Friday, February 28, 2014
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
For the last few releases, Fedora has engaged in an ever improving quest to proving that being cutting-edge while providing solid foundations is certainly achievable. It has also managed to become my favorite distro in the process. Let's start by looking at its default flavor.
FEDORA GNOME 3.10
If Fedora's steps to offer continuous refinement, performance and polish are certainly noticeable, they are perhaps even more obvious in GNOME. I last posted about GNOME 3.8, which impressed my quite favorably, but 3.10 is surprisingly another leap forward at each and every level. Looks continue to be further improved, making it an art to create interfaces that are simple yet elegant and beautiful. The GNOME Shell looks modern indeed, but it also feels that way thanks to the heavy cloud integration with Google services, allowing users to integrate their email, calendar, contacts, IM, etc., almost with a single click. Performance is also better all around, perhaps with the exception of the boot and login processes, which feel a bit slow. The application suite is as good as ever, no surprises here.
I can't hide it, I love GNOME and what they are doing with the Shell. This time around, I felt it was so good in terms of looks that I didn´t change a thing, perhaps only the icon pack. The Shell is more robust, consistent and snappy than ever, and while there are things that need work, GNOME 3.10 feels for the first time like a complete and well-rounded desktop for any kind of user, specially after the inclusion of the new GUI software manager. If anything, the only thing I don't like about GNOME Shell 3.10 and its new software manager is its tendency to ask for a reboot every time it has to update software. I am sure you remember how painful this has been in Windows for years and one of Linux strengths was precisely the absence of this behavior. I understand that the new software manager is there mostly as a proof of concept this time around and should be a mature product by GNOME 3.12, but let's just say they better fix it and get rid of the annoying excessive reboots sooner rather than later.
FEDORA KDE 4.11
It's funny how KDE and GNOME offer such opposite experiences, even in what they offer to the user. While GNOME started as a bare-bone experience and keeps adding more and more features with each release to cover gaps, KDE suffers from the opposite problem. It offers an overwhelming amount of options, perhaps too many, all packaged in an environment that has felt shaky and inconsistent for many, many releases.
Fortunately, even if frustratingly slow at times, progress has also been steady at the K camp over the years, and it now finally feels like the mature, consistent, snappy and solid DE it should have always been. In fact, in the comparison KDE probably leads in most areas, feeling faster and (surprisingly) lighter, smoother (it's amazing how good Kwin effects have become) and more complete (K Apps like KTorrent, K3B, Kate, Gwenview or Okular really have no competition in the GNOME World). Even areas that have historically been a pain, like Akonadi, Nepomuk and PIM, work like a charm these days. I was finally able to get my calendar, contacts and email on Kontact to work perfectly, albeit with a more cumbersome setup than that in GNOME Shell. Getting the Plasma calendar to show events worked perfectly as well, gone are the crazy high CPU figures that plagued this functionality and more often than not forced me to disable it. Along the same lines, the inclusion of yet more plasma elements in the desktop makes the experience even more streamlined. It's certainly satisfying to finally see what the Plasma desktop should have always been... Well, 98% of it anyways, as there are still elements that are not fully Plasma yet (The home, clipper and sound menus are still pending, among other things).
So what's my take on KDE? I love it as well, no doubt, but I always have the feeling that it could be better, partly because it's quickly becoming obsolete in many ways, rusty in its excessive complexity. In my opinion, the days of the heavy clients are over. As a power user myself, I truly see the point in having a UI that provides flexibility and plenty of features, but it is no longer acceptable that it does so at the expense of ease of use. Besides, the times are changing...
For years now we are seeing an empowerment of cloud services and applications, which helps users concentrate and interconnect all their data across. Sadly, KDE developers seem to be deaf and blind to how things are being done elsewhere and continue to offer an incredibly overpowered desktop (with all the challenges that entails) when most users will be doing 80% of what they need to do from the browser. These days I have all my music on Google Play Music, do all my emails, agenda and contact management from Gmail, my IM on Hangouts, my RSS on Feedly, my Tweets on Tweetdeck and all the social networking on the respective online portals. Photo management and edition is now possible for free and without any limit in the amount of pictures you upload to in Google+. This incredibly powerful cloud service offers very smart image indexing along with very impressive photo (even auto) edition features. Granted I am no specialist, but whatever results I ever managed to get with GIMP, I get better these days with these simple and fun to use apps. Of course they are nothing but a joke for the professional, but the casual user, which makes up the vast majority, will roughly use 10% of what KDE has to offer. If on top of much better web apps and cloud services, we add the fact that the average user is quickly getting used to extremely intuitive UIs in the form of Android and iOS, it will be increasingly difficult to expect users to care, much less want, what KDE has to offer. In my opinion, once Unity and GNOME Shell finally close the gap (they are younger DEs after all), KDE is at risk of becoming a niche DE.
