Fedora 7 (Moonshine) Review

Finally after many months of it being available I am able to sit down and install the latest version of Fedora, not Fedora Core, simply Fedora. The Fedora group decided to ditch the “Core” and “Extras” versions of Fedora and focus their attention on one version. I think it’s a great idea because it’s a lot less confusing.

The other day I was able to run the LiveCD of Fedora 7 and I was extremely impressed with it’s speed. Earlier this year was the last time I had Fedora installed directly onto my computer. I later removed it because I was unable to get my video card to work. I hope that is something that I can get to work this time. Since then I’ve been using Fedora in a virtual environment. I have several projects coming that will require as much performance as I can get and I’d like to have Fedora installed directly onto the computer so I can get that performance. If the LiveCD is any indication of the performance of the latest version, I think I will be happy, at least I hope so.

Installation

The installation is a fairly standard affair. Not a whole lot has changed, just new graphics in the graphical installer. I had to reboot the installation wizard once when I was configuring my hard drive partitions. I hope that isn’t an indication that I’m going to have problems. Also, hard drives are no longer recognized as “hda1”, “hda2”, they are now recognized as SCSI drives and are labeled “sda1”, “sda2” and so on. The rest of the wizard is pretty much the same as it was in Fedora Core 5 & 6. There aren’t any new applications to report in the applications section of the installation wizard, none that I can tell other than the name change of “GAIM” to “Pidgin.”

The installation of Fedora 7 went pretty quickly, I didn’t have it install anything other than the standard packages. When you reboot and get to the “First Boot” configuration wizard there is a new section that allows you to send a profile of your hardware to the Fedora developers. I highly recommend doing this so they can make Fedora run on more hardware and better.

I am pleased with the installation of Fedora. I am very pleased that I did not have a headache to deal with as far as the video card goes. I am disappointed in that the drivers that were used do not allow me to enable the fancy desktop effects. Although I prefer Fedora, I think this is something that Ubuntu has done a really nice job of. The last time I had Ubuntu on my system it asked me if I wanted to install non-supported drivers for my graphics card, which I did, once I had installed them I was able to use Beryl. I am sure I could install the proper Nvidia drivers on Fedora and I might sometime, but I don’t want to break my system, just yet.

I was also pleased when I rebooted out of Linux and back into Windows and did not receive any error messages. This is usually the case but you never know what might happen with a new version.

Speed of Fedora 7

As I mentioned previously, I ran the Fedora 7 Live CD the other day and was extremely impressed by the speed of the Live CD. Normally Live CD’s are pretty slow. I am pleased to note that Fedora 7 is just as speedy when installed directly onto the computer. It definitely feels a lot faster than Fedora Core 5 & 6.

I also feel as though browsing the Internet is significantly faster. I’ve always felt as though browsing the Internet on Linux, any distribution, is faster than browsing the Internet on Windows or the Mac but it feels even faster on Fedora 7. My video blog seems to just pop right up, but on Windows it takes several seconds for everything to fully load.

Fast User Switching

A new feature in Fedora 7 is fast user switching. This is something that has been available in other distributions for a long time now and it’s nice to see in Fedora.

Package Manager

Once you get Fedora installed you can add more applications by clicking the “Add/Remove Software” menu item under “Applications.” There are a whole lot more applications available once you get Fedora installed. The reason they do this is that they can’t include everything on the DVD so once you get the system installed you can choose to install them then, but you’ll have to be connected to the Internet to do it. There are a lot of things to choose from, games, educational tools, engineering and scientific software. Some of the applications may look confusing, just read the description and it will usually explain what it is.

The “Add/Remove” software isn’t a new feature of Fedora, it’s been there for a long time. What is new are some of the applications that you can now get by using this tool, some of the more popular applications include: Democracy (now called Miro), Rosegarden, and aMSN. I’m sure there are more applications that are new but those are the more popular ones that I recognized. In the Servers section there is now an option for a Clustering server.

