Fedora 32 Workstation review - Tux over troubled waters

Updated: May 29, 2020

The spring season continues. We shall now embark on a Fedora journey. If you followed my tirades over the past few years, you will probably have noticed that I did manage to find some semblance of reasonable productivity with Fedora, albeit after heavy modifications and tweaking. You can of course sample of those experiences by reading my reviews - Fedora 29, Fedora 30 and finally the yesteryear Fedora 31 article.

There's much more, but I'm sure, if you want, you'll find the material. Anyway, on my eight-boot test laptop, I've had both versions 30 and 31 installed, and typically, I'd go for an in-vivo upgrade. But I wanted to start from scratch, and get a sense of how the system behaves au naturel, without any trace of my years-long polish and trim. So here we go.

Teaser

Live session

Let's start with the boot sequence - compare it to my last-month Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Ubuntu MATE reviews. Vendor logo, text message (some dracut nonsense), the same text message in higher-res - the system is probing for different video modes and whatnot, vendor logo - just a brief flicker, text boot with systemd messages and whatnot, desktop, scene, breathe, applause.

Bad fonts, the Wireless icon hidden in the user menu, so you need to waste an extra click getting something that is visible and obvious in every other operating systems. No ability to create new files in the file manager via right-click, no window min/max buttons, 2020 is calling, it wants its GUI back. Honestly, if I didn't care about you folks, the review would have ended just now.

Live desktop

Font contrast

And it seems Fedora now also dishes out alpha borders in screenshots. Don't want.

Files, bleak colors

Files: notice the top border is not like the rest - part of the sadfest that is Linux. Such splendid vivacious colors. If I wanted to depress myself, I could just watch the news.

Networking

Not good. Wireless, fine. Bluetooth, quite decent - the laptop and the phone auto-paired, as the phone had the MAC address saved, and it initiated the connection. Samba sharing - not at all! First, I thought this was because I used hostname rather than IP address. But then, that didn't work either. I was trying to connect to a Windows 10 host, so there should be no issues with Samba protocol versions or anything. Even so, I tried to change both the mix/max client and server version in the /etc/samba/smb.conf file, but nothing helped. Similarly, my Samba printer wasn't detected.

Samba does not work

Here, smaller and equal borders. How consistent.

Printers

The font contrast is just horrible on the eyes.

Bluetooth works

Multimedia playback

OK. A checkbox exercise really. Videos, hard-coded dark theme. MP3, HD, works fine.

MP3 playback

HD video

Smartphone support

I only tried Android. It took almost two minutes for the phone to mount and show up in Files.

Android

Ergonomics

I already mentioned a whole bunch of serious usability problems. This is Gnome, and nothing new. But then, some of the issues simply never cease to amaze me. Behold, Firefox without titlebar - where the min/max buttons ought to be, or at least the right-click option to invoke these two functions. Hence, in Fedora 32, and we've seen this in previous versions, you simply cannot minimize the browser by normal means. And if you say keyboard shortcut, then 99.99% of computer users salute your special l33t skills.

No minimize option in Firefox

As the Italians would say: dove min?

Performance so far

Gnome 3.36 is sprightlier, but you still get occasional freezes, and the mouse cursor lags - like when you search for an application through the menu. Overall, the mouse motion is much more fluid, and the desktop is more responsive, but the intermittent freeze problems are non-ignorable.

Other stuff

Since I couldn't Samba, I tried copying files to one of the internal volumes. You can't do it in Files.

Paste error

Installation - super frustrating

Think of any legal document you've ever signed, any contract. What does it look like? Text, text, and then, at the bottom, you sign. That last piece is where you okay what you've just read. In Fedora, the OK button, whatever the label is, is in the top-left corner, contrary to all any logic of information flow. Since Fedora 18, we've had this thing.

If that wasn't bad enough, the partitioning step is convoluted and slow. I decided to go with Blivet. Without me touching anything, the system told me that the installer wasn't responding, and if I wanted to force quit or wait.

