Review: Fedora 9 Preview
Yesterday the Fedora Project released a "Preview" of Fedora 9. Today Ubuntu released a "Release Candidate" for 8.04 "Hardy Heron" and the openSUSE team released openSUSE 11.0 Beta 1. Since my preferred Linux distribution for the desktop is Fedora, I've been keeping up with all of the test releases. What follows is some commentary about my experiences with the Fedora 9 Preview including an image gallery. I'd like to encourage MontanaLinux users of other distros to write up their experiences with their preferred distributions.
Fedora 9 Preview - the media
Some time ago the Fedora Project decided to follow Ubuntu's lead... and started offering a number of single LiveCDs. They offer a GNOME-based LiveCD as well as a KDE-based one. Since the Fedora Project decided to focus on making it easy for anyone in the community to create their own "spins" a number of other LiveCDs have cropped up including one that is XFCE-based. I downloaded the GNOME LiveCD, the KDE LiveCD, and the DVD media which is NOT a Live media. Since my home computers have 2GB of RAM or less, I just use the i386 flavor rather than the x86_64.
My preferred desktop environment is KDE but I do use a mix of GNOME applications too. One of the things I don't like about the single LiveCD approach is that you have to choose a single desktop environment and as a result you don't get any of the applications available from the other desktop environments. So on the KDE LiveCD, you don't have GIMP or Firefox. Since there isn't a whole lot of room, some of the larger apps have to be scrapped for their lighter footprint alternatives... so on the GNOME LiveCD you get Abiword and Gnumeric rather than OpenOffice.org. If you do a disk install you can certainly install all of the additional applications and desktop environments your heart desires post-install. I generally prefer the DVD (that is for installation only) because with its larger size it provides a number of desktop environments and applications. I did try out each of the three media I downloaded. The LiveCDs I booted as virtual machines with VirtualBox. I installed the DVD release on the Linux side of my wife's computer... which I use mostly for testing.
If you haven't tried out KDE 4.0.x yet, it is quite interesting. Using the KDE LiveCD is a good way to try it out. I'm not really going to cover what's new in KDE 4 as that would be a lengthy review all in itself.
There wasn't anything unexpected from the GNOME LiveCD. It's GNOME 2.22 and includes Firefox 3 beta 5.
The DVD install went smoothly. I used my existing partitions so I did not try out the new partition resizing features which supposedly includes the ability to resize both Linux partitions as well as Windows NTFS partitions non-destructively. I also did NOT try out the new ability to create and use enctrypted filesystems for everything except the /boot partition. I picked to alter the package selection and added all of the desktop environments and additional applications that are included on the DVD. The result was a combination of the LiveCDs. I used the update applet to install a handful of updates that have been released since the media was finalized. I also used the new PackageKit application to install some additional software. It all worked well.
The new theme and desktop background takes a little getting used to. At first I didn't like it but it grew on me quite quickly.
There are a ton of new features but I'm only going to mention a few that were really interesting to me. For a complete list of what's new in Fedora 9 see their Release Notes wiki page. There is a lot there and it is well documented. I strongly recommend that if you are interested in Fedora 9 you read through every section of the Release Notes although when the final version is released (pushed back 2 weeks to May 13th), the Preview Release Notes will surely be replaced so if the link is broken, fish around for the updated/current Release Notes.
LiveUSB with persistant data
One new feature that I am excited about is the LiveUSB with persistant data. While the ability to create a LiveUSB stick from the LiveCD media has been a feature of Fedora for a while, the ability to have persitant data is new. For more info on that, see the interview with Jeremy Katz in Red Hat Magazine. I originally thought that the persistant data feature was only for user data but as it turns out it applies to the complete system... so not only can you store your documents... but you can also install updates, new applications, create accounts, and save settings. There is nothing special you have to do... it works just like a hard drive would.
The USB thumbdrive I used was a 2GB drive and when I created the LiveUSB setup from the GNOME LiveCD image I created a 1200MB persistant data area. The creation process only took a few minutes. When it was ready, I plugged it into my wife's computer. Her machine is a couple of years old and some older computers do not have the ability to even boot from USB but after a few BIOS setting changes, I was booting from the LiveUSB media.
Boot time seemed to be about the same as from hard drive... USB 2 is pretty darn fast. The first thing I did was create an account and then login as the new user. I also set a root password. Then I upgraded the system and added a lot more software. Everything worked as expected. One of the updates happened to be a new kernel. Since the LiveUSB was created from the LiveCD media, it inherits the bootloader setup from it which happens to be syslinux. I'm very familiar with grub but not so much with syslinux. One thing that is obvious with syslinux is that it offers a better color depth for its splash images. Rebooting the system after upgrading the kernel, I didn't see the new kernel on the boot menu and in fact it did not boot the newer kernel. So at this time I'm not sure how you update the kernel with syslinux. I'm sure it is doable, I'm just not familiar with the process.
Oddly enough on my 2GB thumbdrive I had about 1.9GB of free space. How that is possible I'm not sure but that is what it said. I removed Abiword and Gnumeric and installed OpenOffice.org. The new PackageKit is different and takes a little getting used to but it works quite well. All in all I was very impressed with the LiveUSB setup and look forward to trying it on additional machines. I'd like to get a 4GB or 8GB thumbdrive and install a lot more software.
FreeIPA is forward looking
FreeIPA is an integrated security information management solution combining Linux (Fedora), Fedora Directory Server, MIT Kerberos, NTP, DNS. It consists of a web interface and command-line administration tools. Currently it supports identity management with plans to support policy and auditing management.
This is the first release of FreeIPA so it currently isn't feature complete but they do have a roadmap. This sounds a lot like a Linux alterative to Microsoft's Active Directory although it is NOT trying to be a clone of Active Directory. As you would expect it is powered by a number of server applications including Fedora Directory Server.
I was suprised at the polish of the Fedora 9 Preview release... but as mentioned I didn't try several of the more tricky new features (partition resizing during the install and encrypted partitions). A lot of distro reviews are filled with note after note about the specific hardware the reviewer is using and how well the hardware support went. The machines I use have been around a couple of years and have no challenging hardware (I'm NOT using wireless) so I really don't have anything to report regarding lack of hardware support. Since I booted the LiveCD images under VirtualBox, which presents fairly generic hardware, there isn't much challenge there.
I look forward to the final release and I also hope to enjoy the LiveUSB with persistant data on a variety of hardware as time progresses. I will probably create a custom spin LiveDVD using the tools Fedora provides and then convert that into a LiveUSB with peristant data so I have all of the apps I want without too much trouble.
All of the screenshots are below. They were taken from the Gnome LiveCD and the KDE LiveCD running in VirtualBox. Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version in a popup window.