Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fedora 17 Review (KDE & GNOME)

A few weeks have passed since it was released and since then, I have been using Fedora 17 'Beefy Miracle', both in its KDE and GNOME disguise, almost exclusively. It is therefore time to share my impressions... Does it really fit a miraculous outfit? Read on and find out...

DOWNLOAD AND INSTALLATION

Fedora continues to honor the CD size limit with its ISO images, which is a choice I appreciate. Images of such size obviously take shorter to download, plus users have a number of alternatives to burn them into. On top of that, sticking to CD size forces distro builders to limit the amount of default software included, something I favor myself because I know what I want in my installation, don't necessarily need every piece of open source software under the sun.

After my Fedora 16 FIASCO, I didn't even allowed Fedora to run the guided installation for me. Instead, I manually chose a partition setup of my own. Problems with Anaconda defaulting to GPT disk labels was part of why I took that approach, but also the fact that I wanted Fedora 17 KDE and GNOME to sit on the same box, so the partition layout needed a bit of customization. Long story short, installing in this fashion went smooth and I found no issues. GRUB2 was successfully set up automatically after the installation, conveniently displaying both installations at boot. As a side note, I can confirm that the rumors I heard about the Anaconda UI getting a revamp for Fedora 17 turned out to be just that, rumors. Anaconda is as ugly as ever and it feels rusty and obsolete when compared to other installation wizards, specially Ubuntu's. It does get the job done, of course, but I feel there is vast room for improvement here.

FIRST LOGIN AND IMPRESSIONS

After the usual Fedora Plymouth splash screen, which remains unchanged after several releases, we get to the respective GDM and KDM login screens, both of which are fitted with Fedora 17 default wallpaper. GNOME seems to have the edge here, presenting a more modern looking login screen that incorporates animations, shows the list of users available in the system and feels more intuitive and easy to use overall.

The default desktops look alright. Fedora artists continue to deliver, in this case taking a less obvious interpretation of the distro code name than they had previously, which is welcome. "Beefy Miracle" is a funny nickname, but any obvious interpretation of it would go horribly wrong as a default desktop theme, so artists looked somewhere else and threw in some fireworks, as shown below in KDE and then GNOME flavors:


Click on image to enlarge.


Click on image to enlarge.

Aside from those wallpapers, though, and the KDM and KDE splash themes, Fedora looks are pretty much stock in both DEs. Luckily for us users, there are tons of great things in this release to talk about, other than looks.

The first thing I found in both cases, maybe not that all surprising on release day, was a bit of a shaky vibe to them. Both felt a bit unstable, lagging and freezing temporarily several times. All problems went away after downloading system updates, though, and when the smoke cleared, I was pleasantly surprised by the overall stability, performance and the superb hardware recognition in Fedora 17. Everything in my computer was correctly configured automatically, no need for extra drivers or any manual configuration, and that includes Wireless, sound and webcam.

Fedora developers have indeed done a superb job at putting together this release. It is powerful, full of features and edgy software, plus it maintains the rate of improvement that started a couple releases ago. SELinux is less intrusive than ever and it can hardly be noticed in terms of performance, but it feels good to know it is there. Talking security, Fedora 17 incorporates a new Firewall setup, which allows for changes to be applied on the fly. Sweet, gotta love the extra security, specially when it is easy to work with.

All of these improvements and more are there in Fedora 17, which makes for a very robust and worth trying distro. In a sense, I think Fedora had to up their game, specially after witnessing the huge step forward Precise Pengolin has represented for Ubuntu. The way I see it, Beefy Miracle represents a similar step in the right direction, even if I still see room for polishing rough edges.

THE GNOME SIDE

Even if KDE is getting lots of love by Fedora developers, GNOME is probably their baby, so we should expect a great (if not the best) implementation of both GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell. Fedora 17 does not disappoint, and with the help of all the latest improvements in GNOME 3.4, it excels at what it does. Long gone are the days where GNOME Shell was lacking flexibility or was hardly customizable. After just three releases since GNOME3 went live, the potential in the design architecture of GNOME Shell has not only brought tons of extensions and themes, but also made it easy for forks like Cinnamon to exist and evolve very quickly.


