Fedora 34Those of us who run Linux because we're fed up with Ctrl-Alt-Del or aren't hip enough to be Apple-ites also probably aren't the ideal candidates to use Fedora. After all, that's what Linus Torvalds uses, and it's one of the most common distros among coders, system administrators, and the like.
So what happens when someone who thinks Vim and Emacs Reddit posts are funny gives the recently released Fedora 34 workstation a try? He is more than pleasantly surprised. This version of Fedora, put together by the Fedora Project and its sponsor Red Hat, was much more nimble than I expected, and especially given my older hardware. In fact, I was able to do what I normally do - write freelance articles, spend too much time e-mailing editors, and work with WordPress and Substack - without banging my mouse in frustration more than a couple of times.
Does this mean I want to use Fedora 34 as my daily driver? Probably not. I don't have many uses for Boxes, Fedora's VM app. But it does offer a variety of features that other distros should consider adding, including my beloved Xubuntu. The documentation is first-rate, much more complete and easier to use (with pictures, even!) than I've seen almost anywhere else. The ability to configure Nextcloud from a simple prompt as part of the post-installation process is genius. And that I was able to reboot after installation without trying to decide when to remove the install USB - still a sticky proposition with Ubuntu and its flavors - was almost as nice.
Meet GNOME 40
The latest GNOME desktop - verson 40, if you're counting in GNOME - is one of the highlights of this version of Fedora. And this comes from someone who has never cared for GNOME, even in the old days when it offered a traditional desktop.
These days, many of us find the current GNOME approach counter-intuitive. I've used the GNOME 3 desktop off and on when experimenting with other distros, and I run Ubuntu 20.04 on a reasonably modern laptop that uses GNOME 3.36. But it's still like trying to speak French to a native when all you've had is a couple of years in high school - you can do it, but it's slow and painful and you have to hope the other person has lots of patience.
GNOME 40, though, removes much of that awkwardness. Yes, there is still the contradiction that is the GNOME extension framework, where you need a browser to install the extensions (which I've never understood). Likewise, using the search box on the top of the workspaces screen doesn't list any installed apps, but does offer the weather in Libreville, Gabon, if you're trying to find LibreOffice's Writer. And mousing to the upper left hand screen corner to access the Activities button to call up the active apps remains a contradiction in motion for anyone who is right-handed.
But putting the dash bar on the bottom of the screen makes most mouse work easier than ever, and it's a relief that clicking the "show applications" icon on the dash bar actually takes you to a list of all the apps that have been installed - with the name of the app under its icon. As someone who has suffered through Ctrl-right click to access Plank's preferences, moving the the icons to and fro on the dash bar is simple and straightforward.
Customization was straightforward as well. I installed GNOME Tweaks, and soon had maximize and minimize on my titlebars, as well as battery percentage next to the icon on the top bar. Though, sadly, the GNOME Eye is no longer available as an extension.
I wasn't even put off by the way GNOME 40 handles workspaces. That's saying something, since one of the first things I do on any fresh installation is to eliminate all but one workspace. It's actually possible, thanks to the improved workspace switcher, to see what is running on each workspace, click on the workspace to get to that app, and even close the app from the workspace without having to go to the workspace. It's even reasonably simple to swipe between workspaces and apps with the mouse, something that will come in handy for anyone who is used to doing that on touchscreens and phones.
Fedora 34 -- Switching between applications and workspaces (full image size: 1.2MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
The good, the bad, and the missing
Which brings us to software - what's installed, what's not installed, and how to install it. Here, Fedora 34 lags, and there doesn't seem to be any good reason for it. It's first-rate in so many other ways, so why can't I find out if the Chrome browser is installed without a fair amount of clicking and mousing? It didn't show up on the installed applications accessible from the dash bar, but when I "installed" it from the command line, the prompt told me it was already installed. Which is still wasn't, though it is in the software store.
I know the current fashion is to use GMail from the browser, but those of us who still want Thunderbird will be more than a little confused to find two versions of it in the software store, without any explanation of why there are two and what the differences are (save for different version numbers). This seemed to be common - two versions of the Chromium browser, for example. In addition, LibreOffice Draw isn't installed by default, also surprising since so many of us use it to edit PDF files.
The software store, though not as buggy as the Ubuntu version, still leaves much to be desired. It's not especially quick, and it took a noticeable amount of time on my laptop for the icons to load - long enough to do something else, look back, and see it wasn't finished. Plus, the update process, complete with a Windows-style line saying "Don't turn off your computer" and spinning wheel, can be long and off-putting.
Fedora 34 -- Waiting for the software centre to load (full image size: 124kB, resolution: 1255x880 pixels)
The less said the better about dnfdragora, Fedora's version of Debian's venerable Synaptic. It's slow to load - so slow that it locks up and you get a not-responding prompt. Plus, for some reason, it's named python3 on the top panel - a quality control mistake that's difficult to believe on something as well constructed as Fedora. And Chromium is listed, but not Chrome - the exact opposite of the software store.
Fedora 34 -- Using the dnfdragora software manager (full image size: 1.9MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Cheese, the webcam app for photos and videos, works much better than on Ubuntu - not lagging on the video, for instance. Rhythmbox, the default music app, does what it does, as does Evince the default PDF reader, and Photos, using for editing pictures. The scanning and printer apps found my Canon MX920 without any trouble, which is impressive since I have to use a 2.4G wireless signal to access the Canon. And the printer control even sort of recognized the ink levels.
VLC, my preferred video player, isn't in the software store or dnfdragora. Videos, the default software, offers some nice features, though, including the ability take screenshots of videos and to create a screenshot gallery.
PipeWire, which some see as eventually replacing PulseAudio to handle Linux sound, is the default in Fedora 34. I didn't have any problems with it, but all I did was play a couple of songs with Rhythmbox and watch a couple of YouTube videos through the laptop's speakers. And I don't find PulseAudio lacking on my Ubuntu systems, so I'm probably not the audience for this, either.
Battery life was impressive - an hour of testing, customizing, and web surfing only used up about 25 percent.
... and the ugly
So what didn't work? The screen display, using anything other than the default resolution, didn't always allow access to or show the entire screen. This was a serious problem during installation from the live disk. I set the scale at 200 percent, which offered an easy to see screen given my default 1920x1080 display. But as I moved through the installation, I couldn't move down the screen to click the necessary boxes; they remained out of sight. I had to go back to 100 percent at 1920x1080 to install Fedora. Needless to say, this was one of the couple of times I was banging the mouse, since I couldn't figure out why my installation screen didn't look like the one in the documentation. Later, when I set the screen to 1368x768, the workspace switcher didn't display all the open apps on the various workspaces after I hit the show applications screen.
I had to set the time myself - the automatic setting during installation put me on U.S. Eastern Daylight Time, though I am on U.S. Central Daylight. And one of the GNOME weather extensions for the top bar, Open Weather, wouldn't recognize the included API, as well as one that I have. I ended up using Weather in the Clock, which really wasn't what I wanted.
In the end, I was surprised at how comfortable I felt with Fedora 34. I didn't find it as easy to use as Ubuntu's version of the GNOME desktop, but it was far easier to use than I thought it would be - especially since I didn't do much to it, save for the window controls. If I had done my usual tweaks, it probably would have been far closer to what I prefer.
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Hardware used for this review
My physical test equipment for this review was am Asus UX31A laptop with the following specifications: