Linux

Fedora 14: Strong follow-up to 13 still suffers from same niche appeal

Jack Wallen explains why Fedora 14 is not a distribution for the new Linux user as well as what Fedora would need to do in order to reclaim its place atop the list of Linux distributions for new users.

As far as Linux is concerned, there are distributions that are ready for the masses (Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, Linux Minut) and there are distributions whose appeal doesn't go much further than a niche of users. Fedora Linux, however, is a distribution that seems to want to vacillate between target audiences. At one point Fedora wants to reach out to a massive scope of users. At the next point Fedora seems to focus on a far, far smaller audience. And it seems this vacillation happens just about every release.

When Fedora 13 arrived, it seemed as if it was on the crux of leaping from the small, niche audience, to a grander scale. It was stable, it was fast, it played very well on the desktop and with desktop hardware. It looked like Fedora was ready to lock itself onto the fast track of becoming what could be a top distribution for the average user.

And then Mark Shuttleworth made two major announcements:

  1. Ubuntu 11.04 would default to the Unity desktop.
  2. Ubuntu 11.04 would oust X Windows in favor of the Wayland graphical server.

Regardless of how you feel about either of these announcements, it meant major change for Ubuntu. This looked as if it could help to solidify Fedora's place in the hands and hearts of the average user.

But then Fedora 14 arrives and clearly makes itself a target for the niche audience. Why? In the release notes of Fedora 14, it is all too clear that the focus has been on the developer. With the release of 14 there was faster jpeg compression, new development languages, new development tools, support for new releases of various frameworks, and more. But the core of the update targets developers.

It's not until you actually install the OS that you start to wonder what is happening. When you do complete the installation, click on Applications | Office and tell me what you see missing. That's correct, the only office tools available by default are Evolution (groupware client) and a project management tool. The only way to edit text out of the box is either with a console editor or Gedit. No spreadsheet, no presentation, no nothing.

I understand that is very much in line with Windows. When a Windows user installs their operating system they then have to purchase MS Office and then install. But for Linux users this is not the norm. And I do get that there is a bit of a rift going on with OpenOffice and LibreOffice. But for the sake of simplicity, Fedora should have at least installed LibreOffice. It's open, it's very stable, and it's familiar. The biggest difference the users would see is the splash screen. No big deal.

And Fedora has also chosen to go the way of Ubuntu and ditched The GIMP. To this, I simply shake my head. The GIMP has always been synonymous to Linux. I use Linux therefore I use The GIMP. It's an outstanding, powerful tool that can get any number of jobs done and do them well. But now new users won't even know it's there. Why? Because they would have to know what they were looking for in order to find it.

Out of the box, Fedora 14 is not terribly useful to the new user (unless they only need to browse the web and check email). But for the business user? You will be doing some post-install installations for your standard productivity tools. This, to me, is very counter-intuitive to what Linux is about. Linux is about installing the OS and having what you need to get to work right away. It's always been that way.

Don't get me wrong, Fedora 14 is a great installation in the Fedora time line. It builds upon the strengths of Fedora 13. My biggest problem is in what was left out. It is my belief that ALL Linux distributions (the exception being the likes of Puppy Linux and other small to tiny distributions - as well as rescue distributions) should ship with all the tools necessary to get to work out-of-the-box (on top of the standard and system tools). This means:

  • Office suite
  • Graphics manipulation tool
  • Groupware suite
  • Browser(s)

I think removing any of the above drastically reduces the likelihood that the distribution can and will be adopted by new users.

Fedora has a great product. But the Fedora brand is limited in the scope of users because of the limitations of the software it installs by default. Bring back the missing tools and Fedora 14 could easily be listed among the top distributions for new users.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

33 comments
mechanicalmen
mechanicalmen

Linux stinks to high heaven. I'vce tried a new distro every six months for at least six years. It's never as advertised. I can use two graphics cards and a TV card in Windows xp with no problem. But try that in Linux and it just gives me two blank screens. This is a joke and always will be.

tom_mee
tom_mee

If you can't get Linux running with a graphical console - you DEFINITELY should stick to windoze!

tsadowski
tsadowski

Fedora was NEVER meant for wide-scale adoption. RedHat always intended it to be a hobbyist platform; a place for RedHat to 'beta' test technologies before rolling them into RHEL. As such I don't see why they would want to, or try to, or should, attempt to make it something for the masses to use. If they actively tried to, then they would have to start providing support for everything they put in and answering questions from Linux newbies who have no business testing out the latest changes to SELinux or LVM. To even suggest that at any point Redhat would want to, or intend to make Fedora a "commodity" operating system, is completely missing the point of fedora by like an entire continent! That is what distro's like Ubuntu are for! As for GIMP, I think Ubuntu was absolutely correct to remove GIMP from the default install. Now before you go flaming me, know that I LOVE GIMP I use it all the time and have for years. But for the average Joe masses? It is colossal overkill. The average Joe, when he is working with pictures, of say his grandkids, wants to be able to rotate, crop, remove red eye, and resize. Possibly want to mess with things like monochrome/sepia. But NOTHING like the scale of what GIMP is and can do. If you put GIMP on there and tell that same Grandfather, "hey you can do all your photo editing in there!" He will open it, take one look at it, and run screaming back to Windows. GIMP is for doing editing on the scale of Photoshop, not on the scale of basic photo retouching! All that said, I think something like OpenOffice/LibreOffice IS a requirement for average Joe type users, maybe Office isn't in Windows by default, but by putting it in a Linux distro intended for the masses, by default, we are proving that Linux definitely can be better than windows, "We give you everything you will want for 90% or better of your computer use OUT-OF-THE-BOX!"

t0ken
t0ken

"Fedora was NEVER meant for wide-scale adoption. RedHat always intended it to be a hobbyist platform; a place for RedHat to 'beta' test technologies before rolling them into RHEL. As such I don't see why they would want to, or try to, or should, attempt to make it something for the masses to use."

john.poiema
john.poiema

If a more complete desktop user version of Fedora is desired someone can always create a Fedora Spin. Say Fedora Home User Spin. GIMP, Libre Office, and whatever programs the Spin developer(s) deem most 'valuable' could be included. There is also Fusion Linux for those interested in a fully compatible Fedora with Mint customizations.

jlwallen
jlwallen

and i've said it several times about Fedora. but if you tried Fedora 13 you saw something unusual for this distribution - it seemed nearly as user-friendly as the distributions that claim to be targeting new users. i've used just about every flavor of Linux out there. i started with Red Hat 4.2 and have seen Red Hat and Fedora both move around on the continuum. some versions of Fedora were so bad that out of the box they needed serious attention. some...like 13 and 14...were rock solid and could be used by just about any user. i'm not, nor ever had, talking about intent - i'm talking about real-world application. Much of the usability of Linux is thanks to how user-friendly both GNOME and KDE have become. It is my believe that either of these desktops could take any of the distributions and make them user-friendly.

todd_dsm
todd_dsm

I love fedora; I'm on it right now :) but if they want to keep up with the Johnson's the fedora maintainers will have to install a copy of linux mint and aim the f15 distro in that direction. Linux Mint is cool, snappy, has all the tools installed by default, Compiz and the flash plug-in to boot, and it just feels good. But, I'm a RH guy, so...I struggle through that thing. No matter what I do I can't get fedora to feel like Linux Mint, which is a shame - it's the best thing going right now... TT

geslinux
geslinux

"...should ship with all the tools necessary to get to work out-of-the-box..." Hi, probably you forgot that this is actually a real strength and beauty of GNU/Linux, that you have that great freedom of choosing what you what to have installed and not. And I believe that you have kind of Ubuntu background where they try to distinguish between Desktop and Server edition. ... and you always have a choice there. Just look around :) Regards, Ges

pgit
pgit

The point I think Jack was trying to make is can you hand this installer to the average end user and tell them this is all they need to get the jobs they do done? That is a flat no with fedora in general, so I'm not sure why Jack used the ubuntu angle here. If he'd wanted to compare apples to apples he'd have mentioned Mandriva Linux, which is 100% 'office ready' out of the box and easier to use than ubuntu in my opinion. Mandriva is going to release an unusual third release, 2010.2, which will be a complete bug fix and modest update install image, that promises to be a good benchmark for any desktop-centric distribution that follows. The 2010.1 image is already good enough that I have no qualms handing clients a disk and tell them to have at. Just follow directions and say "yes' when asked. The 2010,2 is looking like a rock solid, no-brainer of a desktop system for literally anybody that is prepared to install an OS on their own.

