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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sat, 19 Jan 2013

Fedora 18 with Xfce: My first impressions from live media

Fedora 18 has finally appeared in its final form after many delays. Largely responsible: a new Anaconda installer that has seen much criticism, mostly from users who like complicated manual partitioning. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I've always liked Ananconda. As far as I know, it's the only installer that can create any number of encrypted partitions -- in or out of LVM (logical volume management) -- and allow me to unlock them with a single passphrase typed once during boot. It also appears to be the only installer that can create a fully encrypted LVM installation while allowing another operating system -- like Windows -- to remain on the same disk.

What I'm trying to say is if the Debian installer would do these two things, I'd be a happy, happy camper.

Back to Fedora 18, aka "Spherical Cow." (I do like funny distro names more than serious Fedora names or stupid Ubuntu animal ones.) F18 offers a whole bunch of desktop environments in relatively (to very) new versions: GNOME, Xfce, LXDE, KDE and now MATE and Cinnamon. No Unity. A pity, perhaps. Or not.

I downloaded the network-install ISO, from which I could theoretically install any one of these environments.

I also downloaded a live image of Fedora 18 with Xfce 4.10. For the past many months, I've been using Xfce 4.8 rather heavily in Debian Wheezy. Debian Wheezy is never, ever going to get Xfce 4.10, even via Backports, as far as I know. Not that there's all that much difference between 4.8 and 4.10.

Here are things I can do in Xfce 4.10 and am doing right now in Fedora 18:

  • I can connect to a networked filesystem (currently ftp) in the Thunar file manager to edit and write these blog entries on my shared-hosting account without needing the Gigolo filesystem-mounting utility.

  • I can open items on the desktop with a single click -- something woefully missing from Xfce 4.8.

  • Unlike in Debian's version of Xfce, the ability to control tap-to-click via the GUI is here. And it works.

Here are things you can do in Xfce 4.10 that I probably won't be doing:

  • Stacking up things like crazy in multiple rows on panels.

  • Using "deskbar" mode to make blocky panels.

Here are things that aren't broken in Fedora 18's Xfce that are broken in my Debian Wheezy Xfce setup:

  • The screen isn't blanking early, despite what I have set in xscreensaver (something isn't being done when I log in to Xfce in Debian. I think I'm getting closer and closer to what that is).

Xfce is always evolutionary rather than revolutionary. That keeps users happy.

In the short time I've been testing Fedora 18 with Xfce, pretty much every damn thing works as expected. I had to install gvfs-fuse so I could edit files over the network. Nothing wrong with that.

And did I mention that everything is absolutely gorgeous, from the understated wallpaper to the fonts in the menus and applications?

Fedora has its problems for me. I'm pretty sure I can get all the codecs I need to watch video. But can I get a couple of applications to edit video? Kdenlive and OpenShot aren't easily available for Fedora. I understand the freedom issues involved, but at least give me the freedom to edit some video -- even in free formats. It's a bit of a deal-breaker.

I can run OpenShot in the CentOS spin Stella thanks to its developer, Nux. Maybe I can put it all together in Fedora, but it's just so easy to do in Debian (and Ubuntu).

This is not a review. If you're looking for that full "I installed it 20 times and ran it nonstop for two weeks" kind of distro review, this is not it. You knew that before I wrote that last sentence. Now you know that I know.

This is a look at live media, so I haven't given the revamped Anaconda installer a try. If it doesn't screw up the things that make me love Anaconda, I'll be happy enough.

I still love the Yum package manager. And another feature that stalled Fedora 18's release is a tool called Fedup that will supposedly make in-place upgrades possible. Yeah, Debian has done this since forever, so it's about damn time that Fedora get on the bus.

What I can tell you is my first impression is that Fedora 18 with Xfce works great and looks great (nice wallpaper, and I mean it). It's a worthy choice for those who love Xfce.

I haven't tried the GNOME version of Fedora 18's final release, running version 3.6 of the desktop environment, since earlier in the beta process. It's probably about the same now as during my beta test. I liked it, but I want to wait for GNOME 3.8 (not yet released at this writing) before I seriously consider moving away from Debian.

While I should do a reinstall of Debian, more to change my partitioning layout than anything else, there's really no reason for me to abandon the distro I've been using continuously since late 2010 and pretty damn often since 2009.

I probably won't even do the reinstall. It all works, so why mess around?