I have been using Fedora 7 for 2 weeks now and feel I’ve setup and configured almost all of the software and hardware as I would like. The following are my observations and assessments of this release.
Many people have complained that the methods for installing Fedora 7 (F7) were poorly thought out. There are 2 types of ISO’s available for download: Live Images and basic DVD Installs. The Live Images boot to a useable instance of Fedora in memory and provide a method to install the contents of the disk onto the drive. Similar to Knoppix and Ubuntu, but new for Fedora. The DVD install contains the basic set of software and is identical to previous releases.
There is however one major caveat: If you wish to install by CD-ROM you must use a LiveCD. Previously releases provided a multi-CD set which was identical to the contents of the DVD. This has been discontinued. Hence if you have installed via CD you will have to download a great deal more independently and a further limitation is that you cannot upgrade via Live Image.
To make matters worse the forums and mailing lists are flooded with people complaining about the inability to boot or improper detection of CD or DVD drives. I destroyed 1 DVD-RW and 2 DVD-R before I got K3b (in F7-Test release) to burn correctly. Even worse, the DVD kept “disappearing” during the initial steps of the install. However eventually it did finally make it all the way to installing.
Installation: Package Selection
Anaconda (Fedora’s installer) has not significantly changed since Fedora Core 6. The most significant change in F7 is that is merges the 2 main repositories: Core and Extras into one. That being said, one might expect significantly more software available on the DVD media. Quite the opposite, the DVD contained significantly less than previous releases (more later). I followed my common package selections and performed the install.
I was thrilled to find NTFS-3g included in the package selection. It is great to see NTFS read and write support out of the box – considering countless users dual-boot with Windows.
While I personally do not need an “Install Everything” option, I am greatly disappointed with the lack of any form of Disk Space Usage indication. The installer does count the number of packages (~1100) but that does not help much. In the end I installed about 4.0GB of from the 2.8GB DVD.
First Boot Startup: Smolt
Like previous releases, F7 does several setup steps upon the first boot. The most notable addition is the ability to use Smolt to provide Fedora developer a snapshot of the hardware details of your machine. While this may appear to be a privacy issue, I have seen many users on forums provide their smolt-id to help diagnose problems. This is incredibily better then having to ask for lspci output and similar redundant questions. The first boot has this disabled but does strongly encourage users to submit the information. While I have no personal problem with this, I wish more people with low-end systems would use Smolt!
Software Setup: Desktop
I logged into Gnome (default in Fedora) and went first to the terminal to begin my software customizations. I find it very annoying that the terminal has yet again been moved! This time again from “Accessories” to “System Tools”.
Other than the new background the only major attention grabbers were the login animated logo screen has been removed and the “Fast User Switching” shows up in Gnome. I should mention that this functionality has been in KDE for quite some time. The silly thing about it is that I only have 1 main user. Why would I want this enabled? It only shows my name. I added some other users but depending on how you add them it may have problems. For example: I manually added “User” who cannot login (set shell to /sbin/nologin), I do not think that account should show, but it did. Is this a “lets copy someone else without thinking things through”-feature? I don’t find much use for it.
One new feature included is the automatic creation of some commonly used directories: ‘Documents’, ‘Download’, ‘Mail’, ‘Music’, ‘Pictures’, ‘Public’, ‘Templates’ and ‘Videos’. By design if you delete them they come back – a feature by the name of xdg. The irony is not they come back but that no applications use them! Firefox downloads by default to the Desktop and not Downloads! Similar behavior can be seen in Multimedia applications and Mail applications.
Firefox 2 – while it really is not that new, Fedora Core 6 only had version 1.5 with no support for FF2. The disappointment I have with FF2 in F7 is that it kills my CPU. My Athlon-64 throttles the CPU from 1Ghz to 2.4Ghz (I use the CPU Frequency Scaling Monitor in Gnome). The problem is that EVERY SINGLE PAGE LOAD spikes the CPU to max 2.4Ghz – JUST to load the page. This happens for simple sites as well and also when I’m scrolling in FF2. I never saw this behavior in FF1.5 (or for that matter with FF2 in Windows). The browser seems to get worse with more tabs. I do not know if I should blame Mozilla, Fedora or GTK/Cairo/something-or-other-widget – either way I am very disappointed in the performance.
