Fedora 29, second test - Old laptop & Nvidia graphics

Updated: December 12, 2018

Here we go. As you've already seen, I completed one Fedora 29 test so far. It was an in-vivo upgrade of a Fedora 28 instance on my Lenovo G50 laptop with UEFI and Intel graphics. The experiment went well, although it was a bit slow - paradoxically, it always takes less time to do a fresh install than an upgrade - and everything worked well. But let's not forget, I re-used my system and tweaks, and we're talking hours of fine-tuning and polish that went into making the distro nice.

Now, I want to start fresh. A clean install in a dual-boot configuration on an old (2009) laptop with Nvidia graphics. This should be doubly interesting, as we will be able to witness how well the new Fedora handles the hardware stack, how accessible the distro is out of the box, given its Gnome heritage, and lastly see how it works in general. Follow me please.

Teaser

Live session

One thing I remember reading about is the new clean boot sans any text message or such. That didn't happen booting into the live session. It was all scrolling text. After that, I got logged into a pretty stock Gnome desktop, tinted with familiar gray-blue Fedora colors.

Live desktop

Right away, I noticed a whole bunch of ergonomic issues. Out of the box, you get no visible dock or shortcuts, so it's an extra click to access and launch applications, no visible window list, no min/max buttons on the application windows (seriously, this in 2018), and no easy way to do any sort of customization. Even Gnome extensions, if you know what they are, require an extra step, although it's only the browser add-on this time and not the whole Chrome shell package that we needed in the past - it is still called by an ambiguous name, so you can't really install it if you don't know what it is. Think about it.

Networking

Kind of all right. Wireless yes. Bluetooth yes, but no ability to send files, what. Seamless connection, but what do you do then? Samba sharing, nope. And for those wondering how this is possible, test any Windows configuration with home sharing (not via homegroups), and let's see what happens. But I guess this does not rank high on anyone's priority list, because Windows only accounts for 90% of the desktop ecosystem, and Windows 7 only for 50% of that, so yeah, let's ignore all that. Not a Fedora problem, but a bigger, wider Linux issue.

Bluetooth connected

Bluetooth, no send file option

Printing worked - after Samba config tweak - but the network printer wasn't detected. I had to input the IP address before it was identified. The new printing applet is definitely far less useful and practical than the old one.

Printers

Media playback

So so. First, audio. I double-clicked on an MP3 song. Guess what happened? Rhythmbox launched, scanned and listed all the songs - and then didn't play any. This has been around for three or four years at least, and still hasn't been fixed. Videos did a much better job playing the file.

Music, MP3 playback

Video - the playback was jerky, stuttery. Some distros struggle with HD playback on this machine, but not all. The culprit definitely is NOT the file I'm using for testing, because I've been using the same 1920x1080px 30FPS WebM file for many years now. Seems like the Nouveau drivers aren't doing a good job, and this is also signaling a direction whereby some distros are no longer fit for old hardware, something that Linux always prided and excelled at doing.

HD video

Another problem is - I wasn't able to take a screenshot of Videos in windowed mode. Only if I did the full screen did it work, but if I tried just the application window, hope. Empty canvas. In the past, we used to have the blue color channel bleed (not so with Nvidia), and now this. Very sad.

Blank app window

Fonts

They are rather pale and thin, especially in Firefox. As it turns out, Fedora ships with somewhat odd anti-aliasing settings. Grayscale and not LCD default for some reason, what, why. This remains a big problem, and one which we will need to solve after the installation.

Performance

This was a huge one. Apart from the video playback, the laptop WAS struggling. I know this ain't the best or newest of machines, but most distros still handle it well, especially the Xfce and Plasma variety, and even Gnome until recently. The dual-boot twin - Mint Tara - works just fine on this box. So while I did praise performance improvements in my first article, on the much newer 2015 system, here, Gnome does not seem to work well, and in fact, kind of brings the machine to its knees. Shame, because it's still got 4 GB RAM plus two cores, so it ain't a slouch. More on this later.

Other

If I get it correctly, Fedora 29 uses new icons. To me, they look pretty much like before, except they are now of higher resolution. So they are prettier in that sense, but the color palette is rather bland still. There's much more than could have been out of the box. Nautilus wise, preferences are still only available through the top panel, so if you use a dock, you ain't got them.

