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Fedora Core 1 Linux

by Drew Dunn

RedHat Linux is dead...long live RedHat Linux!

Well, not exactly, but close! RedHat hasn't been coy about their desire to discontinue their mainstream (read: free) desktop Linux project, currently at version 9, for almost all of 2003, and, earlier this month, the company announced that support for RedHat Linux 9.0 would end early in 2004 and that there would be no version 10. Instead, RedHat is focusing on its commercial products (and associated services); one desktop and two server packages. For those of us who don't relish the idea of spending upwards of $180 for a desktop operating system, but don't want to switch from RedHat Linux to something else, Fedora may be the solution.

Fedora Linux was envisioned as a project to building RPM packages for RedHat Linux. The idea behind Fedora was to insulate the end user from having to compile programs from source, or to install programs from a non-RPM binary package. The advantage is clear - the RPM database manages a complete record of software installed on the system, making software upgrades and new installations easier. Obviously, though, with no RedHat Linux, Fedora's continued existence was problematic, at best.

The RedHat Linux Project was created by RedHat to continue the legacy of RedHat Linux, but with more community development. Instead of following the usual course of (roughly) yearly updates, increased stability at the expense of cutting edge technology and a rather extensive corporate support program, The RedHat Linux Project was to be a rapidly evolving, cutting edge technology distribution with support provided by the community itself. Unfortunately, the project was announced in mid-2003 and never really gained any traction.

In late September, The RedHat Linux Project merged with Fedora Linux to create the Fedora Project, combining the goals of both organizations. While RedHat maintains a substantial amount of supervisory control over the project, the Fedora Project relies heavily upon contributions and guidence from the Open Source community.

The culmination of this merger was the release of Fedora Core 1 in early November. Users of previous versions of RedHat Linux may think of Fedora Core 1 as an upgrade from RedHat Linux 9, which is true, but much of the change is somewhat lateral. There are improvements in the operating system, notably in kernel speed, but other changes seem to have been implemented in order to remove any proprietariness from the package. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the incorporation of yum and apt into the up2date application.

I installed Fedora Core 1 on several systems, as upgrades and from scratch. The first system was an Athlon XP2800+ - based system with 1.5GB of DDR400 RAM, a 120GB Maxtor hard drive, an Nvidia Quadro FX video card, all connected to an Asus A7N8X+ motherboard. I allowed the operating system to automatically partition the hard drive. It correctly detected the video card and the Hitachi CM751 monitor. I installed the default workstation configuration. The installation screens were very reminiscent of those from RedHat Linux 9.0. The only two hitches were that the installer did not recognize the built-in Nvidia network card (although the built-in 3Com card was recognized) and the installer configured the graphics card with the 2D driver. Both of these issues were fixed by installing updated drivers from Nvidia's web page.

I also performed a fresh installation on an old Micron TransPort XPE notebook computer, a relic of the '90's with a Pentium 166MMX processor and about 90MB of RAM. The installation appeared to be flawless, something that I had never experienced with that particular computer and Linux before. Other installation attempts usually ended in a significant amount of work to find a graphics driver that would work correctly with the rather rare Cirrus Logic chipset installed in this computer.

The third installation was an upgrade from a RedHat Linux 9.0 desktop system. This computer had been rather heavily patched and modified over the past six or so months. It is a Pentium III - 933MHz system with a gigabyte of memory, a 30GB Western Digital hard drive and four IBM 60GB drives configured in a Linux software RAID striped volume. The upgrade went very well, except that that at the end, I appeared to have two instances of ntp (the network time synchronization protocol) and the Samba network connections from the system were no longer available. Also, the Matrox G450 video card in this system has two outputs for dual-head operation. The default Matrox drivers that the installer selected would not support dual head operation. I was able to download a different driver, as well as Matrox's utility program to activate the two monitors. My greatest concern was how Fedora Core 1 would deal with the software RAID partition, but, as it turns out, it worked just fine.

Some searching revealed that the ntp problem appears to be common in upgrades and can be resolved by having RPM remove the older of the two programs. The Samba problem appeared because Fedora Core 1 uses the latest version of Samba and the configuration file has changed its format somewhat. A bit of judicious editing cleared up that problem.

One bug common to all three installations was that Macromedia Flash would not work after installing the program from Macromedia. Again, this is a documented problem and one for which an easy workaround exists.

From a usability point of view, Fedora Core 1 is really no different from RedHat Linux 9.0. Performance-wise, it appears to be faster in kernel-related tasks, apparently because the installer is aware of different CPU architectures and will install the appropriate kernel for a given processor. This is helpful for more than just older systems because the optimizations for older CPUs can have a performance impact on newer ones and vice versa. I was very satisfied with that aspect of Fedora Core 1.

Other aspects of Fedora Core 1 really just mirrored my experience with RedHat Linux 9.0. The familiar BlueCurve desktop is still there. All of the RedHat configuration tools are present. The menu and toolbar structures are also still the same.

RedHat hosts the up2date repository of files, just like the RedHat Network for RedHat Linux. The difference between the two is that the Fedora repository is not officially maintained by RedHat. Nonetheless, the three or four updates that have been released in the past couple of weeks seem to match those of RedHat's in timing, at least within a day or two.

Perhaps the most important feature of Fedora Core 1 is not so much the operating system itself as much as the work and philosophy of those behind it. One of the goals of Fedora Linux was to create high-quality RPMs of software, tailored to RedHat Linux. This hasn't changed since the merger. A significant aim of the Fedora Project is to follow a "certification" process to create RPM files that are targeted at Fedora. This allows an individual to download and install a program or update with a high degree of confidence that the program or update will perform well with the operating system.

Support is definitely a bit more dodgy than with RedHat Linux. The primary source of help is a mailing list (similar to FreePCTech's PCSOFT) frequented by Fedora developers. The mailing list is somewhat typical of developer-run forums in that the tone of the messages can become a little jaded and cynical, but the mailing list archives are a wealth of information and virtually every question asked on the list has been answered. Although one may get the impression from reading the list that Fedora is full of problems, it strikes me that many of the issues raised are user-inflicted or repeats of previously asked questions.

After several weeks of using Fedora Core 1 as my primary desktop operating system, I am very pleased. It lives up to its billing as being a cutting edge operating system, yet does not have the stability issues that I had expected. The Fedora Project expects updates every six months or so, with support for each update continuing for about two months after the next update is released. This does mean that more work is involved to keep the operating system current. For those who are looking for a more stable environment, RedHat's commercial Workstation offering may be more suitable, since it is expected to have a lifecycle of several years, compared to Fedora's several months.

But if you are a performance enthusiast who doesn't mind upgrading twice a year or so and wants to stay on the leading edge of Linux software technology, then Fedora is an excellent choice for you. FreePCTech is offering a seven-CD set of Fedora Core CDs.

You can find more information about Fedora here.


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