Fedora 34 KDE - Modern but not polished

Updated: September 29, 2021

Try Fedora 34 KDE, why don't you, they wrote. It will be fun, they wrote. Now, based on my past experience with Fedora's somewhat less glamor-catching non-Gnome spins, KDE included, I'm rather skeptical of today's experiment. But then, what's the point in having a publicly accessible email if not to receive feedback from your readers, and take it into account for the upcoming articles and software reviews? To wit, we test the KDE flavor of Fedora here and now.

I am going to do two distinct tests - one inside a virtual machine, and one on my newish IdeaPad 3, which also comes with an AMD Ryzen processor, plus AMD Vega graphics, and there's a triple-boot on the box, cor, all of which add to the interesting plethora of challenges. Let us start.

Virtual machine experience, first

It was okay, but not ideal. I let the installer auto-configure the system setup, which meant BTRFS rather than a conventional setup with Ext3/4 filesystems. So far, BTRFS has mostly been the domain of openSUSE, and typically, it requires a speedy machine to give its best.

Indeed, the virtual machine experience (VirtualBox) was not as good as it could be. Comparing to a say Kubuntu 20.04 instance on the same box, the system is not that responsive, even though it comes with newer kernel and Plasma version, both of which should introduce some hastiness into the overall usage.

Virtual desktop

Fedora did use its own Guest Additions, which is neat, and I had screen auto-resize and all that. However, after a full round of system updates (some 1.2 GB worth of data), the VM resized itself to a puny 800x600px estate, and I had to manually resize it to something more comfortable. The fullscreen thing didn't recur, even though the drivers were loaded and running - the network sharing does work fine, though. At this point, I tried to install the official Guest Additions from the virtual CD, but failed because there are no headers included. I found this kind of exercise intriguing back in 2006, not anymore. Meh.

On the small plus side, the updates are really fast - the dnf performance is top notch.

Updates

Problems and such

Let's go back a little to the live session experience, just before the installation. The system area was all mangled up. This got me really annoyed, and so I fired up KDE neon 5.22.5 - one dot revision more than what Fedora 34 ships with by default, and the same error is there! So we have a nonsense visual regression, and this is not Fedora's fault. But it also shows that bugs from upstream are simply dumped into downstream distros without any real QA. The world of Linux. More on this later.

The installer is also ridiculous. One, it does not align into the KDE workflow. Two, the partitioning tool is rudimentary and slow (also, more on this when we do the IdeaPad test), three, the installation progress bar is totally not linear, it's thinner than KDE scrollbars and lines, and just feels wrong.

Installing 1

Installing 2

Installing 3

From 0-100%, only the first quarter gets filled with color, then bootloader takes another 10%, and then initramfs takes another 50%. This does not correlate in any way to the actual time it takes for each step, or the importance of the step in the overall sequence.

Lastly, Fedora told me Firefox isn't the default browser - but there is no other browser on the system.

Firefox, default browser

Moving on to physical hardware

Similar results in many aspects, which is encouraging, because at least there is SOME consistency, which is never a given in the Linux distro world. One, the annoying bug with the system area is there also, so this is a pure Plasma problem, it seems. Look at that. Really unnecessary. After a while, the issue "resolves" itself.

System area

Two, you cannot use a light system theme with dark window borders (titlebars). This isn't a new thing, and I've complained about this months ago, more or less when Breeze lost its dark color accent in the titlebars. I even got emails from people telling me how to do this, except ... it doesn't work. Broken. I will write a dedicated tutorial showing how to change the active titlebar color, so you can have an experience more like the older versions of Plasma, i.e., light overall theme, but the window borders are dark gray. So, another issue, and it doesn't seem to be Fedora-specific. Still.

Titelbar color

As you can see, nothing happens.

Three, the installer. Took about a minute to actually launch and render on the screen. A whole minute. Top-left button hierarchy in a down-right workflow. Still ridiculous, still useless. Blivet is slow to respond. Still. Click, wait 2-3 seconds for things to happen. The partition size is irrelevant to how it's visually displayed above the list. No labels. You don't know if a partition is going to be formatted or not. I mean, really.

