It seems like a million moons ago that Red Hat announced the demise of Red Hat Linux in favor of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and embraced the Fedora project as the testing ground for its commercial releases. Last week marked the 13th Fedora release in nearly seven years, so the new paradigm must be working well, even though the Linux landscape is vastly different now.
At its inception, Fedora was basically a really good idea: It brought a wealth of well-written and well-tested third-party software to a stodgy, yet stable Red Hat-based distribution. It proved such a success that it became one of the major desktop Linux distributions.
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I used Fedora as my main workstation operating system from Core 1 through Fedora 7, but switched to CentOS around that time due to the need for extreme stability. I still run CentOS on my big box but decided to take a look at the new Fedora to catch up on what I've been missing. After all, as Fedora goes, so goes Red Hat Enterprise Linux and, somewhere down the line, CentOS.
The installer has been modified and is somewhat friendlier, and the default installation types are a bit odd -- Desktop and Web server. But then again, like Ubuntu, Fedora isn't really meant to be a server OS.
The installation was quick and painless, and the subsequent reboot was extremely fast and clean -- from POST screen to login screen within 10 seconds. Not shabby at all.
As far as the operating system itself goes, lots of time has been spent on sanding down rough edges rather than adding core functionality, which shows that the project has reached a certain level of maturity. As with most Linux distributions, the core of the OS is solid, but the desktop/GUI tools have been a letdown when they don't work correctly. It seems the Fedora group has been concentrating on cleaning up those elements to improve the overall experience.
There are no significant layout differences in the Gnome 2.30-based default installation, though behind the scenes there have been plenty of fixes and additions, such as enhanced DisplayPort support in Nvidia and ATI graphics cards. You'll also notice improvements at the UI level, such as better Webcam support, integration of the GNOME Color Manager, and BlueTooth DUN (dial-up networking) support in the Network Manager applet.
But underneath the GUI, Red Hat has made other changes: ext4 is the default filesystem, NFSv4 is the default NFS protocol version, and NFSv4 is now supported over IPv6. In addition, Red Hat has enhanced the KVM virtualization framework and updated core components like the RPM (Red Hat Package Manager) subsystem.
One very compelling addition to Fedora is the boot.fedoraproject.org thin installation framework. This takes a page from boot.kernel.org and is essentially a long-distance PXE install option using gPXE that requires only a tiny image file to be booted on a system; the install commences from remote package sources. The image file will contact remote servers for version information, so you won't need to update the image file even as newer Fedora releases become available -- they'll appear in the available install list. The hope is to eliminate the need for DVD ISO image downloads to reduce bandwidth costs and speed up the installation time for new users.
All in all, Fedora 13 is a clean and fast Linux desktop distribution. You can certainly use it for server tasks, but there's little benefit in going that route versus CentOS or another server-centric OS. Fedora has always been cutting edge, taking advantage of the newest versions of an enormous number of installed packages (over 1,500 in the default install). In contrast, Red Hat Enterprise Linux is more staid, with a significantly longer release cycle, and thus more stable. I don't know that I'll be cutting over from CentOS just yet, since my main workstation is as stable as the Andes, but Fedora 13 makes a compelling case for a workstation rebuild.