With one extra day of delay over the already postponed release date, Fedora 13 is finally out today. Codenamed "Goddard", it is supposed to be another step forward for this RedHat sponsored distro.
NOTE: Keep in mind I have always used Fedora KDE flavor exclusively, I like it that way. My opinions and the foundations of this review are based around this setup. I haven't tested Fedora 13 GNOME, so some statements below may not apply to that version.
Out of the distro releases I have seen so far in 2010, Fedora 13's release notes and list of features were probably the least attractive. You can read through the full list HERE. The following list includes some highlights:
- Automatic printer driver installation: Pretty self explanatory. Enhanced support for printers in general. Automatic installation of drivers on demand when a given printer requires them to function correctly.
- Better webcam support: An effort was put in place to provide better support for webcams in general, specially focusing on dual mode models.
- Rebase to the latest KDE4.4.X SC.
- NetworkManager enhancements: GUI included, as well as enhanced support for several pieces of hardware and functionality.
- Enhanced support for both Raddeon and Nvidia video cards.
- The latest Sugar Learning environment.
- Parallel support for Python 2.x and 3.x.
Not that exciting, huh? I guess the parallel Python bit is interesting for developers, but most of the other features already feel a bit obsolete out of the box. Don't get me wrong, these are mostly great features, it's just that they are pretty common and other distros do a better job at implementing them anyways.
A LITTLE ABOUT FEDORA
RedHat realised several years ago that creating a Linux distro that was good for both the corporate and the home desktop world was pretty much impossible. As a result, they decided to split their efforts, keeping RedHat tight, conservative and safe, while using Fedora to incorporate the latest technologies. Fedora is free and provides a nice testing user base so that things are solid and stable before they get implemented in RedHat.
If there is one feature that defines Fedora, though, is that of being on the edge technology-wise. No other distro out there does a better job at incorporating the latest versions of Linux software into their repositories. As a result, Fedora users don't have to wait for the next release before they enjoy the latest version of their favorite audio player, web browser or even desktop window manager. This is indeed a very nice feature and the main reason I have used Fedora over the years, but also one that comes at the expense of stability at times.
What I just mentioned should be kept in mind when reading this review, because Fedora's objectives are different to those of other distros out there. Fedora is first and foremost a test lab for RedHat.
ON WITH THE REVIEW
I set up a virtual machine and installed Fedora 13 straight away. In terms of resources, I granted it with 512 MB of Memory and 8GB of disk space. These resources were low intentionally, as I wanted to see how this Fedora release would deal under such conditions.
One of the elements that was a pleasant surprise was precisely the installation process. The wizard has been reviewed and improved and is now clearer and simpler, better suited for users who may have never seen Linux before.
Fedora 13 once again "forces" the user to boot the LiveCD before the installation can be started. As we have discussed in previous reviews, I like this approach because it makes it easier to spot any potential hardware support issues when it does matter.
The LiveCD boot process starts...
As soon as the first Splash screen appears, we can start to get a feel for the new Fedora style, backgrounds, etc. I particularly liked the login screen and the load of KDE components, both of which have been very well integrated with the new release branding.
The Fedora13 default login screen.
Loading the different KDE components tightly integrated in Goddard.
The new installation wizard comes up after clicking on the "Install Fedora" shortcut from the LiveCD desktop. This new wizard feels a bit more current, with a more up to date interface and not so heavily relying on blue colors as it did in previous releases. For the most part, the installation follows all the standard steps, like setting up the keyboard language, the time zone, etc. Eventually, we get to the step where we manage partitions. It is this piece that has been reviewed and redesigned, with an interface that I find better looking and easier to understand.
The new partition manager makes its debut for Fedora 13.
From there on, except for the new interface style, there is not much worth sharing about the installation process. Fedora does ask for the ROOT password to be setup, though. The next interesting bit appears after restarting from the newly installed hard drive. The first screen we get appears halfway through the boot process and involves Licensing, creation of users, etc.
After booting from the newly installed drive, we are asked to accept the License agreement.
Creating a default user is also part of this configuration wizzard.
As a last step, a hardware profile is presented to the user.
The configuration is over!
That pretty much marks the end of the installation and configuration process, which then leads us to the Log in screen I showed already.
THE FEDORA 13 DESKTOP: FIRST CONTACT
As soon as we login, we get a pretty standard KDE desktop setup. Other than the wallpaper, almost everything is very much pure KDE here, as opposed to other distros such as Mandriva or PCLinuxOS, which add their customizations and give it a more personal touch. The default wallpaper is nice, but it is the only one installed! I am guessing they will release other wallpapers which can be downloaded from the repos, as they have done in the past, but I think it would have been nice to add a few more.