ubuntuman
ubuntuman

Jack stated the following: "ALL Linux distributions (the exception being the likes of Puppy Linux and other small to tiny distributions - as well as rescue distributions) should ship with all the tools necessary to get to work out-of-the-box (on top of the standard and system tools). This means: * Office suite * Graphics manipulation tool * Groupware suite * Browser(s)" Whilst this is all true - and makes an 'out of the box' experience a reality, it will only truly become so when it is possible to hook-up a web-cam, a printer (ANY printer) and a wireless router/card and know it will 'just work'. I have to admit that part of the fun for me is dipping into the wealth of knowledge on the forums to find some mainstream and arcane ways of making some of this hardware work! Greg, New Zealand

andrew5859
andrew5859

In my opinion, Fedora is not user freindly and is not wifi freindly....it doesn't automatically find drivers for most wireless cards

jrhue
jrhue

I dumped Fedora after they removed all repositories for anything older than the current or previous release. They didn't just move them. They removed them completely.

MISDude-E
MISDude-E

Remember when Red Hat used to let you pick the modules and applications you wanted at install time? Man, that was cool. It be nice for us legacy users to have that an option for a pick-and-choose at install time. It wouldn't have to be a default of course, but it would help us knowledgeable users.

pgit
pgit

Amen. I wonder what's up with everybody dissing the GIMP? Maybe a subject for an article, Jack? BTW good work lately, you're on a pretty good roll...

mwclarke1
mwclarke1

I do not like Ubuntu, they are trying way too much to idiot proof (not a bad thing itself) but now too hard to have standard access I am used to with Unix/Linux OS. I found fedora 12 and 13 too buggy, 13 would not boot on several machines whereas previous versions did. I have since moved to CentOS on all my machines, non production servers and workstations, Redhat for supported production servers. Reliable, can load later versions of something once I can verify not going to crash my systems and do not need to worry about what I need to do on what distribution. too many changes are becoming of the many distributions at the core which I do not like.

flhtc
flhtc

Each distro has a purpose. If Fedora's is being a test bed for Red Hat. I like it right there. If it weren't for Fedora, Red Hat and other distros might not be where they are. It's also been said that if you juggle 3 targets, something's bound to get lost. Well, maybe they just concentrate on a single area for each release. After all a concentrated effort yields better results. I don't claim to know what they are up to. But I sure would give anyone who has the time and inclination to release a FREE version of ANY operating system the benefit of the doubt. I think the entire Linux community needs less cynicism. Just my 2?

mrWhite8
mrWhite8

The heart of Linux is about being open-source which enables the large amount of different distributions in Linux. Fedora has its own distinct flavor in the Linux crowd of OS's, which seems like the developers are maintaining. They probably are a group of programmers who are working together on the perfect flavor of Linux OS's for their personal use. That is why it appeals to that "niche" group in the Web. P.S. Having multiple Linux flavors installed on your desktop as virtual machines or bootable partitions... enables one to compare them to see their weaknesses and strengths. Then use the strengths of each OS's :D

tbmay
tbmay

Couldn't have said it better.

shryko
shryko

What really is needed is a BASIC photo manipulator, not the GIMP. I've looked at photoshop, I've looked at the GIMP... yet, I use MS PAINT! Really, to have wide appeal, they need to aim more at simplicity. Expecting to toss something which has professional-looking complexity to the average user is just asking for them to shy away from it. MS and Apple both get that.

jlwallen
jlwallen

the GIMP is not hard to use. I'm always perplexed by the claim that The GIMP is not user-friendly.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Wouldn't load ubuntu onto my worst enemy's PC. Fedora well some time back I was looking for a distro that would work on an old portable, the Fedora live CD (9???) did, so I installed it, and it did something different and didn't. At that point I figured they were a bunch of idiots, and tried something else. Get the little things right, the big things fall into place. Might try it again now that they've dropped the let's install everything for the thickie user approach.... Of course Fedora being a distro that tries to keep well up with the tech/hardware curve, it's even less likely to work on my old box isn't it? Presumably you don't like the Unity and Wayland approach seeing as you've been promoting Unbuntu as the best thing since sliced bread for a while?

