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Delays in Fedora releases are a standard part of the development cycle; users would likely approach a hypothetical non-delayed release with a great deal of concern. Even so, the Fedora 18 release stands out: originally planned for November 6, 2012, it did not make its actual appearance until January 15 — more than two months later. So it was with some trepidation that your editor set out to install the final Fedora 18 release candidate on his laptop. With so many delays and problems, would this distribution release function well enough to get real work done?
Traditionally, in-place upgrades of Fedora systems have been done with the "preupgrade" tool; reports of preupgrade problems have been prevalent over the years, but your editor never encountered any difficulties with it. With the F18 release, though, preupgrade has been superseded by the new "FedUp" tool. Indeed, the project has committed to FedUp to the degree that the Anaconda installer no longer even has support for upgrades; at this point, the only way to upgrade an existing Fedora system appears to be to use FedUp and a network repository. Given that, one would expect FedUp to be a reasonably well-polished tool.
In truth, upgrading via this path required typing in a rather long command line (though that should get shorter with the official F18 release when the repository moves to a standard place). The tool then set off downloading 1,492 packages for the upgrade without even pausing to confirm that this was the desired course of events. Needless to say, such a download takes a while; there are no cross-release delta RPMs to ease the pain here. At the end of this process, after FedUp had nicely picked up the pair of packages that failed to download the first time, it simply printed a message saying that it was time to reboot.
After the reboot one gets a black screen, a pulsating Fedora logo, and a progress bar that cannot be more than 200 pixels wide. That bar progresses slowly indeed. It is only later that one realizes that this is FedUp's way of telling the user that the system is being updated. One would at least expect a list of packages, a dancing spherical cow, or, at a minimum, a message saying "your system is being upgraded now," but no such luck. To all appearances, it simply looks like the system is taking a very long time to boot. At the end of the process (which appears to have run flawlessly), the system reboots again and one is faced with the new, imposing, gray login screen. Fedora 18 is now in charge.
At first blush, the distribution seems to work just fine. Almost everything works as it did before, the laptop still suspends and resumes properly, etc. Nothing of any great significance is broken by this upgrade; there may have been problems at one point, but, it seems, the bulk of them were resolved by the time the Fedora developers decided that they should actually make a release. (That said, it should be pointed out that using FedUp precluded testing the Anaconda installer, which is where a lot of the problems were.)
One should not conclude that the upgrade is devoid of little irritations, though; such is not the nature of software. Perhaps the most annoying of those irritations resembles the classic "GNOME decided to forget all of your settings" pathology, but it's not quite the same. For whatever reason, somebody decided that the modifier key used with the mouse (to move or resize windows, for example) should be changed from "Alt" to "Super" (otherwise known as the "Windows key"). This is a strange and gratuitous change to the user interface that seems bound to confuse a lot of users. The fix is to go into dconf-editor, click on down to org→gnome→desktop→wm→preferences and change the value of mouse-button-modifier back to "<Alt>".
The GNOME developers, in their wisdom, decided that there was no use for a "log out" option if there is only one user account on the system. Modern systems are supposed to be about "discoverability," but it is awfully hard to discover an option that does not exist at all. Another trip into dconf-editor (always-show-logout under org→gnome→shell) will fix that problem — or one can just create a second user account.
Other glitches include the fact that the compose key no longer works with Emacs (a bug report has been filed for this one). This key (used to "compose" special characters not normally available on the keyboard) works fine with other applications, but not in Emacs. Also worth mentioning, in the hope it saves some time for others: the powertop 2.2 release shipped with F18 has changed the user interface so that the arrow keys, rather than moving between tabs, just shift the content around within the window. The trick is to use the tab key to go between tabs instead.
So what does this release have to offer in the way of new features? There is, of course, the usual array of upgraded packages, starting with a 3.7.2 kernel. Your editor, who has been working with Debian Testing on the main machine in recent months, still misses the rather fresher mix of packages to be found in the Fedora distribution.
Beyond that, there is the ability to use 256 colors in terminal emulator windows; your editor has little love for multicolor terminal windows, but others evidently disagree and will be happy with the wider range of color choices. Many users may also be pleased by the inclusion of the MATE desktop, a fork of the GNOME 2 environment. Your editor gave it a quick try and found that it mostly worked with occasional glitches. For example, the terminal emulator came up with both the foreground and background being black, suggesting that the MATE developers, too, are unenthusiastic about the 256-color feature. At this point, though, MATE feels something like a "70's classics" radio station; even if the music was better then, the world has moved on.
Beyond that, Fedora 18 offers features like Samba 4 and a new wireless
hotspot functionality. The latter looks like a useful way to extend
hotel Internet service to multiple devices, but your editor was unable to
get it to work. There is also the controversial placement of /tmp
on a tmpfs filesystem; that can be turned off by the administrator if
desired. Detection of MDNS devices (printers and such) should work better
even with the firewall in place.
The internals of the yum package manager
have been replaced with a system that is intended to perform
version of a yum replacement, intended to provide better performance,
is available in this release. The
Eucalyptus cloud manager is now available.
And so on.
The list of new features is rather longer than that, naturally; see the F18 feature page and the release notes for a more complete summary. But, for most Fedora users, it will be just another in a long series of releases, just later than most. This release's troubled development cycle does not appear to have led to a less stable distribution at the end.
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