Recliner Rocker Shocker!

I nearly fell off my chair this week. In my recent and fairly exhaustive trawl through over two dozen distros and their variants, I found one I liked a lot. Which maybe isn’t so chair-topplingly surprising, in and of itself.

The real surprise was that the distro in question was (drum roll, please…): Fedora.

And I nearly fell off my chair backwards when I further found that the desktop environment I liked most in the Fedora context was… Gnome.

It’s clean and uncluttered (especially compared to the busy-ness that is the Fedora KDE spin). It is responsive. And once one has discovered Gnome Shell extensions such as Dash-to-Dock; or used Gnome Tweak Tool to add back Maximize and Minimize buttons to the window decorations… it turns out to be quite highly usable and productive.

All of which surprised me a lot: I have been avoiding anything to do with Gnome in general for quite a few years (since the whole Gnome Shell debacle in 2011) and anything to do with Fedora specifically for some more years than that. But both would appear to have made stealthy progress that impresses this particular traveller from foreign lands (i.e., KDE and Manjaro!) no end. Fedora even looks typographically sane these days. Who would have thought that possible, given their cavalier approach to all things font-y in the past?

The one (quite big) black spot is the lack of an extension that allows Gnome’s windows to wobble or a Desktop Cube to spin (there is one for wobbly windows, but it doesn’t work very well). Can I live without wobbly windows? Possibly, given other things the Gnome environment provides (such as Boxes, which potentially means no more VirtualBox or VMware, though it’s by no means a perfect replacement as yet; and -most impressively- excellent integration with cloud services like Google Drive).

In consequence whereof, I think my days of feeling forced to use KDE might be behind me. I have a spare laptop or two that will become guinea pigs in a ‘transition to Fedora’ experiment this week. We’ll see how it goes…

My Mate Fedora

I’ve been using Fedora 18 on my laptop for a couple of weeks now. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I found Gnome 3 and the Gnome Shell to be a way-better experience than I’d remembered from my previous dabbling with it. It looks pretty good and behaved more-or-less rationally -and that meant I was happy to stick with it, despite me hating it last time I tried.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last!

Gnome 3/Gnome Shell on this particular laptop, anyway, has turned out to be incredibly unstable, locking up at least once a day. The laptop didn’t crash, mind: although my display would freeze (so progress bars, for example, would stop progressing; and application windows would stop being clickable or drag-able), I was able to hit Ctrl+Alt+F2 and switch to a new text console, which would function perfectly well. I was even able to Ctrl+Alt+F3, log on in a third new text console, do a startx and launch an entirely new desktop. So: definitely not hung.

But a pain in the neck, and not conducive to serious productivity.

I toyed with the idea of a new O/S, but in the end decided I liked Fedora 18 well enough to try an alternative approach. I ended up issuing this command:

yum groupinstall "MATE Desktop"

That buys you a few tens of megs of download… and then a desktop that looks exactly like the one which ships with CentOS 6.3 (i.e., a Gnome 2 desktop -though Mate now uses a lot of Gnome 3 libraries, meaning it’s not the programming dead-end it originally appeared to be when it was first forked from Gnome 2).

First thing to say: I really liked it. I thought I liked Gnome 3, but the sense of relief when the MATE desktop appeared was palpable. I will confess that it took me a while to stop mousing into the top left-hand corner of the screen to quickly bring up an overview of all open windows -a Gnome 3 nice touch. MATE has exactly the same functionality, though: it’s just that you mouse into the top right-hand corner!

Even better, a quick:

yum install compiz compiz-mate fusion-icon-gtk compiz-plugins-main \
compiz-plugins-extra compiz-plugins-extra-mate compiz-plugins-main-mate \
compiz-plugins-unsupported compiz-plugins-unsupported-mate

…followed by….

yum install emerald-themes emerald-themes-extra

…and I had my old friends -wobbly windows, desktop cube and some glitzy windows title bars- back where they belong. Call me old-fashioned, I suppose, but the inability to have those particular desktop effects in Gnome Shell was something I definitely missed.

More to the point, though: not only was the new desktop immediately more comfortable and familiar than I’d expected, it also has turned out to be much more stable and reliable. Gone are the lock-ups experienced with Gnome Shell: this thing is still Fedora 18, but hasn’t skipped a beat since it was installed.

My only gripe is that my menus have lots of duplicates in them: two “Archive Managers”, two “Calculators”, two “Disk Usage Analyzers” and so on. Using alacarte to manually prune menus hasn’t altered that, but it is, in any case, just a minor niggle.

All up, then, I thoroughly recommend Fedora 18… just not with the Gnome Shell.