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

45 comments

  1. You claim to be a fan of Debian. Why would Unity drive you to Fedora and away from Debian?

    • Specifically because Fedora is currently the only major distribution (that I’m aware of at least) with a fully integrated Gnome 3 installation.  Debian is still my #1 distribution as far as the core system, but in this case Fedora offered the desktop experience that I’m looking for.  

      Will I stick with Fedora forever?  Hard to say, especially once Debian fully supports Gnome 3.  

      • What’s Fedora’s substitute for Ubuntu Software Center? Can I buy commercial software for it like I can from USC? And how about the Ubuntu One Music Store?

        • Fedora has two focuses: 1. promoting open source software (so they aren’t trying to sell you commerical programs or make money from you directly), 2. bleeding edge test bed of all things linux

          • Bleeding edge. This. I was a Fedora user for 6 years. But switching to Ubuntu. I am tired of the bleeds. Even in kernel space.

            I would rather get my work done.

          • HRJ – that’s my feeling too – it was hard for me (having had about 5 years experience in Linux) to get work done back when I tried Fedora 13, when there were hardware issues and so many packages that didn’t work for me.*

            Josh, Fedora isn’t an alternative to Ubuntu – it’s more like an alternative to Debian Sid. (Maybe Debian Testing, but when I used Squeeze in the late Testing phase, I found it much less buggy than Fedora 13). You write: “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.” But that’s not their aim – they’ll be forging forward, staying rough and bleeding edge. I’m glad someone’s doing it, but it’s not for me.

            mocity mentions Kororaa in an earlier comment, “a Fedora Spin aimed to polish out a bit the rough edges and help with inexperienced users with multimedia and the kind of stuff.” Interesting – I’d be surprised if the common issues with Fedora (being too bleed edge for many users) could be solved with a spin, but I’d be interested to see what they can manage.

            *To be fair, I was trying a newish spin, Fedora LXDE, but most of the packages I had issues with weren’t related to the DE.

      • I’m using the Gnome 3 version of openSUSE 11.4 and it’s working very well. I still have Ubuntu 11.04 installed but have found I’m using SUSE mostly the last few weeks. It is much less power-hungry than Natty and I think it’s much smoother. I’m probably sticking with it and that’s after using Ubuntu since 9.04.

  2. too much script action on mte these days…had to allow 3 sites just to see the post box.
    i, too, have been using debian or ubunru for years (still debian on my servers) but started using fedora 15 with the first beta…haven’t gone back. haven’t noticed any performance fall-off when the system has been running for hours or even days.
    unity was horrible. gnome 3 has some rough edges but is perfectly usable. as you say…bring on fedora 16…should be rather tasty.

  3. HI Joshua, I’m living the same mix of sentiment about Ubuntu 11.04 and as you did I’m Trying the Fedora 15 way. Just in the last few days I’m experimenting with Kororaa which is a Fedora Spin aimed to polish out a bit the rough edges and help with inexperienced users with multimedia and the kind of stuff.
    Chris, the man behind the project is very kind and helpful. I sugest you should give it a try.

  4. Fedora didn’t take any bold step. Red Hat sponsors GNOME and has developers that work on the GNOME Project. I’d put money on the fact that it was dictated to them to have the latest GNOME build, not bold by any means.

    Keep your stick on the ice….

    Landor

    • You’d be wrong. Fedora sticks close to upstream in pretty much all projects (a sharp contrast to Ubuntu), hence when Gnome stable became Gnome 3, Fedora switched its Gnome to 3 as well.
      There was no dictation, it was simply business as usual.

  5. If you don’t like Unity simply choose “Ubuntu Classic” as your desktop when you log in… and you’re back to Gnome 2…

    No need to leave Ubuntu :-)

    • Yes, I agree with Anders.

      Unity also nonplussed me when I first installed Ubuntu 11.04, but the simple “Ubuntu Classic” alternative sorted it all out in seconds.

