Sunday, May 12, 2013

Fedora has lost me

I installed Fedora 19alpha on my laptop the other day, and I have to say that Fedora Linux has really lost me.

Fedora 19 will include GNOME 3.8 as the graphical desktop, and I've previously noted that GNOME 3 has a few usability issues. GNOME 3 fails to meet two of the four themes of successful usability: "Consistency" and "Menus". Where are the menus? There is no "File" menu that allows me to do operations on files. There is no "Help" menu that I can use when I get stuck. The updated file manager (Nautilus) doesn't have a menu, but other programs in GNOME 3 do. The Gedit text editor (which is also part of GNOME) still has menus, but the file manager does not. When you maximize a Nautilus window, either to the full screen or to half of the screen, the title bar disappears. I don't understand why. The programs do not act consistently.

I will give a positive comment that the updated file manager now makes it easier to connect to a remote server. This used to be an obvious action under the "File" menu, but in GNOME 3 it is an action directly inside the navigation area. So that's a step in the right direction.

While some areas of the Fedora 19alpha desktop seem familiar, the environment contains many areas where I was left confused. Programs act differently; there's very little consistency. And the updated desktop environment seems to avoid traditional "desktop" conventions.

But the biggest problem is the Fedora 19alpha installer itself.

Fedora used to have a very simple, easy-to-use installer. You answered a few simple questions using point-and-click or drop-down menus, then the installer did everything else for you. In the Fedora 19alpha installer, everything has changed. (Actually, I believe this changed in Fedora 18.) The installer now presents a yellow warning label that the disk doesn't have enough room. When I clicked into the disk setup tool, I was given the option to "reclaim" space, but I really didn't understand what that meant. There was no button or other option to "install over my previous Linux installation," despite the fact that this laptop only had Linux on it (an older Fedora 17 install). If I were a user with "typical" knowledge and "average" skill, I would likely be afraid to use this installer, lest it do the wrong thing.

The installer's progress bar is equally confusing. Usually, when a program displays a progress bar and a message to indicate the percent complete (such as, "Installing … 50%") you might expect the progress bar to indicate the same "percent complete" as the text message. Not so during the Fedora 19alpha installation. The installer (Anaconda) displayed a message that it was installing system software, and it was "50%" complete, yet the progress bar displayed something like two-thirds complete. I quickly decided not to trust the progress bar. And it's a bad sign when your users decide not to trust your software.

I think Fedora has lost me as a user. While I am a big Linux fan, and a long-time Fedora Linux user, maybe I'll try something else. Perhaps Ubuntu Linux or Linux Mint will be a better Linux distribution. I'll investigate, and comment on their usability later.

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