So I finally got to a point where I wanted a more standard distribution of Linux. The more obscure ones I've been using (as written about in previous blog entries: LinuxMint and FreeSpire) are great for an average user. I would still reccomend them to someone new to Linux who wants a desktop Windows replacement.
But I reached a point where the over-simplified interface, small software library, and lack of bleeding-edge updates got to me. The nerd deep within my soul began to scream, "This is for noobs! You are no longer a noob! Man up!" And so I did.
Even though Fedora 9 is coming out at the end of this month (or early May; I've read conflicting reports) - I downloaded Fedora 8. Fedora has, for a long time, been that one distribution I just loved the idea of, except I couldn't get much to work. I was unable to actually replace Windows with it. I'd have trouble playing videos, youtube never worked, heck, I don't even think I could get MP3s to play sometimes (this is my 3rd of 4th version of Fedora I've tried).
I downloaded the huge dvd ISO and burned it. I booted into the graphical installer, Anaconda. Installation was easy peezy. I'd say the main part that would throw a newbie for a loop would be the disk partitioning portion. I already had available partitions ready for it, so I just assigned the mount point to them and away we went. There are guides out there to walk someone through this, but if they are hoping to keep any data that is already on their drive, they are walking on thin ice here. It's almost necessary you have someone experienced with this part to help you at this stage.
If you come from a windows-only background, the filesystem and command prompt in Linux will be the basis of your troubles. Some things are best done from the command line, and I accept this. In fact, I kind of like it. It just seems to work better.
Anyway, after booting into Fedora 8 for the first time, my system downloaded and installed updates for about an hour (there was a little bubble notifying me of the over 220 updates available, I just let it connect and install all of them). To be honest, at first, I wasn't sure if I should really install all the updates or not. So I didn't. I couldn't get a damn thing to work. I actually called it a night the first day and continued after work the following day.
I let it run and install everything the second night, and now I could install everything I needed. The great thing about Fedora is that even though it requires more time at the command line, it is such a popular distribution that you can find guides for nearly everything you might need help with. You can literally copy and paste the commands into the terminal window. It's pretty easy, really.
So the second day I was able to get any and all video playback to work flawlessly; audio was working great. The desktop effects (you can check them out on this crappy video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpidWhfIlyo ) are, in a way, silly, but pleasant and the cube for multiple workspaces works very well for me. The way my brain thinks about it in 3D helps me organize my windows well, and it's pretty cool lookin' to boot.
The PulseAudio audio server is really phenomenal. Whereas I've always had issues with audio in Linux (even the "noobie" distros would get confused with my multiple sound devices sometimes, which was annoying) but no longer! PulseAudio allows you to adjust the volume of each individual audio stream coming out of your computer. That means rather than relying on the volume knob on each program, you can switch to PulseAudio and adjust them all in one window. Also, a very neat feature is that it will auto-mute your other applications if you receive (or place) a VOIP call. This works, I've tested it with Skype.
Did I mention I have complete read/write access to my NTFS partitions? It only took one package install. It didn't come configured that way out of the box, but I'm pretty sure I didn't have write access on my NTFS drives with the noobie distros.
Really, the only thing I haven't been able to get working yet is something which isn't very important, and which I've never gotten to run on any version of Linux: World of Warcraft.
I still have my little Windows partition I can boot to if I feel the need to play... and I maintain some hope of getting Wine or Cedega or Crossover Office to actually run it correctly.. but I don't really care anymore. The benefits of Linux outweigh the downside of having a dual boot system.
It runs very quickly. It has a great software update system. It looks and feels great. Sound and video don't just work, they work better than they do in Windows XP and in "user friendly" distros in my experience. Every piece of software I've installed has worked without a hitch (I've installed quite a few, and with the exception of WINE for WoW). The multiple workspaces are very useful; the 3d cube layout is just brilliant.
What more can I say? I think I'll be migrating my laptop to Fedora next.