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Where's the beef? Fedora releases 'Spherical Cow'

Maria Korolov | April 9, 2013
After being delayed seven times due to reported problems with the new installer, Fedora 18 has arrived. On the plus side, Fedora 18 delivers new management functionality for IT administrators and offers improved Active Directory support. However, a complicated installation process and some issues with the user interface make it a less attractive option than desktop competitors like Ubuntu and Mint.

To take a common example, when you have a window open there are buttons at the top right to minimize, maximize, or close it. These buttons are normally tiny and very close together - too small for a finger to hit. Gnome 3.6 gets rid of some of these buttons, though you can access the same functionality by right-clicking or mousing over to a corner "hot spot."

The problem is that neither of these alternatives is intuitive, they get rid of functionality we've known for years, and don't provide any visual cues that they exist.

Gnome 3.6 also gets rid of the standard desktop and start menu. Instead of starting out with some default programs and folders, you're starting at a blank screen. You launch applications by mousing over a hot spot or clicking the "Activities" button, or by typing their names into a search box.

We spent some time trying to configure Gnome to allow us to put icons on the desktop, but failed. To get the traditional desktop back, we'd have to install a different desktop environment, such as KDE or MATE.

The result is that the desktop is not totally touch friendly, while adding just enough touch features to reduce the productivity of mouse users. If Fedora 18 is primarily used to run enterprise servers or developer desktops, it seems strange to have a default desktop environment that seems aimed towards tablet users.

Many Fedora 18 users would be better suited to pick KDE or another desktop environment as a result.

However, there's a downside to KDE. In addition to offering a more traditional, Windows-style interface, it comes with a different set of preinstalled software. For example, instead of the LibreOffice productivity suite that comes with Gnome, KDE uses Calligra Office.

While LibreOffice has an interface familiar to users of the pre-ribbon Microsoft Office, Calligra's interface takes a while to get used to and, in general, the software doesn't seem to be as mature as LibreOffice or OpenOffice. Most critically, Calligra doesn't have the option of saving text documents in Word-compatible .doc or .docx format, which is a must-have feature for most enterprise users.

The default web browser for Fedora 18 isn't Firefox or Chrome or anything else I'd heard of before, but Konqueror, which has so little market share it doesn't show up in any market share reports. By comparison, the default Gnome desktop environment comes with Firefox.

In addition to offering a choice of desktop environments, Fedora also has different "spins" - these are configurations of Fedora prepackaged with interfaces and software specifically designed for, say, gaming, security analysis, robotics or scientific computing.

Fedora is backed by Red Hat, one of the top enterprise Linux vendors, and is known for pushing technology forward. But Fedora 18 is not for the casual Linux user, if there's any such thing, and there are better Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu and Mint, for companies looking for a Windows desktop replacement.


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