Fedora 9 Not Ready for Most Users



 

 


I had been looking forward to the release of Fedora 9, with KDE 4.0 for some time. I knew that there would be issues, particularly with KDE. Who could not be aware that it is a dot-zero release of the Kool Desktop Environment and the fact the the KDE folks have been telling us that KDE 4.0 is not ready for prime-time.

But I was at least expecting the whole package to be reasonably useful. Boy was I mistaken!

Don’t get me wrong; Fedora has been my distribution of choice for several years – and Red Hat before that. Every time I try another distribution Fedora is always the one I return to like an old lover. However this is particularly bad.

Preliminary Testing

I had tried installing Fedora 9 in a virtual machine using VirtualBox. This worked well but because I don’t use that virtual machine very much, I decided that I would install Fedora 9 on my main workstation. This would give me a much better opportunity to actually use the product normally rather than in a “test” environment which I usually find quite restrictive and not representative of the real world no matter how hard I try.

Upgrading

I did not install Fedora 9, I upgraded from Fedora 8. One would think that this should be as easy and reliable as in the past.

I actually did try to do a fresh installation, which usually gives best results anyway, but keeping specific logical volumes so that I could maintain my home directory and some applications I have installed over several years in /usr/local. Unfortunately the installer could not see my existing volumes. It recognized the partitions and the volume groups, but totally drew a blank on the actual logical volumes. So I decided to try the upgrade.

The actual upgrade process went quite easily and left me hoping that all would be well. Silly me.

Getting to KDE

The first problem was actually getting KDE to be my default desktop. As is usual with Red Hat and Fedora distributions, GNOME is the default desktop. So after logging in to the GNOME desktop, I tried to find a way to switch the desktop to KDE.

Of course the switchdesk utility is not installed, even though I had installed it previously. This indicates to me that the installation has issues with knowing and maintaining the RPMs that are installed on a system being upgraded. This is a huge problem, at least to me.

I installed switchdesk and ran the command switchdesk KDE then logged out and back in. Even though switchdesk informed me that my desktop would now be KDE, I still ended up in GNOME. I fought with this for a few minutes and then decided to try switching on the GDM login screen.

The login screen used to have a button visible at all times called session which you could use to change the default session. Then you would type in or click on your user ID and finish the login process. It really caused me great confusion not to see that button available. I discovered after paying really close attention that the session button only shows up now after you select or type your ID.

KDE Issues

I ran into many, many issues with KDE itself. Far more than I would expect from even a dot-zero release. I only have time to mention the worst ones here, or at least the ones that bug me the most, but there are many more unmentioned.

Dead Desktop

When I first logged in, very little would work. The desktop was barely workable and kept crashing. I have resolved issues like this before by deleting the .kderc file and the .kde directory. This means reconfiguring my desktop, but I thought it might be worth it to have a clean desktop.

I logged out and back in. Of course everything was broken at that point and nothing worked. Even though KDE had created a new set of files it was all borked.

To fix this, I renamed my home directory and deleted my original user ID. I added a new ID for myself and copied the directories that contained my data files from the renamed directory to the newly created one. I logged in as myself.

Cluttered Desktop

I then discovered that the KDE desktop is cluttered with all of the folders and files that I keep in my home directory. I find I can get rid of them but I lose all of the icons I do want on my desktop as well including some of the neat new widgets that are one of the reasons I want to use KDE 4 in the first place.

Getting rid of these icons was easy. Just right click on an empty space on the desktop – if you can find one in the clutter – then select Configure desktop and click on the Show icons check box. All of your icons will disappear.

After adding some widgets to the desktop I logged out and went to eat. A while later I logged back in and my widgets were gone. It was puzzling. I tried again with the same results. Now that I realized this was a pattern and not something I had done or failed to do, I gave up on that and I now have the cleanest desktop I have ever had.

Other Issues

UUIDs in fstab

I have no idea why the Fedora development team has decided to switch to using UUIDs be default for the entries in /etc/fstab. The excerpt from my fstab file below shows what I mean.


