Fedora 10

I recently installed Fedora 10. I had to because Fedora 8 stopped working for me: the Fedora 8 kernel stopped working with my network card and then a recent update broke something to do with permissions, so I could no longer use my soundcard or cdrom using a normal user account, I had to use the root superuser account. This was extremely annoying. Since Fedora 8 was end-of-life, I decided to upgrade to the latest shiny toy.

Fedora 10 supposedly has a lot of improvements, including flicker free boot (the boot process normally switches video modes a lot and blanks the screen a handful of times), faster performance, more up-to-date software, and lots of systematic improvements. Many of these improvements are true improvements but I have run into some issues.

Installation


Installing Fedora 10 was rather annoying. For some reason the installer kept crashing just before it finished putting the packages on the disk. I suspect the notebook was overheating, which I blame on insufficient power management software during the install. It could be related to the graphics driver used by the installer, but I couldn't verify this since you can't install a graphics driver for the installer and I couldn't figure out how to enable text mode. I was able to complete the install by selecting fewer packages and by propping the notebook up so that there was more airflow underneath it. Not a good first impression.

Hardware support


It seems that my hardware works better now with Fedora 10 than it did before. In Fedora 8 I had endless problems with the Wireless networking, but it seems to be working reliably now. It still crashes (just the wifi driver) but the system recovers fairly quickly and reconnects to the network. Better than Fedora 8, for which 90% of kernels wouldn't even CONNECT to my WAP.

The free nVidia driver that ships with Fedora works too, which is also better than F8's, which didn't work and caused the notebook to hang. But I use the binary driver anyway, so that's not a problem.

Software Installation


Fedora 10 comes with a new software management tool, PackageKit, which replaces whatever was there before. If only it worked! The KDE version, kpackagekit, is completely broken. I can't get it to do anything, it just hangs and (if running from a terminal) prints garbage on the screen. So I had to use the gnome version, which isn't fun in KDE because there's no icon, and you have to just know that the magic incantation isn't gpackagekit but rather gpk-application. Naturally! Anyway, the Gnome version works... sorta. When you are installing packages, you click a checkbox to say "I choose this to install", but if you search for more packages you can't tell what packages are queued for install. For example, let's say you search for "mp3" to find the mp3 codecs, and pick a package to install. Then you search for "media", to find a media player. If your codec package is in the media player list, it appears unchecked even though you have selected it already. There doesn't seem to be a way to see what you have selected to install. This isn't a big deal until you want to deselect something... I had hundreds of packages selected to install when it told me "oh, this package conflicts with another one you already have..." and there was nothing for me to do but start over.

One improvement in the software update area is the taskbar notification. Now you are notified about what updates are available and you can choose to install security updates or all updates. Only after choosing which updates to install are you prompted for the root password.

Synaptics Touchpad annoyances


I had a heck of a time dealing with the touchpad. For those of you who don't have a notebook, you can't understand what an irritating thing a touchpad is. It's like a trap waiting for the slightest touch of your finger to wreak havoc on your careful typing. In Windows the touchpad driver usually disables the touchpad while you type. Such functionality is available in Linux too, but for some reason doesn't seem to be enabled by default.

In days of yore I used ksynaptics to control the touchpad. It's a nice graphical tool which lets you customize the touchpad's behaviour, and it can also turn the touchpad off while you type. For one reason or another it doesn't work in Fedora 10 (even though it's part of the distribution, it's completely broken). I followed these instructions to enable ksynaptics but then was stymied by some version mismatch between ksynaptics and the synaptics driver. Doubly broken! Luckily, there was another web site which explained an alternate method of disabling the touchpad: run a program in the background. I had to set up this program twice, once for me and once for my wife's login session.... sigh. This should be default behaviour! It should be configurable! Tools which ship with the distro should work! But given KDE's second-class-citizen status in Fedora, I guess I'm not surprised.

KDE


Fedora 10 ships with KDE 4.1.3. This is the latest bleeding edge KDE release, with all the cool new stuff. Unfortunately, KDE 4 is in my opinion a major regression from KDE 3. There are lots of new things and I'm sure lots of imnprovements somewhere, but sweet ginger chicken are there ever a lot of problems.
First, the Desktop has been totally neutered. Ever since the days of Windows 95 normal humans have stored files on their desktop. All kinds of files, from icons for starting programs, to downloaded files, arranged in any way you like. KDE 4 has no such feature. For some reason they decided that the desktop wasn't a place for files. But because people complained they made an applet (called a widget) which shows you the contents of any folder. Guess what? I have a folder called, gee, Deskop? and I want it shown on my Desktop? except this looks like crap and did I mention it's SLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW? Clicking on an icon in this file-viewer widget brings my dual-core, 2.2 gHz, 2GB RAM machine to its knees, where it promptly faints. What the heck is wrong with these widgets? And why CAN'T I just have files on the desktop? Ok, the concept of widgets is cool, and I like how KDE does it better than Vista, but PLEASE! I want to put files there!

