Fedora 16 Review: When An Ubuntu User Tries Fedora

Fedora 16 was released a few days ago and I was looking forward to this release. I used to be a Fedora user in the early days, when I had more time to play with my PC. Ever since I switched to Debian and then Ubuntu, I just fell in love with apt-get’s smart dependency resolution. I was finally out of the RPM hell. I did dabble with Fedora here and there, once in a while but 14 and 15 were both quite unstable for me. So, I distanced myself from Fedora.

Ubuntu 11.10 Led Me To Fedora 16
The arrival of Ubuntu 11.10 encouraged me to try other distros as Unity is under heavy development and many familiar features are yet to be added to it. In a politically incorrect sense: Unity is counterproductive.

Ubuntu was otherwise known for stability, thanks to the Debian base, but Unity is spoiling the fun. I don’t blame the developers or the leadership at Canonical. We are using the technologies which are being worked on so wrinkles are possible.

I Am Not Used To Ubuntu Anymore, Will I Like Fedora?
In early days of Ubuntu, applications just worked out of the box, not anymore. RecordmyDesktop doesn’t work anymore, it freezes the PC. Avidemux which I used to trans-code movies are not in the main repositories anymore and Global Menu is just too much obstacle. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Ubuntu is going rogue, I am only stating that due to the ‘fast-pace’ development of Ubuntu, I am missing quite a lot of features and apps that I need for my work.

This lead me to Fedora 16 and openSuse 12. Since I was already struggling with Ubuntu, there was not much harm in trying Fedora and openSuse again. When Fedora 16 was released, I downloaded it and installed it on one of my laptops — Dell XPS 1330.

Fedora 16 surprised me. Ubuntu 11.10 started giving some problems with this laptop. When the laptop wakes up, the touchpad won’t work and I was forced to restart it. Under Fedora there was no such problem, the laptop will go to sleep without any lullabies and wake up without a yawn.

* Ubuntu lost a point here.

Hardware Support, Excellent
Strangely Fedora 16 is working fine on the Dell XPS. I found Gnome Shell 3 to be more responsive and productive than Unity. Global menu is one of the reasons I dislike Unity. It does save space but the price you pay is too high – you lose productivity and efficiency with Global Menu. I don’t need it at all as I have a 32 inch monitor and a lot of real state to waste.

Gnome 3, stability and hardware support of Fedora 16 gave me enough courage to try it on my main PC which has some proprietary hard ware. It’s i5 quad core PC with 8GB RAM, GTX 470 Nvidia card and VIA 7 Channel HD sound-card. Everything worked out of the box, even the WiFi for which I had to install drivers on Windows 7 OS.

Rest of my hardware, including webcam, was detected fine except for my iBall tablet which no more works under Linux (I later found out about some issues with my printer). One area where Ubuntu has an edge over Fedora is detecting non-free hardware and offer proprietary drivers for it. If you are using Fedora you will have to manually install drivers for such hardware.

Add Remove
All The Apps You Need
Fedora boasts of its huge repository of packages. One of my friends Atanu Datta told me that some website reported Fedora 16 has more than 50k packages. That’s exciting, but that doesn’t matter much to me as the packages I want are not in the main repositories so I added Livna and RMPFusion.

Once you install and enable the RPMFusion and Livna repos, you can live your life from Add/Remove Software tool which is extremely easy to use. If you are looking for something cooler you can try Ailurus which not only offers a clean ‘Ubuntu Software Center’ like experience but also allows you to clean up the RMP cache and do many other important things.

I care about the few apps that I use and need, if those apps are there then it doesn’t matter.

Font Rendering
One of the issues with Fedora and openSuse is Font rendering. Due to patents and licenses its a cumbersome job to get the ‘smooth’ rendering and hinting of fonts specially for the web browsers and Mozilla Thunderbird. ‘Not so good looking web-pages were the only eye sores on Fedora 16. Ubuntu, on the other hand renders fonts very well without any extra work.

Fedora 16 vs Ubuntu 11.10
So, let’s see what all Fedora has that Ubuntu doesn’t. While Fedora 16 has Avidemux (a trans-coding tool that I used to use before I learned about something better), which Ubuntu doesn’t.

I have started using Arista instead of Avidemux will trans-codes movies for my Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Unfortunately, Fedora misses the much needed Arista.

Since we are talking about the Samsung Galaxy Tab, I would like to share something interesting. Ironically, it’s harder (takes longer) to trans-code movies using Windows 7 and Samsung’s Kies.

