Fedora 17 — Power Desktop and Choice for Parents



 

 


Fedora 17 was released on Tuesday, May 29, a bit less than a week ago as I write this. I pretty much skipped Fedora 16 except for a couple VMs and only installed it on my main workstation about two weeks ago.

I did not review either Fedora 15 or 16 so I think it is now time to review Fedora 17.

Initial Impressions

I like Fedora 17 a lot. I have been using Fedora since the original Fedora Core 1 was released in November of 2003. There have been ups and downs, but Fedora 17 is by far the best I have used.

Fedora 17 is easy to install and offers high performance and extreme flexibility. It has many fine features and enough applications and desktops to please nearly anybody, including parents.

So far I have had no real problems other than being unable to upgrade from a previous version.

Installation

The installation of Fedora 17 was fairly easy, unless you consider that my intent was to perform an upgrade rather than a new installation. I was hoping to be able to save a bit of time doing an upgrade. But this actually starts with my attempt to upgrade from F15 to F16.

Upgrade Problems

I had been using Fedora 15 on my primary workstation for quite some time and was looking forward to Fedora 17.  However I wanted to upgrade directly only one level at a time so I decided to upgrade to Fedora 16 first, then wait the remaining few days until Fedora 17 was released.

From 15 to 16

The initial problem I had upgrading my primary workstation to Fedora 16 from 15 was that Anaconda, the installer program, would not discover my software RAID array correctly. This has been the case for a few releases, at least the ones since I started using software RAID.

So in moving from Fedora 15 to 16 I had to perform a complete reinstallation and get rid of my software RAID array in the process. That was not a problem as it was primarily an experiment so I could learn about software RAID.

This complete reinstall also meant that I had to restore all of the data in my home directory from backups. I intentionally only restored configurations from my Mozilla applications, Firefox and Thunderbird.

From 16 to 17

I did not have to deal with software RAID when attempting the upgrade from Fedora 16 to 17, but I have no reason to suspect that this bug has been fixed yet. It has been around for several releases.

A few days after upgrading to Fedora 16, Fedora 17 was released so I immediately downloaded the DVD ISO image and burned it to disk. I do not normally install a new release on my primary workstation on day 1 but I was unusually excited to see what is new in Fedora 17, so I went ahead and attempted the upgrade.

The upgrade procedure went well until the very end. The upgrade stopped with the installation progress bar at the very end, and after waiting for a couple hours with no disk and little CPU activity, I decided to intervene. At this point I discovered that the keyboard and mouse were both non-responsive, so I had to hit the reset key.

Time to do an(other) installation.

Easy Installation

During this particular installation I did not wipe out my home directory; I saved that partition and did not format it.

Over the years, the folks working on the Anaconda installer have done a great job of reducing the number of times a user needs to provide input to the installer. In fact, a default installation can be had  for a very few clicks; unfortunately this will probably not result in an installation that meets your needs if you are anything more than a noob end user.

But even with a few additional choices the install is still fast and relatively painless. The usual choices I make that are different from the defaults are also pretty minimal.

  1. Set the network to connect automatically instead of waiting until a user login occurs.
  2. Sometimes I use static addressing for the network connection.
  3. Sometimes I use different filesystem choices. In this case I specified some partition sizes, and that I would keep my current /home filesystem untouched. This is, of course, one of the advantages of utilizing separate filesystems for some directory trees.
  4. I always install KDE.
  5. I usually do not install Evolution which I do not like and which sucks up resources.

The initial installation went quickly and without surprises, which was very good.

The only interesting thing I ran into is that /usr can now no longer be a separate filesystem and must be part of the / (root) filesystem. This has been expected and is intended by Red Hat to simplify program and library storage into a single structure. This is about making a cleaner filesystem layout and more consistency between various distributions. In the previous couple releases of Fedora, even though /usr was not an option while defining your filesystems, it was possible to manually specify a /usr partition during installation and that would work; Fedora 17 does not allow the /usr partition at all, but it does allow /usr/local as a separate partition.

Much of my additional package installation and configuration is performed after the initial installation using a BASH script I have created over the years. This script also includes the installation of packages from other repositories that could not be performed from within the regular Fedora install in any event. I also encountered no problems during the execution of the many tasks in my post-install script.

Moving to systemd

The transition to systemd from the old SystemV start scripts seems to be fairly complete except for a few minor services or non-Fedora software services.

The old network service, which has been superseded by NetworkManager is still managed by chkconfig and the services command. There does not seem to much reason to convert the obsolete network service at this point. VirtualBox is still managed by SystemV start scripts, but it is not part of Fedora per se.

It seems that nearly every service and daemon distributed with Fedora 17 is now managed using systemd. This migration should be transparent to users, but is quite apparent to system administrators. If you have not experienced it yet, you should get Fedora and try it because it will show up in Red Hat and other related distributions.

See Starting and Managing Linux Services Using systemd for more details on this new startup and management system.

Network Manager

Networking has been under continual development for some time. Transitioning from the old “network” service to NetworkManager has been frustrating at times with various previous releases of Fedora. But Network Manager now seems to be fully capable of doing anything needed of it.

I used to recommend disabling NetworkManager and using the old network service instead for servers, desktops or any host that used static addressing. I no longer have to do that.

