Fedora 21 review - Uh, not again


Updated: December 24, 2014

The latest release of Fedora bears the most imaginative name evar. Fedora Twenty-One. Shiver me timbers. But never mind. I liked Fedora 20 a lot. I actually let it join the hallowed list of best distros for 2014. Now, we test the successor release.

So let us test. As always, I will go with the KDE edition, because I can't stand the Gnome one, and it's pointless anyway. We will be running our little experiment, ja, on my quad-boot test laptop, with SSD and Intel graphics. Let's go.

Teaser

What do I download?

Fedora 21 also brings a dramatic change in how it labels different use cases. Instead of having the old desktop versus non-desktop nomenclature, Fedora now offers itself in brand new flavors. Workstation assumes the role of the desktop, and you also have the Server and Cloud builds. The actual download page is even more complicated, and there were some twenty different options, or spins, available. In the end, I found what I needed.

Live session - A brief experience

Fedora 21 booted fine. There were no errors. You get into a pleasant if somewhat rudimentary KDE4 environment. And it's rather boring, too, because you won't get any fancy codecs and whatnot to enjoy life. Instead, you can browse the existing software selection or deep dive into the command line, where you ought to find most of the bleeding edge tech changes that Fedora brings.

Desktop, live

Network connectivity

It was all right. Wireless, 2.4GHz and 5GHz both, plus Samba sharing, although WINS resolution did not work, and I had to browse my Windows machines using IP addresses. I liked the fact the Wireless connects without waiting for KDEWallet, so you can actually do that asynchronously. Cool. And the rest we'll do later, after the installation.

Installation - Brace yourselves

This turned out to be a very difficult task. You will soon learn why. First of all, the counterintuitive hub-n-spoke model remains, but let's ignore that. The big problem is how Fedora treated existing data on the two identical 40GB SSD. On the plus side, it was able to properly label the installed distros, something it wouldn't always do in the past.

On the negative side, it wasn't able to handle the openSUSE BTRFS-formatted partition. It saw each subvolume and each snapshot as a separate partition. This is horrible, and it means that new users will produce brown ice cubes from their rear orifice.

Partitioning wizard, confused

Partitioning wizard, confused, more

The wizard has been redesigned a little. Bigger fonts, more logical spacing between elements, but it is still tricky, like that black on blue font and such. Moreover, when choosing partitions, the option to format will be grayed out, so you may assume that you need not tick that Reformat box. But you must actually.

Partitions selected

Changing partition

After this, the system installed, supposedly without problems. You get a very uneventful and bland installation window, with only small banners advertising the distro's capabilities in a humble and boring way.

Installing

Bootloader nightmare

After installing Fedora, I rebooted. I expected its GRUB2 menu to come up, since I've marked /dev/sda as the target. Nope. Indeed, with two totally identical disks, different distributions enumerate the devices differently, and sometimes the first disk shows as the second, and vice versa. In this case, Fedora's expectations went against what BIOS saw, and I was having Xubuntu in control of the boot sequence. Not bad. I decided to boot into the other distro and update the bootloader. Sounds easy, right?

Well, not really. I would select Fedora, and then it would boot into a Salamander instance, which, according to Xubuntu was installed on /dev/sda1. Fedora was actually residing on /dev/sdb1, right. You can imagine the trouble that ensued after this.

I decided to reinstall Fedora and see what gives. Fully reproducible. Latest Ubuntus and Fedora do not play nicely. Eventually, in order to be able to boot into Fedora, I had to edit the GRUB2 stanza manually, to read (hd0,msdos1) instead of (hd1,msdos1), to fool the distro and its enumeration. The funny thing is, it does read the correct device in the grub.cfg file, but not when you actually boot the system. Weird and possibly even dangerous. I am not sure which distro to blame. Both?

### BEGIN /etc/grub.d/30_os-prober ###
menuentry 'Fedora release 21 (Twenty One)' --class gnu-linux --class gnu --class os $menuentry_id_option 'osprober-gnulinux-simple-fdf01d50-1df9-4189-b601-5255fca417c6' {
insmod part_msdos
insmod ext2
set root='hd0,msdos1'
if [ x$feature_platform_search_hint = xy ]; then
search --no-floppy --fs-uuid --set=root --hint/var/run/cups/cups.sock-bios=hd0,msdos1 --hint-efi=hd0,msdos1 --hint-baremetal=ahci0,msdos1  fdf01d50-1df9-4189-b601-5255fca417c6
...

Using Fedora

Finally, I reached the desktop. Or rather, the login prompt. It complained about a failed login, and then took me into the desktop without any further action on my end. Some tiny bug somewhere.

Desktop

Extra codecs and such

As always, one of the first steps in the Fedora pimpology is obtaining media codecs, in order to enjoy music and videos and all the extra fun. My favorite software for the task is easyLife, which I tried to install. And hit a snag.

