posted by Christian Paratschek on Tue 23rd Nov 2004 07:56 UTC
IconFor this article, I chose to take a slightly different approach than the standard "Linux distribution review". As I have written not just one, but two reviews of Fedora Core 2 for this site, I want to base my review of Fedora Core 3 on my experiences with its direct predecessor. Update: FC3 shots here.

I want to work out the development that has happened between these two versions of Red Hat's community operating system. This will be - as all my reviews before - mainly a desktop-centric review, simply because that's how I use Linux most of the time nowadays.

Red Hat uses a time-based development schedule for Fedora, that means every six months we will see a new version of it. The other approach would be a feature-based schedule, that's the way Debian handles its releases, for example. This means that Debian stable releases differ greatly from one another and are easily discriminable, whereas the advancements in Fedora are often much more subtle and it may be even difficult to distinguish the particular versions at first glance. So, today, I want to look at the differences between Fedora Core 2 and 3.

There are some obvious differences: Fedora Core 3 sports version 2.8 of the Gnome desktop (vs. 2.6 for Fedora Core 2), a newer Linux kernel (2.6.9 vs. 2.6.5), a newer version of the X.org server (6.8.1 vs. 6.7), a newer OpenOffice.org (1.1.2 vs. 1.1.1), it includes the final 1.0 version of the Firefox browser and Thunderbird 0.8 (vs. Mozilla 1.6), and much more. Naturally, almost every program got updated some time during the last six months. The question for me is: what kind of benefits do I get from these "slightly higher numbers"? Do they even legitimate a six-month release cycle or should it be longer, let's say nine or twelve months? I know of course that Fedora's six-month release cycle is consistent with what Red Hat wants to achieve with it: deliver a bleeding-edge Linux distribution to enthusiasts, also as a testbed for new technologies likely to be included into Red Hat's Enterprise Linux (like the 2.6 kernel or the SELinux enhancements). Note that I don't want to judge this: I certainly wouldn't use Fedora as my primary Linux distribution if it had stability issues, for example. To sum this up: I think that Red Hat does a decent job at balancing between including new features and keeping Fedora stable. I guess I would prefer Debian stable or something like FreeBSD on a mission-critical server (or Red Hat Enterprise Linux, for that matter), but Fedora is certainly stable enough to be used on a desktop. Still, although a lot of people like the six-month cycle because they get all the new goodies delivered twice a year, some do complain that this cycle is so fast that a new version is released only shortly after they finally settled the issues they had with its predecessor. Personally, I am quite happy with the fast pace of new Linux versions. In conclusion: in this article, I don't want to criticise Red Hat's development model, instead have a close look at its consequences regarding two particular releases.

The first and most obvious difference between Fedora Core 2 and 3 is the layout of the standard desktop. The Fedora team finally chose to use the standard Gnome desktop, with two panels, the main panel on top of the screen and another one (mainly for the window list) at the bottom. In Fedora Core 2 (and before that), Red Hat always costumised the standard layout, showing only one panel at the bottom. I definitely prefer the standard Gnome layout: I don't care if the main panel is on the top or at the bottom, but I think it's far more concise to have shortcuts to programs and "general stuff" like the clock separated from the window list. That's one thing I always disliked in Windows (and KDE, but here you can at least change it). The "Show Desktop"-icon is in the left corner at the bottom, you cannot ever miss it because you can basically slam your mouse pointer there and it will hit 100%. Same goes for the "Applications"-menu on the top left corner. This is definitely an improvement over Fedora Core 2.

Integration of the Gnome desktop also happened in an evolutionary way. OpenOffice.org, Firefox and Thunderbird, probably the three most important non-Gnome-applications in Fedora Core 3 (I have not installed KDE) now use the Gnome file dialog, OpenOffice.org's design has been slightly changed and feels now a bit more "bluecurvy". On the whole the system feels even more integrated and consistent than Fedora Core 2. These are only small changes, but welcomed ones.

Some of the changes of Fedora Core 3 are not really visible but " under the hood". The inclusion of SELinux is one of them: while I do not know how the security of my system is enhanced (i'm too lazy and just not interested in it), I generally accept these security-stuff as "good". SELinux was quite a beast to include, it was originally planned for Fedora Core 2 but was disabled because there were too many problems with it. Well, now it works and it works quite well. However, I had a problem with SELinux: after setting Fedora Core 3 up, I could not change the DocumentRoot for my Apache Webserver. The DocumentRoot (the path where Apache searches for the actual HTML-content) is set to /var/www/html by default. I tried to change it to /home/christian/Desktop/Web, because that's where my websites are stored and got an error that DocumentRoot could not be changed. I initially felt that this would be something security-related and tried turning off the firewall and disabling SELinux. I was right: I noticed that I could change the DocumentRoot when I disabled SELinux. I changed the policy for Apache (that was a simple matter of one click in the Red Hat's security-configuration tool) and I was set. So, I would not call this a bug, it was probably intentional. Still, I guess there are more people than just me who store their websites in their home-directories (and that makes sense to me for everyone who needs a local webserver that does not actually serve websites to the Internet). So I'd expect more people to have a problem here. I also encountered the first real bug in Fedora Core 3 within the security stuff. Red Hat's configuration tool, system-config-securitylevel, crashes for me now. It worked in the beginning (otherwise I would not have been able to set the policy for Apache after all), but now it just crashes after the root password dialog. I tried removing it and reinstalling but it just repeatedly crashes. I will file a bug for this one. Overall, I'd say that the inclusion of SELinux went quite well and it was probably a very wise move on Red Hat's side to disable it in Fedora Core 2 and test another six months.

Table of contents
  1. "FC3 development, Page 1/2"
  2. "FC3 development, Page 2/2"
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