Fedora 19 (Schrödinger’s Cat) arrived earlier this week. This release missed the planned deadline by one week, as has traditionally happened with past releases. Nevertheless a seven days’ delay is still manageable as compared to 2-3 weeks by which Fedora generally misses the mark. We’ve still not forgotten the two-and-a-half month delay in case of Fedora 18. The reason behind such delays is generally given to be focus on stability, which is a good thing for the end users because Fedora comes with “bleeding-edge” software—packages in their latest upstream versions at the time of release—and it’s kind of imperative to ensure everything works and all regressions are ironed out.
The last Fedora I installed on my computer was F14 (Laughlin), released in end-2010. F14 was a pretty solid release, especially with its smooth KDE experience. Those were early days for GNOME 3, and I abhorred its user experience. A lot had drastically changed from v2, many things were only partially implemented, and a huge lot of things were just absent. At the time, using GNOME 3 was frustrating, to say the least. F19 comes with GNOME 3 as its default desktop, and so I had my apprehensions before giving it a try.
I downloaded the live desktop edition, which is a 900-odd MB ISO with only an essential set of applications required for the latest Fedora experience. Alternate downloads are also available:
- KDE Spin (live)
- Xfce Spin (live)
- LXDE Spin (live)
- Fedora DVD
You can get each of the above in both 32- and 64-bit formats.
The Testing Rig
A decent modern machine with Intel Core 2 Duo E4500 2.2 GHz CPU, 2GB RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce 9800 GT gfx card.
F19 took around 4 minutes from GRUB to desktop. Its boot-time was way higher than that of recently reviewed Knoppix 7.2, which booted in under 90 seconds on my age-old laptop. By default you see a graphical boot screen (Plymouth); pressing Esc brings up all the process being loaded under the hood. Fedora still hasn’t much changed its boot sequence, a thing that has always bugged me because of a but-load of processes that form a part of it.
F19 detected all my hardware correctly, and started with an appropriate screen resolution for my gfx card. The refresh rate wasn’t optimal because of which the display was a centimeter off from the top; but that’s a known problem with the free (unofficial) nv/nouveau NVIDIA driver. As with 100% free GNU/Linux systems, proprietary software and drivers are not included but are easily installable via Fedora’s repositories.
As with most modern distros, Fedora straight away takes you to the desktop once the GUI is up (no login prompt). At this point, distros like Mandriva and Ubuntu ask for some basic configuration options, like keyboard type, language, etc. F19 asked me if I wanted to try it live or install it. I chose the “live” option, and was immediately dropped to the GNOME 3 desktop. The version of GNOME in this release is 3.8, which seems to have matured heavily. I found the default dark-blue wallpaper a bit ghastly, but luckily F19 comes with a great selection of additional wallpapers, one of which I picked up later.
Unlike other desktop environments (KDE, Xfce & LXDE), there is no application launcher / menu. Rather there is GNOME Shell, that has its own dock, application picker, window switcher, and search. Things are very different from the more familiar GNOME 2, but Ubuntu users will find it similar to Unity’s Dash. Quite irritatingly, there is no panel and there simply is no way to minimize windows. I had hoped after my last outing with GNOME 3 that the developers would make just this one change to make it more comfortable to traditional users. Anyway, my recent exposure to Unity had made me a wee-bit used to this kind of interface, and so I felt it easy to switch between open windows either via Alt+Tab or by bringing up the window switcher by pressing the Super (Windows) key. Dragging the mouse pointer to top-left corner has the same effect of bringing up the window / app picker.
In its live edition, Fedora doesn’t supply many apps; only a hand-picked essential ones sufficient for daily use. In my view, F19 has everything that a user might need for basic use. Additional software can be easily installed with the “Software” app, which is a rebranded PackageKit. PackageKit is something that I hated in its early days as the default package management app in Fedora, but it seems to have improved a lot in terms of performance since then. It felt light, error-free and easy-to-use. Still, yum—command-line tool—remains my favorite when it comes to installing packages because of its sheer speed.
Settings is another thing that has improved over time. It now comes with as many options as you may find in its counterpart in a vanilla KDE installation. KDE remains a step ahead here due to the sheer number of customizations it offers, but GNOME Settings is getting there.
Major app inclusions in the Internet category are Firefox (web browser), Empathy (IM client), Evolution (mail client) and Transmission (BitTorrent client). All these are high-quality software and popular with Linux users. I personally prefer Thunderbird over Evolution, mostly because of its add-ons ecosystem, but Evolution remains popular with users who prefer a faster and no-nosense email client. Connecting to the Internet is a no-brainer with GNOME’s network manager. So nothing is missing in this section of apps.
In the Media section, F19 has Videos (multimedia player), Rhythmbox (audio player/manager) and Shotwell (image viewer/manager/gallery). Shotwell is something that I’ve used extensively for batch image manipulation, and works quite well. I’ve never quite understood the craving for Rhythmbox when better players like Exaile and Clementine exist. Both have a small footprint, and have plenty of options. Rhythmbox on the other hand feels archaic and slow. Perhaps it’s usually a default inclusion because of its compliance with GNOME 3’s design standards.
As mentioned before, exclusion of non-free software means F19 doesn’t come with media codecs to play your mp3, avi, mkv or mp4 files, although it plays free media formats like ogg, ogv, etc. without a hitch. It you try to play a proprietary format, Fedora offers to look for and install appropriate codecs for it. If you need to play certain uncommon/restricted formats, make sure to enable the RPM Fusion repositories.
Office apps include the usual suspects—LibreOffice suite (Writer, Calc, Draw and Impress) and Documents (ebook & PDF viewer). Usually, you won’t need anything other than LibreOffice for all your document needs. It comes in version 4.1.0 beta2, but the “beta” label shouldn’t scare you of; it was quite stable in my experience. So again, all is good here.
One of the main focus areas of Fedora 19 is the provision of software and services that facilitate creation of cloud infrastructures. F19 comes with two key names in this domain—OpenStack, an open source cloud computing platform which lets you set up your own cloud infrastructure, similar to public clouds like Amazon EC2, Azure, and OpenShift, Red Hat’s own Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) solution. OpenStack has been updated to the latest “grizzly” build, and OpenShift Origin (community-driven OpenShift) gets a feature. Both these, and more, technologies are available on the F19 DVD, but are absent on the live desktop as these don’t form part of a day-to-day user experience.
Knowing about F19’s stress on virtualization, it’s not surprising to see the Boxes application included as part of the live desktop. Boxes is a qemu-based emulator for creating and managing virtual machines, much like how VirtualBox and VMWare work. Like many other Red Hat developed apps, Boxes is hooked to the cloud and offers to connect to a virtual machine via Internet.
Another key focus area behind the development of F19 has been 3D printing. This is a relatively new technology that has been in spotlight since the last year. While Windows 8.1 will introduce support for 3D printing, Fedora 19 comes with quite a lot of 3D printing capabilities. According to the press note, the 3D printing capabilities in Fedora range from “software for creation of 3D models, to tools for generating and sending code to 3D printers”. Like cloud software, 3D printing applications are also not available on the live desktop, but can be found on DVD or in Fedora’s repositories.
Starting version 18, the age-old Anaconda installer was completely ramped up to take it up to modern standards. Besides, it was getting increasingly difficult for developers to maintain Anaconda’s codebase. F19 has a modern-looking Anaconda, which offers a straight-forward installation flow. Installation from live desktop is easy as everything on the live media is copied to harddisk. This is different from how Anaconda works on Fedora’s DVD edition, where user needs to select all software packages before installation. As the packages are installed to the harddisk one-by-one, it takes significantly more time to install in that fashion.
The whole user experience is quite touch friendly. Apart from GNOME Shell, Settings and default applications, there are a few more apps—developed by Red Hat—that sport an interface inspired by the iOS design. Apps like Clocks, Documents, Evince, and Boxes all come under this ambit.
Traditionally, Fedora has been used more as a server distro but their live desktop offerings seem a good fit for average Linux users as well. Although most would still prefer to use Mint, Mageia or PCLinuxOS, that have everything ready-to-use (including certain non-free codecs and drivers), users who have a knack for 100% free OSes—Ubuntu, Debian, Arch—will find Fedora 19 a pretty solid offering. With F19, I’m looking forward to giving GNOME 3 another go.