There are several other major problems with KDE4. Some of these are, I'm sure, integration problems because KDE is always an afterthought for the Fedora developers. They just cram it in next to Gnome, spit on it, then wipe it with a snotty handkerchief to shine it up a bit. Gnome is Red Hat's precious child, a relic of the days when KDE had licensing problems, and thus always gets preferential treatment from the Fedora devs. But I digress: I was ranting about KDE.

The main problem is that the file management widget was completely changed and is now very hard for me to use. It used to be you clicked on a file to select it, and double-clicked to activate it. Not anymore: now you click on it to activate it, and... well, I'm not sure how to just select it. I guess nobody needs to do that? Oh wait... I do. And there doesn't seem to be any option to customize this behaviour. KDE 1.0 had single-click activation, back when MS did the same in Windows 95 + IE 4.0, but there was an option to turn it off and the default became double-click not long after. I find that I need to activate files in the file manager far less often than I need to select them. Thus the KDE file manager went from being awesome, in KDE 3, to useless, in KDE 4. Plus they replaced Konqueror with Dolphin, which I'm not sure is an improvement, but anyway Konq has the same stupid file manager component, so even it has the dumb single-click "feature".

Finally, overall it seems that lots of KDE bits have lots a lot of features. The panel used to be very customizable, now it isn't. For one thing, I used to be able to specify how wide the task-manager applet was, now I can't. There are other examples I can't think of at this time. I used to be able to set a wallpaper to fill the screen according to its maximum dimension; now that feature is gone. I used to be able to configure a bunch of things, but now the configuration options are missing. I used to be able to store files on my desktop, but I've already discussed that. Still bugs me though.

Chinese input


At last it becomes relatively easy to set up Chinese input for all programs. The SCIM tool finally works reliably in KDE and GTK apps. You can install SCIM and the SCIM-QT bridge, log out and log back in, and you can enter your Chinese characters. It doesn't work as well as the Windows Vista Chinese IME (which is awesome) but it works fairly well. This is one thing I am really pleased to see. I have typed a couple of documents in Chinese using OpenOffice and there have been no issues with the input. For some reason, though, OpenOffice printed my Chinese document as a nice page of little boxes. Hm.

Conclusion


Fedora 10 (KDE mode) is clearly a beta-quality release. Much of the blame here has to be laid at the feet of the KDE devs, who have released an immature product as if it were ready for prime-time. It is not. But there are so many other glitchy problems with this Fedora release that I wonder how I'd fare in Gnome-land. Is this solely due to the difficulty in packaging KDE 4 for Fedora? Some of the problems, like the synaptics driver and the package-kit problems are clearly infrastructure related, and KDE is not to blame here. Overall I am disappointed with Fedora 10's quality but I am pleased with its goals and feature set. I hope the quality issues can be resolved with some updates and maybe Fedora 11 will fully meet the expectations everyone had for this one.

6 comments:

raps_388 said...

Sweet Jebus Mr. Shiny and New,

Now I remember why I stayed in Windows. Then again I just got a new Core i7 rig (will assemble this weekend :( ) so should be fun. So I guess somethings has not changed. Linux still takes a while to get it working right. OY!

Mr. Shiny and New said...

well, Linux doesn't always cause so much trouble. I had less trouble with Fedora 8, except for the wifi. But otherwise it worked very well out of the box. If you want 5-year stability, a distribution like CentOS or RHEL could be better for you; they tend to be more reliable.

Anonymous said...

Nice review. The KDE4 desktop bugs me too

IndyComp0T1 said...

Personally, I'm more of a fan of Ubuntu over Fedora. I became a convert when I installed it on my old Celeron 667 Compaq desktop (now a fancy blue paperweight in my den). It's so lightweight that managed to work on that old piece-of-crap machine. I'd had Fedora on that machine before, and Ubuntu was by far the least painful Linux install. Just some food for thought!

Mr. Shiny and New said...

I tried Ubuntu once. I didn't keep it because the Debian-inspired setup seemed alien to me (I have a decade of RedHat behind me now) and KDE was even more of a second-class citizen on Ubuntu than it is on Fedora. I've never liked Gnome... something about it has always annoyed me.

Anonymous said...

You've hit the nail on the head. KDE 4 is still alpha quality, the idea of a desktopless desktop is idiotic, many of the widgets just plain do not work.