Figuring I had to have a Linux laptop around for testing and not wanting to waste time figuring out some wierd niche distro, I went out and got the Fedora Core 3 Release Candidate. After all, if anything goes wrong with it, I know how to fix it (years of RedHat do that to you), and upgrading to final release is usually a painless process.
Comparisons to Ubuntu (which I spent quite some time trying to get to work) are inevitable, so I'm going to dive right in:
- Fedora installed in just under 45 minutes on my Toshiba 8100. The installation was, unlike Ubuntu's, very fast (for this hardware) and wholly graphical.
- My display, video card, Wi-Fi and whatnot were all automatically detected and worked first time (unlike Ubuntu, which did an acceptable but not perfect job). The one notable exception is, as always, the built-in YMF-744B audio controller (snd-ymfpci), which also had major problems under FC2. Oddly enough, I don't recall ever having gotten audio from Ubuntu as well, but I had no occasion to try it - I always had more serious issues to fix. Bottom line is, the install just worked, and the ALSA/OSS stuff is a gross blunder that 2.6-based distros brought upon us, period.
- The desktop environment is, of course, Gnome 2.8-ish with RedHat's BlueCurve theme. And (get this) it has desktop icons! (which was one of my main gripes with Ubuntu's defaults, by the way - I was always looking for my home folder on the desktop). USB disks pop up on the desktop with no hassle whatsoever (one of my original reasons for trying Ubuntu), and Samba also just works.
- OpenOffice is 1.1.2, which is nice (and another of my reasons for trying Ubuntu) Firefox is 1.0PR, Evolution is 2.0.2, Gaim is 1.0.1-3, there's the latest Python and vim, etc. In short - everything I need to get work done seems to be there.
- Neat stuff: Howl for Rendezvous announcements (I haven't yet seen if it announces machine services automatically, but then I've done a standard "Workstation" install and have to real services to speak of), SELinux (which I occasionally have some tussles with on FC2), miscellaneous Gnome enhancements and doodads.
- Missing stuff: Flash plugin for Firefox (it's ridiculous that we still haven't figured out a way to bundle this), audio (I'll be trawling the lists to see if there are any fixes), er... Nothing else, I think.
In short (and despite the sound card hassles) it worked first time. For me, that's the best thing a Linux distribution can do - the rest is a matter of personal preference (and, quite honestly, I expect Ubuntu to be at least as polished as this in a year's time).
Your mileage (and opinion, or distro bias) may vary, but in the end, I won't be using this that often - the Mac remains my primary platform, and keeping track of Gnome's evolution is the only thing that keeps bringing me back to Linux once in a while.
Even then, I still wish the FreeBSD guys had gotten their act together years back.
We'd all be a lot better off, I think.