The ultimate Fedora 9 setup: Part 1 – UI

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!

5 responses to “The ultimate Fedora 9 setup: Part 1 – UI

  1. You wrote:

    “reinstall … get rid of old cruft ”
    “I personally find Metacity much more usable”
    “only for advanced users”
    “gconf-editor … setting the /apps/metacity/general”
    “yum –enablerepo=rawhide”
    “type an accented character is rather annoying.”
    “consumes RAM even when you don’t use it”

    If I was a new user reading your experience I would say that Fedora sucks. Or is only usable and/or modified by someone that has a deep understanding of Fedora. Fedora seams to be seriously lacking a “product as a whole” feel to it. From your post it looks like just pieces haphazardly thrown together.

    I have a feeling that you will want to respond to this with something like “this is just my personal preferences and a normal user will not experience this”. But what you are really saying is Fedora needs a reinstall to work at its best, needs tweaking for usability and in the process of making it “better” watch out for those applets that consume “RAM even when you don’t use it!”

    With Respect

  2. Part 2’s still being researched. I’ve been reevaluating my default application set, especially now that Firefox 3 has just come out and some of the plugins I use for it are now available through the normal channels.

  3. Interesting story. I finally decided to dump Windows for my HTPC and go with Fedora.
    Many reason why I chose fedora, the main one is I use it at work (redhat) and it will force me to keep my skills up. So any hints for best performing Audio player that can play all files out there, replace or sync up with Itunes on my gaming XP box would be great. I also use 5.1 Surround sound, and connect directly to my 42 inch lcd via hdmi (sound is seperate). I do have two sound cards. One for playing music, and the other for watching movies, so that I can be upstairs listening to music, while the kids watch a movie downstairs. I just need to figure out the best way to do this with fedora. I figure on using a http server for song selection…but which app would be best?

    Now I just need to auto launch all my smb connection on bootup so the kids do not have to search where their movies are.