The latest release of Fedora, nicknamed "Heisenbug," is a step towards making Fedora a player in the mobile arena. Fedora 20 also includes more support for cloud, and this is also the first release that supports cheap, low-power ARM processors as a primary architecture, in addition to Intel and AMD chips.
We tested Fedora 20 on three machines: an old Acer laptop, with around 1GB of RAM and a 2.13-GHz Intel Celeron processor; a desktop with 5.6GB of RAM and an AMD Athlon II x2 processor running at 2.80 GHz; and a System76 laptop with 7.7GB of RAM, 64 bit, an Intel core i5-320m CPU at 2.60 GHz x 4 processor.
Installation took about 10 minutes, a little faster than Fedora 19, but the installer interface continues to be unnecessarily complicated and requires some familiarity with disk partitioning. Ubuntu, for example, makes this process much simpler for casual users.
The default desktop environment is Gnome 3, though Fedora also supports the Cinnamon, Enlightenment, KDE, Mate and Sugar desktop environments. In a nod towards usability, a Gnome tutorial launches at first startup to help new users get familiar with it. It's a slick, modern interface, but only has some minor improvements in this release, such as better fonts and a reorganized applications menu.
Fedora comes with the Firefox browser, the LibreOffice productivity suite, the Evolution email client, and the Empathy instant messaging platform that can access Gmail, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber and other instant messaging platforms. All of these applications are easily accessible through an icon bar that appears on the left side of the screen under the "Activities" label.
Gnome puts all key info name of the currently running application, time and date, and status icons across the top of the screen. As a result, this status bar can get crowded, and means that switching applications takes two mouse clicks instead of one. The first one, to get back to your activities, and the second, to choose your application from the application preview tiles in the middle of the screen.
There's no built-in way to change most of the appearance and display settings. As a result, one of the first things that users will probably want to do is to install the Gnome Tweak Tool.
Looking ahead toward mobile
Fedora is known more for being an enterprise-friendly operating system, running back-end servers rather than end user desktops with a particular focus on security and development tools.
But Red Hat, Fedora's major corporate sponsor, is aware of the changing dynamics of the marketplace and is attempting to prepare Fedora for a future in which processing is done in the cloud, and applications are accessed via mobile devices.
The previous release, Fedora 19, included First Class Cloud Images, versions of Fedora ready to run on Amazon's cloud. With this release, the cloud images are presented as equal options to the other alternatives, the traditional desktop installer and CD-based images. The cloud images are now developed and tested as part of the regular development process.
"We continue to push towards making capabilities available in the cloud," says Red Hat CIO Lee Congdon. That includes JBoss middleware and other development tools, he says. These tools also come into play when building solutions that are delivered to mobile users. "We're continuing to invest in that space," he says.
Fedora isn't quite making the mobile strides that Ubuntu is, however, which actually released a mobile version of the operating system with Ubuntu Touch last fall.
Not all of Fedora's cloud-related features are about the enterprise, however. For example, Gnome Documents allows users to connect to their online accounts at Google Drive, Facebook, Flickr, ownCloud, and other online services.
This seems similar to the Unity Smart Scopes feature recently added to Ubuntu. One advantage of the Gnome approach, however, is that it doesn't needlessly clutter up the search results with Amazon, Etsy, Wikipedia and Reddit results.
Adding a cloud service was simple, by clicking on the service on the Online Accounts setting page and entering login credentials. For platforms such as Google Drive, that offer documents, mail, contacts, and other features, you can turn each one on or off individually. Adding Google Drive, for example, pulled in all my documents and folders though not files and folders that had been shared with me.
As a result, I could open and view a Google document from within Gnome Documents. Making changes to it, however, requires signing in to Google Drive.
Since all these features are relatively new, I'd be hesitant about using Fedora as my central control point for all my online accounts just yet, but I can see how it can potentially be very useful.
Drivers and devices a mixed bag
Fedora is a pure open-source operating system, meaning that it doesn't come with proprietary tools like Flash. Depending on the use case, this may be a good thing or a bad thing. For casual end users, it's definitely a problem, since installing Flash can be cumbersome. It's not available in the official Fedora software repository, and users need to enable the RPM Fusion repository instead.
The same goes for Nvidia's and AMD's proprietary graphics cards drivers and Skype.
Another issue that could cause problems is the upgrade from Bluez 4 Bluetooth management to Bluez 5. This is the most cutting edge release of Bluez, and not all Bluetooth devices are supported. Some Bluetooth headset users, for example, may need to downgrade back to Bluez 4 or hold off on upgrading to Fedora 20 until their devices work.
The best news on the device front is that Gnome now supports login and authentication with smart cards, a great security advance for many enterprises.
Fedora goes big on Big Data
Hadoop is the big name in Big Data, and Fedora now offers the core functionality of this popular Big Data analytics platform, as well as many related packages.
Apache Hadoop typically runs on clusters of machines, but can be used on a single computer as well, for development and testing. To fully use Hadoop on Fedora will require multiple-system deployment and management, and the Fedora team is reportedly working on packaging Apache Ambari. There's no official word, however, about when Ambari will be fully supported.
Fedora has also updated MongoDB to version 2.4. This is the leading NoSQL database for unstructured data. The update adds full text search and security enhancements.
Time to switch?
With the exception of some Bluetooth device problems, there aren't many reasons not to upgrade to Fedora 20 for current Fedora users.
Meanwhile, Fedora 18 reached its end of life for updates, support and security updates in mid-January, so those users should definitely start planning their migration to either Fedora 19 or 20.
For users of other operating systems, Fedora does offer a cutting-edge, enterprise-focused platform. Users of the more popular Ubuntu and Mint platforms won't see any reasons to switch with this release, however.
Korolov is a freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected]. Researchers Anastasia Trombly and Ben Boettger also contributed to this report.