewhere, isn’t happy about this, but it’s a good thing.
Smaller Downloads – One of the biggest achievements for Fedora 11 was presto. I seriously wish presto had been around back when I was updating Linux via dial up. I won’t go into the finer details (that’s what google is for) but basically Presto downloads a delta file and applies it to the existing rpm to update it; this provides a much smaller download. When enabled, presto is nice enough to tell you how much download size was saved. It’s not as big of a deal these days on my 10mb DSL, but with streaming music, netflix HD, Xbox live, torrenting isos and everything else, it’s still quite nice. In my random observations I’ve seen an average decrease in update sizes of around 40%. In Fedora 12 there’re switching packages from gzip to XZ (LZMA) compression, I don’t know a ton about XZ, but reading specs it shows a 30% more efficient compression over gzip though decompression is slightly slower. Compression times, however, are several times higher, but in use as a compression format for distributing files, that doesn’t really matter. Files are only compressed once before uploading to the mirrors. The mirrors have less bandwidth, we get faster downloads. Doubt most people will notice the longer decompression times.
Bluetooth only when needed – One of the simpler yet favorite improvements. The bluetooth service has always been on by default, having an effect on boot times and constantly running in the background, and thus one of the first services I turn off on most computers. With 12, it’ll be on demand. It won’t start at boot and won’t run in the background. When you try to use a bluetooth device it’ll start and time out when you’re done. Again, this is simple, but when I read it, it made me happy.
Sound – Ok, many of us cringe when we see anything in a release note or changelog about sound. For a long time it’s been one of those touchy subjects, and add “pulse” to the conversation and it really gets interesting. I won’t say that all of our audio woes are over, though most admit the combined advances in the last couple years have been better than the combined annoyances. In reality I haven’t had many problems with sound pulse/alsa in Fedora 11. Though there is always room for improvement. (Though a little dated, still interesting reading about linux audio.) Fedora 12 will have some nice advances in Pulse Audio, among them improved hot-plugging (switching back and forth to my bluetooth headphones has always been a royal pain), uPNP media support (pause for a standing ovation), and better mixing logic (which wouldn’t take much). More info here.
Graphics – Kernel Mode Setting will now be on by default for Nvidia cards. Previously default for ATI (F10) and recently for Intel (F11). This makes a rather large difference in boot time and the overall appearance of the boot (less flashing and switching). KMS and Plymouth will now work on “nearly all systems.” Another side note about graphics, Spanning multiple screens is now enabled instead of the default clone screens.
There are a few other notable changes — Grub now supports being installed on ext4, so you don’t have to have a separate ext2/3 boot partition. Dracut is a new booting system. I’m going to have to play with it and do a bit of reading. Improvements have been made to NetworkManager, including better mobile broadband support. We will see dynamic wallpapers again by default in Gnome. And PackageKit will have better browser integration as well as suggest a package to install when you try to run a command that’s not found. KDE 4.3 is default in the alpha KDE version, Gnome 2.28 on the default install. It should be noted that you can install Gnome Shell and preview Gnome 3; refer to the Fedora 12 Alpha release notes for the howto.
This spin does have the alpha feel to it, as expected, but seems overall stable and once booted fairly quick. Boot times as a virtual machine seem painfully slow for me, compared to Fedora 11 and every other version of Linux I’ve ever installed via virtual box. I’ll continue testing F12a on the virtual box and compare some results with a non-virtual dual core machine in the next couple of days. I’m interested to see the speed difference versus F11. It’s an exciting milestone for the release cycle, and I can’t wait till Fedora 12 or at least the beta. Twelve promises to be a solid, fast and versatile operating system, which is good, because once 12 releases I may be sticking with it for a while, not sure I’ll trust Fedora 13 on anything. 🙂