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Fedora 20 experiences

October 6, 2014

Since I now work for RedHat, I think I should try to use Fedora for my desktop. This is a somewhat disorganized log of these efforts. I’ve now been using it for three months.

Installation

Installation is pretty, but somewhat confusing. Setting up the partitions was confusing, but I figured it out in the end, and also found the button the “prefill” the custom partitioning with the Fedora defaults, which are pretty reasonable (but don’t allow hibernation).

Something I did miss was Ubuntu’s keyboard layout detector, which is pretty nifty.

Gnome 3

Fedora 20 by default uses Gnome 3 and Gnome Shell. This has one huge advantage compared with Ubuntu’s Unity, it doesn’t use Compiz, which has crappy drivers on older hardware. Compiz is the reason I stayed on Ubuntu 12.04 up to now, because it includes Unity 2D, a Unity implementation that doesn’t use Compiz.

Both Gnome and Unity have a search box that shows up when you press the Windows key, although Ubuntu’s is more advanced, and you can in Ubuntu search specifically for available but not installed installed applications, documents, music or video.

In Gnome Shell the search box is not a separate thing, but a part of the “activities overview”. The overview will also “zoom out” and show all open windows. This is practical, but I suspect that Gnome Shell might not be very fun to use on older computers partly because of this.

Something that is annoying for power users like me, and surely completely confusing for everyone else, is that the settings for mouse and trackpad sensitivity requires you to restart Gnome with <alt>-<F2> ‘restart’. You could logout too, if there was a logout option anywhere, which there isn’t. It only shows up if you have more than one user on the system, unless you apply a workaround.

The workspace handling is nifty, with a dynamic number of workspaces depending on how many you actually use. It’s a bit hard to find the workspace handling though, you click “Activities” and move the mouse to the right edge of the screen. There’s probably some keyboard shortcuts as well, but I don’t use workspaces much.

Some of the issues I had with Gnome 3/Gnome Shell deserves to be discussed in more detail.

Notification area

Gnome Shell has a notification area at the bottom. This area is annoying, it pops up when you don’t want it, and does not pop up when you want it (although I think I’m starting to get the hang of making it show when I want, at least). Notifications are also generally showed a very short time, generally so you don’t have time to read them, and then for some reason it’s not saved on the hidden notification area.

The notifications that are shown on this area are actually application icons, like Skype, XChat, the software updater, etc. However, there is no indication that these notifications appear in this notification area, so you simply don’t see them, unless you open the notification bar by mistake! That makes this notification area quite useless, as it actually doesn’t show the notifications!

In addition to that, some of the notifications, like for example the music player, will show up bigger versions and gain keyboard focus if you happen to have a mouse pointed at the area where the notification pops up. Which, being near the bottom of the screen, is a somewhat common place to have the mouse.
As a result you can be happily coding away when your editor suddenly loses keyboard focus, and instead your keyboard actions will start doing things like stopping and starting music or switch songs. Wut!?

Pretty much all of this notification area is highly bizarre.

Sidebar

Gnome Shell has a dock-style icon menu called the “Dash”. I like docks, but I want them to be visible all the time. Modern wide screens have way to much left-right space anyway. Unfortunately there is no setting to always show the dock, because it’s actually a part of the “Activities overview”, and you have to move the mouse to the top-left corner and either click, or wait a bit to activate this. This slows down usage a lot. The solution for this is to install an extension called “Dash to Dock“. The Sidebar is then independent of the Activities Overview, and has a setting to show all the time.

System monitor

I find it extremely useful to be able to see what my computer is busy doing at a glance. For this I need a system monitor in the top bar. Luckily there is one for Gnome Shell, called System Monitor Applet. The published extension doesn’t currently work with Fedora 20, but the github master does. That Gnome Shell applets are so unstable that you have to install from git is probably just an indication of Gnome Shell being somewhat immature compared to Unity, I remember Gnome Shell being so buggy it was unusable when I tried it last, which must have been 2012. But this is a problem that will disappear with time.

Updating

The application for updating software is not great. It doesn’t display what is to be updated in a format that gives you a good overview, and it also seems impossible to find a changelog for the packages.

What is worse, it insists on rebooting and updating during the reboot. This is amazingly annoying, as most updates can be done without rebooting. This of course assuming that you get told there are updates at all, which you usually don’t, so you have to actually remember to check manually.

I’ve ended up using yum to do the actual updates. However, yum seems to never tell me to reboot, so that makes no sense either.

Ubuntu’s update manager will update, and then ask to reboot the computer if needed (which generally is only if the kernel has been updated). If Firefox has been updated it will tell you to restart the browser. This is soo much better than how Fedora does it.

