Much of the company and community work that goes into Fedora will find its way into Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the commercial Linux version used by governments and businesses around the world. You might compare the relationship between Red Hat and Fedora to Novell and openSUSE.
For this reason, Fedora is a well respected and highly popular distribution, even if their development may skew towards the enterprise. Thus Fedora might be considered geared for the more experienced and power user. While many aspects of this American-based operating system are quite user-friendly, other areas might require some prior Linux knowledge to fully appreciate.
One area in which Fedora excels is the implementation of the latest technology in Linux and Open Source software. In fact, many characterize Fedora as cutting-edge. This policy sometimes yields unexpected or undesired results, but the many users who prefer to live on the edge receive a new version once or sometimes twice within a calendar year, although several recent releases have slipped passed their scheduled release date due to issues in the system. While some become impatient waiting for releases, Fedora is one of the few major distributions to delay releases if some major bug is found, which speaks to their level of commitment to excellence as opposed to marketing.
Despite all efforts, all software projects end up releasing with some bugs and Fedora is not immune. The latest bruhaha came with Fedora 12 and its released ability to install new software without giving the root (system administrator) password. First filed as a bug and later a publicized as a feature, whatever the true intention, this has been patched for those who update to now required the root password to install new software. While skipping the root password for new software installation is a feature in several desktop distributions, Fedora, like its openSUSE counterpart, is used by many small and home business owners for its relationship to the parent-company’s commercial product yet with a low or no cost implementation. Thus any security lax is undesirable.
In addition to Fedora’s commercial uses, it remains a favorite of many desktop users. The latest hardware support and software innovations go into Fedora making it one the most desirable distributions for those who regularly update their hardware or crave the latest in software goodies.
For example, this release of Fedora uses one of the newest versions of Xorg X Server, which provides the graphical platform for window environments. This brings lots of useful and fun goodies. One of these is the ability to use multiple pointing devices, such as two mice or a mouse and a tablet, at the same time. This could be convenient for those who switch devices often or in the case where two users might want to work on the same desktop at the same time. Official descriptions sound as though two pointers might appear on screen although tests here showed only one. However, multiple devices did control the single pointer.
Speaking of video cards, in the past, if one’s video card supported it, multiple displays resulted in a cloned desktop (same one desktop used on all monitors) while many others, especially with NVIDIA hardware, had only one working display by default. But now with Xorg X Server 1.7.1 included in Fedora 12 many hardware combinations boot to a Xinerama desktop (one larger desktop scaled across two or more displays). This even includes NVIDIA-based machines thanks to Fedora’s use of the Nouveau video driver. Other X improvements include enhanced DisplayPort support for Intel users while ATI/AMD users can enjoy Kernel Mode Setting out-of-the-box and install 3D support through Fedora’s package management.
More hardware improvements this release include better webcam, tablet, and Bluetooth support. Bluetooth now has plug-n-play on-demand capabilities – enabling upon plug-in and disabling upon extraction. Webcam support has been added for lot of additional models and extra features in the underlying code with emphasis on v4l and v4l2 interoperability. Tablet support has been increased in many popular applications used with tablets such as Inkscape and GIMP. Some improvements include velocity and pressure control and handwriting recognition.
Some additional software improvements include i686-optimized performance, faster software and update installation, and networking software improvements. The i686 optimization allow Fedora to run faster on most hardware. Faster software installation has been improved by using a more aggressive compression ratio and updates have been further quickened by providing just the differences in packages rather than having to download and install entire packages. Networking has been improved to add more profile and hardware options.
YUM is the package management solution found in Fedora. It’s quite powerful at the commandline, but a graphical front-end is included. Software Management is found in the menu and activates PackageKit. At first I was a bit skeptical due to previous experiences with it, but it proved to work admirably in Fedora. The first use of it did seem to stall on updating the databases and after 20 minutes or so, I closed it thinking it broken. However, my second attempt found it functioning normally – installing software, resolving dependencies, and making menu entries. The update function is also handled with PackageKit and I found it to work equally as well.
This release features KDE 4.3.2, GNOME , Linux 184.108.40.206, Xorg X Server 1.7.1, and GCC 4.4.2. It includes the KOffice office suite, Empathy instant messenger, Evolution PIM, Juk music player, and lots of games. Fedora’s repositories contain tons of other popular software as well. For non-OSS and other goodies, perhaps easyLife can be of service. It allows users to install and configure extras such as “sudo,” proprietary graphic drivers, non-free software like Flash, java, and multimedia codecs, and Skype.
While Fedora has a large and loyal userbase, I’ve never had much luck with it. Previous versions wouldn’t even install due to errors in detecting my hard drive’s geometry and partitions as configured by other partitioning tools. I never really found Fedora very attractive either and I’ve always felt that their software stack was either lacking or just not in sync with my needs. I admit I’m not a Fedora fan, but I can certainly acknowledge its worth and popularity with others and admire its cutting-edge philosophy.
This particular release didn’t complain about my hard drives and installed into a usable system. The live CD uses Ext4 by default and while many others have written about the performance advantages of Ext4, I’ve found Ext4 to be slow on my hardware. I’ve spoken with a few others experiencing this and we have no idea why other than to speculate it’s due to older hardware.
However, I still had issues with Fedora’s bootloader install. Given the choice where to install its GRUB (boot loader), I chose the first sectors of the root partition (where Fedora was actually installed) so that I could just chainload from my existing bootloader. This was because I already had several Linux installs that Fedora didn’t detect and (ok, I admit it’s mainly) because my current bootloader was quite attractive. However, Fedora messed up and corrupted or otherwise rendered my currently bootloader unusable while not installing its bootloader either. To some new users, this could be catastrophic. However, I seem to be a lone sufferer of this condition as I didn’t see any other reports of it. If one leaves the bootloader configuration at default or chooses to install on the MBR, then it’s likely to work just fine.
My first impression of Fedora was “whoooo.” I thought the login screen was pretty and I was tickled to see the expanded dual-monitor desktop. This feeling remained through login when I saw the actual desktop spanning across both my monitors. I was soon disappointed that the secondary 17 inch display was detected first and auto-configured to be the main screen and that it was rendered in a resolution of only 1024×768. For the first time using my hardware setup, the font sizes were actually rendered differently on each display as well. This was unsettling. I tried to adjust the monitor size in KDE’s System settings, but this confused X and after some overlapping and reverting, it gave up. It then just gave me a cloned setup. I have confidence I could manually adjust this if I wished to use Fedora, but I wonder if new users would just run screaming in the night.
Fedora has some individual configuration tools (like for a firewall or networking), but its far from complete and they offer no control center as found in Mandriva or openSUSE. Most things are auto-configured these days, but there are times when individual customization is needed.
Although my experiences with Fedora over the years have been riddled with installation issues, humdrum looks, and a lack of tools and default software, I seem to be in the minority. What works really well for me, my work flow, and my hardware may not work that well for you – and vise versa. This is why a particular distro may receive a bad review from one writer and a glowing review from another. It all boils down to personal experience. I’m reminded of this every time I try to use Fedora.
I know in my heart of hearts that Fedora is a good distro, even if it’s not my cup of tea. It’s backed by Red Hat, it is the first to include the latest in hardware support and new software technologies, and its developers seem more concerned with quality than marketing. It has a large userbase and always receives good reviews. Appearances can be pimped, software can easily be added, and most hardware is auto-configured. The only way to be sure is to try it yourself. It just might be the distro for you.