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SUSE Rocks, Fedora Locks

Nicholas Petreley

Issue #146, June 2006

Welcome to the 20th century of usability, Fedora Core 5. Too bad this is the 21st.

I hope you'll forgive me if I can't make good on the name of this column 100% of the time this month, because I will be including a few raves in this rant. I'll start with SUSE 10.0. I have been working on a SUSE 10.0 review for what seems like forever. The way things have been going, SUSE 11.0 probably will ship by the time I'm done.

If you read my rant from last month, you'll know I've upgraded to a dual-core AMD64 machine. I had to reinstall SUSE 10.0 on this new machine to continue my work on the review. I was tempted to call Novell and ask for the AMD64 version of SUSE 10.0, but I went ahead and installed SUSE from the DVD that came in the box they sent. Much to my surprise and delight, it installed an AMD64 version of SUSE. It was only after it installed the 64-bit version that I examined the box carefully. Sure enough, in fine print (at least it's fine print to my 53-year-old eyes), it says that the box includes multiple versions of SUSE, including the AMD64 version.

It gets better. SUSE includes Sun Java 1.5, and the 64-bit version of Firefox can actually use it. I had to kludge a 32-bit version of Firefox on Kubuntu in order to get Java working as a plugin.

I don't want to spend much more time waxing rhapsodic over SUSE, lest I include too much rave in this rant. But although there are a few things I don't like about SUSE 10.0, I would have no trouble recommending it to virtually anyone. I confess, I have never liked SUSE in the past. This version has changed my opinion entirely.

As of a few days before this writing, the final version of Fedora Core 5 became available. I downloaded and installed the AMD64 version. It won't boot. Why? Because Fedora Core configures the GRUB bootloader to boot the partition labeled /. As it happens, I have about three partitions with that same label. I boot the Kanotix live CD, edit the GRUB configuration and /etc/fstab to point to the actual partition, and now Fedora boots.

What is it with the Fedora people that they feel compelled to use disk labels instead of partition device names? I realize that this won't be a problem for the average user who uses only Fedora and no other distribution of Linux. But then again, the average user isn't likely to move Fedora to another partition or change the order of drives either, so the advantages of using disk labels will be lost on them. If the Fedora folks are bent on using disk labels, they could at least label the root partition something unique and identifying, like FC564ROOT for the AMD64 version and FC532ROOT for the i386 version.

I'll save you the rant on how disappointed I was with the 64-bit version as a desktop and tell you I decided to go with Fedora Core 5 i386 instead.

This time I edit the GRUB and /etc/fstab files after the installation finishes so it will boot the first time. As has been the case for years of using Red Hat distributions, it gets hung up on starting Sendmail about half the time. Surely I can't be the only person who has experienced this? Why does this problem still exist? Why does Fedora even install Sendmail? There have been superior alternatives for years.

Kudos to Fedora for finally including a software package manager that lets you install packages other than the ones they want you to use. It would be nicer if it was even remotely intuitive, but then the Fedora folks are GNOME lovers, so making it intuitive would violate the GNOME specification. It would be even nicer if the software updater didn't run so slow that I always assume it is simply frozen and kill it. I always fall back to yum update, but even the command-line version of Yum doesn't run, it crawls. Slowly.

The good news about Fedora Core 5 is that it not only includes SELinux (NSA Security Enhanced Linux), but it is preconfigured and enabled by default. It also makes it easy to configure SELinux policies. I love this. If SELinux is important to you, Fedora may be your bag.

But here's my big beef aside from the bonehead disk label problem and other nuisances. Why are the Fedora folks so anal about licenses? There's no Sun Java in Fedora. There's no Flash plugin. I can almost excuse the maintainers for leaving these things out, but Fedora makes no effort at all to make it a no-brainer to add them. How many of you out there really don't want your browser to be able to support Java or Flash? Aren't you going to add these things anyway? So why not make it easy? Ubuntu/Kubuntu makes it easy, and these distros are based on Debian, the most license-anal distro on the planet.

Bottom line—if you're already a Fedora fan, you'll want Core 5. If you use anything else, now's not the time to switch.

Nicholas Petreley is Editor in Chief of Linux Journal and a former programmer, teacher, analyst and consultant who has been working with and writing about Linux for more than ten years.

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