Updated: May 30, 2011
Michael Jackson has got nothing on me. Probably because there was no Linux when he recorded Billie Jean. On a serious note, I took Fedora's fifteenth release for a spin this week to see what it can or can't do. Since it comes with Gnome 3, this ought to be a spicy challenge.
My expectations were lukewarm. Fedora is intended for professionals mostly, users with decent knowledge of Linux and a willingness to risk and sweat. People often grumble how my articles are oriented toward pure desktop use in the hands of inexperienced users, therefore some of the tests are unfair. But since it bears the label desktop somewhere in its name, release notes or elsewhere, so must Fedora Lovelock bear the brunt of a full review.
First, I tried booting from live USB, got an error about job control turned off. The only way to get underway was to burn some lightwaves onto a round piece of plastic and use the CD-ROM.
Once booted, Fedora will not pamper you, it never has. The distribution comes with non-proprietary software only, so don't expect any of the desktop fun that normal people need and expect, like MP3, Flash and suchlike. At 565MB, the download is also fairly small, translating into a frugal application base. But what interests us most at this moment is the desktop itself, furnished with Gnome 3, the most controversial piece of software since, well, Unity.
You've probably read my Gnome 3 unflattering expose (that's French, with a little tick). Tested first on openSUSE build and then later on Fedora 15 beta. So you've seen most of the screenshots, and there's no need repeating myself too much.
You have Activities, Workspaces and you can search live. However, the search requires that you click on the Activities button, so your normal work flow is broken. Twice as many clicks as you needed for the same amount of joy in the past. No way to place icons or shortcuts onto the desktop or the top panel, not even a 0-byte text file reminder to pay bills today.
No Fedora live session is truly complete without at least one crash. Fedora 15 is no exception, and it threw one at me. However, this was the only one throughout my several hours of testing, so things are improving.
I was truly un-excited testing this new environment. While it behaved functionally, it was far from being usable on any decent level. In fact, as soon as I had my peripherals configured - Wireless, Samba and whatnot, I switched to Fallback mode. This is still far from being what I want or need, but it's bearable, at the very least.
I didn't bother testing anything else at this point. Playing music and video and online clips was out of the question. Fun stuff was left for after the installation.
Classic Fedora every step of the way. In fact, it's IDENTICAL to Fedora 14. What makes it different is the fact you have a Clearlooks-themed installation wizard embedded into the Gnome 3 desktop, which is visually jarring. Even fonts and colors don't match. Except for the huge gray window buttons that defeat the retro-modern vertical space mantra, you're doing an installation procedure that is purely Gnome 2 in looks.
The second part of the installation happens after the first reboot, allowing you to create a user. The one change is that you can add your user to the Administrators group, although I'm not quite sure what it means or how it works. There's a separate root password.
All right, Fedora 15 is installed. After some fighting Wireless pop-under and similar notifications struggling against Gnome 3, I switched to Fallback mode. My first mission was to bring Fedora to a decent usability level.
I introduced GnomeTweakTool in my Fallback review. It's a tool designed to help you minimize the stress rating while using Gnome 3. Then, there's fedoraplus, a new name for the popular autoten tool, which lets you install codecs, extra software and configure the user session.
The Tweak tool does not allow you to customize your panels, unfortunately. You can only change the window borders, window buttons and some basic behavior, but that's all for the time being. You can add shortcuts by dragging & dropping them from the Applications menu onto the top panel in the Fallback mode. And I've heard pressing Alt + right-click might also work, but I haven't tested this. Thanks go to Bob for this tip.
The bottom panel will show open application windows. You can also change the number of shown desktop spaces. No Trash icon that I could find anywhere. The desktop background can be changed through the menus only, and it's a long and laborious task. While Gnome 2 let you do this in just one right-click on the desktop, in Gnome 3, you have to go to System Settings, or rather find them first, then select Background and make the change.
With the help from the dark force, you get your evil Flash and music playing after a while. Fedoraplus packs a handsome set of codecs, so you'll get by just fine.
Fedora Lovelock, like its predecessors, comes with a very spartan set of tools. The only office program is Evolution. You get Rhythmbox, but it complains about Cover art plugin.
You also get Audacious, Shotwell, Cheese and Firefox, at its latest increment.
Third-party stuff is readily available through fedoraplus. As always, demonstrating with Google Earth showing one of the many corners of the world.
Some weird things are there, too, like Input Methods, which developers worldwide refuse to rename into something simple and human, so that people who really require different languages and keyboard layouts will actually be able to comprehend what is being asked of them. If kidney dialysis was this friendly to use, people worldwide would be grateful for such a perfect invention.
Just look at the options, IBus is recommended - is this an Apple product, akin to iPad and others? No Input Method, what does that mean? No keyboard? im-cedilla, is that an animal related to armadillo family? X compose table, sounds like something you study in your third year of math at the university. Double and triple wunderbar.
While suspend & resume worked without problems, you may wonder about system resources. Fedora has always boasted one of the fastest and lightest desktop sessions. Now, even this one merit is gone. Fedora 15 + Gnome 3 effectively uses twice as much RAM as an olden Fedora would.
Necessary? No. But I want to. Comparing to Natty, which comes (dis)graced with Unity, Fedora 15 is slower, less responsive. Boot times are now more or less equal, thanks to Ubuntu un-optimizing their boot process, but the desktop session was snappy. Instant reaction, no lags or delays. Gnome 3, on the other hand, imposes a bit of slowness, which is not critical, but surely not pleasant. You might not notice if this was your only system, but if you switch around, you will find Gnome 3, in its implementation on top of Lovelock, to be rather sluggish.
With memory usage doubled and the desktop experience impacted in a negative way, Fedora 15 delivers a big self-inflicted roundhouse kick to its own reputation. Using free software and being spartan have always been part of its modus operandi, but at least you got good performance. On the bright side, SELinux did not complain, not even once!
My reaction to Fedora has always ranged in the mid-top average. It's not a system designed for me. It's not a system for average users, newbs or people who perceive their desktop as an appliance. Any attempt to brute-force this illusion only makes it worse. Fedora plays well in the hands of enthusiasts, power users and purists. Beta quality, tough love, the way it has always been, I can respect that, there's audience for that, quite a bit, it seems. Lots of technology under the hood, if you're excited about numbers.
Fedora 15 is a different story altogether. It's a distro designed for power users, adorned with a toyish desktop that simply ruins everything. Slow and ineffective, just the opposite of what Fedora has always been.
If I take Gnome 3 out of the equation, then Fedora 15 could be decent. SELinux is tame and quiet, a single crash, predictable issues with applications and proprietary software solved in half an hour of using fedoraplus. Not bad. But then, you get a crippled work environment. Even the Fallback mode is super-annoying. And like I said, memory usage has soared and the responsiveness has been assassinated.
Fedora 15 feels like an orphan child, abandoned in a foggy night. It's lost its purist identity. It's neither here nor there. Not friendly enough for simple users, not sharp and quick enough for advanced users. In between, you get a spoonful of standard Fedora, but is that enough to make you run this distro on a daily basis? I don't know, but Lovelock sure is not my love.