Fedora 20: Hands on with five different desktops

Fedora 20: Hands on with five different desktops

Summary: I've been exploring Fedora Heisenbug in five different guises - Gnome 3, KDE, Xfce, LXDE and MATE


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  • Fedora 20 (Heisenbug) Gnome-KDE-Xfce-LXDE

    Fedora 20 (Heisenbug) will be released today: my comments are based on Release Candidate 1.1, which was declared 'Gold' so there should be no significant changes between it and the final release. 

    For purposes of this post, I loaded the five different Fedora versions on five different computers:

    • Gnome 3 — Acer Aspire One 725 (sub-notebook)
    • KDE — Lenovo T400 (notebook)
    • Xfce — HP Pavilion dm1-4310ez (sub-notebook)
    • LXDE — Samsung N150 Plus (netbook)
    • MATE — Dell Dimension E521 (Tower)

    I think it says a lot about the quality and stability of the Fedora release that it installed on every one of these systems without a single problem. 

    Not one hiccup in the installer (anaconda), not one device that was not supported or not working properly. 

    Fedora gets a good bit of criticism for being "bleeding edge"  and too much of a research/testbed to be a reliable everyday use system, and from what I have seen here I don't think that is deserved. 

    It also gets some criticism about selinux and security being a pain, and I think it has come a long way on that front too, I remember very well the struggles with some older Fedora releases when it seemed like selinux either got in the way of everything I tried to do, or it soaked up huge amounts of system resources in the background. Those kinds of things have not happened to me for at least the last three or more releases. 

    Finally, Fedora also gets some criticism about not being as fully loaded and configured with additional packages as some other popular distributions, and I think that is only partially true today. 

    As you can see in the following description, the "Fedora Desktop" (Gnome 3) distribution includes just about all of the popular packages and applications possible, within its bound of FOSS-only software. 

    The other "spins", though, still come pretty much bare-bones, with the desktop and associated packages and utilities but not much more. With those you have to pretty much "put together your own", but even that isn't a huge burden, the packages are available through the software management utilities, and you just have to click through and install the ones you want.

    Enough preliminaries, let's get busy with the installation.  The distribution ISO images can be downloaded from the Get Fedora page. What you will find there are:

    • Live Images, under 1GB each. You can copy these to a USB stick or DVD (the "lightweight" Xfce and LXDE images are still under 700MB, so they will even fit on a CD) then boot and run Fedora 20 from that, so you can test it, see if all of your hardware is supported, decide if you like it, and then install it from that Live image if you choose to do so. There are various other spins besides the five that I cover here, including SoaS (Sugar on a Stick), Security and some other special purpose or focused versions.
    • DVD Installer image, just over 4GB. This is not a Live image. You can boot it (from USB or DVD), but the only thing you can do with it then is install it. This image is most useful if you are installing on systems with no/slow internet connection.
    • Network Install image, less than 400MB. This one will fit easily on a CD, but it is also not a Live image, you can only install from it, and you have to have an internet connection to get the software you choose for installation. In addition to the smaller size, the other advantage of this image is that when you install you always get the latest stable versions of the packages you choose, so you don't have a potentially large update to make immediately after installation. This image gets more and more interesting as time goes by and the number and size of updates increases.

    All of these images are compatible with either Legacy Boot (what most of the world still considers "normal") and UEFI Boot, and on UEFI boot they will work with Secure Boot enabled.

    The Fedora distribution includes FOSS software only, no exceptions.  Many people consider this to be either its strongest or weakest attribute, depending on whose opinion you ask.  Personally, I just figure it is what it is, and get on with it.  Some typical examples of things it does not include which generate significant criticism are:

    • Flash player — I don't care, I decided quite some time ago that the security vulnerabilities and seemingly constant stream of updates and patches are just not worth the trouble. There is another unexpected bonus to not having Flash installed, those extremely irritating auto-playing videos (especially advertising videos) that lots of web sites are adding to their home page don't come up.
    • Proprietary video drivers — particularly Radeon and nVidia — I don't care, I am not a gamer, the FOSS drivers are plenty good enough for my purposes.  The last time I played a game on one of my computers I think it was Zork.
    • Other proprietary drivers, for example wi-fi adapters — this one sometimes hits me a bit closer to home, for example with various recent Broadcom and Ralink wireless adapters.  But the truth is, Fedora is almost always one of the first to have working drivers for most common hardware, so it's not often a problem.

