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November 17, 2015
Linux Fedora 23 is finally here, even if it's a week late. The new version represents a significant update
that was worth waiting for, however.
That’s thanks not just to upstream projects like GNOME, now at 3.18, but also some impressive new
features from the Linux community that maintains Fedora.
Like its predecessor, this Fedora new version comes in three base configurations: Workstation,
Server and Cloud.
The former is the desktop release and the primary basis for our testing, though we also tested
the Server release this time around.
The default Fedora 23 live CD will install the GNOME desktop though there are plenty of spins
available if you prefer something else.
We opted for GNOME since a lot of what's new in it, like much improved Wayland support is currently
only really available through Fedora.
We have been hard on Fedora's Anaconda installer in the past, but we are slowly coming around now.
The installation experience in Fedora 23 is hard to beat, particularly the way you don't need
to visit sections if Fedora has guessed something right.
For example, Anaconda correctly guessed our time zone so we can just skip that screen without
even needing to click OK. It's a small thing, but it helps set a certain tone of feature completeness
right from the start.
But overall, we still think that the button-based approach of Anaconda can sometimes make it difficult
to figure out what you've missed if it's your first time using the installer.
But it's a little simpler in Fedora 23 because there's an additional orange bar across the bottom
to tell you about whatever you missed.
What's perhaps most encouraging about Anaconda is that Fedora keeps refining it. Having just
installed and tested Ubuntu and openSUSE on other machines recently, we wouldn't hesitate to say
that Anaconda is a better experience than either.
It's certainly faster thanks to the amount of stuff you can simply ignore. Once you've got Fedora
WorkStation installed, the first thing you'll likely notice is GNOME 3.18.
For all intents and purposes, GNOME may be upstream from Fedora, but the repository
has long been where GNOME turns to showcase new features, and Fedora 23 is no different.
Among the changes in GNOME 3.18 are faster searching, first-class support for integrating
Google Drive in Nautilus, support for light sensors (handy on laptops since you can lower the back
light setting and extend battery life) and improved Wayland support.
And some other new features in GNOME 3.18 deserve mention. GNOME Software now has support for
firmware updates via fwupd. The firmware support means that you won't need any proprietary tools
nor will you have to resort to pulling out the bootable DVDs.
The catch is that the vendor for your hardware needs to upload the firmware to the Linux Vendor
Another big new GNOME project that will arrive soon is the Xdg project. Xdg will be a system for
building, distributing and running sandboxed desktop applications. More on that in a later article.
But for now, aside from the security gains of sandboxing, xdg-app also hopes to allow app developers
to use a single package for multiple distributions. The xdg support in Fedora 23 is still very experimental
and none of the apps are actually packaged this way, but look for xdg support to continue expanding in Fedora
and GNOME's futures.
Fedora has been an early adopter of Wayland, the X.org replacement that will eventually be
the default option, coming perhaps as early as Fedora 24. If you'd like to play around with Wayland,
this release offers considerably more support than any other distro to date.
Provided that you have the supported hardware, Wayland actually works quite well and with a little extra
effort, installing some experimental repos can get you really nice features like full GTK 3 support for
It will also offer support for HiDPI screens, among other things, and even support for running
monitors with DPI-independent resolution.
You can also have hi-resolution and normal res monitors running off the same machine and it all
just works well.
However, not everything in GNOME 3.18 is great... The GNOME project continues its curious take on
usability by removing something that was genuinely useful. In this case, it's the file copy feedback
message that was a small window with a progress bar.
The window is gone and now you'll have to get by with a tiny icon in the Nautilus window that kind of shows
some progress via a pie chart-looking icon.
We mention this not so much to poke fun at Nautilus's ever-declining usability, but because it is
the only file copy feedback you'll get and unless you know it's there you'll probably keep dragging
and dropping files, thinking they haven't copied, when in fact you just didn't notice.
In other Linux and open source news
A snippet of new code can give Linux servers a boost by addressing an unnoticed bug in a
congestion control algorithm in the operating system's kernel.
The new code was provided by Google's transport networking team, with contributions from Jana
Iyengar, Neal Cardwell and a few others.
It repairs an old bug in a set of routines called TCP CUBIC designed to address the slow response
of TCP in long-distance networks, according to its creators.
Like any congestion control algorithm, TCP CUBIC makes network-level decisions based on traffic
If the network becomes very busy with sudden bursts of traffic, hosts are told to slow down.
