Updated: I've added more screenshots of the default desktop.
I'm closely watching the Fedora Project for the next release of Fedora Linux. Fedora 14 has been great, but what does the upcoming Fedora 15 have to offer? I downloaded the Fedora 15 Beta to find out.
As usual for testing a new Linux release, I installed this on a USB flash drive. While it's a little slow in running updates (that's due to the nature of flash) this is a great way to experiment with the Beta version without installing over my existing system. The install took about 20 minutes, from start to finish, using the Live CD. For those who are curious about the technical details, I manually partitioned the flash drive with a very plain layout, and let the installer encrypt my filesystem automatically.
The biggest difference is that Fedora 15 has upgraded to Gnome 3, which uses the new Gnome Shell interface. It's a change, for sure. But I quickly got over it, and after a few minutes it felt quite natural.
To compare: Gnome 2 (basically, what you see in Fedora 14 and earlier releases) used a menu "panel" at top with a "Start" menu and other shortcuts, and a different Gnome "panel" at bottom that shows your running applications and available virtual desktops. I usually describe this as "things you can do" (top panel) and "things you are doing" (bottom panel). This isn't too different from the interface used by Windows - which was probably intentional - but at the cost of having two panels taking up "screen real estate" - not a problem on typical desktops, but can get cramped on small netbook displays.
Gnome 3 takes a different view on the desktop, based on user experience and feedback. The default Gnome Shell has a single menu bar, which lets you launch programs and quickly access settings. Here's my default desktop on Fedora 15 Beta, using the Gnome Shell:
(That screenshot is extra wide because I have a second monitor attached to my laptop - the desktop at right - and I wanted the screenshot to show everything.)
The "Activities" menu helps organize everything. To start an application, click "Activities" and you can select from a "Favorites" list, or a full list of installed programs. Applications are sorted by category, or you can scroll through "All":
Instead of a separate panel to show your available applications, you click "Activities" to see what's going on, even if you have programs running on a virtual desktop. I suppose Mac users will find this "Activities" view similar to that of Exposé.
And a view of the file manager:
Firefox is now version 4. This is an obvious update. I also installed Google Chrome separately.
LibreOffice replaces OpenOffice. You may remember that some of the OpenOffice folks split off when Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems (the "sponsor" of OpenOffice.) Since OpenOffice is open source, the developers "forked" the project and created a new office suite based on OpenOffice, plus some updates. LibreOffice is the result of that new community. While I haven't used it yet (I prefer Google Docs) I understand LibreOffice has folded in some new features that make it easier to use.
And of course, Rhythmbox (music player) and Shotwell (photo manager) are still there. I love these applications.
And while I can't find mention of it in the Release Notes, I'm positive Fedora 15 updated the font rendering. Everything looks so smooth and easy to read. Even Google Chrome, which uses an outdated font method, now looks great!
I haven't had time to poke around with all the new features yet. I've only been running the Beta for a few hours. I don't have any complaints so far.
Fedora 15 is due out at the end of May.