Open Source

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.

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