Fedora 13 - Ubuntu's smart but less attractive cousin
Review Number 13 is indeed an unlucky number for the next release of Fedora. Unfortunately for this popular distro, its beta arrives at almost the same time as the next release of Ubuntu, Lucid Lynx.
The Fedora 13 beta could get eclipsed by Ubuntu 10.04, later this month, because it lacks some of the flashy new features found in Canonical's distro that target the Linux novice and crosses into the world of mainstream consumers more than ever.
When Fedora 12 was released, project leader Paul Frields told The Reg that Fedora is intended "first and foremost for users interested in and capable of contributing to open source."
That focus on tech savvy users is reflected in the Fedora 13 beta, which offers a number of new features that are mostly under-the-hood. This stands in stark contrast to the recently released Ubuntu beta.
Where Ubuntu was full of new features designed to entice the everyday user - social networking applications installed by default, the Ubuntu One music store - Fedora 13 is a more stoic, though still very welcome, update.
Among the impressive features is the new, experimental open source 3D acceleration support for Nvidia graphics cards.
Fedora 12, the current stable release of the Fedora line, started the 3D support with some open source drivers for newer ATI graphics cards, and Fedora 13 will see that support extended to cover NVidia video cards thanks to the Nouveau drivers.
Of course, Fedora has never stopped you from using closed, proprietary drivers, but this is the first time that an open-source solution has been available on the platform.
Unfortunately, at least for the time being, you'll need to install the drivers yourself. The package in question is mesa-dri-drivers-experimental. If you're testing the beta and you have an NVidia card in your PC, be sure to give Fedora your feedback and file any bugs you encounter.
Other features in Fedora 13 include automatic printer driver installation - which means if you plug-in a supported printer the driver is downloaded and installed automatically. It's not the most exciting feature we've seen, but it does add another, "it-just-works" element to the already very user-friendly distro.
Among the other upgrade components are some NetworkManager improvements, including a new command line interface and a fairly major redesign of the user management interface.
Fedora's Anaconda installer has also been reworked again, offering what Fedora's release notes call "a simpler workflow for desktop and laptop users." Essentially, there are few options to decipher during the installation process, though most of the old fine-tuning menus are still available to advanced users that want to access them.
Interestingly, on systems with more than 50GB of free space, Anaconda defaults to creating /home on its own partition. I'm not sure why Anaconda only does it when 50GB is available, but keeping /home separate from the system is fairly common practice and you can of course still customize your disk partitioning by hand during the installation process.
Fedora 13 also sees a number of upgrades to common software packages - Gnome 2.30 is the default desktop, OpenOffice 3.2 is included,and the Empathy chat framework has been updated.
Firefox has also been upgraded to the 3.6 version with support for HTML5 video, provided the video is encoded using the Ogg Theora video codec. Fedora was among the first to ship the new Theora 1.1, a much-improved version of the open video codec which features video quality on par with proprietary solutions like H.264. The Theora 1.1 project is a combined effort between the Xiph.Org Foundation, Mozilla, and Fedora developers.
Anyone doing graphics work on Fedora will like the new color management system for the Gnome desktop. There's even support for vendor-supplied ICC or ICM profile files - just double-click them to config.
Python programmers will be happy to know that Fedora 13 comes with a "parallel-installable" Python 3 environment that will make it easy for those looking to upgrade their code to test in both Python 2.6 and 3.0, without the need to install Python 3.0 from scratch.
The KDE varient of Fedora has been upgraded to KDE 4.4, which offers better Pulse Audio integration.
Fedora 13 already looks like it will be a worthy upgrade to the Fedora line. While it may lack some of the more "everyday user" features of Ubuntu 10.04, Fedora is still a very user-friendly distro and - for many - Fedora 13 will be worth the upgrade for the NVidia support alone. ®