Fedora 31 Workstation review - The color of winter

Updated: Date, Year

Last week, we talked about MX Linux MX-19. This week, let's have a look at Fedora 31. Now, some of you may already start grumbling and complaining. Because I will focus a lot of my energy on the Gnome desktop and what it doesn't do, and all that. But then, Fedora is the pioneer child (not in the communist sense) of the Gnome world, showcasing the latest fixes and features the environment offers. Therein lies my hope and my expected but hopefully proven wrong disappointment.

Looking back to the past two years or so, I found Fedora to have improved a little in the performance area, has become more consistent, gained stability in major areas side by side with bugs and problems in others, and still isn't user-friendly enough for immediate consumption. Y'know, proprietary stuff, window buttons, desktop icons, stuff like that. Fedora 30 is a good melting pot of all these observations. I wasn't happy, but then, it's time to rewind the clock, reset my emotions, and boldly charge head first into the wall of open-source.

Teaser

Live session & installation

The system booted fine, albeit you get a text-only boot sequence. Then, it's a stock Gnome desktop. Brighter than before, thanks to a vibrant wallpaper, but other than that, it looks much like any dozen past releases or so. Even the Wireless network icon is hidden inside the user applet, which again, would baffle the average Joe.

Live desktop

Activities

The OOTB usability is bad. No visible panel or shortcuts - you have Activities, so you waste either mouse clicks or keyboard clicks to get to see the icons to launch them. No minimize or maximize buttons on application windows, more wasted energy. This is particularly bad in Firefox, which doesn't show titlebar by default, so you can't minimize, even if you want to. The fonts are thin, and my eyes started hurting, something that doesn't happen when good fonts and subpixel hinting are used.

Firefox, no window buttons

Files, pale, low contrast

The color contrast and font clarify in Files are quite bad.

Fonts

Files now has the preferences as part of its Hamburger menu, after it's been relocated to the top-panel drop-down - and this wouldn't show up if you used a dock, like I do. So this is a good thing. However, you need to right-click on folder locations to bookmark them, but Plasma has the same problem, too. Overall, applications look a bit more consistent, but then, you get the odd mix of light and dark themes. Some use light, some dark, and it's just not right.

Then, I hit a weird problem. I opened the printing applet, as part of my usual tests, and then, after I closed the utility, I noticed a leftover prompt on the desktop. And it just wouldn't go away, no matter what you click. I tried to find a way to kill this via command-line, but it is impossible to identify the process that spawned this box. I then tried to restart Gnome Shell (Alt+F2, r), alas this is still not possible under Wayland. So we're in 2019, it's been many a summer since this would-be Xorg replacement was started, and it's still inadequate. If you need something to give you depression, there it is. Then, it's also one of the primary arguments why Windows people won't ever be tempted to move and adopt Linux, because solutions that take ages to culminate, and never quite reach the expected mature state, are an enthusiasm killer.

Print overlay window

It just won't go away, at all.

No Gnome Shell restart under Wayland

Network connectivity

Mostly very good. Wireless, no issues. Bluetooth, sweet. Samba sharing works without any tweaks! Now, if we look at the last four distros tested, whether I needed to make changes to smb.conf to be able to connect to the exact same Windows boxes, under the exact same conditions. Ubuntu MATE no, Kubuntu yes, MX Linux yes, Fedora no. I sometimes feel like blowtorching my hardware and going off to live somewhere in the mountains, hunting goats and stuff. And it's not just the general chaotic Wild West of the Linux desktop. It's the deep knowledge that Linux will never really be a suitable alternative to Windows, so I am at the mercy of whatever Microsoft decides a decade from now, for better or worse. And then I ask myself, why bother? Why even keep testing distros? Well, I guess I'm that kind of person.

Bluetooth

Printing - apart from the authentication prompt buglet, it only worked okay-ish. My Wireless printer was detected, but not the Samba one. So we have partial success, but all in all, Fedora 31 offers reasonably decent network thingie.

Smartphone support

Superb. Nothing else to say. Android, iPhone, Windows Phone. Fast, solid.

Android

Windows Phone

iPhone

Multimedia playback

Both MP3 and HD video worked fine. But. MP3 songs open in Videos by default rather than Rhythmbox, which is included for some odd reason. When I actually tried to play a song in the latter, guess what happened? The same thing that's been happening for the past five years and hasn't been fixed - Rhythmbox launched, scanned and listed all the songs in my Music folder and then did NOT play just the one song that I actually wanted to play. HD video works fine, but if you screenshot just the player, you get a blank player canvas. Hint, this does NOT happen when you run Gnome under Xorg, only Wayland.

HD video

MP3 playback

Installation

The un-ergonomic wizard is still there. I decided to save myself some pain and used Blivet GUI for partitioning. No labels, and you don't even get a wee symbol anywhere that will tell you whether your selected devices are going to be formatted or not. It's a thrill! An adventure! Then, the badly cropped "slides" are gone, you only have a simple percentage progress bar, and indeed, about 30 minutes later, most of which were spent configuring the bootloader, the distro was installed correctly into the eight-boot setup on my Lenovo G50 laptop.

Partitioning

Fedora in action

Some interesting things happened right away. The boot menu loads slowly, complete with ugly flickers and whatnot. But then, the boot sequence is super-pretty. You actually see the Lenovo logo splash, like in Windows 10, only there's a Fedora logo at the bottom. Very cool. However, this same element is shown when you log out of the session or restart, which can be a bit confusing or alarming.

The desktop came up fine, complete with my Wireless configuration, another little thing that can't be taken for granted in the Linux world anymore (we're slowly regressing from the heydey of 2013-2014, right). You also get the keyboard you select and not any regional adaption, which I absolutely detest. And when it comes to computer interfaces, En(US) is the only acceptable language, the same way En(UK) RP Female is the only acceptable language for voice navigation. And since I speak many flavors of foreignese, this means I'm fair and balanced, and you can totally trust this opinion right there.

Desktop

Package management

Not much new here. Software remains mediocre. You can enable third-party repos, but this question is still asked even if you have enabled third-party repos on the command line, and I'm talking about RPM Fusion specifically. However, the Software Source section now correctly lists all the different repos.

Software

Software repos

I was able to install what I needed, but I went for dnf, and it's faster than before. Happy times. Other than that, I did of course need proprietary stuff to satisfy the modern Prometheus in me. This is important, because the default app collection ain't mindboggling. Updates also worked fine, no issues.

Updates

Applications

Well, you get some, but not that much. The 1.8GB ISO giveth Firefox, LibreOffice, Boxes, Cheese. That's essentially that. I boosted the arsenal with VLC, GIMP, Steam, Skype, and Chrome. And I removed Rhythmbox, because it annoyed me.

Apps

Apps, more

Making Fedora efficient

Welcome to freedom is Fedora's tag line on the official site. In a way, it's true. But it's also not true. You don't really have freedom if you don't have the technical know-how to customize the desktop, a non-trivial set of steps that include Gnome extensions, Gnome Tweaks, third-party repos, and then some. Yes, you can get all these, but if you had to bet a shilling or a shekel on whether your random relative could ever achieve this without your help, you'd be extra poor.

Anyway, what you want are my thorough Fedora taming guides, of which there's a whole lot, and they tell you everything you need to have the latest software, codecs, dock for your applications, and such like. Now, there are some small improvements, too. The Gnome extensions setup only requires the browser extension, the host connector is provided by default.

Templates

You need to add templates, because right-click > New file is so 2009.

Fonts changed

I changed fonts, too. My eyes don't hurt no more. Baby don't hurt me, no font.

Wallpaper management has changed. You don't just browse your Pictures folder, you add pictures. But you can only do this one by one, like you're on some mobile device. Not sure if this is improvement over using hard-coded Pictures folder in previous versions. And let's not forget the file extension, too. All in all, this is super-limited, especially if you compare to desktop environments like Plasma or Xfce. Then, if you go for a dock, which you should, like Dash to Panel, the icons seem fuzzy at any size less than 48 px for some reason.

Wallpapers

Notice the top row is wider than the ones below. And the inner border alignment is also off by about 1-2px. This irks me so.

This what I finally selected. Even the kitty in the wallpaper failed to cheer me up.

Final desktop

Hardware compatibility, stability

Well, okay. Overall, there were no problems. But then, after suspend & resume, I had a kernel oops. This is a known one with Fedora, and it's the only distro to trigger it on this particular laptop, see my Fedora 30 review for plenty more details. Gnome Shell also crashed (under Wayland). I then wanted to analyze the crash, and realized there's nothing human-readable under either /run or /var, because systemd. Text logs are so 1994 it seems.

Then, I discovered a pleasant surprise. A utility called logs - and this one parses the binary journals and gives you human information that you can digest at your leisure. In this case, Gnome Shell had a problem, and I'm not certain it's fixed in the updates I got so far.

Process 1577 (gnome-shell) crashed in meta_get_window_actors()

18:39:39 systemd-coredum: Process 1577 (gnome-shell) of user 1000 dumped core.

Stack trace of thread 1577:
#0 0x00007ff9e42f1662 meta_get_window_actors (libmutter-5.so.0)
#1 0x00007ff9e51eff8e shell_global_get_window_actors (libgnome-shell.so)
#2 0x00007ff9e35bfaa8 ffi_call_unix64 (libffi.so.6)
#3 0x00007ff9e35bf2a4 ffi_call (libffi.so.6)
#4 0x00007ff9e4625ce2 n/a (libgjs.so.0)
#5 0x00007ff9e4627891 n/a (libgjs.so.0)

Performance & resource

Better than it was, still not good. I would encounter mouse freezes every few seconds. You do get a perceptible delay when you switch apps, minimize windows, etc. And then, to make everything worse, or rather better, you get different behavior under Xorg. I changed my login session, and now, the mouse freezes were gone, and the performance and responsiveness are ever so slightly better. Raw numbers seemingly don't show a big difference, but it's there.

Speaking of numbers, on idle, the desktop eats 1.2 GB of RAM, and the CPU rests at a pretty high 4%. Not sure why this should be the case. Another thing I noticed, within about thirty minutes of usage, the system had hit the swap (just some light usage, no updates just yet), the memory footprint had climbed higher than Sir Edmund Hillary to about 2 GB. But most interestingly, Fedora 31 had gone through almost 2 GB worth of data. I honestly have no idea why. Background updates?

Resources

Resources, after 30 minutes

Battery life

Another pleasant surprise. Not sure if this is a new kernel, new scheduler, new power management, Gnome fixes, or what. But in Fedora 30, the distro eked less than 3 hours in the best of circumstances. Now, it can do about 4 hours just fine (the battery cell is about 60% capacity, so do the math). This is a very good result, and puts Fedora almost in the range with the best of Plasma and Xfce, although to be fair, great results aren't guaranteed there, either. Now, finally something to make me happy!

Battery life

Conclusion

I'm not really sure how to respond to Fedora 31. On one hand, it's more of the same, plus regressions, and the default desktop environment just kills my mojo. On the other, there are some really nice improvements in the stack. I guess Fedora is being held back by bad architectual choices from the past, most notably in Gnome and Wayland.

Now, the network stack, multimedia playback and smartphone support are good or great. You also have human system logs, solid battery life, the performance is ever so better than it was. But there were bugs and crashes and even a kernel oops, you need time to sort the desktop out so it behaves like a desktop should, and the app selection and package management are a bit meh. All in all, I feel Fedora 31 is somewhat better than its predecessor, so it gets 6.5/10, perhaps 7/10 on a sunny day. But interlaced with this message is my utter disappointment with the Linux desktop as a whole, the growing realization how brittle this ecospace is.

Anyway, leaving philosophy aside, if you're a Gnomer, don't mind the misnomer, I'm just an informer, you might want to consider Fedora 31. After all, it's got the Gnomiest of the stuff you can find, and it does give you a bit more than what you had in the past. But as a desktop, it's far from the simple, classic formula it ought to be. In-vivo upgrade of the resident 30th edition instance pending. Stay tuned.

Cheers.

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