As Mozilla developer Patrick McManus explains, the bug was simple-- TCP CUBIC interprets a lack of
congestion reports as an opportunity to send data at a faster rate. That's it. Nothing more.
But of course, that condition could arise merely because the system hasn't been getting any congestion
update reports in a while. That's something else, but nothing that can't be addressed.
What's supposed to happen in congestion control is that the operating system starts sending data
slowly, increases its transmission rate until the network says 'that's enough', and then backs off
a bit. The design is really simple but smart when you think of it.
The bug in TCP CUBIC fools the system into thinking it has a clear run at the network and
should transmit at the maximum possible rate, crashing into other traffic, and ruining the performance
and the efficiency of the system.
“The end result is that applications that toggle between transmitting lots of data and then laying
quiescent for a bit before returning to high rates of sending will transmit way too fast when returning
to the sending state,” McManus explained to us in an email.
However, that condition could be quite common, he notes. A server may have sent a short burst of
data over HTTP containing a web form for someone to fill out, and go quiet waiting for a response,
then assume there's no congestion, and burst out of the blocks at top-rate when it gets the user's
“A far more dangerous class of triggers is likely to be the various HTTP based adaptive streaming
media formats where a series of chunks of media are transferred over time on the same HTTP channel”,
That's why a fix for that old flaw could be important. Linux is used in many media servers, and
for the past ten years or more, an important slate of congestion control hasn't been working quite
efficiently in some cases.
The code snippet forces the Linux kernel to act a little more intelligently after an idle period.
A more technical description is included with the bug fix. The code snippet is available on Google's
In other Linux and open source news
The open source router OpenWrt version 15.05 has hit the streets and the new release is
One highlight of the new iteration is an upgrade to Version 3.18 of the Linux kernel, and security
has been beefed up with ed-25519 package signing support, and also support for jails and hardened
builds as well.
But the big news is a fully writable filesystem with package management, according to the project's
This, OpenWrt explains, offers users different options for the installation and the customisation
of the upgraded routing system.
Instead of having to use a vendor's application and selection framework, OpenWrt can now be configured
using developer-supplied applications, the group said.
“OpenWrt is a framework to build an application without having to build a complete firmware from
the ground up”, the announcement says, while users get “full customization to use the device in ways
never envisioned in the past”.
Of course, that almost sounds like a challenge to the FCC, which just a few weeks ago issued
a proposed new rule-making that would demand Wi-Fi lock down on several systems.
The proposed regulation specifically proposes requiring Wi-Fi vendors to lock down their
firmware and names OpenWrt as a potential issue.
As the rule states, router vendors selling new equipment in America would have to answer “What
prevents third parties from loading non-US versions of the software/firmware on the device? Describe
in detail how the device is protected from “flashing” and the installation of third-party firmware such
as DD-WRT,” the new ruling states.
The FCC's overall concerns are that third-party firmware could allow end users to mess around
with their wireless settings, and in careless or malicious hands, that could end up with a Wi-Fi
router operating outside its radio spectrum certification.
With OpenWrt's new upgrade, its device support has now passed 950 products from 159 vendors, with
new devices added from Marvell, Broadcom and Raspberry Pi.
In other Linux and open source news
The next Ubuntu: version 15.10, nicknamed Wily Werewolf, has begun to take shape but as before, the first beta code
out of the gate doesn’t belong to the main desktop.
Rather, that honor belongs to the familiar list of Ubuntu fellow travellers – Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu GNOME, Ubuntu MATE
As could be expected, the amount of new features varies on Kubuntu, which offers some major updates for
the KDE platform that serves as its base, to Lubuntu, which consists primarily of a few bug fixes here and there.
The biggest news right now is that Kubuntu 15.10 uses the hot-off-the-presses KDE Plasma 5.4
desktop. Plasma 5.4 is a huge update for KDE, bringing everything from preliminary Wayland support
to smaller, but more noticeable changes like a nice new set of Plasma Widgets and improvements to
K-Runner, the revamped, extendible launcher in Plasma 5.
The KDE team has also been finishing up work on the new flat look of Plasma 5. In our initial review
of KDE 5, we said it was a bit rough around the edges, with some missing icons and the fact that the
search field in the Kickoff app launcher was hard to discover among a range of issues.
