Updated: April 25, 2011
Fedora remixes are far and few in between. The reason is probably two-fold. One, it is RedHat-based, which is commercial, so people might not wish to dabble in its code and create spinoffs. Indeed, Fedora is sponsored by RedHat. It acts as an early testbed of technologies, which are later introduced into the enterprise release. Two, there's yum package manager, which seems to frighten home users, for some reason.
Therefore, it is quite refreshing to find one and test one. Well, I found two, but since reviews normally focus on a single product, we'll have Fusion Linux this week, Fuduntu next week. Let's see what Fusion Linux can do; battle-tested version 14 called Thorium. And before we dig into the technical details, let me bore with a bit of prosaic mulling.
Your story begins thusly
You need a home distribution. You are not afraid of RPM files. In fact, you prefer RPM over Debian binary packages. CentOS is too spartan for you and you've never heard of Scientific Linux. You like Fedora, but it's too much hard work getting pimped for home use.
You look across the board of the Linux world and you see a fairly asymmetric picture. Most operating systems are Debian-based and lately, Ubuntu based. RedHat is reserved for businesses, and there's very little in between, maybe openSUSE. Mandriva could work, but you're not sure about it.
You gaze back at Fedora, and suddenly, you see Fusion Linux beckoning. It's everything you hoped for, at least on paper. A Fedora fork, designed to be simple and elegant, with everything working out of the box. Sounds perfect. Whether it can live up to its promises is what we will test today.
Fusion Linux looks virtually identical to Fedora all the way into the live desktop. This is where first changes and differences start to appear. The wallpaper is the same, but you get a single panel at the bottom, sporting a new, somewhat Ubuntu-ish theme.
You also get application pinning like in Windows 7, which I think is not the best way of doing things, but then, some people might like it. By default, you get Chromium and Terminal.
You also have the Mint-like main menu, however it is not fired up by either Alt+F1, which is the default shortcut or by using the Super key, like in Julia. The menu is well-arranged and inviting and previews some of the goodies that come with this 1.7GB release.
It's almost become a given, but Wireless, Bluetooth and Samba worked fine, without any problems whatsoever.
My first crash
Them, it happened. ABRT kicked in, reporting a crash. How Fedora like. Not sure why this happened, but it did not inspire me with confidence.
Look and feel and desktop effects
Well, never mind that. We'll examine the stability later on. From the aesthetics point of view, Fusion Linux looks fairly inviting. The bottom panel features nice, inviting icons, even though the system area is a bit crowded. However, the spacing is just right. Not so on the left side, where you get the slight gap between the view/hide desktop icon and the pinned apps.
The new theme looks somewhat in between Ubuntu Ambiance or Radiance, although it is just named Custom in the Appearance menu. If you don't like it, you have little choice except the somewhat bland Gnome defaults. Some programs do not use the theme automatically, like Chromium, which is the default browser supplied with the system.
By default, Fusion comes with Compiz enabled, including a nice Emerald theme, so you should not be too sorely tempted to switch. This is a big step away from Fedora defaults. There's also Gnome 3 preview, if you must.
Some Compiz images:
Fedora is known for being open-source only, by default, so live sessions are usually fairly bland, with no interesting stuff to play with. Fusion Linux comes with codecs and plugins for Flash and MP3.
However, I was not able to play either Apple trailers or Microsoft Media Server (MMS). In the case of Apple trailers, the QuickTime plugin crashed. In the case of radio streaming, nothing happened. I would click play and then, sounds of silence, not the real song, but an actual absence of music notes.
SELinux meddling in
No Fedora-like session is complete without some naughty interference by SELinux. Unfortunately, the same happened with Fusion, which ships with SELinux enabled and annoying. For example, it shouted when I tried using Wine, which comes preinstalled in half a dozen configurations, including some fancy utilities I've never heard of.
This is one really strong side of this distribution, almost to the point of overdoing. Fusion Linux comes with a very wealthy and colorful assortment of programs, including many great choices, but also some weird and somewhat unnecessary stuff.
To name a handful, you get Avidemux for video editing, you get Marble, the phenomenal geographic software, as well as Stellarium, a nifty planetarium software. Then, there's also Handbrake for DVD ripping, PlayOnLinux, which I promise to review soon, K3b, LibreOffice, GIMP, and many others.
Among less known choices, you will find TeamViewer and Filelight, for instance. You also get the Fedora live USB creator software. And let's not forget Linux games, which come in a fairly rich repertoire, more than the usual shuffle of arcade, puzzle and board titles. One of the games that really drew my eye was FreeCiv.
Another program that draws the eye is Miro, which I've not seen included by default in many distributions. A jolly good program, overall.
You also get Blender, F-Spot, Rhythmbox, aMule client, and many other programs. In fact, when I think about it, Fusion Linux 14 can be fairly daunting for inexperienced users, as there's just too much choice. It somewhat reminds me of the first incarnation of AriOS, called mFatOS, which shipped with a billion programs.
