I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Red Hat Linux. It was the first Linux distro that I installed, way back in 1997. That was Red Hat 5, and it started me off on the road to Linux geekhood. For many years, Red Hat was the distro of choice for discerning geeks, but it all changed when they decided to separate Red Hat into a commercial version, and a community version.
Many criticized this move at the time, fearing that Red Hat would not pay attention to Fedora, the free version. A lot of people started to make plans to migrate en masse to Debian or Slackware. Well, it’s 2006 now, and the Fedora project is alive and kicking. Fedora Core 5 just released, and I took a quick look at it to see what’s what.
This review is a quick look at Fedora from the desktop point of view. Fedora is also a very capable server OS, but I haven’t looked into that this time.
Download and Installation:
Fedora is widely available from a variety of mirrors, and even via Bittorrent. The website is fedora.redhat.com. I downloaded the DVD ISO image with Bittorrent, and was ready to go.
The first thing you see when you boot from the DVD, is a graphical Grub menu . This is when I noticed that Fedora Core 5 uses a new logo. Though it’s not exactly earth shaking news, it’s nice to look at. The new logo appears all over the place, including on the desktop.
The installer is divided in two parts. The first is the text based installer which allows you to check the integrity of the installation media. I skipped this and went straight to the major part of the installation.
The system started X and ran the usual Red Hat installer, Anaconda. This has been tweaked from previous versions to look a little better, and be a little simpler as well. The release notes can be read at any time, which is a nice step.
The installation process is very simple, and you should have no problem with it. One thing that Anaconda lacks is the ability to non-destructively resize NTFS partitions, but this is a minor quibble.
I chose to turn off SELinux, since this is my home computer, and I’m still not comfortable with using SELinux. SELinux is a security framework given by the US National Security Agency that is supposed to tighten permissions and enhance security in various ways. The flip side is that it’s often confusing for new users, and adds to the system overhead. I would suggest you turn it off, unless you know what you are doing.
I chose the defaults for most things, and sat back and waited for about twenty minutes. Once the installation was complete, the DVD got ejected and the computer rebooted.
The boot process has been made much prettier. The new logo works well, and the bootsplash screen makes Fedora look less intimidating to new users by hiding most of the text messages behind a pretty screen. Of course, you can choose to turn this off for the true retro look.
The major improvements in this version are with regards to the memory usage and the look and feel of Fedora. The ancilliary benefits are that Fedora now boots much faster than Core 4. Gnome is much faster. This may be more because of improvements made to Gnome, but it sure makes life better.
Gnome is the default Window Manager, but you can choose to use KDE instead. I prefer Gnome, and it’s a tad better integrated into the distro than KDE is. KDE fans won’t be disappointed, though. The desktop is very impressive and well integrated. It’s actually hard to say what was done by Fedora and what was done by Gnome, but it doesn’t matter, because it works so well.
To test the hardware detection, I tried plugging in a USB thumb drive. It was mounted automatically, and an icon appeared on my desktop, the Places menu, and in “Computer”, the Gnome equivalent of “My Computer”. My other hardware also worked fine, though I have read stories on the web about Core 5 having problems with Nvidia Motherboard Chipsets. I don’t have one so I couldn’t test for that. My Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT worked fine though, as did on-board sound and networking. These days hardware detection is not really a problem for most Linux distro’s, as long as you don’t have some esoteric hardware.
Gnome has nice built-in CD/DVD burning. You can right click on a CD/DVD and copy it to and ISO image, and vice-versa. The included CD/DVD creator is a fairly decent program, though I prefer K3B. Browsing the file system through Nautilus is as simple as it ha always been, and Windows networks are detected automatically. I did not try browsing on a Domain based network, but a simple peer to peer network was no problem at all.
Nautilus still opens each folder in a new window. You can turn this off, but I have grown to like the spatial navigation, and keep it on. When I first used this, I hated it, so I would suggest you try it out and see if it helps you navigate faster.
Fedora Core 5 is up to date and offers a very good software selection. The default email program is Evolution 2.6 and sendmail works out of the box. The default browser is Mozilla Firefox 220.127.116.11 and the default productivity suite is OpenOffice 2.0.2. Among other applications, the distribution features Gaim 1.5, The Gimp 2.2.10, KDE 3.5.1, Mozilla 1.7.12, Linux 2.6.15, Thunderbird 1.5 and Xorg 7.0.
Fedora Core 5 provides two graphical tools to update the system and to install new applications. Both tools rely on YUM and its repositories. Pup replaces up2date and allows the user to update the packages that are already installed on the machine. Pirut, which can be run by clicking on “Add/Remove Software”, in the Applications menu, allows the user to list available and installed packages, to browse them by category and to search packages by keyword. With this tool, you can easily install or remove packages, depending on your needs.
As the close cousin of RHEL, Fedora enjoys very good support from software makers, both open source and proprietary. If your vendor explicitly supports only one non-commercial Linux distribution, Fedora Core is likely to be it—a significant competitive advantage for Fedora.
Fedora also includes the Xen hypervisor software.The Fedora team has fixed some of the bugs that plauged the previous version’s Xen implementation. For instance, Xen requires particular modifications to a system’s C library to avoid a specific performance hit; with earlier Fedora versions, this called for some hackery to get Xen working properly, but in Core 5, it works well.
Xen allows you to run separate instances of OS’s on the same machine. It’s like VMware’s virtual machines in Windows, only free and open source. The new version of Fedora ships with a basic script for creating new Fedora Core 5 Xen guest instances. The script creates a blank system image in a file and launches Anaconda to install Fedora on that image.
It’s still not as easy to use as VMware, though, and you’d have to be a geek to get it working perfectly. That said, it’s something that isn’t of use for most users, but those who need it will appreciate the fact that it works as well as it does.
Fedora, like most other free distro’s, ships with crippled media playing capabilities. This is largely due to licensing restrictions, and it’s fairly easy to fix. I followed a set of instructions I found via Google, and was listening to MP3’s, and watching Divx and DVD’s in no time.
Fedora Core 5 is a worthy successor to the Red Hat legacy. That said, I would not recommend this for absolute beginners. Suse or Ubuntu are a little easier to use for Linux neophytes. But if you want to work on the cutting edge, and are interested in learning about Linux, Fedora is one of the best distro’s out there. Developers swear by it, hackers live on it, and server admins secretly install Fedora on very expensive machines.
This review barely scratches the surface of Core 5. There’s just too much to talk about in a short review like this. You’ll have to install it and experience Fedora for yourself to get a sense of how excited I am about this new release. I love the snappy, speedy Gnome, the new look, the huge number of apps, and the improved hardware support.
I understand that Core 5 may not be for everyone. You may have to occasionally edit a text file or two, or even drop into console mode. The Fedora user community, however, is one of the best resources available for any distro. The amount of guides, help files and Howto’s available for Fedora are simply amazing. And since Fedora and Red Hat are closely related, if you are a Fedora guru, you’re pretty close to being a Red Hat guru as well.
So if you like tinkering with your computer, and learning new things, install Fedora Core 5 at once! You won’t be sorry. If you have a little bit of Linux knowledge, or are willing to learn, install Fedora Core 5 for a fantastic desktop experience. Don’t expect everything to work perfectly out of the box, and be willing to tweak it a little. The rewards are well worth the pain.
Fedora Core 5 makes me proud to say that I started on Red Hat!