Fedora 26The twenty-sixth release of Fedora is stable, polished, but kind of boring. The changes from Fedora 25 can be summarized as "newer versions of various packages." Fedora Workstation now comes with GNOME 3.24, which adds a built-in Night Light function that changes the color of the display at night, and LibreOffice 5.3, which can use the new Notebookbar interface if experimental features are enabled. There are also minor, incremental improvements to the Anaconda installer, DNF package manager, and sundry other packages.
The really interesting changes come in the form of a new spin, a variant featuring a different desktop environment that uses the LXQt desktop and a new Lab variant that focuses on Python programming. These two new editions are far more interesting than the changes to Fedora Workstation so, after I take a look at Fedora Workstation's new features, I will explore each of these new Fedora flavours before sharing my final thoughts on Fedora 26 as a whole.
Packing a decent selection of software into a 1.6GB ISO, Fedora Workstation provides a near-complete desktop experience out of the box. Sure, developers and other people with more advanced needs will need to install additional software, but for basic use, Fedora comes with enough software pre-installed. Firefox for web browsing, Evolution for e-mail, LibreOffice for editing documents, plus the standard selection of GNOME applications, like Rhythmbox and Videos. The only thing lacking is some of the media codecs that have to be installed from RPM Fusion or some other source.
Installing Fedora Workstation is a straightforward experience for anyone familiar with modern Red Hat-style distributions. Boot the live media, run the Anaconda installer, select a few options, and the operating system is installed on the computer's hard drive. Users already running Fedora can also use GNOME Software or the DNF package manager to upgrade to newer versions of Fedora.
Fedora 26 -- The Anaconda system installer (full image size: 68kB, resolution 1366x768 pixels)
There have been a few refinements to Anaconda since Fedora 25, but most are minor. The only exception is that the partitioning disks step now has an advanced option for power users. This new option uses Blivet GUI to provide a more feature-rich partitioning experience. I tried out this new advanced option when I installed Fedora 26 and found that it provided a superior partitioning experience, but only if you really need to tweak your options. I always change my partition sizes from Fedora's defaults, but the older manual partitioning option has always been more the enough for my purposes. Blivet GUI is not something I see myself using very frequently, but it will be a very welcome addition for users that really need advanced partitioning tools.
Overall, Fedora Workstation is a well put together desktop experience, but like I noted in my introduction, it is kind of boring. It looks like all the big changes to Fedora are slated for future releases. Users of Fedora 25 should consider upgrading as soon as possible to take advantage of new features like Night Light, and users shopping for a new distribution should definitely give Fedora Workstation a try.
Fedora's LXQt spin
I will admit that Fedora Workstation with its GNOME desktop is my normal setup. I use it daily and like it, but I was interested in checking out the new LXQt spin. While I do have some issues with it, which I cover below, I found the LXQt spin to be a nice change of pace. It is still Fedora under the hood, so it is not a radical departure, but it was different enough from the standard Workstation/GNOME experience to be interesting. The layout of the LXQt desktop is more traditional, with the taskbar at the bottom of the screen in a layout similar to Windows and KDE. LXQt is lightweight but still looks modern.
The LXQt spin's 1.0GB ISO is smaller than the Workstation ISO, but that is not just because the LXQt desktop is a more lightweight desktop. Unfortunately, the ISO is smaller because the live image does not come with much software. There is a web browser (QupZilla), the Qtransmission bittorrent client, Quassel IRC program, and a various system utilities but not much else. No graphical e-mail client. No office suite. The lack of an e-mail client in the age of webmail I can understand, but no office software makes for a sub-optimal live desktop experience. Including either LibreOffice or the Calligra office suite would provide a much better out of box experience.
While it would be nice to have more software included on the ISO, the LXQt spin can install any Fedora package. Unlike Fedora Workstation, which uses GNOME Software to install packages, the LXQt spin uses dnfdragora. This graphic package manager provides a pretty typical experience for users familiar with various graphic package managers. dnfdragora lets users install, uninstall, and update packages. Users can search though packages visually or by a keyword search. Pretty typical experience really, but nice and easy to use. The only frustration is that one has to use it just to get the LXQt spin into a usable state. A lot of software can fit into 600MB, so it would be nice to see future releases of the LXQt spin have ISOs closer in size to Workstation's ISO, just so the user experience is more complete right after installing.
Fedora Python Classroom
Out of all the new things available in Fedora 26, the new Python Classroom Lab variant is the most interesting. This specialized Fedora lab is focused entirely on Python development. It uses the GNOME desktop environment, but aside from a few utilities, most of the standard applications are removed. The only graphical software included is Calculator, Emacs, Files, Firefox, IDLE 3, Ninja-IDE, Settings, Software, Text Editor, and various basic utilities. If it is not Python related or does not support programming Python, it is not included.
The Python Classroom ISO is almost a large as Fedora Workstation's and all of the space saved by removing applications goes towards providing a Python programming environment. A lot more Python packages are included on this ISO, making it possible to do a wide variety of Python programming right from the live environment without having to install anything. While professional Python programmers will probably find things lacking for their own purposes, the Python Classroom lab provides plenty of packages for use in a learning environment. A handful of spare computers, Fedora Python Classroom on USB drives, and an introductory Python programming text are a great way to quickly and easily create a learning lab for teaching new programmers.
Ninja-IDE is the primary development tool provided and it is a reasonable choice. Sure, some developers might want their favorite IDE instead, but Ninja-IDE strikes a excellent balance between lightweight and providing tools to help developers create software. It is a well-rounded IDE that provides a good set of features without being too heavy like Eclipse with Python development tools installed could be, and it is more robust than any of the text editors with syntax highlighting options that are available. By using Ninja-IDE, the Python Classroom lab provides a development solution that should work well on even on slightly older hardware. Ninja-IDE is also cross-platform, so users who start learning Python through a Python Classroom experience can continue learning using the same IDE on their Windows or macOS computer, if they are not yet comfortable making the switch to Linux.
My only caveat with the Python Classroom lab is that Emacs has an icon in the application list, but Vim does not. I have no particular preference in the great Emacs vs Vi debate, but it would have been nice to include graphical versions of both applications, so that the icons for both appeared on the desktop instead of there being an icon for one and requiring opening a terminal to access the other.
Fedora 26 is a great release of one of the major Linux distributions. Yes, the differences between Fedora 26's and Fedora 25's Workstation variants are minimal, but the few changes that are there are solid reasons to upgrade. For users interested in different desktop environments, Fedora's various spins provide a solid Fedora core experience with different desktop environments on top. The LXQt spin in particular is an interesting new addition to the Fedora family and is worth checking out. Though, the real star of this release is the Python Classroom Lab, which is a wonderful way to provide a Python programming environment for classrooms. Even when running off live media, it is very functional, making it a great way to temporarily turn a few general purpose computers into a lab for teaching programming without a lot of work.
If the worst thing I can say is that Fedora 26 is boring, I think the developers have done a great job. I really look forward to the next few releases of Fedora, which should be much more interesting, assuming planned developments actually make it into the releases.
* * * * *
Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a Lenovo Ideapad 100-15IBD laptop with the following specifications: