Fedora 17 & GNOME 3.4: Return to a useful Linux desktop (Review)

Fedora 17 & GNOME 3.4: Return to a useful Linux desktop (Review)

Summary: Fedora 17, after the Fedora 16 desktop fiasco, is out after several weeks of delay and it's back to being a truly useful Linux desktop distribution.

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Fedora 17 with GNOME 3.4 is much better now, but is it good enough?

Fedora 17 with GNOME 3.4 is much better than the last version, but is it good enough?

UPDATED FOR FINAL RELEASE: May 29th, 2012: I have been using Fedora, Red Hat's community Linux distribution, since day one back in September 2003 when Red Hat split its commercial Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Back then, people hated Red Hat for this move, but businesses soon learned to love RHEL and Linux fans grew to love Fedora. But, then along came GNOME 3.x, Fedora's default desktop choice, and it all changed.

GNOME 3.2, which was Fedora 16's desktop, was dreadful. You don't have to trust me on that though, just ask Linus Torvalds, Linux's founder. He hated GNOME 3.2.

That was then. This is now. Fedora 17, with the ungainly name Beefy Miracle--no I'm not making that up, that really is its name--is now out and it's much better than it was.

Finding your way through Fedora 17 (Gallery)

Fedora 17's release was delayed until May 29th,  but some last minute bugs were ironed out in the process. so I have no complaints.

I tested Fedora on my faithful old Lenovo ThinkPad R61. This four year old notebook is powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500 and has 2GBs of RAM. I also used it on a VirtualBox virtual machine on one of my Dell Inspiron 530S PCs. This systemis powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. This PC has 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set.

Fedora 17 is built on top of the Linux 3.3 kernel. Its default file system though is not, as was once expected, btrfs, aka Butters FS, but ext4 instead.

One fundamental and controversial under the hood change is that Fedora 17 has started work on "getting rid of the separation of /bin and /usr/bin, as well as /sbin and /usr/sbin, /lib and /usr/lib, and /lib64 and /usr/lib64. All files from the directories in / will be merged into their respective counterparts in /usr, and symlinks for the old directories will be created instead."

The idea behind this switch to a unified file system is that it will increase Linux's compatibility with other Unix-like systems such as Solaris. Its supporters also argue that it will reduce the complexity of Linux systems and make it easier to run virtual systems, share files, make back-ups simpler, and so on. Fedora is the first of the major Linux distributions to make this move. The critics of this change simply don't see much point in making such a fundamental transformation to the traditional Linux file systems. For day to day use, you won't notice any of this.

Fedora 17 also includes a wide variety of open-source programs. These include Firefox 11, for its default Web browser; Evolution 3.4.1 for e-mail, Empathy 3.4 for IM; and the just released GIMP 2.8 for graphics work. Its office-suite, like many Linux distributions these days, is LibreOffice 3.4.3 instead of OpenOffice.

Firewalld is now the Fedora's standard firewall. Unlike earlier Linux firewalls Firewalld lets you reset your firewall's rules but never takes it down even for an instance. I like that in a firewall!

As you would expect given Red Hat's recent interest in high-end and cloud-computing, Fedora includes an improved cluster stack. It also includes built-in support for the Nebula Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and the OpenStack cloud. Fedora's take on OpenStack includes support for OpenStack's latest edition, 2012.1, aka Essex.

As usual in Fedora, which has always been a Linux distribution, which was first and foremost for developers and bleeding edge users, Fedora includes a pre-release of Juno, the next release of the Eclipse software development kit (SDK). For better or worse, considering how Oracle is being with Java these days, it also comes with Java 7 and OpenJDK 7 as the default Java runtime and Java build toolset. GCC 4.7.x is now Fedora's primary compiler.

Fedora also includes a lot of D programming language tools. In addition, as you'd expect in a Linux that's the staging platform for RHEL, which is meant mostly for server use, it includes the latest updates of Ruby, PHP 5.4, and Erlang.

The improvement that everyone wants to know about in Fedora is GNOME 3.4.1. It's much better than the version of GNOME used in Fedora 16. Unlike earlier versions, GNOME 3.4.x will now run without the need for a 3D driver. This has been a real problem for some users trying to run GNOME in virtual machines.

Borrowing from Ubuntu's GNOME desktop forks, Unity and Head Up Display, GNOME 3.4 new and improved search function in its activities overview makes it easier to find programs. Search functions in general are much faster than they were than in its interface's earlier incarnations.

This new edition of GNOME also includes an application level menu that sits on the top of GNOME Shell bar and contains the application's menu. If that sounds familiar, it should. It's also taken from Ubuntu's Unity interface. The bad news is that, just like Unity, not all applications use it so the interface has a half-finished feel to it.

