Red Hat's Fedora Project has given the open source community tools that let users build customised Linux distributions in Fedora 7, which was released yesterday.

Red Hat also has opened up all the Fedora operating system packages to the community. Previous Fedora Core packages were maintained only by Red Hat employees. The company says removing those barriers gives the Fedora community more influence over the development of the OS.

Fedora 7 opens up the system to build distributions and makes it freely available, which is what lets users create their own builds based on the Fedora code.

The company believes those custom programs will be popular for use on devices that don't need a full-blown operating system, and in the appliance market as vendors create custom operating systems for their hardware. The company believes the corporate angle on those custom builds is that users can create a focused distribution for devices or appliances.

"If you want an OS that is nothing but a database and the things required to support that database, then you don't have to add support for Firefox or for games," said Greg Dekoenigsberg, community development manager at Red Hat.

The build feature aligns with a Fedora project called Revisor, which is a GUI wizard that walks a user through the creation of a Linux build. The Revisor application, formerly called PirutSpin, is built on top of current tools for creating installation media (CD, DVD) called pungi, live cd creator and yum. It is one of the community projects that will be available as part of Fedora 7.

"The goal of Fedora 7 was to build a single repository of Fedora packages that are not separated by 'Red Hat maintained' and 'community maintained,'" Dekoenigsberg said. "The thing that made that possible is that we now have a set of completely open-source build tools to build Fedora or any derivative of Fedora."

The new version of Fedora comes at a time when the operating system is weathering criticism and as Ubuntu Linux is gaining favour in the Linux community. In February, Eric Raymond, an influential developer and co-founder of the Open Source Initiative, blasted the Fedora Project, saying it had squandered its technical prowess and prestige.

He cited technical issues, such as the way repositories are maintained, the submission process and the "stagnant" development of Red Hat's RPM packaging technology; as well as governance problems; the failure to reach effectively for desktop market share; and the failure to include proprietary media formats; as well as a more general sense that Fedora is becoming irrelevant.

"I don't know what he was talking about," Dekoenigsberg said. "My impression is that he simply did not like the way we did things, but there are plenty of people talking about the Fedora Project. It has not prevented us from having a very active and broad base of participation."

Fedora came about in 2003 when Red Hat spun its Linux product into a community-developed project. It is still linked closely to the company's commercial versions, serving as a testing ground for technologies that eventually will go into Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

In terms of competition with Ubuntu, Dekoenigsberg said Fedora has a different focus. "Our goals are to some degree different. The aim of the Ubuntu Project seems to be to provide a high-degree of polish to the typical Windows, non-savvy end user. They do a good job of that but they are willing to make sacrifices to that end that we are not willing to make." Dekoenigsberg said that includes Ubuntu's adding drivers that are not open source. "It is hard to support non-free drivers and non-free code."

The Fedora Project is hoping Version 7.0 will foster many Linux derivatives built on the Fedora code, much as Ubuntu is a derivative of the Debian distribution.

Fedora 7 has Kernel-based Virtual Machine and Qemu virtualisation technologies in addition to Xen virtualisation capabilities. Fedora's graphical virtualisation manager can be used to manage the virtualisation technologies.