Fedora and GNOME: Where Are They Now?

tl;dr: I'll stick with Kubuntu/KDE and Arch/Awesome, thanks.

So, I decided to give Fedora and GNOME another try. It didn't exactly go well. My first attempt, with the Fedora 18 GNOME Live image (the one the Fedora site makes it REALLY easy to download, and so is presumably the recommended one) ended in failure and WTF. Basically, Rhythmbox flat out refused to recognize ANY of my music, not even the stuff that's in Ogg/Vorbis or FLAC format, giving me some BS error about not being able to find the type of the stream. Lovely.

Before I proceed, I will say that the new installer that so many people hate so much is really not that bad. However, I will also say that it takes too many clicks to tell it to completely blow away everything on a drive and install there, and some of the language it uses can induce undue anxiety. All told, though, it's fine. Stop whining about it.

My second attempt used the DVD image. This time, Rhythmbox recognized my free-format music. It whined about my MP3s, but that's to be expected. Stupid patents. Getting that to work was more of a chore than in Ubuntu, but all in all, it wasn't too bad. HOWEVER, whoever designed the software manager's "I want to install a new GPG key" dialog is clearly an idiot, since it doesn't include the key's fingerprint. That's a rather important piece of information for answering that question. Speaking of GPG keys, the very first round of updates after installing the system triggered one of these dialogs. I had made ZERO changes. I just booted the installation for the very first time, opened the software manager, and told it to check for updates. And it asked me if I wanted to trust some GPG key. WTF? Also, at one point, the software manager glitched out and made the "do what I just described" button disappear. It eventually re-appeared, but then I accidentally de-selected some software I wanted and was unable to re-select it no matter how many times I clicked on the checkbox. I ended up just using yum on the command line to install the software I wanted.

While I was copying my music into my new install, some piece of Tracker died. Fedora helpfully attempted to help me report the failure. Remembering my failure-reporting misadventure from Fedora 17, I opted to just let the Fedora developers have the raw core dump instead of producing a backtrace locally. Unfortunately, I did not meet with any more success in this outing. The error reporting tool chewed on something for a very long time (in its defense, my music was still copying, and the CPU on that machine is not exactly fast) and eventually spat out a baffling error message about Bugzilla configuration being bad. Now, Bugzilla is a web application that runs on a server. When I hear "Bugzilla configuration", I think "configuration of an instance of Bugzilla running on a server somewhere". Presumably, in this case, it means "configuration of some software running locally that talks to an instance of Bugzilla", but at this point, I was no longer interested in reporting the error. My patience is limited. As much as I hate Windows, at least error reporting is easy: just click the button and it goes.

One thing I will say in Fedora's defense, though, is that I did not see one single solitary SELinux AVC denial. In my previous adventures with Fedora, I have seen SELinux AVC denials after booting a fresh installation for the first time. Clearly, improvements have been made.

GNOME 3 seemed a bit less asinine this time around, although I can't quite put my finger on why. One thing that definitely DID annoy me, though, was that the Gmail account I added via gnome-online-accounts (a rather nice idea, by the way) is COMPLETELY immutable. That means I can't tell Evolution to keep local copies of all my Gmail emails. Not only does this deprive me of an easy way to make a backup of such emails, but it also makes interacting with my Gmail account via Evolution quite slow, since it has to download each email when I open it, and apparently Google's IMAP server (or whatever gnome-online-accounts uses for Gmail) is not terribly fast. Also, if an application doesn't throw up a window sufficiently quickly after being launched, GNOME Shell apparently decides that it failed to start and puts you back in the Activities view, which means an extra click or keystroke once the program starts. I'm also a bit disappointed by GNOME Boxes. The way it's described, I thought it would let me manage and interact with virtual machines running on remote hosts (like virt-manager), but no. It just lets me manage and interact with virtual machines running on localhost and connect to remote hosts via RDP or VNC. It's slick, but it doesn't do what I thought it said on the tin.

More worrying is something that doesn't affect me directly: this. I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to call Bastien Nocera out specifically. Dude, you are complaining about people "slinging insults" after putting out something so condescending as this? Cripes. Why can't the GNOME developers simply accept that some people don't want their laptops to go to sleep when the lid is closed? The baked-in "sleep on lid close" behavior happends to be exactly what I want, so this doesn't affect me directly, but I can't help but be concerned when the developers do things like this in response to fairly widespread user complaints. "I know you don't like the choices we made for you, so here's some janky app you can run every time you need to work around them." This is pretty much the same attitude that greeted the outcry over the removal of screensaver configuration in GNOME 2. People complained that they couldn't do things like change the text displayed in a simple "make some text move around the screen" screensaver, and a developer replied that nobody ever needs to configure a screensaver, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. He didn't even make a janky app, though; he just closed the bug and ignored the users.

Thus, GNOME 3 continues with GNOME's bad habits: removing options and ignoring user outcry. I'm sure it's wonderful to use if your method of interacting with the computer happens to match up with the way the GNOME developers think you should, but for the rest of us, it's an annoying experience that's tantalizingly close to being great. Oh, and having a sufficiently powerful machine helps, too: my puny netbook has a bit of trouble with things like switching between desktops and opening the Activities view (the only way to launch an application). Fedora's biggest problem is QA. The charge that Fedora is a perpetually-broken testing ground for the next release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux is not entirely unfounded. I don't quite agree with Alan Cox, but I definitely see where he's coming from.

The real tragedy in all this is that I WANT to like Fedora and GNOME. GNOME (even GNOME 3) has some rather good ideas (e.g. gnome-online-accounts and color calibration), and it's pretty clear that the people working on it have put a lot of effort into making it simple to use. Also, GNOME and Fedora seem to be where many of the visionaries of the Linux world do their work. I can't help but wonder if they actually use it, though. Fedora just has so many obnoxious little problems that nibble at your shins like a pack of rabid chipmunks, and I find it difficult to imagine using it as my primary OS, and I can't imagine that all these people all just happen to work with their computers in the GNOME-approved way. Since I'm an idiot, I'm going to give Fedora a shot on some servers I have lying around (I've been told that OpenStack can be set up quite easily on Fedora 18); maybe that will go more smoothly. If not, I have an installer image of Ubuntu Server 12.10 ready to go.