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

InnoTek VirtualBox

I only learned about this product a few weeks ago. This is the only virtualization product that is currently available for Windows, Linux and Mac hosts that is also free and open source. It’s developed by a very large community and is backed by InnoTek. Products like this tend to go very far because they have a large developer base who are willing to put their personal time into the product and make it an even better product. I’m very interested in seeing how well VirtualBox performs compared to the two others I have reviewed previously. It’s got big shoes to fill after the Parallels review. Let’s see if it’s up to the challenge.

Instead of installing Windows Vista and Fedora Core into VirtualBox like I did with the other two virtualization products. I decided that since I received my pressed copies of Ubuntu Linux 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) in the mail today, I would install it as a VirtualBox guest operating system. I feel as though I can still judge the product by how well Ubuntu performs in it.

When you startup the application you are presented with a professional looking application. I like the fact that they don’t require you to go through a wizard before you even look at the software. I personally like to get my feet wet, have a look around and see what all I can do before I set up a virtual machine.

Once you do decide to set up a virtual machine. Everything is fairly simple. The only points in the wizard that might concern some people are that you have to manually set up the virtual hard disk drive and it asks you which kernel the Linux distribution you are installing uses. Setting up the virtual drive is pretty simple with the “New Virtual Disk Wizard.” The Linux kernel can usually be found on the Linux distribution vendor’s website or by simply googling around. For Ubuntu Feisty Fawn, the kernel is 2.6 (I think and hope, that’s what I’m going to use at least!). Also, the wizard asks you to choose whether you want a dynamically expanding image or a fixed-size image. Dynamically expanding means that you give the virtual drive a size that it is allowed to reach, but, you won’t take up that much space on your host’s hard drive unless you actually do fill up the virtual hard drive. The fixed-size image pre-allocates the space you want for the virtual machine on the host machine. This option was available with the two other products I have reviewed previously but it wasn’t as apparent. The default in those applications was to use a dynamically expanding image.

After setting up the guest machine I noticed in the details panel for the guest machine that a CD/DVD-ROM device was not mounted. In the previous products the host’s drive was mounted automatically. This isn’t necessarily a problem. In fact I guess it’s a good thing that you have to choose in case that drive is already in use.

The way the latest versions of Ubuntu Linux work is that to install the operating system you now have to do it after you have started up the Live CD. For a Live CD running in a virtual machine, I think it ran pretty well. Let’s see how well it does after installing it directly into the virtual machine.

Getting use to the way you unfocus your host’s keyboard and mouse is a lot different than all the virtual machine products I have ever used. With VirtualBox you have to press the down arrow and then press the right option key. You can’t do it quickly and you can’t do it very long either or it won’t take effect and release control back to the host. I’m not crazy about that, but I’ll get use to it.

Once I got Ubuntu Linux installed into the virtual machine, which installed without any problems, the performance was really good. The menus and windows didn’t flicker when you opened or moved them. Applications opened pretty quickly. OpenOffice.org opened quickly, which is pretty impressive for OpenOffice, especially since it’s in a virtual machine. Usually I get extremely poor performance from OpenOffice in virtual machines which is why I normally install AbiWord into my Linux virtual machines.

VirtualBox has their equivalent of VMware’s “VMware Tools” and Parallel’s “Parallels Tools.” Theirs is called “Guest Additions.” Unfortunately I was unable to install this set tools to gauge how much better the performance would get. However if you were able to install these additions you would get the added benefit of having shared folders and probably better video performance.

Another cool feature that is available in VirtualBox is the ability to connect to your virtual machine remotely and control it. The feature is really nice because you can connect to the virtual machine from any machine on the network using RDP. VMware Server (for the PC) has a somewhat similar feature where you can install the VMware Server Client onto any machine on the network and connect to a virtual machine and work with it just as if you were at the console the virtual machine is running on. The VirtualBox feature is really nice because you can simply connect via an RDP client.

I was disappointed with the screen resolution selection that was available to me in my guest machine. The highest resolution in Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn) was 1024×768. When you make the guest machine full screen, it doesn’t actually go full screen, it doesn’t stretch out. It’s simply a 1024×768 window on a black background, which was annoying.

VirtualBox has a way to backup your virtual machine’s current state and restore it at a later time. VirtualBox calls this Snapshots, as do VMware products. The only thing that sets Fusion and VirtualBox’s snapshot feature apart is that in VirtualBox you have the ability to give a description of the snapshot.

Overall I am impressed with the performance and features of InnoTek Virtual Box. The performance wasn’t as impressive as it was with Parallel’s desktop but it was better than the performance I got with VMware Fusion. If you can’t afford the $79 price tag of Parallels then I highly recommend InnoTek VirtualBox. With the fact that they are releasing updates fairly frequently I believe the product will continue to get better.

InnoTek VirtualBox

Article update: Wednesday, October 8, 2008: – I have been re-doing screen shots for all the articles on TechButter as you may have noticed. When I re-did the screen shots for this post I was unable to install Ubuntu into a virtual machine due to time constraints.

VirtualBox has been acquired by Sun Microsystems. They have released several versions since the review above. Looking at the reviews around the net it looks as though the application is continuing to get even better.