    Anyway, for these cases and tons of other additional packages which are not included in the Fedora repositories, you can always go to the RPM Fusion web site, which provides software which Fedora (and Red Hat) chooses not to include.

    Just to get a couple of the basics out of the way, this release includes Linux kernel 3.11.10, and X.org server 1.14 in all of the spins.  For details on the rest of the packages and versions in the various spins, read the following pages.

  • Fedora Gnome 3 Desktop

    Fedora is generally considered to be the "Flagship" (or perhaps "Posterchild"?) Gnome 3 distribution, or looking at it from the other direction, Gnome 3 is considered to be the "Standard" desktop for the Fedora distribution. 

    When you go to the Get Fedora page, you find that the image simply called "Fedora Desktop" is Gnome 3, while the rest of the image names include additional details to differentiate them from that.

    The Fedora Gnome 3 release is probably the most complete of all the spins, in terms of the packages included.  Here are a few of the highlights:

    • Gnome 3.10.1
    • Firefox 25.0
    • Evolution (email/calendar) 3.10
    • LibreOffice
    • Rhythmbox (Audio Player) 3.0
    • Totem (Video player) 3.10.1
    • Shotwell (Photo Management) 0.15.0
    • Cheese (Webcam) 3.10.2
    • Document Viewer (PDF and others) 3.10.3
    • Software 3.10.4 (Software Management)
    • Nautilus 3.10.1 (file manager)

    You might notice that a lot of those packages have version 3.10.x, this is because the Gnome desktop comes with a variety of utilities and applications which are specifically designed and tailored for it, and their version numbers track the Gnome versions pretty closely.

    Gnome 3 still generates quite a bit of discussion and debate in the Linux community. Personally, it is not one of my favourite desktops, but I can live with it, and work with it, and because I too consider it to be the "standard" for Fedora, this is the version that I install most frequently.

  • Fedora 20 (Heisenbug) KDE Desktop

    The content of the Fedora KDE spin shows the difference in philosophy from the "fully equipped" Fedora Gnome 3 distribution.  Here is a brief list of the packages included:

    • KDE SC 4.11.3
    • Konqueror 4.11.3
    • Kmail 4.11.3
    • Calligra Words / Sheet / Stage 2.7.4
    • Amarok 2.8.0 (Audio player)
    • Dragon Player 2.0 (Video player)
    • Gwenview 4.11.3
    • Okular 0.17.3 (PDF viewer)
    • Apper 0.8.1 (software management)
    • Dolphin 4.11.3 (file manager)

    That list might surprise a lot of people, but the idea here seems to be pretty simple. This is the KDE spin — if you want KDE, you get KDE, and that is a "Software Collection" so you get the applications and utilities which go with it. Konqueror, rather than Firefox. Calligra rather than LibreOffice. Kmail rather than Thunderbird or Evolution. If you prefer those other versions, they are all available in the Software Management utility (Apper), you can get them installed in no time at all.

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Thanks for the review! Xfce looks cool on Fedora

    ..... and the vertical icon panel has a rather amusing effect on the displayed user name. :-)

    I would like to see the Whisker menu (xfce4-whiskermenu-plugin) as default in Xfce. It's cool, modern and easy. Much slicker than the current Xfce default, which looks rather outdated. Maybe in Xfce 4.12?
    • I like Whisker too

      I also think Whisker is a superior menu for Xfce - more powerful, more flexible, more modern in both design and appearance. The standard Xfce menus are adequate, though, so the "just deliver the basic platform" strategy is still acceptable in this case. I will probably add Whisker to my Fedora Xfce system next, to see how that goes. So far I have only used it on distributions which came with it, I haven't actually installed it myself.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Fedora XFCE

    Fedora 19 XFCE was the first Linux distro that i could really get my teeth into. I tried it just to see what Linux was like in the modern era and loved it. Unfortunately, I migrated to Xubuntu (Ubuntu running on the XFCE desktop environment).

