Review: Fedora Core 1 is a Mild Disappointment

Fedora Core 1 has been out now for a few days now and many faithful Linux fans have already installed it. Red Hat’s Linux is still one of my favorite distributions because of one main reason: compatibility with Linux software. Red Hat is a market leader and following the market leader assures the least trouble for most users. But is this the case with Fedora Core?

Click for a larger version Installation of the software went fine. I believe that Fedora’s installer is both easy to use and powerful and succeeds in satisfying both power and casual users. My monitor was in their database; it correctly found all the horizontal/vertical information, the Nvidia graphics card was auto-detected as well (only in 2-D mode), and loaded the OHCI driver for my TI Firewire PCI card. Later, the included GTKam utility worked fine with my husband’s USB Kodak DC265 camera too. The only problem I had with the installation was that the first time I booted to install the distro (with cold boot) X would die a few seconds after Anaconda would load. Resetting the machine and re-trying worked fine (with warm boot). The betas had the same problem too, but Red Hat Linux 8 and 9 did not have that problem at all on the same hardware.

The first boot went fine too, all services got up and running correctly, and creating new users also worked great.

Click for a larger version Fedora Core comes with Gnome 2.4.0 (plus some updated packages), Mozilla 1.4.1, Gaim 0.71, OOo 1.1, XMMS 1.2.8, KOffice, Gimp 1.2.x, gThumb 2.0.2 (pretty outdated version), Epiphany 1.0.4 and many hundreds of other packages. The distro includes most of what users would need for their home usage: Internet applications, office apps, games, some multimedia support, easy administration for most things via Red Hat’s preference panels.

New features include a graphical booting sequence which is really nice in my opinion (and it can be even better by integrating the booting sequence with the login and the Gnome loading procedure). There is also prelinking by default which speeds up application launching, and better ACPI support. It is 2.6-ready, has better support for laptops, an updated Bluecurve theme with more color selection (default background image is lovely) and bumped up security.

Fedora Core also comes with lots of server software like Apache, mySQL, PostgreSQL, a news server, an FTP server, SSH support and other advanced technologies that power users or administrators will love to get their hands upon.

Applications indeed start pretty fast and especially some third party statically-linked apps (e.g. Lost Marble’s Moho or Blender) load immediately. I have never seen Moho load so fast, not even on BeOS (which was its original platform).

And the niceties stop just right there. From then on, it was an uphill battle to get this OS up and running according to more modern specifications.

Click for a larger version My disappointment started when I tried to upgrade Gaim 0.71 to 0.72. The third party Shrike RPM wouldn’t work because of pspell dependancy problems. Downloading pspell and compiling it manually wouldn’t work either as libpspell-modules were nowhere to be found in the newly compiled archive. So I decided to download the source of Gaim and compile it myself. All went fine with Gaim’s compilation except the MSN plugin wouldn’t load because gnuTLS that provides SSL to Gaim was not installed. I got to gnuTLS’ FTP site downloaded the source, only to ask me for libcrypt. Downloaded the source of libcrypt, only to ask me for the source of GnuPG. I downloaded the gnupg, compiled fine, went back to libcrypt, only to bail out badly with severe compiling errors. This is a simple user scenario that should have not happened, no matter whose fault really is. Now think what a newbie user coming from Windows-land would think about this whole –literally– usability fiasco.

Click for a larger version But that was nothing compared to the rest of the problems I further encountered. I wanted to install the Macromedia Flash plugin and I first downloaded the tar.gz version which installs its two files via a bash script. Problem was, the script wouldn’t run correctly. It would tell me over and over again that the directory I was trying to install is not valid (I tried both the existing /usr/lib/mozilla and /usr/lib/mozilla-1.4.1, no joy). I wonder, didn’t Red Hat’s QA actually test common proprietary software that many of its users will want to install? I mean, by my estimation there are not more than 10-15 commonly-installed popular proprietary applications in this category, so it should be no big deal to test them all. Anyway, the story doesn’t end there. I read the script itself and saw that all it does is copy these two files (.xpt and .so) to the right directory and changes permissions with chmod 755. So, I did it by hand, logged out and back in again, and still none of my browsers would work with the plugin (plugins are enabled). So, I decided to download the Fedora and RH9 RPM just in case these would work (using Synaptic and apt, would not help out here either). Thankfully, the RPM GUI utility that comes with Fedora installed the Flash plugin and told me that it will need to also install some gcc libstd-c++ compatibility libraries. It asked me for the 3rd CD, I put it in, and then the installer bailed out. Fedora would not even install its own RPMs from its own db/CD. This is a well known bug from the second Fedora beta and I am very, very surprised that it is in the final too. Update: Here is the bug report and a preliminary fix for it as found on Red Hat’s bugzilla.

And no, it doesn’t end here. Just as a test, I went to the main “Add/Remove Apps” utility and told it to install the X11-vim application. Same problem, as you can see from our screenshots. It just wouldn’t install its own RPMs (third party RPMs that do satisfy dependencies and get installed via the command line DO work, mind you). It is poor QA, from all I can tell.

Click for a larger version Then, it was Java’s turn. I installed the latest Java SDK (j2re1.4.2_05) and thankfully all went well (I can run Java apps), except again, the browser plugin. Konqueror was the only browser that did recognize the plugin and worked with it. The rest of the browsers completely ignore it (the java plugin’s link is correctly in place and I now understand that it works better if you install it for the current user on your ~/.mozilla/plugins/ but the trouble starts if you want to install it for all users).

And on top of all that, you frequently get RPM-locking (I found rebooting to be the only method to get RPM functionality back) an annoying bug which is with us since Red Hat Linux 8.

