Fedora 19 Review Part 1 – 30,000′ View

The review that I’ve been working on for Fedora 19 grew a little too large for me to put into a single post. So I decided that it would be a good idea to break it up into several posts that would hopefully be a little more sufficient. To kick things off, I want to start with my thoughts from getting it installed to a working desktop. By working desktop, I mean a desktop in which I haven’t done any modifications at all.

Installation

When Fedora 18 shipped, a lot of drama surrounded the release of a new iteration of Anaconda’s GUI. There’s no mistaking that it certainly looked great and it meshed very well with the GTK/GNOME vibe. However it definitely wasn’t what users were expecting and a lot of emotional outcry followed. Keeping pace with the work, the team behind Anaconda pushed forward. Truthfully, not a whole lot looks different. However it’s a little more verbose with walking you through the installation making it a bit less painful this time around. Because I was installing fresh, I went ahead and used the Guided Install, consuming all four physical disks in my computer and partitioning with LVM without LUKS. While I typically use LUKS for encrypting LVM volumes, there seems to be a bit of a bug with fedup, the new tool for performing in-place distro upgrades in Fedora, not wanting to work properly if a system has a LUKS-encrypted LVM volume. Since I haven’t seen a fix for this, my best pragmatic approach was to avoid the encryption for the time being.

Overall the installation took about ten minutes. One thing worth mentioning here is that the new version of Anaconda doesn’t prompt you to just restart your computer when the installation completes. This feature was present with the older versions. Now, you have to quit the installer and then restart the computer from the live environment. A few extra mouse clicks I know but I’d be curious to know the foundation for that decision. An extra button in the installer wouldn’t take up space and, to my knowledge, there isn’t any technical reason why Anaconda wouldn’t be capable of this.

On reboot, I was finally able to see these noted minor visual enhancements to GRUB present in the release documents. The departure here is that instead of grouping your available boot options into an outlined box on the screen, it’s now just seamless white text on a black background. There may very well be a box there but the outline is removed and the font looks a little cleaner than in 18. The selection timeout appears to have been extended a little bit but obviously this is something that you can change. A measurement of the time it takes to go from boot option selection to GDM yields about seven to nine seconds. The boot directory is stored on an SSD so the times here are going to be a bit faster than if it were installed on a traditional platter disk.

Desktop

While I can’t grab a snapshot of GDM without either making a Fedora 19 VM or using the relatively mediocre camera on my phone, the default theme is quite nice. It’s a textured grey background that seamlessly fills the screen. The UI components mesh nicely into the background and the animations don’t detract from it either. It really is something to look at though compared to previous incarnations of GDM. It certainly doesn’t have the charm that some LightDM themes have but it still looks pretty good.

Standard GNOME3 Desktop in Fedora 19
Standard GNOME3 Desktop in Fedora 19

If you’ve been using Fedora or GNOME3 for quite a while, this desktop shouldn’t look foreign to you at all. The only noticeable difference here is the default wallpaper which looks pretty damn awesome. It is a wallpaper with time sensitivity as well. There are a few niceties in this version of GNOME that increase user friendliness. One of the really cool things is that there is now support for a right-click context menu on the desktop. As of now there are only two options that enable you to either open up the Settings or to change the desktop wallpaper but the inclusion of this is pretty neat.

Right-click context menu
Right-click context menu

GNOME Shell retains its look with a few nice visual enhancements as well as some needed modifications. Unfortunately, some of the new features are undocumented from what I can tell which just makes it harder to properly describe them. One really cool enhancement was done with the notifications area. The bottom of the screen in general is no longer as stupid sensitive as it was before. You can still access your notifications by mousing toward the bottom of the screen but you have to mouse down pretty hard this time to get to them. This decreased sensitivity should lighten some agitation. You won’t feel like you should tread lightly near the bottom of the screen or try your best to avoid it entirely. The sensitivity for the hot corner is increased as well. It really makes the whole experience quite nicer. Accidental mouse moves into those areas aren’t penalized.

