Anticipated Problem in Fedora Core 3

I’ve hit quite a few snags with FC3 lately.  Very odd that people consider this one of the most new user friendly.  I have a bad feeling that this is actually going to score very low with my wife when she takes it for a test drive.  The reason I say this is that FC3 doesn’t play mp3’s!  That’s right, you heard me correctly, you can’t play mp3s with FC3…I was shocked as well.  I did some snooping and it turns out that Red Hat thinks they can’t distribute the mp3 codec legally…or are just to scared to do so.  Pretty odd considering all of those mp3 players out there seem to be a-ok with being able to play mp3s.  Let me setup what happened and how I came to this conclusion.

I decided to go back to FC3 to do some more messing with it…mainly because quite a few of the Lxer.com crew seem to LOVE FC3.  So…I install and have it up and running.  I mount my shared music drive and decide that I want some mood music while I mess with compiling a few things.  XMMS pops open and decides that mp3’s aren’t something it wants to play.  Here I thought of two things I could do.

  1. Convert all of my mp3s to .wavs immediately so that FC3 would be happy with it and play them.
  2. Find out what in the world was up with this and get a workaround

Now, if this were the review we’ve been building up to for the past couple of months…I’m afraid a new user would be more apt to replace my number 2 above with a “ditch Fedora Core 3″ and they’d be perfectly justifiable in doing so.  How many new users have even been to a forum before?  How many have asked for help?  If we’re shooting at being viable competition for Windows, we’ll need a distro that allows a person to operate WITHOUT GOING TO FORUMS or helplines.  It will need documentation available to it immediately after installation and it will need things as simple as listening to mp3s to work out of the box.

Snooping led me to a tips and tricks post on a forum that shows me a bunch more stuff I haven’t even run across that doesn’t work out of the box.  I wouldn’t be too concerned if they didn’t have to deal with really basic tasks such as playing music.  But alas, one cannot wish for too much out of a distro evidently.  Fedora came up majorly short in this department and I suspect that my wife will give up on it if she runs across this problem.  We’ll see what happens I guess 😛

Fedora Core 3. Polished?

I type this from Firefox 1.0 after updating FC3 via yum. Upon first booting FC3 I think there is a sense of eager anticipation…it is visually pleasing. This is a perfect second distro (I’ll explain further on in this post) but I don’t think it is a very wise choice for those crossing over into Linux for the first time. It’s bound to score low for mrs.devnet because there is quite a bit of configuration that is needed to get it up and running. The sound didn’t work out of the gate. I’m used to alsaconf…so I didn’t go into the menu’s right away to get the sound working. While I do like the organization that they have going on in the menu AND the ability to get your sound going by clicking on a menu option…I don’t like the fact that I am not able to run alsaconf if I want to. One other peeve is the fact that when I go to do a yum update via commandline…I have no gpg key set. It tells me to run rpm –import blahblah.key.gpg and when I do…it fails. This was annoying but the up2date gui is very nice and eliminated the need.

I’d say the worst part about things is that there are no plugins installed by default in the web browsers. Trying to install them…both fail automatic installs. Mrs.devnet would be stopped in her tracks right there. Any new user would be stopped in their tracks. They’d be about as inclined to try a manual install as they would to try and stick their fingers into a blender. So…while FC3 is visually pleasing with a fantastic install…I believe it to be more hype that anything. We’ll see how it stacks up when mrs.devnet gives it the test drive.

The Point is Click Linux; a managed theme…

I’ve decided to adapt a central theme for the distros category in this blog. I’m going to cycle through the 5 biggest ‘Point and Click’ distros and am going to do a quick 2 day assessment on each. After I get through all the distros, I am going to do a fresh install starting with the first one (whatever that may be) and I am going to have my wife, who is new to Linux, check out what she can do with each and which distro she feels is truly the most ‘Point and Click’ distro out there. Remember that it doesn’t matter what distro of Linux is used to most new users…they just want something that WORKS. They want to be able to browse the web, listen to music, and check email and if something is broke from the get go…they abandon it and go back to something that does work. So…we’ll be looking specifically at distros that work out of the box on a standard hardware and hard disk setup.

Here’s the list of distros I’ll be posting w/ screens on:

  1. Mandrake 10.1
  2. Libranet 2.8.1
  3. PCLinuxOS Preview 7
  4. SimplyMEPIS 2004.04
  5. Fedora Core 3

Some of you might be wondering why I don’t have ‘X’ distro listed in there. The reason is that I’m looking for the following criteria: 1. Full version is free 2. Noted by the Linux as very new user friendly 3. the distro’s not Ubuntu (REVISED: Ubuntu is now in the mix due to reader response).