Installer, frozen, not responding

Once you're there, tons of empty space. The partition information is shown, sans labels, in the left 20% of the "partition table" - with so much unused real estate. When you want to select a partition, the GUI lags for about two or three seconds before it selects the actual entry. Once you make a change - like format or mountpoint, it waits another 30-40 seconds before it relinquishes control. Hitting Done hangs again - more prompts that the installer was frozen.

Installer

Empty spaces, what are we Tuxing for?

Then, there was a configuration error with my partitions. Looking at the details - I've not specified the /boot/efi mountpoint. Why can't the distro figure it out on its own? Anyway, Blivet gives you no indication whether you've selected the format option for a partition or not. The /boot/efi and the root (/) entries look identical.

Partitioning error

EFI error

Such a beautiful, readable paragraph.

No partition legend

Difference between /boot/efi and /? Vast. Visible? Nope.

Hit Done, wait, more config errors. Turns out, I've mounted some of the internal partitions - because I couldn't use Samba, and now the installer was complaining that these partitions were in use. Who cares? I'm not using them for Fedora. Worse yet, why not tell me all these problems at once, why the piecemeal method? And why wait with the errors until I've gone back to the main screen? Add to that the slow response from the installer, and you can imagine my level of blood pressure.

Mount error

The installation then started. Just a progress bar with percentages, nothing fancy, no graphics. There's no reason for a fullscreen installation window for that, but that's what you get.

Installing

Abandoned pixels, I guess we know the score.

After the installation

GRUB menu, vendor splash, desktop but frozen, back to vendor splash, first-run user configuration step that also includes online accounts if you want, optional location services (on a desktop, irony) and automatic problem reporting, and then finally, the usable desktop - and when I say usable, I mean somewhat, because we need to customize it heavily. But then, the Wireless settings were preserved, and the language and keyboard are set correctly, and there's no regionalization. One other important thing - Samba actually works in the installed system ... Go figure.

Desktop

Fedora 32 started with the swap configured - even though I've not specified it - this used to be a problem in the past. But then, if it can auto-detect swap and configure it, why not /boot/efi? Exactly. The system downloaded almost 1GB worth of updates right away - making the system not very usable in the first few minutes. The system monitor now also shows cached data - a field that has zero meaning and relevance to anyone non-techie.

First login, resources

Making Fedora 32 usable

This was my first order of the day. We shall have a complete article on this, too. In essence, this is what I did. Gnome Tweaks, Gnome extensions, Dash to Panel, add window buttons, add Ubuntu fonts, add new icons, change grayscale anti-aliasing to subpixel (no idea why this isn't the default in 2020), and breathe. There were some snags - you need to enable extensions for extensions to work (inception), but you need Gnome Tweaks first, so if you don't install it, even if you do enable some extensions through the official site, they won't work. If you can't follow the flow of the last paragraph, it ain't my fault.

D2P is not working

Extension on, but as you can see, the Activities and top panel have not morphed into a dock.

Extensions, enable

You must enable extensions (a global toggle) through Gnome Tweaks first; more useless mouse clicks.

Window buttons

Getting my sanity and efficiency back.

Default fonts

Default fonts - pale, thin, nopety nope.

Much like what I've shown you in my recent SparkyLinux and Xubuntu 20.04 reviews, it doesn't take much to transform a bland, boring and inefficient baseline to something that is appealing and fun and productive. Alas, without the end-user in mind, the Linux desktop is stuck in its own self-perpetuating loop of making tools for developers by developers with zero consideration to aesthetics or ergonomics.

WIP

Notice the color and contrast of Files now as opposed to the early live session shot. Not only is is this better looking by a parsec, it's also more accessible and usable, as the fonts are cleaner, sharper, darker.

Ubuntu fonts installed

The wallpaper functionality has finally been fixed - you can add images from random locations. In the past, this was hard-coded to jpgs from the Pictures folder. Now, you can select any which folder you like. Good.

Add wallpaper

And a desktop that can be used:

Final looks

Package management & updates

Software is just not fun. I simply found no reasons to use it, whatsoever. It's also buggy. If you use it to update the system, you waste time. If you enable third-party repos on the command-line, e.g.: RPM Fusion, it still prompts and asks you to enable those. Buggy, don't want.

Software

Third-party repos already in action.

