Linux examined: Fedora 9

The community edition of Red Hat's distro works well and is widely supported -- but it can be a difficult install.

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Fine performance

The good news is that once I finally got Fedora installed, it performed admirably in the "stuff just worked out of the box" department. My sound, Wi-Fi and Intel video driver all showed up for duty when the install was complete. The webcam didn't work, but I haven't found a Linux distribution yet that can cope with the perversity of the Ricoh webcam in the Pavilion notebook. At the end of the day, I was left with a GNOME-based desktop pretty much like any other GNOME desktop.

Fedora, like Red Hat, is an RPM-based system. RPM is perhaps the most widely supported open-source package management system (illustrated by the ease with which I installed Skype, even though the Skype site claimed it only worked with Fedora 7).

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Fedora's "Add/Remove Programs" GUI tool.

Click to view larger image

It also uses the Yum software package manager, which makes installing from the command line a breeze. I just had to type in "yum install audacity" and I was the proud user of Audacity, the outstanding audio editor for Linux.

One caveat: I'm not a big fan of the "Add/Remove Programs" GUI tool that Fedora comes with, which acts as a front end to Yum. It takes forever to do a search for anything or update a display when you click on a new category; I'd recommend sticking with the command line interface.

Incidentally, it's a good idea to start with Fedora if you're part of a business that may want to transition to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) sometime in the future. Since work done on Fedora flows into Red Hat, this allows for a fairly simple transition from Fedora to RHEL.

However, if you're an individual user who just wants to purchase technical support for Fedora, this does present a bit of a quandary, because you can't purchase Fedora support from Red Hat. For that, you'll need to install RHEL. This is in contrast to Ubuntu, for example, where the same distribution comes with supported and unsupported versions.

Of course, open-source operating systems can enjoy quick fixes to problems, and it's possible that some of these problems may be corrected soon (or may already be corrected when you read this). However, until they are, they represent areas of serious concern, at least to this author.

Conclusions

On the whole, Fedora is a solid Linux distribution that will probably serve you well for desktop usage. Red Hat can rightly claim extensive experience as a commercial Linux vendor; it practically invented the market. Installing Fedora is a good way to ensure an extensive repository of prebuilt software. The hardware support is right up there with any other user-friendly distribution.

But my experiences with trying a multiboot install make me leery of recommending it to anyone who wants to use it in a dual-boot environment. The distribution may be robust, but the installer needs to learn to play better with others. It's also a little too intimidating for nongeek users, so if you're going to get any less-experienced friends on Fedora, you might want to schedule an afternoon to help them out.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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