Updated: June 18, 2010
Testing Fedora is like stuffing a badger down your trousers; you don't really know when it's going to bite. On the same note, Fedora is the mirror unto Linux community. It's the most popular distribution among veteran users and reflects the society as well as the technological advancement of the geek-o-sphere. You get a very fast release cycle, only free software and lots of bugs in return for the bleeding edge of technology and the sensation of superiority.
Fedora 13 Goddard has been released a few weeks ago. At first, I considered skipping the spring edition. Reading the release notes, I found of wealth of goodies in there, except that very few concerned the desktop user. Most of the changes are underneath the hood, in kernel space, where the geeks abide. For the casual user, the desktop remains virtually untouched.
But then, reading some more, I decided to give Fedora 13 a chance. I must say it was a good decision. You will discover why after reading through the review.
Test platforms: two laptops, T42 with ATI card, T60p with Intel card, both 32-bit, with the latter used for installation alongside Lucid Lynx already present, including shrinking the target partition, so we have a daring installation attempt. We'll see how Goddard behaves in the live session, have it committed to disk, then test all the rest. We'll use autoten to enable our Fedora beyond free software Utopia, check Wireless, Bluetooth, Samba sharing, multimedia, laptop modes, Compiz & desktop effects, available software, package management, speed, memory usage, SELinux, and some more.
Fedora 13 live session - Not much to do
Booting Fedora 13 is an unremarkable experience. Apart from the high-resolution splash enabled by shoving a bunch of modules into the kernel, it's a fairly standard setup. After a while, you're looking at the classic, easily recognizable Fedora desktop.
The Gnome theme is virtually unchanged - and I still yearn for the one that was used in Leonidas. Nevertheless, the experience is quite pleasant. A darker shade of blue dominates, exuding serenity.
Unlike many previous tests, there were NO applications errors or kernel crashes. This is a first for Fedora on my machines, so this is great. Stability has never been a hallmark in Fedora releases, but Goddard manages this well, without compromising its high-tech spirit, although since Constantine, the change gradient has become a little more conservative.
Wireless & Bluetooth
Worked without any issues. In fact, testing these is more of a habit than necessity, since network connectivity has not been a problem in Linux for a very long time now.
After the installation, I'm afraid. Endowed with free software only, Fedora is not a very interesting desktop. You won't get any codecs for proprietary software, so exploring the Web after fancy music, video or programs is out of the question.
Installation - Dangerously simplified
Fedora 13 features a significantly revamped installer. It is far friendlier than previous versions, introducing new elements that simplify the procedure. I can't say if the changes were introduced with a new user in mind, but they are welcome. However, the extra simplicity brings along dangerous assumptions.
This is where most of the fun takes place. The classic RedHat-style dropdown menu has been transformed into individual options, offering better visibility and understanding of the procedure.
You are asked to choice the type of storage devices and then select among available option. For the duration of installation, mounting and unmounting of disks and partitions will be inhibited, even if some are not in use.
Fedora 13 detected the installed Ubuntu and suggested replacing it. This is somewhat aggressive. Most Linux distributions offer side-by-side layouts, with openSUSE being the safest in this regard and Ubuntu the most cooperative when it comes to sharing the disk space.
Still, you do have the option to create a custom layout or use the Shrink Current System feature. In the first installation, this is what I did. And let me tell you, do not use this option.
Fedora asked me which partition I wanted to shrink. Again, some very aggressive figures here. Fedora set the size of the target partition to minimal possible value, which is the size of data on the partition. This would leave me with a rather unusable Lucid after the procedure, with no space left in the home directory. Anyhow, I downsized the Ubuntu /home by some 20GB. Fedora resized the partition quickly and easily, within seconds.
Next, the filesystem was created and the installation began and finished without a single question asked. The partition layout and filesystems were chosen for me. The bootloader was installed without a prompt. This overwrote the Ubuntu GRUB 2 and placed Fedora as the single boot entry in the GRUB legacy bootloader.
From the technical perspective, this is the worst and most-Microsoft like installation I have ever seen from a non-Microsoft product. The bold assumption that Fedora is the only system on the machine is rather curious. I am sure this was not done on purpose, but is part of the overzealous defaults in the installer simplification, but still, it hurts the ego and could ruin the day for new users.
I redid the installation, this time using the Custom layout. Looking at the defaults set by the last installation, one thing that really did surprise me is that the installer set a swap of its own in the LVM, without taking into consideration the already existing swap space on the disk.
The new swap was definitely different from the existing one. While sda5 was approx. 2GB in size, lv_swap was set to 4GB. Not only is this redundant, it's pretty much unnecessary.
I removed the Fedora LVM setup and created my own layout.
One thing I so dearly wanted to test was the new, not-yet-production-quality filesystem called BTRFS, which has the magical and super-advanced features similar to ZFS in Solaris.
Alas, it turns out BTRFS is not available on live CD, only in the direct-install version, which I did not test. BTRFS would have to wait for another day, although it does take away some fun and surprise from this review.
This time, I was asked to setup the bootloader. However, again, Fedora did not take into consideration the Ubuntu 10.04 installation. It could be a simple incompatibility with the Ubuntu non-standard setup, although using core.img works fine. What more, it conflicts with Fedora's bleeding-edge mission statement.
Another problem with default bootloader setup is that the menu is set to be hidden and timeout clocked at 0 seconds, so even if you want to see what the bootloader has to offer for you, it flies by. This means you cannot add options to the kernel menu or use failsafe boot or anything alike.
P.S. After the installation, I changed the settings, including unhiding the menu, increasing the timeout to a reasonable value and adding Lucid Lynx. It booted fine, not being harmed by the shrinking.
