REVIEW: A Cold Look at Fedora Core 4

Fedora Core 4 (FC4) is the fourth release of Red Hat's open community project and was released a few weeks ago. I tried both the DVD and the CD version for x86, on the laptop, model LC2430. This is a 2.8 GHz P4, 512 MBs of RAM, 1400x1050 LCD, Intel onboard AC97 sound card, National Semiconductor NIC, 40 GB drive, combo drive and an ATi Radeon 9200 Mobility 64 MB.

All previous versions of Fedora have worked out of the box in this configuration, but it seems that the latest versions of the kernel has a bug with certain LCD displays where the installation screen won't initialized and load without beforehand adding the "nofb" or the "vga=971" command in the kernel configuration line. The latest Ubuntu and Debian seem to have the same problem too.

Anyways, that was just the first hardle (easy to solve), the next one was to make the system install from the DVD. It wouldn't work, not even after 3 burns (installation would die at random places), but the CD version worked flawlessly. Anaconda, the installation program for FC4, is maybe the best installer today, in any operating system. It is both powerful, and easy to use. Fedora has also made some massive steps towards making booting faster. FC4 booted much faster than any previous version, still though, not as fast as more lightweight OSes, like BeOS, FreeBSD or even other distros like Arch and Gentoo. Nevertheless, I am satisfied on the booting speed and optimizations done on FC4's sysinit.

FC4 But I wasn't as happy with the memory consumption. About 230 MBs of RAM were used on a clean, default load (according to "free", just after the OS loaded -- no major cashing has occured yet). I find this requirement huge, it means that computers with 256 MBs of RAM will swap heavily after only a few minutes of using the system (e.g. after opening Firefox and Evolution or OOo alone). The specs mention that minimum requirement is 192 MBs, but this is unrealistic for the default number of services that are loaded. I had to go and unload some services before I could see the RAM usage go down to a much better 140 MBs (but I don't expect new users to know where to look or what to disable, so I still find this poor). And btw, why can't I kill completely 'eggcups' (it keeps respawning) which takes so much RAM, and I don't even have a printer in my house? There are other, smaller bugs in there too, but I won't go into detail on them, i will only mention the big ones.

Regarding the overall feel of the distro, FC4 has now moved to the traditional Gnome look: two panels, one on top and one on the bottom. Additionally, it now uses the Clearlooks theme by default putting into sleep the venerable Bluecurve theme. I much prefer Clearlooks to Bluecurve, but I find it weird that after so many years Red Hat was trying to make KDE and Gnome apps look similar with the use of Clearlooks all this effort is going to the bin, as there is no Clearlooks port to Qt installed. On the bright side of things Fedora feels pretty spiffy. I have witnessed gnome applications loading faster than the same app would on a competitive so-called "lightweight" distribution, on the same machine. I am sure that Red Hat engineers did some work on making the system feel more responsive, and this work is commentable and easily spotted, not only when compared to previous versions of FC but also when compared to other distros.

FC4 comes with some new features, like native support for XEN, OOo 2.0-pre beta (looks sweet), SELinux's targeted policy that has been active since Fedora Core 3 has been improved to cover dozens of more daemons. There is now Integrated Clustering Technology, an open source clustering file system that allows a cluster of Linux servers to share a common storage pool. There is also GGC 4.x with a rewritten optimisation infrastructure and improved support for a native Free Java software stack. This includes parts of 2.0., Eclipse, and Apache Jakarta, among others. Speaking of Eclipse, it runs natively on GCJ, but it is pretty slow to load and operate, and it has visual bugs too (check that menu in the shot). However, it is very impressive that it actually runs on this Free clone of a java virtual machine.

There are some more parts in the distro that dissapointed me though. Firstly, there is no support for Synaptics in the Gnome preference panel. If that was not bad enough, the actual defaults of Synaptics used are dissapointing, it's too sensitive and the horizontal wheel is enabled making your interaction with Firefox very poor, because it is unexpected to have Firefox going back and forth in history just by using your touchpad. I would have expected Red Hat to include some sane defaults in there, given the fact that most of their engineers use laptops. Oh, yes, I forgot, Red Hat uses mostly IBM laptops internaly, which they don't have touchpads. Go figure.

The second problem I have with Fedora, and it's been there for more than a year, is its "Add/Remove Applications" utility. Well, if you try to make a big install with many packages, it would return errors to you, like in the screenshot. And if you do manage to go around them, towards the end of the installation it would tell you to swap CD1 and CD2 after 1 package has been installed. This was a terrible user experience. I had to swap CD1 and CD2 about 30 times, in less than 5 minutes! Obviously, their package manager needs to be more intelligent.

FC4 And then there is Network Manager! Red Hat engineers are advertising the tool everywhere on their blogs as one of the great utilties in FC4, and yet there is nowhere to be found in the Gnome menus or the "Add an applet" pref panel. How do I load this thing, it's a mystery to me.

Two more peeves include the fact that the up2date applet in the panel does not inform me anymore of FC4 updates (while there ARE updates available), it stoped working after my first update. Also of importance is the fact that Fedora does not automount FAT/NTFS partitions and so new users will find this a bit dissapointing (the "security" excuse is lame, encrypt the fs if you need security, I don't). Having to use "mount" in the command line or have to mess up with your /etc/fstab is hardly fun. And speaking of fun, there is not much entertaining that's going to happen with a default FC4 system, as mp3 and other proprietary media technologies are not included for licensing reasons. Lastly, I would much rather see Graveman or Gnomebaker included instead of the scary-looking XCDRoast (KDE is not installed on my system, I do not like its look & feel or clutter).