As of 5.4, all those elements have been fixed. There are some 1,400 new icons, all consistent with
the brighter, flatter design aesthetic the characterises Plasma 5.
The other area that is much improved in this release is KDE's support for HiDPI screens. In previous
Kubuntu releases, we had trouble getting the HiDPI support to work in virtual machines, but as of Kubuntu
15.10 that's no longer a problem.
The various features which KDE offers have also been improved. There's a new one for volume and a
slick new network app that offers a nice graphical view of your network traffic.
It also now supports SSH connections via a plugin. The Wily Werewolf release of Ubuntu MATE ships
with an interesting combination of MATE 1.8 and 1.10, depending on which component of the system you're
Somehow, it manages to do this without being too buggy, but it can make troubleshooting a little more
time-consuming, since you first need to know which version of any problem component you've actually got.
But among Ubuntu's MATE 1.10 elements is Caja, the default file manager. It gains an extension tool for
handling various plugins that means it's a lot easier to install and enable plugins since there's no need to
There's also the much-improved multi-monitor support we covered in our Mint 17.2 review a while back.
But there are plenty of MATE 1.8 elements still hanging around, nevertheless. Elements like
the main panel, the power manager, applets and the icon theme all remain at their 1.8 versions.
However, Ubuntu MATE was the least stable of the betas we tested. In fact, it would never really
run at all in a virtual machine and didn't fare any better on actual server hardware.
In other Linux and open source news
Yesterday, Debian said it has published over the weekend the second update to its Jessie stable
release and the 9th update for its older Wheezy flavor.
Debian Jessie version 8.2 mainly adds corrections for security issues to the stable release,
along with a few adjustments for serious problems, according to Debian's announcement of its new
So far, we have counted no less than 60 security fixes and 68 updated packages in the new release.
By our estimate, Wheezy 7.9, also revealed over the weekend, updated 60 packages and offers no less than
184 security patches.
Many of the bugs have already been addressed, so Debian advises that “Those who frequently install updates
from security.debian.org won't have to update many packages and most patches are already included in this update.”
Upgrading to the new releases doesn't need much more than a quick bit of sudo action to get things
Overall, the Wheezy release is arguably more serious because Debian's releases policy states that
“When a new stable version is released, the security team will usually cover the previous version
for a year or so.”
The last Wheezy update came out in January of this year, a rather slower release cadence than Jessie
which has had two updates since its April 2015 release.
The big new Wheezy update therefore represents one of the few remaining occasions on which
Debian's volunteer developers will give the OS their full attention.
In other Linux and open source news
After seeing several years of a constant drop in popularity, the Debian GNU/Linux Project has nixed its
support for the Sparc architecture, effective immediately.
"As Sparc isn't exactly the most 'alive' architecture anymore," Debian maintainer Joerg
Jaspert wrote in a mailing list last week, "not in Debian 8.x jessie and unlikely to be in Debian 9
stretch, I am going to remove it from the master archive this weekend."
To be sure, Japsert has scrubbed the Sparc code from the Debian "unstable," "experimental," and "jesse-upgrades" source
code trees for some time already, in addition to a couple of other trees that are used for internal
"The relevant parts of the distribution tree have been cleaned out already, removing the actual
files from the pool hierarchy will happen using the usual automated stuff, so starting in about
1 day and then spread out a bit over the following archive-update runs," Jaspert wrote.
Before the code's removal, Debian could be built to run on Sun-4u (UltraSparc) and Sun-4v (Niagara
processor) machines, using a 64-bit kernel with most userland applications running as 32-bit.
The decision puts lovers of aging Sun Microsystems hardware in a bit of a lurch, as Debian was
one of the few remaining Linux distributions to still support the older Sparc architecture.
Red Hat dropped Sparc support in version 7 of distributions in 2000 – back in the days before
it was calling it Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
For its part, Suse dropped support around 2002, and while Ubuntu had a Sparc version as recently
as 2010, it hasn't been actively maintained since.
The Sparc code won't be removed from already-released versions of Debian however, so those
versions should continue to power aging Sun servers, even as the code gathers dust.
Jaspert added that removing the old Sparc code "does not block it coming back as Sparc64," meaning
only the newer Sparc processors would be supported.
For that to happen, someone would have to step up to maintain it, and there doesn't seem to
be anyone who's interested for now.
Source: The Linux Fedora Project.
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