Considering the 2 main Fedora repositories Core and Extras were merged, there was not a considerable amount of new software included on the DVD. The inclusion of NTFS was nice, and KDE users would be happy to see Amarok included. But for the most part a great deal of default software was removed. Many of the compatibility libraries and related software were removed. I manually had to install: Vim X11, Thunderbird, GFtp, X-Chat and K3b. These were all previously included in Fedora. Why the change? While some exclusions are minor, I was surprised to see K3b removed from the installation media. This is a highly polished CD/DVD writer application.
Of all the exclusions on the default install, the one that will NOT be missed was Beagle. This is the (clumsy and quirky) desktop search application which consumes unnecessary CPU and Disk, but yet fails to work really well.
SELinux: Security Enhanced Linux
While not a major change some new utilities were added to better support SELinux – namely the SE Troubleshooter Applet. At first I found it helpful and used some of its reports to “fix” issues with files or options in SELinux. However the problem with it is that after a short time of using it, I became overwhelmed with the amount of warnings it provided. Many for things I did not realize I was running and many for very minor things that should not be restricted. An annoyance was that many times when I followed the “recommendation” to resolve the issue, it had no effect. Even though I always end up disabling SELinux, I was hoping this would help me leave it enabled. However it only re-enforced my opinion that I’m wasting my time with it.
YUM: Software Installation with Automatic Handling of Dependencies
A significant improvement was made to YUM. The time it takes to perform software installations (# yum install package) was reduced. It made the “yum experience” much more pleasant. However I was greatly disappointed to read that this comes with the price of higher system resources. Luckily I use YUM sparingly and keep track of every package I install.
Memory Consumption – I cannot be sure if this is the result of Fedora 7 or whether or not I had a memory hog running in Fedora Core 6 – BUT my memory consumption is incredibly lower in F7 than FC6. A few hours with F7 leaves about 1GB used and 1GB free (that’s free NOT cached), whereas the same time period in FC6 would leave about 1.9GB used and 100MB free. I don’t know the culprit, but with the exception of VMWare installation I have everything I had in FC6 installed in F7. Odd, but I’m not complaining.
The news surrounding the release mentioned notable improvements in wireless. However I am not able to test this. The biggest change I found was in the handling of drives. I do not know if it is related to the new libata features in the kernel, but countless people have problems with their CD-ROM’s or DVD-ROM’s – many during the installation (considering that FC5 and FC6 worked correctly on the same hardware). There are some reported issues with partitions and RAID system, etc – however I did not run into these either. While I had problems with the DVD-ROM I was able to resolve it. … As an opinion/comment – I am curious why so many more hardware quirks showed up with this release? Kernel? Library? Well, something new seems to be causing regressions – one of my greatest frustrations with Fedora in general.
ACPI – Power Management
Some improvements and changes were made to power management that would affect how Fedora handled Suspending and Resuming. While the changes are supposed to improve the experience for more people, some previously working suspend/resume functionality maybe quirky. At first I thought I was immune to this. I tested S3 – Suspend to RAM and it worked (with Nvidia) and S4 – Suspend to Disk failed (as expected with Nvidia). However after only a few days with suspend my USB system stopped resuming correctly at random times! I was forced to manually remove USB modules/drives using and reload them using modprobe. I thought I had seen the end to this in Fedora Core 4!
I think overall the installation was the worst part of Fedora 7, everything else seemed simple enough to work around. While I do feel a marginal speed improvement in the general feel of the operating system, I do not feel like there was a notable improvement over Fedora Core 6. The improvements to some applications such as YUM are welcome, but they really cannot excuse the new quirks (i.e. ACPI).
My basic view of improvement when it comes to a new release is that it should take less time to setup everything and that setup should be done with more ease. In this case that did NOT happen.
Unless there is some immediate need for something new in Fedora 7 (which does not apply to many people), I think people should either wait to upgrade from FC6 or just hold off for Fedora 8. In the meanwhile Ubuntu or OpenSuse look nicer everyday. I do not mean to dismiss the great deal of hardware put into the infrastructure for Fedora, but frankly this release just lacked some much needed quality.