Updated: June 18, 2012
Ladies and nerds, Fedora 17 Beefy Miracle has just been released. And instantly, I was faced with a dilemma. Which version should I test? Of course, the default Gnome 3 is out of the question. So that left me with KDE and Xfce. The last time, I liked Fedora 16 KDE very much. And recently, I liked Xubuntu 12.04 very much. Hm, it's a tie. In the end, I bit the binary bullet and went for the Xfce version, as you already know all too well my stance on Gnome, Unity and KDE. Moreover, with my recent success with Xfce, it will be interesting to see what another Xfce-flavored distro can offer.
Anyhow, we will do all the usual stuff - live session, installation, post-install fun, tweaks and tests. I will focus less on the bleeding edge technologies under the hood as they are not intended for normal people, so you will excuse me if I don't talk about JBoss Application Server, which I just did, oops. Enough babbling, after me, borgs!
Live session + installation
I will begin in a rather unusual manner and say: whoever designed the Fedora installer to reboot the machine when it closes needs to have their programming little hands cut off by a red lightsaber. As it happens, I was merrily testing the distro and saving screenshots of my activities. The installation completed. You get the message, reboot or cancel. It makes no difference. Close the installer and watch the system reboot, before you had the chance to copy the files to a persistent media.
So I was forced to work through the live session twice. Knowing what to expect, my anger levels were less, so I lost some momentum that was expected and instead fueled it with the reboot rage. And even the second time around, I made the same mistake and killed my live session with the closing of the installer, only I was smart enough to keep the files on local disk. Why not Samba, as always, you ask? Ah, we will get to that.
Anyhow, live session installer = someone needs their hands pruned.
Now, we can review what really happened before the fatal and unexpected reboots.
The beauty of the Xfce-flavored Fedora 17 Beefy Miracle is far, far less than that of Xubuntu. The wallpaper is reasonable, and the fact the bottom panel is not hidden is nice, however everything else feels a little cheap. The first think I did was vanish the mounted volumes so I could breathe normally.
For example, there's no branding at all to tell you this is Fedora. And the system area feels a second grade, with the Bluetooth icon from a different icon set. Then, you'd expect the workspace switcher and the date widget to be placed to the right, instead, it's all a bit jumbled.
The default windows decorations do remind of earlier versions of Fedora, but with Beefy Miracle, this feels out of place rather than nostalgic and cute.
Samba sharing, nope
Welcome to stupidity, I mean the Dark Ages. For some reason unbeknownst to the writer, the developers omitted Samba as a valid protocol for sharing. It's not available anywhere in the live session. If you try to open a Samba location in Thunar, you will get a little traffic sign no entry thingie error.
But that's not all. Even Gigolo, the subtly named program that every Xfce fan always touts as the one thing you can use for Samba sharing is also crippled and does not support Samba in this specific incarnation. It's so nice to see that protocols like davs and obex are supported, I mean they are so friendly and useful, but Samba or CIFS are out of the game.
I didn't try anything else, because there isn't anything else to try. Fedora is a bare-metal distro, stripped of fun for the sake of empty ideologies, so you will have to take care of your music and videos and suchlike after the installation.
Anyhow, the procedure was painless overall, although the fully maximized installer feels bleak and uninviting with its huge equity of unused gray. Moreover, the installer window, when not maximized, can be stretched to a bigger size by pulling on the window borders, but it cannot be scaled down afterwards, go figure. Fedora 17 took its temporary place alongside Ubuntu, Kubuntu and Mint on my quadruple boot T61 machine, equipped with two SSD. There were no issues and the installation was quick.
I would share screenshots, but they were destroyed in the process of rebooting my box when I so innocently closed the installer window, hence you do not get to enjoy them and will have to imagine them. Don't blame me.
Fedora 17 installed, fun begins?
Does it? I do not know, let's see. The important thing to note here is that I imported the user account from a previous Xubuntu 12.04 installation, which was already pimped up with some new icons, desktop icon transparency and other cool things.
Overall, it worked fine, with some small quirks. I don't have a system icon in the top panel, so there's a generic placeholder instead. The bottom panel retained all of its shortcuts, although some programs are not available in Beefy Miracle. Still, the end product is immensely more inviting than the default.
For a 700MB distro with no proprietary technology in the user space, Fedora 17 comes with a colorful but somewhat dubious collection of programs. You do get a decent bunch, but it could be so easily so much more appealing.
You have Firefox, Abiword, Gnumeric, Transmission, Liferea, Parole, Cheese, plus some other decent lightweight applications. However, I do not understand why Midori is included when there's Firefox, and why a separate private mode entry is needed in the system menu no less.
The web camera worked fine, although Cheese comes with a distinctive black-gray styling that does not align well with the system theme. It is as if someone grabbed a handful of programs and dumped them together.
I also tried installing the latest Skype, version 4.0, which we will be testing soon, using the available Fedora 16 package, and I failed miserably without trying to ignore dependencies and forcing the installation.
Naturally, you get diddly squat, so you will need extra repositories or a nice little program like Autoplus, which is what I normally use to make Fedora presentable for mass use. Indeed, a few clicks later, I could play music and Flash. The music player is called Pragha, and I find it to be less dandy than gmusicbrowser.
Fedora 17 comes with a very basic and uninviting package manager, which gives you what you need and not a penny more. It's a completely different product from flashy software managers you get in Ubuntu and friends, for good or worse. Truth to be told, after using those for a while, you do begin to appreciate some of the aspects of an app-store looks, so you might find the spartan version available here a bit boring.
The internal rectangle sections inside the package manager GUI are non-resizable, so you might end with some highly condensed description text presented in a rather crude manner.
That said, the package manager works fine. Testing Fedora about a week after the official release, there were almost 230MB worth of updates, trimmed down to 47MB using Presto delta magic, resulting in almost 450 packages being fixed. All in all, worked without a hitch, although I've spent most of the time using yum from the command line.
I was disappointed to learn that the frugal would-be Xfce did not show any remarkable figures on this box, especially when I know how lean Gnome 2 could be. At around 320MB, Beefy Miracle is ok. The CPU is silent most of the time, so there's that.
Problems and annoyances
In addition to everything else I mentioned, here are some more:
Boot splash, login window, logout
The entire out-of-session sequence is pretty much garbled. For example, when rebooting, a black screen is shown for about one second and it reads the following sentence in the top corner:
No font file open
Okay? So? What am I supposed to do with this? Anyhow, that's for your pleasure.
But before that, you have the GRUB menu not showing up. Instead, you get some color noise, after which the standard high-resolution Fedora splash screen comes up. But it is sometimes littered with console messages. Then, you reach the login window, which has a very distinctive Gnome 3 looks and features the typical fat-border Adwaita decorations. Only we are running Xfce and we don't expect Gnome 3 to show anywhere, nor do we want it, at all.
Wrong categorization in the system menu
Gnumeric is featured twice, one under Education and once under Office. Now, I can sure understand the second label, but what has a spreadsheet software got to do with Education. I mean seriously?
I also wanted to profile the system boot time, as it seems to be rather fast. However, this turned out to be more difficult than expected. First, even if you install bootchart, it does not automatically edit the bootloader. Why? I want my sessions profiled, why would I be installing the program in the first place? Second, with Fedora's bootloader, GRUB2, set in the root partition and Ubuntu bootloader, also GRUB2, being in charge of MBR and chainloading Fedora, it becomes a nuisance. So I do not want.
On the plus side ...
Not a single crash, and not a single SELinux alert either! First time EVAR! Moreover, the system was extremely stable. Suspend & resume worked fine, too.
Fedora 17 Beefy Miracle ought to be called Fedora 17 Medium-Rare Steak, as it's just that, a slab of meat swept off the grill too early, still dripping red developers' red blood. Honestly, if your product is not ready, don't release it. Don't do it. You will be doing everyone a favor.
More specifically, Fedora 17 works, sort of. But it has one rather big problem. It's inconsistent. It's inconsistent with Fedora's mission statement, with my expectations, with the actual results you get. In the past, it was all about crashes and instability. Recently, Fedora has turned more serious, more mundane, became usable. But with this change a wind of dullness and erratic decision came and swept the distro. You can't ever really know what to expect. However, one thing is sure, there will always be something new to annoy and piss you off dearly.
In our specific example, Beefy is stable, reasonably fast, but it is butt-ugly, has an installer made by Benny Hill, Inc., and will offer a mediocre range of programs, plus a whole basket of visual scars. A tradeoff, designed to never make you happy.
I liked some of the subtle changes in the distro's spirit, I did not like the odd choices with software, the myriad little bugs, the styling that was done in the last eight minutes before the ISO spinning. Why, oh why? Anyhow, Fedora 17 Beefy Miracle with Xfce probably deserve around 7/10. It's okay, but it has nothing special you won't find elsewhere.
Oh, if you want other Fedora reviews, do let me know.