Fedora 16 Verne with Gnome 3 - Absolute disappointment


Updated: November 21, 2011

I want to emphasize that this review is about Fedora WITH the Gnome 3 desktop and not just a separate review of the Fedora operating system as a bare-bones beta-quality technology demonstrator of the RedHat family. Now, if you can accept that and read on without spewing froth, then please we're all set for this article, despite its rather spicy spoiler title.

Anyhow, the Autumn Fever continues with the latest Fedora release, Mark.XVI, dubbed Verne, after the famous French guy who wrote long, paid-by-the-word books. What makes Fedora 16 interesting is most likely kernel 3.1, Gnome 3.2 and a few other details. But let's not get into numbers. The last time I tested Fedora, it was average, mostly because of its desktop interface, although the underlying system has seen some improvement. Now, it's been half a year since, so perhaps Gnome 3 is finally usable?

Live session

Fedora 16 boots into a cartoonish desktop adorned with a wallpaper that depicts something that should be Nautilus diving in the deep seas, as the rather obvious tribute to Verne. Other than that, it still looks as neutered and bland as the previous edition of Gnome 3, with colossally thick window borders and no minimize button, no active icons indicating any sort of useful work you're doing, no shutdown button unless you feel like juggling with the Alt key, fuzzy contrast, bad icons, a depressing gray theme, and a general feel of smartphone retardation. It's all about application centric versus task centric, the new coin phrase that means everyone does their own stuff their own way.

Desktop

Searching for stuff is incomplete. Like Unity, the search is mostly restricted to top level entries, although you get two neat options of looking up your stuff on Google and Wikipedia, for those who find the linear use of a browser puzzling.

Search

Wireless & Samba

This ought to be a given, but it is not. Samba shares timed out often, even with the firewall turned off. To make sure I was not having any problems with my router, I powered up my Lucid and CentOS 6 boxes. No issues there, the sharing was quick and snappy.

Samba timeouts

Switching Wireless network was also a sad affair. It took no less than 29 seconds to acquire an IP address on either one of my routers when switching between them, something that normally takes 3-4 seconds with other distros. I really do not know what the source of the problem is, nor am I inclined to debug, but seems like a Gnome 3 fault.

More look and feel

The fonts look rather blurred overall, not helped by the low-contrast theme. Then, you also get icons that are rendered with low quality, making the product feel cheap. Notice that folder icon. That looks bad.

Icon quality

Apart from some of these rudimentary check, there was nothing else to do really in the live session at this point. You have no fun stuff. MP3 and Flash are out of the question, the selection of programs is fairly basic, and there's nothing in the desktop that might draw your attention. You don't feel like exploring or testing stuff, you're just getting slowly, continuously pissed off more and more by the fact you cannot minimize windows, that they overlap and to get to one below the active window you must hit Activities, expand and choose the correct one. And you have no idea what programs are currently open, you cannot interact with your desktop in any way, and waste your time using your computer like a monkey with the Asperger's syndrome.

Installation

The installation process is similar to what you've seen on previous Fedora releases. The installer opens fully maximized, wasting your screen space. It's a statement, I can only single task, it says. The Back and Next buttons are located in the bottom right corner, but there's also some kind of a notification popup panel there, so if you try to hit the Next button, you will most likely activate the notification panel.

Buttons, overlap

Politics

Now, I touched the subject of politics in my latest Mandriva review, and here it comes again. When searching for the suitable time zone to represent your locale, Fedora offers cities rather than actual timezone orange-peel strips, like you see in Ubuntu. The reason for this might be the spread of regional Fedora mirrors and servers for best downloads, but it kind of does not really stand to logic, as time in various cities along the same longitude is pretty much the same.

But that's not important, because many distribution use this same method. What is interesting is the choice of some of the cities presented to user. One such choice is Hebron, in the West Bank. I don't recall seeing this one ever before. I can understand Jerusalem and Gaza, as these two actually represent two different regions, so to speak, but Hebron fits neither here nor there. If it's meant to be useful to Palestinians, then a more proper place would be Ramallah. After all, both Hebron and Ramallah are only about 15km away from Jerusalem, so the actual time difference is equally pointless. Then, Jerusalem could also be a perfectly reasonable choice, given its multi-religious nature. If the choice is meant to be useful to Israelis, then you have a political message here, which does not seem to align well with the overall FSF spirit, so to speak.

Timezone, politics

Looking at the Fedora download page, I noticed that Fedora has restrictive export regulations, which ban its use in some of the naughty countries, so to speak, and you may not use the distro to develop naughty weapons. Now, personally, if I were to choose a distro for all kinds of data center number crunching, I would probably choose a more stable release with long-term support and such, amirite? All of this strikes me as odd, because I thought we had GPL and whatnot in place. So, having proprietary codecs for music falls in the same category as ballistic missiles? Freedom to not? Hint: This is not an incomplete sentence - freedom to not is the correct idea. Does not compute. I would say all of this feels like a big bowl of brownies. Back to the installation.

