Fedora 18: Dangerous to your Data

image Last month Fedora released the latest version of their Linux distribution, version 18, codenamed “Spherical Cow”, a reference to an engineering joke, the main new feature of which is a redesigned installer (still called Anaconda, but visually and in other respects very different from the old Anaconda). I’ve tried Fedora a few times, and generally found it undistinguished since they moved away from the Bluecurve look they pioneered in 2002. However, Linux User and Developer magazine called it “a wonderful, minimalist-designed app”, although reviewers linked off DistroWatch often thoroughly disagree. I found this release hideous; it’s got serious bugs which reveal themselves at almost every turn.

I tried Fedora four times. First, I used the Live CD that came with LU&D, which uses GNOME 3 with the standard Shell. Normally, a live CD boots into a desktop environment. This booted to a login screen, giving no indication as to how to proceed. Eventually, a bit of Google searching revealed that you’re meant to log in as root, without a password. That should be on the screen, or even on the DVD page of the magazine (not Fedora’s fault, I know).

I then downloaded the net-install CD, as I only had spare blank CD-ROMs and the other downloads are DVD size. The new installer looks quite nice although the buttons are often in odd places. It had two obvious things wrong, however. The most significant was that the partitioner is extremely confusing, with the options given peculiar and unfamiliar names (obvious at the outset, where you have to choose “Installation Destination”) and it’s easy to lose settings you’ve made. You can’t do simple things like change disk labels unless you want to reformat (so if the partition used for the home directory is called, say, “opensuse-home”, it’ll have to keep that name until you change it later). I would appreciate being able to partition both disks from the same screen, as in YaST (or at least, more easily than this, as on the Ubuntu installer). This is Unix, after all. It’s all going to be one file structure once it’s loaded.

The second flaw was the limited software installation choices. You could choose between some canned system models - either a specific desktop (and only one), or a development or graphics workstation (and it didn’t tell you what desktop or window manager that would mean installing). You couldn’t, unlike in the old Anaconda, look inside the software selections and choose particular packages.

When I tried to reboot, I discovered that it hadn’t installed the bootloader properly, so I had to launch Fedora manually from the “Grub Rescue” prompt, which was difficult as Grub 2 lacks command history (meaning using the Up arrow to choose and edit previous commands) or even any kind of help. The initial boot then stalled when trying to configure NTP, and there was nothing I could do except just reboot. When I did that, it made me set up yet another user, which I had to later delete, as it’s only me that uses the machine.

I chose Cinnamon, which is OK although there are some bugs (like desktop icons not showing even if you enable the option to show them), but those aren’t Fedora’s fault (it’s a Linux Mint product). What is definitely Fedora’s fault is the rotten software installer, which doesn’t tell you what’s going on while it’s installing stuff. It’s got no obvious settings, the status display at the bottom keeps disappearing, nor even a quit button. MATE, which is the continuation of GNOME 2, quickly revealed it’s chief flaw - a background covered in file icons, from the days when Desktop was used as the download folder. That had obvious bugs too, like the file manager not appearing in theme despite being a part of the desktop. I finally installed KDE (it took some searching to find out how - there should be a package simply called KDE, or maybe kde-desktop… but it seems you need to put a @ sign, which I had to Google to find out). When I got that installed, although it worked fairly well for the most part, I discovered that dragging certain apps (like Firefox and Thunderbird) round the screen would result in them careering off rather than staying under the mouse pointer. I tried to fix that by installing the proprietary ATI graphics driver, but I couldn’t start up the X window server after that (which means no desktop of any kind, only plain text programs like an old DOS machine for those old enough to remember those).

(Note: I’ve since installed OpenSUSE on this computer, and discovered that this is an upstream problem - it’s also present in Kubuntu Quantal using KDE 4.9 and OpenSUSE 12.3 RC1 using KDE 4.10, so this is either a graphics driver issue or a KDE bug, not Fedora’s fault.)

Fedora 18 is a disaster. The Fedora project should retract this release, because it’s dire. It is the worst version of a major Linux distro since Mandrake 9.2 in 2003 or so, which deleted the firmware in some people’s CD drives and kept crashing my machine with interminable disk activity which I could only escape from by switching the machine off. This release is, in my opinion, dangerous to your data because of the confusing partitioner. Besides the familiar mediocrity of this distro (like the poor software installation utilities which were outperformed by SUSE and Ubuntu years ago), this release is half-baked, barely beta-quality software. It should be avoided like the plague.

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