May 23, 2006

My desktop OS: Fedora Core 5

Author: Michael Hampton

I like playing with the newest software games, toys, and applications. At the same time, I have work to do, and I need a solid, stable platform that I don't have to babysit. As a full-time blogger and part-time Web programmer, I need a wide variety of tools at my disposal, and I frequently need the latest versions of available software. Balancing stability against the bleeding edge is a difficult trick, and that's why Fedora Core 5 is my desktop OS.

The Fedora Core 5 installation is just about the simplest installation available. It's been further simplified from previous versions of Fedora Core in the area of package selection. You simply choose which tasks you need to perform, such as Office/Productivity, Software Development, and Web Server. You can further customize the packages to be installed if you like, and even the custom package selection is easier to use. Once installed, you can use the new Pirut graphical tool to manage your packages, or yum from the command line.

Fedora Core 5 includes drivers for virtually any piece of hardware you can think of, including the new bcm43xx driver for the Broadcom Wi-Fi card built in to my new laptop, so I'm now using FC5 on both my desktop and laptop. It does have some problems with my Adaptec FireWire PCI card; it doesn't always recognize when I have unplugged my iPod (and yes, I ejected it) so it won't always recognize the iPod when I plug it back in.

In addition to the wide variety of software included with Fedora Core 5, you can install additional repositories, such as RPMforge (formerly dag/dries), livna, and FreshRPMs, which among other things provide software that Fedora Core cannot ship with the OS for legal reasons, such as video drivers for ATI and Nvidia cards, Acrobat Reader, and Macromedia Flash Player.

In my work, I have to deal with many diverse document and media types, so I need those extra packages. handles every Microsoft document I have thrown at it so far. Acrobat Reader and Xpdf handle PDF files. Flash Player lets me view videos from Google Video, YouTube, CBS News, and the Associated Press right inside Firefox. (This tends to take up a lot more of my day than I'd like, but I do get paid for it.)

As a Web programmer, I also need a local Web server, and Fedora comes through, bundling Apache 2.2.0, PHP 5.1.2, and MySQL 5.0.18, allowing me to prototype and test applications before rolling them out to a live Web server. And despite the proliferation of tools for Web development, my tool of choice is still Vim. There's nothing quite like lovingly hand-crafted code.

Fedora Core includes the GNOME, KDE, and Xfce desktop environments, so there's something to please everyone. While I primarily use GNOME, I also start Konqueror on occasion in order to test Web sites. My primary browser is Firefox, though I also use Opera as well as Internet Explorer through Wine. I use the Liferea feed reader to keep up with RSS feeds, Thunderbird to manage my email, and Gaim for instant messaging. Then I use the GIMP to mangle any images I need to mangle, gtkpod to transfer music and podcasts to my iPod, and Totem to play movies.

I also use Synergy to share my desktop's keyboard and mouse with my laptop when I'm at my desktop. Synergy is cross-platform, allowing you to share a single keyboard and mouse among several Unix, Mac OS X and Windows machines over the local network. It doesn't share the video, but since the laptop is sitting next to my desktop's LCD monitor, I don't need to. I use RealVNC and rdesktop when I need remote video.

I've used Linux since 1993, when I got hold of a copy of SLS on diskettes. I've since used Slackware, Red Hat, Debian, Ubuntu, Gentoo, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and a whole variety of other distributions. I've sometimes changed distros within a single day. As an experienced sysadmin, I can configure pretty much any Unix box to sing and dance exactly how I want it to. But as time has passed, I've found I have more important things to do than screw with configuration files, so a reasonable default configuration is very important. In the final analysis, I'm using Linux to get some work done, and occasionally to relax. Fedora Core 5 lets me do both without having to work too hard at setting up or maintaining the system.

Michael Hampton is an open source programmer who also consults for businesses using blogs. Individual bloggers, small businesses, and large media outlets all use his software and services. He contributes code to the open source WordPress blogging platform.

What desktop OS do you use every day? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what you use and why. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven't already published a story on your favorite OS or have one in hand.) In recent weeks, we've covered SimplyMEPIS, Xandros, Mac OS X, Fedora Core 3, Ubuntu, White Box Enterprise Linux, Mandriva PowerPack 2006, Slackware, SUSE, GRML, Kanotix, Gentoo, VectorLinux, CentOS, Damn Small Linux, Frugalware, Kubuntu, PCLinuxOS, and Arch Linux.


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