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Fedora 18 revisited: Cinnamon, Xfce, LXDM, and a 'wow' for anaconda

Cinnamon, Xfce, LXDM and more comments on anaconda: the fun never stops!
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By J.A. Watson, Member blogger on
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1 of 4 J.A. Watson/ZDNet

Cinnamon Desktop and Menu

Adding the Cinnamon desktop is basically the same as adding MATE, described in my previous post. Start the software manager, search for cinnamon-desktop, and install.  When the installation is complete, log out. The next time you login, when the password prompt comes up click on the 'Sessions...' button below the password input field, and select Cinnamon.

For those who are disgusted, fed up, or otherwise disenchanted with the Gnome 3 desktop, Cinnamon gives you a much more traditional look, with a bottom panel, controls, icons and applets in the style of Gnome 2, but with Gnome 3 still 'under the hood'. It also includes the Nemo file manager, which is a fork of Nautilus that retains the functionality of Nautilus 3.4. The Introducing Nemo web page contains a lot of good information about why and how Nemo was created, and outlines its features, advantages and future.

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Xfce 4.10 Desktop

In addition to the well-known Gnome and KDE distributions, Fedora also has a popular Xfce distribution. The Fedora 18 release uses Xfce4 version 4.10. Xfce has gained considerable popularity recently because it's seen as a good alternative for users who don't want Gnome 3, but still want a more or less traditional 'Gnome-style' desktop. This probably doesn't do it justice, though, because it's a very good and very capable desktop in its own right. For a quick overview of features, take the Xfce 4.10 Tour.

The difference between this Xfce 'spin' and one of the alternative Gnome desktops that I mentioned previously (Cinnamon and MATE) is that those are alternative interfaces built on top of the Fedora Gnome distribution. They thus will have all the same utilities and applications, but will provide you with a different (and hopefully more comfortable) way of working with them. The Xfce spin is a completely different distribution, with a very different set of utilities and applications. Most of the utilities are developed specifically for Xfce (or even by the same development team), and thus are designed to fit well with the Xfce desktop, and follow the 'fast and light' philosophy.

  • midori browser, in addition to the latest Firefox release.
  • Thunar file manager (which is also winning a lot of admirers because of the recent Nautilus changes)
  • ristretto image viewer
  • parole media player

The applications are also chosen with more emphasis on "fast and light", and this philosophy will extend not only to the applications which are included, but also to the choice not to include certain types of applications.

  • Abiword for word processing, rather than a full Office Suite
  • No GiMP or other major image editing program
  • Simple audio/media players

The screenshot above shows the Xfce desktop as I typically modify it for use on my netbooks. Rather than top and bottom panels, I have moved one panel to the side, with only icons and symbols (no text) on it, and I have the other panel at the bottom. Both panels are set to auto-hide, so I get the maximum usable screen space on the netbook.

Fedora 18 still uses Network Manager, rather than wicd which is frequently chosen for Xfce distributions. To me the advantage of this is that I don't have to learn another network manager, and I already know that it works not only with all of the various wired and wireless network adapters on my systems, but it also works with my Huawei 3G wireless broadband USB stick.

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3 of 4 J.A. Watson/ZDNet

LXDE Desktop and Menu

Another alternative in the Fedora distribution family is LXDE, which is even further on the 'fast and light' scale than Xfce. In this case the philosophy is even included in the name: The Lightweight X Desktop Environment. As with Xfce, this is reflected in both the utilities and applications included in the distribution. The following is a short list, for a more complete list and information, check the about LXDE webpage:

  • PCManFM (file manager)
  • GPicView (image viewer)
  • Abiword (word processor)
  • Gnumeric (spreadsheet)
  • LXMusic (audio player)
  • GXine (video player).
  • Firefox (browser)

I hadn't really given it much thought, but looking at that list, in some ways LXDE looks like it is actually a more complete 'out of the box' distribution than Xfce, notably with the spreadsheet and video player included. I also find that they have a few panel applets which are quite interesting, for example a cpufreq monitor for displaying CPU speed throttling information. But they haven't lost their focus on light and fast, because you get the feeling of speed everywhere you turn. Windows open and programs start very fast, and even the auto-hide function of the panel is very snappy in moving up and down.

By the way, here's a tip for LXDE users. After scratching my head and searching the web for quite a long time trying to find a way to get a screenshot, I stumbled across the very handy Action in mtPaint (which is included in F18 LXDE): just start the program from Menu/Graphics/mtPaint, then go to File/Actions/Time Delayed Screen Shot.  Very handy, and a lot easier than anything else I've found.

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4 of 4 J.A. Watson/ZDNet

The Fedora anaconda installer

I would like to add a few more words about anaconda. In my previous post about Fedora 18, I tried to include some tips specifically about the disk and partition allocation operations, because I felt I got rather lost in that part and thought others might need help.

I've been rather blunt in my comments and criticism of anaconda, both here in my own blog and in comments I've posted elsewhere. But on reflection, I think it's important to remember that writing a program like anaconda is a huge task: it's extremely complex and absolutely full of variations, different paths to the final goal (installing Linux), tons of minute details, every one of which has got to be exactly right. And the complexity is increasing, not decreasing. Get anything wrong, often even in the smallest detail, and you end up with a failed install — or even worse, with an unbootable or even wiped disk or an otherwise unusable system. I have never worked on or contributed to anaconda (other than flippant criticism), but from having been on other such projects I can tell you that you seldom hear about how well you have done, but you always hear (generally at high volume) when something goes wrong.

So I want to say right here and now, loud and clear, WOW. What a good job. For this to be the first release of a complete redesign and rewrite of anaconda, and for it to be this solid, is extremely impressive. Those of us who know Fedora will know that this is not the 'last' version, it isn't 'cast in concrete', it's going to continue to develop and improve, and future releases will be even better. But this first release works, and works quite well.

For this to be the first release of a complete redesign and rewrite of anaconda, and for it to be this solid, is extremely impressive

I have specifically mentioned the disk partitioning section as being confusing. But when I think about it, what's not confusing about disk partitioning? If you take the 'do this for me' approach, which of course is offered by anaconda, it will work. I think someone commented previously that it would produce two partitions, and I'm not convinced that's correct because I believe it will make at least root, home, boot and swap partitions — and if you are installing on a UEFI system, it will also make a /boot/efi partition. But that's all fine, it works, and if you don't want that many partitions you can set it up manually and get it down to two (or three for UEFI).

If you want to understand how all of this works, as Adam Williamson has kindly pointed out that there's help in anaconda itself, an overview in the Fedora 18 Release Notes, more information in the Fedora 18 Installation Guide, and even more in the anaconda documentation; there are also blogs and chats that follow it. The new anaconda presents the disk layout in a completely new way, with partitions grouped by logical installations, and that certainly confused me at first. I'm accustomed to the gparted presentation, which is nothing more than a graphical depiction of the physical layout of the drive, and that in itself assumes that you know enough to understand what each partition is and how they fit together. That isn't a very good assumption for the average user, is it? Showing partitions in logical installation groups may well be a better idea, and I just need to adjust to it.

So, before ranting and raving about anaconda being different (not only from previous anaconda releases, but really significantly different from just about any other Linux installer out there), stop and think. Look for help, open your mind and try to see what it is trying to tell you. You might be surprised. I was.

jw

 

One more note: if you need to take a screenshot while running anaconda, press Shift-PrintScreen. It will be saved as a .png in /tmp/anaconda-screenshots. Then copy the screenshot-xxxx.png file to some sort of removable media so that you'll still have it after rebooting.

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