Updated: November 19, 2010
Fedora, the controversial distro. On one hand, it's alpha-beta-zeta-jones quality, with the latest technologies that make you bleed, hence the term, the bleeding edge of technology. On the other, it's a distro that revolves around the concept of free software. Ubuntu is like that too, only more pragmatic, so much in fact that the latest edition actually gives you the choice of sullying your distribution with evil proprietary software during the installation. Fedora remains the bastion of stubbornness and reduced usability.
With these mixed feelings and (mis)conceptions, I hereby test Fedora 14 Laughlin, the latest edition. My experience with Fedora has been shaken and stirred, all the way from Cambridge, which I found something dull and disappointing. Next was Leonidas, which turned out to be fickle. Constantine was just too unstable for daily use. The last spring edition, Goddard, was actually quite decent. And now comes Laughlin.
If you want to spend some time reading this review, please do. I will try quite a lot of stuff, including live session, installation and whatever comes after that. I will use autoten to pimp the distro into usability. Wireless, Bluetooth, some fighting Samba. I'll be annoyed by SELinux, again and again. Could there be any crashes, which used to plague the distro a lot in the past? Performance, stability, we'll discuss those too. We will also check multimedia playback, with Flash, MP3 and even MMS. Easy printing was promised, too. Compiz is on the menu, as well as testing the MeeGo netbook interface.
Let there be no teaser. Fedora 14 is a fully functional live CD. Expect that you can't really do much in the live session, unless you're a geek. Any flashy [sic] and exciting stuff just won't happen.
The desktop looks cool with the bullet-shot glass-like wallpaper. However, the Gnome theme and the fonts are a bit average. I still believe that Leonidas had the best theme of all recent Fedora editions.
The file explorer uses a more reasonable look you normally encounter in Gnome desktops, instead of the multi-window thing, which is a good change. Progress! I like.
Encouraged by the refreshing change in Nautilus, I tried connecting to a Windows host on my network and pulling some media files for testing. As usual, sharing files turned out to be a very difficult task.
First, you get a big NO message. In this modern age, you are NOT allowed to share files. Naughty, naughty me! How could I have been so network-audacious?
If you know what you're doing, you'll want to either disable the firewall or permit Samba service and client through. If you click disable in the firewall menu, you'll be frightened:
What exactly are iptables and ip6tables, pray? Who is this message for? But like I said, assuming you know what you're doing, this happens:
The firewall configuration is not consistent. Well, I didn't put them there. It's how they come with the distro. So why ship a product with an inconsistent firewall setup, or alternatively, if this is just a dumb false positive due the fact we're running in a live session, why display it then?
But it gets better. Nothing like a full screen of Python vomit to make you feel better. The firewall decides to crash. Oh, I know what's wrong, but the average users stand no chance. At this point, they try to cut their wrists with the keyboard.
Last but not the least, SELinux decides to chirp in:
Eventually, I solved the problem by going command line and stopping the firewall service manually, which says a lot about the GUI setup. Oh, did I mention I find SELinux to be a menace?
Mercifully, no issues here. Worked as they should.
There wasn't much else besides, truly. Fedora's selection of programs is abysmally thin. You have Firefox, Evolution, Shotwell, and a few other tools and utilities; other than that, it's bland. You'll need to download a heap of things after the installation.
Firefox uses its own Fedora theme with not so pretty buttons. Flash is out of the question, for now. Installing Flash through the browser missing plugin popup won't really work.
Another interesting bit I noticed is the Color Profiles utility. Haven't see it before, methinks, but it seems like it could allow people who are serious about their colors, to properly calibrate their monitors. This could be useful to photographers and designers, provided they use Fedora for their work. Or I could be completely mistaken.
But that's it. Now, there were no application crashes or kernel crashes so far, which is good. After Goddard, Laughlin maintains a decent record of not being too buggy for general use.
The installation has seen a major change in Goddard. It's become simpler and more streamlined than before. In fact, it could be too simple. In Laughlin, it remains virtually unchanged, although some of the small nuisances have been smoothed.
The partition table no longer pre-defaults to ugly LVM. Like before, you can encrypt your system, which is not something I've seen with other distributions. No BTRFS in the live installation still, which is funny considering Fedora's legacy. On the other hand, the noob-friendly Ubuntu does offer the still not quite yet usable filesystem. Go figure.
GRUB is at 0.97, so legacy, which is nice, but it's hidden by default, which is not nice as you will soon discover.
The installation was lightning-fast, taking only about 6 minutes from CD, which is the second fastest installation I've seen, after sidux. There's the user configuration after the first reboot, in the classic RedHat style. Overall, the experience was fairly good.
The moment the system came up the first time, there was a SELinux alert. It complained about NTP, which is used to sync the machine time with network servers out there. The utility was bickering about the very configuration I just set during the installation.
Specifically, it was about some leaked file descriptor, which sounds like a prison style humiliation to normal people. Furthermore, how many false positive can there be? I have just configured NTP during the system installation and setup. Hello! This is crazy!
Just look at the message. Tons of blabber in geeko, nothing normal. On one hand, it's suspicious behavior. On the other, the access was not denied. And let's not forget that SELinux is complaining about a legitimate and useful service just freshly installed. I will let you guess if SELinux is going to remain enabled on the system.
If I wanted noise, I would have used some useless Windows HIPS.
Normal people like music and videos and Flash. The simplest way to obtain all the necessary codecs and some extras is by using autoten, which I've mentioned on numerous occasions. Extremely useful.
If you recall my Goddard review, it looked like this:
Hideous. But then, the developer contacted me, I lent him my suggestions about using the native GTK theme and whatnot. Now, it looks a whole lot better. Good job!