    I migrated to Linux just to speed up my computer so that it was usable and Fedora was my first choice above any other distro and, for that, it will always have a place in my heart.
    James Stevenson
  • 5 Desktops

    • It's called "choice".

      What's so funny about letting the user choose a desktop environment that suits him or her? It must be better than being lumbered with a desktop environment that you hate.
      • It's called "choice".

        Don't worry, he's the local Windows shill here to stir the pot.
      • It's called "choice".

        "It must be better than being lumbered with a desktop environment that you hate."

        Yup. And now there's a rumor that Windows 9 will be a yearly subscription so Micro$oft can suck even more money from their minions. They need to just open source that bloated, virus-ridden kernel and let real OS designers fix it.
  • Ah! The GNOME 2-Looking Desktop: MATE!

    I have not see anything like this in development in a long time. It's nice seeing a fork of GNOME 2 for those who prefer that same familiarity of yesteryears. :)

    I'm still enjoying Ubuntu Unity for a while due to the HUD and it works well with my Apple keyboard (I use a Command key as a Control key like Command+F for find or Command+L for Address bar in Chrome). I might be willing to try out GNOME 3.10 but I still prefer a Debian or Debian-based Linux distribution. I favor DEBs instead of RPMs. :) I also like the fact that my fingers can type /etc/network/interfaces which are pretty easy to access, especially in a server.
    Grayson Peddie
    • if you like good ol' Gnome2

      try Linux Mint or LMDE Mate desktop. I am running LMDE Mate + compiz on the 8-year old Dell dimension 510.
      Elegant and stable as rock. Those come with mintMenu as well, a pretty neat little desktop menu with a a very useful search function. Greenish Mint themes are quite good looking too.
      • Heh heh. Thanks.

        I'm going to stick with Ubuntu Unity as I'm looking forward to see what Ubuntu 14.04 has to bring, as I don't mind searching through Amazon or whatever services using a Dash. I can turn the selected services off if I want.

        I'm glad to have choices in terms of Linux desktop environments, though.
        Grayson Peddie
  • Desktops

    Nice review thanks!

    I personally love Mate and Cinnamon, and like KDE (except Konquerer), but still hat Gnome-3. It smacks of the Windows-8 80 square metre touch screen with clumsy icons the size of a house!
    • Gnome 3...

      I agree with you. I keep forcing myself to work with Gnome 3 on certain systems, because it's not going away anytime soon... but no matter how I try, I can't force myself to actually like it. In my personal evaluation, I would put it well above Unity, but that's about it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Have you tried gnome-shell-extensions?

        gnome-shell-extensions is very versatile. It can make Gnome 3 looks like Cinnamon, MATE and more.

        Btw, I seemed have problem with gdm login. In order to login, I have to zero password (by editing /etc/passwd). I was not able to come back from screen lock, even with zeroed password.
  • Gnome 3...

    I agree. I try to stay away from both but do keep using because they do not look like they are going anywhere. I do admit both have improved, or maybe I'm just getting used to them. But for me a simple XFCE or Openbox is the way to go.
  • Very appealing

    Not just any one desktop but the range of choices is really nice. It's been awhile since my UNIX workstation days, and I've only played around with Linux a little from time to time. Of course I've known people who will use nothing but Linux. It's really looking like I need to get into the Linux distros and find one that's right for me.
  • I love Fedora KDE

    It really shines in comparison with other KDE desktops available, precisely because it's so "vanilla" to the KDE community. I love how they thought of KDE alternatives to Office, Video, Audio, etc. and when many of these projects mature, we will enjoy both seamless integration and awesome goodies. In my opinion, Calligra > iWork, and it offers virtually the same integration.
    Gamaliel Lamboy
  • Zork is cool

    I just came across your post while I was trolling for info on Fedora 20.

    Zork is cool. Every try burning the book? No spoilers, here.

    I cut my teeth on adventure. I made it through Zork II with some help, but kind of lost interest with Zork III.
    First Dread Pirate Roberts
  • I live cinnamon

    Try cinnamon, is a new desktop on Fedora based based on gnome using a gnome-shell, it's very usable