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Fedora was the third one up. The installer took about the same amount of time as Ubuntu, clocking in at 20 minutes. The installer was text-based, very old-style, which was quite a contrast to the competitors' snazzy graphical installers. Fedora organizes its software packages into three options: Office and productivity, software development, and Web server. During installation, all three options can be installed, or any combination of the three. This flexibility is handy, since there's no need to put in compilers on a business machine, but image editors might not be as much of a requirement for a codemonkey.
After installation, before going to the desktop, Fedora configures the network and the firewall, asking which protocols should be allowed (HTTPS, FTP, SSH, Samba) and whether SELinux should be enabled or not. As was the case with the previous RPM-distros, Fedora did not support the Attansic chipset for networking. A thorough search on Fedora's forums revealed there was no support for Attansic in the mainline kernel at this point, although it may be added at a later date.
Everything else worked fine -- sound, printing and detecting an external USB drive. The interface was also very comfortable to use, if not a little too blue. Fedora uses Gnome for its desktop environment, so everything was organized in a fairly logical way.
At this point, none of the RPM-distros had made it out of the first round to face Ubuntu in the final round. Test Center engineers tried out Mandriva without any luck. The installer asked users to select what should go in to the boot loader menu, which seemed unnecessarily complicated: what do basic users need to know about a boot loader?
Mandriva does not use CUPS as a default for printer, but rather the Generic Unix LPD Print System. It didn't detect the OfficeJet, and it had trouble switching to CUPS.
So: No RPM distros supported the Attansic chipset during Round 2. What to do, what to do?
Here's how the umpiring crew decided to call this controversy:
We moved to a neutral field. We loaded each distribution onto an HP Compaq desktop running an AMD Athlon 64 Processor 3800+, with an NVIDIA nForce Networking controller (PCI card, not onboard), 960 Mb of memory, an 80 Gb hard drive and an ASUS NAOS motherboard. The RPMs supported the chipset and, again, we went to work. Fedora, SLED 10 and PC Linux OS all connected to the network. (To be fair, we ran the three Debian distros - - from Round 1 -- on the HP Compaq and they all worked just fine.)
In each test bed, Fedora integrated with the printer with ease. However, on the HP Compaq device, Novell took more hands-on configuration to integrate with the printer. On balance, that left Fedora the winner of Round 2 - - but just barely - - over SLED 10.
Again, a few notes are in order. Novell does provide 30 days of telephone support with SLED 10, but it's not free. (There's a nominal, annual licensing fee for the distro.) We've long been a fan of Novell's work on SLED 10, and we continue to like it. In a head to head with Fedora, though, it didn't stand out. We lost time trying to work with OpenSUSE to see if that provided networking support (it did not). Novell has a long history of providing support and partnership to the channel, so solution providers can judge on a case-by-case basis if that partnership can be a boost in smoothing out any deployment issues that arise -- like an Attansic chipset. For now, SLED 10 might adopt the old Brooklyn Dodgers' motto: Wait 'til next year.
Slide Show: Walk through screen by screen as we pit SLED 10 vs. Fedora 7 vs. PCLinuxOS.
Also, as we said earlier, PC Linux OS has been a favorite of some integrators and resellers from whom we often hear. Well, it just didn't do it for us. We'll have to think twice before we consider it for next year's World Series of Linux.
Fedora 7 wasn't perfect, but of the RPM flavors it just did the best job in our testing. It will now take part in the money round: the championships.