Fedora 30 Workstation and Fedora 30 SilverblueFedora 30 Workstation, Server, and various Fedora spins and labs were released on April 30. This release of Fedora comes with Linux 5.0, Bash 5.0, GNOME 3.32, and a whole host of other software updates. As is typical for a recent Fedora release, many of changes involve updating various development tools and programming languages to their latest versions, but Fedora 30 also added two new desktop environments to Fedora's list of supported desktops: Pantheon and Deepin. There are not spins for either of these desktops, but they can be installed using the appropriate "dnf group install" command.
While the possibility of reviewing one of the new-to-Fedora desktops is intriguing I decided to focus on the "default" Fedora release for desktops, which is the Workstation version. I also looked at Silverblue, a variation on Workstation that uses rpm-ostree to update the entire base operating system as a single unit instead of using the dnf package manager to update individual packages, to see if that variant is close to being a viable alternative to the standard Workstation release.
Installing Fedora Workstation
To begin installing Fedora I copied the 1.9GB Workstation ISO to a flash drive. I restarted my computer and booted from the flash drive. The live GNOME desktop environment started up, and I was given the option to Try or Install Fedora. I opted for Try, just so I could poke around the desktop to see if anything had changed. It turns out that something had; Fedora 30 does not come with Evolution as part of its package selection. In fact, it has no graphical e-mail application at all. In the age of webmail this is not too bad, but it does expose an odd bug where the default calendar application, and only available calendar option in the Default Applications Settings panel, is the Text Editor (gedit) application, not GNOME Calendar.
Having explored enough to see what else might have changed, I started the Anaconda installer. Because Fedora Workstation uses a two-part install process, there was not much to do in the installer beyond selecting my language and keyboard layout, adjusting my timezone, and partitioning my hard drive. I selected the default partition options, but enabled encryption, so all I had to do was set an encryption password. Once Fedora was installed on my hard drive, I rebooted the computer to finish the installation process.
While Fedora was starting I got to see a very nice new boot splash that displays my computer manufacturer's logo, a spinner, and the Fedora logo. (When I booted from the flash drive to install Fedora, I got a boot splash with just three little boxes, which was either a fluke or a bug.) This new boot splash screen looks very nice, and it provides a prompt to unlock encrypted disks where the manufacturer's logo is displayed; once the password is entered the logo returns. When using Fedora 30 in a virtual machine in GNOME Boxes, the place where the manufacturer's logo goes is just blank.
Fedora 30 -- New user creation in GNOME (full image size: 34kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
After the system was fully started, GNOME Initial Setup handled the rest of the installation and created a new user. This new user has admin privileges and the root password is not set at any point during the installation process, leaving the root account locked. One nice new feature is that GNOME Initial Setup will create a custom image for a new user consisting of the user's initials and a colored background. The background color is not something the user can select; it seems to be generated by using the letters in a user's name. "Joshua Allen Holm" consistently gives me a brown background, but "Joshua Holm" gives me a purple background. However, there seems to be little way to access this feature after install. When I add a new user to my system, it does create initials on a colored background image for the new users, but for pre-existing users, the Users panel in GNOME Settings only presents the various default images as options, or lets the user take or select a picture. There seems to be no option to pick/make an initials/background color image. There is also no option to pick no image at all and go back to the default, generic user icon.
Fedora 30 Workstation's desktop and default applications
Fedora's desktop is a standard GNOME 3 desktop. The only extension Fedora Workstation uses by default is the one that displays the Fedora logo in the bottom right corner of the desktop. The software selection is also pretty standard: Firefox for web browsing, LibreOffice for editing documents, Rhythmbox for playing music, GNOME Photos and Image Viewer for viewing images. The rest of the software are standard GNOME applications and utilities. As noted above, there is no e-mail program provided by default, so the user will have to install something if they want an e-mail application.
Fedora 30 Workstation's default selection of software is okay. Users who just want to write a paper, create a spreadsheet, browse the web, or check their web-based e-mail, should not need to add much to the system. Users who want to play videos that use patent-encumbered codecs will, of course, need to add RPM Fusion's repositories to their system, but that is to be expected on Fedora.
Overall, the upgrade to GNOME 3.32 brings some nice refinements, but nothing too major. It is mostly a matter of polish and minor improvements. However, one thing I noticed when looking around the new features in GNOME's Settings application was that the Privacy panel had options to disable the camera and microphone, but these options did not work. When I turned off the camera, Cheese, which is a webcam application installed through an RPM package, still accessed my camera just fine. When I tried Flatpak applications instead, they also could still access the camera and microphone.
Installing additional software
If the default packages are not enough for a user, there is plenty of software in Fedora's repositories. GNOME Software is the graphic option to install new packages, and in Fedora 30 it comes with a nice feature that integrates the same package from multiple sources into a single page, so Flatpak applications and applications from Fedora's repositories are no longer separate entries.
