Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 experiences
Here are some random notes on RHEL 7.1. Mostly complaints. I think also all complaints from my Fedora 20 post remains. As usual this is posted after I actually stopped using the distro I’m talking about.
In the “Installation summary” page you must first go to the lower right to turn on the network and then go to upper left for setting date and time, or “network time” (ie sync to a time server) will not be on. I don’t know if that settings is preserved after the installation too, but I don’t want to find out.
The box where you type in your desired hostname is really in a discreet location, it’s easy to miss, and then your system is called “locahost.localdomain”. Annoying.
The partitioning screen is highly confusing. Make sure you have backups, because you are likely to not know what you are actually doing, and even if you aren’t likely to erase a hard disk by mistake, you’ll be scared to death to press the install button.
You have to set a root password, as most GUI tools does not sudo, but runs as root. And if you set it to something different that your own password you will get confused and type the wrong one.
After install make sure you don’t have beta or htb the repos selected. It was selected by default for me, possibly because I use employee subscriptions. If you have that selected and run yum update it will upgrade you to 7.1 Beta.
I ran Fedora 20 on my laptop for over 6 months, and was not happy with Gnome Shell. As a result, I installed several shells on RHEL7, to try them out. I had many recommendations for Cinnamon, so even though it is was to archaic and windows-like for me, I figured maybe I could tweak it or install extras that would give me a more modern behavior with a dash/dock/launcher. Essentially I like Unity, but the effort to run Unity on Red Hat Linuxes seems to have died.
However, Cinnamon was consistently unstable. Often the screen would not turn on when I lifted the lid to unsuspend the computer. If it had turned off the screen to save power, sometimes the screen was just garbled pixels when it came back. The login screen started behaving weirdly. I don’t know why these things happened, the login screen is shown before Cinnamon is even started, but it only happened when I uses Cinnamon as the shell session.
I also tried Xfce, but it didn’t seem to do anything I wanted at all, and I couldn’t find any information on how to make it more modern.
I the decided to make another try with configuring Gnome Shell more to my liking, and after discussions with very helpful people at the #gnome-shell IRC channel, I got to know that a complete reworking of the notifications in Gnome Shell is underway. They are getting rid of the idiotic Message Area (or whatever it’s called) and moving notifications back to where they should be: Visible. Some of the other annoyances I had was also recognized as being so, and in at least one case actually a regression bug.
Between the time of writing and the time of publishing this, the new designs are done, and available in Fedora 22. It will take a long time to get into future RHELs, but perhaps some kind soul can backport future Gnome releases. Red Hat Enterprise Linux is primarily a server OS, so that it’s desktop lags behind Fedora is not surprising. I just hope that Red Hat can incorporate a newer version of Gnome Shell quickly, so that RHEL can compete as a desktop as well.
Still, while waiting for that day to come, there are things you can do to lower the pain of Gnome Shell on RHEL as well. This is much thanks to the one area where Gnome Shell wins over Unity: It’s highly configurable, and there are many extensions.
Gnome Shell tweaks
For Gnome Shell extensions to work you must have rhel-7-workstation-optional-rpms repo enabled, and install gnome-shell-browser-plugin. I have quite a lot of extensions, but here I’ll only mention the absolutely necessary ones.
There are two System monitors, System Monitor, which works but is useless since it shows up in the message tray, so you can’t see it without opening the message tray, and system-monitor, which I used on Fedora 20 and is fantastic. But doesn’t work on RHEL7! Hey ho.
Dash to Dock is an extension that is a must-have. It’s listed as outdated on https://extensions.gnome.org/ but works fine. This may be since RHEL is running a rather old version of Gnome. There is also Simple Dock, but it silently fails with no errors, probably for the same reason.
TopIcons is another must-have. It moves status icons from the Message Tray, where you can’t see them, to the top-bar, where you can. Unfortunately it won’t move the System Monitor widget so it stays useless.
Dual screen pains
The laptop I’m using still has the same resolution as my external screen, despite being much smaller. There is no solution for this that I can find in RHEL either. Switching between a high DPI and a low DPI is very annoying as you will constantly find yourself having too large or too small texts. Using both screens in dual-screen mode is not an option.
I solved this by having both a stationary computer as my main work-machine in my office, and using the laptop at home and for traveling. That way I never switch screens and never switch screen resolution. This is a problem that needs fixing for all Linux variations, and it’s probably going to take a very long time to fix, as it means software needs to stop thinking in pixels.
You have to install the EPEL repos, of course, and the Nux! Desktop repo is absolutely essential. http://li.nux.ro/repos.html
With these two I could install xchat, KeePassX, Quod Libet, skype, and more. And of course things necessary for work, such as git, git-review, subversion, etc.
To get multimedia working (and install Quod Libet, the best music library/player I’ve found so far):
sudo yum install gstreamer gstreamer-plugins-base gstreamer-plugins-good gstreamer-plugins-bad-free gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-ugly gstreamer-ffmpeg quodlibet
RHEL was definitely tricky and quirky to use as a personal desktop for “power users” like me. But it’s main target is of course as a standardized enterprise install, where users can’t really install software at all, but everything including software selection is managed by the IT department. And in those cases even the problems of Gnome 3 isn’t a drawback, because these departments will typically install the more Windows 95-like Gnome Classic mode.
But for personal use Fedora is better, especially Fedora 22, which I’ve renecently switched to. More on that later.