It also doesn't help any that the scrollbars are smaller, and thus harder to use, than ever. Even more annoying, there's still no easy way to minimize or maximize applications. While it's better than it was, this is still a design decision that I find annoying.

Still, it's a lot easer now to use multiple programs and file systems in GNOME than it once was. The new GNOME box interface also makes it easy to use remote systems or virtual machines. The Documents application finally supports search, removable devices, and other features which I have long considered minimum requirements for what was a de facto file manager.

Last, but far from least as silly as it may sound, you can finally easy log out or turn off Fedora. Believe it or not, under GNOME 3.2, simply shutting your PC down was a major chore.

Still, while Fedora 17's GNOME 3.4 desktop is a lot better than it used to be, I still find it far less useful than Unity or Linux Mint's recreation of the very popular GNOME 2.x interface, Cinnamon. Take a look at them yourself, and I think you'll see what I mean.

A first look at Ubuntu 12.04 (Gallery)

A walk through Mint Linux's new/old Cinnamon desktop (Gallery)

Ubuntu's Unity, like GNOME 3.x, is quite different from earlier Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointer (WIMP) interfaces, but it's easy to use. Heck, my 80-year old mother-in-law can use Ubuntu 12.04. And, Cinnamon is a recreation of the very popular GNOME 2.x desktop on top of a GNOME 3.x foundation.

That said, I did find this new Fedora with GNOME to be usable. I have to say I didn't find the last version to be at all useful. Still, I'm left wondering why Fedora and GNOME first went in such a mis-guided direction in the first place. It's great that Fedora and GNOME are much better than they were, but they're still not for me, anyway, as useful as the last Fedora with GNOME 2.x was. I can see that Fedora is better, but I'm going to be sticking with Linux Mint, Ubuntu, and openSUSE for my daily desktop use.

If you want to make up your own mind, you can download Fedora 17 and check it out for yourself. Some people though are telling me that they're running into very slow downloads from the direct links. If you find that to be the case, try downloading the new Fedora  by BitTorrent instead.

Related Stories:

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There's trouble with three major Linux desktop application developers

Red Hat celebrates 10 years of Red Hat Enterprise Linux

Red Hat to debut OpenShift PaaS solutions for on-premise enterprise use soon

Red Hat debuts OpenShift Origin project, takes swipe at VMware's Cloud Foundry

Red Hat and SUSE join IBM in new Linux system, Canonical opts out

Topics: Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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41 comments
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  • Fedora 17 & GNOME 3.4: Return to a useful Linux desktop (Review)

    Bogus article, there is no such thing as a useful linux desktop.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Oh my trustworthy jester!

      Thank you for your jokes. Servant, some wine for the jester!
      kirovs@...
    • Clearly you are begging for some cheese

      To go with your whine. Mind you, you're sadly amusing, so do keep on.
      ego.sum.stig
    • How

      does one walk around with such a huge chip on his shoulder?
      moonpappy
      • @moonpappy-- RE: The Chip

        Yeah, but if we could figure out how to harvest lall the silicon from that chip we could complete the "Supercomputer for Every Child" project..... :-)
        Steve I.
  • oh man, thankful for these changes!

    My friend's Vista hard-drive crashed, so I went and burnt her a LiveCD earlier this year so she could continue to use the computer and reach her files. Boy was picking Fedora16 a mistake! There was no task bar, no easy way to minimize windows, and you had to log off before you could shut the computer down! Windows users were so unfamiliar with the interface that they just logged off and assumed it was shutting down, not knowing their machine was in standby for the whole month. I was considering moving back to a version with GNOME2.x, but got the drive fixed since then.
    Vapur9
  • What happened?

    What happened Steven. Where is the anti-Microsoft rant in this article????
    Blogsworth
    • No mention of LSM either

      Steven, do you even know that SELinux exists and defaults on Fedora?
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • SELinux in Fedora 17 - Just one example

        [i][b]Fedora 17 New SELinux Feature part I - deny_ptrace[/b]
        The deny_ptrace feature allows an administrator to toggle the ability of processes on the computer system from examining other processes on the system, including user processes. It can even block processes running as root.

        [u]Most people do not realize that any program they run can examine the memory of any other process run by them. Meaning the computer game you are running on your desktop can watch everything going on in Firefox or a programs like pwsafe or kinit or other program that attempts to hide passwords.[/u]

        SELinux defines this access as ptrace and sys_ptrace. These accesses allow one process to read the memory of another process. ptrace allows developers and administrators to debug how a process is running using tools like strace, ptrace and gdb. You can even use gdb (GNU Debugger) to manipulate another process running memory and environment.

        [u]The problem is this is allowed by default.[/u]

        My wife does not debug programs, why is she allowed to debug them? As a matter of fact most of the time, I am not debugging applications, so it would be more secure if we could disable it by default.

