Linux examined: Fedora 9

The community edition of Red Hat's distro works well and is widely supported -- but it can be a difficult install

Apart from the problems mentioned above, Fedora's install also failed to identify the version of Ubuntu that was installed on an alternate partition and placed it in the GRUB boot menu (GRand Unified Bootloader, or GRUB, is a tool that lets you select between various operating systems in a dual/multiboot environment.) Other distributions seem to have no problem finding and add existing Linux and Windows installations to the boot menu.

The install process also fails the Newbie Test badly. There's no way I'd expect a nontechnical person to be able to reasonably answer a few of the questions asked during the install. For example, asking if IPv6 support should be enabled for a network card and if the host name should be set via DHCP is going to be a bit intimidating for nongeeks.

Fine performance

The good news is that once I finally got Fedora installed, it performed admirably in the "stuff just worked out of the box" department. My sound, Wi-Fi and Intel video driver all showed up for duty when the install was complete. The webcam didn't work, but I haven't found a Linux distribution yet that can cope with the perversity of the Ricoh webcam in the Pavilion notebook. At the end of the day, I was left with a GNOME-based desktop pretty much like any other GNOME desktop.

Fedora, like Red Hat, is an RPM-based system. RPM is perhaps the most widely supported open-source package management system (illustrated by the ease with which I installed Skype, even though the Skype site claimed it only worked with Fedora 7).

It also uses the Yum software package manager, which makes installing from the command line a breeze. I just had to type in "yum install audacity" and I was the proud user of Audacity, the outstanding audio editor for Linux.

One caveat: I'm not a big fan of the "Add/Remove Programs" GUI tool that Fedora comes with, which acts as a front end to Yum. It takes forever to do a search for anything or update a display when you click on a new category; I'd recommend sticking with the command line interface.

Incidentally, it's a good idea to start with Fedora if you're part of a business that may want to transition to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) sometime in the future. Since work done on Fedora flows into Red Hat, this allows for a fairly simple transition from Fedora to RHEL.

However, if you're an individual user who just wants to purchase technical support for Fedora, this does present a bit of a quandary, because you can't purchase Fedora support from Red Hat. For that, you'll need to install RHEL. This is in contrast to Ubuntu, for example, where the same distribution comes with supported and unsupported versions.

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