Ferocious Fedora 20 review: Cutting edge Linux still as sharp as ever

If you want to a bleeding edge desktop or server Linux, then Fedora is the Linux distribution for you. If you want to play it safe, try something else.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

If you want an easy to use Linux for grandpa, check out Ubuntu. If you want to just use your computer without any learning curve what-so-ever and no security worries, get a Linux-powered Chromebook. But, if you want to get your hands deep into Linux's bleeding edge, then what you want is the latest Fedora release: Fedora 20, Heisenbug.

Fedora 20
Fedora 20 with the GNOME 3.10 interface is today's cutting edge Linux distribution.

While Heisenbug — programmer jargon for a bug that disappears or changes behavior when you try to isolate it — uses the newest-of-the-new open-source programs it's not hard to set up. Its installation program, Anaconda, as J. A. Watson shows in his step by step Anaconda walk-through, is very easy to use. If you've setup a computer from a DVD or USB stick before, you'll have no trouble with Fedora 20.

Fedora 20: Hands on with five different desktops

You also get your choice of supported desktops. Heisenbug comes with spins for GNOME, KDE, Xfce, LXDE and MATE. You can, of course, if you're a real Linux pro, add your own desktop. Cinnamon, for example, is my Linux desktop interface of choice. GNOME 3, as it has been for years, is Fedora's most polished interface.

Regardless of the desktop, under it you'll find the X Window System instead of its new Wayland display server. There is an experimental version of Wayland in Fedora 20, which will support the GNOME desktop, but the production version of Wayland won't show up until Fedora 21 ships in 2014.

Despite what some people might have you believe, the war over what displayer manager will replace X Window isn't over yet, and Wayland isn't the winner. Ubuntu's Mir is still in the fight. While casual users won't care, there aren't that many of them using Fedora. Fedora is for Linux power-users and it's firmly in the Wayland camp. Which one will eventually become the default Linux desktop display manager will be decided in 2014 as both projects mature. 

Under the graphics, you'll find the 3.11.10 Linux kernel. Red Hat, Fedora's parent company, has also bundled in Ruby on Rails 4.0, Perl 5.18, and GNU C Library 2.18 for the programmers that are Fedora's main audience.

All that's well and good, but the real proof of any operating system is how well it works. I'm pleased to report that Fedora 20 works very well indeed.

I tried it on my Dell XPS 8300. This powerhouse desktop comes with a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor. It also has 8GBs of RAM, a 2-TB hard drive, and an AMD/ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics card. I also used it on a Lenovo ThinkPad T520 laptop. This notebook boasts a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 Processor, 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor. On these systems it zipped along.

You don't need that kind of power to run Fedora 20. Fedora claims that Fedora 20 will run with as little as a 1Ghz processor, 1GB of RAM, and a 10GB hard drive. I don't know about that, but I do know that on a 1GB VirtualBox virtual machine, which was in turn running on a 2007 vintage Dell Inspiron 530S with 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor, it was still quite usable.

While you can download all matter of Linux end-user software for Fedora, its default applications are familiar ones: LibreOffice for the office suite, Firefox for the Web browser, and Evolution for the e-mail client.

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I looked mostly at Fedora's desktop features, but really the more interesting new developments are in the cloud and virtualization space. These include support for Logical Volume Manager (LVM) Thin Provisioning, which enables you to configure thin clients during the operating system installation and VM Snapshot UI with virt-manager, which gives you the power to easily make virtual machines snapshots. Useful to Joe User? No. Useful for system administrators. Yes, yes indeed.

Well they'd be useful if they worked. The LVM thin client provisioning doesn't work today. In fact, there's a known bug that makes this “feature” a bug that will lock up your computer. For now, don't even bother to try to set up LVN thin clients.

I also ran straight into another known networking bug: The firewall blocks all access to Server Message Block (SMB) Windows/Samba file-sharing. Fedora seems closer to a fix for this one. For now if you, like me, share a lot of drives via Windows Servers, Linux-based Samba servers, and network-attached storage (NAS), you may want to avoid turning on the firewall.

Last, but not least, while I haven't seen it documented in the Fedora bug list, users have been finding trouble using the IPv6 networking protocol with Fedora.

Remember what I said at the beginning of this review about how Fedora was a bleeding edge distribution? This is the kind of stuff I meant.

Yes, you do get to use the newest of the new, but often that means you get to discover the newest bugs too. If you're not willing to deal with that fact, find another distribution. If you're ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty with the latest code, then welcome to Fedora. You''ll love it.

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