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The Spherical Cow lands, spits out Anaconda

Fedora's Linux distro no slick alternative to Ubuntu - yet

GNOME 3 is the IE of desktop environments, MATE

If you like GNOME 3 more power to you, but for me it has become like Internet Explorer web browser on Windows - it's the interface you have to use to download and install something that's actually useful.

Part of the reason I was looking forward to Fedora 18 is that Fedora now officially supports the MATE desktop (it also unofficially supports Cinnamon). That should mean you can just install MATE and skip the whole GNOME debacle entirely. Unfortunately, while it looks like in the future there will be a pre-packaged Fedora MATE spin available, I had to install the MATE packages myself using Yum.

Fedora 18 is shipping with MATE 1.5, which dispenses with many of the GNOME 2 dependencies. Under the hood MATE now largely uses GNOME 3's toolset - but with its own, more traditional desktop interface on top of it.

If Fedora is really interested in bringing Linux newcomers into the fold, it should make MATE the default desktop. Offering a familiar - call it old-fashioned, if you'd like - desktop paradigm in a world of Windows 8, Unity and GNOME Shells will no doubt find an audience.

There is one other weak spot in Fedora from a newcomer's perspective, it's that it lacks a good software centre. The Yum package manager generally works well enough, though in my experience dependency problems crop up more frequently than they do with Aptitude.

Fedora 18's weak spot: its software centre...

But beyond the underlying tools, the Fedora's software centre interface just feels creaky. Search is laughably bad and given that Fedora does not ship with multimedia codecs, Flash or hardware drivers that newcomers would likely want, the software centre is probably the first place most people will head.

Fedora looks to be in the process of improving the software install situation under the hood. Fedora 18 ships with support for DNF, a Yum alternative, which just might replace Yum one day. But at the time of writing there do not appear to be any plans to revamp the graphical interface. That's too bad because it consigns Fedora to the niche of more experienced Linux users.

As the more experienced users have come to expect, Fedora 18 ships with a number of bells and whistles aimed at developers and sysadmins. Fedora 18 ships with Perl 5.16 and Python 3.3, as well as the latest version of Haskell and D. Ruby on Rails developers will be happy to note that Rails has been updated to version 3.2.

For those working in mixed OS environments, Fedora 18 offers Samba 4, which should play more nicely with the Active Directory. The cloud-powering OpenStack has been updated as well.

A sea change in distro popularity seems to be underway, as GNOME 3 and Ubuntu have sent users looking for alternatives. The Fedora community has an opportunity to pick up some new users, but whether or not that actually happens remains to be seen.

Whatever effort Fedora has been making to smooth over its rough edges in hopes of attracting some new users hasn't had a negative impact on its developer-friendly focus. While that’s good news for Fedora's core audience, it doesn't change the fact that Fedora 18 is still not as user-friendly as other distros.

Should you jump ship from Ubuntu if the Amazon Lens fiasco has you doubting the Shuttleworthian future? For most, Mint will likely be the better choice, but if you don't mind jumping through a few extra hoops and dealing with the somewhat antiquated software centre, Fedora 18 does, at the end of the day, make a perfectly usable and stable desktop. ®

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