GNOME Shell Default Theme
GNOME Shell Default Theme

Another really cool feature that I’ve seen but I can’t quite figure out how to control yet is that the Application Dashboard appears to support grouping of launcher icons into folders. The screenshot below shows exactly what I mean. This looks pretty similar to the launcher folders that are available on Android where you can create a folder on the home screen and drag icons into it. When you tap that folder, it expands using the location of the folder icon as an origin point and displays all of its contents in a grid. This is what looks to be the case here in GNOME Shell with some visual differences. When you click the folder (I’m not even sure that’s what they’re called in the context of GNOME) it expands using the folder’s location in the dashboard as an origin point and the dialog that displays the folder’s contents appears as an overlay in the shell. You can either double-click outside it or click on the close button in the top-right to close the overlay. Now I’ve tried every natural action possible to try and make a custom folder or move it around in the dashboard but I can’t seem to make either happen. You can’t even add a launcher to a folder by dragging it over top of the folder itself. As of now, they just seem to be this benign entry in the dashboard that you really don’t have any direct control over. I’m sure there’s a way to modify these but it may require a little more work and hacking than what the end result would be worth hence I haven’t tried to do anything with them. I’d really like to figure out if anything can be done with these from the user’s perspective because there’s a lot of potential here for making cleaner and sharper looking dashboards.

Launcher Folders in the Dashboard
Launcher Folders in the Dashboard

Help In Your Face

The above video is found in the GNOME Help app which directs you around the GNOME interface. The GNOME Team created that video, not me, and it’s uploaded to my YouTube channel since WordPress won’t let me directly store video files without paying a million dollars for an upgrade.

There are several of these videos littered throughout GNOME Help and they’re very impressive. It takes instructional guidance to a whole new level. The best part is that one of these videos, and I can’t remember which one right now, plays shortly after your first sign in. The really cool thing about this video here is that it shows you how to navigate though windows and workspaces using keyboard shortcuts. I believe that this is a critical knowledge point for successfully navigating GNOME3 and once you nail that down, you’ll have a much easier time getting around.

To add a little more guidance into the transition to your computer, a Welcome dialog appears when you first log in as well. It effectively is the end result of the migration of certain options that were originally present in Anaconda that were set during installation. The Welcome dialog lets you choose your default system language, the language of your input device, and then immediately throws configuring cloud services at you which brings us into our next point of interest…

Choose your language!
Choose your language!

Cloud Connectivity

In recent versions of GNOME there’s been a push for connectivity to cloud and social services like Google Drive and Facebook respectively. Several apps existed that each managed their own connection pools (Empathy and Evolution for example) and there wasn’t really a federated location for establishing those service connections such that the apps could just ping it rather than each managing their own connections. If you’ve been using GNOME for the past two or three stable iterations, you’ve noticed that such a federated pool for those connections has been coming together. What we get in Fedora 19 is pretty solid and works quite nicely.

As mentioned previously, the Welcome dialog that appears guides you through several small steps to complete your computer’s setup configuration. One of the final steps is adding any cloud services that you use. The available services that you have to choose from are currently limited to the ones that you’re provided with and that list includes accounts from the following: Google, ownCloud, Facebook, Windows Live, Exchange, any IMAP or SMTP service and enterprise services over Kerberos.

Available cloud services that you can choose from
Available cloud services that you can choose from

During my configuration, I added two Google accounts and one Facebook account. When you’ve successfully added an account, they’re displayed back in the Welcome dialog. Each account entry in the list has a button on the right that will let you remove it.

Listing of federated cloud services
Listing of federated cloud services

Once this is complete, you’re done with the Welcome dialog.

Keep in mind that the step of adding cloud services is completely optional. You don’t have to complete this step in order to continue using your Fedora 19 computer. In fact, this step is a front-end for an option in the Settings app that provides you with more granular control over your connected cloud services. This just makes it easier to use apps on your computer that do rely on those connections. As an example, the messaging client Empathy obviously needs some type of connection to a cloud service to use it. If you add a cloud service though the Welcome screen or through the Settings app, Empathy will look there first and will automatically work. The same thing goes for the email client Evolution. Some other apps like Documents look to this pool as well. The Settings app will be covered in moderate detail in the next section.

More To Come

This was just scraping the tip of the iceberg with the new stuff that we’re getting to see with Fedora 19. In the next section, I’m going to cover some apps and talk about what we’re seeing in terms of possible future functionality and what it means for you as a desktop user.

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