Fedora 15's five best features

Red Hat's latest community Linux desktop distribution, Fedora 15, is now out and it wasn't for GNOME 3.0, I'd love it.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Fedora Linux not for everyone. If you're an experienced Linux user who wants an easy-to-use desktop Linux, I recommend Mint 11. If you're new to Linux and just want something that's easy to pick up and use, I think you should give Ubuntu 11.04 a try. But, if you're a Linux expert, and want to explore the outer limits of what's possible with Linux, then Red Hat's new Fedora 15 Linux is the distribution for you.

Why? Well, here are my five favorite reasons to use Fedora 15. I'm going to start though with one reason I don't care for this release of Fedora. Let's call this one: Feature 0.

0) The GNOME 3 desktop environment

GNOME 3 claims to be the "the next generation of GNOME with a brand new user interface. It provides a completely new and modern desktop that has been designed for today's users and technologies." It's not.

First, did we really need a "completely new desktop?" I don't think so. I quite liked GNOME the 2.x series. It worked well for me and I didn't need to learn anything new to use it. I get the point of Ubuntu's Unity, which is a radically different shell that rides on top of GNOME. Unity is meant for Windows and Mac users who've never used Linux It's also clearly designed to eventually become a tablet interface. When I look at GNOME though what I see is change just for the sake of change not change for greater end-user usability.

The idea of GNOME 3 was to get rid of clutter OK, I can see that, but in doing it GNOME's designers had made GNOME less usable For example, in shifting from one project to another in your workspace you need to use the dashboard as a window management interface For me, this is like having to stop my car to shift gears That by itself is so annoying that I quickly stopped using GNOME 3.0.

I also found miss each windows' minimize and maximize buttons. You can still minimize and maximize application windows, but what used to be an automatic action now wastes time. Finally, GNOME makes it very hard indeed to tweak your desktop. There's no easy way to even set up a screen saver! I mean seriously, I have to do something like:

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface gtk-theme 'Clearlooks'

from a shell just to change my desktop theme?


GNOME 3 Failure: I saw this message far too many times.

It also doesn't help any that GNOME 3 won't run on basic graphics hardware. You need just the right mix of graphics and graphic drivers to get it to work. On my systems, I was only able to get one to work by using the Radeon driver for an older ATI graphics card.

In short, GNOME 3.0 is new but for users it's a step backward. Fedora 15 is the first major distribution to include GNOME 3 by default. That was a mistake. Like Fedora 4 in its first not ready for prime time versions, GNOME 3 is not what most users want from a desktop. As for me, I'm sticking with GNOME 2.32, with occasional visits to KDE 4.6.

Now that I've got that out of my system, here's what I like about Fedora 15.

Page 2: [5 Good Things about Fedora 15] »

5 Good Things about Fedora 15

1) Better power management

Desktop Linux has never done a great job of laptop battery management. Fortunately, Linux doesn't drink up that much power so it usually ends up with decent battery life anyway. But, Fedora 15 redesigned power management utilities give it better battery life than other Linuxes.

I checked this by running Intec Battery Mark 1.1 on Windows XP in a VirtualBox virtual machine on my Lenovo ThinkPad R61 with its 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500 and 2GBs of RAM. With Mint 11, my six-cell battery lasted an hour and fifty-seven minutes. That's pretty darn good for a three-year old battery.

With Fedora 15, though, it made it to 2 hours and ten minutes, which is pretty darn close to what it used to do when it was brand new. Anything that gives me 10% better battery life is a major win in my book.

2) Better End-User Software

Like most up-to-the-minute Linux distributions, Fedora uses LibreOffice in place of OpenOffice, as its office suite. LibreOffice, while an OpenOffice fork is better thought of as an improved version of OpenOffice. It looks the same, works the same, but it's also faster, has many minor bug fixes and has far better Microsoft Office file format compatibility. Last, but not least, since Oracle will no longer be putting any resources into OpenOffice, LibreOffice is the most significant open-source office suite yet that's still being actively developed.

Firefox 4 in Fedora 15 worked just fine.

Firefox 4 in Fedora 15 worked just fine.

In addition, Fedora includes Firefox 4, which is certainly better than the older Firefox 3.x series. On the other hand, I would have been happier if it had used Chrome 11. But, no worries, this is Linux. Installing Chrome and making it my default browser took me less time to do than it did to write this paragraph.

3) Dynamic Firewall

OK, this is a beta feature so you have to manually install it and only network administrators are likely to find it that exciting, but I--who sometimes still wears his network administrator hat--think that it has great potential.

Like its name suggest dynamic firewall enables you to change firewall settings without needing to restart the firewall. So, for example, you can set the firewall to change its rules, as needed for virtual machines or Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

You can also use it to open up the firewall for a specific network request, such as discovering a local printer or a Windows server, and then closing down the port once you're done with that procedure. This has got real possibilities and I like it already. If all goes well, it will become the default firewall in Fedora 16 and eventually in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)

4) Virtual Desktop Support

Slowly, but surely, Simple Protocol for Independent Computing Environments (SPICE)virtual desktops are coming to Red Hat. In Fedora 15, SPICE has been integrated into the virtualization manager, virt-manager.

Since Red Hat future desktops plans center on virtual desktops, presumably running on Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM), I find this very interesting. I also found that you can finally set up speedy SPICE virtual desktops without tweaking configuration files by hand.

5) RPM 4.9.0 Package Manager

RPM 4.9.0, Fedora and RHEL's software manager has been given a real tune-up. It's now easier than ever to install software on Fedora .For more on that see the RPM 4.9.0 release notes. The bottom line is that RPM does a much better job of handling any RPM package that you try to install on your system.

There are many other neat features as well such as security improvements in handling common Security Enhanced Linux (SELinux) problems with an easy to use GUI and improved encrypted home directory support. And then there's the BoxGringer image and virtual machine (VM) creator, and, at long, long last, a built-in consistent and sane network device naming system.

Now if they would only do something with GNOME 3! Or, better still, the GNOME 3 designers brought back some of its more end-user friendly bits and bites I'd be perfectly happy with Fedora.

Related Stories:

Put on your new Red Hat Linux

Red Hat-IBM pact, OVA launch will drive more KVM use in enterprise

Red Hat's Future Linux Desktop

Big Blue plus Red Hat plus Private Cloud equals Purple Reign?

Red Hat, Eucalyptus, Rackspace leading open source IaaS charge

Editorial standards