I’ve run Ubuntu on my desktop (well… and laptop) since roughly the first release back in 2004. I’ve upgraded along the way, with reinstalls on the laptop limited to changing CPU architecture and switching full disk encryption.
Yesterday I wiped Ubuntu and installed Fedora.
Previously to Ubuntu I ran Debian. I actually ran Debian unstable on my desktop/laptop. I ran Debian Stable on any machines that had to sit there and “just work” and were largely headless. Back then Debian stable just didn’t have even remotely recent enough kernel, X and desktop apps to really be usable with any modern hardware. The downside to this was that having an IRC client open to #debian-devel and reading the topic to find if sid (codename for the unstable distribution) was pretty much a requirement if you ever thought about running “apt-get dist-upgrade”. This was exactly the kind of system that you wouldn’t give to non-expert family members as a desktop and expect them to maintain it.
Then along came Ubuntu. The basic premise was “a Debian derived distribution for the desktop, done right.” Brilliant. Absolutely amazingly brilliant. This is exactly what I wanted. I had a hope that I’d be able to focus on things other than “will dist-upgrade lead to 4 hours of fixing random things only to discover that X is fundamentally broken” and a possibility that I could actually recommend something to people who weren’t experts in the field.
For many years, Ubuntu served well. Frequent updates and relatively flawless upgrades between releases. A modern desktop environment, support for current hardware – heck, even non computer literate family members started applying their own security updates and even upgrading between versions!
Then, something started to go awry…. Maybe it was when Ubuntu shipped a kernel that helpfully erased the RAID superblock of the array in the MythTV machine… Maybe it was when I realized that Unity was failing as a basic window manager and that I swore less at fvwm…. Or maybe it was when I had a bug open for about 14,000 years on that if you left a Unity session logged in for too long all the icons in the dock would end up on top of each other at the top left of the screen making it rather obvious that nobody working on Ubuntu actually managed to stay logged in for more than a week. Or could it be that on the MythTV box and on my desktop having the login manager start (so you can actually log in to a graphical environment) is a complete crapshoot, with the MythTV box never doing it (even though it is enabled in upstart… trust me).
I think the final straw was the 13.04 upgrade. Absolutely nothing improved for me. If I ran Unity I got random graphics artifacts (a pulldown menu would remain on the screen) and with GNOME3 the unlock from screensaver screen was half corrupted and often just didn’t show – just type in your password and hope you’re typing it into the unlock screen and it hasn’t just pasted it into an IM or twitter or something. Oh, and the number of times I was prompted for my WiFi network password when it was saved in the keyring for AT LEAST TWO YEARS was roughly equivalent to the number of coffee beans in my morning espresso. The giant regressions in graphics further removed any trust I had that Mir may actually work when it becomes default(!?) in the next Ubuntu release.
GNOME3 is not perfect… I have to flip a few things in the tweak tool to have it not actively irritate me but on the whole there’s a number of things I quite like about it. It wins over Unity in an important respect: it actually functions as a window manager. A simple use case: scanning photos and then using GIMP to edit the result. I have a grand total of two applications open, one being the scanning software (a single window) and the other being the GIMP. At least half the time, when I switch back to the scanning program (i.e. it is the window at the front, maximized) I get GIMP toolbars on top of it. Seriously. It’s 2013 and we still can’t get this right?
So… I went and tried installing Fedora 19 (after ensuring I had an up to date backup).
The install went pretty smoothly, I cheated and found an external DVD drive and used a burnt DVD (this laptop doesn’t have an optical drive and I just CBF finding a suitably sized USB key and working out how to write the image to it correctly).
The installer booted… I then managed to rather easily decrypt my disk and set it to preserve /home and just format / and /boot (as XFS and ext3 respectively) and use the existing swap. Brilliant – I was hoping I wouldn’t have to format and restore from backup (a downside to using Maildir is that you end up with an awful lot of files). Install was flawless, didn’t take any longer than expected and I was able to reboot into a new Fedora environment. It actually worked.
I read somewhere that Fedora produces an initramfs that is rather specific to the hardware you’re currently running on, which just fills me with dread for my next hardware upgrade. I remember switching hard disks from one Windows 98 machine to another and it WAS NOT FUN. I hope we haven’t made 2013 the year of Windows 98 emulation, because I lived through that without ever running the damn thing at home and I don’t want to repeat it.
Some preferences had to be set again, there’s probably some incompatibility between how Ubuntu does things and how Fedora does things. I’m not too fussed about that though.
I did have to go and delete every sign of Google accounts in GNOME Online Accounts as it kept asking for a password (it turns out that two-factor-auth on Google accounts doesn’t play too nice). To be fair, this never worked in Ubuntu anyway.
In getting email going, I had to manually configure postfix (casually annoying to have to do it again) and procmail was actually a real pain. Why? SELinux. It turns out I needed to run “restorecon -r /home”. The way it would fail was silently and without any error anywhere. If I did “setenforce 0” it would magically work, but I actually would like to run with SELinux: better security is better. It seems that the restorecon step is absolutely essential if you’re bringing across an existing partition.
Getting tor, polipo and spamassasin going was fairly easy. I recompiled notmuch, tweaked my .emacs and I had email back too. Unfortunately, it appears that Chromium is not packaged for Fedora (well.. somebody has an archive, but the packages don’t appear to be GPG signed, so I’m not going to do that). There’s a complaint that Chromium is hard to package blah blah blah but if Debian and Ubuntu manage it, surely Fedora can. I use different browsers for different jobs and although I can use multiple instances of Firefox, it doesn’t show up as different instances in alt-tab menu, which is just annoying.
It appears that the version of OTR is old, so I filed a bug for that (and haven’t yet had the time to build+package libotr 4.0.0 – but it’s sorely needed). The pytrainer app that is used to look at the results of my Garmin watch was missing some depedencies (bug filed) and I haven’t yet tried to get the Garmin watch to sync… but that shouldn’t be too hard…
The speakers on my laptop still don’t work – so it’s somebody screwing up either the kernel driver or pulseaudio that makes the speakers only sometimes work for a few seconds and then stop working (while the headphone port works fine).
On the whole, I’m currently pretty happy with it. We’ll see how the upgrade to Fedora 20 goes though…. It’s nice using a desktop environment that’s actually supported by my distribution and that actually remotely works.