Jim Lynch is the community manager for eWEEK.com, ExtremeTech and PCMag.com. Theres been a lot of confusion over Red Hats new Fedora distro, but very little written about how it performs. We asked Jim to take a look at it for the eWEEK.com audience. Heres what he came up with.
In the process of changing its support and development model for non-enterprise desktop Linux, Red Hat has given a gift to the community: Fedora.
Fedora is essentially a tweaked version of Red Hat 9 — or Red Hat 10 — that the company has opened up to outside developers to extend and support. This is good for everyone concerned, and it speaks well of Red Hat as a company for doing it.
Overall Fedora makes for a decent desktop platform, marred by a few annoying bugs (more on that below).
Whats In Fedora Core 1?
Theres a lot of goodies bundled with this distro. Heres a very brief rundown of what you can expect:
- Gnome 2.4
- KDE 3.1.4
- The Gimp
Slideshow: Take a look inside Fedora Core 1.
The Fedora CD contains a lot of software, far too much to list individually here. So be sure to visit the Fedora site for a complete list of packages and last-minute package changes included on the Fedora CDs.
If youve ever installed Red Hat 8 or 9, then Fedora will seem very familiar. The process is essentially the same, using Red Hats Anaconda installer. We opted to throw in everything, including the kitchen sink. So our install was probably a little bit longer than most peoples; it ran about 45 minutes or so. We installed it on a box that also had Windows 2000 on it, and the dual boot worked nicely for us, with Grub as the boot loader.
We had no problems with installation. All we had to do was insert the CDs when prompted, click through a few screens of basic information, and the installation pretty much took care of itself. Our network card, monitor, video card, etc. were all found and properly installed. The only manual chore was to create our user ID and password.
We rank Fedoras install program among the best for desktop Linux distros (no surprise there, since it comes from Red Hat). We would feel comfortable giving a copy of Fedora to anyone who has installed Windows 2000 or XP, as its pretty similar in terms of the expertise required to install it.
After you boot up (theres a nice GUI boot screen in Fedora), you can change the login screen from the default Red Hat Bluetooth screen to Happy Gnome, Circles or Happy Gnome (with user browser). Were Gnome people, so we promptly ditched Red Hats Bluecurve theme and went with Happy Gnome (hey, whats not to love about a theme with a name like that?).
KDE and Gnome are both included (although each has the usual Red Hat customizations; love em or hate em, theyre there). We opted for Gnome, as always, and for the Crux desktop theme. It just feels more Gnome-like to us than the Bluecurve one. Aside from a quick once-over, we didnt bother much with KDE; its a fine desktop, but just not our cup of tea.
Add/Remove Applications Burps
Since we opted to install everything, there wasnt much to do in terms of adding software after the installation. However, having heard about some problems with adding and removing software in Fedora, we wanted to check it out. We decided to remove Abiword and then add it back again. The removal went fine, but we couldnt reinstall it again afterward. The Add/Remove program tool kept crashing each time we tried.
So instead of using the flawed Add/Remove tool, we opted to install it via Apt. So we installed Apt and then fired up a terminal window. From there we typed “apt-get install abiword” and voila, Abiword was back on our system.
Were not sure what the deal is with the Add/Remove Applications tool in Fedora. But its probably worthwhile to skip using it in this version and simply get Apt. Learning the basics of how to use Apt doesnt take much time, and itll probably save you a lot of RPM headaches. If you want a nice GUI-based application tool, try using Synaptic after youve installed Apt.
Where Is Galeon?
One thing that we found especially annoying about Fedora is that the browser Galeon isnt bundled with it. Instead, Epiphany is included. Frankly, we think Epiphany stinks. We dont even like the name of the stupid thing, to say nothing of how bad it lags behind Galeon in features. Were sure that Epiphany will eventually catch up to Galeon, but why settle for an inferior browsing experience when you can have Galeon instead? Fedora developers, please make sure that Galeon is bundled in the next release. And please consider giving “Ephiphany” a new name. Maybe we can have a contest in the eWEEK forums to pick out a new name for it.
Still No VPN Wizard
We found it annoying and bordering on bizarre that there is still no VPN wizard for Fedora. Since its based on Red Hat (heck, it is Red Hat), its way past time for an easy way to connect to corporate VPN networks. This isnt rocket science. Windows has had it for ages, and it ought to be in every Linux distribution by default. As many people use their desktops at home to telecommute, the ability to connect via VPN quicky and easily is a basic feature essential for any OS.
No Luck With MP3s or DVDs
If youre hot to trot to play your MP3s or DVDs, then youll be a bit disappointed in Fedora. For legal reasons, it doesnt come with the ability to play MP3s (the appropriate plugin is missing from XMMS) or DVDs. We discovered this after we had downloaded Ted Nugents excellent “Crave” MP3 to give it a shot on Fedora. We got a popup message explaining why that was left out of XMMS.
There is a way around the MP3 problem, however. You can download the 1.2.7 version of XMMS (ftp://ftp.xmms.org/pub/xmms/) and then install the MP3 plugin for it (try doing a Google search for more information). We soon had the Motor City Madmans “Crave” blaring from the speakers of our Fedora box.
As for playing DVDs, its not a big deal for us. We dont even bother playing DVDs on our Windows box, never mind on our Linux boxes. When its time to watch DVDs, we prefer to plop down on our comfortable couch and watch them via our Sony DVD player.
There are numerous articles on the Web detailing how to get DVDs playing on Linux, so if you really want to, it is possible.
The Verdict on Fedora
Overall we like Fedora, but have some reservations. The application install/remove tool problems absolutely must be fixed. We could not recommend this distro to a Linux newbie until that problem was resolved. The lack of MP3/DVD play might also be an issue for some users. Unless youre a tinkerer (and what real Linux geek isnt?), it might make more sense to just wait until the next release and see if the bugs have all been worked out.
Once some of the current bugs are fixed, Fedora could be considered for use on the corporate desktop. It already provides a rich array of functionality and comes with lots of excellent software such as OpenOffice, Evolution and GAIM.
However, companies considering an alternative to Windows would probably do well to wait for the next release of Fedora. The install/remove software bugs in this version are too much to expect a mainstream corporate desktop user to deal with, and will increase support costs. So sit tight and wait for the next release, or opt for one of the other corporate Linux distros, like SuSe.
Jason Brooks has more details on the Fedora project, which clears up some misconceptions on Red Hats direction and motives.
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