Fedora 17: Mm.. this stew of beefy source tastes just right
No miracles, just more seasoning
Review Fedora 17 arrived on Tuesday following a three-week delay. Nicknamed Beefy Miracle, the Fedora Project promised "over and under-the-bun improvements that show off the power and flexibility of the advancing state of free software".
That's a bold claim for a package with such a ridiculous name. While this is a solid update with significant enhancements under the hood and the latest version of the GNOME desktop, there's nothing particularly miraculous about it - just as we concluded in the review of the beta build.
A miraculous Fedora 17 would have included full support for Btrfs - the kernel at least supports the filing system - but that's going to require a major rewrite of the Anaconda installer interface and has been postponed until at least Fedora 18.
A miraculous Fedora 17 would also have somehow wrangled the full complement of GNOME apps into supporting the new application-level menu in GNOME 3.4. Impossible, you say? Fedora has almost nothing to do with development of GNOME apps? Exactly, but it certainly would have been miraculous if Fedora has done pulled it off nonetheless.
Instead we have a very nice new version of Fedora that, while not miraculous, is well worth grabbing, especially for those of us still trying to adjust to GNOME 3.
GNOME 3.4 continues to polish GNOME 3, particularly the Shell where the search features have improved significantly. Results appear much faster and the Shell is much better at guessing what you want. It does not, however, show results for applications that are in the repos but not yet installed, a nice new feature you'll find in the latest version of Ubuntu's Unity search tool.
GNOME 3.4 also introduces the aforementioned application-level menu that sits in the GNOME Shell bar at the top of the screen and lists actions and options for the program running in the foreground. The application menu pretty much mirrors a very similar feature in Ubuntu's Unity interface, but unfortunately not all applications use the new menu yet, making GNOME 3.4 feel a bit unpredictable and more inconsistent than previous releases.
The application menu screen guesses the GNOME apps you want
Naturally, non-GNOME-specific software - such as the platform's web browsers - don't support the app menu, or if they do the only menu item is Quit. Unfortunately it's entirely possible that such apps, coming from well outside the GNOME world, never will support the new menu. Of course, if user interface consistency is your highest priority then you probably aren't using Linux anyway.
The GNOME devs have put a good bit of effort into polishing the desktop user interface where they can, though. The 3.4 release includes smooth scrolling support and some redesigned applications, such as the Documents and Contacts apps, both of which now have a streamlined look that's more in line with the GNOME 3 human interface guidelines.
Scroll, scroll, scroll your boat gently down the screen
Despite this work on the interface, GNOME 3 updates still feel like two steps forward, one step back. There's the might-be-there, might-not app menu to keep you on your toes and even the improved scrolling brings with it smaller scrollbars that are hard to grab. So while the scrolling may be a joy, for some users it may actually be trickier to scroll.
On the plus side, Fedora 17's GNOME 3.4 can now run on hardware without need for a native 3D driver. The gnome-session app will no longer treat llvmpipe as an unsupported driver, which means the GNOME 3 interface will work without issues in virtual machines.
GIMP 2.8 brings Adobe Photoshop-grade polish to image editing
The GNOME application stack has been updated for this release with Fedora 17 shipping with the latest versions of the Evolution mail client, Firefox, Shotwell and others. The biggest news though will no doubt be GIMP 2.8, which brings the long awaited single-window mode and gives the graphics editor a more Photoshop-like look and feel.
The meat inside the beef stew
While much of the focus in Fedora lately has been on GNOME 3.x (since the distro has served as a showcase for GNOME 3), KDE fans need not feel left out: Fedora always updates KDE to the latest release, which in Fedora 17 means KDE Plasma Workspace 4.8. The big news in this version is Dolphin 2.0, a significant rewrite of KDE's default file manager. Dolphin 2.0 includes a new "view engine", which should make browsing files faster, particularly with large directory listings and slower hard disks.
As with GNOME, the KDE update brings the latest versions of Kate, Kmail, Gwenview and the rest of the KDE application suite.
The desktop updates may be the most visible changes, but under the hood is where Fedora 17, like most Fedora releases, really starts to distinguish itself from other distros.
Fedora 17 uses version 3.3 of the Linux kernel, which includes support for the Btrfs and ext4 filesystems. Fedora 17 will default to ext4. It is technically possible to install Fedora on Btrfs, but the process is tedious and definitely not for the faint of heart. The kernel also brings support for the gma500 graphics driver, so Intel's Poulsbo chipset should finally work for Linux users.
Fedora 17 marks the first steps in Fedora's great migration to a saner file organisation: the "unified file system" layout. Instead of the current separation between
/usr/sbin and so on - all of which dates back to Unix disk space issues that were solved decades ago - everything will now live under
/usr. It sounds more traumatic than it actually is; most users will never notice the change thanks to copious symlinks that make everything look pretty much the same for now.
Eventually, though, the directories really will be gone, leaving a cleaner and more predictable structure for application developers to work with. Fedora is the first of the major distros to tackle the unified file system, although most will likely follow suit.
Anyone looking to use Fedora 17 as a platform for the open-source cloud computing project, OpenStack, will be happy to know that Fedora has updated to the latest edition of Openstack, called Essex. Fedora also includes all the necessary OpenStack components like the Horizon web interface and the Quantum virtual networking service.
As is typical of a major Fedora update, Beefy Miracle packs in a ton of updates for developers, including the latest versions of scripting languages like Ruby, PHP and Python. There are also some new developer tools in Fedora 17 like the "Juno" update for the Eclipse SDK.
Among the other major backend improvements in this release is the new multitouch support. Of course there's not much you can do with that at the moment since Fedora-based tablets aren't yet rolling off the production lines. But this release links together a full multitouch stack that runs from the kernel to the X server to GTK+ 3.4. All that remains to do now is for actual applications to implement multitouch. Then the Fedora tablet production lines can fire up.
For now the idea of a Fedora tablet still sounds far-fetched. In the mean time, however, the Fedora Project has continued its tradition of solid desktop releases. While it’s not miraculous Fedora 17 is certainly beefy: it makes a great platform for GNOME 3 while the underlying core has the kind of small but welcome improvements we've come to expect from a new version of Fedora. ®