      It’s difficult to understand why one would hop to another distro when this option is easily available, Gnome 3 is new and of questionable performance, and you have been a long-term Ubuntu user.

      • I’ve been using Ubuntu for about 6-7 years (since warty) and debian for years before that, but now I’m switching my desktops to linux mint debian edition. While I know that I can install different DE’s on Ubuntu, I also know that using a DE that is not the ubuntu crews default and main focus probably will not give the best desktop. Just take a look at kubuntu if you think you can just install a different DE and its all peachy, you cant, it takes a lot of work to make it polished.

  6. I never tried Ubuntu 11.04 since the screenshots featuring Unity are fugly. I tried Fedora 15, but Gnome 3 is radically different that I chucked it after a day. And so I returned to Mint 11 with Gnome 2.32, but once 12 comes around, they would probably change the DE since the Gnome 2.xx branch is no longer being developed upstream. I don’t know what Clem&Co are planning, though it seems that they’re giving special attention to LXDE. I would rather they adopt Xfce since it’s much closer in looks and usability to Gnome 2.

  7. I’ve been using gnome 3 on my arch-systems for quite some time now and I have to say that after getting used to the workflow I have gotten to really like it. It’s even nice and snappy on my netbook.

  8. I cannot work with either unity or gnome3 – at work or while doing work – play is OK.

    I quad boot my home 18.5″ laptop with the latest fedora, ubuntu, mint and windows. Far to much mouse action and clicking with both gnome3 and to a slightly lesser degree unity – especially on any display over 17 inches (have a 22 inch display at work). But for play and not work I can use either comfortably if I am doing just one thing. But multi-tasking is a mouse horror show with both unity or gnome3 on big displays.

    If I could get to the various desktops without going to the upper far left hand corner and then to the far right, and then click twice to activate – I would be happier with Fedora15.

    I have an eee901 which works quite well with unity – but not well enough to keep me off of my android xoom – I believe unity and fedora3 would be better for touch displays – rather than a mouse focused desktop.


    • If I could get to the various desktops without going to the upper far left hand corner and then to the far right, and then click twice to activate – I would be happier with Fedora15.”

      Use the “Flag” key / “Windows” key to show the apps/desktops.

  9. I bounced between Fedora and Ubuntu for a long time, and just went through the same dilemma with similar results.  For the moment, I am sticking with Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and Fedora 14 (both still functioning with Gnome 2).  Once these reach EOL, I am hoping that either Gnome 3 is ready, or I have some time to get used to LXDE, XFCE, or possibly awesome – we’ll see.

  10. I’m one of the formerly-faithful-to-Ubuntu crowd, and every distro-hop I made to anything RPM-based left me a bit uncomfortable.  However, Fedora 15 LXDE looks to me like a system I could easily get used to after a short learning curve, since the Yum Extender is seeming to be as easy as Synaptic.

    But then there are all those commands that are just a WEE bit different…

  11. I haven’t used Unity, but I have tried GNOME 3 and the only word that comes to mind is AWFUL! A mouse gesture or keypress just to SEE your windows / apps!! Ridiculously large application icons in the apps list, so that you HAVE to scroll no matter what! “Smart” workspaces that get in your way, instead of helping you focus on your task. And last but by no means least, “extensions”!!! What is a DE that NEEDS extensions to become usable? The word “crap” comes to my mind… The fact that they’ve selected Javascript as the means to author extensions, thus making their authoring much easier, is in no way a justification for making the core DE so “bare” (quoted, because I really mean crappy).

    PS: @ Joshua: a reason your desktop becomes slower with time could be the large number of Javascript extensions you could be running to make the thing usable! Javascript and memory management don’t go together very well…

    • I think the fact that it “needs” extensions has more to do with newness than design.  Consider the first KDE 4.0 release.  Users complained quite loudly that it was incomplete – and they were right.  4.0 was more of a “platform” release as opposed to a “product”.  

