Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fedora 18 Video and Text Review

This week Fedora 18 went stable (and actually trimmed a good 3.2 GiB off of the beta .iso, topping in at 942 MiB, which is easily burnable to a DVD disk or most bootable USB drives. Now, Fedora is a pretty low-key operating system when compared with, say, Ubuntu, so it didn't cause the large-scale celebrations you'd expect to see from a major release. Trust me when I say that by the end of the review you will know just how major of a release Fedora 18 is.

A bit about Fedora
In case you aren't already in the loop, Fedora is Linux operating system based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Changes are made to Fedora before they're made to Red Hat to make sure no breakages will occur, since Red Hat is mostly a server Operating System. This means that Fedora can (and has/is) experiencing breakages due to the youth of code that appears in its base. It's bleeding edge and rolling release. Install once and done, then you have access to all of the latest upstream packages. Think: A user-friendly .rpm version of Arch Linux. If you want a stable .rpm distro like RHEL, look to CentOS. Don't get it wrong; Fedora is extremely secure (thanks to Suse's Selinux), but it's just not as stable as its mother distribution.

The code and sponsoring that Fedora inherits from Red Hat give it an edge. It's one of the few Linux distributions backed by a large company (one with higher stock prices than Microsoft, even), which gives it a definite edge over its competition. Even with this backing, it doesn't go closed-garden (ala Canonical's approach) and still has a positive sense of community among the developers.

The Review
--Huge Improvement
Fedora 17 was an incremental increase over Fedora 16. Very little was improved, and it felt like all that had been done was some user experience fixing and the package freeze. Fedora 17 doesn't deserve to be in the same ballpark as Fedora 18. Fedora 18 was an enormous improvement, and an obvious display of effort from all parties involved (especially Gnome and the Fedora core development team). Here are some reasons why:

Gnome related
Paraphrasing Linus Torvalds, "Gnome 3 is a nightmare". If only he had tried Gnome 3.6.2 before that statement. It has animations (like Cinnamon) on by default, a working extension system, and features to maximize the screen space used by windows (like removing Window decorations on vertically maximized windows). It also has a new lock screen that tablet and touch users alike will find useful, and desktop and laptop users may find amusing. The buttons are even noticeably more aesthetically pleasing.

In actual usability, Gnome now supports dragging windows into the "expo" to move across workspaces, dragging icons into workspaces to deploy the application, and pretty much anything else you would ever want via extensions ( It's worth adding that the Gnome applications have added features, like EXIF data examination in pictures via Eye of Gnome, and a new virtual machine application called Gnome Boxes (a Qemu frontend).

Fedora Related
It would be unfair to talk about Fedora without mentioning the work that the Fedora developers have put into the operating system. The installer, Anaconda (which previously left a bit to be desired compared to Ubuntu) has had a visual and feature Facelift, supporting partial encryption and advanced partitioning. I was displeased with the layout of some of the buttons on the installer. You might have to hunt around for a button on the "root password" section (which, by the way, is in a weird optional part of the installer) in order to save your changes.

"Software" is now the graphical frontend to Yum, and it has had some added features like updating the status of the yum lock graphically, so when it's not working you now know why. I did have a problem with an omnipresent Yum lock that I had to remove after installation, but upon further research it seems that this and a GPG error both have patches nominated to fix them, so they're mostly irrelevant. Yum has a pretty CLI frontend too, with light curses displays and sane summarizations. Also, Yum now supports tab completion of packages.

Quick Facts
Firefox - 17
Gnome - 3.6.2
No Gimp
.iso is 942 MiB large
As of 1-17-12 the initial yum update is 270 MiB downloaded, 7 MiB disk space used on Gnome.

The best part of a review is the opinionated part. The part where feelings are scarred and lines drawn. Here are my opinions about Fedora 18 and Gnome 3.6.2.

The installer needs work, but it's much more user friendly (especially aesthetically) than it was beforehand.

The user experience is mind-blowing. Fedora is trying hard to cater to the end-user while not sacrificing any of the 4 essential freedoms, even where it would make life far easier.

Resources and Security are as good as always, and better with CPU cycles.

Gnome has surprisingly good defaults, and nice home-brewed applications.

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