Brief Thoughts on Fedora 18 DVD install and Gnome 3.6

Category: Linux

Fedora 18 DVD installation

The installation process of most Linux distributions is refined and as simple as can be for the majority of Linux users (unless you were setting up Archlinux, Debian, or Gentoo from scratch). Fedora 18, once viewed as an unstable and ungainly distribution for the casual desktop user, has now progressed to a very friendly system and you can easily get this impression from running the DVD install. There were a few changes to the Fedora 18 DVD setup process that are clearly visible from the get-go (I'm sure the developers worked hard under the hood to make this possible). Setup is faster than ever with judicious setup options offered during the DVD install.  The process has received a few scathing reviews from the Linux community, but I personally didn't find anything wrong with the new approach.

Software Selection page

One of the Fedora 18 setup screens which I was extremely pleased with was the Software Selection options. As before, users can choose from the different desktop environments and select add-ons as needed.  I'd love to set up a Fedora web server one of these days if I had an extra machine (and cash) lying around.

Xfce, LXDE, and the Sugar Desktop Environment is always a welcome sight. Users can also select prepackaged configurations for Web Server, Development, and Creative Workstations. I was tempted to install the Design Suite, but opted for the Fedora Eclipse setup although I'm not really a developer. I'm glad they kept LibreOffice  as an add-on rather than a mandatory install unlike other distributions. Although the the release announcements included Cinnamon as a desktop environment option, I wasn't surprised it was excluded from the DVD install options. The Cinnamon project after all is constantly undergoing revisions so including an unstable version with the Fedora DVD probably wasn't a good idea. 

It's true that selecting a predefined desktop/package set can add unnecessary utilities and applications to your system, but it also allows you to discover quality applications available and speeds up post-installation configurations. The Fedora Eclipse desktop was extremely powerful and was clearly superfluous for my needs but I did note down a few applications I might want to try in the future. Advanced Fedora and Red Hat users may want to opt for the Minimal Install setup.

It occurred to me that Fedora's installation approach is very professional and complete without breaching its coda of free, non-proprietary software. Recent openSUSE  releases actually allow Adobe Flash to be installed through an online update while Ubuntu  has long offered the option to install codecs and proprietary applications during the initial setup. Fedora has evolved but kept to its OSS ideals, however, while making access to ugly gstreamer codecs and VLC fairly easy thanks to services like RPM Fusion.


Two applications I found that deserve notice after running the DVD install and installing the Gnome 3.x (with Eclipse) are Box for creating virtual machines and Vinagre Remote Desktop Viewer. As a VirtualBox user in openSUSE, I'd certainly like to see if Box is much easier to setup in Linux than Oracle's virtualization software. There's also Gnome Document access to SkyDrive accounts. I had discussed the SkyDrive support using the Gnome Online accounts in a previous article. Although advertised in the release announcement, I was severely disappointed. The project has potential but not yet ready for production use.

Gnome 3.6 Today

I respect the Gnome developers for sticking to their guns even after the bitter reception they received when they released Gnome 3.x. The issues surrounding Gnome 3.x have been so intense, it scored its own Wikipedia entry. The development of Cinnamon, Unity, and MATE notwithstanding, they've forged on with the same design principles albeit with refinements in response to the Linux community's criticisms.

It's been awhile since I've ran Gnome 3.x mostly because I was so put off with the usability when I first tried it (I had a 6 month run with Fedora 15 and 16 Gnome 3.x on a netbook in 2011).  I'm generally more forgiving now that I had to slug through a year of Unity (which included the equally controversial Amazon lens).

Gnome 3.x has always been aesthetically pleasing and Fedora 18's Gnome desktop is great to look at. There have been changes since I last tried it and they are, for the most part, welcome. The Gnome Shell is less annoying and the command window through ALT+F2 is back. The improved Nautilus, which uses a MacOSX-esque icon theme, still looks a lot better than Dolphin(KDE), PCMANFM(LXDE), and Thunar(Xfce). Even Window management (snap feature and resize) is smoother and more functional.

The Activities overview allows you to drag applications to virtual desktops which is a great idea once you get used to it. No complaints there. However, any environment where you can't right-click on the desktop and the top panel feels off to me. Moreover, I can't shake the feeling that Gnome 3.x works best on a large screen. The Activities overview feels suffocatingly huge and feels too busy for my taste. Activities not only manages virtual desktops, it also has a launcher, bottom messaging tray, and is supposed to replace the classic applications menu. If you have tons of applications, the huge icons (while nice and attractive) forces you to scroll across the list of utilities even if you used the categories on the right. There are applications and direct ways users can use to "tweak" these settings (such as the Gnome Tweak Tool), but the default settings are just too similar to Android and iOS - an interface meant for the smartphone.

Of course, you can ignore Gnome 3.x's desktop eccentricities altogether and just install Guake (a drop-down Terminal), a separate launcher, or a dock like Cairo dock. However, it sort of defeats the purpose of selecting a Gnome 3.x desktop environment in the first place.

With use, I'm fairly sure I would get used to using Gnome 3.x, but in an unfair comparison, I pretty much got used to Windows 8's Start Menu (the previously named Metro screen) after awhile too. Furthermore, with Xfce and Cinnamon developers doing a great job making a functional and beautiful desktop, Gnome 3.x feels like a step backward and an alternative rather than a default choice. It's hard to take it seriously as a production desktop environment unlike KDE and minimalist LXDE.

Fedora, long considered a "Gnome" desktop, doesn't suffer from Gnome 3.x shortcomings. It's a great operating system and I've begun to use it regularly albeit using an Xfce desktop. I delayed writing my impressions on the Fedora 18 Gnome 3.x mainstream release because I knew I'd struggle with Gnome 3.x's desktop. Has it improved as a desktop environment? Yes. However, in the months when I ignored Gnome 3.x, Cinnamon and Xfce have gained more relevant improvements. I'm sympathetic to the Gnome 3.x project considering the vitriol leveraged against the changes, but neither can I deny that KDE and LXDE, which have had little refinements in the last six months, are better desktop environments for my needs.


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