UUID=308e61d7-1e39-46c3-81e6-f01d2741d31b / ext3 defaults 1 1
UUID=201e0a5a-5bd9-46ab-b176-fdb709ad866c /home ext3 defaults 1 2
UUID=41a87164-2b8c-4a38-b98b-16b7ea51f7cc /stuff ext3 defaults 1 2
UUID=6258560d-e3f5-449e-951d-95dbcca7e3ba /Virtual ext3 defaults 1 2
UUID=3e2bd586-4f6c-42f9-92e7-5f717095a5e3 /usr ext3 defaults 1 2
UUID=a92aac35-f1e0-4527-98a4-6a4be10e6ac9 /usr/local ext3 defaults 1 2
UUID=8698be32-80d2-4abd-9895-a47d896d5506 /tmp ext3 defaults 1 2
UUID=d81da4ae-f50f-4468-a34b-83f844248714 /var ext3 defaults 1 2
UUID=0b33fdf3-4eee-4e68-9a22-67542e8ce643 /boot ext3 defaults 1 2

Do you know how to locate the UUID so you can relate the device to the file system? Fortunately I found it by accident some time ago.

  1. Use the df command to list the file systems. This gives you a cross reference of devices to file systems.
  2. Use the command dumpe2fs -h <device> to obtain a very detailed list of data about the file system, including the UUID.

The need to do this will really impede problem determination when you have a filesystem problem. You can still use labels and device names in /etc/fstab, but when using labels, you have to add the labels yourself if you have not already.


LABEL=/stuff /stuff ext3 defaults 1 2
or
/dev/mapper/VolGroup01-stuffVol /stuff ext3 defaults 1 2

UUIDs are supposed to be universally unique and, while that can be a good thing, I fail to see the requirement here.

Cron

After upgrading to Fedora 9, my cron jobs no longer ran. I discovered that this was because the cron daemon was stopped and the entry for crond was not even available through chkconfig. So I manually started crond and added it to chkconfig. Why should I have to do this?

General Gripes

Most of the desktop configuration does not work and many of the things I had become used to in past releases now are either missing or have much less functionality.

Konsole is one example of many. Tabs can no longer be renamed. This seems simple and, unless you are doing a really total rewrite, why remove something many people find useful and for which the code already exists?

Another small but annoying example of this is the lack of a seconds option in the digital clock widget. I like seeing the seconds and I hate not having that option available.

And I can no longer configure my mouse to use the three-button emulation. I find that much easier than using the wheel as button three. Again, why take away a choice that many find a useful option?

Perhaps KDE development is now dumbing down a really great product so that regular users do not have so many choices to make. If that is the case I hate it! One of the reasons I have never used Winbloze as my primary operating system is that very lack of choice.

The Good

I guess I saved the good for last, partly because there seems to be so little of it.

The programs I need actually work. Things like Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice, GnuCash and others all work as they should even though most are really bleeding edge versions.

I have even found that some of the issues I was having with the way Firefox renders some web sites have been mostly resolved, and that is a good thing.

Conclusions

There is plenty more to discuss about Fedora 9, and I may add to this page information about some of the ones that bug me most as time goes on. But this is enough for now and my conclusions are not good. I will try a clean install on another real (as opposed to virtual) box sometime in the future and hope for better results. In the meantime my conclusions are quite negative.

Don’t use KDE if you do use Fedora 9. GNOME is probably OK, but if you have been using KDE forever, you will have a bit of an adjustment to make and you will always miss KDE anyway.

The other issues, such as problems with the cron daemon leave me wondering what else might be wrong under the covers as well. It is hard for me to trust this release and I will not for quite some time.

I will stick with this release as I need to see how it improves, as I know it will, and I need to understand that improvement as it occurs so I can decide when to upgrade my other computers and when to recommend upgrading the computers of folks for whom I am the IT Guy, including my mom and my church. That does not appear to be likely any time soon.

I strongly recommend against upgrading to Fedora 9 for anyone who is not a guru until all the bugs are worked out of both the KDE 4 desktop and the underlying operating system. Consider CENTOS or Ubuntu for those folks if you really need to upgrade them, and stay away from KDE 4.0.