Fedora 33 WorkstationIn late October, the Fedora project released Fedora 33 in several different versions. Workstation, Server, and IoT (Internet of Things) are the three core releases. Fedora CoreOS and Fedora Silverblue are considered emerging editions. There are also several spins and variants that feature alternate desktop environments or are tuned to a specific task. I will be focusing on Fedora 33 Workstation for this review.
Fedora 33 Workstation introduces two interesting new features: Btrfs as the default file system format and swap on zRAM, the later of which was already in use in Fedora IoT. The rest of the updates include the usual refresh and polish of everything. Fedora 33 Workstation ships with version 5.8 of the Linux kernel, GNOME 3.38, and all the various applications and development tools are the latest versions.
Installing Fedora 33 Workstation
I began by copying the Fedora 33 Workstation image to a flash drive and rebooting my computer. The release notes mentioned that there might be a problem with Secure Boot, but I left Secure Boot enabled to see if I would have problems, which I did. I then reset my computer to use the factory keys and then I could successfully boot Fedora 33's live image with Secure Boot enabled.
Fedora 33 -- Live desktop with Welcome to Fedora window (full image size: 2.4MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Secure boot issue sorted, the system quickly booted to a live desktop environment with a Try or Install dialog. I selected the Try option so I could look around first. Once I was done looking through the various aspects of the GNOME 3.38 desktop environment to see what had changed, I started the Anaconda installer to begin installing Fedora 33.
In Fedora 33, Anaconda handles only part of the installation experience, so there are very few options available. Keyboard, Time & Date, and Installation Destination are the only three things the user can adjust at this stage of the installation. Of those three, Installation Destination is the only one that has any real complexity. However, for the purposes of this review, I selected the automatic partitioning option in order to try Fedora 33's new Btrfs defaults.
To complete the installation process, I rebooted the computer. When the desktop environment loaded for the first time, GNOME's Initial Setup wizard ran to complete the installation. There were a few privacy options to configure related to location services and automatic problem reporting. Then the setup wizard created a new user, which has administrative privileges, and set the password for that user. There is no prompt to configure a root password, so it is not possible to log in as root unless the user sets a password for that account later.
After the setup process has completed, a much improved version of the GNOME Welcome Tour pops up. This tour shows the basics of the GNOME environment like the Activities overview and the notification area. After viewing the tour, I was finally ready to start exploring Fedora 33's GNOME 3.38 desktop.
Fedora 33's GNOME desktop
As much as I wanted to try out the various enhancements to GNOME, the first thing I did was open the Disks applications and some command line utilities to see what the new Btrfs partition scheme looked like. I was pleased to see that I would no longer have to deal with the frustratingly small home partition that I would get stuck with when using the default options in previous Fedora versions. I would still have to deal with making sure not to fill up a tiny 64GB drive, but I could now download large ISOs without running out space in a partition despite having a large amount of free space available on the drive. There are not any tightly integrated graphical utilities to take advantage of Btrfs's advanced features, but just the switch to the Btrfs is a massive quality of life improvement over Fedora's old default partition scheme for me.
Exploring the rest of the GNOME desktop, I found a familiar experience, but with a few new enhancements. It is now possible to manually sort the applications displayed in listing of installed applications. However, this change makes manual sorting necessary if you want to have the applications alphabetized. I have always sorted the applications I add to the dock by task (web browser & e-mail client, office applications, IDEs, and miscellaneous utilities), but I always liked having the full list of applications alphabetized. Now, every single time I install a new application, I need to manually drag it into alphabetical order. Even the Utilities application group that is created by default does not have the items in it alphabetized. If there is any rhyme or reason to the default ordering of the Utilities applications, I cannot see it.
Aside from the nice, but needs an auto-sort option, application sorting feature, GNOME 3.38 is really polished. From a graphical/user experience perspective, everything is just a little nicer than GNOME 3.36. Not so nice that a user must upgrade immediately, but certainly nice improvements for those that do upgrade.
However, not everything in the Fedora 33 desktop experience was perfect. I will admit my computer is a fairly weak machine with not a lot of RAM, but I found myself dealing with constantly crashing Firefox tabs and notifications that Evince crashed after exiting the program. Both are probably related to the way Fedora handles running out of RAM, but I did not have this problem in Fedora 32, and other distributions using the same releases of Firefox and Evince are not displaying any problems. I am hoping this will be fixed at some point, but right now it makes using Fedora 33 rather annoying.
Default software selection
The default software selection of graphical applications included with Fedora 33 Workstation is very slim. Basically, Firefox, LibreOffice Calc, LibreOffice Impress, LibreOffice Writer, and various GNOME utilities are the entire list of pre-installed applications. LibreOffice is at version 7, but for some reason Fedora 33 does not have icons for LibreOffice Draw and LibreOffice Math. It is still possible to access to those parts of LibreOffice by opening one of the included LibreOffice components, closing the document, and selecting a new Draw or Math document, so I have idea why they decided to remove the icons for those applications. Maybe some advanced features are missing from those LibreOffice components, but the document types are still listed as options, unlike the Base component, which is disabled. Installing the libreoffice package using dnf creates the icons for those two applications and installs the LibreOffice Base component. In earlier version of Fedora, installing the libreoffice package only added the Base components and a few other extra features, so I am not sure why they decided to remove the Draw and Math icons.
On the command line, Fedora 33 comes pre-loaded with a selection of development tools. Fedora also includes podman and tools for working with containers as part of the default package selection. One other change on the command line is that nano is now the default editor. In previous version of Fedora, nano might not even be installed if certain package groups were not installed.
Installing additional software
GNOME Software is the graphical application provided to install additional applications. On the command-line, the dnf command can be used to install addition RPM packages and flatpak can be used to install Flatpak applications. However, the Flathub repository is not included by default, so the only Flatpak applications available are a small list of applications provided in a Fedora Flatpak repository.
As is typical when I use Fedora, I had to install the RPM Fusion repositories and enable the Flathub Flatpak repository. However, that is only to gain access to a few packages. The amount of packages available for Fedora is very large. Were it not for some codecs from RPM Fusion and Zotero from Flathub, I could easily use just the software packages in Fedora's repositories.
I was extremely happy when I found out that Fedora 33's repositories contain packages for RStudio (both the desktop and sever version) and GnuCOBOL. I use both of the those all the time and usually have to download the RStudio RPM directly from the project's website and compile GnuCOBOL myself, but Fedora 33 lets me install both of those things right from the Fedora's repositories.
Fedora 33 is the first time I have ever been frustrated with a Fedora release. From the Secure Boot issue to the constantly crashing Firefox tabs, this release of Fedora was not a pleasure to work with. It was not awful, but it was no where near what I have usually experienced from a Fedora release. I am sure all the issues will be fixed eventually, but, for now, I have a hard time recommending Fedora 33. Maybe people with better hardware will have better luck (the Firefox issue does seem to be related to not having enough available RAM), so try Fedora 33 out, if you are a Fedora fan. Maybe things will have improved by the time they put out a possible point release to deal with the Secure Boot issue, but nothing to date has fixed any of the issues I had when working on this review.
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Hardware used in this review:My physical test equipment for this review was an ASUS VivoBook E406MA laptop with the following specifications: