Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fedora 13 released with open 3D drivers and Python 3 stack

imageThe developers behind the popular Fedora Linux distribution announced on Tuesday the official release of version 13, codenamed Goddard. It brings some important platform improvements and several new desktop applications.

In order to get hardware-accelerated 3D graphics on the Linux desktop, users have typically had to rely on the proprietary drivers that are supplied by the graphic card vendors. The Linux community has had tremendous difficulty building its own alternative open source drivers, but the hard work is starting to pay off.

Fedora 13 offers open source drivers that support an assortment of ATI, NVIDIA, and Intel graphics cards, allowing many users to run a compositing window manager or play 3D games without having to install proprietary bits. The availability of hardware-accelerated graphics with open drivers will be especially important after the upcoming release of GNOME 3, which has a new user interface shell that relies on compositing. An early preview of the new GNOME Shell is available from the Fedora repositories for users who want to test it now.

The Fedora team introduced a major overhaul of its installer in version 11 last year. It had very serious problems when it was first included in the distro, as we documented in our review. It became substantially more robust in version 12 as the bugs were fixed. Work on the installer has continued in Fedora 13, with an emphasis on simplifying the installation process and making it more intuitive. The designers have done some nice work to make partitioning less intimidating to new users, as you can see in the following screenshot of the installer:

image

Software developers have a lot to look forward to in Fedora 13. One of the major goals for the release is to make it possible for developers to install a working Python 3 stack alongside the 2.6 series. It's important to note that this initiative isn't isolated to just the runtime and standard libraries—it also includes a lot of commonly-used third-party modules. This will simplify the process of porting existing Python applications to the new version of the programming language. For an overview of some of the packages that are available, you can refer to the table that is published in the Fedora wiki.

Fedora 13 ships with GNOME 2.30, the latest stable version of the GNOME desktop environment. The new version of GNOME adds a few noteworthy improvements, such as support for a split-pane view in the Nautilus file manager, support for Facebook chat in the Empathy instant messaging client, and improved iPod compatibility. In a move that is sure to disappoint my colleague John Siracusa, Nautilus now defaults to browser mode instead of spatial.

Fedora has introduced several new tools of its own that improve the desktop user experience, including a system that leverages PackageKit to automate the installation of printer drivers. Another nice improvement is robust support for color management, including a tool for configuring color profiles. Fedora is cozying up to the Vala programming language with the addition of a nice new image management tool called Shotwell and a lightweight Twitter and Identi.ca client called Pino.

I tested Fedora 13 myself to see how it compares to the previous version. It's a fairly solid release, certainly one of the better offerings from Fedora that I've seen in a while. The improvements relative to version 12 are somewhat modest, but compelling enough to motivate an upgrade. The general level of fit and finish has increased since the previous version. After spending several hours with Fedora 13, my conclusion is that the new hat is a good fit.

Fedora 13 is available for download from the project's official Web site. For more details about the new version, you can refer to the comprehensive release notes.

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