July 14, 2005

Review: Fedora Core 4

Author: Jeremy LaCroix

I've been using Linux for four years, with the majority of that time spent using Red Hat distributions. I liked Fedora Core 1, but I was not impressed by Fedora Core 2 and its annoying bugs. Fedora Core 3 made up for the shortcomings of its predecessor. Now Fedora Core 4 is out, and unfortunately, it's a mixed bag.

I tested the latest Fedora release on a 900MHz AMD Athlon-based machine with 768MB RAM, with an Nvidia GeForce FX 5500 video adapter with 256MB RAM, and an 80GB hard drive.

Installing Fedora Core 4 was easy, and seemingly unchanged from previous releases. Fedora uses the Anaconda installer. Some packages (e.g. Tux Racer) are no longer in the release, and some (e.g. OpenOffice.org 2.0) have been added. Installing the proprietary Nvidia drivers worked for me, using the official drivers at www.nvidia.com.

Fedora Core 4 comes packaged with the latest desktop interfaces, including GNOME 2.10 and KDE 3.4. Both desktop environments ran great and fast.

OpenOffice.org 2.0 beta replaces the OpenOffice.org 1.x releases of the past. The OpenOffice.org startup screen displays that it's a beta, which I imagine must confuse stable-purists who may not like to use beta applications on work that is mission-critical. Including a beta version of this otherwise great office suite in this release doesn't make sense to me. While I've had no problems with it and no crashes, a beta release in what is considered to be a stable operating system feels out of place.

Worse, Fedora Core 4 gets low marks for multimedia. I encountered an overwhelming number of bugs in this area. There is no support for proprietary formats such as Windows Media, DVD, and MP3, though having used past Red Hat/Fedora releases, I would expect nothing more. Previously, enabling these multimedia types was not a hard task, but this time, it's daunting.

Those using SoundBlaster sound cards, for example, will notice a very staticky sound all over the operating system. There is a workaround, involving creating a custom asound.conf file, which fixes it for some applications, though not for others, and makes other applications that didn't have the problem start having it. You literally have to choose which programs that produce sound are most important to you and prioritize. This is such a nasty bug that I'm surprised that it wasn't addressed in the betas, which have this problem too.

I've experienced many problems playing video files and DVDs. For example, in order to get the audio to be in sync with the video in movies and DVDs, I had to tweak my sound settings for more than an hour -- and I was barely able to get DVDs to play at all, even with the libdvdcss packages. While these problems may not be Fedora's fault -- they may be the fault of the folks at FreshRPMs and Livna, who made all the repositories Fedora uses by default for these types of things -- the mistakes lower the quality of this otherwise great operating system.

I tried enabling these proprietary media files the same way I did this in previous Fedora releases, which was to install Apt4RPM, a great package management tool, and use that to install the necessary packages. That worked in previous Fedora releases, but not in Fedora Core 4.

In the end, the massive multimedia problems and the inclusion of the beta version of OpenOffice.org make this distribution seem more like a polished test release than a stable operating system. While I love Fedora as a whole, I am using Ubuntu for now, and awaiting Fedora Core 5, which I hope is more stable.


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