Saving the "Best" for Last - Fedora 12 (Constantine)

It's been quite a wave of new Linux distributions over the past month or so, but with the release of Fedora 12 (Constantine) this week, we have finally made it through. I have intentionally chosen what is likely to be a controversial title this time, but the basis for my choice is rather simple.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

It's been quite a wave of new Linux distributions over the past month or so, but with the release of Fedora 12 (Constantine) this week, we have finally made it through. I have intentionally chosen what is likely to be a controversial title this time, but the basis for my choice is rather simple. Fedora 12 is the only one of this series of releases which has loaded successfully on absolutely every computer I own. So rather than waste my time and yours on "yet another Fedora 12 review", I'll simply say that if you want good, authoritative information, I would recommend the Fedora Project Documentation, and if you are looking for an overview of the highlights of the new release, complete with pictures, have a look at the excellent Fedora 12 One Page Release Notes".

The Fedora 12 distribution is available in 32- and 64-bit versions, and with the Gnome or KDE desktop. It also offers a variety of other desktops as installable packages, including Xfce, Moblin, and a variety of others. I have initially installed only the Gnome version, but both the 32- and 64-bit versions on different computers, as noted below. Unlike the unhappy experience with the Fedora 11 distribution, there are no problems or restrictions with installing from the LiveCD. Installation is amazingly fast - you really have to try it for yourself to believe it - and there are relatively few questions to be answered during the installation. Once installed, Fedora 12 boots fairly quickly (between 30 seconds and a minute on my systems), and shuts down very quickly - and without imposing a silly, irritating 60-second delay.

That's it for the "review" details. If you really want a good idea of what Fedora 12 looks like, I strongly recommend the One Page Release Notes mentioned above. That not only gives an excellent overview of the new release, it also gives you a good idea of what the developers themselves are most proud of. What I will do now is give a "scorecard" of how installation of the various releases went on some of my systems:

- Fujitsu Lifebook S6510: This is really a very ordinary laptop by today's standards, with an Intel Core2 Duo CPU and associated chips for graphics and WiFi. One distribution managed to "get it wrong", though - Mandriva 2010. For some reason the xorg.conf file they generated for it during the installation was wrong, and the console came up at 1024x768 instead of 1280x800. All I had to do was delete that file, and everything was then fine both during and after installation. I installed 64-bit distributions on this system.

- ASUS N10J: This should be a pretty typical netbook, with an Intel Atom 270 CPU and associated chips (as long as I don't switch on the nVidia graphic controller). So once again, I expected this one to be "easy", but once again, one distribution got it wrong. Surprisingly, that was Ubuntu, on which the installation program (ubiquity) consistently crashed near the end of the installation, leaving the installation functional but incomplete, and incorrectly configured. I stumbled across a "work-around" for this, by turning on the nVidia card during installation. Once the installation finished successfully, it would then run perfectly well with either the nVidia or Intel graphic adapter active. I installed 32-bit distributions on this one.

- HP Pavillion dv2-1010ez: I consider this one to be a bit more "unusual", because it has an AMD Athlon Neo CPU, an ATI Radeon HD graphic controller, and an Atheros 9k WiFi adapter. To my surprise, every one of the distributions installed on it with absolutely no problems. Go figure. I installed 64-bit distributions on this one.

- Fujitsu-Siemens Lifebook S2110: This is now an "old" laptop. I also expected it to have some problems, because it has an AMD Turion 64 CPU, an ATI Radeon X200 graphic controller, and an Atheros 3k WiFi adapter. In fact, only one distribution had a problem with it, and that was openSuSE, which just basically failed miserably. When I tried the 64-bit distribution, I couldn't even get the LiveCD to boot properly, and when I tried the 32-bit distribution the LiveCD booted ok and seemed to install normally, but when I try to boot the installed system, it hangs about 8 times out of 10. I still haven't been able to figure out where the problem is. I installed 64-bit distributions on this one.

- HP 2133 Mini-Note: This little guy is still my favorite, but it really does tend to be a problem for a lot of distributions. It has a VIA C7-M CPU and Chrome 9 graphic adapter and a 1280x768 display, both of which can be tricky, and a Broadcom 4312 WiFi adapter, which can be a royal pain. It turned out that I was pleasantly surprised at how well the new distributions did on it. They all at least installed and started up normally. The only one that had significant problems was openSuSE, which gets the display wrong (1024x768) because it is not using a VIA Chrome-specific driver, and doesn't have a suitable Broadcom WiFi driver. With previous releases I was able to get around the WiFi problem by using the install_bcm43xx_firmware script, but when I do that with this release openSuSE becomes very unstable, and hangs the first time I move the mouse after login. Also with previous releases I was able to install the openchrome driver from the openSuSE Software Build Service, and thus get the console right, but that package isn't in the Build Service for 11.2 yet, and when I installed the version listed for the "Factory" distribution, openSuSE again became very unstable, and strange things started happening like audio volume levels suddenly shooting up so high that I through it might blow out the built-in speakers. Fedora also does not include the Broadcom WiFi driver, but it does have the b43-fwcutter utility, so it didn't take much effort to install the b43 driver myself, and it then worked just fine. Likewise, Ubuntu does not include a Broadcom driver in the base distribution, but after the installation it offers a choice of downloading and installing either the b43 or STA driver. The b43 driver seems to cause the 2133 to hang, though, so I have only been able to get it to work properly with the STA driver. Hmmm. I guess that means that the only distribution which really installed completely "out of the box" and works properly on the 2133 was Mandriva!

- Dual Atom MiniServer: This is the one I assembled myself, with a Dual Atom 330 CPU and associated chip set, and no WiFi. All four of the distributions installed on this system with no problems, no drivers missing or needing to be added after installation, everything just went very smoothly. Too bad they all didn't go this easily.

So, of the four "major" distributions over the past month (Ubuntu 9.10, Mandriva 2010, openSuSE 11.2 and Fedora 12), the only one that didn't crash, hang or otherwise misbehave on at least one of my laptop/netbook/nettop systems was Fedora.

Of course, there is plenty more fun to come yet. New releases of Linux Mint and SimplyMEPIS are already on the horizon, and I don't think it will be long before there is another PCLinuxOS release, too. The fun never stops in the Linux world!

jw 20/11/2009

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