Upcoming Fedora 10 Release Has Style and Substance
These are good times for Linux users. Ubuntu's 8.10 release recently went live, Fedora's 10 release is coming up in mere weeks, and openSUSE will finalize its 11.1 offering in December. Even if none of these distributions are your first choice for daily use, they are popular and are frequently worth checking out on liveCD, even if you plan to continue using your current distribution.
This is where I admit I've been remiss. Taste aversion is a funny thing, and a few previous experiences with Fedora left a funny taste in my mouth. I have not seriously sat and looked at a Fedora release since FC2. As Fedora's new release started to take shape, I was hearing a lot of positive things -- comments about how good it looked, and how fast and solid it was. It seemed the right time to overcome the mental block I'd developed, and see what the fuss was about.
I can't tell you if Fedora 10 is a vast improvement over the previous release. I can say that my taste aversion is officially cured, and the upcoming release is impressive from nearly any angle.
Fedora 10 is available for download via FTP/HTTP, Jigdo, and BitTorrent for the x86, x86_64 and PowerPC architectures in a number of configurations (PPC is limited to install media only, with no liveCD available). The preview page also links to a number of customized spins (disk images with alternative desktop environments or specially focused applications) based on the upcoming release. The Fedora Project is also clear that this release is still in a testing phase, and requests that any bugs and issues be reported, and advises that the release should not be used on production machines.
It's always a little mysterious when downloading a liveCD image (especially when dedicated "install media" is offered elsewhere) as to whether the liveCD will have a functional installer. It has become less mysterious recently, especially on more mainstream distributions where installers on live images are now the norm, but it is hardly ever explicitly stated. The Fedora 10 release live images have an installer that behaves more like the openSUSE/YaST live image installer than Ubuntu's Ubiquity installer, but still has a more "traditional Linux install" feel.
Clarification of "traditional" is in order here. Fedora 10's installer is graphical and unintimidating. It may not be the seven step Ubuntu process, but it is explained and presented logically (and if system help is unable to point a new user in the right direction, part of the beauty of a liveCD is that there is a browser readily available, no additional machines required). Fedora 10 does not use the sudo command and will ask that the system have a password for the root user. For me, this just feels right, but that probably has more to do with how I became familiar with Linux. It also shows that Fedora is just as easily able to be a single user desktop (where sudo is generally best employed) as a multi-user or server system.
The actual installation is speedy, with the GNOME desktop version seeming to take a little less time to set up the initial boot than a typical Ubuntu install.
Like openSUSE, booting Fedora for the first time is a different process, and essentially "finishes" what the installer started. Hardware is detected and configured, and users are created at this time. And I admit, I was a little concerned as I finished the user configuration process and was presented with the GNOME display manager.
One enhancement (and the source of very heated debate) featured in Fedora 10 is how fast and flicker-free the X server kicks in. The technical explanation for the speed increase and the absence of the "flicker" is that the X server has been moved from the traditional virtual terminal 7 to virtual terminal 1. The debate revolves around whether this performance increase warrants the departure from how the rest of the Linux community -- currently, and historically -- manages the X server and virtual terminal configuration. While I can see both sides of that argument, I was more concerned that the first time the X server and GDM started, it seemed pretty typical of every other Linux system.
Initial boots, however, are different animals. A later reboot (though I have no benchmarks) seemed to start the X server and bring up GDM faster than other distributions. More surprising was how smoothly it all started. The "flicker" that the Fedora 10 team sought to eliminate seems to vary between distributions generally, I've found. Sometimes you'll get a quick glimpse of the login prompt prior to the display manager kicking in, or a grainy gray screen with a small "x" in the middle on more noticeable occurrences. With Fedora 10, I realized that even when I wasn't noticing the flicker, I was experiencing it. The display opened quickly, but it was solid, as well. The verdict may be out whether the cost/benefit ratio makes this enhancement worth it in the long run, but it does make booting up look polished.
It likely has a lot to do with my choice of a live disk image running a single desktop environment, but I appreciate the fairly minimalist nature of the GNOME/Fedora 10 default installation. The simplicity is visually appealing, for sure, but more intriguing is the fact that Fedora seems to subscribe to the "less is more" school of thought. There are, of course, applications and utilities bundled in the distribution that aren't necessarily specific to GNOME or Fedora, but there are a number omitted (available through the Fedora 10 Rawhide repository) that are commonly included in other distributions. For instance, an image viewer, and GIMP are included in the GNOME version, but photo management tools (such as F-Spot) need to be installed through the repositories.
My initial issue with Fedora Core 2? I had a computer with a common motherboard from a major manufacturer that FC2 would not boot with (other distributions were unaffected). The advice at the time was to wait until the FC3 release, as it was a known issue and the fix was quite involved. It was disappointing, and when I did try Fedora here and there, mostly on other machines, I just wasn't compelled by the presentation or performance -- not enough to really give it a good run.
Things have certainly changed.
Fedora 10 is quite beautiful, but even better, it runs well. And though it's best to avoid installing it on a vital production machine before the November 25th release, there's little harm in treating yourself to a liveCD test drive.