Fedora 19 Review Part 2 – App Love

Despite having several different spins, Fedora’s flagship spin is the one that ships with GNOME as the default desktop environment. Admittedly a lot of what I’m going to be covering here pertains to apps which are specific to GNOME rather than Fedora itself. However since this is effectively the face of Fedora, it needs some discussion. Some of the apps that are going to be covered here are only going to get touched on briefly while a few others I’m going to nail down into quite hard. So without further ado, let’s get started!

Files

Files, previously known as Nautilus, is the default file manager for the GNOME desktop. There isn’t really too much to say here since there’s not a whole lot different in this version from the previous one. Two things are worth mentioning though.

The new design for the GNOME icons is something to behold. Compared to the original design that was present in just the previous iteration, for the first time I don’t feel the need to jump out to gnome-look.org and find another icon theme to replace the gaudy looking one that was there to begin with. That original theme really just didn’t age well. What we have now is far better. I think I remember them having a little more of a reddish tone in the Beta RC that this but they still look great.

Shiny new GNOME icon theme
Shiny new GNOME icon theme

The other thing worth mentioning is the location of the global preferences for Files (or any app for that matter). In the top-left near the Activities hot corner is the icon for the app. If you click on that, it will bring down your pseudo “File” command from a traditional menu bar. I made note of this before in my previous post going over tips and tricks in Fedora 18. It’s really important that you start paying attention to this area since this could be a serious area of interest for federating these types of options that previously existed in a menu. Recognizing this fact could save you a lot of frustration in the long run.

The menu location in GNOME
The menu location in GNOME

Documents

Documents is one of those really strange apps that have cropped up out of the GNOME Team which I’m having a bit of difficulty putting my finger on what its purpose actually is. It feels like it sits between a file browser and a document viewer but doesn’t really satisfy either job 100%. According to the official project page on GNOME Live, Documents is a “document manager application designed to work with GNOME 3.” Not very precise and it actually sounds like it collides with Nautilus in some way. Let’s let photos speak for the app.

Documents showing available files in Grid View
Documents showing available files in Grid View

Supposedly Documents manages documents from both local and cloud storage. I qualified with supposedly because the only proof I’ve seen of local storage is the default “Getting Started with Documents” PDF that’s available from the start and I currently don’t have local files stored. However the cloud storage synchronization works because my files in Drive pulled down instantly. Well, some of them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There are two layouts that Documents will display documents in: grid and list. The grid view is shown above and the list view is shown below. List view is slightly more verbose being that it will display the storage source as well.

Documents in List View
Documents in List View

The Reading view is actually pretty nice. Documents with multiple pages are aligned horizontally and navigation between those pages is in the same direction. This is different from most every other document viewer where pages are stacked vertically. To facilitate this directional change, page navigation is triggered by a set of buttons that appear contextually on either the left or right sides of the screen or by using a scrub bar that’s sensitive to mouse clicks. Documents is also capable of handling custom bookmarks in a document and supports a table of contents as well but I’ve yet to see this be populated into the app to try and use the feature.

Reading View with the Scrub Bar and navigation buttons.
Reading View with the Scrub Bar and navigation buttons.

That’s about where it ends with this really and where the drawbacks start.

The first thing I noticed is that Documents doesn’t display anything other than, well, documents. Both of my Drive accounts are full of images, compressed files and web forms. None of these show up in the listing. My first hope was that this would be the Drive client for Linux that we were wanting but this instantly disqualified that thought. Another hitch is that Documents displays files in a flat-hierarchy format. You can see this being done in the screenshots above. My Drive accounts have several folders each. Each folder contains files therein. Documents will see these folders as “Collections” and allocate space in the view for them. However when you open them up, nothing shows. If I scroll though all of the files that Documents knows about, I can see files that clearly belong under certain folders in Drive. It’s a dumb recognition of the existence of a folder (or “label” in the case of Drive).

Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be a way to sort or organize the arrangement of the files that are being displayed. Instead they’re haphazardly placed in any way that Documents deems necessary. This really becomes a headache if you have multiple cloud accounts with document storage synchronized because you can’t filter by account from within Documents. So all of your files essentially get mixed together with other files from other services and it just gets messy. There doesn’t appear to be any general filter at all other than a search function.

Overall I think we’re seeing the makings of a good document viewer but it should focus more on the viewing portion itself and not so much the file aggregation portion. That’s what Nautilus is for.

Weather

This is a nifty little program that does precisely what you would imagine it would do: gives you the current weather conditions for your metro area delivered GNOME 3 style. I don’t really see this app being useful since it would be easier to just open a tab in your browser and it doesn’t appear to integrate with notifications at all but it looks good and it works.

All of your locations are managed. From the home screen you can add new locations and those locations will be displayed in the large area that makes up the entire portion of the window. It feels a little weird adding a location since there’s no real indication as to which type of data is required and what it won’t understand. It prompts you to enter a city so I entered the city that I live in and it couldn’t find it. So then I had to think of what the nearest most well-known metro area would be and I came up with Canton (there’s an airport there). No dice. So I went a little further and tried Akron. That worked.

Managed locations in Weather
Managed locations in Weather
Attempting to add a new location
Attempting to add a new location

The weather is displayed in a style that’s similar to the lock screen: large text in the center in front of a predefined backdrop that the text contrasts off of nicely. The bottom of the window contains an extended forecast and if you open the right side of the window with the arrow button, you can get an irregularly patterned almost-hourly forecast for the current day.

