Fedora is a distribution that’s been around for a very long time. It was officially launched in 2004, but existed before that date under the Red Hat moniker, and has actually been going for more than 17 years.
Plenty has changed in the world of desktop OSes during that time, and it’s refreshing to see that Fedora hasn’t been left behind. In its default guise, Fedora 17 (aka Beefy Miracle) runs the Gnome 3 desktop system, but its offering is different to an average icon-strewn Linux or Windows desktop.
In fact, you might be surprised to find that you can’t drop shortcut icons on the Fedora desktop at all. When the system boots, you’re faced with a blank desktop that has a minimalist status bar running along the top. This doesn’t change until you shunt the mouse cursor into the top-left corner of the screen, or click the Activities icon in the same location.
This launches, via a smoothly animated transition, a helicopter view of apps open on the current desktop, a launcher menu on the left, and a pop-out desktop navigator to the right. There’s also a pair of buttons here that lets you switch between this app view and a scrolling, iOS-style app launcher, plus a search box generating results as you type. It’s a thoroughly modern system that’s attractive and powerful all at once.
Traditionalists may moan, but Fedora doesn’t leave them out. For a more conservative approach, you can download officially sanctioned versions that are preconfigured with the heavyweight KDE desktop manager; there are lightweight LXDE and Xfce versions as well.
Other slick touches include out-of-the-box multitouch support on our test laptop, allowing two-fingered vertical and horizontal scrolling. There’s Windows-style application snapping, which works in precisely the same way as it does in Windows: you either drag windows to the top and sides of the screen to dock them in place, or use the Windows key and the up, down, left and right cursor keys together.
Software installation, meanwhile, is taken care of by the system’s own PackageKit installer using RPM packages. This isn’t blessed with the most user-friendly of front-ends – we’d prefer to see a little more description next to individual entries. It isn’t a patch on the Ubuntu Software Centre, but at least it works efficiently, and there’s plenty of software from which to choose.
One annoyance is that the Flash player and media codecs aren’t preinstalled, and the software complement has a couple of weird holes, with no major office suite or photo-editing package preinstalled. However, it’s easy enough to hunt down LibreOffice and The GIMP, and install them via the package manager. The applications that have been preinstalled are good choices, too – Firefox, Rhythmbox for music playback, Evolution for email, Nautilus for file browsing and the Totem video player.
Generally, it’s tough to criticise Fedora. It’s at least as strong as Ubuntu in terms of ease of use, and its hardware support seems to be pretty sound. It’s marred by a lack of preinstalled codecs and odd software omissions, but it’s still well worth giving a try.
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