This article is kind of a follow-up to my first Fedora Core 2 review, published on OSNews in May. Most of the reviews are published shortly after the release of a distribution, and there’s always someone who complains that one cannot really “review” a distribution after only a few days of actually working with it.
So, back in May, I decided to write a follow-up sometime in the end of the summer. I have worked with Fedora Core 2 now for almost four months, I have installed it several times on various machines. While I am not a hacker myself and certainly do not claim to know FC2 super-in-depth, I feel that I just might have gained enough knowledge about this distro to write another small article about it. Also, this article includes my personal wishlist for Fedora Core 3, mostly from a “desktop-user”-perspective.
I won’t bother you with installation issues today, that stuff got covered in my first review. Certainly, most of you know that installing a linux-distribution nowadays is pretty straight-forward, most of the important hardware gets detected properly. Yes, there are of course hardware incompatibilities and missing drivers sometimes, but RedHat/Fedora’s Kudzu does a decent job at detecting and configuring hardware, I’d say: not better and not worse than its competitors.
Before I start, let me explain how I am planning this article: I will list all the problems I found and write my workarounds. These problems range from “severe, highly annoying” to “minor flaw”. I’ll just report all that I saw and that I caused irritation to me.
Before I start complaining, I want to say some positive things: I have used Fedora Core 2 as my production system since it was released and I am very happy with it. I use Mozilla, Openoffice.org, Nautilus, File-Roller, Gnome-Terminal, gFTP, gedit, Bluefish, the Gimp, gThumb, XMMS, Rhythmbox, Easytag, and Gaim every day. Besides having 0 kernel crashes during this time, I can’t remember that i saw any of these applications (with the exception of Rhythmbox and Gaim) crash. That’s pretty impressive! Linux-distributions have reached a high level of maturity in 2004. If I had to set up a computer for my grandmother today, I would certainly not choose Microsoft Windows, but a Linux flavor. They’re more secure, robust and, if configured correctly, do exactly what they are intended to, not more, not less.
But now, let’s start with the stuff that I found unsatisfying in Fedora Core 2:
Problem 1 (very annoying): the Gnome PDF-Viewer is horribly broken in FC2 (see bug). It does not display .pdf-files that were created with Openoffice.org correctly. I have reported this problem in my first article. This needs to be fixed for FC3: Gnome PDF Viewer is Fedora’s standard program for viewing .pdf-files and it “just doesn’t work”. An easy workaround to this is to open these files with ggv. Alternatively, you can install acroread from dags rpm-repository. I prefer ggv, because Acrobat Reader for Linux is still a 5.x version, looks and feels pretty outdated, and doesn’t integrate with the desktop well (plus, it’s a proprietary application). ggv hasn’t let me down once this summer, and I regularly have to deal with large, complicated .pdf-files.
Problem 2 (annoying): no sound-mixing in FC2 (couldn’t find a bug, but I posted this myself on the Fedora-devel-list here). This means, just to name one example, when, let’s say, XMMS is running, you can’t hear any gaim-system-sounds. Sometimes, gaim even crashed on me because of this. There is a workaround, posted in my devel-list-entry, taken originally from fedoranews.org. I got some responses saying that sound-mixing is a complicated issue and that some apps (for example xine) do have problems with sound-mixing. Still, I think that proper sound-mixing should be an absolut priority for Fedora Core 3. I also think that only the core/extra applications have to work. If there’s a problem with xine, well, I don’t see xine included in Fedora Core 2 anyway, so where’s the problem? Flame ahead, I also use xine every day and I would be pissed if it didn’t work, but I think we can’t hold back basic improvements forever just because some applications are not ready. As a final sentence: the problems with xine seem to be solved anyway, so this one should no longer be a blocker to nice sound-mixing in Fedora Core.
Problem 3 (minor): Mozilla localization does not work (see bug). I also included this in my first article, even though I set “german” as my language, Mozilla was english and I had to download the language pack myself. Had to do this for every new version of Mozilla in Windows, so I am quite used to it. Also, what to do with Mozilla for the next version of Fedora Core? There’s been some discussion, which browser to ship as default, the options are Mozilla (the suite), Firefox and Epiphany. Epiphany would make sense for consistency reasons. It is the Gnome-browser after all, and it is also based on Gecko. Firefox is the logical successor to Mozilla, but still not even a “1.0”. We’ll probably see all three in FC3 (which is not bad). If Mozilla (the suite) stays the default browser, please put the cool “bluecurve-theme” on it. I guess that would be an easy costumization that would do a lot for a consistent look of Fedora Core 3. Also, “bluecurving” Firefox, if it is included, would be great.