One thing to note is that everytime I would go to the Servers section some of the servers would be check marked even though I did not choose them anywhere else and none of the selections I made would require those to be installed.

Power Management

With both Ubuntu and Fedora I have been happy to see that when I have Linux installed directly on my hardware it recognizes my APC battery backup. All of the configuration options are comparable to that of what you get with the Windows software. The only thing that you don’t get is the software does not send information back to APC about the utility company in your area.

A cool feature of the power management software is the Power History charts. At the moment there isn’t anything on my chart due to the fact that I haven’t been running Fedora around the clock. I think it would be an interesting graph to look at though.

My Wishlist

The first thing I’d like to see in an upcoming update or the next version of Fedora is a way to very easily mount FAT & NTFS hard drives. Ubuntu can do it and I think the Fedora developers should be able to easily implement this. I know it’s simple to do it via command line but it would be even simpler to just double click an icon in the “Computer” window.

Secondly. Whenever you open an administration dialog in Fedora 7, you have to enter your password every single time you open one. In older versions of Fedora and RedHat you could enter your password once and the password would remain active for a few minutes so you could open several dialogs without having to enter your password every single time. After a few minutes had went by and you were finished with the admin dialogs and opened another one you had to enter your password again, which wasn’t as annoying as having to enter it every single time.

Conclusion

Fedora 7 is a great update and I feel as though it is a much needed update. Everything feels a lot fresher with the better looking graphics. Everything works “out of the box” so to speak. I didn’t have any issues getting a GUI on my screen as I did with Fedora Core 6, that I am very pleased with. I’m not pleased with the fact that the driver that was installed isn’t one that is compatible with the desktop effects. However, I do understand that the driver that was installed was an open source driver and not one from Nvidia. I’m sure the open source community will continue to make the open source driver even better.

I am also extremely pleased with the responsiveness of the system. It feels a lot faster, a lot more crisp. I don’t see jagged edges whenever a menu item drops down. I think the developers done an amazing job with this release and I hope that Fedora 8 will be even better.

Now, with that said I have to point out that I think Ubuntu has got Fedora beat in some aspects. I think when it comes to packages there are a ton more packages that are much more easily installed with Ubuntu. In Ubuntu you can use the package manager to install non-supported software and drivers which drastically improve the systems usefulness. Also, now that Dell has taken on Ubuntu as one of the operating systems they are offering on their computer lineup, more people are going to be using Ubuntu and there is going to be even more development going into it. That means: better drivers, better looks, more software.

Now, as a long time RedHat/Fedora user, with the above said I have to say that I’m still partial to Fedora. I primarily use Fedora as a server. I also prefer Fedora because of the RedHat underpinnings. I’m more familiar with that environment and prefer it. I think it’s a great operating system, especially for servers. On the desktop side of things, it has some catching up to do. However, don’t let what I’ve said in the past couple of paragraphs negate the fact that I think Fedora 7 is a great release.

The Fedora Project Homepage

Parallels Desktop

You’re probably asking yourself: “Is he really reviewing another virtualization product?” Yeah, I am. I guess it’s a virtualization review special on TechButter. Like I mentioned in the previous article I am reviewing these products because I am unable to run them on my iBook due to it’s limited resources. I realize there is a PC version of Parallels but I want to see how well the Mac version performs since I get the opportunity to play with a brand new Intel iMac for a week.

When you first launch the application you are presented with a wizard which gives you three choices. The first choice is “Windows Express.” The description for that option says “Install Windows XP or Windows Vista in fully automatic mode.” This option presumably is just like the option we found in Fusion when we installed Windows Vista. The other options are for “Typical” and “Custom” virtual machine configurations. Just like the other review, I will be installing Fedora Core 6 as well as Windows Vista. I want to compare the performance of the two products. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the performance of Windows Vista using Parallels virtualization and that is what we are going to start with, Windows Vista.

The settings wizard is a lot like every other virtualization product I have ever used. I suppose by now all of them are fairly standard in the configuration options. There was a neat effect when I started up the virtual machine, the screen flipped the settings window around and started up the virtual machine, as if the virtual machine were on the back side of that window.

