Fedora Does Have A Niche

30 May 2012

It’s for developers!

I was glad that the LAS Fedora 17 review was mostly positive, but thought I would pipe in with some thoughts on strong use cases for Fedora, since our buddies B-Man and C-Man were struggling to articulate exactly what sets Fedora apart from other distros. Full disclaimer: I’ve only been using Fedora for about 6 months, so maybe I’m being hasty in my conclusions… Also, I respect every distro for different reasons, I’m not trying to flame anyone.

I’ve been using Arch Linux at home for about two years now and love it. Before that I was using Ubuntu but got sick of how out-of-date all the packages were. Arch is great for staying on bleeding edge of things, but here’s the thing: stuff breaks every so often. It just does. It seems to be happening a lot more often lately than in the past (I swear gnome 3 is making [extra] feel more like [testing] lately), for me at least. Now, I’m totally fine with that for my machines at home. I can fiddle and fix things and when I really do find a bug it feels good to be able to contribute to upstream projects through bug reports and the occasional patch.

That’s all fine and dandy, but if I have work to do I really don’t want to spend 2 hours (or even 20 minutes) debugging nouveau or libcups or libpizzafeast or whatever. I just want to do work. And I don’t want to be stuck with 30 year-old packages, so that rules out Ubuntu and friends. With Fedora you get to be almost (seriously!) as bleeding edge as Arch, but it feels a lot more stable (and in some cases you’re actually more bleeding edge than Arch!). Just one quick example, look at the differences between the libnetfilter_queue packages provided by Arch, Fedora, and Ubuntu:

Distribution Package Link Package Freshness
Fedora libnetfilter_queue on Fedora (you have to click the "Update Status" link to see package version info) version 1.0.1 of upstream, currently 4 months old, (it's the latest upstream release)
Arch libnetfilter_queue on Arch version 1.0.0 of upstream, currently 22 months old
Ubuntu libnetfilter_queue on Ubuntu version 0.0.17, currently 3 years old

This seems to be the basic pattern for many development libraries. To be fair to my buddy Arch, there is an AUR package for libnetfilter_queue that tracks the upstream git repo. However, as with all AUR packages, there’s no telling when it will be abandoned or broken. If it does get abandoned you could always pick it up and start maintaining it, but then we’re right back to where we started about getting work done…

I’ve been using Fedora at work and at home for my development machine for about 6 months now, and haven’t had a single breakage. I really think it might be the ideal platform for developers… And it doesn’t hurt its street cred that it’s Linus Torvalds’ distro of choice (the article is old, so this may not even be true any more) :) (EDIT: Linus just (June 2012) posted to Google+ about updating from F14 to F17, so it looks like he is still using Fedora!).

In short, I know any distribution can work just fine for development, but my experience is that Fedora has the best balance between rock-solid stability and bleeding edge, providing just the right temperature to be a majorly awesome development platform.

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