Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Red Hat's Fedora 11: So easy you'll forget it's Linux

Hat has taken heat over the past few years for allegedly neglecting the personal computer in favor of more profitable enterprise servers. It's a fair critique: Red Hat is an enterprise software company, a decision it made years ago, and to good effect.


But anyone thinking that Red Hat has somehow forgotten consumer markets in its rush to win the enterprise need only try the final release of Fedora 11, its community-focused operating system for desktops and laptops. I've been evaluating Fedora 11 for the past week and find it polished and professional while meeting or beating Windows in key performance areas.


Reading through Fedora 11's feature list, the geek in you may get giddy seeing the use of ext4 as the default file system. Not me. I don't care about the underpinnings of the operating system. I just want it to work.


This is, in fact, Fedora 11's biggest selling point: it just works. And fast, too: from powering on to logging in takes 20 seconds or less. Beat that, Windows!


(Ironically, if Windows hopes to catch Linux in boot-up performance, it's going to have to turn to Linux, like DeviceVM's Splashtop, for help.)


This, however, is an experience I've been having with several Linux distributions, including Moblin Beta 2, Ubuntu 9.04 Netbook Remix (reviewed here), and OpenSUSE 11.1. While none is perfect, the same is true of my preferred Mac OS X and Windows (Vista or XP). They all work, with little or no fiddling required.


In fact, as an experiment I've been leaving my Linux-based Netbook around the house and have given my children and wife free rein to use it whenever and however they want. My wife looks up actors on IMDB. My daughter writes a school paper. Not one of them has struggled to perform these basic tasks, set up the wireless, etc. Everything just works, and works in a way very familiar to a Mac or Windows user.


This is the state of "desktop" Linux today: it really has nothing left to prove. It took years to become user friendly, but it has arrived, helped along by the world's move to browser-based computing. At this point, the only thing that Fedora and the other Linux distributions can do is embrace and extend the Windows or Mac computing experience, because they've largely matched them (especially Windows).


Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth has targeted the Mac as the "desktop" operating system to beat, with plans to do just that.


In fact, my only real complaint with Fedora 11 is that it doesn't yet have a Netbook-focused "spin." I'm not alone in seeking a "Fedora Netbook Remix," but Fedora Mini, as it's called, is not yet ready for prime time.


In the meantime, yes, Fedora 11 provides support for cross-compiling Windows applications directly on Fedora Linux using the MinGW environment, and yes it provides the latest and greatest in open-source software like Firefox 3.1 for Web browsing.


Just don't expect it to be weird/geeky anymore. Those days for the Linux "desktop" are gone. It still needs some spit and polish but, again, so does Windows. The Mac is the closest any 'desktop' operating system gets to being both beautiful and super user friendly. Linux, however, if Fedora 11 is any indication, isn't far behind.



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