Review: Fedora 10
Fedora 10 was officially released on Tuesday November 25, 2008. Since its release I have installed it on a number of machines and been running it as my full-time desktop. I added screenshots for the Syslinux boot screen, Plymouth in text mode, GDM, GNOME Desktop, GNOME Window Decorations, KDM, KDE Startup, KDE Desktop and KDE Window Decorations.
The easiest installation method is to download either the GNOME LiveCD or the KDE LiveCD, boot either one up and give it a try on your hardware to check for any compatibility issues.
The machines I tried it out on included:
1) a Dell Optiplex GX270 desktop,
2) a Dell Inspiron 5150 laptop,
3) a Dell Optiplex GX620 desktop,
4) a Dell Optiplex 755 desktop,
5) a Gateway Pentium 4 desktop,
6) and an HP desktop
It worked flawlessly on 4 of the 6. For whatever reason Xorg could not detect / set a usable video resolution for the Dell Optiplex 755 and the HP desktop. On the laptop, I had to download some proprietary firmware for the wifi card and install it under /lib/firmware.
Installing from the LiveCD is really, really easy and fast. Just double click the "Install to Hard Drive" icon, answer a few questions, and away it goes. Of course a lot depends on the speed of your machine and how much RAM you have but on all of the systems I tried it on the install took about 5 minutes or less.
One disappointment with the LiveCDs is that the amount of software that can fit is a bit limited... so much so, I'd really like to see a LiveDVD. The GNOME LiveCD includes Gnumeric and Abiword but I would prefer OpenOffice.org... but there just isn't enough room.
I'm primarily a KDE user but find myself using a variety of software from both GNOME and KDE as well as desktop agnostic software. After installing from the LiveCD I usually have a LOT of software to install. Using the LiveCD means that the initial download is smaller but I still end up downloading a lot post install for the additional software I want.
If you are like me and use a variety of software, I recommend the DVD installation method... assuming of course you have a DVD reader. It might be a bigger download up front but there is so much more software on the DVD that it is less likely you'll have to download lots of stuff after the install... with the exception of the updates of course. How much software is on the DVD? About 2,200 packages. While that might sound like quite a bit of software, Fedora has been growing steadily from release to release and the total number of stock packages available for Fedora 10 is around 11,500 (i386) and 14,500 (x86_64).
With Fedora 10 comes a new graphical boot system named Plymouth which replaces the previous RHGB (Red Hat Graphical Boot). Plymouth offers a number of cool features with two basic goals: 1) Improve boot speed by using kernel-based video mode settings rather than using Xorg and 2) Improve the flexibility of the underlying graphical boot system.
I'm not a big fan of graphical booting and usually turn it off in favor of the somewhat verbose kernel text messages but I had to check out Plymouth. Plymouth is basically in proof-of-concept mode with this initial release because it currently only works with a small handful of ATI video cards. It can be made to work on a wider range video cards if one passes an additional parameter to the kernel (vga=0x318) which puts it in a more generic video mode. Using the generic mode losses some of Plymouth's flash... the fade in effect and the no-flicker/jitter between video mode switching. Nothing really that important. The graphical boot is quite fancy / impressive with its animated version of the solar graphic... showing flares shooting off of the blue filtered star. Kudos to the art team.
If one of the goals is to make booting faster why even have a graphical boot? Who really cares if there are noticeable switches between the various video modes? I do respect the goals of Plymouth and I understand why the previous system had to be abandoned (compatibility and maintenance issues). I too can put up with a slightly slower boot (although it is faster than previous releases) to have some majorly improved eye candy. We'll just have to see how Plymouth matures over time.
One of the widest areas of debate with the various Fedora releases as been about the quality of the artwork. Some folks have been happy and others haven't. I guess style is very subjective. With Fedora 10 the consensus seems to be that everyone is quite impressed with the Solar theme... although some have complained that they thought that the window decorations in GNOME were somewhat simplistic and ugly. You can't please everyone.
I haven't heard anyone complain about the style / artwork provided by the KDE desktop. Its window decorations are quite different than those in GNOME. I do think KDE's KDM theme is a lot cooler looking than that of GDM.
One of the new features in Fedora 9 was PackageKit... but with its initial release it had a number of drawbacks... the most obvious being that it would only allow picking one software package at a time for installation. Over the lifespan of Fedora 9 PackageKit has gotten a number of upgrades and the PackageKit that is included with Fedora 10 is a lot more usable than before. It still isn't perfect though, but what is?
I ran into a few timing issues a couple of times that really slowed down the operation of package installation when there were a number of operations queued up. Some of the slowdowns were probably caused by doing a lot of network based operations shortly after Fedora 10 was freshly released and there was more network traffic on the Fedora mirrors.
In one of my install locations I happen to maintain a local copy of the Fedora mirrors and it is really amazing how fast yum and PackageKit are when they don't have to crawl the mirrors looking for package data. I think most if not all of perceived slowness behind yum and PacketKit have to do with a slower than desirable mirroring system. I don't have any data to prove my claim but I believe it to be true.
PackageKit now handles multiple operations easily and under certain conditions can even recommend additional software when a user tries to access data files they don't have applications for. An example of this would be audio / video codecs. If you try to play a video you are missing codecs for, PackageKit may be able to recommend additional packages for installation. This is the first release of the recommendations feature and the Fedora project folks have already mentioned that they plan to expand it greatly with future releases to make it smarter and more flexible.
