Desktop Faceoff: Fedora vs. Vista: Page 4

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Security is supposedly Vista's strong suit over earlier versions of Windows. Yet this claim is hard to take seriously when the default permissions for files are still wide open access to all users. Similarly, although Vista includes warnings against doing daily work in an administrative account, the first boot wizard creates only an administrative account -- and does not insist on a password. Meanwhile, password hints continue to be visible to everyone at the login screen.

The bundling of Internet Norton Security is a promising reactive step, combining a firewall and anti-virus software, but the security architecture of Vista still seems questionable when it neglects so many basics. Asking for confirmation whenever an administrative task is done is hardly a significant increase in security.

Fedora takes another path, following GNU/Linux's tradition of firmly separating administrative and everyday user accounts, each of them with a password at least six letters long. You can use a simple password, but Fedora will warn that it is simple. Permissions are also tighter than Vista, though they could easily be more restrictive, allowing only the creator of a file any access to them.

Fedora's firewall tool is comparable to Symantec's, if not quite so easy to use. However, the real standout in Fedora is SELinux, one of the most comprehensive security programs available on any platform. Novices can simply set SELinux to "enabled" or "permissive," but for those who want to know exactly what they're doing, Fedora also includes a detailed graphical tool for configuring dozens of security settings. Using SELinux exacts a performance cost of about five percent, but even with that hit, Fedora remains noticeably faster than Vista -- to say nothing of more secure.


For all the efforts to make GNU/Linux's desktops more user-friendly -- a goal that often translates into making them more like Windows -- the design philosophy in Fedora remains noticeably different than Vista's.

In Vista, efforts to simplify user experience generally translate into isolating users from what they're doing, and giving them fewer options. Unix diehards might say that Fedora and GNOME are doing the same thing. However, the truth seems more complicated. Fedora 7 adds a veneer to the GNU/Linux desktop that provides much of the ease of use of a Windows operating system, but beneath it, the traditional Unix concerns for security and for users doing things their own way remains. While users can ignore these concerns, especially when just starting out, as they become more experienced they may welcome the added control.

Fedora and its default GNOME desktop may still have a few lessons to learn from Vista, particularly in the selection of administration tools. Yet in terms of almost everything that's important to users, Fedora and GNOME have overtaken Vista and are rapidly pulling away from it.

As the addition of the side panel shows, it is Windows that is starting to learn from GNU/Linux. The days when the situation was the other way around are over.

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