Trying out GNOME (First Impressions)

Today, I installed an instance of Fedora 12 Beta GNOME Spin onto the partition that used to be occupied by the Windows 7 Beta I installed in March or so and BSODs on boot. Dual booting Fedora/Fedora is an interesting prospect and I found some interesting corner cases in Anaconda and dealing with getting the two to work with each other.

Luckily the install I’d like to keep clean (the KDE one with the nouveau driver) had the kernel for the Beta still installed. When installing the GNOME instance, I didn’t install a bootloader since the possibility of overwriting the good settings was too risky. It turns out that Anaconda did nothing with /boot in this case (it made a directory for it on its /, but that’s all I can tell). Maybe it did and I didn’t notice, but there was no GRUB entry for the new install and the kernels both went to the first install (though the settings on the menu and timeout do seem to have been modified, not sure what’s going on there).

After hacking the GRUB listing to boot the GNOME install, I did an upgrade. I skipped the kernel since I don’t want to see how the two installs would get along with each claiming ownership of the files in /boot, so the GNOME install will keep its kernel and the KDE install won’t uninstall the version that the GNOME one is on.

I think that in order to fix issues like this, there needs to not be one file in charge of GRUB entries. One way I can see this working better is for GRUB to have global settings (and a GUI to control these) that all installs obey and to have a directory with one directory for each installed system on the machine. This way the Ubuntu magic incantations can stay in one file and the Fedora lists can each be separate. GRUB would then scrape all these lists and boot whichever it needs to. This is much more extensible and allows the distros to each do their own thing and not step on each others’ toes with defaults and whatnot.

I must say that the GNOME frontend for PackageKit is much more advanced, but KPackageKit allows for a more pain-free way of dealing with cerdentials. I don’t know how many times I entered the root password to fiddle with packages, but it’s not fun with my password. The dialog for the password request also doesn’t get focus without clicking forcing me to act to deal with it. This with no setting for “Focus Follows Mouse” that I could find annoyed me. I also had issues with PulseAudio popping the speakers every other second. Luckily the update fixed that, but it was really annoying while it was going on.

As for GNOME itself, I feel lost. Since PulseAudio was popping the speakers, I wanted to mute them. However, when I went to the Sound entry under settings it just sat waiting for PulseAudio and never did anything. I couldn’t find any mixer like KMix, so I started up a terminal to do alsamixer. When I ran it, it gave an error about PulseAudio not being reachable. Fine, at least there’s a reason that the Sound configuration doesn’t work. But it then crashed nm-applet somehow. Unfortunately, abrt had failed to start for that session and there’s no trace for it.

Some other little things I saw were that the icons in the menus sometimes “popped” into existence after the menu was displayed. The Alt+F2 tool (not sure what it’s called) is similar to what KDE3 had and not the KRunner I’m used to and the combination of that, the menus being foreign to me, and me not using menus normally made it awkward to launch applications. KRunner can do substring suggestions and also searches descriptions so that Konsole matches any of “term”, “kons”, “sole”, and others. To launch the GNOME terminal it’s “gnome-terminal” (tab completion helps, but KRunner is still far superior here). Since terminals are a dime a dozen and I usually close things as soon as I’m done with them, this is unproductive for me (I normally use YaKuake).

I also coupled my /home partition with the new install, but firstboot required me to use a different name or chance that the uid for my user on the new install and the old install were the same. I’d like a button to say “Yes, it’s my $HOME, set my uid/gid to what that directory’s ownership is” to help with migration and reinstalls.

With this, it shared my other install’s xdg-dirs settings, which has everything pointing to $HOME. This is the first time in a while that I’ve had icons on my desktop and I can’t say I miss it. That with the overlapping (which I was able to fix after fiddling with the context menu) and previews, it makes my desktop feel cluttered, but if I could get rid of the previews, I’d feel at least a little better about it, but I’ve been unsuccessful in my attempts to get that to happen yet.

I was also unable to find any GUI control to fine tune my keyboard settings (I set the Caps Lock key to be an extra Backspace and RtAlt to AltGr and Compose with Shift). I know the commands to do it, but would have liked to set it in a GUI somewhere. Speaking of configurations, it took a while to find the control panel (similar to systemsettings in KDE) and it was an accident. I had kept going to the menus (which I find awkward with, but if there’s keyboard access to them, I’d feel better) so configuring was another annoyance.

I use VNC to access the session running on my desktop, so I editied my client script (it shunnels the VNC session) to use the client shipped by default. The biggest annoyance is that there’s no cursor shown at all, so I have to rely on effects in the display to guess where the cursor is (I’d use the keyboard if the local X session didn’t eat all the important ones).

Another thing I am missing from KDE is the context menu on the desktop. In KDE, there are entries for Konsole, logging out, shutting down, and locking the session all in one convenient place. Instead, I have to go to those menus (requiring a mouse) to do any of this. The ctrl+alt+del menu also doesn’t have logout, but the other entries being there is nicer than going to the menus.

After playing around a bit, I had to install the nvidia driver so that I could use the install for the class I have to use Panda3d for (this was the main reason for a second install; so that the KDE one wasn’t polluted with this thing). The kernel the GNOME install has is older than what the RPMFusion repositories carry, so I had to “build” it myself. That wasn’t hard. THe gotchas were allowing it to execute code on the stack and rebuilding the initrd since nouveau was in the one from the KDE install. The nouveau and nvidia drivers really do not work together at all. With nouveau, you have it taking the frame buffer and nvidia not being able to grab the device and uninstalling the nvidia driver is just a pain. It also does not do 96 dpi out of the box and all my fonts are huge (physical dpi is around 129 or so).

I’ll be playing around with this install for a while (3 projects to go with Panda3d), and I’d be grateful for any tips on how to do anything I failed to do and described here. I’d say that most of it is that I’m just missing where things are for half of it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had to go app searching for some of it (like VNC). I’ll also be trying out gnome-shell later since I have 3d acceleration with the nvidia driver (one reason I think it shouldn’t become default until nouveau supports 3d or nvidia is miraculously released as Free software).

7 Responses to “Trying out GNOME (First Impressions)”

  1. Rahul Sundaram says:

    yum install control-center-extra (for focus follow mouse preference) and yum install nautilus-open-terminal (for desktop context menu).

  2. Daniel says:

    Regarding your issues on launching applications in gnome you might want to have a look at “gnome-do” (available in the fedora repos) which is quite similar to krunner.

    There is a GUI for configuring keyboard settings, but its somewhat hidden. You can find it in the “Keyboard” preferences dialog -> tab “Layouts” -> “Layout options”.

  3. nicu says:

    The terminal from the desktop context menu was moved into a nautilus extension, so you have to install nautilus-open-terminal, which is one of the first thing I do after a distro install.

  4. ajax says:

    gnome-keyboard-properties, which is under System / Preferences / Keyboard in the menu. Don’t know how you managed to install gnome without it.

  5. Ben Boeckel says:

    Thanks for the help. I’ll try these out today. The “Layout Options…” is what I was looking for, don’t know how I missed it before.

    As for gnome-do, the little bit of playing around with it has so far found out that it is not KRunner either. Maybe it’s just first impressions, but it does beat the alt+f2 tool GNOME has by default.

  6. For kicks, you might want to try the gnome-shell preview, to see the current state of the planned new shell for GNOME 3.0 – install ‘gnome-shell’ and run desktop-effects to select it. It’s rather different. (You need a 3D-supportin’ video card, so if yours is an NVIDIA, you’ll need the proprietary driver, at present).

    There’s a yakuake-type thing for GNOME (actually I don’t know which came first) – guake . yum install guake . I’ve no idea if it’s any good or if it even works as I don’t use it (I use multiple tabs in gnome-terminal and keep a gnome-terminal window open the whole time, myself).

    The mixer should show an icon in the notification area by default, an obviously sound-ish one. You can mute with a right-click on it. If you didn’t see it you probably had deeper audio issues going on.

    You don’t have to install the NVIDIA driver manually if the kernel doesn’t match what rpmfusion has, you can use the akmod package, which works much like DKMS – if there’s no module yet built for the kernel you’re running, it builds one automatically (the implementation is very different from DKMS, but the effect is similar). You may have to futz about with dependencies and possibly use –nodeps to make the deps happy, but it’ll work, and it’s much better than using the upstream installer, which won’t survive a kernel update and can easily leave your X files screwed up if you remove it messily or switch to nouveau without removing it or anything. You don’t need to rebuild initrd for the nouveau issue, just blacklist nouveau with a /etc/modprobe.d file . The rpmfusion package takes care of this for you.

  7. Kevin Kofler says:

    BTW, the Konsole entry in KDE’s desktop right-click menu is a Fedora patch, it’s not there in vanilla KDE.