      Like KDE 4, I expect Gnome 3 to round out their features to better match those in the 2.x series.  Until then, our only option is user-made extensions.  

      Yes, Gnome 3 is incomplete and buggy, but at this point I would expect nothing else.  If it’s still this way in a year or two, then (IMO) it may be time to complain.  

      • > Yes, Gnome 3 is incomplete and buggy, but at this point I would> expect nothing else.

        Me I would expect nothing else from an alpha release.

        > If it’s still this way in a year or two, then (IMO) it may be time to complain.

        I’d call it masochism.

  12. This is a very good review of Fedora from a Ubuntu user’s perspective and I agree with it. :) I moved to Fedora too soon after Unity came out and haven’t looked back since. Fedora is a very beautiful, fast distro and I absolutely love Gnome 3.

  13. Same here, after many years running Ubuntu now i am a proud Fedora user. Unity sucks, the best thing about Gnome 3 is the way one can easily make it the way you want it to be. A lot of useful extensions and awesome themes. For now i have decided to stay put with fedora as long as i can.. but honestly its the way they have make Gnome 3 usable thats what keeps me here. But i wish Ubuntu or Linux Mint could try that.

  14. I also gave Fedora 15 a try and was pleasantly surprised (I’m a fan of Linux Mint). GNOME 3 was not as irritating as I had expected, so I am looking forward to how Linux Mint plans to tweak it. By this fall it will certainly have many bugfixes. Fedora does quite a few things that I like (for instance, games in the default install), and while I doubt I’d prefer it to Mint, it is definitely an equal!

  15. I’m mainly a Debian user. I prefer Debian to all others (familiarity, stability and apt), but I did install Fedora 15 on my laptop. I like Fedora 15 but not a huge fan of Gnome 3. My main complaint is the extra clicks/keystrokes to switch between tasks in the default configuration. G3 is very nice looking and the performance was good on my laptop. Same thing with Ubuntu 11.04 and Unity. Currently, I’m running the XFCE4 desktop. While XFCE4 is not as slick as Unity, Gnome3 or KDE4 it is noticeably snappier on my systems.

  16. I’m a 4 year Ubuntu user. I used Unity from launch and finally decided to switch to Gnome3/Shell. So rather than jump to Fedora I installed it on Ubuntu. For starters I can now say Canonical made a huge mistake. Gnome Shell is better than Unity in every way. However I was expecting this to be buggy since its not the planned path for Ubuntu 11.04 but to my surprise it has been FAR more stable than Unity. And its faster. I’m using a PPA so I’m not sure if I’m getting some unreleased features but IM is integrated along with Gwibber I believe. Or this could be something specific to Ubuntu. 

  17. I can vouch that it’s Gnome Shell progressively slowing down, most likely due to JavaScript memory leaks. This can be resolved by restarting the shell (Alt+F2, R, Enter), this works every time for me.

  18. I am a mixed Arch, Fedora, OpenSuSE, Ubuntu/Mint/Kubuntu for several years as average user – Thus loving to experiment with different env. I do like Gnome2/3, KDE 4.6+. And Unity is as cool as Gmome3 visualy. It is a matter of personal tastes and habits on usability. Getting used to a given environment takes time and certainly can be less enjoyable from/compared to ‘used’ classic or proved ones. At the distro-level, it is how the dev refined the env. At the user level, it is the responsability of them(the user)  to decide how to refine   env with skills and knowledges and preferences. Of course Gnome3 is a baby and I tend to avoid it and wait to see how it will evolve to get into the same directions as Gnome2. These days I am on Fedora15-kde-spin: KDE4.6.5 because I just can’t live without KDevelop 4.2+. I cannot say I am happy to live without Synaptic + deb, but FC15 seems to get very close at how well it manages RPM’s …

  19. Like so many others here, Unity was a performance nightmare on my laptop and I just didn’t get the idea of the interface (Call me old fashioned). So, to keep the *ubuntu goodness, I opted for Kubuntu. KDE has come along way over the last couple of years and continues to improve. It doesn’t crash on my laptop every 20 mins now and is quite useable, theamable, familiar, and performance is FAR superior on my laptop with all the bells and whistles enabled.

