Thoughts on Gnome 3 & Fedora 16 Linux

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.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Open Source
7

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.

Topic: Open Source

Chris Clay

About Chris Clay

After administering Linux and Windows for over 17 years in multiple environments, my focus of this blog is to document my adventures in both operating systems to compare the two against each other. Past and present experiences have shown me that Linux can replace Windows and succeed in a vast variety of environments. Linux has proven itself many times over in the datacentre and is more than capable for the desktop.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

7 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • One other way to make a Fedora 16 desktop more like GNOME 2: choose a "Classic GNOME with Compiz" session on the login page.
    Zogg
  • Move them to Fuduntu, we have GNOME 2.
    Andrew Wyatt
  • Chris Rankin:
    Thanks for the tip. I did check out the "Classic Gnome with Compiz" session at the logon screen, and it seems to just force Gnome 3 to Fallback mode. Are there other advantages to using this option?

    fewt:
    Thanks for the suggestion on Fuduntu. I have thought about tinkering with Fedora to get full Gnome 2 and also using another distribution like Fuduntu. But after thinking about this some more, I figured that I am going to try making baby steps to Gnome 3, even if it requires using Fallback mode for now. My gut feeling is that eventually Gnome 2 will not be developed any longer, and rather than making a last minute switch I would rather ease over to Gnome 3 now.

    Thanks for the comments and feedback!
    Chris_Clay
  • "By default, Gnome 3 does not allow any icons to be placed on the desktop."

    This is my biggest gripe with Gnome 3, as I use the desktop as a temporary place to spread out files (rather like, er, a desktop!!). This is why I'm using Linux Mint 12, the default install of which gives a workable compromise of Gnome 2 & 3.
    Jake Rayson
  • Gnome 3
    You really have an endless supply of desk top icons. No need to put icons on desktop. No need to customize menus. Who cares if system setting is under other. Press windows key* then just start typing first few letters of icon you want. Your icon appears on the desktop. Use up and down arrow keys along with enter key to select icon that appears. Type sy and system settings icon appears. Type ch or g and Google Chrome icon appears. Type wr and LibreWriter icon appears. Type sp or ca and LibreCalc(Spreadsheet) icon appears. Type add or remove to add/remove software. Type ph or sh and Shotwell (photos) icon appears. Type fi and file manger icon appear. Type te and terminal icon appears. You can drag any of these icons to the Dash bar (favorites and running apps) on the left of screen. You can remove any icon from Dash bar by dragging icon and trash can will appear at bottom of Dash bar for you to drop it into. To see all icon applications installed on your system press windows key then click applications. No more hunting to find which category or drop down menu has the item you want.

    Notes:
    *Use windows key (bottom left on keyboard) or just move cursor to top left extreme corner or click Activities in same corner. Toggle windows key back and forth for overview.
    Click you name in top right corner for Logout or Suspend or Power Off (hold alt key down and Suspend will change to Power Off).
    Ctrl key and Alt key together and up or down arrow to move from one workspace to another.
    Windows key then drag open programs to another workspaces on left side of screen.
    If you have more then one program open at the same time press windows key (for overview) and reselect the one you want to use. In overview click on program you want or when over program scroll up to select it. With more than one program running hold down Alt key and press tab key repeatedly and release on item you want to use from the application switcher.
    Alt key and f2 key to enter a command. (ctrl key and enter if you want command in a new terminal window) esc key to exit.
    Drag window to top of screen to maximize or double click top edge of window. Pull it down again to unmaximize.
    Drag window to far left or right of screen to title window to half of screen.

    Using Fedora 16 with Gnome 3. I like it, grandparents think it easier. They say they only have to remember icon name to locate it quickly.
    tktim
  • tktim :
    Thanks for the good feedback there regarding using the default Gnome 3. I agree with you, I think the whole issue is that we need to take the time to learn it, then adjust or customize it so that it is efficient. It's different, and I even find myself tending to prefer the old way of Gnome 2. But I admit I haven't given Gnome 3 enough time yet to sink in. Generally though, I tend to stick with the methods that are more efficient and make sense, which at the moment the layout of Gnome 2 does. And also, I keep reminding myself that Gnome 3 is still in its infancy. I am sure there will be great improvements made over the next months/years. The fact that you have some elderly people using Gnome 3 and they prefer it, is very promising.
    Chris_Clay
  • > I did check out the "Classic Gnome with Compiz" session at the logon screen,
    > and it seems to just force Gnome 3 to Fallback mode. Are there other advantages
    > to using this option?

    I'm using this mode on my machine with an RV280; my understanding is that it launches compiz for you. But yes, I suppose you could say that GNOME 3 without GNOME Shell is like Fallback mode.
    Zogg