Review: Fedora 7

Fedora 7 has its oddities, but overall it's a polished distribution.
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Fedora 7 helps to convince me that the time when the major GNU/Linux distributions were distinctive is rapidly passing. These days, innovation seems centered on the desktop or the individual program. Major distributions have become so mature that their role is mostly integration, and they are starting to look increasingly the same.

Not long ago, Fedora was known for such firsts as implementing a philosophically free Java that allowed users to take full advantage of OpenOffice.org's features, and adding SELinux for enhanced security. Now, Fedora 7 is simply a well-rounded distribution designed for beginners, and its technical innovations are mostly minor.

Not that innovation isn't happening behind the scenes. At the release management level, Fedora 7 is the first release to merge the Fedora Core and Fedora Extras package repositories under one set of packaging policies (which explains the change of name from "Fedora Core" to plain "Fedora"). Moreover, according to Fedora chair Max Spevack, Fedora 7 is the first release in which all the software used is released under a free license, and all decision-making is made in public. In addition, Fedora 7 is the first release to benefit from the fully organized testing sub-project that was established last year under Will Woods.

However, little of these changes are observable to the average user at the desktop. If Test 4, the release candidate used in this review is any indication, what Fedora offers from a user's perspective is a mature product at every stage, from installation to the desktop through to software installation and security. Rather than being radically new, much of Fedora 7 is a legacy of features -- many polished, a few flawed -- that has been slowly built up during successive releases.

Downloading and Installation

Fedora 7 downloads are available in several forms, including live CDs with either the GNOME or the KDE desktop and a 2.7 gigabyte DVD. All are available as either .ISO images or as BitTorrent downloads.

As has been the case for several releases (at least for me), Anaconda, Fedora's installation program, consistently reports downloaded images as corrupt -- so I recommend using the BitTorrent downloads instead. By now, Anaconda must be the oldest continually-used graphical installer for GNU/Linux, and the incarnation in Fedora 7 offers few surprises.

Apart from some small innovations, such as the ability to specify additional package repositories to use, and some additional parameters for the kickstart file -- the log of installation choices used to produce identical installs on other machines -- the most obvious change is the additional choices, such as additional desktops, virtualization tools, and extra language support. These changes aside, once you get past the changes in wallpaper, Anaconda is much the same as it has always been. Like earlier versions, it features an installation medium check at the start, and clear and concise instructions built into the interface, but has yet to add support for more than the ext2 and ext3 filesystems directly from the interface.

In Fedora 7, it offers a moderate set of options, which give more installation choices than Ubuntu, but fewer than Debian. The only thing to watch is that, as a result of changes in IDE disk drivers, all drives are now labeled as if they were SCSI or USB drives, so that the first partition on the first hard drive is now /dev/sda1 instead of /dev/hda1.

If you are upgrading an existing installation, then this change could interfere with scripts and possibly some configuration files. It may also be confusing if you are unaware of the change and do any command line work with drives.

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