Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fedora 8 review by an Ubuntu Noob.

I've been Ubuntu Feisty and Gutsy and on 2 laptops and my desktop for about 6 months now, so I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I'm still very much a Linux noob. One that usually gets things done, but not without google and copy/pasting commands into the terminal that I sometimes.. roughly understand.. mostly. Or at least I think I do. Or so I pretend :)

Generally, I'm quite pleased with Ubuntu. Its my first real exposure to Linux, and while the transition from Windows (which I have been using since 3.1) wasn't always easy, the OS has grown on me. But since I only tried Ubuntu so far, I thought I'd give the brand new Fedora 8 a spin, and see how it compares and if it cures some of my unresolved Ubuntu headaches (especially ACPI on one of my machine).

note: this "review" is based on the 32bit Live CD. Things might be different when you use the DVD image.

Booting from the LiveCD

Like Ubuntu, Fedora now comes with a LiveCD, which is always a good way to quickly check it out. So I downloaded the ISO, burnt the DVD, and booted from it. Now here is a first surprise: immediately after selecting the DVD drive as boot drive, you get a graphical grub, with a nice looking Fedora logo.

I didn't know that was possible, Canonical, take note please. The options are limited, basically checking the CD for errors and booting/installing the OS, so I'm a bit less pleasantly surprised by the fact I don't get to select a language, keyboard layout, or even screen resolution.

I select to boot, the screen flickers a few times, and I get a nice, polished usplash screen with a progress bar. I am not entirely sure, but it looks even as it us running my native 1280x800 resolution.

Another subtile, but nice touch is the option to show the details of the bootprocess. This is something I always missed in Ubuntu. The booting process seems relatively fast, but as long as Im not booting from the harddrive, Im not ready to draw any conclusions on that yet.

The greeter once again looks stylish. Simple, but beautiful and professional looking. I'm also pleasantly surprised my 1280x800 laptop display is correctly configured. And here I have the option to select language but not yet the keyboard.. Oh, well, I log in as "fedora" by clicking on it.

First impressions

I get welcomed by a familiar looking GNOME desktop, that I could easily have mistaken for an Ubuntu installation with a blue theme. But some minor difference occur to me; there is a "computer" icon on the desktop, alongside icons for homefolder, trash, removable storage and a launcher for the installer. Menu items are slightly differently organized as in Ubuntu, a bit more logical perhaps. There is no Openoffice preinstalled (only Abiword), which is a bit of a bummer for a liveCD, but it has no real importance if you only want to test and install it.

Then it occured to me I didn't hear any "jingle" when I logged in... I check my sound, and as I feared, there is no sound. Turns out its the exact same issue Ubuntu has with this machine, and the way to control the volume is using the "surround" slider in the mixer, which is hidden by default. After turning that up, the sound works, but unlike with Ubuntu, the rotary volume dial at the front of my Acer notebook doesn't do anything. Neither do the multimedia buttons.

On the bright side, all the Fn keys seem to work to control display brightness, the touchpad works and even scrolls, WLAN and Bluetooth radio can be controlled with the correct buttons, my WLAN is recognized and works straight away, which is anything but a certainty with my Intel 4965AGN. Bluetooth works too, much better even than in Ubuntu. I had no problems setting up a bluetooth mouse, or associating the notebook with my windows smartphone, exchanging files with it etc. In Ubuntu it took some quite a bit more effort to get those things working properly.

Font rendering in Fedora is... different. Im not sure if its better or worse. GNOME menu items are clearly crisper, and easier to read, but in other places it looks slightly messy. For instance, check this zoomed image on firefox menu:

Its a bit weird to see the point on i being above the uppercase F in the word File. Zoomed out it looks like the text is warped. Shame really, because overall, Fedora's look is much more appealing to me than the default Ubuntu theme.

Time to see if Fedora improves on some of the issues Ubuntu struggles with on this particular machine: ACPI. To my surprise, by default there is no shutdown button on the gnome panel; you have to go through the "system" menu to shut it down or restart it. Hardly an issue, and its easy enough to add the "power" button, but still a bit silly IMHO.

Far worse is that there is no "suspend" option available. Only restart, shut down and hibernate:

After some googling I find that this is because I have an nVidia card, and the default "nv" driver causes many issues with suspend, so it is disabled. Fair enough, I will have to test this after installing the nvidia drivers, which is absolutely necassary anyway, as the "nv" drivers are truly agonizingly slow. Its painful to watch the screen dim in steps after a short while of inactivity, and it takes forever until the screen brightness is back to normal. It would have been better to leave this feature disabled without accelated graphics. As it is, it only serves to cause frustration and perhaps as a reminder that you have to install drivers.


I decide to take the plunge and install fedora, so I double click the installation icon. Finally, the installer ask me for my keyboard layout. Its not like I wouldn't have managed to change it gnome, but it would have been nice if I where asked earlier.

Next steps in the installer are not unlike installing any other OS, with the exception of partitioning disks, which is anything but intuitive. In fact, I'm very confused by it. Aside from the traditional hdaX and sdaX volumes it alo shows me "LVM volume groups" which apparently contain the other sdaX partitions although the size don't quite match.

I don't know what all that is. There is no help available either; I'll have to google on that later, but for now, I'll just hope its not important, and select the correct partition for root, swap and boot and I ignore the LVM stuff.

The graphical representation of the disk(s) is not helping either, the size is proportional and you can't zoom or anything, so a 3GB swap partition is simply invisible and impossible to select from the graphic, at least on a 120GB disk. One thing is for sure, gparted that ubuntu uses is certainly more userfriendly.

The next step, Im once again not too sure what to do: I'm asked wether and where to install Grub. the choices are limited to the /boot partition which I didnt have, or not installing it. Thing is, I already have grub (on sda1), but fedora's installer doesnt seem to be aware of that. Or is it ?

XP seems recognized and is added by default, Ubuntu is not. If I do install it, I fear I will lose my ability to boot Ubuntu (and maybe even XP), if I don't, will I be able to boot Fedora? Some help would be nice here as well, but once more, no help is available. Since I liked the graphical skin on grub :), and I want to be sure to be able to boot at least Fedora, I decide to let fedora install grub on /boot. Later it will turn out grub will let me boot XP, but I had to change the menu.lst manually to regain a working Ubuntu boot option.

The last steps are pretty straight forward and include setting up root password, timezone, network configuration, etc.

Installation itself is fast, very fast. I didn't measure it, but it was only a few minutes. Amazing actually. I don't think I ever installed an OS that fast. Or it must have been OS/2 Warp in a VM a couple of months back, but that doesn't really count ;)

First boot

(to be continued)

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