25th August 2011 at 19:21
In my previous post I talked about my Linux setup with the latest release of Fedora and why it was so great. Like I promised, I am now doing a tutorial/walkthrough to show you how to get the best out of Fedora 15 and overcome the issues I found. If you didn’t read my post about Fedora 15, I strongly recommend it, because it shows why this release of Fedora is worth installing, and because it suits as a great introduction to the contents of this post.
This tutorial is aimed to be easily understood even to those with less knowledge in computers and Linux. If you’re a newbie, I hope you can follow these instructions with little problem. I also cut the use of the command line as much as possible, to prove that a modern Linux distro is as user friendly as Windows or Mac OS X.
Installation and update
You can get a free copy of the Fedora 15 installation disk image in the official webpage of the project. At the time of this writing you can download the latest stable release, 15 (codenamed Lovelock), and an alpha release, 16, both available for 32 and 64 bit processors and in every major window manager. I strongly recommend you to download the stable default desktop edition (GNOME-based Fedora 15 Lovelock), as it is the option used in this tutorial and, in my opinion, the best option available.
For those who are not experienced with the process of the installation of an operative system (OS), you now have to burn that disk image to a CD using a burning tool such as ImgBurn for Windows, Disk Utility for Mac OS X (pre-installed) or Brasero for Linux. If you don’t want to waste a CD or if your computer doesn’t have a CD reader, you can burn the disk image to a USB pen with UNetbootin.
The installation process should be straightforward, both from CD or USB. When the installation is done, it’s time to get all of Fedora’s updates. And that’s when I found my first obstacle. The update manager was returning an error and cancelling the process. My solution was simply to deselect the item called “Rawhide repo definitions”, as you can see in the image, and proceed:
After updating and restarting your computer, you can now move on to the fun part.
The applications you want
As with many other Linux distros, Fedora ships with many pre-installed applications, such as the GNOME suite, which includes games, a music library, a burning tool, a photo gallery, an Instant Messenger and many others. If you don’t want some of those apps to clutter your perfect Linux setup, you can easily remove them using the Add/Remove Software tool. Just make sure you don’t remove any dependencies that might affect other parts of the desktop.
To install your favourite applications, simply use the Add/Remove Software tool again. Many Windows users believe installing applications on Linux is much harder than in Windows, but that is because they’re not aware of this tool, similar to the Apple App Store or the Android Market Place, that actually makes app management much easier.
There are still some applications that you won’t find using this tool and will have to download an installer file (an installation process similar to the one found in Windows) or, less commonly, download the source code and compile (typically indie software still under development maintained by a community of programmers working for free, so although it’s not a simple install, it’s still worth the cost). The installer file for Fedora is a RPM package. This is different from Ubuntu and Debian, that use DEB packages.
You can also install and remove applications using the Linux terminal, typing “sudo yum install nameoftheapp” for installation and “sudo yum remove nameoftheapp” for removal (both without the quotation marks). This is different from Ubuntu and Debian, that use apt-get and aptitude instead of yum.
Some of the applications I installed and recommend are Google Chrome (had to download RPM package from Google website), Dropbox (had to download RPM package from Dropbox website), Pidgin IM, Skype (had to download RPM package from Skype website), GIMP, the Libre Office suite and GNOME Tweak Tool. If you can’t install Skype because it’s returning an error, keep on reading for an alternative installation.
If you’re interested, some of the applications I removed were the games, Rythmbox (the music library), Shotwell (the photo gallery), Empathy IM (the instant messenger, far less powerful than Pidgin IM), Brasero (the burning tool, unneeded in a laptop with no CD drive), Sound Juicer (a ripping tool, also unneeded), among others.
After getting all the software you want, it’s time to tweak it to better suit your needs.
Tweaking the applications
Now that there is new software in your Fedora desktop, lets make it work better for you.
If you installed Google Chrome, you probably feel that its design feels out of place comparing with the consistent look of all the other applications. To make Chrome look like any other application, go to Preferences > Personal Stuff > Appearance and select the option “Use system title bar and borders”. Now apply this theme to make the overall appearance look like the native GNOME 3 theme (the same developer also has an extension to make the scroll bars look like the native GNOME 3 scroll bars, so you can also install it if you want). The picture shows the result, a much better looking Chrome:
If you use Twitter, you will find that it mysteriously crashes in Chrome. To solve that problem, simply type “restorecon -R ~/.config” in the terminal (source). This is one of the few occasions in this tutorial that uses the terminal. As you can see, it is being used once to patch a very specific bug, so it’s not what I’d call a frequent behaviour.
As I find Pidgin to be a much better instant messenger than the default Empathy, I replaced them. However, Empathy had a deep integration with the OS, letting the user view the entire conversation and even reply when a message was received. This feature is brilliant for when you’re doing more than just chat, and I didn’t want to lose it when switching to Pidgin. To get that functionality in Pidgin, simply install via the Add/Remove Software tool or via terminal the following extension: gnome-shell-extension-pidgin. Then, just enable it in Pidgin.
One of the biggest problems with the applications I installed was with Skype, that would eat all the computer’s RAM, freeze the entire OS and then crash. This is a serious bug that happens randomly when Skype starts that I already mentioned in my last post and that many more people complained about. It should be a shame for Skype to have such a bug and do nothing about it. Skype only offers for download the 2.2 beta version, and neither lets users choose an older stable version nor releases any sort of bug fix.
In my previous post I said I hadn’t any solution to this problem with Skype. However, I now have a solution that so far hasn’t failed. If you’re also out of luck with Skype, try this: Create a new file called Skype.sh (actually, you can name it anything you want, as long as it finishes with .sh). In that file write “skype –disable-api” (without the quotation marks) and save. Now go to the file’s Properties, Permissions tab and check “Allow executing file as program”. You now have a new Skype executable that never failed to me (at least until now). If you want to use the Skype icon in the Applications menu instead of an executable file, go to /usr/share/applications, go to Skype’s Properties and change its Command to “skype –disable-api” (without the quotation marks).
We’re now finished tweaking the newly installed apps. Let’s now start tweaking the OS interface.
Tweaking the OS
GNOME 3 is probably the best window manager available for Linux. However, it allows for very limited customization, and you probably won’t agree with every design decision the GNOME team made. Fortunately, there is much you can do about it.
Firstly, if you haven’t already, install GNOME Tweak Tool. This tool grants you access to system settings that for some unknown reason the GNOME team decided to hide from you. Those settings include being able to use the desktop, change fonts, change themes, decide what to do when closing the laptop lid and many more.
Now, let’s install the shell extensions. These extensions let you change some core functionalities of GNOME 3. Launch the Add/Remove Software tool and search for gnome-shell-extensions. Select the ones you find useful. I selected the extensions that let me have a Power Off option visible all the time (I don’t understand why I have to hold the Alt key to view that option) and that show the windows’s overview in a more precise way to their original placement and size (instead of displaying them in a grid, all with the same size).
To hide the Universal Access icon (an icon most people will probably never use more than once), simply open /usr/share/gnome-shell/js/ui/panel.js with administrator access (one easy way you can do that is by typing “sudo gedit /usr/share/gnome-shell/js/ui/panel.js” in the terminal) and comment line 38 (to those unfamiliar with programming jargon, just put // at the beginning of the line). Update: If you’re using Fedora 17, you should comment line 37 instead of line 38 (thank you zazlox for pointing it out).
If, like me, you don’t use the upper right menu to change your IM status and find the status options to be cluttering the menu, there is also a file where you can remove those options. If you installed the shell extension to add an always visible Power Off option to the menu, open /usr/share/gnome-shell/extensions/alternative-status-menu\@gnome-shell-extensions.gnome.org/extension.js with administrator access and comment lines 39 to 50. If you didn’t install that extension, open /usr/share/gnome-shell/js/ui/statusMenu.js with administrator access and comment lines 184 to 195.
This is what the menu looks like after the Power Off extension and the comments of the shell files (notice the two new options in the bottom, the missing IM status options and the missing Universal Access icon):
Now for something we all need but no major Linux distro supports: codecs, Flash plugin and TrueType fonts. To get all that and more, download and install EasyLife from their website. Then run it and check whatever you want to install. If you previously tried to install Skype and it returned an error, you can install it via this software. After installing everything you want, you can remove EasyLife as you removed the other applications, as you’ll no longer use it any more.
Finally, a crucial patch for anyone having trouble with TP-Link TL-WN722N or similar wireless adapter (using ath9k). This wireless adapter worked out of the box when I installed Fedora, but after the updates it stopped working. This is due to an update of the Linux kernel. In order to get it to work again, follow the instructions in this post. That post is referring to a Ubuntu installation, but I followed all the steps in Fedora and it worked.
To sum up
These were the steps I did to get what I’ve previously said to be the perfect Linux setup. This is, of course, not suited to everyone. Not everyone uses Skype or Pidgin or the wireless adapter TP-Link TL-WN722N. However, if you use Fedora 15 or if you want to start using it, you can make use of my experience to cut some research time on the mutual problems you may find.
If you have any doubt or know the solution to other frequent issues, please drop a comment, so more people can benefit from it.