Using Linux has always presented me with a lot of choice as to how I want to use it and how it can work for me. I started my Linux journey with Gentoo and stayed with it for many years. But over time I found it didn't fit with my workflow, it was fun to use and I learnt a lot but it required hands on tweaking.
I took the plunge and moved over to Fedora. Not having to compile software at install time or rebuild a lot of packages when a library changed was easier and has saved me time not having to go through packages that failed to compile. Fedora has been a stable system; well it is about a month after a big version update. Having a stable system has allowed me to use the system for actual work. But this stability has also brought a few problems. Stable packages are not always the newest. System packages this isn't a problem with as it's the solid foundation for everything else to run on. But the applications like Libre Office and in my case the Arduino IDE are not guaranteed to be up to date.
The Arduino IDE is in the Fedora repos, it is however 2 releases out of date. I have been trying to use it and have found myself struggling against a few bugs that I know to be fixed in a later version. Looking at the bug tracker for Fedora the version bump has been noted. If the package was in the testing repo allowing me to install the later version at my own risk I would be happy. But it isn't. The alternative option is for me to manually download and install the software. I have no objection to doing this, I often do it for software that is not in a repo. But it is irritating that a package that is in the repo is not keeping pace with upstream even as an unstable package.
The next irritation from Fedora is experimental improvements that make it into a release. Fedora 18 updated my machine with Firewalld, this is a daemon to run a dynamic firewall. This is all well and good but I had written my own firewall script and whilst I like some of the ideas that Firewalld brings I don't feel it should have been forced upon me. Firewalld is a Fedora project and reading up on it development is still ongoing and features being added. I am not happy about placing my faith in this package for security until it has matured. I am all for newer versions of existing packages but not radical changes like this. Fedora was also the first distro to use Gnome 3. The initial release was basic to say the least but it has improved over time. I get the feeling that it is possible to be too near the cutting edge for comfort.
So where does this leave me? Well one options is to go back to Gentoo. What is stopping me doing so at the moment is the changes going on in the background of several distros. Systemd is becoming the standard init system replacing a legacy system. Most distros have moved over to this as a default. The two which don't have this as a default are Gentoo and Debian. Gentoo does support it but this would require some tweaking which I was wanting to get away from. It also rules out Debian.
I had considered Arch Linux. Whilst it seemed to offer the flexibility of Gentoo without the compilation it was not without issues. Certain packages would install without all the dependencies, if I can't guarantee that then its another distro to avoid for a desktop. I'm not ruling out Arch for a very minimal server/netbook installation but for day to day desktop it's not for me.
Linux Mint is an option but it is based upon Debian. Whilst this is not a bad thing I prefer a distro to have it's own base and not be reliant on another distro. Ubuntu is a no go area, it has changed focus to be a testing ground for new ideas and I don't like the direction Canonical are taking it. Mageia has had more uncertainty over the years than I care to remember so it's out. Slackware is a no as its not a Gnome supporting distro. CentOS & Scientific Linux are based off RHEL & Fedora so they are out. So out of the big distros I am left with OpenSuse.
What is there to like about OpenSuse? Well on the face of it quite a bit. One thing that bugged me about Fedora was the fact it's forms were independent of the distro. Gentoo has an integrated community which I liked and OpenSuse seems to have the same. Trying to navigate the Fedora website was a pain. I found myself stumbling over project procedures and guidelines rather than the support and guides which I wanted to refer to. The OpenSuse website by contrast has a link to the forums on the main page and seems more navigable in general.
OpenSuse has better options for software, it makes it easy to search for software in various repos and select stable/unstable packages. The support from forms and wiki appear easy to access. Ultimately OpenSuse may not be as bleeding edge as Fedora but my current experiences suggest this isn't a bad thing. OpenSuse 12.3 is to be released in the next 24 hours. Time to give it a go.