Now, you get two browsers, both Chromium and Firefox 4. Truth to be told, the developers believed Firefox 4 was not quite ready for shipping when they bundled it into their release. But this more than shows in the final product, because Firefox won't run at all. If you try to launch it, nothing will happen. Only if you debug from the command line, you will learn why, and it's the fact Firefox could not read application.ini.
That's about it for the live session. Let's install.
I setup Fusion in a dual-boot configuration on my T60p machine. The installation was fairly unremarkable, Fedora all the way, simple, boring and quick. The setup went fine. The system uses GRUB Legacy bootloader.
Using Fusion Linux
This distro does ship with a number of neat tricks you would not expect, so they come off as a very pleasant surprise. However, things began with another Gnome crash, which is a little disappointing.
This is a novel idea, somewhat similar to what you get in Pardus. Instead of Kaptan, you have an eight-step command-line wizard asking you questions, allowing you to pimp up your system some more. Quite lovely, I must admit. The first four steps include system update, a separate Skype configuration and sudo account.
You also have the ability to setup Redshift, which changes the screen color temperature based on the sun glare, Dropbox sharing and wallpapers. All in all, this is a very good thing. Very few distros offer the same level of comfort and customization for newbies.
Package management & updates
Again, you get the usual Fedora stuff. Pretty fast overall. There were no issues or conflicts with the extra repositories. However, some of the software choices confused me. For example, the default screenshot utility is Shutter, which works fine. Now, if you want the classic Gnome screenshot, you won't be able to find it. Yum will offer all kinds of things, including Gnome utilities, already installed, which should include the screenshot tool, but they don't, as well as Xfce screenshot programs. Somewhat confusing, really.
System resources, stability
After the installation, there would always be one mandatory crash on the startup of each session. Other than that, things worked generally fine. Suspend & resume went without any troubles. On idle, Fusion uses about 290MB of RAM, much more than a default Fedora, but somewhat like a typical Gnome.
In addition to very simple printing introduced lately in Gnome, you also get a warning that printing requests might be blocked by the firewall, would you be a good chap and adjust the rules, there you go. Really nice. openSUSE also does this, so it's a neat thing.
In fact, it seems this thing was taken from openSUSE. The only thing that bothers me is that I did enable sudo in the post-install scripts, but I'm asked for root password, so what's the point.
A word more about usage problems ...
Not a perfect record, I'm afraid. There were some issues. I've already told you about the Gnome crash in the live session, multimedia crashes, Firefox startup problem, and SELinux alerts, now let's see just one more.
When expanding the main menu, the titles would sometimes sort of dance rapidly up and down, jittering under the mouse cursor and preventing me from making a selection. Trying the second time would work just fine. Haven't seen this ever before, so I'm wondering.
Comparison to family
Ah, yes, the big question. How does Fusion Linux scale up against its brethren and sistren? Well, assuming CentOS is a male, then Fusion is friendlier than this brother, however there's the question of support and stability. With a century of updates and adamantine stability, CentOS is a preferred long-term choice. But what about Scientific?
I guess the two are fairly comparable. Fusion looks a little better. However, it is buggier and less refined overall. And Scientific will be supported for far longer, at least until 2014, which can't be said of any Fedora-based releases.
Finally, speaking of the distro that started it all, Fusion is definitely a smarter choice for new and less experienced users than the original. It saves you some four to five hours of customization and tweaking at the very least, so that's a good thing. Now, there's lint and some odd ends that need to be polished and smoothed, but overall, lots of goodies are thrown in, offering a pleasant and colorful ride.
Fusion Linux 14 Thorium is a curious blend of everything. It has the Fedora core with Ubuntu slash Linux Mint looks, lots of programs from all over, including bits and snippets taken from openSUSE, and the post-install configuration similar to Pardus. The variety and color come with a bag of woes, including crashes, SELinux annoyance and badly setup programs.
Comparing to Fedora, Fusion Linux is a clear winner, as it only builds upon the existing without taking away. The only visible downside is the increased memory consumption, but it's nothing drastic. However, if you pit Fusion against other leading distros, there's a bit of a problem. While they offer similar or longer-term support, they have none of the crashes and instability packaged into Fusion. This could deter potential users.
If you're asking me, for any Fedora fan, Fusion Linux is a natural choice. But if you want RedHat stuff combined with stability, then you're better off with Scientific. Let's not forget the upgrade cycle, which is fairly brutal with Fedora.
Fusion Linux is a nice distro. It has lots of merits and could appeal to a wide range of users. It's a stepping stone between the spartan harshness of Fedora and the familiar usability of the popular Debian-based systems. I'm still somewhat undecided how to brand this release, as I can see the huge potential, intertwined with the hazards of beta quality software. I guess the best thing would be for you to download the image and test for yourself. Dedoimedo, liking, but skeptical. That would be all.