"Time and tide wait for no man."

Fedora Core 5

Wednesday 12th April 2006

Categories: Reviews, GNU/Linux, FLOSS

Around the Desktop

So, what is Fedora actually like to use? The answer: pretty good. Network browsing works as you might expect in both Nautilus for GNOME and Konqueror for KDE. Having said that, both still suffer from the same problem - when you browse network shares, you do so as an anonymous user. As such, shares that only appear to certain users don't appear. However, I can confirm that drag and drop from the desktop to a network share does indeed work!

Accessing data through media was similarly painless. My USB stick and CDs was automatically mounted, although unmounting the USB stick required the addition of the mounting applet to GNOME's panel. You can get your CDs back just by hitting the eject button - no need to unmount them.

Fedora seems generally stable, but Eye of Gnome and Firefox did crash occasionally. Hopefully, this will be ironed out in some of the updates.

As with Fedora Core 4, if you enter the root password, it is stored for a few minutes. This means that you need only enter it once every so often. This does make life easier if you are changing plenty of system settings, but some might consider it a security risk. On balance, it is probably mostly harmless, and saves on frustration - always a good thing. Besides, at any point, you can right click the icon in the tray, and tell it to forget the password.

Speaking of settings, Fedora Core 5 takes an approach that matches the GNOME approach - rather than having a single utility from which to access everything, all of the various configuration packages are placed in Administration, Preferences and System Tools. While the difference between Administration and Preferences is quite clear, and works well, the presence of System Tools might confuse things slightly. For example, the Software Updater i.e. Pup resides in System Tools, but why is it in System Tools rather than in Administration? Overall though, things are found where you'd expect them, and so you can reach any configuration program you need fairly quickly.

If you really want everything in one place, you can install an extra package - system-config-control. However, quite a few of the options within this program don't work on an ordinary installation since the relevant packages haven't been installed. Helpfully, however, you do get told what you need to install to get it working. While useful, this application doesn't really bring anything new to the table, and is only really for those that just want a central point from which to access all the settings. It should be noted that whenever you add a package that's missing, you can access it both from system-config-control and from the relevant menu - normally System / Administration.

One setting that proved troublesome was file sharing. There didn't seem to be any way to share files besides using the Personal File Sharing - this creates a public directory for that user, which none of the machines on the network seemed to be able to detect. As said, working the other way round worked - that is, moving files from Fedora Core 5 to networked machines. However, to get files from networked machines onto Fedora Core 5, I had to resort to installing and using SWAT instead. I had to enable SWAT, once installed, by digging into /etc/xinetd.d/swat and changing disable=yes to disable=no. And then started the smbd daemon (you need to set this to start on each boot) and created a user. This seems to me to be a lot of work just to be able to share files! I might expect this on Debian, but not on Fedora.

Mounting hard drive partitions can also be troublesome. I couldn't find the nice, simple Disks entry in Administration that I normally use (and is part of GNOME), and could not find any other alternative. In the end, I just used the command line, but a less advanced user might well just give up if (s)he can't find a GUI to do it. The presence of GParted by default would also have been a decent addition, but alas, it's only to be found in Extras.

Going back to networking for a moment, and we find that SSH works without any kind of post installation configuration whatsoever. What's more, we find it works with X tunnelling as well, meaning you can run gedit, Nautilus, or any other application with a GUI using SSH.

VNC, on the other hand, does not work by default. Of course, having SSH X tunnelling working out of the box may reduce the need for VNC, but it is easy enough to enable in GNOME - just go to System / Preferences / Remote Desktop, and click the right boxes. You can choose to just let somebody watch your session, to take control, and whether that requires a password or your permission each time. There's not much to say, except that it all works perfectly.

Burning a CD proved to be somewhat easy using Nautilus - you can create a CD by adding files and then burning, or by right clicking on an ISO and simply choose to write, with no configuration required. However, it would be nice if a more advanced package, such as K3b or even Gnome Baker, was also included. The burning in Nautilus worked fine, but, for example, there was no way to verify the written data, while K3b does allow this.

The general appearance of Fedora Core 5 is pretty good, using the Clearlooks theme. Of course, a picture is more appropriate here, so here's an example.

While GNOME is fairly quick from typing your username and password to a fully working session (just a matter of a few seconds), KDE takes a fair bit longer to log in. Once in, we find the Bluecurve theme. It's not quite as nice as Clearlooks, but still more than adequate. There is a menu editor far superior than the default include in GNOME, and on a par with Alacarte.

Like its predecessor, Fedora Core 5 seems to suffer from black screen syndrome when shutting down - half the time, instead of being told what's going on, I'll just get a black screen until the computer eventually turns off or restarts.