Fedora 29 WorkstationEvery release of Fedora has a large number of installation images to choose from. Fedora 29 is no exception. The three core options are Workstation, Server, and Atomic, but there are also spins with various alternate desktop environments, labs that focus on specific tasks, and Silverblue, which is a variant of the Workstation version that applies the principles behind the Atomic version to a desktop-focused release. (You can read more about the Silverblue edition in our Technology Review.) All of these releases are built from the same packages, though Atomic and Silverblue use rpm-ostree in place of more traditional package management tools.
Each different flavor of Fedora has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some are focused on the desktop and others designed for servers. For this review I will only be looking at the Workstation version, which features the GNOME desktop environment and a small selection of applications. Some of what I will cover will be applicable to the other spins and their respective desktop environments, but I will focus mostly on Fedora Workstation’s GNOME-based user experience.
I began by downloading the 1.9GB Workstation ISO and copying it to a USB flash drive. I booted my computer from the flash drive and quickly had a live desktop that presented me with the option to install or try Fedora. I opted for the try option and looked around the live desktop for a while before installing. What I found was pretty typical for a recent Fedora Workstation release. There were newer versions of the standard applications, but no major surprises, so I clicked on the installer in the dash and started the installation process.
Installing Fedora 29 Workstation
Installing Fedora is done using the Anaconda installer. The experience should be familiar to anyone who has installed a recent release of Fedora. The process is handled though a series of tasks that can be completed in any order before the installer starts copying files to the hard drive.
Fedora 29 Workstation cuts the number of tasks down to just three: keyboard layout, date & time, and selecting the target drive to install Fedora on. Networking is handled through the live desktop, not the installer. The installation process is streamlined, but perhaps too streamlined.
Fedora 29 -- New user creation (full image size: 29kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
In addition to reducing the number of install tasks, the Fedora Workstation installation process handled new user creation during first boot. Instead of asking the user to create a root password and create a new user while Fedora is being installed to the hard drive, the GNOME Initial Setup wizard handles creating a new user account. The account created at this stage will be added to the wheel group, so it has sudo privileges, but the root account is not enabled by default. Personally, I am okay with the way Fedora 29 Workstation creates user accounts, but other people might want to create a root password during installation, instead of having to run "sudo passwd ..." later.
Both parts of the install process do their job just fine, but in Anaconda every single banner advertising something about Fedora was cut off or distorted in some way. In the screenshot above, the Install LibreOffice banner has words cut off on the right side. All the images in the loop have the same issue. It does not impact the functionality of the install process, but it does not leave a good first impression. This issue has been around for at least a few Fedora versions now, and while not mission critical, it really does need to be fixed.
GNOME desktop and default applications
Fedora 29 Workstation uses the standard GNOME 3 desktop and a typical selection of popular applications. Firefox is the included web browser, Evolution is the e-mail program, and LibreOffice (except for LibreOffice Base) is the office suite. Rhythmbox is the default music player, GNOME Videos the default video player, and GNOME Photos is the default photo application. The other applications are the various GNOME utilities. The selection of default software is almost the same as any other modern, GNOME-based distribution.
As is typical for Fedora, Fedora 29 Workstation features the latest releases of applications, which usually means more features and polish, but this time it also comes with bugs. I have experienced more issues with the release version of Fedora 29 Workstation than I have with beta versions of earlier Fedora versions. One of the packages I always install is texlive-scheme-full, but that was not installable because of dependency issues until about a week after Fedora 29 was released. GNOME Videos (a.k.a. Totem) cannot play video full-screen on Wayland. Full-screen video playback works okay (there is some minor tearing) on X, but is unusable on Wayland. I have been using GNOME Videos on Wayland for the past several Fedora releases without any problems, but now I have to switch to using the GNOME on Xorg session, play videos in a window, or use a different video player.
Fedora 29 -- Playing fullscreen video in Totem (full image size: 204kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Installing additional software
GNOME Software is the GUI application for installing additional software and installing updates. It works well enough, but there are some issues I would very much like to see fixed in future versions. One of the most annoying things is all the double entries for applications available from multiple sources (i.e. standard RPM packages and Flatpaks). Thankfully, this is already on the roadmap for a future release of GNOME Software, but, for now, it is an annoying issue. Another thing I would really like to see is more granular control over Flatpaks. Currently, it is either all or none when listing Flatpak applications. There is no way to remove proprietary applications from the results. Fedora has an option to enable certain third-party repositories to install certain proprietary software (e.g. Google Chrome and Steam) but the user has to actively choose to enable those repositories. It would be nice if the same enable/disable proprietary option could be extended to Flatpak. The individual Flatpak applications from Flathub show their license status, so filtering out non-open source software should be possible.
GNOME Software only displays GUI applications that are packaged with the appropriate metadata, so sometimes it is necessary to the use the command line to install additional software. This is handled with the dnf command, which provides a nice set of options for managing packages. Searching for packages, installing, upgrading, and more are all pretty straightforward using dnf. However, it would be nice to have a default GUI method for installing things like programming languages and command line utilities.
Working with modules
One of the new things in Fedora 29 Workstation is the Modularity feature. Modules allow users to select from different versions of certain packages. For example, Fedora 29 ships with Perl 5.28, but using modules it is possible to install Perl 5.24 or Perl 5.26 instead. In theory, this is a great feature, and something very useful on the server side and in containers, but it does not always work so well on desktop systems. When I tried to install Perl 5.24 with the "dnf module install perl:5.24/default" command, dnf complained about needing to use the --allowerasing or --skip-broken flags to deal with conflicts. When I used --allowerasing, dnf wanted to remove Perl 5.28 packages, which is understandable, but by extension it also wanted to remove things like git. All the other modules I tried behaved better, but Perl is a good example of something where Modularity still has issues. In fact, I could not install the standard Perl RPM group with "dnf install @perl" because it conflicts the the modules option. I had to use "dnf group install perl" instead.
Fedora 29 -- Terminal with listing of modules (full image size: 161kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
I found that modules are a little easier to work with than Red Hat’s Software Collections, but they were not perfect. If I were using Fedora on a server or for a container image, modules would be extremely useful, but on the Workstation side, they still need work. Granted, Fedora is a distribution that is willing to try out new things, so I cannot knock them too badly because the first Workstation release with module support still has a few issues.
Fedora 29 is a good release, but there are some issues with it. Users who are interested in trying out new things and are okay with the the occasional bug should feel comfortable trying out Fedora 29 Workstation. However, users wanting a polished experience might want to hold off until a few more bugs are fixed.
I would be okay with a few rough edges if they were just limited to the new features, but the two show-stopper bugs I had were playing full-screen video with GNOME Videos and being able to install texlive-scheme-full. Only the latter has been fixed, while video playback remains an issue. Playing full-screen videos in GNOME Videos on Wayland has worked perfectly on my hardware for the last several Fedora releases, but in Fedora 29 it is unusable. The video playback bug has already been reported in Red Hat’s Bugzilla, but the bug is still classified as new.
Overall, Fedora 29 Workstation is worth checking out, but I have to say "buyer beware" and encourage people to check to make sure all of the things they need are in a functional state before making the switch or upgrade. Things should be fixed in a few weeks, but I have honestly run beta releases of previous Fedora versions that had fewer issues than the final release of Fedora 29.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a Lenovo Ideapad 100-15IBD laptop with the following specifications: