Living with Fedora – A Debian/Ubuntu User’s Take on Fedora 15

I’ve been a die-hard Debian fan for about 10 years, and I’ve written several articles on the subject. That said, most of our Linux-savvy readers are Ubuntu users, so that’s been my main desktop OS for as long as I’ve been a MakeTechEasier writer. Ubuntu has always been fine, and generally got the job done without hassle, however this past release (11.04, Natty Narwhal) has been the cause of a rift among many Ubuntu users. This release pushed Unity, their homegrown desktop environment, front and center. Like many others, I’ve never managed to get a feel for Unity. After weighing my options, I decided to jump ship and try out Fedora 15. It’s the first Fedora I’ve tried since Core 1, and things certainly have changed.

We already spent come time comparing Ubuntu 11.04 and Fedora 15, so I won’t dwell on that here. In short, both have decided to move beyond the traditional Gnome 2 desktop and move into hardware-accelerated modern setups. Ubuntu created Unity and aimed it squarely at casual computer users.

Ubuntu Unity

Ubuntu Unity

whereas Fedora bet their farm on Gnome 3, a newly redesigned and radically different Gnome desktop.

usingfed15-gnome3example

It’s certainly no secret that this author prefers Gnome 3, and that was a major factor in my decision to try Fedora. It’s among the first major distributions to put their full weight behind this relatively new project.

There are of course many differences between Ubuntu and Fedora, but this review will focus on the desktop user experience.

As mentioned above, the most noticeable difference between Fedora and Ubuntu, or even Fedora 15 compared to earlier versions, is that it now runs the Gnome 3 desktop. This is a near-complete rewrite of the Gnome interface and many of its underlying libraries. It takes advantage of hardware-based 3d acceleration to provide extraordinarily smooth effects when creating, destroying, or moving Windows. In fact, it’s this author’s opinion that Gnome 3 has mastered this aspect better than any other desktop interface from any operating system. There are no visual events at all in Gnome 3 that feel jerky or sudden – absolutely everything is smooth and cozy.

Next up for positive traits is the fact that Gnome 3 can be scripted and themed with… wait for it… JavaScript and CSS! This means that thousands of developers can immediately apply these popular web technologies to their desktop, customizing it any way they wish using skills they already possess.

It’s new. It’s really new, and that has some consequences. Most notably, it means that Gnome 3 lacks a lot of the features users have come to expect from Gnome 2, such as integrated chat and social features and many system configuration options.

Regarding performance, that’s a little bit tricky. I am uncertain whether the problem is caused by Gnome itself, or perhaps some misbehaving application, but on my desktop (and I’m not the only one, judging by some posts I’ve found online) the system seems to get progressively slower the longer it’s used. It’s not normal to have to reboot a Linux system every day, especially to fix a problem like this, but until I’m able to determine the cause of the problem, I can’t rest the blame solely on Gnome.

One thing I can clearly define as a software problem is the apparent trouble Fedora has with saving my application preferences. Google Chrome is repeatedly insisting that it’s not the default browser, and Nautllus refuses to accept any changes to its application associations. No matter how many times I tell it to use VLC for video, it always defaults back to the built-in player next time Nautilus is opened. This is true for all file types I have attempted to change.

Regarding workspace management, I’m torn. The initial builds of Gnome Shell that we originally reviewed here used an excellent grid-based layout (similar to what you can do with Gnome 2 and Compiz) that I adored, and that alone was just about enough to make me fall in love with this desktop setup.

Later builds moved it to a linear approach, and eventually landed on an automatic linear approach. Personally I can’t stand it when my PC makes such decisions for me, so my first task was to set about learning how to disable that functionality.

If extensions were available allowing users to choose which workspace management method they prefer, this would instantly because one of Gnome 3′s killer features. It is my opinion that no other desktop environment offers matching workspace management capability. Unity is pretty good at that, but I’ve seen Gnome do better.

If I was to sum up my opinion on Fedora 15 in one sentence, it’d have to be “Rough, but with great potential“. Gnome 3 is still a baby, and Fedora took a bold step by pushing it to the forefront, and I applaud them for that. As cozy as it may be, there’s still a whole lot of polish left to be done. The front-end is still rough, and the back-end doesn’t seem to have yet caught up with all the changes. If Fedora can manage to take the successes in this release (which are many) and smooth out some of those rough spots (which are also many), then Fedora 16 is likely to pull a lot of users away from Ubuntu permanently. From the looks of it, I’ll be one of them.

Unity image credit – Andrew Currie