Nautilus, new icons

Saving files in Gedit still remains an issue - if you click to save, a dialog will open, and you need to click again in the address line to type the file name. If you type right away, you will actually search for files with the existing name. So the lack of auto-focus is another waste of a mouse click.

Touchpad was fine and did not intrude.

Installation

This was a fairly stock affair, almost unchanged from Fedora 18. Well, no, you do get Blivet, which is more like the classic partitioner one would expect. But it has its foibles. One, for some reason, the system time & date changed, and these screenshots were saved with a 2007 timestamp - all the other screenshots were just fine and reflected the present accurately. Two, you get no labels on partitions so you need to know what's there before you can use them. Three, you can't just use swap, you must format it for it to be picked up by the operating system.

No swap mount option

Four, the visual bug with the "slides" that Fedora gives you are still there. I complained about this in Fedora 28, and maybe even earlier, and it's still there. Slide text is truncated. No one even bothers checking this and making sure it looks fine. I guess most Fedora users do in-place upgrades. But it's a sign of QA, or rather, a severe lack thereof. Seriously, why. Then, 80% of the installer space is just empty screen and that small thingie at the bottom, with less than inspiring graphics, badly positioned at that.

Cropped image 1

Cropped image 2

The jump between format and installing software is non-linear - easily half the width.

Fedoraing around

So I got the box installed. Some good news - Wireless configuration was preserved! Yay. Almost no distro does this anymore, so I was really happy about this little snippet of good news. But then, the rest did require manual work and tweaking.

User setup is now part of a post-install configuration, so you can do OEM, plus you get enterprise login, which is funny for a system with nine months of support. There's also the Welcome screen and some extra stuff, like online accounts, location, bug reporting, and similar.

First run, Welcome screen

Desktop

Package management

This was odd, I have to say. One, Gnome Software lets you enable 3rd-party repos, but this only works through Gnome Software, so you end up with a discrepancy between UI and CLI. Very bad. Second, the program was definitely slower than dnf. Third, dnf itself was slow, and while installing updates - about 900 packages all in total, the system was really struggling. It was sluggish, the mouse lagged, the keyboard skipped strokes.

Gnome Software, 3rd party repos

Performance

Indeed, this is something I normally tend to list later in the review, but it's important to do so here. As it turns out, Fedora 29 is not suitable for this laptop anymore. You can't run the Gnome edition and expect any sort of reasonable responsiveness. I would hit swap within less than 15-20 minutes of normal usage, without anything special. The apps take a long time opening, and there's real stutter moving things and whatnot. This is quite sad, because even the memory-hungry Gnome 3.28 was sort of okay, but the new Gnome 3.30 isn't.

Swap usage

Like I said, Gnome 3.30 brings wonders to newer systems, but it's unsuitable for a 10-year-old machine. The rival desktop environments still manage this laptop without any problems. The raw numbers don't really tell the full story. Memory usage was about 1.2 GB on idle, which is a lot, but we've seen worse, and the CPU ticked at about 8-9%, which is high but not awful. On its own this shouldn't make that much difference. But any sort of tasking or multi-tasking quickly brought the system into the swap, and it was sluggish after that.

Resources

Stability & hardware compatibility

On the other hand, the distro was stable. I did see one Oops, something went wrong message, but not sure what it was or why. However, I don't really have any complaints on this front. Things were working fine, and the system had no big errors for me.

Applications

Fedora 29 comes with a somewhat boring but perfectly functional arsenal of software. Firefox, Evolution, LibreOffice, Rhythmbox, Videos, Boxes, Cheese, and a few other Gnome programs. This is all right, but it sure can be livelier. However, it's better than it used to be in the past. I didn't like that Boxes threw an error right away, I mean why. And then, the Photos app comes with fuzzy, blurred thumbnails - I reported this back in Fedora 28 already.

Apps

Why do these apps have a dark theme - I'm using a light desktop theme?

Smartphone connectivity

This is the one thing that was truly 100% top notch. Zero complaints. Android, iPhone, Windows Phone. All of them worked perfectly, copy, music playback, you name it. No errors, no lock warnings, nothing of that sort. Really cool. Why can't everything be like this?

