Fedora 16 : going back to KDE 4

If you follow my Twitter stream, by now you’d know that I’ve upgraded my laptop to the brand new and shining Fedora 16.  In case you were wondering how it went, I’m happy to report that everything went smoothly.  Even more smoothly than I’ve expected.  Given my laptop’s weird wireless card, I always have this problem with kernel-kmod-something package not being available at the time of the distribution upgrade.  That usually means that I lose wireless connectivity for a day or two after I upgrade.  But not this time.  Either the package was ready by the release date or the driver that I’m using is incorporated into the distribution itself.  I don’t know, and, honestly, I don’t care. I’m just happy that it works right out of the box without any tweaks on my part.

I’ve upgraded from the DVD, since the torrent was the first downloadable option, before Fedora 16 was available via preupgrade.  The process looks very familiar – boot from DVD, choose language, choose whether to install or upgrade and existing installation (that was my choice), and let it run for an hour or so, depending on how many packages you have installed and on how fast your DVD drive is.

On first boot, the biggest difference was the graphical login screen, which looks way better now.  Logging into Gnome 3, I haven’t noticed much changes.  Yes, there is an option to add your Google Account to online accounts now, which I did, but so far I don’t know what it does and why would you want to do that.  I noticed that when I move to Activities and start typing, Gnome 3 searches not only through my installed applications, but also through my contacts.  But that functionality is not of much use to me.  After using Gnome 3 for about 30-40 minutes, I caught myself thinking that is is a bit faster, snappier if you will, than the previous version.  Maybe that’s just me and the feeling of new, maybe it’s the forced reboot after the installation – again, I don’t know and I don’t really care.

Distribution upgrade is always a good time to change habits, so I decided to give KDE 4 another try.  In the last 6 month or so I got somewhat used to Gnome 3, but it is still far away from being a productive system for me.  I’ve just learned how to do things I need with it, but it still doesn’t feel right or gives me any pleasure.  Hence, KDE.  My last few tries, which were ranted about at length in this blog, gave me no pleasure either.  This time, however, it looks different.  Things just work the way I expect them to.  All fonts – both for Qt and GTK applications – look good and uniform, icons are on the desktop, panel has shortcuts, the start menu is in place, and, oh boy how much I’ve missed you, the taskbar is there.  I’ve almost forgot how awesome it is to see Skype icon with notifications of incoming chats without having to move your mouse to bottom right corner every time.

The performance of the KDE 4 is also much improved these days.  It’s fast and responsive.  And it can still remember my keyboard shortcuts configured ages ago.  That’s mighty useful.

If you are still waiting for me to describe a problem or two that I experienced, then the only thing I can give you is this.  Both Apache and MySQL service were down for some reason after upgrade.  Restarting MySQL helped straight away, but Apache didn’t want to start.  I had a much customized configuration that I have been dragging from place to place, so I decided to clean it up a bit.  I disabled configurations for mod_perl, mod_python and a bunch of other features, leaving just the ones I actually need.  Restarting the service helped this time, bringing everything back to normal.

So, there you go.  In short, Fedora 16 is the next, improved and solid release for which we should thank all the Fedora community and everyone involved.  Thanks guys, you are doing a heck of a job.  Even with occasional hiccups here and there, I’m still much amazed as to how far you took this distribution in all these years.  Kudos!

Postr – Gnome Flickr Uploader

Once again Flickr Web Uploader failed me. I had a bunch of photos to upload and it kept getting stuck on the first one, not uploading even that one. So, once again, I started looking around for a simple tool that would allow me to just upload a huge bunch of pictures to Flickr. No bells, no whistles – just batch upload that I wouldn’t need to babysit (my upload speed limit is rather low).

I’m glad to report that I found my dream tool – postr. Postr is a Flickr uploader for Gnome desktop. It is designed to be very simple and straight forward. And, apparently, that’s just what I need. The only minor bit of functionality that I am missing is uploading pictures to a new set. It lets me choose the existing one or none at all. But not to create a new one. Not a major issue either way. I can either create a new set before uploading images, or I can as easily drop all uploads into a new set once they are up on Flickr. Either way works for me.

I’m so glad that there are still people who make simple software for simple people. Hooray for them!

Fedora 15 : Gnome3, here we go again

As you probably know, Fedora 15 was released yesterday.  I’ve been waiting for this release with a big worry in my heart.  While I did, of course, want to have a look at the new service manager systemd and enjoy the power management improvements, I had my doubts about Gnome3.   My doubts were based on two reasons.

Firstly, for the last decade or so, every major release of Gnome or KDE disrupts my workflow so much that I have no other option but to switch to an alternative desktop manager.  When the new KDE comes out, I switch to Gnome and when the new Gnome comes out I’m going back to KDE.  Not because I want to, but because there is a limit to how much I can take.

Secondly, because I’ve heard so much praise about Gnome3 and the new Gnome Shell, that I actually tried it out when it was in early beta.  I was puzzled then and I hoped that something would be done about the migration process.

Don’t get me wrong, I like new software, new ideas, and new designs.  But I also need to work.  My daily routine doesn’t require much desktop usage – I spend most of my time in the browser and in the text editor – but I do rely on things to work.  In particular, I need my shortcuts to work, I need my desktop icons to be where I left them, I need application shortcuts and system monitoring widgets.

Back when KDE4 was released, they decided to get rid of desktop icons.  There was a way to add a folder view to the desktop and sort of have the same functionality, but it was too different for my tastes.  Now, Gnome3 goes south too.  After the upgrade to Fedora 15, Gnome3 kicks in, and all the icons from the desktop are gone.  They are still in your Desktop folder, but they are not displayed on the desktop anymore.  And I can’t seem to find a way to add them back.  Also, all widgets and application shortcuts are gone from the panels.  Yes, you can now switch and search and find applications, but it’s way longer than just clicking on an application shortcut in the top or bottom panel.  As to the CPU, network, and other system monitoring gadgets, I can’t see away to add them back.  And that brings me to the next point…

Migration path.  It is a common practice in software design to guide the user through the interface when the user sees the interface for the first time.  Especially when the user is used to seeing a totally different interface previously.  A couple of arrows showing where things are would help a lot.  A quick tour guide would be ideal.  But none of that appeared in my fresh Gnome3 desktop.  I somewhat figured out how to move around.  But I am far away from being productive with this new interface.  And even to get to where I am – I had to spend a couple of hours, given that I am also a technical person with some understanding of how desktops work and what they do.  A though of upgrading my wife’s and my son’s computers sends shivers down my spine.  It will be a disaster.  I’m not comfortable with not upgrading them also, but I guess they’ll have to stay on Fedora 14 for now.

There is something else that bugs me quite a bit about these new changes.  They seem to be fixing stuff which is not broken.  I mean pretty much every desktop user out there is familiar with the desktop workspace, icons, shortcuts and main menu.  Why change that?  It does work!  Are there things that don’t work?  Well, since the beginning of times, people were complaining that you can’t change Gnome calendar display to show Monday as the start of the week (yeah, there is a way, which involves locale compilation and system-wide changes), and flag icons on the keyboard layout switch (there was a workaround for the older version of Gnome which I applied, but now the icons are gone again).

I do appreciate all the hard work all those brilliant people put into this new Fedora 15 and Gnome3 releases.  Thank you all.  I know, you worked hard.   But the result is a devastating user experience, as it is now.  And it doesn’t have to be.  It’s like 99% of the work was done and only a tiny bit is missing.  But without that one bit, the other 99% don’t make any sense.  This is a great pity.

With that, I’ll spend another couple of hours trying to figure this Gnome3 thing out and if it won’t start working for me by some magic coincidence, I’ll have to switch to KDE.  Again.

P.S.: As for the rest of the Fedora 15 release, it looks alright.  I did lost my wireless connectivity on my home laptop, but that is probably because kmod-wl-something is not available for the new kernel or yum didn’t pick it up.  I’ll stick a cable in it later today and will try to update.  Hopefully it will work out.

P.P.S. : My brother pointed out to me that some of my problems can be fixed by installing gnome-tweak-tool and tweaking the configuration. At least I got my Desktop icons on the desktop now.

Ultimate geek respect for Adrian Hands

Here is something that touched and moved every geek out there:

Adrian Hands was suffering from ALS and had lost motor skills when he used his legs to type in Morse code and fix a 9-year-old bug in Gnome. The patch was submitted three days before he passed away.

I think the following comment does the best job expressing the feeling:

There are so many who benefit from the community, and so relatively few who give back. So many people claim some excuse to not contribute anything to anybody without getting paid. Then there’s this guy. I am honored to have shared a planet with him.


Adding flags to Gnome keyboard layout switch

One of the little things that has been bugging me for a few years now is the Gnome keyboard layout switch.  I am using two layouts – English and Russian – and instead of having two nice flags, like in KDE, I had to live with ‘USA’ and ‘RUS’ letters in my task bar.  Not that big of a problem, but annoying.  Icons are much easier and faster to understand than text.  And all the other things in my task bar are graphical, so the text stands out too much.

Today I finally decided to do something about.  Thanks to this forum post I had a solution in hand which almost worked.  The steps were:

  1. Download en.png and ru.png icons into ~/.icons/flags/ folder.
  2. Run gconf-editor.
  3. Change the value of /desktop/gnome/peripherals/keyboard/indicator/showFlags to true.

The only thing that went wrong for me were the actual images.  Gnome scaled them to 24×24 pixels and they looked rater ugly.  So I created my own icons using Gimp.  I created a new image 24×24 pixels with transparent background and then dropped in the center of it the flag icon that I got from the FamFamFam icon set.  Saved the results back into the ~/.icons/flags/ folder and vuala!