A Quick Look at Fedora Core 5

It’s been about 2.5 years since the first release of Fedora Core. And boy has it come long way! The new version of Fedora Core (FC) is featuring a number of goodies and performance enhancements as we describe below (and yes, it even includes a new logo).The installation of FC5 is very much the same as any older Anaconda installation procedure, however some refinements have also taken place. The package selection for example is now much more pleasant to the eyes and… brain, the boot manager and partitioning screens have seen a refreshment while a long-standing kernel bug on our laptop (a LinuxCertified laptop) that used to trigger during installations of recent Debian/Ubuntu/FC has been fixed. Overall, installation went without any incident. It was quick and up to the point (heck, the installer even used the better-looking Vera font than the default desktop did!). Anaconda is the best installer out there today (on par with Mac OS X’s in ease of use, albeit more powerful than OSX’s).

When booting FC5 for the first time we immediately recognized the work that was put behind the speeding up of the booting process. The system feels snappier overall and applications start faster than before too, but nothing had prepared us for the memory consumption reported by the system: 95 MBs (Cups was off btw, I don’t have a printer connected to this laptop). Wow, just wow. FC4 was taking over 220 MBs of memory on a default Gnome boot but now the System Monitor app reports anywhere between 90 and 95 MBs. I don’t know if the memory-calculation algorithm changed or if FC and Gnome were truly that much optimized. Regardless, our system felt snappy.

FC5 comes with a completely redesigned packaging system. Two new applications, Pup and Pirut, have taken over the previous cumbersome updating system. Pup checks both Fedora’s and any other subscribed repository for updates on already installed packages and suggests upgrades. Pirut has taken a Gnome-ish approach to new package installation that includes a “Search” facility and a full list of available or installed packages. Pirut was a bit buggy still, but I am sure it will be ironed out very soon. Overall, it has made the life of the average user with RPM, easier.

Other cool features on FC5 are the new and updated versions of Xen & SELinux and even a new clustering utility. It’s amazing how Fedora Core is able to balance between being a desktop and a powerful server at the same time. We should also not forget the inclusion of brand new versions of X11 & GCC and the addition of gnome-mount, Gnome User Share, Ekiga, LVM and Gnome Power Manager. Among the positive surprises on this release was the inclusion of Mono and Beagle as part of the system. We also installed the Mono applications MonoDevelop and F-spot which worked wonderfully. And of course, NetworkManager has seen an overhaul and it works much better now than it used to. Metacity now “sticks” windows at the borders of the monitor which is a very nice effect, however the double-click-wm-to-minimize feature that was added a few months ago is not part of the Metacity preference panel for some reason.

FC5 comes with a very mature version of Classpath, the free Java re-implementation. We tried it with the Eclipse IDE and it really worked much better than it did in FC4. Classpath is a huge piece of work and congratulations are in order to the team for pulling this out. I was also very excited to see software sound-mixing working on FC5 out of the box. At last, no more one-sound-at-the-time and no manual .asoundrc configurations. That was so ’90s.

Of course, as with any project or product, there are problems. One of the big deals of this release was the much-hyped suspend-to-RAM feature that was overhauled (easily triggered either via Gnome Power Manager or by closing the lid, or via a gnome-panel applet). Well, it didn’t work with our laptop. The laptop goes to sleep as it is supposed to, but it never wakes up. The keyboard remains in raw state, the screen never turns back on (ATi Radeon 9000, default XOrg r200 driver used) and the fan spins like crazy. I had to reset the machine to get it back in order.

Then, there is the eternal issue of non-free stuff (mp3, Flash, codecs, MS fonts, mp3-profiles in Sound Juicer, wifi firmwares etc), which while it is fully understandable why FC5 can’t include them, it still remains one extra thing that the user has to do manually. The whole procedure feels like a post-installation installation and while there are many guides online how to enrich FC, there are always glitches. For example, after subscribing to Livna and Freshrpms FC5 repos and installing all relevant libraries and apps, VLC just doesn’t work (crashes upon trying to play most videos), Muine still refuses to play mp3 and totem-gstreamer doesn’t want to co-exist with totem-xine (I used to have them as such on my Arch Linux box, it was admittedly handy). These third party repositories are not as well-tested as the official repos (and Fedora Extras) and this is a “strategic problem” in my view, because these repos are going to get used a lot by the majority of FC5 users.

The problem that really drove me crazy though was the default touchpad functionality. Firefox would move pages Back and Forward in History just by touching the lower bottom of the touchpad. This was extremely annoying. And so I disabled it by replacing the Synaptics section on /etc/X11/xorg.conf with the following:

Section "InputDevice"
  Identifier    "Synaptics"
  Driver        "synaptics"
  Option	"Device" "/dev/input/mice"
  Option	"Protocol" "auto-dev"
  Option        "LeftEdge"      "1700"
  Option        "RightEdge"     "5300"
  Option        "TopEdge"       "1700"
  Option        "BottomEdge"    "10000"
  Option        "FingerLow"     "25"
  Option        "FingerHigh"    "30"
# set MaxTapTime to "0" to disable tap-to-click
  Option        "MaxTapTime"    "180"
  Option        "MaxTapMove"    "220"
  Option        "VertScrollDelta" "100"
  Option        "MinSpeed"      "0.06"
  Option        "MaxSpeed"      "0.12"
  Option        "AccelFactor" "0.0010"
  Option	"Emulate3Buttons" "yes"
  Option        "SHMConfig" "on"

(Warning: if you are going to use the above snippet make sure you change some of the “Left/Right/Top/Bottom Edge” numbers because each touchpad model is different).

One strange behavior I noticed on both FC and ForesightLinux was that most of Gnome 2.14’s preference panels open up with a warning splash window and then these go immediately away (weird…). Other problems I encountered was the less-than-good support for Pocket PCs and Palms, while there are no useful tools for cellphone management either (at least under Gnome). The Gnome Bluetooth UI on FC5 is only good for some basic file exchange but there is no GUI for A2DP, printing or handsfree profiles (HSP/HFP profiles can be useful for VoIP). Additionally, there are no well-done applications for home video editing and DVD authoring (I am aware of Kino, DVDAuthor and others, but I am looking for something as elegant and easy to use as iMovie and iDVD; I hope that Diva will get released soon). Also, Gnomebaker should replace the two ancient GTK+ 1.2 CD/DVD burning applications included on FC (can’t remember their names now; no, I don’t mean nautilus-burn). Lastly, two features that are mysteriously missing from FC5 are a menu editor (part of Gnome for more than 6 months now) and the Fast User Switch applet (SELinux issue?).

In conclusion, this is the first Fedora Core version that I can honestly trust as my desktop and use without having thoughts of its competition doing it better. SuSE and Ubuntu will have to try harder this time to beat this Fedora. It’s usable, it’s prettier, it’s faster, it’s stabler, it’s richer. I have no doubt in my mind that FC6 is going to rock even more (especially with the possible inclusion of AIGLX by default) and I expect at least 3 out of the 7 issues I mention below to be resolved by then. The future is bright-er.

– Great decreased memory requirements
– Faster to load and operate than before
– Enhanced Xen & SELinux support
– New package management tools
– Mono and Beagle are included
– Software sound mixing works
– Free as in speech Java stack

– Suspend-to-RAM didn’t work as advertised
– No phone tools (PDA support hit and miss)
– A pain to install non-free stuff manually
– No iMovie/iDVD-style applications
– No UI for most Bluetooth profiles
– No Gnome menu editor included
– No Fast User Switch applet

Rating: 7.8/10


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