Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fedora 8 Test 2 Nano Review

Booted up F8T2 Live CD tonight just to give it a spin. The test box, as usual, was europa. First, the good impressions.

If you haven't tried Fedora in a while, you owe it to yourself to at least fire up the Live CD and give it a whirl. The look and feel of the entire graphic desktop has been advanced and polished quite a bit from earlier versions, including Fedora 7. The overall color theme is still blue, but the controls and window border use Nodoka, a theme I've never heard of before. Everything has a clean, muted pastel look about it. Somebody finally got the good idea to make the window controls (minimize, maximize, and close) cover the entire bar. It Just Looks Right. The mix of tans, off-whites and whites are done very well. The complete effect is one of restrained quality. F8's look and feel contrasts severely with Vista's Aero (and for that matter Windows XP), with F8's standing head-and-shoulders above anything from Microsoft. The only desktop that compares with equal high quality is Apple's. But then again, that's just my opinion.

I would even go so far as to say that F8's look is quite superior to Ubuntu's, either 7.04 or the upcoming 7.10 version. Ubuntu's stock look-and-feel is beginning to look quite dated, and the brown-based theme has not aged well either.

The Frustrating

Right off the top, it's Nautilus. Once again the developers have hidden the left-side tree view so that I can't find it (let alone enable it), and the spatial view is enabled by default. Click on an icon in Nautilus to drill down a level and you get another window. I hate spatial and I have always hated it, going all the way back to OS/2. There are only a few applications that I literally live in, and the file browser is one of them. The others are an editor (usually emacs) and a shell (usually bash). That means I've gotten real picky over time about their operation, and I expect them to behave in a certain way from distribution to distribution, version to version. If you change the way one of my tools works then please make it easy for me to go back to the Old Way. Think Word 2007 and ribbons.

If I were to install Fedora 8 knowing what I now know about Nautilus then the first thing I'd want to do is search Google for how to give me back the features I expect Nautilus to provide. I'll spare you all that and show you how to switch off the New Way. Fortunately it's dead simple.


All you have to do is go into Preferences (Edit | Preferences) and select Preference's Behavior tab. Click the single radio box labeled "Always open in browser windows", exit out of the current Nautilus view, then every other view that's opened after that gives you the tree-based browser view.


And voila, I have what I wanted in the first place. I would offer the suggestion that this critical control be more prominently displayed. Either put it as a button on the main window, or consider putting it on Preference's View tab in the Default View section, because it is as much a View as it is a Behavior. Note that "Always open in browser windows" is checked by default in Ubuntu.


The Interesting

Contemporary Gnome-based desktops now come with an Add/Remove Applications selection at the bottom of the Applications menu. If you're familiar and comfortable with Ubuntu's, then Fedora's is quite a bit different.

The first view is the Browse view. Of all the views (or tabs) it is the least useful. You have no idea what is available in that category, no idea what will happen if you check/uncheck the check box. It would be great if this tab borrowed from Apple's Finder, where you would click an item in what is now the right-most panel, and in the process open up another list in that category in a newer panel to the right, moving further along until you find what you want to install or uninstall.


The middle tab lets you search for packages to install. Again, I think it actually belongs as the rightmost tab, switched with List (more about List below). The search was very fast on this machine. When I went looking for the Flash plugin, it took me immediately to the single Adobe entry. That's both good and bad. By changing the search just to Flash I was able to find the Gnash alternative to Flash. Perhaps Search could be made a little more "intelligent" so that searching for 'flash plugin' would return all plugins that could give me flash functionality. Just a thought.


And then there's the list view. This one is actually the best of the three because you can quickly sift out all installed packages. This comes in handy when you want to nuke something you really don't want on your system, like Beagle. Speaking of Beagle reminds me of Suse and YaST. Fedora's and Ubuntu's package management tool makes openSuse's YaST equivalent tools look very, very bad. Both Fedora and Ubuntu are blazing fast for starters. And I love speed.


For comparison I've included a screen shot of Ubuntu 7.10 Alpha 5's Add/Remove Applications tool (see above). Ubuntu's version is a work of art compared to Fedora's. Which, frankly, it is. In my not-so-humble opinion it's hard to improve on what Ubuntu has done. Everything is right there in front of you, and rather than a bunch of tabs you have a drop down to provide a finer grained filtering function when looking for available applications, a search box at the top that works with the overall view, and good descriptions of the packages at all times.

Of course, with Ubuntu, you get the imperious lecture (free of charge!) from Sainted Richard Stallman about how some applications, such as Flash, are Bad and Should Be Avoided At All Costs. Use The Free, Luke!

Very Limited Conclusion

If you're a died-in-the-wool Fedora user then by all means move to F8 when it's finally released. If you're on some other distribution and contemplating a move off that distribution then you'll need to dig deep to see if Fedora 8 provides a good match of features and capabilities you've come to depend on in your current distribution.

Although this is just a test release, if Fedora sticks with the current design of their "Add/Remove Applications" application, then it's going to mar what promises to be an otherwise very good to excellent release. Or perhaps some kind soul will simply port Ubuntu's version to Fedora 8. That would be sweet.

Oh. And make "Aways open in browser windows" the default behavior for Nautilus. Please.