Just like with VMware’s Fusion, the installation of Vista in Parallels Desktop was successful without any problems and I didn’t have to answer any questions until I got to the Windows Vista desktop, where there was a dialog box saying that once Parallel Tools is installed, Vista will need to be rebooted.

A good touch that the developers added to Parallels Desktop is that on the OS X dock there is a thumbnail of what is currently going on in the virtual machine. It’s not a major feature but it is definitely a nice touch.

Once Parallel Tools was installed I noticed something that I did not notice when I installed Vista into VMware Fusion, when the system shutdown and rebooted the shutdown sound played and when the system restarted, the startup sound played as well. To me, this makes me think that the performance of Vista is going to be substantially better in Parallels than it was in Fusion. It most certainly appears that way.

I decided to look at the settings for the virtual machine and noticed that you can adjust the virtual machine’s video memory. The maximum recommended amount of memory is 16 MB but you can take it up to 32 MB of RAM. Unfortunately 32 MB of RAM is not enough to use the Aero Glass feature of Windows Vista.

Parallels has a cool feature called Coherence. When you activate Coherence the background and desktop icons in the virtual machine disappear, so do the Parallels application windows. The Windows Start Menu is then displayed on your OS X Desktop. You can launch applications in your Windows virtual machine by using the start menu on your OS X desktop instead of opening the virtual machine window and launching the application. The application still has Windows borders, but, if you need Windows applications but also need access to your Mac applications at the same time, this is a great feature.

I have to say that I am extremely impressed with the performance of Windows Vista in Parallels over VMware Fusion. Although there are a lot of things that are sluggish, like starting a slideshow or using Windows Media Player, the operating system itself is actually pretty usable. When I had Vista installed into VMware Fusion I was unable to play with the Windows Media Center feature. I am able to in this installation in Parallels.

Another great feature of Parallels Desktop is that they have bundled Kaspersky Internet Security into their product. If you install a Windows virtual machine this will allow you to be keep your Windows virtual machine protected from outside threats, that is, if you get online with your Windows virtual machine.

Unlike VMware Fusion you also have the ability to take screen shots of the running virtual machine. However, there is no video recording option available. However, like VMware Fusion you have the option to share files and folders between your virtual machine and your OS X host machine.

If your virtual machine is growing in gigabytes you can use the Parallels Compressor to decrease the size of your virtual machines disk image. This runs disk cleanup and disk defragment utilities. Supposedly this can reduce the size of your virtual machine by 50%. A cool thing about Compressor is that it works with VMware Workstation, Microsoft Virtual PC and of course Parallels Desktop (both Mac and PC versions). Using this feature of Parallels Desktop my installation of Vista was reduced by several gigabytes.

If you have the BootCamp drivers, you can install all of the integrated hardware of your Mac into your virtual machine, such as the built in iSight camera which comes standard on almost all of Apple’s new computers.

After I had got tired of playing with Windows Vista I decided to install Fedora Core 6 into a virtual machine with Parallels. I immediately appreciated the fact that the Parallel’s developers felt as though Fedora was worth listing in their list of OS choices. Like I said in the VMware Fusion review, I know they can’t list them all, but, I believe Fedora is popular enough that it should be listed.

When I got into the Fedora Core installation I was impressed that the Fedora Core installer detected the hard drive. If you remember from the VMware Fusion article and if you’ve read any of my tutorials in the past, you’ll know that I have always had to make sure to change the virtual machine’s hard drive from SCSI to IDE when using VMware products. Since Fedora Core was one of the options, I am absolutely certain that the Parallels developers made sure that everything would work.

Once I had got Fedora installed I had problems with the display resolution. It worked immediately after installation but when I would reboot I would only come to a text based login screen. I made some changes to the XORG configuration file and finally got into the GUI. However, when I would reboot again I would only come back to the text based login so I had to modify the XORG configuration file every single time to get into the GUI. I re-installed Fedora three times and got this every time. I won’t blame Parallels nor will I blame Fedora since I honestly don’t know who is at fault.