Applications

Fedora's ISO isn't giant - 1.8 GB, and it doesn't pack too much. Functional but not very exciting. Firefox, LibreOffice, Rhythmbox (which isn't default for music, so I wonder why it's there), Cheese, Boxes, some other apps and utilities, and that's about it really.

Apps

Extras

Of course, after my nice and lovely customization, things are looking much better:

Extras

Stability, problems

Not good. This wasn't a stable distro at all. I mentioned performance issues, and we'll talk some more about that soon. Now, at some point, I noticed windows wouldn't really maximize, or rather they would, but they would remain 80-90% transparent. Really odd. Some windows but not all of them.

Transparency problem

This is not a transient animation snapshot; the file manager is fully usable in this state. I guess Wayland & Gnome Shell issues.

Firefox also refused to minimize - it would spring back up, and then it promptly crashed. Trying to access the user menu would cause the Gnome Shell to crash. I had three or four of these in the span of about half an hour. I then logged out, and changed from Wayland to X Org, and things improved significantly. A cleaner, faster interface, fewer visual bugs and glitches, no more transparency ghosts. The Gnome Shell crashes remain, though.

Firefox crash

gnome-shell[7660]: segfault at 0 ip 00007f0cdd86aada sp 00007fff932162c0 error 4 in libst-1.0.so[7f0cdd844000+50000]

Gnome Shell crashes

Gnome Shell crash notification

After waking from suspend, I would experience kernel oopses - a recurring problem for CentOS and Fedora since forever, and which hasn't been resolved. It will probably be resolved in the classic Linux desktop fashion - ignored until my laptop becomes irrelevant.

Kernel oopses

Oops, I did it again.

The switch from Wayland to X Org resulted in a better experience overall - including more responsiveness, reduced system resource utilization, and greater stability. It's been a while since Wayland was conceived, and it's still not up to the task. Like most technologies designed in the "agile" era, it's a rolling ball of good enough, and it probably won't ever be finished in any sort of coherent, product-complete way. I am totally dismayed that buggy code is allowed into user-facing software. But then, this trend is plaguing the entire software industry, and it's getting worse and worse by the day.

Resource utilization, performance

On idle, you get 1.3 GB RAM used, 4-5% average CPU tick. More fluid and responsive than Fedoras of the past, but if you start doing a bunch of things in parallel, the experience degrades quickly. Typical Xfce and Plasma desktops are much more efficient, and perceptibly faster. This is great improvement, but still not enough.

Resources

Battery life

At full brightness, light usage, the battery (at its 60% out of total original capacity) gives only 90 minutes. So this would translate to 150 minutes for a fresh cell, add about half an hour for brightness, and you get three hours and a bit. Definitely less than what most Xfce and Plasma desktops offer. Worst, this is not as good as what Fedora 31 did - but then I guess it has to do with kernel changes. Plus, the power management isn't aggressive. You don't get auto-dim or alike, for instance.

Battery life

Conclusion

Sometimes, often, more frequently than ever before, I wonder why I bother. I refuse to be inefficient. Time is valuable. Why do I spend it doing un-fun stuff when I could be doing nice and productive things? Maybe it's time to stop Linuxing. 'Twas a great ride and all that, but I kept getting dragged back to 2005, and I simply don't want that.

All in all, I've had moderate+ amounts of fun with Fedoras 29-31. Here, none at all. Fedora 32 is less capable than its predecessor, almost on all levels. Basic functionality is simply ... less. This is not good. There are some nice things here, of course, like any distro, but they cannot offset the tidal wave of regressions and problems. Fedora 32 wasn't stable enough for me, I had to make significant modifications to make it usable, and while the responsiveness is better than before, the battery life suffers, and there are crashes in the heart of the system.

Now, you can't really stay on Fedora 31 for long, because it's quite short-lived. So there is no choice here, per se. If you like Fedora, you will use it, and that's it. But if you're looking for a desktop distro, I can't recommend this in any way. If you want to Red Hat, you could try the rather nifty CentOS 8 instead. If you don't care, there are more viable options out there. On a super-sad note, Dedoimedo out.

Cheers.

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