Android

iPhone

Windows Phone

Customization

I invested a lot of effort here, basing my work on my half a dozen articles on how to make Gnome behave, including extensions, docks, font tweaks, additional repos, and more. Here, I did the same, went with Ubuntu fonts, Yaru windows decorations and Gnome Shell theme, Suru icons, Gnome Tweak Tool, RPM Fusion repos, extra software, and then some. I am going to write a separate article for Fedora 29, so for now, just enjoy the results.

Ubuntu fonts

Nautilus, WIP

Nautilus, Suru icons

Ready desktop

About

Other stuff & bugs

There are some nice improvements in the desktop. You get the back button in Gnome screenshot, so you don't need to re-open the app. As you've seen, top shows values in MB rather than Bytes, but then the per-process list still has the old notation.

Screenshot, back button

Gedit has the option to change the theme & colors - but instead of a nice UI, you get some weird settings things that should have been hidden behind buttons. Seems like a configuration problem where raw values get exposed. This is AFTER updates.

Gedit, options

Another weird thing was - not sure if this is theme related - switching into deeper level directories would color the text an odd way, and I had to select the folder in the the address bar (which would present various folder-related options), before it would turn the right normal color again. Highlighting bug?

Nautilus, folder select color bug

I was also promised a clean, text-free boot. The live session did NOT deliver. The installed distro did, clean and spotless. But then, shutting down, I did get a quick flicker of a text message that said something about watchdog. Aha!

The Show desktop extension was/is broken, I couldn't get it running even after manually editing extension.js file in the relevant directory. Apparently, the screen is now named differently than before, something called global.workspace_manager, which caused the breakage, but my fix didn't fix anything.

Finally, Nvidia drivers!

Now, I left this for last. Anyway, I also read that Fedora 29 was supposed to bring in super-easy Nvidia drivers installation. Going about in Gnome Software, this DOES look super-easy. I let the package manager install the needed stuff, rebooted. Then I waited about four minutes, starting at a blank screen. Eventually, the system fell back to Nouveau and started as before.

Install Nvidia drivers

The installation of the graphics drivers failed - of course it failed, because it tried to install the latest driver and not the legacy branch that I need (340.xx). I am happy the system was able to recover though. But I found it really odd and quite disappointing that something like this still isn't a given almost anywhere outside the Ubuntu family. Oh well, but at least my system's working - not like the Fedora 28 KDE case.

[] nvidia-nvlink: Nvlink Core is being initialized, major device number 238
[] NVRM: The NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GS GPU installed in this system is
NVRM: supported through the NVIDIA 340.xx Legacy drivers. Please
NVRM: visit http://www.nvidia.com/object/unix.html for more
NVRM: information. The 410.78 NVIDIA driver will ignore
NVRM: this GPU. Continuing probe...
[] NVRM: No NVIDIA graphics adapter found!
[] nvidia-nvlink: Unregistered the Nvlink Core, major device number 238

Conclusion

Fedora 29 fresh installation was a completely different experience from the in-vivo upgrade. The latter builds on months of work, tuning, tweaking and making everything behave well, so all of that didn't come to bear in my first review. But it did here, making the overall impression much, much less than before. Networking, media, performance, graphics drivers, none of these were good. The last two are action killers.

I also had to invest a lot of effort making the distro look and behave, and this can be a fun exercise, but it's ultimately a futile one, because there's no reason why there shouldn't be sane, simple defaults that work well for ordinary folks. There were some nice points, but they can't offset the overall negative feeling. I mean, I have a box that hardly copes with workload, I can't use the graphics card, and it takes effort making it do the basics.

Alas, Fedora is still a distro for hardcore veterans, most of whom will never care or see the stuff I'm testing, because they will have been upgrading since about Fedora 2, and won't find anything in their daily routines to relate to the 99% of people out there - nor will they relate to Fedora. I am still happy with my first attempt, and I'll show you how to customize the distro to perfection, but in general, this ain't the distro for you. Or me. Shame. Because it started nice, and then just went nowhere. Here comes the rain again.

Cheers.

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