Click on image to enlarge.

The screenshot above is my default desktop, which hopefully shows how beautiful GNOME Shell can get with just a couple touches here and there. In this case, the Faenza Icon Theme gets along well with the Elementary shell theme, both accompanied by a nice wallpaper. If you hate those chaotic desktops with a million icons on them, GNOME Shell can help, I love how clean it looks, it truly helps to focus on the task at hand.


Click on image to enlarge.

Notifications are equally not intrusive, which comes particularly handy when one is working and something disruptive like a chat window appears. In GNOME Shell, that comes up as a very discrete notification, which in addition can be used to reply if so the user wants. Sweet.

With the help of extensions, which allow for pretty much any missed functionality to come back, and some of the latest GNOME 3.4 brilliant additions, Fedora 17 is simple yet powerful. I particularly love the Online Accounts feature, which provides perfect integration with my Google cloud stuff in one simple step. The system calendar in the panel shows my Google Calendar meetings and events, the Contacts application displays all of my Google Contacts correctly and most importantly, it works as it should both ways. If I create a meeting on Evolution, it will update correctly on my Google Calendar. Unfortunately, support for Google Tasks does not seem to be implemented yet.

There was a lot of talk about GNOME Shell making things difficult (by that I think people simply mean "different"), but that is truly not the case. Using the good old Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination will bring the shutdown dialog. Clicking on the hardware shutdown button or closing the lid will suspend the system, as one would expect, so all the bashing around having to hold the Alt key to shut down the system is pointless in my opinion.


Click on image to enlarge.

Key combinations come in handy, and once one gets the grasp of the shell, it is difficult to find something that can work faster or more efficiently. For instance, let's say a user wants to open system settings but doesn't know the actual application name. Likely to come from a Windows background, such user could think of using the term "Control Center" to find system settings... Well, all it takes is just one single keystroke on the meta key to open the Activities menu, type "control" and voila!, system settings shows up in the search results. Of course, if a user has no idea of what the name of the app is, s/he can browse them all or filter them by category, just like they would on a standard menu. Another great feature is that, thanks again to the great online accounts app, the shell search is capable of searching through contacts, even online docs stored in Google Drive.


Click on image to enlarge.

GNOME Shell is, in my opinion, a great desktop manager. What people most commonly complain about (i.e., lack of flexibility and features) simply represents the learning curve that is there in every single UI in existence, as well as maybe denial of what the project was set to achieve with the shell. I believe the biggest problem in the adoption of GNOME Shell came from users who were incorrectly assuming it was GNOME Classic with a face lift. GNOME Shell represents a new paradigm in desktop management, one that brilliantly overcomes many of the burdens users have found for decades, while at the same time presenting an interface that finds a good balance between the needs of a touch interface and the traditional mouse and keyboard. Once again, as with any other UI, it takes a bit of effort to learn its quirks, but once passed that point, it excels in many ways. It should be obvious, though, that it will never be able to do something it was purposedly designed not to. In other words, the lack of customization options and emphasis on eye-candy are not shortcomings, but rather features of a UI whose target is to make things simple and stay out of the way so that users can concentrate on being as productive as possible.

Fedora is indeed empowered by many of the great features in GNOME Shell, but it also suffers from some of its shortcomings. In my opinion, the biggest one is very inflexible and poor energy saving, which is critical on portable devices.


Click on image to enlarge.

Out of the area of influence of the DE, Fedora 17 GNOME has also some strengths and weaknesses. I find it particularly falls short in the GUI software management area, thanks to a rather poor software manager. Users coming from more sophisticated alternatives, such as the Ubuntu or Linux Mint's Software Center (actually, about anything one can think of is fancier than gpk-application), will feel like they traveled back in time. The natural tendency then is to rely on the wonderful yum package manager, but that obviously implies command line usage, immediately making Fedora GNOME an advanced user distro in this department. On the bright side, though, yum runs faster than ever now, I am impressed!

I briefly mentioned about improvements in SELinux and Firewall setup, both of which are welcome, but I guess I would expect their UIs to get a bit more love, at least be ported to GNOME3. The firewall one specifically, even with its own wizard for beginners, is quite un-intuitive. For instance, the confirmation that the firewall is running is a small text string at the bottom left corner of the window, which appears to have been designed for users to miss it.

Fortunately, Fedora 17 GNOME shortcomings are few and, perhaps with the exception of power management, shouldn't be too hard to work around. In any case, they should be compensated by the fact that users will be using a very robust and secure distro with a great implementation of GNOME3.4. Software is very up to date and, with the help of RPM fusion, also very safe, for almost anything users will ever need can be downloaded from the repos. Last but not least, Fedora 17 brings its users GIMP 2.8 by default!


Click on image to enlarge.

THE KDE SIDE

I had not reviewed GNOME 3.4 yet, and that's why I went into detail (somewhat) above. However, I have already DISCUSSED KDE SC 4.8, including its shortcomings, so I will concentrate on what is unique to the Fedora 17 implementation here.

The first thing I realized is that Fedora 17 may as well be the purest KDE experience there is out there. Unlike Kubuntu 12.04, which failed to deliver its promise to include Telepathy and Calligra by default, Fedora managed to do it, even sticking to Konqueror as the default web browser.


Click on image to enlarge.

The whole KDE PIM and Semantic Desktop suite of apps are also included, as do many of the most popular names in the KDE application catalog, including Marble. Now, this "pure KDE spirit" is not necessarily good or better than a different approach, but I guess it can be considered a feature for those seeking a desktop clear of any significant GNOME influence.

Unlike its GNOME cousin, the KDE implementation of Fedora 17 does a much better job at GUI software management thanks to Apper. Software updates are correctly and timely notified and clicking on them works as expected (heard that, Muon?), which is something many distros don't get quite right.



Clicking on the notification icon will bring, as should be expected, the list of updates, which can then be easily applied.


Click on image to enlarge.

Installing applications is also very convenient and intuitive, looking good at the same time. In case you didn't notice, yes, that's Java 1.7.0 that is available in the Fedora repos. One strange behavior is that the icon set in Apper categories does not seem to pick Oxygen icons, using the default GNOME counterparts used by default in Fedora GNOME, which obviously doesn't help it look better.


Click on image to enlarge.

Users get notified when applications have been installed and can run them straight from the installation dialog.


Click on image to enlarge.

THE BEST KDE IMPLEMENTATION... NOT!

Software management has indeed improved in Fedora 17 KDE, but the biggest improvement, at least apparently, revolved around KDE PIM and the Semantic desktop. Fedora 17 was the first KDE distro I had ever used which managed to run (almost) all of those components successfully without eating my machine CPU in the process. For the first time ever, thanks to the google-akonadi libraries, I was able to get all of my Google contacts, meetings, tasks and mail working in Akonadi and for the first time, it was all apparently working without a struggle. Unfortunately, it was not to last.


Click on image to enlarge.

The screenshot above shows how it was all working without putting any significant stress on my machine. However, after shutting down my machine and booting the day after, it all went back to the usual horror story. I was getting 15%-20% CPU usage from Akonadi alone, which considering my machine is a quad-core Intel i5, is A LOT. Aside from gmail IMAP and SMTP, all other components stopped working and no longer synched, they were just apparently trying to synch forever.

Unfortunately, that was not all, because I kept getting crashes on virtuoso-t every 2-3 minutes. A few more minutes passed and I just decided to shut all of it down, Nepomuk, Akonadi, etc. Fedora 17 looked like the ultimate KDE implementation, but after a short while it was just showing the same problems I have seen in any other distro to date. In fact, Fedora seems to have more issues than others, because those crashes from the virtuoso process are not common.

On a different set of things, Fedora 17 KDE also benefits from this release new features, including GIMP 2.8 straight from the official repositories.


Click on image to enlarge.

Similarly, the improvements to the system firewall are also there, so both KDE and GNOME flavors are equally secure.


