Fedora 32 WorkstationIn late April, the Fedora project released Fedora 32. This release, like all recent Fedora releases, is available in several different editions. Workstation and Server are the two main editions, and there are three emerging editions: Fedora CoreOS, Fedora Silverblue, and Fedora IoT. There are also several spins that feature alternate desktop environments and labs that serve specific purposes. For this review I will be focusing on Fedora Workstation, which uses GNOME as the desktop environment, but many of the enhancements made in Fedora 32 are available in all the Fedora editions.
Installing Fedora Workstation
I began by downloading the 1.8GB Fedora 32 Workstation x86_64 ISO and copying it to a flash drive. Then I rebooted the computer and booted from the flash drive. Fedora booted quickly and I was soon looking at a GNOME desktop with a prompt asking me if I wanted to "Try Fedora" or "Install to Hard Drive". Because I already knew that my hardware (except for the fingerprint scanner on the touchpad) worked with Fedora's previous release, I picked the install option.
Fedora 32 -- Live desktop with Try or Install options (full image size: 2.8MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
The first part of Fedora's installation process is handled by Anaconda. The only things that are configured during this part of the process are keyboard layout, time & date, and selecting/partitioning the disk Fedora will be installed on. The partitioning option does provide advanced customization options, but I opted for the defaults. This worked fine for the most part, but I did notice that on my new Fedora installation the volume group name for the LVM volume group created by Anaconda was "fedora_localhost--live". Because Anaconda has no option for configuring networking or setting the hostname, and because I did not use any other method to change the hostname of the live image, this name carried over to the volume group during installation. For comparison, the hostname changes from "localhost-live" on the live image to "localhost" on an installed system. The hostname gets adjusted if no hostname is set, but the volume group retains the "-live" suffix. Changing the hostname on the live image before running Anaconda solves this problem, but it is not very intuitive to have to go into GNOME Settings or use another method to change the hostname of the live image to properly set the volume group labels. Of course, this only applies when selecting the default partitioning option; when using the custom option, the volume group names can be configured by the user.
The next step of the installation process is handled after the new Fedora installation is booted for the first time. GNOME Initial Setup handles creating a new user and configuring a few privacy settings. This new user has administrator privileges and the root account is disabled. Installing additional users can be done using the GNOME Settings application. The root account can be enabled by using "sudo passwd" to set a password for the root account.
Fedora 32 -- Creating a new user during the initial setup (full image size: 2.2MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Fedora Workstation's default GNOME desktop and software
Fedora 32's GNOME desktop is very close to GNOME's default settings. The only GNOME extension enabled by default is one that shows "Fedora" in the lower right corner of the background, but Fedora does provide a "Classic" login option that enables more extensions and provides a desktop experience closer to, but not exactly like, GNOME 2. If you like GNOME, Fedora Workstation is an excellent choice, but if do not like the GNOME way of doing things, one of Fedora's spins or a different distribution entirely might be a better choice. Personally, I really like GNOME as is, so I do prefer Fedora's take on GNOME, but I know not everyone feels the same way.
The default selection of software that comes pre-installed with Fedora 32 consists of Firefox, the Calc, Impress, Math, and Writer components of LibreOffice 6.4 , and a selection of GNOME applications and utilities. There is no e-mail application installed by default, but in the age of web-based e-mail that is understandable. The default audio player is Rhythmbox, the default video player is GNOME Videos, and the default image viewer is Image Viewer, but GNOME Photos is also installed.
Fedora 32 Workstation's GNOME 3.36 desktop environment works extremely well. Earlier versions of Fedora and GNOME would occasionally slow down or freeze up entirely on the laptop I used for this review, but nothing like that occurred so far with Fedora 32. Part of this is thanks to improvements made to GNOME, and part is due to the inclusion of EarlyOOM, which makes Fedora handle low memory situations much better than it did in earlier versions.
Installing additional software
Like most Fedora releases, the bulk of the change log is "new version of [some programming language or development tool]". Most of these packages do not come pre-installed, but can easily be installed using the DNF package manager. Fedora has up to date packages for Go, GCC, Pascal, Python, Ruby, and a wide selection of other options, which makes Fedora a good choice for developers. Python 2.7 is end of life, but there is still a python27 package available.
In Fedora 32 DNF feels much, much faster. Packages install faster than they did in Fedora 31. Given the network congestion caused by everyone working from home right now, it is not possible for me to properly benchmark DNF's Fedora 31 and Fedora 32 performance, but it is snappier enough to be noticeable. The "command not found" feature on the command line also works better. It still takes a while to return information the first time it runs in a session, but after that it seems to behave much better and quickly provides the option to install a package that provides the entered command or state that the command was not found if no package provides that command.
The graphical option to install additional software is GNOME Software. This application provides a selection of GUI applications from Fedora's RPM repositories and from Fedora's own Flatpak repository. Fedora's RPM repository contains a lot of packages, but the Flatpak repository is very, very small. The Flatpak repository contains mostly games and GNOME applications. Most of these Flatpak applications are already packaged as RPMs, so, at present, the Fedora Flatpak repository does not provide much value. GNOME Software does allow the user to enable a selection of "Third Party Repositories", but this option only enables a Copr repository for PyCharm, a repository for Google Chrome, and Steam and NVIDIA drivers provided by RPM Fusion. Despite using RPM Fusion for two packages, there is no automatic way to enable the full RPM Fusion repositories. There is the same issue for Flathub, which contains way more packages than the Fedora Flatpak repository. Enabling Flathub would be helpful, but it is not an option presented by GNOME Software. If a user wants to use Flathub, they must enable it themselves by going to the Flathub website and following the instructions. While there are understandable legal issues around providing RPM Fusion and Flathub by default, it is unfortunate that the optimal Fedora experience requires knowing that RPM Fusion and Flathub exist.
One minor frustration with GNOME Software is that it keeps displaying an error message stating that it is "Unable to install English as not supported". Fedora 32 changed the way language packs are installed, but GNOME Software seems to have some issues with the changes. The English language tools seem to be installed properly, and are working just fine in LibreOffice and other applications, but GNOME Software keeps displaying the error every time I open it.
If you are already a Fedora user, Fedora 32 is something you should upgrade to immediately. Fedora 32's improvements far outweigh the few minor issues (e.g. GNOME Software complaining about being unable to install English). If you are currently using a different distribution or if you are new to Linux, I still recommend Fedora 32, but with the caveat that you need to know about RPM Fusion and be able to follow the instructions on the RPM Fusion website to install the repositories and install the multimedia codec packages to have an experience on par with other distributions. While not as crucial, it also helps to enable Flathub, which provides a much larger set of packages than Fedora's own Flatpak repository, including many applications that are not available as standard RPM packages. There are valid reasons for a Red Hat sponsored project not enabling those things by default, but it does make the Fedora installation process and user experience more complicated that it could be. Even with the extra work needed to set everything up, Fedora 32 Workstation is a great choice for general desktop computing, development work, or for learning the ins and outs of how Red Hat-style distributions work.
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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: