During the next few weeks, I’ll be quietly revisiting all of the distros that we included in our experiment; Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandrake (now Mandriva), MEPIS, and PCLinuxOS. I decided to go ahead and install each distro (current version) and re-orient myself and discuss what Mrs.Devnet liked and what she didn’t like about each one and further discuss what I feel are some strong points and weak points for the distro. After this, we’ll discuss the important things that each and every distro should take note of…that is, what can be improved. Most reviews and quicklooks just point out problems and then do nothing…Yet Another Linux Blog will strive to do more than this. We can’t just sit on things without bringing solutions to the table or we become part of the problem. So without further nonsense, we’ll visit each distro and try to nail down what they could do to appeal to more people. I’ll be getting Mrs.Devnet’s take on it and then I will also add my own using the many average computer user’s that I know as base for my commentary.
So…today I’ll be looking at Fedora Core 4. We’ll begin by assuming I’m a new user and new to Fedora in General.
The Quick Look
First things first. Fedora offers hands down the easiest install of any distro out there. Anaconda is like a betty crocker oven…even a kid could bake with it. For some people, this doesn’t cut it because they may or may not need to feel ‘old skewl’ or ‘l33t’ by keeping things text based or even similar to an Ubuntu/Debian installer feel. For new users though, the Fedora Anaconda install is stellar. Fedora really shines in this area.
Package selection during the install is all graphical, clear and concise. Adding visuals to any presentation or process will make it more efficient and easier to understand. After the install, you are greeted to a KDE or Gnome session depending on what you choose. I chose KDE since I’m more fond of it than Gnome.
During the experiment, Mrs.Devnet experienced problems with an extremely slow booting Fedora on our test computer. I chalk this up to it being a test release. There were no problems with it during this time. In fact, Fedora has increased its boot speed considerably with FC4. It’s one of the fastest booting distros I’ve dealt with. What makes it even better is that it is fully graphical. Though most people want a text boot, I like the fact that you’re given an option.
The Quick Look Continued…
So, let’s pretend I’m a new user and just finished installing Fedora Core 4. What’s the first thing I need to do? Browse the internet of course. So, opening up the web browser is the first thing I’ll do. Of course I’ll stop by Yet Another Linux Blog which is one of everyone’s first stops right? 😉 Perhaps I’d navigate over to hotmail and check the old email. After that’s through, maybe I’ll navigate over to amazon and check out a few books/CD’s. Wait a second. There’s something wrong on the web page. Something isn’t displaying right. It wants me to click here. Easy. Installation of flash is a snap. So Firefox and Macromedia save the day in this case. But there are other plugins that aren’t so easy to install.
Java Java Java. Why has Sun not learned? They try to show open source software just how open source they are and they can’t even get a Java installer right for Linux? I honestly think that all Linux devs should get together and re-evaluate using Sun Java plugins for web browsing at all. We need an alternative. Afterall, it’s a crock right now. By not having a precompiled Java install in your distribution, you are alienating practically any new user that isn’t tech savvy. No getting around it. This is why distros such as SimplyMEPIS and PCLinuxOS are popular…because they cater to the new user and the end user. Fedora Core 4 can tout license all they want in this case until they turn blue in the face…but the bottom line is that Java is difficult to install for a new user and 9 times out of 10 they’ll give up before they get it.
Perhaps Fedora might provide an installer for it…perhaps a nice script to create an rpm for it…something that can help. At least something better than the crap-tastic stuff that Sun provides on their website for Linux…with instructions valid for 4 releases ago. As stated previously, most users would bail…especially after seeing that screenshot above which shows that I have java installed (after following a how-to guide on how to do things and yet java still doesn’t work). I had to re-download and install from scratch and then track down why the symbolic link before I could get it to work. After a few hours of repeated headbutting of the wall, I finally got things working. How many new users are going to put that much work into their distro? That’s right…about NONE. Of course, it took me that long because its been forever since I compiled java myself having used precompiled distros for over a year.
[soapbox]Why do I tout the new user? Because the new user is the key for Linux. If Linux is to even begin to put a dent in the desktop market it needs to accomplish two things…first, to become a viable business alternative to M$ (which has begun) and secondly, to win over new users. By accomplishing the first, it will get support from businesses in the form of driver support and larger usage. By accomplishing the second, Linux can grow and become even more great than it already is. The new user is key.[/soapbox]
So, back to the assessment. Next, I decided to listen to some streaming music from a website. I listen to online radio stations because I feel that pop music should be popped into the toilet and flushed…no offense to those of you who like it. It’s just not for me. Online radio gives me a choice to listen to whatever I want. I’m sure there are others who share this idea and also listen to online radio stations. So, I decided to see what Fedora Core 4 could do for me.
Wouldn’t you know it…they lost me again. No streaming music…and what is worse, there is no information provided on how to resolve the problem. So finally after cycling through about 5 different music players and attempting to play music streams with each, I find that I need codecs…and then I’m back to square one as a new user. Being Linux savvy means I know right where to go for these codecs…but would a new user? Not a chance unless they had their hand held. So, yet again something that could be taken care of with more attention to detail (perhaps a quick script with disclaimer…Kanotix anyone?). And people actually recommend this distro for new users? Come on!