Click on image to enlarge.

STEADY IMPROVEMENT

Fedora 17 is yet another solid step forward. As should be expected, though, Beefy Miracle is fully aligned with the distro's mission, offering plenty of features and current software, as well as other interesting bonuses like GIMP 2.8 with the by now infamous single window interface. Ease of use and stability are not within the top priorities of Fedora, so users will still find some rough edges and may suffer the consequences of living in the fast lane, so starters might benefit from sticking to other alternatives. Any other user, from those not afraid of the occasional tweak to full blown experts, will surely enjoy what Fedora has to offer. Finally, the choice of GNOME Shell or KDE is down to personal preference, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed by some elements in the implementation of the latter.

26 comments:

  1. Thanks for a really good review. I have missed your reviews honestly. I hope more will come. Have you any plans to review Mageia 2 KDE?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks!

      More will come for sure, but I am struggling to find the time to write them down!... I am not awfully interested in Mageia, to be honest, but I will check it out and publish a review if I find enough to talk about.

      Delete
  2. With this version I switched to KDE spin and it is fantastic. GNOME has become just too unbearable. It's really great that we have choice in GNU/Linux.

    ReplyDelete
  3. i've been using the KDE version since fedora was released. i'm new to KDE and new to fedora. i put it on an i3, 2 GB RAM thinkpad that i use for work, long hours every day. no problems of any kind, except with amarok which has been very, very buggy. so i use clementine and have a very stable system, very smooth.
    also i think they've pushed three different versions of the kernel in these three weeks, which for me, normally a debian stable user, is a bit of a culture shock :)
    bottom line, i can recommend the KDE version to folk.
    and i'm making a guess here but for people who like gnome shell, fedora is probably the best option as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree about the frantic Kernel update pace... I know Fedora is about Features and First, living on the cutting edge, but it sometimes may lead to unpleasant surprises. I have been there myself.

      Delete
  4. Your remarks about Akonadi and Nepomuk were like "suspicions confirmed". I found that Mageia 2 and Kubuntu 12.04 took forever to get going. The previous versions of both those distros were really solid, so I was wondering if it's something with KDE 4.8. Shutting off Nepomuk and all the indexing has helped a lot.

    I liked what you wrote, and I'll definitely have to give Fedora 17 (and maybe even GNOME 3.4!) a try or 2.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Fedora 17 DID NOT ship with new firewall (firewallD) by default... GUI is not ready so the ship with standard system-config-firewall.
    Cheers,
    K.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "There was a lot of talk about GNOME Shell making things difficult (by that I think people simply mean "different"), but that is truly not the case."

    It is nice to read a review by a non-troglodyte for a change. I've read a lot of truly stupid reviews of Gnome3 and Unity - in many cases simply with incorrect claims and statements. I use Unity daily and extensively and it works very, very well. I have only one complaint, which I won't describe here.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The akonadi and nepomuk subsystems are being a pest in kde4. The ideas behing them are good, but poorly designed and implemented. We are in 4.8 version and we haven't a rock solid base for this subsystems. Who knows, maybe for 5.x series?
    Every time i read about them, i remember the arts sound daemon ;)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thanks for the review. I'm using KDE spin on a fairly standard Dell Vostro and it works pretty well.

    I was wondering if you'd had any concerns with wifi strength as I've noticed that with this release my laptop appears to be having difficulty unless right on top of the access point.

    Regards,
    Simon.

    ReplyDelete
  9. In the first round Fedora 17 crashed horribly after a couple of kernel updates due to Noveau. I then decided to do a new install with LXDE environment and to remove the noveau nvidia drivers. The previous versions worked flawless and I expect no less from the 17th

    ReplyDelete
  10. Summary IMO: Only recommended for cutting edge users who love being cut up, frequently. I'm staying with 'buntu derivatives: Zorin, Pinguy or Xubuntu.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I love Fedora - the reasons are free, featured, stable & secured.