All that said, I must admit using KDE these days is such a joy for someone like me, who's battled its quirks for so long. Thinks are surprisingly fast and responsive and almost never seeing a crash certainly improves the overall experience. On top of Fedora 20, it even feels faster and more solid than something like Kubuntu 13.10, while still retaining a reasonable ease of use. A novice user would probably enjoy it very much as well while only scratching the surface, but I can't help but wonder if s/he would get lost in the apparently never ending list of options and settings available, many of which most users wouldn't even care about anyways.
AND THE CHAMPION IS...
Well, this is a tough one and will truly depend on each user. For experienced users who have enjoyed KDE in the past, who know its apps and ways around it, it doesn´t get any better (yet) than this. I have tried several distros and I think that what Fedora is doing with KDE is superb. Less experienced users, perhaps those who are willing to try something different and certainly those who care most about productivity, will probably enjoy GNOME better. Its modern and elegant UI, unintrusive notifications and to the point approach are perfect for those who want to sit down and get things done without distractions. Needless to say, Fedora is THE distro when it comes to GNOME, don´t even think of looking elsewhere.
As for Fedora 20, it continues to be my champion distro for the third release in a row. Performance is king, Looks and ease of use continue their ever improving path, and having the very latest from applications is something truly worth experiencing, specially if you come from the Ubuntu realm and have spent hours trying (potentially dangerous) PPAs to get that latest release from that app you love so much. When you get to Fedora, all of a sudden, things just work the way they should.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Friday, May 31, 2013
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Thursday, May 9, 2013
As I mentioned in a recent post, I have come to like Ubuntu 13.04 quite a bit. Raring Ringtail marks the first Ubuntu installation lasting more than a day in one of my machines since the Ubuntu 10.10 days. In fact, the more I am using it, specially after getting some updates that have improved stability, the more I am liking it. It´s been a two year hiatus and now that I am getting to love it again, I can´t help but being a bit concerned with everything I am reading about Canonical changing the core of Ubuntu.
News has it that Ubuntu will, over the next year, change its software packaging system to what they call "Click Packages", abandon X and forget about Wayland to embrace Mir and, last but not least, transition Unity entirely to Qt. The idea behind this sequence of changes it to provide a unified foundation for all the Ubuntu platforms (mobile + desktop, maybe TV?) to build upon. Given how quickly they want it to be ready, though, and the fundamental nature of all the changes, it is quite the ambitious plan, to say the least.
Looking back at the "promise-to-achieve" ratio Canonical has been able to score in the last couple of years (quite poor), the quality of what was being offered (again quite poor, requiring 4 full releases to get to an acceptable level) and the fact that there was a clear lack of direction, this all sounds a bit scary. If getting Unity to work as expected took two years an a half, when can we expect all these radical changes to work nicely? Ubuntu 14.04 is the target of all these changes converging together on all platforms, but does that mean the same as actually meeting expectations?
Lots of users like me were disappointed in Ubuntu after 11.04 and it took more than two years to finally offer something compelling enough to bring (some of) them back. If Canonical chew more than they can swallow now, if they get back into unstable, under-performing software for several more releases, it´s just going to be a pity and they may lose some users forever.
On the other hand, I must admit that, if Ubuntu is ever going to be a decent opponent to Android, iOS and the like, these changes might be not only critical, but also an absolutely must. Some are criticizing that Ubuntu is isolating itself from the Linux ecosystem and seeking more control, but let´s be honest, that´s the only way for it to become an alternative to the big names out there. Ubuntu must up its game big time in many respects if it ever wants to put up a fight, becoming more dynamic, flexible, reliable, better looking and way more responsive.
Let´s just hope they get it right this time and are able to complete these changes as planned, within the next 12 months. If Canonical pulls this off, it may be the beginning of Ubuntu for real, a serious distro that can truly compete out there. However, if they again take 2-3 years to actually make it happen, I believe their train will have left the station, probably forever.