Thoughts on Gnome 3 & Fedora 16 Linux

Summary:Recently one of the people I've deployed Linux for came to me and wanted to purchase a new PC to replace a spare Pentium 4 PC they had sitting around that was still running Windows 2000. They had started to use the Windows 2000 PC after having it sit for a couple years, and soon found that it was not able to keep up with today's websites and other activities.

Recently one of the people I've deployed Linux for came to me and wanted to purchase a new PC to replace a spare Pentium 4 PC they had sitting around that was still running Windows 2000. They had started to use the Windows 2000 PC after having it sit for a couple years, and soon found that it was not able to keep up with today's websites and other activities. Even Avast Antivirus refused to run (it would install, but would not perform a full scan). While the latest version of GNU/Linux can work on a Pentium 4 PC fairly well, it can become sluggish at times for heavy use. Eagerly to assist, I found them a refurbished HP desktop with the Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 GB of RAM. Once it arrived, I verified that it came with the full Windows 7 media (which it did), and immediately wiped the drive and installed Fedora 16 Linux on it.

I admit, that I am still running Fedora 14 for most of my machines, which is the last version to include the Gnome 2 desktop. I've purposely not upgraded because I haven't had the time yet to explore Gnome 3. Fedora 15 and 16 come with the Gnome 3 desktop by default. So, this was my first good look at Gnome 3. My challenge is to try and make it as close as possible to the other GNU/Linux PC they currently use, which is running Fedora 14. I decided that Fedora 16 would be a good starting point on the new PC, that way all of the binaries (programs) are the latest version.

The installer for Fedora 16 is in line with the previous Fedora installers, very simple to follow and on this Core 2 Duo PC, it installed in about 25 minutes from start to finish. Next, I had to customize the Gnome 3 desktop to be as close to the old Gnome 2 desktop, otherwise I think the users would probably be fairly frustrated and confused. If you've used Gnome 3, you will know that the old menus at the top have been replaced with a single "Activities" button and under Activities, you can select which Window or Application to open or switch to. Along with a small "dock" on the left side as well. But, again I was trying to make the two PCs they have as close as possible without a bunch of differences.

I was pleasantly surprised that the Fallback Mode for Gnome 3 was fairly close to the old Gnome 2 look and feel. After switching to Fallback Mode, I found that I could hold down Alt and right-click on the top bar and move the clock back to the right side. I could also use Alt + right-click to add the classic Gnome applets to the top and bottom bars just like before (except for the Trash applet which is missing). The other thing that is awkward to me is that the System menu is completely missing in Fallback mode. Applications and Places are there just like before. Instead, the items that were previously under the System menu, are now under a menu that is the logged in user's name, in the upper right corner. This is more in line with the full Gnome 3 interface. So everything is there, it's just in a different place. The other thing that is a little annoying to me, is that because the System menu is gone, items that used to go in System / Preferences, are now all lumped together under Applications / Other. And, there doesn't seem to be a menu customization tool available at the moment. Alacarte, the old menu customization tool, no longer works with Gnome 3. Overall, Gnome 3 is heading down the same path as Windows 7, which is to make things more touchscreen friendly, with big icons. For a desktop, I'm not sure that is the most ideal.

The other tweak that was fairly important, was to enable desktop icons. By default, Gnome 3 does not allow any icons to be placed on the desktop. This is changed by installing the "dconf-editor" package, then opening dconf-editor itself and navigating to : org/gnome/desktop/background, and check "show-desktop-icons". Now the "Computer" and "Trash" icons will show up and you can now copy and drag other links to the desktop once again.

But, even with the Gnome situation figured out, there were other issues I faced with Fedora itself. For starters, Fedora 16 has implemented the new Systemd daemon which is used to manage services. Gone is the old SysV service management. I took a few minutes and quickly read up on Systemd. So far, it's not as bad as I initially thought. But, I can tell that it's still in its infancy. There is no GUI program (yet) that can manage the services. But, services can be started and stopped from a command prompt, using "systemctl start servicename.service" and "systemctl stop servicename.service" respectively. Or to enable or disable at startup, "systemctl disable servicename.service" and "systemctl enable servicename.service". Also the network interfaces have been renamed from "eth" to "em" (i.e. eth0 is now em0).

Putting these issues aside, Fedora 16 is noticeably fast at booting and overall operation. On this PC (Core 2 Duo with 2 GB RAM) it can do a complete boot in about 30 seconds. And a shutdown in about 8 seconds. Applications and other tasks are lightning fast. So, I'm happy to see that Gnome 3 while having a new look, doesn't have a lot of extra bloat. This PC has 2 GB of RAM which Windows users would consider low because of Windows 7 / Office 2010's bloated size, but for GNU/Linux it's more than enough to run efficiently. Things are always changing, and honestly the new interface isn't THAT bad. I will probably eventually switch to Gnome 3, although I'm in no hurry at the moment. A lot of distributions are picking up on Gnome 3 and using it by default, so it appears that the general community sees this as the future for the Gnome desktop users. But, for novice GNU/Linux users, I think newer versions of GNU/Linux will be a challenge not only getting used to Gnome 3 but also the changes in the other software as well, like in this case Systemd. I have always liked Fedora and solely use it for everybody that I install GNU/Linux for, but I can see that moving forward it won't be as easy as it once was with Gnome 2 and consistency of the past Fedora versions. I think in time, that this will be the case with other distributions as well. Is this good or bad? I'm not sure yet.

Topics: Open Source


I have been a systems administrator of both Windows and Linux systems for over 17 years, in educational institutions, enterprises, and consumer environments. Throughout the years running Linux and Windows side by side, I have seen Linux countless times surpass Windows in performance, reliability, cost savings, and more recently user expe... Full Bio

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