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Review: 3 top Linux distros go for different users

December 16, 2009 06:00 AM ET

Fedora 12

Paul Frields, Red Hat's Fedora Project Leader, described Fedora to me as being "first and foremost for users interested in and capable of contributing to open source." So if you're a Linux power user, you're going to love Fedora. If you're not, this probably isn't the distro for you.

It's not that Fedora is hard to use. While it's not as beginner-friendly as Ubuntu, most Linux users shouldn't have any trouble working with Fedora even if they're not developers.

Sometimes, though, Fedora's designers have assumed that its users are wiser than the general run of users. For example, when Fedora 12 was first released, ordinary (non-admin) users could install software on Fedora without access to the root password. That has since been changed and local users will need to enter the root password before they can install software (as they do on almost all other Linux distributions).

Otherwise, there's a lot to like in Fedora 12. Fedora boots faster than just about any other operating system this side of embedded instant-on Linux systems such as Splashtop. In particular, if you're using a netbook or another computer powered by an Intel Atom processor, you'll be impressed by just how fast Fedora can run, since it automatically installs an optimized version of itself on PCs that use this low-power processor.

Once up, the slick GNOME interface is easy to use. Under the hood, GNOME 2.28 has been optimized to work well on low-end hardware. These memory performance improvements also show up when you're running virtual machines on Fedora with its native KVM virtualization. The net effect is that it manages memory much better than it has in the past, which means you can run more VMs than you could before on the same hardware.

Fedora
Fedora's Network Manager now supports more network choices.
Click to view larger image

More immediately interesting to many users is Fedora's improved support for Bluetooth wireless devices and webcams. Another change that I especially like is that Fedora's Network Manager now supports more network choices, including IPv6. These days, when I might need to choose between Wi-Fi, mobile broadband, wired or a VPN connection, I appreciate that Fedora makes it easy for me to find and use the one I want.

Business users should be aware that Fedora is meant for cutting-edge users. That's great if you want to press the limits of what you can do with a Linux desktop. It's not ideal, though, if you want a solid, reliable desktop. If you want to use Fedora in a business, you're better off with RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux).

For all of its many excellent features, Fedora isn't the best distribution for new or business users. But if you're a user like me who already lives his computing life on Linux, it's a great choice.



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