As usual when installing a guest OS on a virtual machine, the screen resolution was not detected. This is never an issue, for Virtualbox includes its "Guest Additions" package, which helps in getting the necessary drivers registered. Fedora13 did not allow me to run the autorun.sh script that would install those drivers, so I was stuck with 800x600 resolution. (That's why you will see my green Linux Mint 9 desktop in the background of pretty much every screenshot!)
The Fedora13 desktop.
Strangely, KDE SC is still on version 4.4.2. Considering Fedora is focused on including bleeding edge software, I believe this is a significant miss. On top of that, KDE SC 4.4.3 was a bugfix release, so it could only help to include it.
KDE SC is disappointingly still on version 4.4.2.
Browsing through the main menu (which sports KDE's "kickoff" style) I can't help but feel that the Fedora13 desktop is a bit archaic. Don't expect any "lifesavers" for new comers here, this is raw meat, pretty much. In fact, getting this up to current home desktop standards would take quite some time, even if following one of those "Things to do after installing..." lists.
I personally find the application catalog quite weak. Don't get me wrong, there are applications on board to cover the basic needs of any user, but I feel they are actually quite far from the current "standards" in the Linux world. I have no doubt certain people will favor KOffice over OpenOffice, Dragon Video Player over Totem, Juke over Amarok or KolourPaint over GIMP, but they probably live in Mars. In fact, Fedora KDE still uses Konqueror as the main (and only) web browser (!). As you surely expect by now, no signs of mainstream applications like Dropbox or Skype were found. Similarly, video and audio codecs have to be installed manually.
Something else I realized was that I could not find the backup application that was announced during the testing phase. I have even seen YouTube videos of this application being tested, but I can't find it anywhere in the menu. If it is there, it is a shame that it cannot be found easily. Anyways, I couldn't test it.
One thing that surprised me is that I found a pretty big number of updates waiting on the server. This is pretty unusual considering I am testing on the day of the release, so it makes me wonder how close to the final version this final release really was.
Where did all those updates come from?!.
WOW! That's a lot to be processed.
Ever since I found PCLinuxOS, every other KDE distro feels slow in comparison, but Fedora13 is specially slow or at least it feels that way. I have installed it on a USB drive just in case my new VirtualBox 3.2 setup was not being appreciated, but it was pointless. I am not sure what it is, but Fedora13 feels slow in general. In fact, what concerns me is that it definitely feels slower than Fedora12 (at least on my tests using the same hardware). Other distros, like Ubuntu are achieving better, snappier performance release after release.
This slow overall performance could very well be related to how early I am testing and may be fixed in days/weeks to come. I certainly hope so.
LOOK & FEEL
Fedora13 doesn't do very well on this department. There really isn't much to talk about other than the Log in screen and the default wallpaper. Take that literally, though, there is ONE wallpaper. Not that I would expect every distro to provide as many wallpapers as Linux Mint, but come on... Along the same lines, don't expect any custom Fedora window or icon themes here. Similarly, font sets are 100% standard, so you will need to download Android fonts if you want them.
I want to give a special mention to the extremely ugly splash screen that made it to the final version of Fedora 13. When I tested Fedora 13 during the Alpha and Beta periods, I was thinking this was just a temporary thing while they put together some gorgeous Plymouth theme. Boy, was I wrong.
The TERRIBLE splash screen in Fedora 13.
I am not really sure I understand this one, to be honest. Fedora 12 had a simple yet classy splash screen, so why take such a huge step back? I wonder if this could be a "backup" splash screen that is displayed in case the Plymouth one can't, maybe as a result of a display conflict. I doubt it, though, because Ubuntu and Linux Mint both displayed their Plymouth themes at least when booting from the LiveCD, which Fedora 13 does not.
ALL IN ALL...
Once again, my comments should be put into perspective and understood within the context of Fedora, a distro that serves a purpose supporting its corporate sibling. This should also be taken into account if you are thinking of using Fedora on your desktop. It is far from being a bad Linux distro, but it will take time and effort to "tame" it.
As far as I am concerned, I consider Fedora a distro suited for experienced and advanced users, and Fedora13 is no exception. Certain people will surely appreciate YUM, Presto and other Fedora technologies, as well as that constant "living on the edge" feel, but I don't find anything critical that cannot be achieved with other easier to use distros. If anything, the capability of running Python 2.x and 3.x in parallel is interesting, but mostly for developers and the like.
As for Fedora13 specifically, I don't think it is that big a step forward. I believe Fedora12 was a better rounded release, with more significant enhancements, so I wouldn't recommend upgrading if you are using Constantine. If on the other hand you have never used Fedora and don't have much experience in the Linux world, I would recommend using a simpler distro to begin with, like PCLinuxOS 2010 or Linux Mint 9.
Thanks for reading!