Fedora 11's best five features

Fedora, Red Hat's community Linux's arrival has been delayed until early next week, June 2, but the release candidate is already looking mighty darn good.

I've been using Fedora 11 since the late beta showed up in mid-April, and I've been very impressed. It's fast, it's stable, and it's got a snazzy new look. That said, there's one change that I'm not crazy about, audio control, so let's get that out of the way first.

In Fedora 11, or more properly its main desktop interface, GNOME 2.26, uses a new and mindlessly simple audio control: the PulseAudio volume control widget. Instead of multiple sliders that give you direct control over the low-level ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) system, you get one slider for volume. That's it.

You can still get to all the audio control ALSA can give you if you elect to use Alsamixer program or its GNOME interface. The default, however, is still that single volume control. That's really ticked off some Fedora users. In time, as GNOME 2.26 is deployed in more distributions, more users will have a chance to be irked by it.

Personally, I like having absolute control of my audio system, but then before I ever touched a computer I was working with stereo equipment. For most users, the multiple slider approach is over-kill. Jonathan Corbet, the well-known Linux developer, has the best answer: "the volume control should have an 'expert mode.'" Hopefully this common-sense suggestion will be implemented as the default in forthcoming versions of GNOME.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the good stuff.

1) Fast Boot: Fedora developers' goal was to get users from turning on their PC to a GNOME login screen in 20-seconds or less. They did it. While it's not as fast as the firmware Linux distributions like SplashTop or Moblin 2.0, it's the fastest boot-up of a full Linux distribution I've seen on a desktop PC.

In my case, using a Gateway GT5622 with a 1.8GHz Intel Pentium E2160 dual-core CPU, 3GBs of RAM, a 400GB SATA drive, and an Intel 950 GMA (graphics media accelerator) Fedora 11 booted for me in 18.9-seconds. By comparison, Vista SP2 -- yes, Microsoft's newest -- took 58-seconds to boot on the same machine.

2) Ext4 file system by default. Ext4 is the latest official Linux file system, and its biggest advantage is for servers. You see, with Ext4 you can have file systems of up to 1 EB (ExaByte) and up to 16 TB (TeraByte) sized files. Even if you're not running enterprise-sized databases, though Ext4 enables faster disk performance and better drive space management than the previous Ext3 default. This is one of those changes that are invisible to most users, but the overall effect is to boost your computer's overall speed.

3) Better graphics. Fedora 11 uses X.server 1.6 for graphics and that means you'll see an overall better and more stable display. Where this really shows to its best advantage is if you're using multiple displays, but even if you're just running a laptop with a 12" display, you'll still notice that the graphics are a smidge faster.

There is one problem here though. In the past, if you ran into a real graphics foul-up, power Linux users have long used the key-combination "Control-Alt-Backspace" to kill and restart X.server. Unless you manually set this on in the x.org file, that key combo no longer works. That said, I haven't had any need to re-start X.server in Fedora 11. Still, I went ahead and reset it to the old behavior because I'm so used to using it.

4) Synaptics touchpad improvements. I have a confession to make. I hate touchpads. I find them annoying and hard to use. On laptops and netbooks, I either buy a model with a ThinkPad style Trackpoint or use a mouse. But, the new Synaptics update has me at least considering using a touchpad. The overall effect is to make touchpads more responsive and I mean that in a good way. If you're a laptop/touchpad user, this change alone is enough to consider using Fedora 11.

5) DNSSEC. Linux, as a standalone operating system, is much more secure than most operating system. Anything though that works with the Internet is vulnerable to attacks on the Internet infrastructure. Recently, though, attacks against the DNS (Domain Name System), the Internet's address system, have become more common. To help secure your connection to the Internet, Fedora now includes DNSSEC (DNS Security Extensions) by default. Since I use Fedora, and its relatives RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) and CentOS for some of my Internet servers, I really appreciate this added level of security.

Whether you use Fedora on your servers or desktops, I highly recommend you give this new version a try. It's fast, it's solid, and it's up to date. It's really everything you could ask for from a do-it-all Linux distribution.

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