ITworld Review: Fedora 14 is Leading-Edge Linux

Editor's note: The reviewer started with the Fedora 14 beta and moved to the release candidate. The release candidate is the version he ultimately put through its paces for this review.

I like Fedora, Red Hat's community Linux distribution, a lot. But, let me warn you right now, that it's not a Linux for beginners. That's not to say that the newest version of Fedora, Fedora 14 Laughlin, is hard to use. It's not. But, if you need a lot of handholding as you explore Linux, I think you'll be better off with Ubuntu.

[ See the image gallery: Using Fedora 14 ]

To see what the latest and greatest Fedora could do I put it on my reliable laptop buddy, a Lenovo ThinkPad R61. This 2008-vintage notebook is powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500 and has 2GBs of RAM. I also tried it out on a Dell Inspiron 530S powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. This box has 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set.

In addition, I tried, and failed, to get it to install on VirtualBox, Oracle's desktop virtualization program. This turned out to be a known problem with VirtualBox and Fedora 14 betas. There are ways to work around it, however. I was finally successful in installing Fedora 14 on a VirtualBox virtual machine (VM) using Virtual Network Computing (VNC) to remotely connect to Fedora's Xserver, but I can't see many people jumping through this many hoops to get it to run on VirtualBox. I was, I should add, able to run Fedora 14 on VMware Player.

No matter the platform, once it was up, Fedora 14 basically worked fine. I add the qualifier because I did run into a number of small, but annoying, problems.

Fedora successes and failures

Fedora's desktop is the latest shipping version of GNOME, GNOME 2.32. Unlike Ubuntu, which recently decided to go with its own take on GNOME, Unity, Fedora is sticking with straight GNOME. The full distribution also includes the newest version of the KDE desktop, KDE 4.5.2, but I'll be darned if I ever met a Fedora user who used KDE. Fedora has long been known as the GNOME's user GNOME Linux of choice.

I find Fedora's blue-themed GNOME desktop to be a pleasure to use. On it, you'll find the usual Linux desktop programs. These include Firefox for Web browsing; Empathy for IM; Evolution for e-mail and groupware; and OpenOffice for office work. Looking ahead, Fedora's team have not committed to switching to the OpenOffice fork, LibreOffice, for its default office suite in the future the way Ubuntu has for its next release.

There are also two new applications that I rather liked. These are Clementine, an easy-to-use music player and manager and Gnome Gmail, a GMail GNOME desktop client.

That was the good news. The bad news was scattered hither and yon in the distribution. For example, I found, when looking at large file directories with Nautilus, GNOME's file manager, that I would get hung up for minutes at a time. This is not my idea of a good time. I ran into this problem on all the PCs and VMs I tried. I never did find a fix.

Still that was better than I did with Brasero, the GNOME disc burning application. It crashed, and didn't burn any CD or DVD, whenever I tried it. There is a fix on the way for this problem, but it still wasn't in the late beta software I was trying out.

Last, but not least, in my litany of woe, once I had Fedora installed, I had some trouble updating it to the latest patches. After some tinkering with the Fedora software repositories, I was able to update without any more trouble.

I should also note that while I didn't run into this problem, I have friends with brand new PCs with USB 3.0 and they found that they were unable to use their USB ports. This also turned out to be a known bug, but there's no permanent fix for it on the horizon. You can, however, dodge around it by turning off your PC's ability to suspend operations. You can do this with the following command from a root terminal:

options xhci-hcd enable=1" >/etc/modprobe.d/xhci.conf

It may not be a pretty solution, but it is a working one.

Fedora Features

On the other hand, there are some really neat, new features in Fedora that do work well. I have to say though that they're going to be more exiting for system administrators and developers than they are someone just running Fedora at home.

Easily the most important of these is the arrival of of Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environment (SPICE). This is a desktop presentation service protocol, like Microsoft's RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) and Citrix's ICA (Independent Computing Architecture), that you use to run thin-client desktops.

SPICE will let you support remote desktops from a Fedora server, and eventually a Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) server. Each remote desktop will run as a Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM).

I can see SPICE being very useful in schools or anywhere that needs centralized control or inexpensive desktops. I'm looking forward to seeing how SPICE works out in the real world. I suspect it may prove a new and interesting way to get users on a Linux "desktop."

Thinking of schools, Fedora also supports the Sugar Learning Platform. This is best known as the interface and operating system of the One Laptop per Child project.

Fedora also includes a new interface: MeeGo. This is the interface for the MeeGo operating system, which is meant for netbooks, Mobile Internet Devices (MID) and embedded devices. While not as well known or as mature as Android, MeeGo shows great promise. By making it available on Fedora, developers can develop applications for MeeGo.

Another interesting feature is you need not run Fedora at own on your own desktop or server. You can now run Fedora on the Amazon Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) service.

Taken all-in-all, I think Fedora 14 could stand some more quality assurance work. That said, since fixes arrive at a fast and furious rate on Linux I imagine this new Fedora will be up to snuff shortly. In the meantime, Fedora remains an excellent choice for developers and Linux enthusiasts.

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