Fedora Core 4 (FC4) is the fourth release of Red Hat's open community project and was released a few weeks ago. I tried both the DVD and the CD version for x86, on the LinuxCertified.com laptop, model LC2430. This is a 2.8 GHz P4, 512 MBs of RAM, 1400x1050 LCD, Intel onboard AC97 sound card, National Semiconductor NIC, 40 GB drive, combo drive and an ATi Radeon 9200 Mobility 64 MB.
All previous versions of Fedora have worked out of the box in this configuration, but it seems that the latest versions of the kernel has a bug with certain LCD displays where the installation screen won't initialized and load without beforehand adding the "nofb" or the "vga=971" command in the kernel configuration line. The latest Ubuntu and Debian seem to have the same problem too.
Anyways, that was just the first hardle (easy to solve), the next one was to make the system install from the DVD. It wouldn't work, not even after 3 burns (installation would die at random places), but the CD version worked flawlessly. Anaconda, the installation program for FC4, is maybe the best installer today, in any operating system. It is both powerful, and easy to use. Fedora has also made some massive steps towards making booting faster. FC4 booted much faster than any previous version, still though, not as fast as more lightweight OSes, like BeOS, FreeBSD or even other distros like Arch and Gentoo. Nevertheless, I am satisfied on the booting speed and optimizations done on FC4's sysinit.
But I wasn't as happy with the memory consumption. About 230 MBs of RAM were used on a clean, default load (according to "free", just after the OS loaded -- no major cashing has occured yet). I find this requirement huge, it means that computers with 256 MBs of RAM will swap heavily after only a few minutes of using the system (e.g. after opening Firefox and Evolution or OOo alone). The specs mention that minimum requirement is 192 MBs, but this is unrealistic for the default number of services that are loaded. I had to go and unload some services before I could see the RAM usage go down to a much better 140 MBs (but I don't expect new users to know where to look or what to disable, so I still find this poor). And btw, why can't I kill completely 'eggcups' (it keeps respawning) which takes so much RAM, and I don't even have a printer in my house? There are other, smaller bugs in there too, but I won't go into detail on them, i will only mention the big ones.
Regarding the overall feel of the distro, FC4 has now moved to the traditional Gnome look: two panels, one on top and one on the bottom. Additionally, it now uses the Clearlooks theme by default putting into sleep the venerable Bluecurve theme. I much prefer Clearlooks to Bluecurve, but I find it weird that after so many years Red Hat was trying to make KDE and Gnome apps look similar with the use of Clearlooks all this effort is going to the bin, as there is no Clearlooks port to Qt installed. On the bright side of things Fedora feels pretty spiffy. I have witnessed gnome applications loading faster than the same app would on a competitive so-called "lightweight" distribution, on the same machine. I am sure that Red Hat engineers did some work on making the system feel more responsive, and this work is commentable and easily spotted, not only when compared to previous versions of FC but also when compared to other distros.
FC4 comes with some new features, like native support for XEN, OOo 2.0-pre beta (looks sweet), SELinux's targeted policy that has been active since Fedora Core 3 has been improved to cover dozens of more daemons. There is now Integrated Clustering Technology, an open source clustering file system that allows a cluster of Linux servers to share a common storage pool. There is also GGC 4.x with a rewritten optimisation infrastructure and improved support for a native Free Java software stack. This includes parts of OpenOffice.org 2.0., Eclipse, and Apache Jakarta, among others. Speaking of Eclipse, it runs natively on GCJ, but it is pretty slow to load and operate, and it has visual bugs too (check that menu in the shot). However, it is very impressive that it actually runs on this Free clone of a java virtual machine.
There are some more parts in the distro that dissapointed me though. Firstly, there is no support for Synaptics in the Gnome preference panel. If that was not bad enough, the actual defaults of Synaptics used are dissapointing, it's too sensitive and the horizontal wheel is enabled making your interaction with Firefox very poor, because it is unexpected to have Firefox going back and forth in history just by using your touchpad. I would have expected Red Hat to include some sane defaults in there, given the fact that most of their engineers use laptops. Oh, yes, I forgot, Red Hat uses mostly IBM laptops internaly, which they don't have touchpads. Go figure.
The second problem I have with Fedora, and it's been there for more than a year, is its "Add/Remove Applications" utility. Well, if you try to make a big install with many packages, it would return errors to you, like in the screenshot. And if you do manage to go around them, towards the end of the installation it would tell you to swap CD1 and CD2 after 1 package has been installed. This was a terrible user experience. I had to swap CD1 and CD2 about 30 times, in less than 5 minutes! Obviously, their package manager needs to be more intelligent.
And then there is Network Manager! Red Hat engineers are advertising the tool everywhere on their blogs as one of the great utilties in FC4, and yet there is nowhere to be found in the Gnome menus or the "Add an applet" pref panel. How do I load this thing, it's a mystery to me.
Two more peeves include the fact that the up2date applet in the panel does not inform me anymore of FC4 updates (while there ARE updates available), it stoped working after my first update. Also of importance is the fact that Fedora does not automount FAT/NTFS partitions and so new users will find this a bit dissapointing (the "security" excuse is lame, encrypt the fs if you need security, I don't). Having to use "mount" in the command line or have to mess up with your /etc/fstab is hardly fun. And speaking of fun, there is not much entertaining that's going to happen with a default FC4 system, as mp3 and other proprietary media technologies are not included for licensing reasons. Lastly, I would much rather see Graveman or Gnomebaker included instead of the scary-looking XCDRoast (KDE is not installed on my system, I do not like its look & feel or clutter).
So, how do I feel about Fedora? Well, it's a powerful system, it works well-enough, but not well-enough for me. It is not a polished system, and it is somewhat bloated, making a potential polishing attempt very difficult as going through the hundrends of applications and libraries included can be daunting. I am sure that many people will find it good enough though, and being a Red Hat-based solution makes it very compatible with most proprietary and other apps, so that should be a good enough reason for new users to pick FC4 instead of another distro. It is not bad by any means, but these bugs/problems I encountered so far really irk me personally. I like clean, fast, small, usable, stable, bug-free, good-looking, sane and lean but powerful systems. Fedora Core 4 is mighty powerful but it delivers poorly on the rest of my requirements. However, I must note that I really like on Fedora its system configuration panels, making the distro's configuration a breeze and offering ease of use where many other distros don't.