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From Ubuntu to Fedora – Landing on foreign soil (the good, the bad and the ugly)

During the past weeks I noticed how difficult it was to hack on a desktop environment that I am not using myself. And since most of my work now is about GNOME (and KDE) I came to the conclusion I have to use bleeding edge GNOME 3. Sadly Ubuntu 11.04 with GNOME 3 is pretty shaky for my taste.

I am a very impatient developer who really does not enjoy compiling stuff and playing with packages a lot. Mutter gave me some hard time on a Virtual Machine. So I chose to move to Fedora, luckily though this has given me a new perspective as I have been a long time Ubuntu user.

I did not turn my back on Ubuntu. I still have my Ubuntu development environment on a virtual machine and am preparing some cool stuff for Natty (it will land in our ppa) such as the Zeitgeist Privacy Manager.

Let’s not forget that Zeitgeist was developed in an Ubuntu environment and community, and that without the Ubuntu support, the project would have been facing much more difficulties proving itself. We still use Launchpad and we don’t intend to ever move. And out of 10 main Zeitgeist developers, only 3 (including me now) are not running Ubuntu.

This being said…

I installed Fedora 15, replacing my Ubuntu installation after 6 and a half years.

As some of you might have heard, I am also contracting for Collabora now. I do a lot more Zeitgeist work and have been working on improving and maintaining the big picture of the Zeitgeist project as well as working on deployments upstream with GNOME, KDE and Unity to bring the Zeitgeist love further afar.

Working with the GNOME community on the shell and several upstream Zeitgeist integration projects such as Totem, Banshee, Rhythmbox and gedit basically requires me to use a vanilla GNOME 3 due to Gtk-3. Sadly that collides with Unity, and the currrent PPA setup available doesn’t let you run both Unity and GNOME 3 together. If you want to use them side by side, you have to wait for 11.10

So with no further ado, what’s it like switching to Fedora?

Pros of Fedora

Bleeding Edge GNOME 3

If you want to run the latest GNOME hassle free out of the box then Fedora is the one stop shop for that. No adding repos or anything. I am not comparing Unity and GNOME 3. I like both but still my GNOME/Elementary desktop kinda did everything I needed and kicked ass. Except for some artwork you are experiencing unmodified GNOME 3.

Everything works out of the box

Bluetooth, Suspend, Mic. Camera. Just like Ubuntu, after installation I did not configure any hardware.

Lots of wikis and howto’s

While they are good enough, sadly you won’t find awesome websites like OMG! Ubuntu! dedicated to Fedora. I think this is something that would come naturally when non-geeks get attracted to a distribution. Ubuntu has the biggest share of non-geek users, who are not forced to work with a Linux distribution at work, but just use it at home because they want something different and easy.

RPM Fusion

RPM Fusion provides software that the Fedora Project or Red Hat doesn’t want to ship. That software is provided as pre-compiled RPMs for all current Fedora versions and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5; you can use the RPM Fusion repositories with tools like yum and PackageKit. It has almost everything you are looking for thus matching the big Ubuntu repositories.

Working directly with upstream

From a developer point of view you end up working directly with upstream GNOME. The only thing that bothers me about that is still bugzilla and Git. While Git is just pretty badass it has a steep learning curve that makes it difficult for me as a aspiring rock star developer to not ask for help all the time.

Cons of Fedora

No Software Center and no apt

I am stuck with Yum which is pretty much lagging behind other alternatives. I think its what I dislike most about Fedora. It appears so slow and design wise it needs lots of work. Instead of Software Center you end up using PackageKit which is still no match to Software Center.

Difficult upstream development environment

Upstream development can be a PITA. No centralized development platform like Launchpad. The combination of Git + Wikis + Bugzilla really is no match to Launchpad.

No way to install Flash and restricted codecs as a normal user

One has to add RPM Fusion repositories by hand. Here is what happened: I tried to open an MP3 file and Totem told me I am missing a codecs for it. When it tried to search for it, it found nothing. I had to add the RPM Fusion repositories and install the codecs by hand. An average Joe would not go through all that.

In this case, Ubuntu is easier to configure. Totem notices that I am missing the codecs and asked me to install them and voilŕ. (The average user does NOT CARE whether the codecs are proprietary or not). He/She will not dump their mp3 collection for missing codecs.

No PPA service like the one provided by Ubuntu.

PPAs make it pretty easy to get the latest software and development versions of your favourite software, while still maintaining a fairly stable core operating system. I know Fedora have Koji, but its still now PPA in terms of ease of use and packaging. You will find alot fo stuff though.

Conclusion

I encourage those with some cojones to try something different to grab Fedora 15 and install it. Its different but not in a bad way.

From a user’s perspective.

It is the next best thing after Ubuntu. If it wasn’t for the missing Ubuntu Community, Software Center and annoying Yum it would be the Ubuntu killer. While Fedora also has a community it is hardly as badass and big as the Ubuntu one.

With Fedora you are getting GNOME 3. No GNOME 2 anymore. With the introduction of GNOME 3 comes a whole new UX  needs some getting used to. However after using it for 2 or 3 days its hard to go back to a GNOME 2 environment. Its a solid distro. I experienced no crashes or hick-ups. With some googling and help from Fedora users and developers I managed to install everything I needed.

From a developer’s perspective.

It is missing the Ubuntu Community touch and the development environment like Launchpad, that is more inviting to new developers. However you will have no trouble finding any library or package in their repository. The big plus is all your patches are directed upstream. Maybe there is some politics in that but I am not getting involved there. All I know for now is that I am sticking with Fedora 15.

 

P.S.: I know there are other GNOME 3 options like openSuSE, but when I decided to do this move openSuSE did not have out of the box support for GNOME 3,