Guest Editor Apostasy has decided to take a look at current distributions and how they perform and install on an older laptop. This article is the first in a series of many that will look at distributions such as Suse 10, Fedora Core 5, Mandriva, and other desktop-centric distributions.
- Compaq Armada E500 Laptop
- 700MHz Intel Pentium III
- 256MB PC133 SDRAM
- ATi Rage Mobility
- Intel Ethernet Pro 100
- Toshiba 10GB Hard Disk
- Netgear WG511 Wireless PCMCIA Card
I chose to use a network install via HTTP. This went quite smoothly, initially via a text interface for configuring the network and entering the address to install from, then a graphical interface for partitioning and package selection. Right from the start Fedora looks like a professional O/S, it’s not fluffy and cute, but it is very pleasant to look at. Partitioning was handled automatically by Disk Druid, no problems at this stage.
Fedora offers 4 options for package configuration; Personal Desktop, Server, Workstation and Custom. I chose a custom install as I wanted to install KDE 3.4 as well as the default GNOME desktop. I didn’t feel that package selection was a good as my usual distro (Mandriva). When selecting packages in Mandriva (or previously Mandrake) removing a package in one category meant the package would not be installed and that any other packages that were no longer needed would also not be installed. With Fedora it would appear that packages may appear under more than one category and therefore may be installed if you remove them from your selection in one category and not in another. This doesn’t bother me too much, but if you really wanted to make sure a package was not installed then you may find this frustrating.
All my hardware was detected fine bar two items. The first I’m not too worried about as only the latest version of Mandriva has allowed me to use it, and that’s the wireless network card. Mandriva offers the option to use NDISWrapper during the install, but more about that in another review The second item was the monitor, but this was resolved simply by choosing a generic monitor capable of 1024×768 (before doing this I could only select 800×600). Once again, this really didn’t bother me and I don’t believe it would have caused anyone adept enough to attempt an O/S installation any problems.
First Boot and Beyond
Fedora Core 4 has a very nice graphical boot display, it’s not a necessity but it’s certainly a nice touch. The GDM theme is very pleasant and professional looking. Logging in takes a while, but that would probably be improved by running it on something a bit quicker!
The GNOME desktop is pleasant, easy on the eye and uncluttered. I’m usually a KDE user but I like the idea of using two bars. The bottom bar shows open programs, a view desktop button and the Workspace Switcher. The top bar has the menus, shortcuts, clock, volume control and battery monitor. There’s also an Up2date button that monitors available updates. So far, there’s none available so it’s not a feature I’ve been able to test.
The menu structure is good, I like a menu that’s not cluttered and Fedora have managed to organise everything into only 6 headings. OpenOffice.org, Firefox and Evolution are all available as shortcuts on the top bar, I can’t imagine these aren’t the most commonly used applications for many people and they’re always removable if necessary. Also available on the top bar is a Desktop menu where you can change desktop settings, lock the screen or log out. I’m not sure if it’s a GNOME desktop thing or it’s something Fedora have added themselves, but there’s also a Places menu. This allows easy network browsing and access to your own files and mounted network shares.
The network is all set up and ready to go, I can get my email and surf the web without having to configure anything else (other than my account settings of course). I’ve heard plenty about Fedora’s lack of multi-media capabilities out-of-the-box, I don’t see it as a big problem as you only have to add them once. Flash and Java are easy enough to install for anyone familiar with Linux and certainly doesn’t take long; very few distros install these by default so I don’t see it as something to complain about. Not being able to play MP3s is a little unusual, but only required installing plugins for whichever application you prefer. Once this is done it’s on a par with other distributions.
Fedora happily mounted my USB flash drive and put a helpful icon on the desktop, this was done consistently and without user intervention. It also did this for CD’s so I was happy with the desktops’ behaviour as far as removable media goes.
All in all I’m very pleased with this latest incarnation of Fedora but I think what it really lacks is a Mandriva or SUSE style central configuration tool. I’m very fond of being able to control everything from one place rather than having to hunt through menus for various applications to configure different parts of the system.
Next Up: SUSE 10.0
Linux-Blog Editors Note: Fedora Core 5 is due out February 2006. We’ll have Apostasy take another look at things then and see if Fedora Core has improved any for him.
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