And then there is Samba which didn’t work. Samba 3 still doesn’t work for me via Konqueror or Nautilus (smb-client command line tool kind of works better), because it insists on connecting on my VMWare’s virtual IP address of instead of my XP’s real IP on my home network (even when I do “smb://”). It manages to connect once every 10-15 efforts (and asks for my password a zillion times, for a shared folder that does not require a password) and even then I can’t do anything with the files. Mac OS X, Slackware and… Lindows don’t exhibit the problem connecting to that machine. Yellow Dog Linux also has the same problem, as it is Red Hat Linux-derived. I filed a bug months ago with RHL9 and it is still not fixed.

Click for a larger version And then you’ve got all the little application bugs (which is nevertheless the distro’s responsibility to do QA on to make sure they work well): from the crashy RhythmBox, to the Python errors in redhat-config-network (screenshot), to the annoying KDE applets loading on Gnome’s desktop instead of following the standard (it is details like these that destroy the overall impressions, no matter if I know ‘why’ some things happen the way they do), to KOffice going berserk when adding a spreadsheet and chart kpart on your presentation, to the Assistive Tech Support preference panel which makes Gnome want to log out when you click Metacity’s close button (another reported bug that’s still there), to Nautilus occassional crashes, to gtk/aspell’s own bugs via Gedit this very moment I am typing this (tells me it doesn’t know several words but when I check its “spelling suggestions” the words are in its list already) and other such annoyances. Granted, all OSes have bugs, but it is a different story to find 5-6 bugs in months of using an OS (e.g. in my OSX experience and even fewer bugs on my XP) and to find 15 of them in a few hours of usage as in Fedora’s case.

And then there are the actual limitations of the distro that are well known: no mp3 support, no out of the box serious video playback support, no included video editor for home movies. In fact, I can live with all the above problems, except the following one: multimedia performance. It is a different thing to not have multimedia support out of the box and to not have good performance on it even when the user takes steps to compensate for the lack of it. I compiled and installed the mp3 plugin for Fedora’s XXMS (download it from here or here), I installed Xine, Mplayer and Totem and worked fine for the most part but Ogg and Mp3 playback would skip with XMMS after using the machine for a while (quality would degrade with time). After changing the eSound back-end to OSS I got a bit better performance but still not acceptable. Playing Frozen Bubble and having XMMS on the background playing an internet radio station (so the disk was not really touched, plus DMA is on for all my drives) sound quality would drop to the floor. Sometimes, XMMS would skip even when loading new folders on Nautilus or when loading a new web page with Epiphany. This machine is an AthlonXP 1600+ with a Yamaha XG-754 PCI sound card and 256 MB of RAM. I expect more out of it, especially when my XP Pro does not skip on a way slower machine (dual Celeron 533 Mhz) or when Mac OS X manages just fine on a Cube G4 450 Mhz. The same AthlonXP machine also has Slackware and YellowTAB Zeta in it and these two OSes have no problems with media performance. Fedora Core has though even if its installation was fresh.

Click for a larger version The whole fiasco with installation and the broken RPM GUI engine has put me off from trying out nVidia’s 3D drivers. I think I will wait for Fedora-specific builds, if I decide to keep Fedora on this partition until then and I haven’t nuked it in the meantime to install something else.

On the distro’s credit I have to remark that the icons and themes look more polished and the mouse movement on X is very smooth and precise (something that most XFree86-based OS/distros lack as of 2-3 years ago when some mouse code got broken –’s new X Server project is trying to address the problem, we learned). We learned that this is because of some specific enhancements to the Linux kernel made by the Red Hat engineers and also similar enhancements will bring better OpenGL performance too (haven’t tested it though).

Fedora has certainly a few new key elements, but none of them can be called important or really ground breaking for most users. It is a step ahead of RHL9 in some respects, exactly as RHL9 was to RHL8, but with way more bugs and problems. Fedora is barely evolutionary and not revolutionary. Innovation does not seem to be Fedora’s goal. We’ve seen it all before, we just got newer app versions and a nifty graphical boot this time around. But the bugs and the overall usability of the OS need to be further improved. It is in the details that Fedora (and most Linuxes in general) need to work out.

Fedora Core is a community-driven and Red Hat-managed and sponsored open source distribution project. This has its ups and downs. The project is open and everyone can participate, but on the other hand QA seems limited and abandoned by Red Hat. A shame really, but it is to expected with Red Hat having changed its focus to the Enterprise market.

There is not a chance that I would use Fedora as my main OS at this point. It’s got as many bugs as swiss cheese has holes, multimedia performance (at least with XMMS) and included multimedia feature-set is below par, application installation is a major pain in the rear, and there is no official support anymore for the bugs encountered throughout the experience. If this distro is just serving as a testbed for Red Hat’s ideas to see if they work and then move them to their Enterprise product, it just means that Fedora will always be in beta state, whether or not they announce them as final or not.

Click for a larger versionThe goal of The Fedora Project is to work with the Linux community to build a complete, general purpose operating system exclusively from free software” we read on Fedora’s site and at least this version of the software is not polished enough or full-featured to be used as a general purpose OS for the majority of people. I do see some casual users switching to this free offering but not without going through some, initial at least, pain.

For the rest of us whose time is money, we will keep using Mac OS X or Windows XP and if we feel like using Unix/Linux, there is always FreeBSD and Slackware who at least they don’t pretend to be more than they really are. This might not be Red Hat’s product per se anymore, but with Red Hat having a prominent role in the development of Fedora and by releasing it in this state, it reflects badly on the company and I believe it does more damage than good to their image. I hope future releases are more polished.

Installation: 8.5/10
Hardware Support: 8/10
Ease of use: 6/10
Features: 7/10
Credibility: 6/10 (stability, bugs, security)
Speed: 7.5/10 (throughput, UI responsiveness, latency)

Overall: 7.16


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