No slideshow, nothing fancy, just a boring, gray next, next. Notice the ultimate waste of screen space with the fully maximized installer, as it is by default. Eventually, Fedora installed rather quickly, maybe ten minutes, and settled down successfully in a dual-boot configuration with the resident Windows 8.

Installing

Trying to use Fedora 16 Verne

After Fedora is installed, the first thing you will probably want to do is grab some extra software, codecs and all the usual stuff normal people need. In several past incarnations of this distribution, I used autoten, but this time, I tried a new piece of software called Fedora Utils, by Satyajit Sahoo. The tool lets you tweak your system, fix common problems, install extra software, allow autologin, tune some of the default settings and more. Overall, the program was robust and quick, although the network choked a few time while using the distribution, forcing me to disconnect and reconnect to either one of my routers and try again. The slow network performance seems like a new issue in this release.

Fedora Utils

Tweaks & Tasks

Terminal, utils running

Multimedia

Eventually, multimedia played as expected, once you get the plugins and codecs installed.

Flash

Music

Bad integration

While installing software and looking for a way to use Gnome 3 sensibly or efficiently, I tried some of the programs available with the system. To get to your software, it's one click on Activities, one click on Applications, one or more clicks to sort the programs correctly. I'm unemployed and I have free time, yay!

Apps

I found this thing called SELinux Troubleshooter, which probably should let you tweak your settings. Nope. It's a log viewer for existing alerts you may have had. Mercifully, this was a first, no alerts popped up when using Verne. But it seems weird or buggy or both. If you click on the Troubleshoot button, even if the list is empty, you will get that half-smart, half-confused sentence displayed right there. Notify Admin? I am the admin, I chose that option when setting up my account! And again, the wasted screen equity is just puzzling. You have tiny fonts and oceans of unused gray.

SELinux, troubleshoot

Near your user name in the right top corner, there's a little speech like balloon, indicating you can sort of be online too. To that end, you will need to use some kind of an online service. No problem. Only the list is completely empty and looks bleak. And if you hit the plus sign that is supposed to be so intuitive and allow you to add an existing account, there will only be an option to use a Google account. Wow. So much freedom! Thank you, Fedora.

Accounts

Only Google account available

System resources, stability, more bad integration

On idle, on T60p 32-bit with an old graphics card, the distro used approx. 270MB of RAM, which is neither bad not good. Suspend & resume worked fine and were rather quick. As I've mentioned previously, there were no crashes or alerts, but the slow network performance was crippling enough without explicit destruction.

Moreover, the bad integration continues here. Notice the icon background is a different shade of gray than the window, making the rectangular frames of the supposedly transparent icons fully visible. This is a major QA fail.

System icons

Conclusion

First, the good stuff. Fedora 16 did not have a single application crash or a SELinux alert, which is a great thing. There was the Samba problem, but it was not a crash per se. And thus endeth the good stuff. Now, the bad stuff. Where should I begin?

Wireless takes ages to switch access points, Samba sharing is buggy, network gets slow, you must click three times just to get to your applications, and only then start sorting out what you might want or need. The interface is jerky and not very responsive. You can't tell if you have open applications in any way, you get big, ugly prompts interfering with your work, the whole layout is annoying and counter-productive. Few of these elements should be blamed on Fedora, but Fedora's developers chose it and they must bear the price of that decision. As a product, Verne suffers from bad integration and zero excitement.

I have just decided I will not be testing another Gnome 3 release for at least one year, or maybe ever. In the upcoming SUSE review, it's going to be KDE only. Well, maybe Linux Mint. I was never a great Fedora fan, but some of the releases actually made sense. You always had beta quality, little to no support, no fun software, and things changed rapidly, but the operating system could be made usable, it was fast and it was elegant in its own special way. What we have here is a Panda bear tripping a claymore wire.

I believe I ought to test Fedora 16 Verne again, with KDE, just so I can give some justice to the technology. But this Gnome 3 thing spoils everything. And it ruins the beauty of what might be there. But then, any distro vendor who chooses to package their system with this environment deserves all the flak they will get.

I would not recommend Fedora 16 Verne WITH Gnome 3 to anyone. It's a total and utter disappointment for me. This is not how the third or fourth most popular distribution out there ought to look and behave. I could expect this from some obscure amateur distro, but Fedora? From the house of RedHat? Unacceptable.

Done. This review just ruined my week.

Cheers.

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