As a past user of Ubuntu, I can tell you that it doesn’t hold a candle overall to any of the distros I’ll be investigating and will therefore NOT be included into this group. If you need Ubuntu snapshots and reviews…go google it and you’ll come up with at least 500 misguided ones. I suppose if there is any feedback about Ubuntu here I can probably give my two cents on it.

As I posted earlier, I recently installed Mandrake Linux 10.1. I was quite impressed with the default install and how it appeared. Now that I’ve had about a week to analyze it I can share some observations.

First and foremost, this OS is eyecandy. Everything looks and feels organized and soft. There aren’t any hard, right angled fonts, icons, or windows. You look at the desktop and get a sense of completeness. Â I can’t explain it any more than that. For appearance, Mandrake is hands down the most eye pleasing free distro available.

The second most noticeable thing is the organization of the menus. Everything has its place and there isn’t a ton of confusing menus to mess things up. For instance, with most KDE default installs on distros that don’t preconfigure them for you (i.e., slackware) you find ALL of the KDE menus intact. This means that when you go to the more applications link in the K-Menu, you find EVERY SINGLE APPLICATION INSTALLED. This makes the menu branch out and get quite confusing and frustrating. If one knows how to tweak this, it isn’t a problem. But for those that are just starting out in Linux, it’s very confusing.

I like the fact that it is very easy to configure the various aspects of your desktop and the settings. They have the menu organization down to a tee. I really think this is the way a Linux distribution should be after it is installed. It is simply KDE done right. You’d think with all of this going for it, Mandrake would rate high on my list…but remember, I’m thinking more along the lines of this distro being ready set go right out of the box. So it fell short on a few points.

The first place it falls short is package management. I realize that Mandrake is trying very hard to have a ‘package warehouse’ like that of Linspire and Xandros…but it falls very short. I tried to upgrade for any security holes numerous times without any success. Also, requiring the user to ‘register’ in order to receive said updates put me off somewhat. If I’m just installing an operating system…I want to accomplish my goals ASAP without adding my email address anywhere in order to accomplish them. So, I was a bit annoyed by this little detail. Perhaps they should make it so it asks on the 2nd update try.

The second place Mandrake falls short is configurability. I know many of you are going to hop all over me for saying this touting “It’s totally up to the individual to configure it” and you’re right…it is up to the individual. But what new user is going to know how to do this out of the box? If I were a new user, I’d be going to the Mandrake Control center for everything I needed…kinda like the Control Panel in WinDozeXP and I wouldn’t want to snoop around to find anything else. I know that this could be a ‘KDE’ or ‘Gnome’ thing depending on the OS…but you’d think that a distro that has developed as many custom menus and such for Linux would go the extra step and take ‘Y’ out of the equation…i.e. making it just one step easier to configure the look, feel, and styles of the desktop.

The last place Mandrake fell short for me was sound. I had no sound at the first boot. No probs I thought….I ran ‘alsaconf’ and pumped up the sound volume making sure it wasn’t muted. I tried the sound again with no go. So…no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the sound going without having to jump farther into the command line that I should have to with a distro such as this. Eventually I did get the sound going. It seems Mandrake detected my onboard sound as active even though it was deactivated in BIOS. Odd, because it is the only distro that has done so. However, I couldn’t ignore the fact that sound wasn’t good to go after a few intervening actions on my part.

Overall, I’d give Mandrake a thumbs up though. This is a pretty solid distro. I can’t wait to see how it fares with my wife. She is really good about checking into what programs can and can’t do and will really put these distros to the ‘new user’ test. As promised, I’ll cycle through each distro myself during the next couple of weeks and post my thoughts on it. Then at the end of this period, I’ll install one of the five listed at the beginning of this post and I’ll have a true new user come and check out each. I think sticking with a distro a week for her to test will be a good idea. That should give her enough time to truly ‘feel’ what it is like and decide for herself if it will get her stamp of approval. I consider this type of test MUCH more unbiased than one you’d read on some large new site…mainly because new users don’t do the reviews…and I’m sure you’d agree that having someone new to Linux take a look at a distro would provide some really interesting feedback.

Thanks for reading and stick with us…it looks to be very interesting.

PS: On the horizon…I’m uninstalling Mandrake 10.1 right now to look at SimplyMEPIS 2004.04. I should have initial reports back sometime in the next few days.