Even though I had problems getting into a graphical interface, the resolution that I was able to use was much higher than what I was able to use when I had Fedora installed into VMware Fusion. In Fusion the resolution would go no higher than 800×600, but in Parallels I was able to take the virtual machine into full screen mode using 1440×900, out of full screen mode the resolution would go well beyond that.

The performance of Fedora in Parallels was amazing compared to the performance I got in Fusion. Menus and applications opened without stuttering and seemed to perform a whole lot better as well. When you would move a window around on the screen it was actually a clean move and without flickering.

Another feature that I like in Parallels is the ability to clone an operating system. A similar feature is available in VMware Fusion and other VMware products called “Snapshots” which allow you to capture a guest machine in it’s current state and revert back to it at a later time. It’s basically the same thing in Parallels but I personally prefer the way Parallels has done it. During the cloning wizard you get to choose what to backup and where to back it up to.

One of the only feature requests that I would make is that they integrate a way to make video screen recordings. This should be a standard feature, especially if you are paying for the product.

If you can’t already tell, I am extremely impressed with the quality of Parallels over VMware’s Fusion. I really do like VMware’s products, but seriously, Parallels has got them beat on performance. Although Parallels is $79 (for the Mac version) and VMware Fusion is free (for the moment), if you can spring for Parallels I would do it. They’ve put a lot of hard work into the application and it shows.

Parallels Desktop for Mac

Article update: Wednesday, October 11, 2008: I have updated this article with screen shots from the latest version of this product. Please note that in the article I talk about installing Windows Vista but you are now seeing screen shots of a virtual machine running with Ubuntu 7.04 and only a Windows Vista login. I’ve been updating the screen shots on TechButter so that they look great with the new, wide theme.

There is still no video recording option in Parallels. For an $80 application I think this is something that should be standard.

As of writing this article update I have to say that I would recommend Parallels Desktop over VMware Fusion and VirtualBox. I think it works better and has a better feature set.

VMware Fusion

NOTE: Please see the end of this entry for updated information about this product and what has changed in this article since the original posting.

I finally have the opportunity to try out VMware Fusion. I am staying at a house this week for a family member who just purchased a new iMac. While they’re gone on vacation I’m going to try out a lot of Mac software that I’ve been looking forward to playing with. First up is Fusion from VMware.

When you first launch the application you are presented with the options of either creating a new virtual machine or downloading one. This reminds me a lot of “Q” (a free, open source virtualization project) which presents you with similar options. With VMware Fusion you will find a lot more options because of their growing Virtual Appliance Marketplace which is growing every single day with new virtual machines. VMware’s Virtual Appliance Marketplace gives users the ability to try out software before they install it or have to commit hardware to an application.

For the review of VMware Fusion I am simply going to install a copy of Fedora Core 6 and I may also try Windows Vista Release Candidate 1; which I received several months ago before Vista was released in January of this year (2007). It’s outdated, but it will give me an idea of how VMware Fusion and this iMac performs.

When you get to the point in the wizard where you tell VMware which operating system you are going to be installing; there is still no option for Fedora, which, really annoys me. It’s not listed in VMware Server for the PC either. You simply have to select “Linux” and then “Other Linux”. I can understand that they cannot list every single distribution but it seems as though Fedora has a large enough user base to be added to the list. Though, I’m sure users of every distribution would say that.

There isn’t a whole lot of difference in the wizard on the PC and the Mac versions of VMware products. Easy. Simple. Wording is the same. When you have finished setting up the virtual machine you are presented with the settings for that virtual machine, just like you are with their PC virtualization products. The windows of course look different since VMware Fusion is for the Mac. All of the default settings are the same as well, such as memory is at it’s standard 256 MB.

There is an option to accelerate graphics. Unfortunately, it says that it is only available to Windows XP Service Pack 2 guest virtual machines.