Blivet

Look at the text Logical View and the partition alignment below. Look at the top left corner and right corner of the blue-marked partition. If the creators of the tool don't care for their own product, how can the user?

Installation complete ...

More problems. The boot menu does not respond right away! It renders with white dots moving horizontally across the screen. Like some 80s game effect. And if you hit Enter, it takes about 2 seconds for the menu to respond to the input. I've not encountered this with any other distro on this box.

The boot sequence is also slow compared to many other distro I tried on this machine, like say Manjaro. The boot time is 16 seconds to Plasma login screen and then another 6 seconds to a working desktop, and this is after the initial setup and all that, right. And then, I decided to be a bit more meticulous about it, and performed the boot sequence several more times, including both Wayland and X.

With X rather than Wayland, the initial sequence drops to 14 seconds (still slow), and then 4 more seconds into the working desktop. Once again, we have another manifestation of how Wayland still isn't as good as it needs to be for everyday usage. But the real test is in...

HD scaling

With a 1920x1080p resolution, the laptop's 14-inch screen isn't comfortable at the default 100% scale. I tried different factors with different distros in the past. For Plasma, 137.5% seems to be ideal, and 125% isn't bad either. All of this was done with X before.

I tried the same with Wayland, first. You can set any value, it seems. Results? Awful. This reminds me of what I had when I tried xrandr scaling in Xfce in MX Linux on the same box. The "blown up" desktop doesn't really compensate for the increase in scale in the true sense of the word. In other words, this is merely an enlarged picture of what you have before plus the subsequent loss of clarity/focus. Blurred, washed out. Horrible.

Wayland scaling

This is what it looks like. 1:1 image, so no info is lost.

I then logged out, tried logging back in, rebooted, hoping the effect would go away. Nope. Not only then, I got a bunch of errors on desktop startup, various denials (I guess SELinux), apps wouldn't launch, and of course, there is no sensible text log you can use to see what went wrong. I refuse to use journalctl to parse binary information, because I am not a machine. A whole bunch of Oops! messages cropped up. Hint: if you don't see them or react and click Report right away, they are gone. How to retrieve them? No immediate way.

Error 1

I started the desktop with X, and the results were sooooo much better in every way. Clear and sharp rendering, faster desktop response. I think I've said everything that needs to be said on this topic. I don't want to spoil my happy mood.

X scaling

Other observations

KDE Wallet in live session, none in the installed desktop. Wireless wasn't preserved. At some point, the Plasma browser integration extension stopped working, and then started working later on. The system updates are really fast.

Plasma integration got broken

Then, more crashes and errors, even on a fully up to date system:

Crash

Krunner has no default shortcut, so you can't launch it and have it show up at the top of your screen as you'd do with any other Plasma desktop. Konsole would often launch with a tiny, tiny frame - every single time. It would never resize back to what I have in mind. No nice third-party software:

sudo dnf install vlc
Last metadata expiration check: 0:10:33 ago on Tue 21 Sep 2021 11:57:16 AM.
No match for argument: vlc

Lastly, the Plasma menu has an annoying scrollbar in the categories pane, and no obvious way of resizing it. This ain't a Fedora issue per se, but I've not seen it in other distributions, which only makes today's experience even less fun than it was. We'll have a tutorial on menu resizing soon.

Menu height

Conclusion

As you can imagine, I didn't really continue with my test. Therefore, no data on battery life, resource usage, or any of the customizations that I often have to undertake to my systems usable and productive. What would be the point really? So many things went wrong. Some of these aren't Fedora's fault, but many others are.

Slow boot time (and boot menu oddities), Wayland scaling problems, crashes, lack of third-party application by default. Fedora 34 KDE just does not feel complete. It's a distro all right, but it sure doesn't get as much love and attention as the flagship release. Not that that guarantees quality in the distrospace really, anywhere. All in all, if you want Plasma bleeding edge, Manjaro or neon can do that just as well, while providing their own share of quirks and bugs (albeit smaller). There are some small redeeming points in Fedora 34 KDE, but they are nowhere near enough to compensate for the bad stuff. All in all, sadly, my past impression holds. Oh well.

Cheers.

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