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Linux format review: Fedora Core 4


Ever since reading http://distrowatch.com/weekly.php?issue=20050711#1 I have been curious to see this review and thanks to Andy Hudson for sending me a copy of this article. This review which awards 4/10 points for the Fedora Core 4 release runs into a couple of pages and is a nice change from the usual ill informed MP3 rants and cursory looks. Time for feedback now!

The reviews goes into a general introduction that notes the change in the default GNOME desktop theme from Bluecurve to Clearlooks, switch to GCC 4.0 and stresses the movement of packages from core to extras as a controversy that has alarmed Fedora users and notes that PPC is now a supported architecture. The controversy over extras has been compared to the refusal of Red Hat to include 2.6 kernel in RHEL3. RHEL 3 was released on October 2003, a few months before the first release of 2.6 version of the Linux kernel, providing such a major version bump during errata updates is something which no distribution has done in my knowledge. In both cases, the "annoyances" for any users are seemingly irrational to me. The review has several sections covering different aspects of the changes in this release.

Software shelved:
It has been that mentioned many packages like Abiword, Exim, XEmacs and XFCE has moved into extras as a effort to reduce bloat and this would be a problem for users who want to retrieve such packages over a dial up connection. I dont buy this argument. Lets assume for a moment that Fedora Core 4 included all of these packages in a 5 CD collection without moving anything to the extras repository, would users with a dial up connection be able to download it then?. At any case, Fedora Core wouldnt ever serve as a set of all the software that any user could ever want. As Fedora Core gets trimmed to a more manageable collection of default applications, integration with Fedora Extras and potentially other third party repositories should be transparent enough that the users wouldnt have to care which repository their favorite application is in . As a first step, FC4 ships with the extras repository enabled by default as mentioned in the review. Now further being work in Anaconda in using a yum backend would enable users to mix and match their applications from various repositories during installation time. If there is sufficient interests, anyone could spin off the other Fedora compatible repositories into ISO images for redistribution.

GUI Limbo:

GCC 4.0 has been described as a gamble here. Red Hat developers have significant stake in the development of GCC with in depth knowledge that enabled them to rebuild nearly all of Fedora Core with this compiler including fixes to packages and even to the compiler when necessary. A previous version has been shipped for compatibility reasons. While pushing new technology always has risks, it also has its benefits and this is what Fedora is meant to be. The focus on whether GCC 4 would yield any performance benefits, in my opinion misses a important point. GCC 4 includes a significantly improved version of GCJ which has enabled the inclusion of Eclipse, Openoffice.org 2.0 milestone release including the Java parts, Apache Jakarta among several natively compiled Java components. This is a significant advancement of a completely Free Java stack which includes extensive work done over many years, the importance of this and the relationship with the new compiler seemed to have gone unnoticed in the review.

The criticism of the lack of improvements in the system configuration tools (system-config*) especially system-config-package's lack of understanding of the yum repositories is indeed valid and significant work is being done during the FC5 timeframe to address this.

Comfortably yum:

This short section has a well deserved praise in this section for improvements in speed using XML headers and SQLite backend. Kudos to the yum developers on this.

Core Proposition:

The review mentions that this release is just a standard update despite the inclusion of Xen and trimming down a few packages in comparison with SUSE 9.3 Pro which includes Mono and Beagle. Setting aside the Mono factor*, Fedora Core 4's inclusion of GFS cluster filesystem, Evince, Apache Jakarta along with the improvements in the SELinux policies have gone unnoticed in the review


Taking into consideration, the only major criticism, "GUI limbo" as mentioned in the review, the overall score seems unfair to me even after reading the comments in the forum from the site admin, who mentions that the scores have been readjusted in such a way that 5/10 means a average one which many distributions would get.


A amusing comment from the side admin caught my eye there "On the flip side, I would never, ever use it as a server distro either, simply because it doesn't provide a good enough security infrastructure for my requirements. ". FC4 includes Exec Shield, GCC 4 security improvements and 91 daemons covered under SELinux targeted policy by default along with the strict policy as an alternative. I would have thought that would provided enough of a security infrastructure in comparison to any other distribution or even operating system out there.


* http://fedora.redhat.com/docs/release-notes/fc4/errata/#sn-why-no-mp3

PS: It would perhaps be a good idea to look at how reviewers go about understanding new release highlights to help them see through such changes in an evident manner. It would be interesting to hear Andy Hudson's comments on his approach

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