Still, not all is perfect. Installations remain serial and autoten chokes the network while working. Indeed, I've noticed abysmal Wireless speed while using autoten, with difficulty browsing or saving data to network shares. Closing autoten would relinquish network speed back to normal, within the limits of the protocol specs.
Combined with not so fast repositories, it's a bit annoying.
About two hours after I started using autoten, the system was becoming perkier, with codecs, extra programs, decent functionality, and a load of stylish desktop backgrounds.
However, there's a tiny bug in the underlying code somewhere. It does not ruin the functionality, but there might be some room for improvement.
autoten generously adds a handful of cool landscape wallpapers:
Here's the desktop after using autoten:
Works now, no issues. Flash, Youtube, DVD.
And the live radio streaming via Microsoft Media Service (MMS). It worked great. And you even get the controls, which were not there in Maverick! Great one!
However, VLC did crash at one point. My first ever. Not surprising it happened on Fedora.
Worked out of the box. Pretty neat. Even on older hardware, the performance was quite respectable. This is a very nice touch.
I made a terrible mistake and tried the new MeeGo interface, thinking my review would be a lot cooler because of that. Oh, naivety!
Now, this did not quite work. In fact, it did not work at all. It was a disaster. Trying to log in using the Fedora netbook desktop, you get into a pure white screen. The problem is compounded if you seek laziness and enable auto-login via autoten. Unlike most other distros, which allow you to choose one-time logins, the switch is permanent, so you autologin into nothing really.
So how do you fix a problem like this?
Basically, you could boot into runlevel 3, edit the /etc/gdm/config file and remove autologin entries. But this also means knowing how to edit Fedora kernel line in the GRUB menu, since Fedora does not have a failsafe option. And to make it worse, the GRUB menu is hidden. In other words, normal users, please die in misery. Geeks, why don't you sweat a little trying to rescue your own system eh?
Now, the official release notes state that Meego UI is not ready. So why include in the repositories, then? Anyhow, compared to Gnome Shell, this is a joke really. Oh, Gnome Shell worked just fine in Fedora 13.
Lean and not very practical, I must admit.
There's no OpenOffice or even AbiWord, but you get a crazy project management tool called Planner, which is as useful as a crowbar in a nursery. Now, this program might work well, except that whoever designed it left a three-letter indentation in the Name column for listed tasks, which not only looks ugly, it is also super annoying.
Whoever designed this software needs to be electrocuted!
Shotwell now reads PNG files, unlike the last time. Apart from a handful of system utilities, there's little else. Brasero and Totem kind of round it up. You will find whatever you need in the repositories, though.
autoten will also install a handful of programs for you, like RealPlayer or Skype.
Fedora is an interesting beast. The boot is slow, however system performance is very good. Extremely lean memory usage, among the lowest on the market, with only about 140MB used on boot on a 32-bit system. Quite remarkable, really. Suspend & resume work quite well. Apart from the VLC crash, there were no stability issues.
Fedora actually has the best audio range of all. Most distros have a rather troubling, linear range of volume points. Because of this, audio grows exponentially, being fairly quiet throughout most of the range and blasting at the highest setting. This is because of all kinds of logarithmic whatnot. Fedora escapes the blunder by using a proper equation, which makes for elegant sound and a highly pleasant volume range.
Fedora sports some really nice system tray icon. Compared to most Gnome desktops, the arrangement is quite decent. Ubuntu's new looks are still more dashing, though.
Remember the SELinux alerts in Goddard? Well, I reported those. Now, even installing Google Earth on Fedora 14 is impossible. How lovely. That's called progress.
Continuing the legacy from the last time, let's try printing. What more, Laughlin boasts uber-easy printing, so let's see if this is true. Indeed, it works as advertised. Similar to Ubuntu, just choose Find and specify the name or the IP address of the network resource where you expect to find the printer. Works great.
Let's do a very long conclusion.
Seriously, is it possible to have a consistent experience with Fedora? One release is good, another sucks, then another is brilliant, and then the one after that is just mediocre. Why can't Fedora be just either good or bad?
I know that geeks and developers worldwide will have 4,552 answers to my questions, but none applies to simple desktop experience. The bottom line is, the average user could run Fedora and enjoy it, but to get there, the user will need undergo a slight BDSM treatment for no good reason. If you want to work hard to use an operating system, be my guest. For people trying to live in 2010, this is asking too much. Especially when you have would-be n00b distros and Windows and Mac on the other end of the spectrum.
I'm not so much disappointed with the latest slew of issues in Laughlin as much as the fact the experience varies so much from Goddard. And although there's quite a bit of improvement in usability, you have to be a highly experienced user to notice the pattern. And of course, ignore the setbacks and the super annoying SELinux and the paranoid security settings and the relatively slow package management.
Overall, Laughlin is fast and stable, but it is bland, boring, requires extra work to enjoy music and video, lots of downloads to get programs installed, lots of tweaking to use properly, avoiding the mistake of trying MeeGo UI, and a few more core issues. Now, if someone handed you a Fedora three hours after installation, you could enjoy it a lot. In fact, it reminds me of my Windows 7 ease of use versus Ubuntu Lucid on my HP laptop. At the end of the day, both system provide excellence, but I had to spend four hours tweaking Windows toward sanity. Same with Fedora.
Several hours after running autoten against the slow repositories and fixing the nerdy default settings, Fedora was ready for work, with codecs, office suite, music players, and other common programs. So yes, to sum it up, Fedora is the open-source Windows 7. And that's not a compliment of the highest order. Worst of all, Fedora 14 Laughlin dashes any hopes for Ubuntu refugees come the spring, due to Unity nonsense.
Ah, Fedora. Freedom at all costs, costs too much. Bye, bye.