Last week I installed Fedora Core 5 on two aging but serviceable systems: my eMachines desktop (2GHz Celeron, 768MB RAM) and a Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204 notebook (1GHz Celeron, 512MB PC100 RAM). The desktop had previously run Fedora Core 4 while the laptop had been running Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger) for a few months and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 4 Update 1 prior to that.
One of the claims made for Fedora Core 5 is that it was built to boot faster and run faster than the previous release. I’m very pleased to say that it’s true and the difference on my laptop is especially noticeable. Those of you who are running older, slower hardware or tend to heavily load you systems will definitely be happy with FC5. It is significantly crisper and more responsive than Ubuntu Breezy Badger and RHEL 4 as well.
I’ve never been happy with anaconda, the Red Hat installer. The new version of the graphical installation is certainly prettier but it still lacks the fine grained control of what software packages are to be installed that other distributions do offer as an option to experienced users. Also, as I quickly learned installing to my laptop, there is no “minimal” installation and, as with previous versions, no matter how much I strip down the installation anaconda will add cruft. Things that are not truly needed which I didn’t ask for do get installed. I still have to list my installed packages when I’m done and remove things. I know that corporate customers who build single purpose servers generally are unhappy about this and Red Hat may want to look at allowing a truly minimal build in the next release and/or in RHEL 5. The good news is that for the less experienced user building a typical desktop the anaconda installation is straightforward and downright easy. Hardware detection is certainly excellent and other than my printer (easily added) everything was correctly recognized and installed by anaconda.
The new Fedora offers two options for the desktop: Gnome and KDE. Gnome remains the default choice. The totally minimal twm is available as part of the X installation and you can just install that and then add other window managers or desktop environments from Fedora Extras after the initial installation. Note that anaconda will install significant parts of Gnome if you install any of the graphical system administration tools in any case, Choices in Extras are pretty limited too, but XFCE 4 and a handful of lightweight window managers are offered and will be recognized by gdm or kdm (the graphical login) session choices after they are installed.
The main tool for managing software packages is yum. While yum is excellent Red Hat/Fedora’s graphical front ends to yum have always been weak. The often buggy and horrendously slow up2date has been replaced by pup (short for package updater) which has a much simpler, cleaner interface. However it seems to have problems with resolving dependencies, particularly when it recognizes non-Core software. I was floored, though, that it couldn’t resolve a dependency needed by evolution, a Core package. I found pup pretty but unusable. Running yum update from the command line does provide me with the tools to resolve issues pup simply cannot handle.
The new package manager, pirut, is a huge improvement. It not only recognizes Fedora Core packages, but also knows about Extras and can be easily configured to recognize third party repositories as well. For example, a simple click on a link on the home page of the popular FreshRPMs website adds the freshrpms-release-1.1-1.fc.noarch.rpm package to your system. Suddenly pirut knows about little things like DVD and mp3 support packages which Red Hat cannot include in Fedora without violating U.S. law. It’s pretty easy to add your own custom repositories as well, something I’ll cover in another article.
Several bugs in Gnome and one particularly annoying Firefox bug have been corrected in the newer versions provided by Fedora Core 5. I have found new application bugs, though, Epiphany, which was rapidly becoming my favorite web browser, doesn’t correctly handle subtopics or nested topics, something it did just fine in the release provided with Fedora Core 4. I imagine as I work with the new versions of other packages more I’ll find other bugs to report as well. Gnome continues to lack a menu editor and you still have to manually edit files to add customized software packages which don’t update the Gnome menus automatically. Gnome menu editors exist for Gnome 2.14. Fedora just doesn’t include one probably because the one I tried, gnome-menu-editor, remains somewhat broken . Even simpler window managers like WindowMaker offer that basic functionality. KDE is still, by far, the most polished and functional desktop environment. KDE also still consumes the most resources which is why I was hoping for more improvements in Gnome. The internationalization/localization support I need isn’t available in simpler window managers.
There are a huge number of updates already available to FC5. If you’re installing from a magazine or purchased DVD or set of five (yes, five!) CDs you still will want to make sure your system can be attached to a high speed connection somewhere to get your patches and bugfixes.
Overall, even with all the nits I’ve picked, I find Fedora Core 5 to be a very satisfying and much improved version of the popular distribution. Red Hat and their Fedora Project engineers have been quick to resolve bugs in the past and I am certain FC5 will improve as new updates become available. The improved performance in the new version far outweighs any bugs I’ve found in applications and this is one release I can recommend.