Detailed Fedora 17 Review

I must admit that Fedora was the first GNU/Linux distribution that introduced me to this world. We used it as the default OS in Linux For You magazine where I worked as a writer and editor. Fedora was also the first GNU/Linux OS that I installed on my PC. I moved to PCLinuxOS, then Mandriva, then Debian and then to Ubuntu. These days I multiboot between Ubuntu, openSUSE and some random OS. I stayed away from Fedora due to RPM Hell. I still remember being burnt by it in Fedora 14. But things have changed dramatically. Fedora is now extremely useful for novice users. I build confidence in Fedora with version 16 and planned to revisit it as 17 hits the Internet. I confess, I never used Fedora as my primary OS, outside my work at LFY.

But it looks like things might change with Fedora 17.

Fedora 17: What’s New Technically
Fedora is the breeding ground where a lot of technologies are born or introduced to the GNU/Linux world With version 17 they have made a controversial decision to end the separation of /bin /sbin /lib /lib64 from the ones in /usr.

Fedora 17

Fedora (and other distributions) started to get rid of the separation of /bin and /usr/bin, as well as /sbin and /usr/sbin, /lib and /usr/lib, and /lib64 and /usr/lib64. All files from the directories in / will be merged into their respective counterparts in /usr, and symlinks for the old directories will be created instead.

With Fedora 17 you can notice symlinks to these files. Ubuntu and other distributions are also discussing this move.

Well, average users won’t even notice what happened but if you wonder why they are doing it, the supporters of this separation say:

A unified filesystem layout (as it results from the /usr merge) is more compatible with UNIX than Linux’ traditional split of /bin vs. /usr/bin. Unixes differ in where individual tools are installed, their locations in many cases are not defined at all and differ in the various Linux distributions. The /usr merge removes this difference in its entirety, and provides full compatibility with the locations of tools of any Unix via the symlink from /bin to /usr/bin.

Security: Fedora FireWallD
Fedora 17, as expected is also using FirewallD which adds extra layer of security as the firewall never goes down even if you made some changes that require restart. FirewallD is a service daemon with a D-BUS interface that provides a dynamic managed firewall. The FirewallD manages the firewall dynamically and applies changes without restarting the whole firewall. Therefore there is no need to reload all firewall kernel modules.

Fedora 17

Latest And Greatest
Gnome is the ‘preferred’ DE of Fedora but it has KDE, Xfce and Lxde spins as well so you can grab the flavor you like. Fedora 17 brings the latest version of Gnome 3.4.1 (or KDE 4.8), Linux kernel and popular applications like GIMP. What you get with Fedora 17 is Linux Kernel 3.3.4, Gnome 3.4, Firefox 12.0, GIMP 2.8 (not installed by default but is in repos).

What is missing (due to space constraint) is a pre-installed office suite, but you can very easily install LibreOffice from the official. You can install GIMP 2.8 and most of the applications without having to install any third party repo.

You will need 3rd party repos if you are looking for non-free drivers, codecs or applications that depend on these. It’s extremely easy to enable repos (just one click) and then you can install almost everything that you need.

If you wonder why such drivers are not in official repos there can be two explanations. Fedora adhers to the free software philosophy and offers a pure ‘free’ experience. Then there are many patent and licensing issues which stops the project from offering non-free components.

Installing applications is very easy under Fedora 17 once you install Yumex, which is distant cousin of Synaptic Package Manager. It’s an amazing tool.

However, there are some applications that I could not find under Fedora 17, which includes Arista Transcoder which I use for transcoding movies for my tablet. I think that was the only application that I use which is not available under Fedora 17. So, I am not very sure about what else is missing from Fedora 17. On yes, the open source Chromium browser is not in the repos so you will have to install it from Google’s site. I use Chrome under Ubuntu and it’s not in their repos so doesn’t make much difference to me but I still wonder why it is missing.

Gnome 3 In Fedora
Even if Fedora uses Gnome as the default DE (Red Hat leads the development of Gnome), it leaves a lot to be desired. The missing ‘shutdown’ or ‘restart’ option in the user menu is beyond my understanding. There is more than enough space for these two items. You need to use the alt key in order to switch between suspend and Power-Off. You need to add extensions in order to add more options to the user menu, but…

…At the same time there is no tool to tweak Gnome Shell settings (or manage extensions) such as changing the it from close button to all three buttons on the windows. It’s also not possible to change fonts, themes or many other such basic things from the default installation.

Fedora 17

I think Fedora must include the gnome-tweak-tool by default so that the out-of-the-box user experience is enhanced and you don’t need to install too much (like Windows) to make your system useable.

Fedora 17 comes with Gnome 3.4.1, so you also get to see what is there in Gnome 3.4.1. Some of the highlights of Gnome 3.4.1 is improved Documents which allows you to access your Google Documents (you can view them but can’t edit them at the moment).

Fedora 17

Gnome teams are planning to build support for Microsoft’s SkyDrive within Gnome. I am not a big fan of Microsoft and try to stay away as far as I can from their technologies, so I won’t be a SkyDrive user, but it does give Windows users more reasons to switch to GNU/Linux/Gnome as they can still use these services and access their data sitting on cloud.

Support for SkyDrive makes sense as the first question I hear the moment I ask someone to switch to Linux is “will I be able to access my docs and music”? So, support for services offered by the most abusive monopoly is not that bad.

Using Online Accounts you can easily access your Google Docs and also connect to Facebook and Windows Live. The great thing about Online Accounts is that it also pulls all the contacts from your Gmail account which makes is extremely easy to connect with people without having to open the Google Contact.

Gnome, Unity and KDE: The UI
Gnome seems to have learnt some tricks from Ubuntu’s Unity as it offers an Application Menu. I have not seen any use of it as not only it is not supported by all the applications, but also that it doesn’t have all the items I need. For example if you look at Documents it doesnt give you any option what to do there. Unless you have already connected your account using Online Account feature. At this point the Application Menu appears to be in ‘alpha’ stage.

I din’t see any use of it on desktop and strongly belive that Gnome should have two veriants one for Desktops and one for touch enabled devices. This will make life easier for a user.

While it is great to see that Gnome is looking ahead at the future with these technologies, but the traditional desktop is not going away any soon so option to choose between the desktop or tablet UI may be a welcome move.

Unlike Ubuntu’s overlay scroll-bars, Fedora 17 has slicker scroll-bars. I appreciate the attention Ubuntu team is paying to minute details, which enhances the user experience. Gnome team is also looking in the same direction with a bit different appoarch. Gnome 3 is extremely polished and its pleasant to use. The user experience is further improved when you can tweak it the way you want using Gnome Extensions.

The goal of both Unity and Gnome 3 shell is same — to prepare Linux for the touch-based interface and offer a more pleasant user experience. They are like Mercedes and BMWs of the free software world. If you an afford, get both or drive the one you like more.

KDE has been smarter here as they have something for everyone. They can support the traditional desktop, tablet UI as well as netbook — a perfect solution.

Fedora 17

Fedora 17 has made it extremely easy to search local files and applications from the activity overview. Not only you can find local files, but also files on Google Docs, contacts from your addressbook and applications. There is no doubt that Unity has taken that experience to the next level by adding filters which you can use if you are looking for particular content type such as images or music. For Gnome Shell users there are many extensions which bring the enhanced search to Gnome’s Overview.

What’s Annoying
I don’t like the way you can’t minimize or maximize a lot of applications or dialogue boxes. For example when you open Online Account window and select Google there is no way you can maximize the window to see the whole content instead of using the horizontal and vertical scrollbars to see what is there. For a wile I did not even know that I had to scroll down the windows to click on the ‘grant access’ button. This is in my opinion a defective design. And I am not alone SJVN agrees with me.

Identity Crisis
I always found at a loss for words when someone asks what is the target audience of Fedora. Is it for newbies, advanced users, system admins or enthusiasts?

When I asked the new Fedora Project Leader Robyn Bergeron, she told me:

Fedora’s rapid pace of innovation and short life cycle tend to make it more friendly for advanced users, IT admins, and developers; however, it certainly is not unusable for the average home user, and we find that many people who fit in the latter category feel that it meets all of their needs and expectations for a desktop at home. I think we resonate well with people who believe in Freedom, and free-as-in-freedom software; we are a great fit for people who are considering contributing to open source, whether by developing code or developing community infrastructure, such as design or translations.

Very well said. From a user point of view Fedora is a bit more complex than it appears. First of all this is the breeding ground where latest and greatest technologies are born, which are used by the rest of the GNU/Linux world. It’s also the staging platform for RHEL so quite important for sys admins and RHEL users. Despite being a cutting edge distro it’s not a rolling release so you won’t get the latest packages from applications which you can easily get on Arch or even Ubuntu through PPA. It is simple to use but installing drivers and non-free components can be a challenge which require advanced knowledge about Linux so we can’t call it for new-bies.

So, who will I recommend it to?

It depends on why you want to use Linux. If you are a Windows/Mac user switch to Linux and want an out-of-the-box experience, I will recommend Ubuntu or Linux Mint. If you are an adventurer who also wants to use the latest packages and applications I will recommend Arch. But if you are someone who wants to learn how Linux works, who wants to understand why non-free components are not installed by default, who wants to play with the system. In a nutshell if you want to become a Linux expert, then I will recommend Fedora.

Can I Use Fedora 17?
As I stated above it is hard to say who is the ‘ideal’ user of Fedora. It’s a but blurry, in my opinion no matter what the official Fedora statement is. That said, if you are willing to _learn_ about Linux, Fedora is for you. Will I use it? I am an average user, a write and an editor. And yes I do need access to newest application, not that I am restless, but because the newer versions fix many problems and introduce much needed features. Looking at my use-case I have been using Fedora 17 it for 2 days now and did not feel missing out on anything. All I care about is a stable system, with all the apps that I need (and no I don’t want Photoshop or MS Word). It will be interesting to see how fast I can get the latest packages.

My continuation with Fedora will depend on its stability and the availability of newest packages.

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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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