I like the fact that now NetworkManager works just as well on a server, a desktop or a laptop and makes networking almost seamless. My Lenovo laptop and my ASUS Eeepc both deal easily with switching between wired and wireless networking when the Ethernet cable is plugged or unplugged.

Part of this is due to improvements under the hood such as DBUS, consistent and revised naming conventions for NICs that make it possible to identify a physical port by its name. Where em1 means Embedded Motherboard port 1, but ETH0 could mean any port on the system.

Desktops

Linux has always sported multiple desktops. Fedora 17 is no exception with upgrades to some existing desktops and the addition of one very cool new one.

KDE 4.8.3

I have always preferred KDE to GNOME and other desktop managers. I very much like its almost limitless configurability and the huge amount of power and flexibility that affords. KDE in Fedora 17 is at release 4.8.3, a major release from previous versions included with Fedora, and so far seems very stable. KDE has matured significantly over its past few releases. Everything seems to work as I expect and I have yet to run into any glitches that bugged me in earlier releases.

The overall desktop metaphor has not changed since the transition to KDE 4, but the implementation and fit and finish certainly has—both much for the better.

Desktop Effects

My favorite “new” stuff are the desktop effects. These are not really new but, in the past when I turned them on, my system became sluggish and bogged down. With Fedora 17, for the first time I feel like the desktop effects do not impact my ability to complete the real work tasks I am trying to accomplish.

Desktop effects include things like making windows transparent when moving them, visualizing multiple desktops as surfaces of a cube and transitioning between the surfaces with sliding or rotating animations. These are all fun and cool. They don’t help me accomplish any work, but they are impressive to folks watching.

Other Desktops

Of course Fedora comes with a full set of other desktops as well.

The GNOME desktop is at version 3.4. Although I do not typically use GNOME myself, I know many people do. GNOME 3.4 in Fedora 17 has a few new applications and a number of upgrades and fixes.

Sugar

I think the most interesting addition to the list of Fedora desktops is Sugar. Sugar is the Free Open Source desktop designed especially for children as part of the One Laptop Per Child project. Sugar is now developed under the umbrella of Sugar Labs, a nonprofit spin-off of OLPC.

The objective of OLPC is embodied in their mission statement:

We aim to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. To this end, we have designed hardware, content and software for collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning. With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.

The objective of the Sugar desktop is to provide an environment that can be used by any child while not limiting those who are more advanced.

I spent a bit of time playing with the Sugar desktop. And herin lies the beauty of Linux. With many desktops from which to choose, anyone can use the desktop that best meets their needs. The Sugar desktop is designed specifically for children and the overall design philosophy reflects that.

Sugar Desktop

The Sugar desktop is designed especially for children.

While everyone today assumes that all kids are tech savvy and can use computers far more easily than adults — especially older adults — that is just not true. Many children around the world and in the United States as well, grow up with zero or few electronic devices at all. A simple, child-friendly interface is also much better and easier for any child, even one growing up with computers and smart phones. I bought my first grandson his Leapfrog because it was better and easier for him than the interface on his parent’s XP-based computer.

Now a parent can use their own desktop of choice, be that GNOME, KDE, XFCE, or any other, while the child can use Sugar, a desktop especially designed for learning activities.

In fact, because Windows is limited to a single desktop, whichever metaphor they are choosing to use these days, it is not truly suitable for a child. Linux, on the other hand, can support many different desktops. Not to mention the fact that Linux is a true multi-tasking, multi-user operating system, you can remain logged in and just switch between users. Thus you do not have to start your work session from scratch and that very long compile, computation or other long-running task need not be interrupted as it can continue while your child learns. Your child must logout, however, in order for you to return to your login session.

Adding Sugar to the list of available desktops may make Fedora Linux a true choice for many parents.

And if you have an older computer sitting around gathering dust, what better way to put it to use than installing Fedora 17 and setting your children up with logins using the Sugar desktop.

Applications

In the long run it is all about the applications, isn’t it? No matter how much fun the interface is or how cool it is to use a cube to switch desktops, the ultimate goal is to accomplish some form of work.

Fedora is greater than the sum of its parts and some of its best parts are the applications that are distributed with it. The basic office applications are there in LibréOffice which is installed on desktop system be default, as well as other available options such as Koffice and Gnome Office.

LibréOffice itself has improved significantly since its fork from OpenOffice.  Release 3.5.3.2 of LibréOffice improves the user document interface to make adding headers and footers more intuitive and prevent the need to use a series of mouse clicks to navigate the menu system to get there.

If you are into Open Source cloud computing, Fedora 17 now uses OpenStack.

All the usual applications are still available, many of which have been improved. There are some new applications as well.

Conclusions and Recommendations

I can unreservedly recommend Fedora 17 for anything from server to desktop to laptop and netbook use. I have found little to be wary of at this stage and much to like. Overall Fedora 17 seems to be more of a minor upgrade with fixes, and few major changes to rock the otherwise stable boat.

If you are a parent, Fedora 17 is a great place to start your children on computers. Set up a login for each of your young children using the Sugar desktop and you may never be able to use your computer again.

Of course Fedora is not for folks who need long-term support as there is a new release every six months and support is usually halted after 14 months. But if you like being a bit adventurous and are really interested in what you will see in future releases of Red Hat, CentOS and other related distributions, Fedora is the place to be.