Another interesting option which at the moment I do not recall being on the PC version is the ability to pass battery status to the virtual machine. This would be useful if you were in full screen mode a lot and were using a laptop.

When you start up a virtual machine it tells you that the software is running in debugging mode. I read a few days ago that you can disable this to increase the performance of the virtual machine. For now, I am going to leave it enabled and see if I notice any side effects.

Unfortunately when I got to the point in the Fedora Core installation I had to shutdown and remove the hard drive and re-add one, this time making sure the option was IDE. I have this same problem with Fedora on VMware Server for the PC.

NOTE: Please see article update at the bottom of this post regarding the new screen shots for this post.

Once I got Fedora Core 6 installed, the performance wasn’t all that great. I decided since the iMac I am running this on has 1GB of RAM, I would increase the virtual machine’s memory to 512 MB and disable the debugging code. The performance did increase somewhat however it would have been a lot better if I were on a faster Internet connection so I could install the required software from the YUM repositories to install VMware Tools.

One thing that I did not like is that in the PC versions of VMware’s products there is an “Inventory View” which shows you all of your virtual machines. Using the Inventory View allows you to easily delete un-wanted virtual machines. In VMware Fusion however, there is not an easy way to delete the virtual machine in the application, that I know of. You can’t drag it off into the trash, right click on it and delete, none of the menu options allow you to delete any of them. I simply deleted the virtual disk from the hard drive to free up the disk space. By doing this, the virtual machine is no longer listed in the Virtual Machine Library list that appears when you start the application.

Once I shut down the Fedora Core installation I decided to throw caution to the wind and install Windows Vista, the Release Candidate I received several months ago. I say throw caution to the wind but the beauty of virtual machines is that the actual computer is protected from being corrupted.

An interesting feature that is available to Windows virtual machines is the ability to use the “Windows Easy Install.” I decided to try this option just to see how well it would work and exactly what it would do. Using this option you give a username, password and your product key before the virtual machine is even started and the operating system installation is underway. It also gives you the option to have your OS X home folder accessible to the virtual machine by default so you can pass files easily between virtual and host machines.

Windows Vista installed without any problems. I didn’t have to answer any questions during the installation. Fortunately, for those who are installing Vista on real hardware they can get this same feature by using vLite. The performance of Vista was decent, much better than it was in a virtual machine on my PC and it was even better than it was when it was installed directly onto my PC.

Two features that VMware Fusion is missing is the ability to take a screen shot or video of the virtual machine that is currently running. These are great features for writing tutorials or showing someone how to do something. I assume that these features will make it into future editions, once they start charging for the product. Video recordings of a virtual machine are only options you can get with VMware Workstation, which is not free. However, capturing screen shots is available in the free VMware Server.

Overall I am very impressed with VMware Fusion. I think VMware has done a great job of creating a virtualization product for the Mac. I’m very happy to see that VMware is going after the virtualization marketplace on the Mac because they have always been my favorite vendor in the PC virtualization marketplace. In a way I am upset to see that VMware Fusion is only available for the newer Intel based Macs, but, with that said, the performance of the new Intel based Macs combined with VMware Fusion comes together for a great virtual computing experience.

VMware Fusion

Article update: Wednesday, October 11, 2008: I have updated this article with screen shots from the latest version of this product. Please note that in the article I talk about installing Fedora Core 6 but you are now seeing screen shots of a virtual machine running with Ubuntu 7.04. I’ve been updating the screen shots on TechButter so that they look great with the new, wide theme.

A few things to tell you about the updated product. First of all, the default memory. In the article above I mention that the default memory is 256 MB for virtual machines. They have bumped this to 512 MB as the default.

A neat feature of VMware Fusion that is either new or a feature that I missed when I wrote the original article is OS detection. If you have an operating system disc in the drive when you are creating a virtual machine and VMware Fusion recognizes it, you can use it’s custom settings for that operating system. I used Ubuntu 7.04 which is an outdated version of Ubuntu and was surprised to see that it recognized it.

