Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fedora Desktop 20 (Gnome): A Class Act

by Dietrich Schmitz

If there is one thing I have learned, it's that life is dynamic.  And so it is in life that many things change  -- not just the material objects -- but our social mores and mindsets evolve to such an extent that completely different views and perspectives are gained.

This is a story about Fedora Desktop 20 and how it has changed my view of several things.

I am using the pre-release version of Fedora Desktop 20, which is scheduled for release on December 10, 2013.  As pre-releases go (beta 5 at the time of this writing), one can expect a 'bumpy' ride.  That has not been my experience.  In fact, it has been quite stable compared to other betas I have tested in the past.


You see, unlike Ubuntu, Red Hat-owned Fedora Desktop 20, is a 'true' community-based Distro that gets most of the feature enhancements added and chosen by 'community' participants.   The 'derivative' Ubuntu Distros?  Well, they are playing 'second fiddle' and rest atop the Canonical-supplied Ubuntu Linux Kernel and repository system coupling their own non-Unity chosen GUIs.

Despite Canonical Ltd.'s best efforts to lend the appearance of having a true community-driven Distribution (Distro), I have reached the conclusion that most of their decision making comes from corporate, not community, participants.  In fact, Canonical Ltd. does not differentiate between their 'commercial' Ubuntu and a Ubuntu community version.  There simply isn't one.

Fedora's Default Desktop GUI - Gnome

This is where I found myself pleasantly surprised.  Historically, I liked neither Unity nor the Gnome 3.x GUIs for many reasons stemming from my 20 years in IT software and user interface design development experience.

As was the case with the initial 4.x release of KDE Plasma Desktop, there was a period of 'instability', during which users responded with feedback for a year or more until the KDE Development Team replicated rearward features from the 3.5.x generation.  Ultimately, KDE prevailed and matured to the point where I would call it the 'best' Desktop GUI for Linux.

Gnome Shell 3.10 shown in 'Window Selection' mode
Today, I find myself chuckling because, despite 'major' past usability issues acknowledged by the Gnome Team, they've managed to surmount them and have reached what I call a stable usability plateau.  Fedora Desktop 20 uses The Gnome Project's Gnome 3.10.1 and I can honestly say that this is a far sight better than the previous versions of Gnome and it is well beyond Ubuntu in overall usability, fit and finish.

Hats off to both The Gnome Project and the Fedora Developer Team in doing a superb job of integration.  The name 'Fedora Desktop' now really takes on special meaning for me. It's drop-dead easy to use like Windows and quite professional in all respects.  

In surveying the Top 5 Distributions, I'd place Fedora Desktop as the best Gnome implementation, Canonical's Ubuntu as the Unity GUI, Mint as the best KDE, Xfce, Cinnamon and MATE implementations (which includes their Debian spin), and Lubuntu as the best LXDE Distro.  (That's the top 5 Distros, so, don't take it personally if I didn't mention your favorite Distribution.)


Many of you already know I am an ardent security advocate so I view those Distros which promote advanced security features with great favor.

Fedora has a long-standing reputation for excellent security and implements by default Linux Security Module SELinux which places user activities in a 'Mandatory Access Control' 'sandbox'.  This ensures that if some unsuspecting exploit tries to escalate and gain administrative access to your system, the SELinux policy will simply kill the process.

In addition to the standard Linux security features that all Distros inherit from the Linux Kernel, the Fedora Desktop 20 now incorporates stronger gcc compilation controls to mitigate risk of buffer overflow using a new compiler switch, -fstack-protector-strong.

New Features

From a Red Hat press release, here's a brief summary of Fedora 20's new features taken verbatim:

What’s New in Fedora 20First and foremost, we are pleased to announce that, in keeping with Fedora’s commitment to leading edge open innovation, ARM is now a primary architecture. While Fedora has supported a number of hardware architectures over the years (with x86/x86_64 being the default for the majority of Fedora users), the ARM team has made massive strides over the past year. The technology already dominates the mobile market and shows great promise for the server world as well, hence Fedora’s adoption of the architecture to satisfy end users and developers targeting the ARM platform.
Cloud and Virtualization EnhancementsOS Installer Support for LVM Thin Provisioning – With the introduction of thin provisioning via Logical Volume Manager (LVM) in the Linux kernel, Fedora 20 can now support the configuration of thin clients during OS installation.
VM Snapshot UI with virt-manager – While QEMU and libvirt are fully capable of performing safe virtual machine (VM) snapshots/checkpoints, a simple, discoverable UI did not exist previously. This feature adds a UI to virt-manager, simplifying the VM process.
Developer GoodiesFedora features a host of new features and updated packages to interest developers using a wide variety of languages, including Ruby on Rails 4.0 and Perl 5.18.
Maturity/Advanced FeaturesNetworkManager Improvements – Users can now add, edit, delete, activate and de-activate network connections via the nmcli command line tool, and support for bonding and bridging interfaces is now included, improving usability for enterprise and virtualization users.
No Default Sendmail, Syslog – As systemd continues to mature, the systemd journal now takes its place as the default logging solution in place of syslog, while Sendmail is no longer installed by default.


I've really been trying hard to come up with some justification which would sway me to prefer Ubuntu over Fedora Desktop 20.  I can't.  The security is better.  The package manager, YUM, I have reviewed and it is simply superior to APT.  

Fedora is Linux Standard Base (LSB) compliant and the staging area for any new LSB enhancements which merge to Red Hat Enterprise Linux.  Fedora also takes the technology lead by being the first community Distro to have implemented systemd.  Many other Distros have followed suit, yet, Ubuntu chose some time ago to develop and still employs Upstart.  

Laggard Debian only recently made a feature freeze decision for Debian 8 and chose Upstart, despite the long-term benefits of systemd.  Gnome 3.10.1 as I mentioned has reached a new plateau of stability and usability and is a cut above Canonical Ltd.'s competing Unity overall.  

Yes, Gnome's time has come.  It integrates exceedingly well with Fedora to provide a  professional Linux Desktop experience.   

Fedora Desktop 20 -- It's a 'class act'.  -- Dietrich
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