Fedora 30 -- GNOME Software with Source Selection menu (full image size: 398kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Users who wish to install applications from the command line can use dnf to install software packaged as RPMs and the flatpak command to install Flatpaks. However, the popular Flathub repository is not enabled by default, so users will need to add it (or some other Flatpak repository) before being able to install much of anything using the flatpak command. There is a new Fedora Flatpak repository, but there is almost nothing in it, just a few games, some basic GNOME utilities, the Transmission bittorrent client, Firefox, and Thunderbird.
Various modules can be enabled and installed using dnf, so users can install various different versions of different programming languages, databases, and a small selection of other applications. For example, it is possible to install Node.js 8, 10, or 11 and PostgreSQL 9.6, 10, or 11. There are not as many version options for some modules, but there are usually a few options. Sometimes the different modules provide the choice between different implementations with the two Kubernetes modules providing a way to install standard Kubernetes 1.10 or OpenShift 3.10.
Fedora Silverblue and Toolbox
Fedora 30 Silverblue represents what may be a possible future for Workstation. It remains to be seen if Silverblue will be ever become the default version of Fedora for desktop users, but it is an interesting alternative. After trying out the standard Workstation version, I copied the 2.1GB Silverblue ISO to a flash drive and used that to install Fedora Silverblue. Because the process is so similar, I will not go into as many details, and I will mostly point out the difference from the standard Workstation experience.
Unlike Workstation, there is no live desktop environment when booting the install media. Another difference is that Silverblue still uses Anaconda to create a new user and still lets the user set the root password. However, this means that the new user will not have the fancy new initials & colour background user image. After Silverblue is installed it comes with far less software. Firefox and a very, very limited selection of GNOME utilities are all the software that comes in the Silverblue base image. Just like Workstation, Silverblue does not enable Flathub by default, so the selection of Flatpak application is paltry, but GNOME Software does show RPM-based applications and can layer them on top of the base Silverblue image, but a restart is required to use any applications installed this way.
To use Silverblue as intended, I added the Flathub repository and added applications from there. Honestly, I was happy with how many of the applications I use were available from Flathub. The only things on my must have list that were not there were GNOME Latex (formerly known as Latexila) and RStudio. Granted, not every Flatpak application is as nice to use as the versions available as RPMs, but they worked well enough. To give some examples of Flatpaks that do not match up to their RPM counterparts, ScummVM is limited to having access to the Documents folder, so games need to be installed there for ScummVM to be able to find them (overriding this confinement setting is also an option); GNOME Clocks and Weather do not integrate with GNOME's notification/calendar panel; and for some reason various games do not close properly and instead their final screen remains stuck in front of an otherwise functional and active GNOME desktop. Every time I had a Flatpak game do this, I had to press the Super button my keyboard, blindly type "Log Out" and blindly select the Log Out button on the dialog box that I could not see. After I switched back to the traditional Workstation variant, I confirmed that the same behavior exists there, so it is not a Silverblue-specific bug.
One interesting new feature included in the default Silverblue package selection is Toolbox, which is a command-line utility to easily manage containers that can be used as developer workspace for installing development tools and libraries without having to deal with layering them on top of the Silverblue image. Using ‘toolbox create' creates a new container based on the Fedora 30 Container image, but various options can be used to create additional containers or containers based on other images. The ‘toolbox enter' command enters the toolbox, and users can install packages using dnf. When inside the container, it is still possible to access the files in a user's home directory, so it does not complicate the development process by walling off development files inside a specific container. One thing I noticed though is that the default image created still seems to have the updates-testing repositories enabled (as I write this it is more than a week after Fedora 30's release and it is still doing this when I create a new image), so to update the container, I had to run dnf with the --disablerepo=updates-testing option to get everything properly updated without installing testing packages. Toolbox does the same thing on Fedora Workstation, so the issue is with the Fedora Container image in the container repository, not with Silverblue.
Fedora 30 continues the trend of each new Fedora release being a little better and more polished than the last. There are still a few rough edges (e.g., Toolbox creating an image that still has updates-testing enabled and certain Flatpak games not properly exiting), but those should be resolved soon enough. Fedora 30 Workstation is more than ready for anyone who likes being an early adopter, but more conservative upgraders should perhaps give it a few more weeks.
Fedora 30 Silverblue is almost ready for anyone interested in using Flatpaks for all of their apps and containers for development. Silverblue's GNOME desktop needs a few minor odds & ends fixed to bring into feature parity with Workstation, but most of the issues with Silverblue involve getting various Flatpak applications to communicate with each other and with the base system. So for some, Silverblue may be ready, it really depends on an individual's particular software needs, but for others it still needs work.
* * * * *
Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a Lenovo Ideapad 100-15IBD laptop with the following specifications: