Fedora Core 5 – ready for the masses?

It is now somewhat more than a month that I’m using Linux Fedora Core 5 all day long. I have never used Linux so extensively at workplace (maybe with the exception of some periods when I worked at ABB, but then it was RedHat 4.2). How the system is doing when compared with, let’s say, Windows XP? Well it’s doing quite well. I mean that for a naive user everything should work as expected with minor annoyances. Quite unexpected the Windows power user could have some not so pleasant surprises. For example the default browsing system is a real pain in the neck. Every time you double click a folder a new windows pops up with that folder content, leaving the old window to clutter the desk. Moreover there is no way to turn this kind of windows (I reckon it is named “spatial browser”) into more conventional browser with their sidebar of directory tree. Every Linux enthusiast will advocate that you can turn off the spatial browser sticking back to what I would call the standard file system browsing window. It’s true, you just have to twiddle with some registry key. Well, yes, after all the criticism against Windows registry, Linux has one registry, too. It’s not something new in FC5, I think that this dates back around RH9. We can argue that is somewhat more friendly than the Windows one, yet, strictly speaking it is a registry.
After some time and frustration you can get used to right click on directory and select “Browse” in order to get the standard browser. It is not too close to the windows file browser (it can show files in the directory tree, and the navigation is not always intuitive) anyway could do.
Now, that you have a browser, maybe you are looking for a specific file. Windows users will find a “Search” (or “Find”, I’m not sure about the english text) item in the context sensitive menu of directory and drive objects. When turning to linux the same users will have quite an hard time to locate the same command. Being a long time unix user I find faster to open a terminal and cast a ‘find’ invocation. In the same way the context sensitive menu in the browse area doesn’t contain a “New folder” option, you have to right click in the directory tree sidebar.
When using windows, you can create a shortcut that points to anything you can browse in the file browser. That’s quite intuitive, I would dare to say that they have copied the Unix concept of soft link. Double clicking on the shortcut it is the same as double clicking on the object pointed to by the shortcut. In Linux you have basically the same tool, but it doesn’t work if you link a file in the network. I don’t know exactly what the problem is, I think that not every application recognizes the network file names (that look something like smb://host/path or cifs://host/path). If you want to do something like that, you need to be root and mount the network server into your filesystem and then create a local link.
While talking about files, the Windows user expects to share her/his files on the network. It is useful. After all what would be the purpose of the network if not sharing files? Under Linux the normal user is prevented to create a share where she/he wants to be. If you browse the documentation long enough, you’ll discover that you can create a directory named Public in your home directory that can be shared. First root must enable this feature, then the user has no way to control the access in this share. With Windows it is straightforward to set the share permission so that only some users or computers can read or write.
Let’s quit playing with and do some real work. Fire up openoffice calc … wait while the application fully ignite… then start working. FC5 is much faster than previous FC, but it is still slower than Windows when it comes to launch office applications. Now insert some data, formulas and create a pretty diagram. The average spreadsheet user shouldn’t complain for lacking of functionalities. Now that you have such a beautiful diagram you want to show it to someone, possibly your boss. Easy. Select the diagram, copy it, create a new html/rtf mail message in Evolution and paste it… and stare at the empty message. There is no way to do it. You can quite confidently copy’n’paste plain text, rendered HTML works fine too, but images don’t. The only way I found to do this is to export the diagram in some standard file (EPS or SVG) and then import it in the mail message.
It is time to talk about system stability. The matter is very delicate, there are a number of factors (broken or nearly broken hardware, broken software or messed up configurations) that can bring a system to its knees. I remember the first times in UbiSoft when my Win2000 blue screened every day. Eventually it turned out it was a problem with bugged video drivers. I had quite busy Linux box running without a hitch 24h a day for nearly a year. So this talk is to be taken with a grain of salt. Well I found FC5 not very stable. I have either to log out, or to power cycle it about once in two working days. It is true that I had to compile my own wi-fi USB dongle drivers, on the other hand it is true that the dongle has Windows drivers. In a perfect world I wouldn’t be required to compile my drivers. The weak component seems to be the user interface that sometimes loses interest for the world in general and for my input in the specific case. But I had also the keyboard stopping to work (no caps/num lock toggling), the system freeze on USB dongle removal and so on.
Ok, you get what you paid for, and to be honest, with FC5 you get a lot more than you paid for. Anyway, despite the long way it walked from slackware days, Linux has still some road to go to catch up Windows in everyday usage.
The trick of the day is “How to have lot of screensavers in FC5”. You are a geek (otherwise you wouldn’t be using linux), so screensavers are an indication of your geekness. The more the geeker. You would be rather disgruntled to find that FC5 comes, by default, with 5 dumb and dull screensavers. Searching the rpm package list, you find the good old xscreensaver. You install them, but… you still are stuck with the 5 boring ones. You have to convert xscreensavers, with the following commands:

# cd /usr/share/gnome-screensaver/themes
# /usr/libexec/gnome-screensaver/migrate-xscreensaver-config.sh  /usr/share/xscreensaver/config/*.xml

Since I’ve been really kind to Microsoft, I think it is fine to rebalance the post, therefore the link of the day is John Dvorak’s Eight Signs MS is Dead in the Water a pointer to an article that expresses some concerns about Microsoft future.

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