    However as the system is updated and upgraded, it poses lots of problems and make me fed-up. A debian release say Ubuntu or Linux Mint despite having oldest packages and not so stable is not creating unforeseen issues like Fedora.

    Yours
    VN

    ReplyDelete
  12. F17, rock solid and stable as of mid-July which is about when you should contemplate a new release of any OS. After a month-month and a half of bug fixes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I see what your saying, and it would hold true with most other distros, but Fedora is most probably the exception to that rule of thumb. It continuously throws updates at you, so months after the release you may end up with a completely useless OS that does not even boot (has happened to me several times due to new Kernel patches).

      In my experience, F17 is as stable now as it was when I first installed it, I have not noticed much of a difference.

      Delete
  13. I like Fedora, I do not like Gnome 3, and I am not alone there either. The numbers working on the gnome project has diminished drastically of late and this is borne out by the lack of users. Gnome is slowly dying a death, and other implementations such as cinnamon, MATE, even Ruby-gnome are gaining major momentum. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some sort of statement regards Fedoras default desktop next year, as I have been privy to some meetings, albeit heated and quite telling. I#ll still use fedora for now as my base, but I am using MATE as the DE of choice and we're actually contributing code now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What the mass uses is no criteria, in my opinion. People often miss the point and choose the weaker alternative. Sometimes things are ahead of their time, get bad press for no apparent reason, who knows... I have seen this happen tons of times, Beta vs VHS, Bluray vs HD DVD, etc.... Heck even incredibly cool solutions like Google Wave went by essentially unnoticed just because people didn't get it.

      MATE is a bit ridiculous when XFCE is there and works as good as it does, and Cinnamon is even more ridiculous when KDE is at the level it's at. Reinventing the wheel is sport #1 in Open Source World!

      Delete
  14. Trying Fedora for first time on the live-cd I wonder how can you live without nvidia or ati, without rar, etc.

    The distro looks good but too many things missing.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I like the GNOME theme you use. What's its name? How can I install it? :D

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hi, great review, and I couldn't agree more that Fedora is a really great distribution with lots of great & updated software, which can be easily installed. I installed it, no problems at all, and it proved to be really stable. However, I use Linux mostly for doing work and I do have some experience now with Linux systems and I did not like the desktop at all - this is just my opinion on the desktop, having already mentioned all great things Fedora 17 has. It is very difficult to customize it (it's not only a matter of changing the background), meaning, changing to doing the way I traditionally do things (as in Ubuntu 11.04, CentOS 6.3, Debian6.0.5, Linux Mint 13, RHEL 6.0, etc.), and have the way you want it to behave. I believe There should be an option to use classic gnome. It's a matter of providing choices to users.

    For instance, let's say a user wants to open system settings but DOES know the actual application name, I don't think she/he should go to "Applications", type in the name of the application, wait for it be searched, to appear, and then use it. That is not productive for me. If there is a menu, and I know where things are, it is really quick to go there and just choose it. Unfortunately, there are no app menus in Fedora 17 and I don't have a choice here. I installed the "gnome-tweak-tools" (I think that's the correct name), tweaked the desktop, and installed an app menu, made other changes, but I ended up with a really ugly-looking, ineffective desktop, because you are half-right when you say:

    " It should be obvious, though, that it will never be able to do something it was purposedly designed not to. In other words, the lack of customization options and emphasis on eye-candy are not shortcomings, but rather features of a UI whose target is to make things simple and stay out of the way so that users can concentrate on being as productive as possible."

    you can't ask Gnome3 to behave effectively like Gnome2, because it is a different paradigm, and that is great for some users, especially touch-pad people, but for me it has turned out to be less productive, so I think I'll stick to CentOS (no eye-candy, just plain Gnome2 to get your work done) or Mint 13 which have a new (Gnome 2) fork with MATE, which I have tried, and is fine, and provide more desktop choices to the user. (by the way, I also couldn't adapt to Ubuntu's Unity in 12.04, but with Ubuntu 12.10, there seems to a choice to use Classic-desktop). I also tried XFCE by installing XUbuntu12.04, and it does work fine, is plain and simple, has a lot of ways to customize toolbars, and do many desktop tweaks out-of-the-box, but man! it is really UGLY-LOOKING and folders & icons are too crowded, IT is quite aesthetically unpleasing.

