Well, it’s been 6 months since I bought my computer, so I thought that maybe Linux can run on it properly now.
When I bought it, no Linux distro would run on it because of its hybrid graphics (Intel GPU for power savings + nVidia GPU for performance) setup. A few months later, a beta of Pardus Linux did run, but very poorly : fan ran at full speed nearly permanently, and the KDE 4 desktop was even more unresponsive than I remembered. In short, it booted, but was not yet usable in practice.
Now, I had a look at the various solutions available, and I thought that Fedora was worth giving a try. And after the few hours spent setting up and tweaking Fedora 14 “Laughlin” 64-bit, it is indeed a fairly good experience.
As time passes, I start to get used to the way Linux work and know what I’ll need to tweak on a fresh install before getting an usable desktop operating system. Some things will never change :
- Flash Player was not included. I don’t care what Steve Jobs and Richard Stallman think, I just can’t live without it. Canvas is not going to replace Flash in those silly browser games I love anytime soon, and a lot of YouTube content still does not have a good WebM version around. Trying 64-bit linux in this context was a bit of a bold move, but it just worked perfectly in practice, thanks to the “Square” pre-release from Adobe which works as well as a RTM release as far as I’m concerned.
- MP3 and DVD playback were not at the party either. On the other hand, as in Ubuntu 9.04, the procedure is fairly straightforward : go to http://rpmfusion.org/Configuration , install the two rpm packages, and then install the few packages which should have been there in the first place if Fedora was not distributed in the US : gstreamer-plugins-ugly, libdvdread, libdvdnav, and libdvdcss.
- RAR archives won’t open before you install unrar.
- NTFS drives and partitions won’t work before you install ntfs-3g.
- Although you can install OpenOffice.org, you probably will have some problems with your documents’ formatting before you install the usual Microsoft fonts (Comic sans, Times new…). Fortunately, the excellent Unofficial Fedora FAQ explains how it’s done.
Most of these problems come from the FOSS nature of Linux distros and is not subject to change any time soon. I have to say that Fedora makes this acceptably easy for an experienced Linux user like me. Now, there are some things which Fedora 14 does very well for a desktop Linux distro :
- Everything but my multitouch touchpad worked out of the box. This includes the special keys of the keyboard, even the infamous “calculator” key. The touchpad only required a bit of fiddling in the mouse settings to work : it was supported by the kernel, just not set up properly.
- The installer looks very polished and works very well, except maybe for the partition manager parts which could have been made easier by adding more graphical stuff for resizing, moving, and creating partitions, like in GParted. I even encrypted my home partition for fun, and it works (though not having to type two passwords at boot required a bit of hacking).
- The package manager is very, very fast. More generally, everything feels fast, but it might be all that time I spent using Windows ;)
- The included set of package makes sense. Of course, being used to having GIMP and OpenOffice out of the box, it feels strange to have to install them. But I already know about those, and it’s easy to find them in the package manager. On the other hand, it’s hard to find good GUI system management software on linux, and having Fedora pick some very good ones saved me some time of trials and errors.
- SElinux and PolicyKit are fundamentally a good path to follow, though I think that Fedora chose the hardest part by implementing it under years of software coded without capability-based security in mind.
- Globally, bundled software has a nice integrated feeling (with e.g. e-mail accounts in the “settings” menu). Bonus points for that.
Now, not everything is perfect, though :
- The bug report tool feels largely unpolished. If the kernel oopses, for some reason (and this is a highly critical event, isn’t it ?), the bug reporting tool will be unable to contact the server. During the more classic crash of a desktop application, you’ll have to make a choice between reporting to “Bugzilla” and “Logger”. Without any further information. Do you know which is best as an average Linux user who doesn’t know anything about the internal structure of the Fedora project ? Myself, I don’t…
- Package management is glitchy. One of the first time my distro booted, I had the pleasure to see PackageKit deadlock : searching for a package while updates were being installed, I realized half an hour later that both task were waiting for each other. Didn’t manage to reproduce it later, though.Another imperfection is the way packages are presented in the package manager : you get a crude access to yum’s package database, and not to things like package groups : if you want to install, say, openoffice, you’ll have to select all sub-packages from oobase to oowrite. It feels really strange.
- Hybrid graphics do not work. There are people working on it, but when I tried some experimental module, all I managed to do was to completely freeze my computer. There is some code supposed to play with this in the kernel, called “vgaswitcheroo”, but all it does is causing a kernel oops on every startup of my computer. In short, both GPUs are kept on while only one is used, which is obviously very bad for battery life (I still have to measure the actual effect of this).
All in all, it is a good experience though, and I think I’m going to stay on linux for some time. I’ve tried my own instructions for setting up a computer for OS development, and I’m happy to say that apart from a few (now fixed) glitches, they worked perfectly. So when this mess at the end of the year is over, I’m ready to go back to OSdeving — just on a new OS.