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Fedora 16 review – laying the groundwork for an exciting future

Fedora 16, dubbed Verne, has a striking new nautical themed desktop. But as Koen discovers, the most exciting features lie much deeper under the surface...

It’s fair to say GNOME 3.2.1 found in Fedora 16 is a polished evolution of the GNOME 3 series. For instance, it supports online accounts to store your mail, calendar, contacts, chat and documents. For now there’s only support for Google, but by setting up a Google account in the online accounts panel, your GMail, contacts and calendar work out of the box in Evolution, the GNOME Shell calendar will be populated by your Google calendar, and Empathy will have Google Talk set up automatically. Naturally you can enable or disable each of these services individually should you wish.

If you’re trying to run Fedora 16 on a computer with a graphics card that doesn’t support GNOME 3, there’s an automatic fallback to a GNOME 2-style system. If you don’t like GNOME 3 and always want to run the fallback mode, the option is there. Simply open the User Menu at the top right and then choose System Settings > System Info > Graphics and enable Forced Fallback Mode. As an aside, Fedora 16 sticks with Evolution as the default mail client, in contrast with Ubuntu that favours Thunderbird these days.

Under the hood, Fedora 16 sports the Linux 3.1 kernel. Another change in the plumbing layer is the switch from GRUB Legacy to GRUB2 as the default boot loader, which was bound to happen because GRUB Legacy is not maintained anymore. The default NTP (Network Time Protocol) client is now Chrony, which is designed to work well without permanent network connection, has a smaller memory footprint and saves power by limiting process wakeups. And HAL, the deprecated hardware abstraction layer, has been completely removed from Fedora as applications have moved over to using Udisks, UPower and libudev for device discovery.

While there have been talks about moving to the Btrfs filesystem, Fedora 16 still uses Ext4 by default. Of course you can use Btrfs if you really want to: you just have to choose it manually in the partitioning step of the installer. The new Fedora is also in the middle of another ongoing migration: while Fedora 15 introduced the new systemd system and service manager, this was just a first step. In Fedora 16, more services are converted to native systemd services, such as MySQL and PostgreSQL, with faster boot times as a result. However, a complete systemd-based init system will have to wait for Fedora 17.

Fedora has always been strong in the domain of virtualization, and Fedora 16 is no stranger to this. For instance, virt-manager can now examine a virtual machine to determine the version of the operating system and what applications are installed. This information is shown in the Details window of the virtual machine. There’s even a button, which lets you open the virtual machine and browse its file system graphically. Another interesting feature is support for the redirection of USB 2.0 devices to virtual machines, as well as USB network redirection.

Fedora goes even further and has some cloud features. OpenStack, a set of programs for building an IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) system, is packaged in Fedora 16, as well as a less well-known IaaS system, Condor. Fedora 16 also comes with the Aeolus Conductor, a web-based user interface and tools to create and manage cloud instances across a wide variety of cloud types, all from the same user interface.

Verdict: 4/5
All in all, there’s not one key area where Fedora has improved, but it has a lot of evolutionary improvements in various domains. With the ongoing migrations to Btrfs and systemd, Fedora 16 lays the groundwork for an exciting future. If you want to experiment with the newest Linux technology, as always, Fedora is the place to be.