Review: Fedora 7: Page 3

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Software Installation and Updates

Like its predecessors, Fedora 7 depends on Yum for installing software packages. As command line tools go, Yum is easy enough to learn that you don't really need a graphical interface for it. Nor, so far as I know, do any graphical equivalents offer the complete functionality of Yum.

All the same, in keeping with its desktop orientation, Fedora 7 continues the tradition of including Pup and Pirut. Pup is a system updater, similar to Update Manager in Debian and Ubuntu. Although available from the menu, it is also a panel app that sits in the notification tray -- where, at login, it delays the loading of the desktop and acts as nag-ware, reminding you of all available updates.

The problem with this arrangement is that it encourages users to install every possible update, rather than a more cautious approach that might prevent accidentally breaking a system with unnecessary updates. Compared to Pup, Pirut is designed for much more responsible package management. In one tab, it lists packages by the same general categories as the installer. In another tab, it allows you to search the package repositories. Before installing, you can view a brief summary of each package's purpose.

At the start of installation, Pirut presents a summary of your requests, then displays the dependencies for each of your choices so that you can make an informed decision about what you are about to do. My recommendation is to use Pup as a convenient list, and do all package installation from Pirut if you are not using Yum.

Security

The first-boot configuration wizard gives you a chance to enable an iptables-based firewall and to set SELinux to an "enabled" or "permissive" setting. These choices are handy for new users who want the assurance that their systems are protected without the trouble of checking for themselves.

The only trouble is, what these settings mean is obscure. "Enabled" presumably means that the default settings are used, but what exactly are they? And how permissive is "permissive"? To answer these questions, more experienced or conscientious users will want to go to the System - > Administration menu and use the more detailed versions of the tools in the wizard to determine exactly what is going on.

First introduced in Fedora Core 6, these tools go a long way towards clarifying security topics that mystify many users. The SELinux Management, which details possible settings, and SELinux Troubleshooter, which lists possible problems and briefly suggests solutions, are particularly useful.

However, all of them could provide more information to help users decide what features they want -- something, perhaps, along the lines of what Bastille provides. It might be useful for users to know that they can add a custom rules file for iptables, but without information about how to write such a file, they are only slightly better off for the knowledge. All the same, these tools do represent a step in the right direction.

Conclusion

If these comments seem to nitpick or damn with faint praise, they also reflect the growing maturity of major distributions like Fedora. For the most part, Fedora 7 is a polished and stable distribution that almost anyone can use -- but it is by no means a revolutionary departure from earlier releases. The trouble is that, these days, there is simply less to say about most distributions -- and that, in itself, gives the lie to any claims that GNU/Linux is not ready for the desktop.


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