Yes, the only gripe I have is Linux doesn’t support the MTP thus you can’t see the content on the tablet, which means if you take pictures from any Honeycomb device you can’t copy it on your PC using Linux. You can, however, copy content to the tablet. I have filed the bug with the Gmtp project but not much work has been done there.

Samsung, give Linux users a client like Kies to transfer data onto your Linux-powered tablets and phones.

Apps You May Need To Install
Fedora (CD edition) doesn’t come with any office suite so I had to install LibreOffice which was as easy as making a cup of coffee. I went ahead and installed the applications which I use — GIMP, VLC, Amarok (also install ‘libxine’ for MP3 support), Google Chrome, Liferea, Thunderbird and I was good to go. I did not face any problems in installing these apps.

So, Fedora and Ubuntu stand neck-to-neck when it comes to the ease of software management.

Printer Can’t Scan
As I wrote above that later I discovered that while Fedora detected my Photosmart HP printer over the wifi, it did not detect it as a scanner. Instead of detecting the printer as the scanner it was using the webcam. So, I am not able to scan anything from my printer using Fedora 16.

This is not the case on Ubuntu. Ubuntu detects the scanner and starts scanning the images. So, from an Ubuntu user’s point or view, Fedora 16 is not ready for everything out-of-the-box. Since I will be using Fedora extensively, I will have to spend some time in finding how to make it detect my printer as scanner also.

* Ubuntu earns a point!

Unity vs Gnome 3
I have been using Gnome 3 with Ubuntu 11.10. But I was waiting for the ‘pure’ Gnome 3 experience that Fedora would offer. As I stated above, personally, I prefer Gnome 3 over Unity. The reason is Global Menu. Global Menu is a pain in the neck for me when I am working on multi-window applications such as GIMP. Its a torture to use GIMP under Unity as if you will have to click inside the windows every time you want to access the menu. And then you don’t know where the menu item is hiding. I started to settle down with Unity, but ever since Gnome 3 is out, Unity is pretty much out of the way until Ubuntu offers the ability to disable global menus.

Gnome Shell Extensions Take Me Beyond Unity
Another reason why I prefer Gnome 3 is the extensive Gnome-Shell Extensions. You can replicate much of the goodies of Gnome 2 UI which your muscles are used to. Unity, on the other hand doesn’t offer any ‘useful’ customization what so ever. I do trust that the developers are working hard on the Unity Tweak Tool and soon we will have more control over the beast called Unity. Till then Gnome 3 it is.

I have installed some Gnome-Shell Extensions which give me couple of things:

  • Bottom panel so that I don’t have to take my mouse to the ‘holy’ left top corner to access the app. The running apps are visible at the bottom and you can access them easily.
  • Moving the clock to the right as my eyes were trained after 5 years of Linux usage to look at right to find the time.
  • Add Favorites on the top panel so that once again I don’t have to wait for the ‘holy’ left top corner to open apps.
  • Enabling minimize and maximize buttons.
  • Adding ‘Places’ to the top panel to easily access the storage device.

I will write more about these extensions in a separate article as it will help Fedora/openSuse/Ubuntu and Linux Mint users.

Conclusion: Fedora 16 has surprised me this time. It is running successfully on three of my machines — main PC with quite a lot of proprietary hardware, Dell XPS and Dell Mini 1012. It is actually working better on the Dell XPS where Ubuntu gives me touch-pad freeze after waking up from sleep. Fedora has all the applications that I need, besides Arista, it works nicely with all my hardware other than the scanner issue that I have to find a solution to.

So, in a nut-shell Fedora 16 is ‘the’ best Fedora I have ever seen. The seasoned users should be partying and they don’t much care about the issues I am facing as they rarely get out of the terminal and solving such issues is like talking a walk in a park. As a longtime Ubuntu user Fedora, for the first time, surprised me with its ease of use.

The installation and removing of applications is smooth. I have not seen single dependency issues. Yes, it doesn’t have Ubuntu Software Center, but its install remove tool does a great job — something on par with Synaptic Package Manager.

So, as an Ubuntu user I am quite at home with Fedora 16. I will recommend it to those who don’t have a lot of proprietary hardware and want to give Gnome 3 a try. Trust me, Fedora won’t disappoint you.

As of now, I am loving Fedora. Soon openSuse 12 will be out and I will be playing with all three top distros — Ubuntu 11.10, Fedora 16 and openSuse 12.

I wish Windows/Mac users had the same ‘luxury’ too.

About Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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