The Fedora project is about to release a new version of the Fedora operating system – version 8 (its not called Fedora Core anymore, not since version 7, for all those who were living under a rock for the last year. Yes, I mean you Bryan and Chris). I’ve been running the last test release – test 3 – for about two weeks now, and I wanted to mention a few of the things I’ve noticed about Fedora 8. Which is mostly rants about stuff that doesn’t work as advertised, but aside from that Fedora 8 is a very solid release.
There’s nothing hugely important to note about Fedora – it doesn’t include a huge change as was the merging of core and extras for Fedora 7, but in all fairness – except for the abandoning of the core vs. extras software distribution scheme, Fedora 7 wasn’t such a big release either: Fedora releases may bring a lot of interesting stuff under the hood, like the introduction of the Revisor respining(1) GUI for Fedora 7, or the new PulseAudio sound architecture integration in Fedora 8 – but not a lot of user visible stuff.
Notable features in Fedora 8 includes:
- PulseAudio which shapes up to be the next generation sound middleware (the glue between applications and the hardware API provided by the kernel sound architecture), and together with ALSA and the Fedora configuration tools it provides a very solid sound framework which is easy to setup and use. Unfortunately, one of the main user-visible items for PulseAudio – the PulseAudio stream manager which lets you modify the volume for each sound stream separately (like MS-Windows Vista does), is hidden as an application under “Applications”->”Sound & Video”->”PulseAudio” – ensuring that there’s absolutely no chance that a user would discover this killer feature. I really wish they could integrate it better into the desktop (maybe a button in the GNOME volume control dialog? I need to open a bugzilla ticket on this).
- Better Compiz 3D compositing manager. Or actually – a later version of Compiz – but no change at all to the “Desktop Effects” configuration dialog, no Compiz Fusion(2), and the Compiz Configuration Setting Manager (CCSM – the power behind the cooler bling) is not available at all so even if I did get Compiz Fusion to work I’d have to configure it by hand – i.e. editing gconf settings :-(. So currently all I can do is what I’ve got with Fedora 7 – cube and wobbly windows. At the same time Canonical has released Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon last month with Compiz Fusion and effects enabled by default. The Gutsy Gibbon desktop effects configuration has been reviewed all over (and here as well) but even at its base its much better then what Fedora offers and Ubuntu also package CCSM.
- Gnome 2.20. The major feature in each release of Fedora has always been a newer version of GNOME. Fedora release schedule is closely tied with that of GNOME and Fedora has always released a few weeks after a GNOME release. The problem with that is, of course, that GNOME is very evolutionary software project, i.e. – it develops very slowly in terms of features and improvements (in contrast with the rather revolutionary KDE, which takes a lot of time between important releases but brings a lot of boom in each). Having a new release every 6 months like clock work, GNOME has seen little change since the previous version that was released with Fedora 7, or indeed little change since the version that was released with Fedora 5 which was the first Fedora version where GNOME was actually good enough to serve as my primary desktop environment. Yes – GNOME has seen a lot of bug fixes and things that have driven me nuts in the past are now only minor annoyances ( 😉 ), but there were very little new work done. I think the most exciting feature available with GNOME 2.20 on Fedora 8 is the ability to leave notes to the user if her screensaver is locked (that page details a few more of the features available in GNOME 2.20, another important feature listed there – the better keyring management UI – is not bundled for Fedora 8).