Ok…so perhaps I’m giving Fedora some extra criticism because of third party applications installed on it. But honestly, I thought most of these programs would work better on it like they do on other distros that I use. Will a new user be as understanding as I am? Most likely not. Hence, the reasons I pull no punches. I’m sure most die hard FC4 users think I’m nuts…but if you’re a new user or a recent convert with minimal experience, you’re probably silently cheering.
What’s next? Well, we’ve surfed the internet. We’ve checked the webmail. We could use Kmail or Evolution or Thunderbird to get mail but I’m not overly concerned with these applications as they are all pretty good and not really needing a testing. Nay, we’ll do what just about every other user might decide to do. Plug in a thumb drive with some mp3’s to play. In this case, I’m using my Cruzer Micro 512MB Thumbdrive…you might have some sort of mp3 player. Since these devices are relatively similar, this should give good indication on how FC4 handles pluggin devices. Not bad! It detected my Cruzer Micro straight away and placed a desktop shortcut! Let’s see if this is a fluke or if Fedora Can actually detect this thumbdrive each time…and Fedora scores in this area. The only problem is that it creates an icon for each time you plugin the device but this is just a small nucense. In no time, I’m browsing files and looking for a tune to play. Very nice indeed. This is one of the first distros that actually detects and installs my thumbdrive.
What happened next is something that happened during our previous look as well. Fedora Core does not come with mp3 support. As stated in our previous review, this is always chalked up to license. This is a major kink in Linux being able to appeal to new users. In this case, Fedora, as expected, takes a nose dive. Many users have run across this mp3 issue and Red Hat/Fedora pulls up the patent issue. To me, this is a huge cop out. How so many other distros can have mp3 support out of the box is a mystery. Many of you are probably thinking, “well, Fedora and Red Hat are larger targets because they’re a bigger business.” Agreed. Perhaps they should approach RCA who holds the patent and find out what they can do to reach an agreement? Perhaps they should include an mp3-to-ogg vorbis converter with a nice little how-to included with a link to it on the desktop? There are many avenues that they could take…but instead, they’ve left it well enough alone through 4 releases. It is my personal opinion that this area is also holding Linux back as well. Linux cannot appeal to the masses if it can’t play DVD’s and mp3’s.
Of Lacking and Improvements
So we found quite a few areas where new users would trip up and most likely give up on right away. Being that Mrs.Devnet, a new Linux user, took a look at Fedora Core 4 Test 1 a while back…I decided to take a look back to see what her major gripe about Fedora Core 4 was. She stated that overall it was a lack of knowing what to do with Fedora. There were minimal programs installed on her Gnome desktop and she didn’t know how to download the ones she wanted nor had any means to find the program she might. There was no documentation readily available on how to get to the things she needed.
In cases like this, distros such as Xandros with Xandros Network and Linspire with CNR might be a better alternative for new users since they offer graphical explanations of what each program is. But the silly thing about all this is that they charge for this software. What I’m amazed at is that someone hasn’t done this for Red Hat or Debian already and made a distro have something like CNR and Xandros Network only an open source derrivative where one isn’t charged for freely downloadable software. Fedora strikes me as the prime candidate to come up with something like this to revolutionize the desktop. They’ve got excellent support via Red Hat and fantastic community members. They’ve als go tons of documentation if you know where to look. This is one area I think ALL distros can improve in…
I thought about the lack of direction Mrs.Devnet had right away out of the box on this distro. One way to improve this would be to place a document on FC4’s desktop that points users in the right direction for getting started. Perhaps another improvment might be to include a link on the desktop to a tutorial for getting started. If it were my Linux distro…I’d include a link to a Wink Flash tutorial geared toward new users. This would physically show new users how to get started using their brand new Linux desktop. Visually seeing a desktop in action would benefit a new user greatly.
It’s obvious from my quick look above that I’m quite unimpressed with Fedora…mainly because of its inability to provide easy solutions to java and mp3 issues. There are ways to circumvent patent infringement with disclaimers or with third party scripts. Hopefully, Fedora will cater to the user instead of requiring them to become well versed in compiling code within the first 10 minutes of using…because I know the average user isn’t going to want to drop to CLI anytime.
I’m very happy that Fedora Core 4 offers a great distro for those of us that have some Linux knowledge and that boot speeds are quite impressive. However, for new users, I will continue to recommend against it. Overall, after getting a fully configured FC4 box…I was riding high on the hog. I’ve had it on my test computer now for about 2 weeks and it has been stable and fast. Hopefully, some of the recommendations for this great distro won’t fall on deaf ears. That way, new users can enjoy what I’m enjoying right now with minimal effort. That’s the key…simplifying our lives with computers and Linux…not complicating them. Thanks for reading!
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