Location Detail
Location Detail
Almost-Hourly forecast
Almost-Hourly forecast

I haven’t been able to figure out if there’s a way to change the temperature format between Fahrenheit or Celsius and I’m thinking, or hoping, that this may be dependent on the locale settings for your computer. I haven’t tested this yet.

Clocks

Clocks looks really cool. You go along always thinking that you’ll never need a comprehensive timing program and then that day comes when you need a stopwatch or countdown timer in the house and you can’t find one. Enter Clocks.

Managed Global Clocks
Managed Global Clocks

The home screen shows all of your managed global clocks. These clocks display the time from various places around the world and are arbitrary. You can add or remove as many as you’d like. You can click on each one to see a modest detail view displaying the current time in larger text and the sunrise and sunset times in the bottom center. There’s just so much wasted space with this detail view that it loses its novelty after the second or third time of seeing it. Why this couldn’t have been incorporated into the grid view on the home screen is beyond me.

Location detail showing the sunrise and sunset times
Location detail showing the sunrise and sunset times

The Stopwatch feature lets you set splits and counts those splits incrementally as they happen. When a split occurs, it records the time at which it happened. All of the splits are listed below the counter. Once you stop the timer, you have the option to clear it or restart from the position you stopped at.

Stopwatch showing some splits
Stopwatch showing some splits

Then there’s the countdown timer. What you do here is set the upper limit for the timer, click the start button and let it go. The timer will countdown to 00:00:00. Once it reaches that time, both an audible and visual notification will play/appear. While it’s counting down, you can pause or reset the timer before it reaches the end.

Countdown Timer
Countdown Timer

Finally, the alarm lets you set a time at which an audible and visual alarm notification goes off. You have the ability to stop or snooze the alarm from either in the app or within the notification that appears itself so near-headless interaction with the alarm clock is possible.

Management for active alarms
Management for active alarms

Settings

The Settings app provides you with a gateway to changing some basic configurations in your computer. There are some changes to this iteration to cater to new features in GNOME and those are the ones that I wanted to touch.

The push for apps to integrate with notifications could possibly make for a noisy desktop if you’re not careful. There appears to be a central registration point for apps to issue changes though notifications and that point is exposed through the Notifications section in Settings. Here you can toggle notification visibility entirely and even toggle which apps can push notifications through. This is really nifty and I’d like to see more apps do this in the future.

Configuring Notifications
Configuring Notifications

In the first part of this review I’d mentioned the integration of cloud services using the Welcome dialog. This dialog is simply a watered-down front for what is contained in Settings. From the Online Accounts section you can add/remove services but then you can take it a step further and control which aspects of those services you want synchronized with your computer. The big positive here is that a Google account tends to be federated itself in that a single Google account carries data from several services like Calendar, Gmail, Talk/Hangouts and Drive. You can specify which of these individual services you want to use though this panel. These changes will be reflected though the appropriate apps on your computer. If you stop synchronizing your Gmail, Evolution won’t be able to fetch mail from that account anymore.

Online Accounts Configuration
Online Accounts Configuration

Another big push recently is to be able to provide users with the data they want faster. Programs like zeitgeist are supposed to aid in accomplishing this goal but they can appear to be extremely intrusive. Yanking it out of your system can be a chore and configuring what it monitors can be just as hard as well. You can toggle this feature and a few others through the Privacy section. It’s pretty straightforward here.

Privacy Configuration
Privacy Configuration

Finally, GNOME Shell enables you to search through certain app providers that expose data to find the files and programs you want faster. This is similar to what’s existed in Unity Dash for some time. These providers appear to register themselves like the apps do for notifications and you can toggle the ability to search these providers though the Search section. What you’ll do here is simply toggle on or off on a listed app and that will instruct GNOME that it either can or can’t search though it when looking for something in desktop searches. I’ve never really found these searches to be all that accurate especially if you’ve got files with names that have some type of schema that involves sequential numbering at the end of the file name.

Search Configuration
Search Configuration

My Callouts

Fedora 19 comes with a lot of additional software other than what I’ve listed here. We’re getting LibreOffice 4.0 which has some really nice improvements such as integration with CMS and cloud storage using the CMIS standard. Evolution and Firefox are still your default email and browser clients respectively. The virtualization client Boxes has received some much needed improvements with regard to display performance and I want to cover that but I think I’ll reserve that for a whole other post or video on its own. I threw Boxes under the bus when I first encountered it for a number of reasons. I also wonder why GNOME Tweak Tool isn’t installed out of the box. There’s almost no reason why it shouldn’t be installed by default at this point.

EDIT: The other thing I wanted to point out as well was the growing disparity in the colours used in app themes. If you noticed above, Weather uses the Adwaita Dark theme by default while most every other app uses the Adwaita Light theme. Shotwell and Totem are bad about this too. And there’s no way to enforce the Light theme on them either (or at least not that I’m aware of). My point here is that if I want to use the Adwaita Light theme, I want ALL of my apps to adhere to that theme and not just the ones that feel like it.

The next section will take a look at some of the tool updates that happened under the hood. These will be geared more toward terminal tools that administrators or developers will find useful.

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