Apper simulated the install first, informed me about several dependencies and then complained that the package could not be found on my system or any software origin. Well, yes, I'm installing it, that's why it's not on my system. Furthermore, if by origin you mean repos, you chose to restrict Fedora's stuff to free stuff only, not me. But then, it kind of failed.

Simulating install

Silly message

Could not install easyLife

I tried from the command line, and yum told me easyLife was installed. Yes, it ran just fine and without any errors, despite the messages above. This is another ugly bug of some kind that will send newbies scrambling.

easyLife works

Multimedia playback

I selected the missing stuff - MP3 and Flash codecs - in easyLife first. This turned out not to work as planned. Amarok still didn't have the needed plugins to play music, but it was able to find them in the extra repos added by easyLife. Yet again, weird.

Codecs needed again

Codecs, success

MP3 playback

Youtube Flash

A totally original Chinese production that is 100% not like What Does the Fox say.

Desktop effects - Say what what?

The distro claimed to have them running, but Alt + Shift + F12 did nothing, and I didn't get any shadows, transparency or anything of that kind. Easier for making screenshots for reviews, but not what you'd expect. Then, let's remember the screenshot bug we saw in pretty much all recent distros. Even openSUSE wasn't able to properly capture images of the desktop and windows with desktop effects turned off. But Fedora does that without a problem, so we're back to blaming X Windows, compositor and other components.

However, this does not make the Fedora problem any better. So you get nice screenshots that need no extra editing in GIMP for my review, fine, but the desktop effects did not work at all, and there were all sorts of weird artifacts, especially with window borders and titles. I can't show them, because they vanish when trying to take screenshots, but you will have to believe me. This is called progress in the Linux world, you see.

Applications

The default arsenal is okay. You get Firefox, KMail and the full Calligra suite, plus Kamoso, Amarok, and several weird programs, like the icon browser and some utility for opening Outlook files. GwenView, Okular and friends complete the selection.

Apps

Icon browser

Firefox comes with them fancy directory tiles, but they didn't fully come to life until after about third or fourth time I fired up the browser. Oh, we shall be ranting on this topic some more very soon.

Firefox, tiles

With easyLife, plus several tips from my pimping article, you can make Fedora 21 as presentable as you expect, with modern software that regular folks need for their daily computing. Y'know, LibreOffice, Skype, Steam, VLC, the usual offenders.

Apps, extras

Completely unrelated, but if you have too many icons in the bottom panel, they may push the time & date beyond the borders of the desktop, which is plain ugly. Something to take into account.

Resource usage

Fedora 21 is a thirsty lad. Or lass? Anyhow, it tolled some 650MB of RAM, which is a lot compared to most other offerings out there, and the CPU was fairly noisy. I don't know why, but it was not content with low single digits most of the time. However, overall, the distro is fairly responsive, and you don't feel like it's slugging around, wasting everyone's time.

Resources

Printing

No Samba option. Grayed out. If you hit the Internet, haughty nerds will tell you it's because you don't have py-smbc installed, like I've shown you in my CentOS guide. And they will say this is not a bug. WRONG. This is a bug. I did install the python module, and it helped jack feces. Not only that, I also installed system-config-printer, and this did not solve the problem, either. So it's a bug. BUG, bug, bug, bug, bug.

Printing, no Samba option

Printing, install py-smbc

Something in the backend is horribly broken. There should be no Python vomit when you click things around, but obviously, electrocution punishment to engineers and software developers wasn't dealt out enough this time, it seems.

Caught non-fatal exception.  Traceback:
File "/usr/share/system-config-printer/probe_printer.py", line 255, in _do_find
    fn ()
File "/usr/share/system-config-printer/probe_printer.py", line 373, in _probe_hplip
    stderr=subprocess.DEVNULL)
File "/usr/lib64/python3.4/subprocess.py", line 858, in __init__
    restore_signals, start_new_session)
File "/usr/lib64/python3.4/subprocess.py", line 1456, in _execute_child
    raise child_exception_type(errno_num, err_msg)
FileNotFoundError: [Errno 2] No such file or directory: 'hp-makeuri'

My final desktop

It works, but I'm disappointed:

Final desktop

Conclusion

Why did Fedora 21 have to be so buggy? Why? I wanted it to succeed, I wanted it to be cool and fun, just like the last release. There was so much potential, and then, something went wrong. Quite a few somethings, apparently. Installer partition selections, bootloader, login, codecs, printing, desktop effects. Damn. Fedora, where art thou?

Anyhow, Fedora 21 KDE is just not as good as it should be. Not as good as its predecessor, not as good as its rival, and most importantly, not as good as Fedora. There must be a baseline to quality, and it must never be crossed, downwards. This time, I did not get what I wanted, and I'm sad, because I know that Fedora can do it. We've all seen it happen. So more time is needed in the special oven for naughty distros. Perhaps I rushed testing just days after the official release, but it is how it is. 6/10. Done.

Cheers.

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