    It's a matter of doing things the way you feel more comfortable with, even if you bypass more modern things, I agree with you in that, but I like the slogan: "Have it your way", which is part of Linux philosophy. Generally, You can't teach an old dog new tricks... but if the dog has a choice, good for him.

    Thanks again for your really excellent review, I just wanted to add my opinion.

    Best Regards

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, quite important for me, is that distro developers pay attention to what its users ask for, and quite a few users have been complaining about Gnome-3, so now MATE desktop will be one of the desktop options in Fedora 18. Thanks for this.

      Actually, after my previous comment (the one I'm replying to), I easily installed MATE on Fedora 17 (yum install @mate-desktop) and all is happiness for me now, so I finally had it my way...

      Delete
  17. By the way, I dislike Unity a lot and dropped Ubuntu12.04, went back to CentOS6.3 and Linux Mint13-MATE, (I have both distros in my box, each has a particular strength and weakness, and I use both of them with a common /usr/local partition), but I have just installed Ubuntu12.10 now and I'll see how the Classic desktop works.

    And again, I respect all the opinions on, and also praise other desktops, like Gnome Shell or Unity, which are a great step forward (I guess to portable devices OS's) but for me, it's just a matter of choice, I like to "Have it my way". regards

    ReplyDelete
  18. I've used RedHat since the early days (mid nineties), then moved on to Fedora and love(d) it. I don't really follow frantically their releases. I usually upgrade only when my back is really against the wall. With F17, however, they've almost lost me ("almost" because I've wasted only one weekend so far trying to migrate from F14; the jury is still out).

    For better or for worse, I do a lot of development and research work on my home server (ranging from software development to writing papers and presentations), and the same machine (which boots in 8 seconds but is on at all times) is also the file server, source control repository, organizes backups, streams movies and music through the house, acts as print and scanner center, hosts greenplum and other DBs for the household as well as remote access, etc. So I'm not really looking forward to doing those pesky upgrades, eyes full of wonder with what new monkey wrench might be coming next or in which creative ways the thing is going to bomb.

    With F17 and Gnome3, it feels like nothing quite works, and it's going to be like scaling the Eiger via the North Face to have everything humming again. SSH didn't work. My RAID array wasn't recognized. I couldn't find Disk Utility (since it's been removed). My old trusted static 12 workspaces (one for each activity group, quickly switchable with one keystroke) don't exist and cannot be created; I cannot configure Gnome to make it happen. The top-left of the screen is a minefield: if you step in it with the mouse, gnome will kindly (but slowly) orchestrate a grand show of shrinking all your windows and show you a bunch of useless icons. This is just a sample of a very long list. How sad, after a full night fixing one thing after another, to go to work and realize that the company-mandated Windows 7, of all things, feels like it operates better than my home server (I use VirtuaWin for the virtual desktops)! I never thought I would write such a thing, but there it is.

    Sad.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Well I've used Gnome 3, and for the most part I liked it, except the bit where I seem to have to jump thru hoops to turn the system off, the awkward way to manipulate windows, eg no minimize/maximize buttons! Otherwise its not bad really. I am using KDE at the moment though due to it just being a lot easier to configure etc, kde-look.org is a great site.
    But all this talk of Gnome dying has certainly put me off even spending any amount of time coding for it. I really hope a number of issues put forward by the community will eventually be taken on board, and hopefully Fedora will do something about this?

    ReplyDelete
  20. Since you are looking for just a gay sizegenetics, you might be better off to find someone who is local and who is sexy who has to offer you this service. You will discover who is the better sizegenetics for you by taking a look at photographs of them and choose who ideally you should give you the sizegenetics which you simply are looking for. You will work out any deals regarding the price for any kind of sizegenetics in the event you communicate when using the sizegenetics.
    http://buysizegeneticsonline.tumblr.com/

    ReplyDelete