Tweaking the UI

Two apps are absolutely essential to make Gnome 3 usable. gnome-tweak-tool and dconf-editor. Tweak Tool can be used to change a lot of things, and the first thing you want to do is to go into the Fonts section and set a scaling factor. This is because Gnome 3 defaults to assuming your screen has 96 pixels per inch. That was possibly a useful default in the 90’s, but today your typical laptop screen will have closer to 160 pixels per inch, making all text infinitesimal. The worst with this is that desktop monitors will have much less DPI. My monitor and my laptop have the same resolution, but differ greatly in size. That means that you have to choose between to small text on the laptop or too large text on the screen.

Unfortunately browsers will ignore this setting, so you need to fix the settings separately for browsers. Why this is I do not know. It feels to me like these issues were fixed years ago, I don’t know why they show up again. For Firefox the solution is an add-on called “NoSquint“. I haven’t looked for a solution for Chromium yet.

Windows now for some strange reason have no minimize button.The lack of maximize buttons is a lesser problem, as you can easily maximize a window by double-clicking the title bar. But for minimizing, you need a minimize button. Fair enough, once you have installed “Dash to Dock” the need to minimize anything is, well, minimized, but I still like getting Windows out of the way. Luckily you can add both minimize and maximize buttons with the Tweak Tool.

I also needed to go into dconf-editor to turn off the screenshot function, which creates a screenshot every time you press the PrtSc button. Because it is on my laptop located just by the AltGr button, so I press it all the time by mistake and that got annoying very quickly.

Python

I always compile my own Python for development. This is because I don’t want them all in the path, I want to control which Python I run, and I want to let the OS do whatever it wants to do with the OS provided Python. Ubuntu has a neat package called “build-essentials”, which installs the things you absolutely need to have for development. Fedora does not have this, so you need to know what packages these are. So instead run:

sudo yum install make automake gcc gcc-c++ kernel-devel

Then Python also needs a lot of libraries and headers:

sudo yum install zlib-devel readline-devel ncurses-devel openssl-devel \
   gdbm-devel libsqlite3x-devel bzip2-devel tk-devel

Weirdly enough even though I installed lzma-devel, Python did not seem to find this and complained that it couldn’t compile _lzma. I found no solution to this. Python also did not want to compile the Berkeley DB modules, and this seems to be because Fedora 20 does not have Berkeley DB 5.3, but only Berkeley DB 4. None of these are problems for me, so I didn’t look very long for solutions, but yet this is curious to me that these things doesn’t work.

I also get loads and loads of warnings when compiling that I haven’t noticed on Ubuntu. I will have to double check this, perhaps it’s because it’s a 64-bit compile.

Other software

Banshee, xchat and KeePassX are all in the standard Fedora repositories. Chromium and OpenNX requires adding custom repositories, something which is commendably easy. I don’t remember how I installed Flash, and I could not find a version of Google Earth that worked. Flash fullscreen didn’t work, which seems to be a Gnome 3 issue, but there is a workaround.

Bitorrent Sync doesn’t have a distribution for the GUI package, which means you have to install the standard version which only has a web UI.

I have used Banshee as a music player for years now, but on Fedora 20 it crashes when trying to import the music library. I the used Rhytmbox for a while, but then it started crashing after each song. Now I use Quod Libet, which so far is very good.

Other issues

I have 4 virtual CPU’s. They are always doing stuff. Mostly waiting for IO (I have an SSD, it’s fast, what are these processes doing?). The worst offender is usually polkitd, which gets better if you restart it. Using Google Hangout will eat up all the processing power I have. I have no idea why.

When I log in to Fedora it asks me for my Google password. My gmail password is umptydumpteen random characters, and I don’t want to type it in, I want to copy it in from my password manager, which I can’t access, because the password prompt blocks out the whole desktop. Annoying. When I then finally decided that I would actually copy out my long Google password, it turns out it STILL doesn’t work. Possibly because of two-phase login. I have no idea how to make Fedora stop asking me for the password.

And the labels that show up over icons and applets often gets stuck and never disappear. Yeah, I know it’s not a big thing, but it’s annoying!

When I add the Sound settings to the Launcher in Ubuntu, clicking it will launch the sound settings. Doing that in Fedora would launch the System Settings Panel overview. This is really annoying, because I often want to change my sound settings, selecting which microphone and speakers to use for my online meetings, as they are different from what I listen to music on.

I wish I could get IBM SAA CUA Scrollbars. They were the shit. You page up and down by clicking on them for example. I want that back.

Conclusion

SO ANNOYING!

It required too much tweaking and a lot of search engine use to get it to work in a reasonable way. You have to tweak quite a bit to get Gnome Shell acceptable, but it’s possible to do it. But even after that, the notification handling is beyond stupid, and really, really annoying. And you have to remember to check for software updates regularly. It’s also clear that Fedora has less support for third–party apps, at least desktop apps.

I miss Ubuntu.

Related: Ubuntu 14.04

From → fedora, linux, ubuntu

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