Desktop Faceoff: Fedora vs. Vista: Page 2

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Another noticeable difference is that, while Vista's programs include links for doing specific tasks, Fedora stays with the old standard of interfaces listing settings. Fedora's standard can be confusing to new users, but so can Vista's -- especially if the questions don't include what you need to do. Either can require frequent reference to the online help.

However, the biggest advantage that Fedora has over Vista is its use of virtual workspaces or desktops. These workspaces take up some memory, so most users will want to keep them at the default four. But they are a convenient way to expand your desktop space, and far quicker to configure than dual monitors.

Despite some small inconveniences, Fedora's GNOME desktop continues to innovate. By contrast, Vista's desktop seems a step backwards from early Windows desktops, and many of its innovations seem either timid or else made for their own sake rather than to empower users.

Customization options

Desktop customization is extremely popular regardless of the operating system, and both Fedora and Vista cater to the demand. On either desktop, you can change the background color or image, as well as changing the fonts, screen savers, themes, and preferred programs, or adding assistive technologies.

Yet the do-it-yourself impulse is far stronger among GNU/Linux users than among Vista users, so it is only natural that, where Vista offers half a dozen screensavers, Fedora offers dozens. Where a Windows taskbar stubbornly remains the same color, and a side panel is limited to changing the opacity of individual gadgets' icons, Fedora's panels can use a color or an image as a background. And where a Vista taskbar is limited in what it can hold and where, Fedora's panels can store an icon for virtually any application, and position them any place you prefer. You can even add your own menus in the shape of drawers full of icons.

In fact, the options on Fedora's GNOME desktop are so exact that they would be overwhelming for new users if they did not use defaults that are adequate for most users. Advanced users, if they choose, can go into the minutiae of choosing the widgets that windows use. Or such details as how a window opens or whether clicking the title bar maximizes a window or scrolls up the window. From one perspective, this degree of customization is a series of trivialities, but they have the advantage of ensuring that you can work exactly the way you prefer.

Default software selection

Vista's Home Premium Plus edition (which I used for this article), comes with a small selection of desktop utilities, such as a calculator, text editor, and screen capture program. Pre-installed, on most machines it also comes with a sixty-day trial version of MS Office, rather than the full version that earlier Windows operating systems included. Depending on the manufacturer, a new machine may also bundle third party software such as Norton Internet Security, or hardware helpers such as webcams and LightScribe drives. Quickplay and Acrobat reader are also included.

These offerings are minimalist compared to what Fedora installs by default. Besides the operating system and the accompanying desktop utilities, Fedora includes an overwhelming selection of software. A Live CD install includes AbiWord and Gnumeric, two lightweight office programs, but OpenOffice.org can be installed within ten minutes, given a high speed Internet connection. Programs included in the initial install include Scribus, a professional-quality desktop publishing program; the GIMP, a PhotoShop-like graphics program, and dozens of other programs -- all of which fit into less than half the twenty or so gigabytes that Windows and its bundled programs occupy on the hard drive.

The only drawback to Fedora's offerings is that some programs that are not released under a free software license, such as software to use a LightScribe drive, have to be hunted down and installed separately. Still, given the increasingly first-rate quality of the leading free software available today, at a conservative estimate installing Fedora could easily save you several thousand dollars in software, even on a single workstation.

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