notes on my adventures in fedora-land

fedora logoI’ve been irritated for a while by some of Mark’s positions on ‘freedom’ (slamming Red Hat for non-freeness while seriously considering binary drivers and encouraging free software projects to rely on proprietary software for development), and obviously if I’m working for Red Hat, I should eat my own dogfood. So yesterday I spent a few hours installing Fedora for the first time… well, since roughly around when I ate my shorts. (NB: I can’t find a link or picture of that; if someone still has them, I’d like a copy.)

Some notes, good:

  • desktop effects actually work, with free video drivers. A very pleasant and unexpected surprise. (Unfortunately they seem to conflict with xrandr. Doh. But they were shiny while they lasted.)
  • most stuff Just Worked when I upgraded and left my old homedir in place; it appears that some gconf keys are not compatible, which is irritating, and some things I use were not installed by default, but otherwise, positive. (Most irritating: my xchat-gnome settings appear to have disappeared. [Ed.: mv .xchat2 .xchat-gnome. urgh.] Most silly/avoidable: ubuntu openoffice appears to use .openoffice.org2 and fedora openoffice uses .openoffice.org2.0.)
  • the session manager is much, much improved. I owe someone a beer for that- I assume Dan Winship?
  • Newest rhythmbox is very polished. Still prefer muine’s mental model, but rb is impressive, especially the ability to interact with music stores.
  • I’m quite impressed with yum; the performance is much better than I remembered. Still wish it had the rug two-letter commands :)
  • xournal is available through Koji, which is awesome. Gimmie is packaged too- more awesomeness. (Overall, sadly, little has changed on the tablet software front since last year.)

Some notes, bad:

  • my first user is not added to sudoers; apparently root’s password is still used to install software. This feels very primitive compared to the slick OS/X/Ubuntu default behavior. I know there is a jihad on to fix this problem in a more Correct and Sophisticated ™ way, but in the meantime, it still feels like a primitive situation for single-user boxes.
  • my wireless card works out of the box (great), but somehow NetworkManager doesn’t run by default, so nm-applet fails silently and inexplicably. Winner! As a bonus, system-config-network appears completely hosed, and dhclient appears to want to daemonize instead of actually get me a network address like I expect it to.
  • deskbar applet is vastly superior to the standard run dialog and mini-commander; it boggles my mind that GNOME still ships those by default and not deskbar-applet. (I know there are some performance issues, but c’mon- fix ’em. This is a clear, huge winner for the users.)
  • my IBM volume keys didn’t work out of the box. You can fix that by installing tpb, but even after that the volume keys don’t get tied to the master volume, and the xosd visualizations take me back to the 80s. I know the fedora guys think that Ubuntu’s solution for this is a hack, and that it will be fixed ‘the right way’ for F8, but the Ubuntu hack has worked out of the box on every thinkpad I’ve used recently. I can understand being a puritan on licensing issues, and I realize hacks carry a maintenance cost, but I have less understanding for being a puritan on ‘hacks’ when it means your user experience lags the competition by 18-24 months.
  • the fedora installer did not attempt to recognize/make bootable my windows partition. Not a requirement (I have no idea if other installers do this) but it is a ‘would be nice’.

Some notes, mixed:

  • (sigh) All the proprietary bits that I shouldn’t want/need, but I do. Ubuntu makes it easy to get them; Fedora does not. I know Fedora is doing the right thing here, but… ugh. What a lose-lose situation for everyone- Fedora gets beat up for doing the right thing; Ubuntu gets makes a nice user experience (which is good) but significantly reduces our leverage to get some of these things fixed.
  • None of my tablet PC bits were not detected at install-time; this wasn’t surprising but I’d been hoping. Have been documenting the tablet parts of my adventure at ThinkWiki. Most frustrating part: if someone had just updated F7’s copy of linuxwacom at some point in the last seven months, 3-4 hours of my time would have been saved. (Will put a spec file and updated build patches in bugzilla tomorrow- yes, I built an rpm for the first time yesterday.)
  • It is my own damn fault that I did not read the older thinkwiki documention more carefully before installing. It says that screen rotation works, but ‘works’ has different meanings for different people, it turns out, and the thinkwiki definition of ‘works’ is not my definition of ‘works’. I have cobbled something together for now, but I’m not thrilled. Hopefully more time fixing that soon.

Overall, I can’t say I’m thrilled; I spent lots of yesterday cursing at various things. But I’m pretty much back where I was functionality-wise (or almost); I’m using a very Free distro; and I’m doing the right thing by supporting my employers and giving feedback on our product. Hopefully my experience will lead to a better experience for lots of folks in F8, if I can just bend the right ears :)

[Ed.: I should note that Ubuntu’s out of the box tablet experience is not great either; much of the most serious regressions are from Ubuntu-as-massaged-by-Emperor-Linux rather than stock Ubuntu. Still, there is polish in Ubuntu that Fedora can learn from, just as Ubuntu could learn some lessons about freedom and maintainability from Fedora.]