Problem 4 (minor flaw): Mozilla Mail, my default mail application, has a false menu entry. If you set it as the default mail application and click “E-Mail” afterwards, it starts without the “-mail”-option. So not the mail component, but the browser opens up (reported here). Workaround: uh, just use the “Mozilla Mail”-entry. 🙂
Problem 5 (average): Rhythmbox. I had constant issues with Rhythmbox this summer. It did not seem to work any better than the 0.6 series, that was included in FC1. Sometimes, it just didn’t start, and I had to start it again. I guess it segfaulted somehow, but I don’t know why, because it always started without any problems when I started it via the gnome-terminal. The updated 0.8.5 version seems to be stable now, I am still not quite sure, but I couldn’t get it to crash now that I write this article. Another major issue is also solved now: I finally can jump to every point in a song. This was a constant gripe I had with Rhythmbox in Fedora Core 1 and 2: when I jumped to another point in the song that was currently played, playback stopped most of the time alltogether. Now if I could just get my “Quality”-column back, I’d be a really happy camper…
Problem 6 (very annoying): the infamous “dual-boot bug”. There have been a lot of discussions about this one, just check the bugzilla-entry, it boils down to a flamewar. Just to make sure, I will mention again that this is not a Fedora-bug, it is a problem related to the kernel and (primarily) to Windows using ancient methods to check where its partition sits. The two sides to this story are quickly told: “It’s a Windows bug, we don’t have to fix anything, they should get their act together” vs. “Even though this is not our fault, we have to do something about it, because Microsoft won’t and our users get pissed at us.” I do understand both camps here. Still, it’s a major usability problem for a lot of people. Dual-booting Windows and Linux is not that uncommon. I do it myself (and got lucky because Windows still boots on my laptop). Why do I dual-boot? Well, because I need a Windows-test-system when I am “on the road”. I rarely boot it, still I could not do without it sometimes. I really feel that someone should do something about this bug, because RedHat labels Fedora as an operating system for the geeks, for the community (vs. their RedHat Server/Desktop products). While it is pretty unlikely that a coporation that just bought 500 RedHat Desktop systems will want to dual-boot those with Windows, it is, as I said, a problem for many Fedora-users.
Problem 7 (semi-annoying): File-roller does not work. No, Nautilus does not work, when I select a few files, right-click and choose “Create Archive”. Nothing happens. I didn’t find this bug on bugzilla, I guess I’ll file it later. Workaround is easy: just open File-Roller to create an archive instead of using the broken Nautilus-function.
What’s left? Hmmm, maybe the missing multimedia-stuff? Well, I guess, if I was in RedHat’s position, I would also exclude that stuff. As long as it is easy to install the missing decoders, I don’t really mind. If I install Windows nowadays, I have to install a giant heap of software, including decoders, to get a working system, so I guess it is also O.K. for a linux distribution.
One more thing about files and folders, but this is more a design tip for the upcoming Gnome2.8-release: make /home/user/Desktop the default location for saving files and new folders. If Gnome goes the spatial file-organisation way, it should try to do it as consistent as possible: the more you “see” your files, the more you can drag and drop the files around, the better it gets! Plus, it solves the old “I just downloaded the file you told me, where can I find it now?”-problem that I have on like, every support call I have to do. Another possibility would be to set “Desktop = homedir” (possible via GConf-Editor), but that would be a pretty major change. Why do it anyway? Because it strengthens the spatial concept enormously. I firmly believe that Gnome has to go that road as far as possible. While there are different opinions on spatial/navigational file management, at least one thing is sure: if you do the spatial thing, you have to do it as consistent as possible.
So, that was it. The list of problems gets smaller every 6 months 🙂 Overall, I am really very content with Fedora Core 2. I will use it a few more weeks, then try Debian Sarge as soon as it goes stable, and, if all goes well, return to Fedora in October with Release 3.
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