Fedora Core 5

Pros: Secure, ongoing development; easy to install

Cons: No enterprise support, spotty peripheral support

Price: Free

Features: B+

Value: A

Security: A-

Ease of use: B+

Fedora Core 5 should be available by the time you read this. We were able to take a look at a prerelease copy of the OS, which the company said was close to final.

Think of Fedora as the standalone (and more user-friendly) flavor of Linux Enterprise Desktop, but without the enterprise support. It's a true community open-source project, sponsored by Red Hat, where new features get something of a test drive before being incorporated into Red Hat Linux. According to the company, version 5's biggest features are an easier install program with more drivers, and a new, smoother interface. We found that indeed it was extremely easy to use, without sacrificing security (it includes SELinux). In fact of all the programs we tested, this one was the easiest to manage from a user's perspective.

The catch to free downloads of this and other Linux distributions, however, is that you must burn an optical image in an International Standards Organization format after downloading your chosen Linux for 32- or 64-bit Intel, AMD, PowerPC or other processors. The burned and verified image becomes a bootable disk from which to install the operating system. Merely copying the files onto a CD won't do the job. To browse various platforms for which Linux versions are available, see www.linuxiso.org.

After installing Fedora, we got online with a root password and explored the package's high-security firewall, GNOME Desktop Environment, OpenOffice productivity suite, FireFox browser, Ximian Evolution e-mail, instant messaging, sound and other tools.

We set Evolution to check every 10 minutes for incoming Post Office Protocol messages from several accounts, which worked flawlessly. And we found our Fedora system could quickly connect to a Windows network, though it seems built more for an individual user who wants a secure desktop.

Installing a printer, however, took more work than we expected. The GNOME Print Manager actually recognized our test printer, as well as hundreds of other models, but we had to reboot several times to get the printer working. Sometimes there were long, unexplained pauses, and error messages were less than helpful. That said, Fedora had no problem recognizing our USB key and CD-ROM drives.

We also liked the fact that firewall and antivirus protection were built into Fedora.

We sent several different viruses into the system and Fedora stopped all of them cold.

For small offices that don't require enterprise support but still want the best available Linux OS features, Fedora Core is an excellent choice.

Red Hat Corp., Raleigh, N.C., (919) 754-3700, fedora.redhat.com

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