The live session, while devoid of excitement, is precise, clean and stable. The installation feels more polished, on the expanse of everything else. From the user perspective, Fedora 13 has a terrible installer. It will do so many things for you, which is nice, except that pretty much every single default choice is too narrow, too strict or too exclusive to fit into the broader scope of things. If you're a new user, you'll be stuck.
Post installation experience - Finally some fun
Overall, so far, Fedora 13 left me baffled. The improvements and the desire for improvements is obvious and most commendable. There's an effort to make Fedora more suitable for mainstream users, but it's like teaching someone to drive in Pagani Zonda.
Now, let's spice things a bit.
The first thing I did was download the autoten helper script that adds all kinds of extras to Fedora and makes it usable for average users. The repertoire includes the Flash plugin, a thousand codecs, Google Earth, FrostWire, RealPlayer, Skype, VirtualBox, auto-login, sudo, and several other features.
The new autoten features a brand new interface, with pink-blue color gradients on buttons and italic fonts, the worst choice since Windows 95. Previous versions looked much better, although the usage remains the same.
Furthermore, autoten lets you download only one category at the time, so if it's a long installation, you'll have to sit by and wait. You can't just select everything and go away for an hour or two. The serialization is a pain, but you only have to do it once.
Now, let's see what we have.
It won't work until you set the firewall rules or disable the firewall altogether. In the live session, this won't really work, so you will have to wait until after the system is installed.
After using autoten, you will have the right codecs for just about anything and everything.
If you use the All codecs option, this will download some 300MB worth of codecs and programs, including VLC, MPlayer, Xine, XMMS, Audacious, and some more.
Usability improvements, some, not many
Fedora 13 comes with Nautilus set with expanded views you normally see in most Gnome desktops, including tabbing. This is a good start, as an armada of single-view windows is absolutely yesterday. You also get a new set of button icons, which look a bit weird.
However, there's still no Shutdown button when you click on the username in the top panel. This remains a mystery for me, since this is such a simple and trivial fix.
The default Fedora program selection is rather spartan. For example, you don't have any serious office or graphics applications. You don't get so much as AbiWord, let alone GIMP. There's mail, a planner, a-la Microsoft Project, a weird choice if you ask me, pino, a Twitter client, Deja Dup backup utility, and little else.
Graphics wise, there's Shotwell, but I'm not sure what it does. I tried importing some images, it told me I was trying to use unsupported format (PNG) and that was about it.
With autoten, you can improve the menu with interesting stuff like RealPlayer, Skype, VirtualBox or Google Earth:
I really don't understand the fixation on free software only. And let me give you an example. Browsing through the available software, under Games, there's this little gem here:
A games called: A drug dealing game - a simulation of an imaginary drug market. So it's an All-American game, which features buying, selling and trying to get past the cops! Apparently, this is OK, but Internet Gods forbid evil stuff like MP3 music, right. As long as it's GPLv2, you can probably stuff anything into the repositories. I see no value in this.
SELinux, still a nuisance
SELinux continues to be a pest. It will pop once in a while and alert on completely innocent activities, like opening Google Earth, for example. It's too aggressive and has not been tweaked for daily use.
Furthermore, it's completely useless when it comes to trying to understand what it does or why it does what it does. Take a look at the screenshot below:
It's complaining about Google Earth trying to use a shared object. First, why alert? That shared object is in the same directory as Google Earth. It's not as if it's trying to subvert a system, merely use its own stuff.
Then, take a look at the labeling thing. It says the default SELinux type for Google Earth is usr_t, but its current type is usr_t. Maybe I'm blind, but the two are one and the same? So is this a bug? Damn right it is.
Not meant to be used in a desktop environment, for sure.
Compiz is installed by default. It worked smoothly, without any hitches or problems. You can use these to impress your friends and family. No Compiz crashes like in Constantine.
Again, no problems, suspend & hibernate worked great. And no kernel crashes on resume, either. Stability issues seems to have been tackled well in Goddard.
Memory usage & system resources
Fedora continues to lead as the lean consumer of memory among popular Linux distributions using stock Gnome, although the gap has shrunk a bit, with Fedora gaining some weight in Goddard. But it's still quite low and very reasonable.
Compared to, say Lucid, Fedora takes much longer to boot, approx. 3-4 times more, although this is still negligible in human terms, at about 1 minute. System response is approx. the same.
Fedora 13 Goddard is ... I don't really know what to say. Personally, the most important part of system usage is stability. Compared to previous versions, the difference is huge. Fedora 13 is stable and robust and this makes it an adequate candidate for daily use.
With autoten and similar programs, you solve the availability problem of software, including popular applications and codecs. Still, placing a shortcut on the desktop, which reads "grab your non-free stuff over here" would have made a big change for the average user.
If you look past the two hours needed to get your desktop in mint shape, then Fedora 13 is a very decent choice, fast, snappy, stable most of all, with a decent repertoire of programs, and only minor quirks. The biggest issue is overzealous security, which you can trim down rather easily by disabling SELinux.
The installation, though, was absolutely horrible. While exact, precise and eventually non-harmful, it leaves a lot to be desired, including much better and safer default choices, a more efficient use of system resources, like an already present swap, and more consideration for other operating systems.
To sum it up, I think Fedora 13 is much better than its predecessors, but still cannot compete with the likes of Mint, Ubuntu, Mandriva, and associated folks, which provide the common users with more tools and more intuitive tools to enjoy their desktop. Fedora makes sense for veterans, developers, tech junkies, and explorers, who want to dabble in what will and could become the mainstream in 3-4 years.Well that would be all. Feel free to hate me and send me angry mails.