Fedora 13 gives off plain vibe, but offers power and stability under the hood
Developers of the Fedora Project have put together a fine distribution that's rock-solid and user-friendly.
The differences between Linux distributions these days are often so minute, there seems little reason to even review them anymore.
After all, one distro running GNOME 2.30 or KDE 4.4 is going to look very much like any other distro running the same interfaces. The interfaces will be nearly identical -- all that remains different are underlying administration tools and a few variant choices on the apps that are included.
That was the conundrum recently faced when turning to review the latest beta of Fedora 13: it looked so much like other GNOME 2.30-interfaced distros I have seen lately, the initial thought was "what's the diff?"
Such an attitude is, for the most part, not fair to the developers of the Fedora Project, who have put together a darn fine distribution that reads as rock-solid and very user-friendly.
I have been using Fedora 13 since the initial alpha release, and have been very impressed with the stability of this platform to date. And I don't have to make allowances for this being a pre-release product: I can honestly say that I have never seen a more stable alpha-to-beta series of releases in a Linux distro. I have seen just two -- count 'em -- two bugs, both minor, and both gone now, so I won't even detail them. That seems a very small point, but to me that points to a level of craftsmanship that shows up in other aspects of this distribution.
Fedora 13, code-named "Goddard," is set to be released on May 18, a one-week push back from its original May 11 target. The week's delay showed up early in the dev cycle, to confirm some bug fixes. It looks like the added week paid off.
Looking at the Fedora desktop in Figure 1, you can see right away that this is not going to win any slick design contests. The design is almost pure-vanilla GNOME 2.30, with the predominate Fedora blue permeating throughout. Compared to the slick design work from the new Ubuntu release, this could be seen as a disadvantage, but given the fact that GNOME is fairly customizable, it's short work to jazz up the interface the way you want.
This gives us another clue about Fedora: who the target audience is. The Ubuntu distro is clearly aimed at the beginning user, who will be using Ubuntu as a way to get out onto the cloud. Customization and optimization are possible, but with a slick enough interface, new Ubuntu users won't have to bother.
Fedora, on the other hand, is a distro for Linux users. Its purpose in life is to be the Linux desktop, with the flexibility to function as a solid work or development platform. Can it sit on a netbook and do cloud? Sure, but that's not its main goal. Fedora is for slightly-more-than beginner Linux users who know their way around the platform and have a job to do.
A job that Fedora will handle very well. One of the great advantages about working with a Red Hat-based distribution is the high availability of applications. Fedora has just as many apps as Ubuntu, because most developers port to either one or the other. As such, if Fedora doesn't pre-load the apps you want, they're usually very easy to find.
Installation of Fedora via Anaconda was a breeze, as usual. All the hardware was recognized, and my WiFi card and dual monitor set up were picked up without a hitch. The inboard CDMA modem wasn't initially identified, but it didn't take much to get the right configuration going.
Which brings up a minor concern: there's some really good documentation out there for Fedora, and I was eventually always able to find what I needed -- but not always from Fedora or Red Hat sources. The Fedora documentation seems, on the whole, a bit more scattered than that found for openSUSE and Ubuntu. Third-party sites have picked up the slack, so like I said, you can get what you need eventually. To be fair, the documentation situation has vastly improved for Fedora from what it used to be, and the Fedora documentation site has a great interface. It just seems like there needs to be a little more content in there.
Fedora's package set is on the minimal side if you install from the LiveCD, as I did. If you are a developer, you might want to save some time and burn a copy of the DVD installation media to get all the packages you need right away. The same suggestion holds true for graphic-intense users.
Again, this is not an admonishment, as much as a heads up. Basic users will have more than enough to get them on their way. The latest version of Firefox and the Empathy IM client are great apps to start working on the Web (see Figure 2).
Plus, PackageKit is a pretty easy way to find and download new applications. It's simple interface, shown in Figure 3, is easy to navigate if you're just browsing for an application, and the search feature is fast and relatively focused. Experienced Linux users, though, may prefer to pop the hood and just use yum, Fedora's hyper efficient package manager.
The various hints I have made along the way may give you the impression that Fedora is not for beginning users, and this is not the case. There are elements of Fedora that are not as polished as other distros, but there is no real roadblock for keeping new users out. But if I were recommending a Linux distro to a new user with little to no computer savvy, Fedora would not be it. If the user was a power user on another platform, however, then Fedora is perfect, because it delivers superior stability and flexibility.
That flexibility shows up in Fedora's "spins," Fedora's delivery system for non-GNOME or specialized-task-based versions of the basic Fedora Desktop release. These spins include KDE, LXDE, XFCE, and a Games version, and having installed and worked with the first three in this list, they are just as fast and stable as the main Fedora. Spins are a nice way to deliver specialized versions of Fedora, and it would be nice to see them take off a bit more (a developer's spin or a graphic designer's spin, for example).
Other than the admittedly small points of concern, there was nothing that leaped out at me and said "avoid this distro at all costs." Given the availability of so many software applications, the speed and stability of the platform, and the capability to customize the heck out of this distribution, I believe Fedora 13 will be a Linux distribution that can perform well for just about any desktop user.