In the interests of not becoming blinkered to one distribution, I thought I might give Fedora 11 a whirl. Not having used Fedora since FC4, I was surprised to see the adoption of a live CD installation and relieved to avoid a DVD size download. Just like Ubuntu it’s well polished, perhaps more so with graphical grub.
Installation is painless, launching from a desktop icon and going through the same steps as Ubuntu. I like the inclusion of encrypted filesystem support, enabled by ticking the box during the partitioning stage. This is more important in the environment I work in than it might seem. There have been a number of high profile cases of hard disks and laptops being lost within the MoD and it has taken steps to reduce this. All our laptops now use Flagstone and we have had copies of PGP Desktop Encryption bought for us (it’s being distributed through Forces Gateway) for personal laptops. When people look to me to assist them with a Linux install, encryption is always requested.
Speaking of Flagstone, it has a horrible interface. Fedora’s looks nice as does the boot process in general. The Fedora logo fills from white as the sequence completes. While clever, it’s not as clear as a progress bar – I thought it was hung on initial boot.
Once installed (which doesn’t take long), we’re presented with a first run configuration. After a brief introduction to the license, we’re prompted to create the first user (Fedora uses a root account). This would benefit from Ubiquity’s approach, where username is created from name. Finally we set the time and are asked to submit our hardware profile.
The GDM login screen is welcoming enough, Redhat has put some effort into fingerprint scanning – so that appears too. I haven’t a fingerprint scanner to test this with and the HP laptops we use at work running RHEL don’t have them enabled.
For users of systems other than Ubuntu, the Free Desktop login sound will be familiar. As a fan of the Blubuntu theme, I also like the appearance. The Gnome desktop is instantly familiar, with the network manager applet, desktop places and icons all where you expect. Menus are sensibly laid out, the only caveats for those familiar with Ubuntu are that the terminal is in Applications->System Tools and that the shutdown and logout buttons are under System (as Ubuntu’s used to be). There are also additional applications to configure a firewall, how users authenticate and to configure SELinux.
At this point, I might mention I’m using Virtual Box under Windows Vista (I keep the Ubuntu system clean on another machine). Installing VBox Additions brings my first brush with package management in Fedora since FC4. It has improved greatly, yum resolves dependencies well and works well from the command line with a similar syntax to apt-get. Where it falls down is speed – everything seems to be checked before downloading then again before installing. Strangely, Presto is available but not enabled by default. Presto downloads delta RPMs – so only the part of the package which has changed is downloaded and upgraded. This makes fo a significant reduction in downloads and hence faster updates. I ran two updates, both averaging at a 73% reduction in size.
It also lacks some of Ubuntu’s better thought out groups and packages, build-essential for instance is obtained (for the most part) by “yum install make automake gcc gcc-c++ kernel-devel”. It’s also worth noting that it also installed for a version of the kernel it hadn’t updated – preventing the installation of VBox Additions.
Fedora’s licensing policy is also rather restrictive, much more than Ubuntu’s. I don’t disagree with this policy but it’s not immediately obvious how to obtain software such as VLC nor the rationale behind why it isn’t available. However it doesn’t take long to find repositories such as RPM Fusion but I can imagine this being a stumbling block for many Ubuntu users who already frequently complain about software installation.
That said, Fedora’s update interface is excellent. Icons are used to show the state of each update – downloading, installing, cleaning up and so forth as well as identifying updates as enhancements, security or bug fixes. Coupled with a large description of the fix, notifications are clear – offering full or only security updates. This is a nice touch, especially when you’re on a mobile broadband connection away from home. PackageKit has the ability to automatically download codecs, as with Ubuntu. However its a welcome addition to see that this now extends to the automatic addition of new fonts.
As mentioned earlier, Fedora has a root account enabled. Ubuntu, users are used to using sudo, which is available and the alterations required to make it work are simple.
Pulseaudio is implemented, which seems to have had a mixed reception in Ubuntu. I haven’t noticed any issues with this in Fedora and it seems well integrated. I like Pulseaudio and think improved audio control is much needed for Linux to gain mainstream desktop acceptance.
The default filesystem is Ext4, which seems stable although I’m not running exhaustive tests on it. In any event that’s in Karmic too I believe.
Fedora implements SELinux. Dan Walsh has a much better explanation of this than I can give, available as a PDF. Ubuntu uses AppArmor, although as Jef Spaleta pointed out from OpenWeek (it’s the third comment), this might be replaced by SELinux. From a user’s point of view, this is more or less transparent. There are two tools provided, one to configure profiles and one to troubleshoot. Both work well, though I can’t see the configure tool being ventured into by most users.
Hardware recognition was mostly flawless, in much the same vein as Ubuntu. The only device that it had issues with was a Freecom DVB-T USB card. Fedora refused the firmware, no matter that it works in Ubuntu and Arch, it just keeps asking for it – even though it’s there. Of particular note is that when I installed it on an Acer Aspire One it is the only major distribution I’ve tried it on to work out of the box without tweaking, in fact the only thing I noticed was the WiFi lights are missing but that’s fixed in recent kernels. With easy encryption, this makes Fedora a potential winner in the net book market.
I’m impressed by Fedora. It’s familiar and friendly, with a well defined and complete appearance. Delta RPMs are a great idea – especially as we consider that not everyone has a fast internet connection (Sony wants to take this on board, as I wait here for another massive system update on PS3). Encryption is very welcome as is SELinux. On the downside, the installation licensing limits the distributed applications and yum is still comparitively slow.