- Automatic codec detection: another feature in the new GNOME 2.20 is that Totem, the GNOME video player, identifies when you are trying to play a multimedia file for which you need a codec not currently installed and offers to search for a codec. This feature works great in Ubuntu (from which it originated), but in Fedora it is simply a nuisance: yes, the codec dialog pops up when there codecs are needed, but Fedora comes with nothing – not even the open source XVid codec – and can’t offer anything to install. Every time you try to play the simplest things – even a simple MP3 file – the codec dialog pops up, notifies you that there’s nothing it can do, and tell you to go look at a web site (and tries to open the Fluendo codec shop and currently fails. I hope they’ll fix it for the release, but still its no solution). Eventually I gave up and installed the livna development repository and all the plugins from there (manually – the codec buddy doesn’t integrate with the software repositories like it does in Ubuntu)
- New artwork. Yey! :-/
Anyway, I’ve gone and bitten the bullet and did what I told a few of my friends who installed a Linux operating system recently not to do – I installed the 64bit version. Except for what I already ranted about above, my experience was very positive. 64bit applications work just fine (maybe a tad faster – I can’t say I feel a difference) except Firefox which gets stuck more and use up way more memory – I’ve closed it today (after starting it only this morning) when it reached a usage of 1.5GB virtual memory. I’m loath to blame the Adobe Flash plugin which I installed using the Adobe YUM repository(3) as it runs under the npviewer 32bit/64bit plugin compatibility wrapper – so Flash is running out of process from Firefox. Regarding Flash I have to say that it works better then I expected, which basically means that I’m surprised it works at all. I do have some kind of problem with it – often it starts playing a Flash clip and then gets stuck for a few seconds before crashing and leaving a gray rectangle where it was – but at least it doesn’t take the browser down. On the other hand – if Firefox gets stuck and I don’t have the patience to wait for it to continue, then when I kill Firefox (click the close button and then use the “Force Quit” dialog) all the flash clips spring out from the Firefox window and become “always on top” windows “on all workspaces” and the only way to remove them is to kill npviewer manually – which is an exercise in frustration when you’re trying to use gnome-system-manager or the gnome-terminal without seeing what you are doing – this is an experience similar to what Konqueror users where experiencing a few years back with Flash, but this set back is understandable as long as Adobe aren’t releasing a 64bit version of their Flash player(4).
And I almost forgot to rant about the new theme for Fedora 8 – Nodoka or something (I forgot because it was the first thing I kicked out of my system). Except for being ugly – see screenshot below (what where they thinking when they chose this horrible color scheme ?!?), it looks like a refugee from the beginning of the 80s. WindowMaker had better themes then that! Where are the gentle gradients a subtle highlights that the old Clearlooks theme had? All I see are clashing metalic bars. And the window buttons? Is this how they want to position Fedora as a competitor in the Desktop OS market? And I’m not talking about other Linux OS – I’m talking about MS-Windows Vista.
There were a few other issues which I can’t recall specifics of at the moment – except missing or badly implemented GNOME 2.20 features, but I’m sure most of them will be fixed for the release. My main problem right now is that I can’t print to the office’s HP network printer – Printing was easy as pie with Fedora 7, but with Fedora 8 I can’t get the printer to accept my printing jobs: for each job I submit it processes it for a bit and then I get an error in the job and no error message that I could find.
To sum it all up, I think Fedora 8 will be at least as good operating system as Fedora 7 was and I highly recommend everyone who is using Fedora currently to upgrade if only to get the new kernel and a new GNOME with less bugs – just don’t expect new and exciting features. But – if you are in the market for a new operating system and don’t need “enterprise” features such as central authentication and single-sign-on, give the latest Ubuntu 7.10 a test drive – you won’t regret it.
- Respining is the act of taking a bunch of software in a repository for an operating system, customizing that and building an ISO installer or live CD image. Its nothing new, and Mandriva had mkcd command line tool which does the same for ages, but the introduction of an easy GUI tool is something of a breakthrough as now almost everyone can spin their own custom Fedora installer/live-cd. [↩]
- A Compiz Fusion package is available in the repository, but not installed by default and I think that its broken as I couldn’t get it to replace the original Compiz. [↩]
- Now that is cool – that Adobe are providing a YUM repository so that the operating system can keep Adobe Flash up to date [↩]
- Adobe will eventually have to do it. 64bit operating systems are not yet a large share of the installations – especially as 64bit versions MS-Windows are nearly useless for general desktop usage – but I suspect this situation will change rapidly [↩]