So, how do I feel about Fedora? Well, it's a powerful system, it works well-enough, but not well-enough for me. It is not a polished system, and it is somewhat bloated, making a potential polishing attempt very difficult as going through the hundrends of applications and libraries included can be daunting. I am sure that many people will find it good enough though, and being a Red Hat-based solution makes it very compatible with most proprietary and other apps, so that should be a good enough reason for new users to pick FC4 instead of another distro. It is not bad by any means, but these bugs/problems I encountered so far really irk me personally. I like clean, fast, small, usable, stable, bug-free, good-looking, sane and lean but powerful systems. Fedora Core 4 is mighty powerful but it delivers poorly on the rest of my requirements. However, I must note that I really like on Fedora its system configuration panels, making the distro's configuration a breeze and offering ease of use where many other distros don't.

Rating: 6/10



You should read about memory management. It is normal that you see a huge memory usage.

This should help you:

Thing is, my other, default, distro only uses 120 MBs of RAM by default. While I would still need a machine with 192 or 256 MBs of RAM to run it, it is still a far cry of Fedora's defaults.

Your comment is plain wrong unless there is some application with a memory leak not installed on my system. By default, FC4 occupies about 130 MB after booting up. This is the case on my IBM Thinkpad T23 and equals the memory used by FC3. You seem to have been confused by the linux kernel using essentially all the physical memory for buffers, cache etc. This is nothing new and has always been the case. Launch the GNOME system monitor after logging in. It will show you the actual memory consumption.

This is exactly what I did. It reported well above 230 MBs of RAM.

Do you mind if I ask what your default distro is? I run Ubuntu 5.04 on my Latitude C610 and like it quite well.

Arch Linux.

Thanks. Would you mind briefly stating why you like Arch, and what it's like in general compared to Fedora?

1. It's lightweight, it consumes less than half the memory Fedora requires on a default load (with X and Gnome).
2. It is easy to understand, in case you need to fix something manually. Fedora brings a legacy of 10 years, it's built upon version after v ersion after patches. Arch has a clean system, you can easily understand what you have change/edit to fix something.
3. It's faster in general. However, booting times are similar.
4. On the other hand, Fedora brings conveniences that Arch doesn't have: admin/system panels, kudzu that's better than hotplug, graphical bootup etc.

Great. Thanks very much for the info.

Do you have any thoughts on Fedora vs Ubuntu?

Ubuntu is ok because updating third party apps is easier. On Fedora you have to do some manual work with yum and apt-rpm before you start enjoying the third party packages. The bad thing though with Ubuntu is that it loads really slowly comparatively (like Debian does), it's buggy too and it doesn't have as many admin/system panels as Fedora has. So, they are on the same boat.

Overall, I prefer Arch with Slackware second. I prefer under-the-hood simplicity over bloat and uneeded complexities.

Thanks for sharing your views. I greatly appreciate the info.

You can probably improve your boot speed by

  • disabling unneeded services
  • disabling kudzu.

Of course, that means it will not automatically detect new hardware.

Which is what I did, of course.

Boot speed improved more and RAM usage went down to 140 MBs of RAM or so. My problem is the *default* bloat that users have to endure, users who don't know how to bring down the default requirements, which IMHO are too high.

Thank you for saying what I've wanted to say for over a year now! FC3 was buggy, and FC4 is too, as you've so adequately pointed out

Pray why does the FC team not try fixing a few bugs in their current release (like they did the old Redhat distros -- 6.0, 6.1, 6.2, etc.), rather than trying to put out a new, and hence equally buggy, X.0 release every year?

BTW, anybody but me notice that FC4 was released with a very unstable BETA version of Open Office? How rude!

I agree completely with your comment about the disk swapping that goes on while adding or removing software. I've only installed Fedora a couple of times and have played with it just to "feel out the Linux world", but I found it to be an annoying and painstaking process to install any additional software from the distro disks. That is an obvious problem that should be fixed. I also agree that they seem to concentrate more on adding new features than they do on fixing old ones. They should tighten up the ship before adding onto it. But, like I said, I don't know that much about Linux in general...just a thought.

I made the mistake of installing an early cycle release of FC4 (because the disks came "free" with a well-known linux magazine). Since I am used to rock-solid Debian stable, I did not expect it to be as severely buggy as it actually was, and thought a few updates would do the trick.

Buggy is an understatement. I'd already been banging my head against this FC4 and graphics issues for some time before I found out that Xorg-x11 was seriously *broken* on this early version, which is why I couldn't get a i8154/i915 driver to work. I eventually found via google that a FULL yum udpate was required to make this release actually work.

Imagine releasing *anything* with a broken X server! Incredible! So much for pre-release vetting. IMHO FC4 is not a "testing" release, it is an "unstable". The kernel wasn't too hot either. Updating both didn't fix my issues, however. A full yum update on this release will be huge - I would think at least 500MB. I don't have broadband.

So I'm considering ditching it and installing CentOS 4 instead = free RHEL3, which is basically a stable, mature FC3.

The bleeding edge is for surgeons or for those who want to bleed. I am neither - WDef