The first beta version of
2 was released last week, after a 10-day delay from the original schedule.
Also known as version 1.90 or FC2-test1, this is the earliest preview of what
will in due time form the basis of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4, and what will
soon be making its way to desktops and servers of Fedora users. In many ways,
this is the most significant product by Red Hat in years, with the brand new
Linux kernel, substantially enhanced security, and new versions of the
popular GNOME and KDE desktop environments. As such, it warrants a closer
look, even in its present unfinished state.
First the bad news. Those accustomed to high standards of past releases by Red
Hat, even the beta ones, will be surprised at the apparent lack of attention
to detail in this release. A glaring error while building the ISO images
prevents the installation CD from booting on architectures other than i686.
The usually comprehensive release notes were replaced by a quick overview
listing a few known issues and a link to Red Hat's bugzilla. The two main
desktop environments, GNOME and KDE are both beta versions - GNOME is a
development release 2.5, while KDE is version 3.1.95 (also known as 3.2rc1).
The version of GNOME included in this release is very buggy. Both Evolution
and Nautilus are reportedly prone to crashes and Evolution is unable to
import existing mail. Some users have complained about the new default way of
browsing folders in Nautilus, the so-called "spatial mode", in
which every click on a folder opens a new Nautilus window (without a menu or
toolbar). The left panel with a tree structure is missing in spatial mode.
Apparently, this is an intended behavior of Nautilus in GNOME 2.6, so those
users who prefer the old way of doing things can restore the "browsing mode",
either by launching the program with the "nautilus --browser" command, or by
right-clicking within a Nautilus window and selecting "browser mode". Others
have voiced their concerns about the newly overhauled "Open File..." dialog
in GNOME, which in the words of one of the testers on the Fedora mailing
list, is "poorly laid out, improperly sized and unnecessarily
complex". Even the most faithful GNOME users are bound to be
displeased with all the glitches and inconsistencies in this development
version of GNOME.
Surprising as it may sound for a distribution that has traditionally
demonstrated a clear preference for GNOME, the KDE desktop seems in much
better shape. It still uses the Bluecurve theme by default, but users can
select a different one during KDE's initial configuration dialog. Apart from
misplaced menu entries of certain system applications, accidentally placed
under a "Lost and Found" (!) menu entry, there have been few reports of KDE
applications crashing or behaving unexpectedly.
Another surprise, and a rather pleasant one for users with older hardware, is
the appearance of XFce (version 4.0.3) in the distribution. This is the first
time that XFce was included in any Red Hat product and it comes at the
expense of WindowMaker, which was dropped from Red Hat Linux after version
8.0. The inclusion of a light-weight desktop would seem to indicate that Red
Hat has decided to lower the stringent hardware requirements and give users
an option to run a less resource-hungry desktop on older hardware.
Unfortunately, there is no mention of this in the release notes. XFce is not
given as a choice during system installation; however, once installed
directly from RPMs, it appears as an option on the login screen, alongside
GNOME and KDE.
Disappointingly, the much awaited SELinux functionality was pulled from this
release due to "a couple of last minute problems". It is now expected
to be ready for inclusion in Fedora Core 2 Test 2, scheduled for release on
March 8. SELinux (or Security Enhanced Linux) is one of the two major new
features planned for Fedora Core 2; it is designed to enhance security of the
operating system by allowing users to define explicit rules for file and
device access and by confining user programs to the minimum amount of
privilege they need to perform their tasks.
Unless you are an experienced user or intend to help with bug reporting, this
first beta release of Fedora Core 2 is best left alone. Some of the many,
many bugs in it are not necessarily Red Hat's fault, although one has to
question the company's insistence to ship a highly experimental version of
GNOME, which seems to have a long way to go before it becomes 2.6 final.
Other frequently reported problems include issues with sound, printing,
up2date and yum, which together with missing SELinux functionality and
haphazard release notes make for a rather poor distribution. The Fedora
developers have a lot of work on their hands before the product enters its
second phase of testing.
Luckily for them, the final release of Fedora Core 2 is only scheduled for
April 19, so there is plenty of time. But as things stand now, Mandrake's own
beta releases appear to be in a much better shape.
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