    I also like the feature KDE has where it disables compositing when a window is full screen – read GAMES. I know compiz has this feature, but it doesn’t appear to work correctly – there is an article on Phronix about the reasons for this.

    So now, I am back on KDE using Kubuntu and have access to all the great applications the community has to offer.

    Joe

  20. I’m the odd duck, apparently. I have used Unity since the first Alpha release of 11.04. It was a little bit of a challenge to get to the things I want (still have to learn one or two other things) but the community support was fantastic (Youtube videos were extremely helpful).

    But I tried Fedora 15 as well as I didn’t know if I would like Unity. I even tried Kubuntu and Lubuntu. But, none of the others worked like I wanted them to work. I could find no help from the community. So I went back to Unity. Ah! The ease of tension was tangible. I now dual boot between 11.04 and 11.10 (which is based on Gnome 3).

    ~~~
    Written from Ubuntu 11.10, Alpha 2

  21. People seem to forget that you don’t have to use compositing to use Unity.  You can always use Unity2D, which is what I prefer.

    And as others have already pointed out, there’s no reason to jump to a different distro just to use a different desktop environment.  You can use whatever desktop environment you want with Ubuntu, you don’t have to stick with the default.

  22. I’m a little curious as to what people see in Gnome 3 that they prefer to Unity?  To me they are both very similar.  I’ve actually gone the other way – after having used Fedora since Fedora Core 1 I am now using Ubuntu 11.04 with Unity.  Unfortunately I’ve had some issues with the proprietary Nvidia driver, and I’ve found that Unity 2D with the nouveau driver gives me a much better experience than either Gnome Shell or Unity 3D on my hardware.

    I think Ubuntu have done well to create a 2D version of Unity – the Gnome 3 fallback mode is “half arsed” at best, in my opinon.

    • I can’t answer for anyone else, but I find that Gnome 3 tends to do what I want without getting in my way better than Unity.  Often, that just translates to a few fewer clicks.  For example, when switching to applications on a different desktop.  On Unity I’d move mouse to left activating the dock, click the Workspace Switcher, double-click the desktop, and possibly alt-tab to the app I want (if there’s more than one on the desktop).  

      In Gnome 3, I’d move the mouse to top left, automatically activating the workspace switcher, which also expands each application on each desktop.  So it’s one click to select workspace, one click to select app.  Not a huge difference from Unity of course, but I find Gnome 3 to contain more of these “streamlined” operations than Unity.  

      Anyway that’s my 2cp.  

  23. ”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.”

    To solve this trouble right click the file , go to properties>open with> and select the preferred application to open and ‘set it as default’.

    The routine steps doesnt work , coz there is a bug.

    • That’s what I was trying to say.  The normal “Set as Default” method would not save after multiple attempts – it’s a bug.  One that had been filed with Fedora at the time of this writing.

  24. I personally hate Gnome 3, as it takes too long to do things, and it hogs system resources. So, I personally am running Fedora 16 with KDE, although that isn’t the fastest either.

  25. I have used Fedora Core since Core 4, or 5 not sure which.  Ubuntu has been very a new addition last two years.  Very nice install, feels very fast.  Latest build with unity not my personal favorite, but still usable.  I prefer Fedora for classic server roles, easier access to management tools, services etc.  I prefer Ubuntu for client, desktop, and actual use by users.  I have three children and 
    a wife who have used Fedora 12,13,14 for past five years with almost no administration at all on my part.  Can not keep windows systems running trouble free for more than 6 months with constant use by family.  Spend to much time at work screwing with endless windows administration issues to even consider it for daily use.  We are all very lucky to have the option to run our favorite spins of linux.

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