The fact that there are pre-defined settings for various distributions of Linux and the various operating systems is a really great feature. It allows the developers to make the virtual machine work a lot better. Sound files played without having to install any additional software, which usually, you have to do when you’re working with Linux virtual machines.

The performance of running virtual machines in VMware Fusion has been increased. I don’t think it’s just the fact they changed the default memory from 256 MB of RAM to 512 MB. I think the actual coding of Fusion has been improved to allow a better performance.

I mention above that deleting virtual machines was difficult to find. Deleting virtual machines in the most current version isn’t obvious, but maybe that’s a good thing. It is in the menus, though.

I really hate that I cannot remember whether or not the version I originally reviewed had the “Unity” feature or not. However, the latest version does. Here is the description of “Unity” from VMware’s website:

Run Windows applications like Mac applications, quickly switching between Mac and Windows applications, minimizing Windows applications to your Dock, and even store Windows applications in your Dock to launch at a moment’s notice.

Unity works pretty much the same way Parallel’s “Coherence” mode works. I think all the Mac virtualization product vendors are making sure to implement that as a standard feature.

Unfortunately, there is still not an easy way to quickly capture screen shots or video from VMware Fusion. You would think that VMware would implement this feature since Fusion is their virtualization product for the Mac.

There are a ton of other features. I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface due to time constraints. Learn more about VMware Fusion’s features.

As of writing this article update I have to say that I would recommend Parallels Desktop over VMware Fusion and VirtualBox. I think it works better and has a better feature set.

OLPC Live CD Distribution

I was on the OLPC Wiki and realized that I could download a Live CD of the latest version of the OLPC operating system. The OLPC is based on the RedHat operating system (not Fedora). I downloaded it and ran it in a virtual machine. Here are my initial reactions.

When you first start up the system it starts up pretty quickly. I gave the virtual machine I put the Live CD into 256 MB of RAM. The PC I am using has a 1.5 GHz AMD processor. Live CD’s are usually always slower since everything has to load into the system’s memory to be able to run. However, it started up pretty quickly.

Once you get to the login screen. You type in your name and you choose a color. You have to click several times on the human icon to choose a color. Personally, I would have found a drop down menu or color wheel much more handy. Also, the cursor icon is huge. Once you login the color you chose is the color of the icon in the middle of your desktop.

Once you login and get to the desktop everything is pretty simple. There are a few icons on the bottom of the desktop. An interesting thing to note is that there is an option to use Classic Gnome. I decided to click on this and switch over to it. However, it appeared as though Gnome had been stripped down. There was no Application, Places or System menu. On the desktop you could access a file manager, developer information as well as a terminal.

After not being able to quickly get back to the Sugar interface I rebooted the LiveCD and started playing around with some of the other applications. The applications are designed for school children, none of the functionality you would expect is there. It’s also not very easy to figure out how to get back to your desktop once you have an application open. Now, this might be something they are going to correct with a button on the actual OLPC. I just found it extremely annoying to get back and forth between open applications or get out of applications. When you hover over an icon you don’t get a tooltip to explain what it means.

Whenever you open the web browser and open a website, you get a zoomed in view of the website. This, too, may be a feature they are going to allow you to control with hardware based controls.

Overall, I have to say that I am not very impressed with the OLPC operating system development. It really bothers me that the interface has been dumbed down. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that due to the limited resources of the OLPC they had to make some sacrifices somewhere. It still bothers me though. I feel as though the OLPC project is overly simplifying the operating system and not giving the children in the countries where the OLPC will go a chance to learn how to use a real operating system. Or at the very least, an operating system that resembles others.

Also, the fact may be that I am simply overly privileged to have a good computer and the children/families/people who are recipients of these machines will probably be more than happy with them.

With all the above said, I have to say that I think the project is a great idea. I think more people need to be able to gain access to computers for research and school projects. Personally, I wish they’d sell more to the United States. Some people in this country still cannot afford a decent computer.

Download the OLPC Live CD