It has been just over a month since I switched my Linux computers from Gentoo to Fedora. I am happy to report that all is going well. There have been a few issues but these are minor annoyances rather than major problems.
The first problem was with my laptop. Having started using it with Fedora 13 and all being well it focused my mind on moving over to Fedora 14 when it was released. The upgrade was simple and initially all was working perfectly. Over time though the back-light control has stopped working. I can hit the key combination to alter the brightness and the on screen display shows a reduction in level. The back-light brightness itself doesn't change. So currently I have to force the level I want it set to using the command line. This is an issue for me as I tend to type more on the laptop and its easier on the eye to have a screen that is not brilliant white glaring back at me.
The second issue was with my new server. I had selected an AMD/ATI graphics card to use for its low power consumption and had checked its driver compatibility before purchasing. The open source drivers would do 2D only but the closed source drivers would support 3D. Setup notes for using the proprietary driver for older versions of Fedora were easy to find. However notes on setting the driver up for Fedora 14 have only recently been made available. This was a little disappointing as I would have expected something as vital as a graphics driver being updated a lot sooner.
My third issue is more an observation on the structure of the Fedora community. There is an official website but the forums are not officially linked to the project. There is a link on the site indicating its existence but for me the two need to be brought together and make it a central point of information in the same way Gentoo has. The Fedora wiki is more focused on the running of the project rather than the unofficial Gentoo wiki which is a great source of setup guides and instructions. Fedora has its documentation project but form my point of view isn't very useful once the system is up and running with the major services setup. Having tried to find things on the Fedora wiki I quickly gave up. A simple keyword search resulted in pages of irrelevant information. Using Google suddenly becomes the better way of searching it.
So to summarise my experiences with using Fedora have been generally positive. Updates have been easier to apply and fewer things have gone wrong. The result is I have spent more time using my Linux machines and less time trying to fix them. The minor issues with the software will be resolved at some point but I can work around them. More of a concern long term is the community structure. This I believe may cause me at some stage to begin looking around for another distro to try. Gentoo was difficult to leave having used it for so long. Now however, distro hopping is alot easier.
Happy New Year to all of you out there in internet land; I hope the festivities didn't take their toll.
Instead of resolutions for 2007 I set a few simple goals its time for a look at how I got on.
- Contribute more to Open Source Software - It might be writing documentation or code, perhaps just helping other users. Itâ€™s about time I gave back to the community.
- Upgrade my PC - A new TFT & GFX card are on the main list, possibly new case fans and another hard disk as the budget allows.
- Finish reading the book I started over a year ago - Once I get through it I can start on something else.
The first goal can only be considered a partial success, I didn't contribute to the Open Source community as much as I could have done. This is partly down the the amount of travelling I do but is not a good enough excuse not to do more in 2008. On the positive side my contributions included a few forums posts and my Laptop installation guide. It was only the other day I received a comment on my guide from a person who found it useful. It was nice to have the feeling of helping somebody and it will encourage me to post more (and better) guides in the future.
The second goal was to upgrade my PC with a new TFT and GFX, well I am glad to say I managed that one. I was thinking of a further upgrade in 2008 but the system is still performing well. I threw some new games on it and they run fantastically. The next planned big hardware upgrade will not be until the end of 2008 beginning of 2009.
The third goal was to finish reading a book that kept taunting me with its unfinished status. Well good news, I finished reading it and can now file it away on a remote shelf some place to collect dust.
So I mostly met my goals for 2007 but now its time to set the goals for 2008.
- Contribute more to Open Source Software - The same as last year but as I need to do more its the first on my list.
- Backup Data - An important thing to do so I need to do a full backup and keep it up to date.
- Reduce Carbon Footprint - I have already done a bit to reduce my power consumption, lets see if I can do more.
- Try and avoid parking fines and other motoring offences - 2007 was expensive.
Let's see how I get on. Number 4 could be an interesting one to review and will probably summarise how well my year has gone.