Unlike the commercial OSes (and commercially-supported Linux distributions), community Linux distributions tend to have fast-paced release cycles. Notably, Fedora and Ubuntu releases every 6 months.
Every OS upgrade entails several decision: do you do a clean install, or upgrade your current installation? Do you start with a clean home directory, or re-use your previous one? Any combination works fine, though my personal preference is to do a clean install and use a clean home directory, having archived the older directory. I think of it as house-cleaning — and it’s nice to experience the desktop as it ships out of the box, before customization (naturally, I then restore my music database, my address books, browser and e-mail client profiles, etc. This is not Memento!)
So, now that Fedora 9 has been released, what needs to be added to / changed from the base setup? As it turns out, not that many:
Some people swear by Compiz; I personally find Metacity much more usable (Compiz does not support cycling through all windows of a given application — Ctrl+F6 in Metacity; Cmd+~ in OS X). Metacity now has a compositing manager that’s turned off by default; turning it on involves either using gconftool-2 (only for advanced users) or gconf-editor, and setting the /apps/metacity/general/compositing_manager key to true.
The support in the stable version is a bit flaky still; the metacity package in Rawhide is much better behaved and appears quite stable. Upgrade by issuing yum --enablerepo=rawhide update metacity. As of the moment it does not pull in any other Rawhide package so you can rest easy.
Try pressing the volume up/down/mute keys on your keyboard (if you don’t have a multimedia keyboard, change the bindings in System->Preferences->Personal->Keyboard Shortcuts) and be amazed at the translucency coolness (no, this is not bling). The brightness pop-up windows have not been changed yet, alas.
Ever cursed Firefox’s font rendering in silence? Type about:config in the address bar, and add the following boolean keys:
font.FreeType2.autohinted = true
font.FreeType2.enable = true
For the English-speakers among us specifically, and those who use the US keyboard layout in general (it’s the standard layout in Indonesia, for instance), the occasional times when one has to type an accented character is rather annoying.
There are various work-arounds — launch the character map (under Accessories), add the Character Palette applet to the panel (so that it consumes RAM even when you don’t use it!)…*or* you can just fix your keyboard layout. The die-hard command-line junkie would be able to tell you what option to pass to setxkbmap to achieve this. The rest of us can just use System->Preferences->Hardware->Keyboard. In the “Layouts” tab, select “Layout Options”. The option you want is “Compose key position”; I use Right Alt, but Caps Lock haters will rejoice to know that, yes, you can use that dreaded key as your compose key as well. To type an accented character, now the only thing you need to do is hit the Compose+accent followed by the letter you want to accent (using shift as necessary, e.g. for ^).
While you’re here, you might want to change the Alt/Win key behavior, and map either Meta, Super or Hyper to one of your Win-keys. The GNOME default is inexplicably for the Win-key to be a normal key and not a modifier (so it cannot be combined with other keys).
Coming up: Applications
Et voilà! You should have a nice-looking, and more importantly, functional desktop right now. In the next instalment, I’ll comment on the applications I use. Until then, à bientôt!