        I created a feature for Fedora 17 called SELinuxDenyPtrace.[/i]
        http://danwalsh.livejournal.com/49336.html
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Unity and Gnome

    I installed Gnome 3.4.1 alongside Unity on my Ubuntu 12.04 and compared them. The truth is, I much prefer Gnome 3. Unity's menu makes it much more cumbersome to get to the program you want than it used to be, and the menu filters are just annoying as they have to be turned on and off instead of just automatically switching quickly. Further, the menu bar in Unity isn't nearly as developed as cairo-dock or AWN and gets annoying and boring very quickly, at least to me. Gnome 3 shell is now very responsive and, for me at least, much more intuitive and the chat client integration was a nice surprise.
    teddybairs1
    • about fedora 17

      there are a lots of new options in this but a lack of mate desktops but in the newer version it is completed .. thnx to author for a usefull stuff like fedora
      papa blogger
  • firewalld not the default

    Quick correction, SJVN - firewalld isn't default any more. The graphical configuration utility wasn't finished in time and we decided it needed to be done before we'd go with firewalld as default. It should be in for F18. You can of course install and enable it on F17 easily, if you want to use it, but you'll need to use the command line front end to configure the firewall.
    AdamWill
  • Being able run in 2D desktop is a big improvement....

    I have been running Red Hat since version 5 myself. I never has any issues with any of the versions until Fedora 15 & 16. My Laptop uses an Nvidia graphics chip. I don't know if it was Nvidia, or Redhat, but the GUI system crashes with both Fedora 15 & 16. All previous versions ran flawlessly.

    So for the first time, I have had to abandon Fedora for Ubuntu. Problem solved. Not that Fedora 17 will allow 2D graphics, I will have to consider moving back to Fedora.

    Thanks Steven!
    linux for me
    • Personally...

      Personally I've found that Peppermint OS is best.
      gigarath
  • Help please

    At the worst possible time - of course - I needed a faster computer and asked a server expert to build me one. He installed Fedora and for the most part I am loving it more than Ubuntu and Linux Mint EXCEPT for two things:

    1) I finally found the convoluted instructions for how to shut down. Really don't they think this should be easier to find? Hiding it where they did shows a remarkable lack of common sense because no experienced PC user should need to use the help function to find out how to shut down their computer - and it should only take one click to do something most people do so often.

    2) This Gnome 3 "completely reimagined user interface" is driving me insane. It is totally NOT the way for a power user like me to have their desktop configured - and so far I have not been able to find out how to reconfigure it to be usable.

    While that might be fine for the typical person who only does one thing at a time and never opens more than four things at a time, I need my tabs back.

    What I want is to have my programs, commonly used icons and every single Skype chat window open on the bottom of the screen for one-click access. Can you tell me how to do that or if it is even possible in Fedora? I will be eternally grateful - sincerely I will.
    GrowMap
    • re Help Please

      Go to https://extensions.gnome.org/ and install Panel-Docklet v13 extension. Installation is easy, just turn the switch on. I am using Gnome 3.4 on Ubuntu 12.04, but I assume this remedy should work as well on Fedora.I have this extension set to display a panel at the bottom of my screen. All open windows are shown there for one click access.

      Regarding SJVN's review, I agree that the default installation of Unity is much more usable than Gnome 3.4. However, with the addition of a few easily installed extensions, I am finding I like Gnome 3.4 better than Unity or KDE. The biggest weakness about 3.4, as far as I am concerned, is its less than stellar support for dual monitors. Unity and especially KDE have far better support for those using multiple monitors.
      timdor
      • Bless you, Timdor!

        Your generosity in replying to my query allows me to do far more faster that will benefit so many others. I can not thank you enough!

        I have already followed your instructions and am off and running. Thank you, again.
        GrowMap
    • Gnome 3.x poweroff is a one finger help

      When you want to shutdown simply, depress the left alt button. This action will change suspend (which laptop lovers like) to PowerOff in the user logoff menu.
      lsatenstein@...
      • Excellent!

        Thank you, Isatenstein. Once I figured out where to look that is an elegant fix although I still wonder why they didn't just make a visible Power Off option in the first place! I have no reason to be mobile any more so I only use desktops. I suppose for a laptop suspend is important, but even they must shutdown sometimes?

        I am impressed - two fixes within a day. Thank you SO much! If I can ever be of assistance to anyone please do not hesitate to just ask.
        GrowMap
      • Power Off

        For people curious about the hidden "Power Off" button, think about a tablet, smartphone, or laptop/netbook/ultrabook. You don't really ever turn these things off, just put them to sleep. This is likely what the Gnome 3 team was going for. In fact if you imagine yourself using a tablet while you are playing with Gnome 3, a lot of their decisions will start to make sense. I'd love to see it running on a tablet, I like it on a desktop but I feel like it would be perfect for a tablet.
        Queuecumber