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Fedora 15 and the Desktop: Is it Ready? - Page Two: Fedora 15 and the Desktop

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With Shell, you also "lose" the desktop as a place to plop files and shortcuts, and no more right-clicking on the desktop to open a terminal. Yet you still have the Desktop folder to save files to. Not sure this makes sense. I'm disappointed that the GNOME project has never implemented something like the KDE plasmoid for the desktop, which is one of the KDE 4.x features I really like. You can restore this by going into the Tweak Tool and setting "Have file manager handle the desktop."

 

Compositing Conundrum

The biggest thing that annoys me about GNOME Shell is that it requires compositing, thus requiring supported 3D hardware and ruling out some of my hardware and running GNOME Shell in VMware. Guess who has two thumbs and likes to be able to use distros in VMware when traveling? This guy.

GNOME 3 Fallback ModeYou're not totally out in the cold without supported 3D hardware, you just wind up being dropped to the fallback or having to choose a different desktop. But the fallback option, frankly, isn't as good as either GNOME 2 or GNOME 3 with GNOME Shell.

The panel that ships with Shell has some nice ideas. I like the calendar/to-do integration with Evolution, though I'm usually not an Evo user. I miss the time zones, though. It took me a bit to realize that the mouse and other Accessibility options had migrated to the Panel and the Universal Access control dialog. It initially looked like those options were dropped altogether, but they've just been moved out of the mouse/touchpad settings and into Universal Access. This probably does make more sense, it just confused me because I'm used to the old way of doing things.

We'll call GNOME Shell a mixed bag. It has promise, some obvious nifty features, and a bit of improvement ahead. It will also require that most users re-think the way that they use the computer a bit. This requires a bit of an open mind — but we're creatures of habit. We don't necessarily want to have to re-approach our UI with an open mind.

Software Selection and More

Looking at the default selection of software, Fedora hasn't changed greatly since Fedora 14. They have swapped out OpenOffice.org for LibreOffice, and you have Firefox 4, Empathy for IM and IRC, and so on. No surprises or big new packages, really.

Naturally, the default selection of software is always missing at least one tool that most of us want. How is Fedora 15 when it comes to handling packages? Overall, good. Most of the software I'd want that wasn't installed by default was available from the default repos, and the PackageKit GUI is easy to use.

But not all is perfect in packageland. One of the things I've consistently run into with Fedora over the years is problems installing packages. This run was no different. For instance, I tried to install a package called gnotime and received an error about "An unspecified transaction error," because "gnotime-2.3.0-8.fc15.i686 requires libgtkhtml-3.15.so.19." This wasn't the first error I ran into. I can't recall the last time I ran into a similar error using another major distribution's stable release. Worse, the dialog that tells you that you have this problem doesn't let you fix it. You have to confirm the error and then wade back into the software selection to uncheck the offending package. This kind of error is the sort of thing that annoys the heck out of experienced users, and sends inexperienced users running for the hills — or, worse, back to Windows.

Naturally, Fedora doesn't provide codecs for things like MP3 playback and doesn't ship non-free software like Flash. The project has perfectly valid reasons for doing so, both legal and philosophical — but that doesn't change the fact that this is an additional hassle for users who want or need those things.

After using the final Fedora 15 for a few days, I've gotten used to its quirks and been able to tame it to my liking. So it's suitable for use, if you know what you're doing. But it's not perfect or close to perfect out of the box for my use, like Linux Mint.

Summary

Despite a few harsh words, I actually like Fedora 15 — and I could warm to GNOME 3 and Shell if they fix some of the problems and give the user more control over the desktop.

A big problem for Fedora, and for just about any Linux distribution, is trying to figure out who the audience is. The design philosophy for the default desktop, GNOME 3, seems to focus on new users. The rest of the Fedora distribution is aimed at power users and developers. I feel a bit of a disconnect there. But I plan to spend a lot of time using Fedora to see if I don't warm to GNOME 3 more than I did initially, and writing up a few tutorials on using SELinux tools and so forth.

Should you try Fedora 15? If you're a power user, definitely. If you're a less experienced user, then you might want to try Fedora 15, but not on your main computer. I would not recommend using Fedora as a go-to Linux distro for friends or family that haven't tried Linux before.

If you're a loyal Fedora user who's been on the GNOME desktop, you have a couple of options. If GNOME Shell doesn't appeal to you, there's the option to force the "fallback" mode. You could also sit out the F15 release and wait for F16 and the next GNOME release. I suspect it will fix a lot of the problems (read: restore functionality that was unwisely removed) that 3.0 has.

Another option? Try the Xfce release for a cycle. Xfce is feeling a lot like GNOME 2, and that's not a bad thing.

In a nutshell, Fedora 15 is a typical Fedora release. It's solid, but there's a few bugs and the thrill of living on the edge of development. Sometimes that means exciting new features and sometimes it means being annoyed that something that worked perfectly a release ago is off the table while it's re-implemented. But even if you don't use Fedora on your own machine, the odds are the work that's being done in Fedoraland will ultimately benefit you as a Linux user.



 

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