I believe Fedora 8 first introduced an application to easily turn the LiveCD iso into a LiveUSB. With Fedora 9 they added a feature where you could have persistence storage on your LiveUSB setup. With Fedora 10 they have added an option to have a separate, persistent storage for an encrypted /home directory. I tested out these features by creating a LiveUSB setup that has both persistent storage and an encrypted /home directory. Here's the command line I used on a 4GB USB thumbdrive:
livecd-iso-to-disk --home-size-mb 1024 --overlay-size-mb 2047 F10-i686-Live-KDE.iso /dev/sdb1
That creates a 1GB encrypted /home disk image as well as a ~2GB persistent storage image. After I created the LiveUSB setup I booted it, installed the software updates as well as installed a lot of additional software including Firefox, OpenOffice.org, GIMP, etc. It worked very well and I was impressed.
I'd really like to see some more complete documentation on these features as using a FAT16 formatted USB thumbdrive limits one to image sizes of 2047MB or smaller. If I used an ext3 formatted USB drive could I overcome the limits of the FAT16-based system? It appears that their current setup assumes that one is using the default format provided by virtually all USB thumbdrive makers... FAT16. The plus of that assumption is that you can still plug the thumbdrive into a Windows box and use it like you always have as the process is non-destructive. The drawback is a maximum filesize of 2GB. Those with 4GB, 8GB or bigger USB thumbdrives might appreciate the ability to create larger disk images.
KDE 4 Desktop
One of the main complaints about Fedora 9 when it was released was their decision to drop the KDE 3.x desktop and go exclusively with the KDE 4.0.x desktop. Being a KDE user I can concur with the assessment that the version of KDE that shipped on the Fedora 9 install media was not very usable. As a result, I switched to GNOME for a few months until KDE updated to the 4.1.x series.
Fedora is really aggressive about keeping up with bug fixes and security updates over the lifecycle of their products. With Fedora 9, they updated (and will continue to update) KDE every time the KDE folks did. As a result, the KDE that ships with Fedora 10 is very similar to the KDE that you have on a fully updated Fedora 9 system. This is a good thing. After KDE came out with the 4.1.x series I switched back to KDE and have been fairly happy ever since. That isn't to say that all KDE users are happy with KDE 4 but I find it to be quite usable now.
One feature that was made available in Fedora 9 that I never tried using was the option to use an Encrypted partition. With Fedora 10 I decided to give it a try on two of the systems I installed on by making an encrypted /home. This uses the LUKS (Linux Unified Key Setup) system to provide the encryption and password prompting during boot. It worked fine for me.
Some have complained that having the installer automatically make all of the LUKS decisions for the user is a lot less flexible than letting the user tweak all of the parameters manually. While that is true, having it part of the install means a lot more people are going to use it than who would have even considered doing it post install.
This feature is especially useful on laptops where one might be concerned if it got stolen, the thief could get valuable personal information off of the hard drive.
One thing that makes Fedora stand out from other distributions is the number of updates that come out over the lifecycle of a release. Most distributions offer security updates and some offer bugfix updates but Fedora takes that a step further by quite frequently rebasing on newer versions of things. It is not unusual for Fedora to follow both KDE and GNOME with desktop version updates shortly after they become available. It is also not unusual for Fedora to have 100MB or more of updates a week. Some folks might cringe at that but I happen to like it.
A few mainline Linux kernel developers recommend Fedora when asked how end users can help with kernel testing since the kernels used by Fedora aren't usually that far behind the latest kernel release.
Upgrading from previous Fedora releases
All of my installs where clean installs with the exception being on one machine where I had /home on a separate partition which I retained. I did NOT try upgrading from Fedora 9 to Fedora 10. In the past Fedora really didn't recommend upgrading from one release to the next but that has been changing over the last few releases. They do provide upgrade instructions but not having tried them I can't comment on how well they work. I have read a few comments made by those who have done upgrades and so far all of them have been positive... and Fedora seems committed to improve the situation every release.
Fedora 10 has a lot of impressive features and a large library of software. The install is very easy and fast especially from the LiveCD. I believe there are still some compatibility issues with Xorg (that are probably not Linux distribution specific) on some newer hardware so the LiveCD option is great for pain free hardware compatibility testing. Fedora 10 doesn't offer a lot in the way of new major features but offers a lot of pretty impressive minor ones.
It is clear that Fedora improves things from release to release as they help mature the advanced technologies that they are early adopters of. I'm a Fedora fanboy myself so I'm usually not disappointed with any release but I think Fedora 10 overall has been one of their better releases.
I don't necessarily recommend Fedora 10 for a complete Linux newbie... but wholeheartedly recommend it for users with 6 months or more of Linux experience... especially for those who like being early adopters of new software technologies. Fedora is also THE distro for those who are considering becoming contributors.
Assuming you got this far and have some interest in giving Fedora 10 a try for yourself, I highly recommend the following resources provided by the Fedora Project:
Release Summary - https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Releases/10/ReleaseSummary
Feature List - http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Releases/10/FeatureList
Release Notes - http://docs.fedoraproject.org/release-notes/f10/en_US/
Known Issues - http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Bugs/F10Common
Installation Guide - http://docs.fedoraproject.org/install-guide/f10/en_US/
Get Fedora - http://fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora