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Red Hat releases new hobbyist Linux

The company rolls out its newest Linux product, Fedora Core 2, a free version designed for enthusiasts and developers who want to try out newer features.

Red Hat released its newest Linux product on Tuesday, Fedora Core 2, a free version designed for enthusiasts and developers who want to try out newer features.

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Fedora is designed as a proving ground where new technology can mature before incorporation into Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), the company's corporate product. Although Fedora can be downloaded for free, it lacks long-term support from Red Hat and hardware and software partners such as IBM and Oracle.

Among Fedora Core 2's new features are the 2.6 kernel, updated code for Linux that's snappier and better for multiprocessor machines, and Security-Enhanced Linux, which makes it harder to perform unauthorized actions. Those features will be incorporated in RHEL 4, due to arrive in early 2005, Red Hat has said.

Red Hat, the top Linux seller, peeved some Linux fans when it split its product line, forcing a choice between Fedora, free but unsupported and rough around the edges, and Enterprise Linux, mature and supported but costing $350 per year for a basic version. The Raleigh, N.C.-based company, however, argues that the split better represents the divide among Linux users--between early adopters eager for the latest update and conservative businesses that don't enjoy change or being guinea pigs.

The company now has new pressure from Novell in currying favor with the enthusiasts. Novell is releasing e-mail software, management utilities and other programs as open-source packages.

"Red Hat needs to re-establish its open-source credentials," RedMonk analyst James Governor said. "Right now Novell looks a little more open-source-focused."

Good ties with open-source programmers are important for Linux companies, not just because programmers are potential customers but because they often are directly responsible for building software the Linux firms rely on.

Some programmers are happy with Red Hat, however--including Gary Sandine, the chief technology officer of Los Alamos Computers, which sells Linux computers chiefly to tech-savvy researchers in Los Alamos, N.M.

"So far, Fedora has been as good as or better than any Red Hat Linux release I have seen," he said in an interview. Among the improvements: faster security updates and broader software availability. "I expect we will be among the first GNU/Linux PC vendors shipping systems preinstalled with FC2," he said. (GNU stands for Gnu's Not Unix, a project Richard Stallman launched in the 1980s to clone Unix, the software on which Linux is based.)

Fedora Core 2 also marks a break with the XFree86 project for graphics infrastructure. Because of a licensing dispute, Red Hat and most other Linux sellers are supporting an offshoot of that project under the auspices of, the consortium that originally developed the X Window System widely used to handle graphics for Unix computers.

For user interfaces, Red Hat still offers new versions of the two prevailing choices: Gnome 2.6 and KDE 3.2.2.

Although Security-Enhanced Linux is installed by default, it's not enabled unless specifically turned on.

Fedora also incorporates a newer subsystem for audio tasks, the Advanced Linux Sound Architecture.

Fedora requires a 200MHz Pentium processor and 64MB of memory for people who don't need graphics abilities. For others, a 400MHz Pentium and 256MB of memory is recommended.