Fedora for me has always been something I install to check out what’s new, and to get a feel of what all I shall get in other distros in the coming months/years. Here, I’m specifically talking about system-level utilities — for example, systemd and stuff like that. Although, I gotta admit, I still use the
chkconfig commands as most distros, including Fedora, have managed to keep these tools systemd-aware — and hopefully not retiring either any time soon.
ISOs and installation
Fedora 17 comes as the usual set of Live CDs (KDE and GNOME, separately) and an install DVD. I got started with the GNOME Live CD considering the default DE of Fedora has always been GNOME. Fedora images, like many other distros, come as hybrid ISOs — meaning you can
dd them onto a thumb drive and you’re good to go.
The live environment boots up quickly enough. The following screenshot shows what we’re presented after a successful boot — a choice between diving straight into installation or try the live environment first. Since there is not much to check out besides Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and native resolution working out of the box, I hit the install program.
Note: Thanks to improvements on the graphics support departments (X and all that jazz), GNOME Shell can now work with open source graphics drivers even on systems with Nvidia and ATI/AMD GPUs. At least, it successfully worked on my desktop box with an Nvidia GeForce 7-based motherboard. Earlier, under the same circumstances, most of the times we encountered GNOME’s fall-back UI.
Installation relies on the age-old Anaconda program, with its proven strengths of being a very stable and straight-forward installer. It doesn’t come with any surprises if you’ve ever used Fedora in the past — even if it’s been years. After a few click-nexts and assorted user input steps we’re ready to install. It barely took 5 minutes to copy the image on to the hard disk. Just to note, the time zone doesn’t configure the correct time zone automatically like in case of Ubuntu; I had to manually click on Kolkata from the world map for IST.
The user setup step comes after you reboot the newly-installed OS. A pretty handy option added now (or could be available for a couple of releases — I’m not sure) is the option to check the user as part of admin group. This means, you don’t really have to configure
sudo later on. Once you check this,
sudo is not just available on the shell, but all GUI apps that need root privileges will ask for the user password just like in Ubuntu. I kinda like this.
GNOME 3.4 served vanilla
The start-up time is kind of slower compared to the rest of the lot. Subsequent boot times from GRUB to GDM is around 35 seconds on my Samsung RV509 laptop (a Core i5 M 480 system with 3GB of RAM). From GDM to GNOME Shell is another good 10 seconds. Ubuntu fairs much better in this department. However, I don’t think a dozen or so extra seconds should annoy anyone all that much, considering most laptop users prefer to suspend more frequently than shutdown. By the way, shutdown is still extremely fast — typically in the range of 3-4 seconds.
The good part — or bad, depending on what logic you apply — is that the development team prefers to keep applications very close to the upstream, with as little distro-specific customisations as possible. Think about it: isn’t it better to directly work on the upstream projects and then package it in your distro? This typically makes sense for the target audience of Fedora — the power users, developers and sysadmins. The regular home desktop users for whom computer is just a tool to make ends meet would be happier with some amount of usability enhancements — for example, enabling a few GNOME extensions out of the box to make life easier for users. Not that it’s really that difficult to work with vanilla GNOME 3.4.
Memory consumption right after boot with just GNOME Shell is 320MB. It increases to 1.2-1.4GB on normal system usage with instances of LibreOffice Writer, Web browsers (both Chrome and Firefox with multiple tabs open), Rhythmbox, Nautilus, and Shotwell open.
The base install from live CD is still void of many of the tools a desktop user typically needs — viz., LibreOffice suite, GIMP, et al. The reason for this has always been to make room for localisation packages on live CD. My suggestion would be to go the Linux Mint way: drop the CD image, and increase the live ISO size to fit in the default set of apps that Fedora packs in if we were to go the install DVD route. Most of us — especially the target audience of Fedora — would know how to make live USBs from the ISO.
Anyway, after Mint 13 and Ubuntu 12.04, which also bundles GNOME 3.4 with their own set of heavy customisations — namely, Cinnamon and Unity, respectively — Fedora 17 (apart from the also recently-released Mageia 2) is the first major distro to bundle the vanilla GNOME 3.4. And this one indeed has some noted enhancements.
I, for one, find this release of GNOME ready for the desktop. Given it needs a bit getting used to if you’re still accustomed to the GNOME 2.x ways, but sometimes change is good — if not for better, maybe just to break out of the mundane. I look at GNOME 3.x series from the latter point of view.
While things like Online Accounts with Google, et al., was introduced in the GNOME 3.2, with the new version comes some dedicated tools that make use of it. Empathy IM client and Evolution mail and calendaring app was integrated with Online Accounts in GNOME 3.2.
First up is the Contacts tool that syncs with your Google contacts — although the usefulness of this app is still not clear to me, unless the device that I have this on comes with telephonic functionality.
Another add-on is the Documents viewer. This one syncs all documents stored on your Google Drive, besides displaying the locally-stored documents, and displays in a read-only viewer. It comes in handy if I were to quickly search for documents by file name. There is no dedicated search box as such; you simply start typing and the search box automatically appears on the application’s title bar. What really would have been neat is if it also could index the contents of these documents, considering most of the times we’re not sure of the file names but only vaguely remember the content.
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