tbmay
tbmay

...mission critical role, Ubuntu is a quick way to get a working desktop. I do most of my work just fine on it. And up until last year I only used Slackware on my own machines.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If I wanted some default desktop to do my work on I have windows installed already, does that rather well, and it came installed for free. :p I used Simply Mepis to get me going on Linux, but I'll be switching to a slackware like distro or many be a BSD type to build the OS I want, not the one they wanted me to have. Ubuntu is a non-starter for that. Given the mindset behind Fedora which is (was?) definitely not appliance user, I can't see why anyone thought they could do an Ubuntu with it, and more to the point it would then be competing with Red Hat, which is f'ing mad.

tbmay
tbmay

And I agree with you. I just have enough to do working on other people's systems. I don't care to fool with my own any more. My travelling laptop is an Ubuntu machine and I have a legal copy of XP virtualized. This way, I don't really worry about worms floating around the clients' networks and I can still do all the Windows things I need to do. With quick snapshots to go back to if something gets borked. ;)

dominoscr
dominoscr

I could not agree more! Having tried to walk new users through the install process myself, they are very put off by having to install bits and pieces to get to work. The process is foreign and can easily be executed poorly requiring the help of an expert or another install entirely just to get back to square one. Fedora is an awesome OS, but abandoning the new user is not going to grow the brand or help people use the OS.

pmitoraj
pmitoraj

You've got a very good point here. We cannot forget, however, that Fedora is a testing ground for Red Hat, therefore focus is not on usability, that's up to gnome folks, but on the internals. As Ubuntu might be easier to setup for mp3 playback flash etc, Fedora proved to be much more stable for me. And with the help of rpm fusion, which is the equivalent of Medibuntu things are not terribly more complicated. At the end of the day it boils down to the choice we have in Linux world. As intimidating it might appear in the beginning, it is an advantage.

Jimster480
Jimster480

Its possible that it could be. But it has a long way to go to reach the level of Ubuntu. I am just mad that the new Ubuntu will run this new desktop environment. I don't want to run a new interface, I like GNOME. And with X being ditched, I don't know if GNOME will even work anymore.

pmitoraj
pmitoraj

I did already a bunch of F14 installations; not all of them as smooth as I wished, but by default came with both Openoffice.org(3.3) and GIMP (2.6.11). You can always unmark the office stuff during installation and then you get the system resembling what author described in the article. It is not the default setting, though.

jlwallen
jlwallen

and did not have either. there is a possibility that there was something up with my install disk...but i doubt it. a lot of distributions are going this route to save disk space. i spoke with someone from openSUSE who said this is ALWAYS a huge issue when it comes time to decide what is going in a new release - the pruning of apps to make room. I will do another install with that same disk and see what happens.

pmitoraj
pmitoraj

Could be that OO.org is included only when you install from DVD. LiveCD might not have it, but I did not check it though. It just occurred to me know. Fedora might not think it is worth the hassle to fit everything on one cd, which I fully agree with.

vdanen
vdanen

Pretty much a completely stock install in my vm's for testing, one of the 32bit version and another the 64bit. Both come with OpenOffice.org and both come with the GIMP. I'm not quite sure how Jack installed Fedora, but they're most definitely there, and they are most definitely included in the default install. I get this is an opinion piece, which is fine, and compares to Ubuntu which might very well be a favourite, but you need to compare current Ubuntu to current Fedora and if you do that, they're on par. I doubt Fedora will default to Unity (which is fine), but there have been announcements that the next version of Fedora is supposed to use Wayland as well (IIRC), so then the difference is pretty much a customized GNOME Shell vs a default GNOME Shell. So pretty much the look-n-feel are the deciding factors here. Kinda wish maybe there would have been some extra fact checking here. =) I've been using Fedora exclusively for my Linux desktop for about two years now and yeah there are hiccups and bugs, but you can't tell me there aren't with Ubuntu either. Oh, and all those development tools and frameworks? Those are important to developers, yes, but they should be important to users too. Those are what will drive future development and innovation that users will enjoy so while they may seem like they are specific to developers, in the grand scheme of things they aren't. In the long run it will benefit end-users as well (maybe not directly, but through the software that they power, for sure).

mrdt
mrdt

Unfortunately Fedora by sticking to strictly free and/or open-source drivers and other software only allowed by default will continue to hold it back from being appealing to a wider audience. Most users want things to work right out of the box, and often this still requires software that isn't included in Fedora. It's the reason why Linux Mint has done so well.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Appliance user distro Server distro Hobbyist/experimenter distro Try to do all three at once and the wheels are bound to come off.

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