Fedora 36 Workstation review - Yeah naah

Updated: June 10, 2022

Mr. Grumpy reporting for duty, sir. Today, my chore will be the review of Fedora 36, clad in Gnome. I will conduct the testing on my triple-boot IdeaPad, which is powered by AMD Ryzen + Vega graphics and has a small but fierce NVMe for I/O operations. Indeed.

Recently, in my rather carefully and sparsely sampled spring distro testing season, I tried Kubuntu 22.04. It was okay, but there was no LTS bite to it, as if I needed anything to improve my already vastly cheerful mood and disposition toward Linux lately. But now, I want to try something less KDE, and there's nothing better than Gnome in its vanillaest form, Fedora. Commence we do.

Teaser

Live session

Things started badly from the get go. The basic looks, ok. Wireless connectivity, hidden inside the menu, so you need to waste a mouse click to activate your network. The font clarity is abysmal. No fractional HD scaling. Still. In 2022. Of course, this meant installing Gnome Tweaks right away, even in the live session.

Fonts

Those fonts look bad. The contrast is horrible. The year is 2022.

And so I did. And then Gnome Tweaks informed me that there's a separate app for managing Gnome extensions, which also are essential if you want to have a normal, reasonable, efficient desktop workflow. Anyway, I installed that one, too.

sudo dnf install gnome-tweaks gnome-extensions-app

This allowed me to change antialiasing to LCD, increase font scaling to 1.25 (as there's no HD scaling to match), and enable min/max windows, because I'm not going to waste my life right-clicking on individual windows. Also, Fedora now calls it "hide" and not "minimize", which technically makes more sense. On that note, as before, with Firefox, if it has no titlebar enabled, there won't be an option to hide the browser window at all unless you enable the min/max buttons (for which you need the SEPARATE application). Wonderful. And none of this is new. Old problems since forever.

Fonts, scaling

Trying to make the desktop actually usable - AA, fonts, scaling. Sigh.

Tweaks, extensions

Windows controls, app for extensions (a must for a normal, perma-visible dock), Gnome screenshot.

Right click options

The search seems broken - if you try Gedit (the old name of the text editor), it will take a good minute to tell you that it can't find anything. The built-in screenshot tool is the worst ever. It's some weird thing that shows on the bottom of your screen, has a weird phone like UI, no timer, and is just awful. I installed the old Gnome screenshots, and this at least does a reasonable job. You can rename files, for instance, or save them to a custom location. This new thing, ugh. I want to blowtorch my laptop, just because of it.

Search

This search will time out after about 60 seconds. The text editor is there, though.

Other than that, the desktop was quite fast. The animations are pretty smooth. However, the mouse cursor looks small (I guess it needs scaling, but hey), the window border handle grab is awkward and only works well for the diagonal right-bottom corner grab and not the sides, and the wallpaper choice creates an illusion of several file manager windows (permanently) shown there. I even tried to actually click them, go figure.

Wallpaper confusion

Those green and blue, application windows no?

Installation

I don't know why I bothered, but I decided to install the distro anyway. I know it's not going to be great, I know I'm not going to enjoy it, and I'm not in the mood for an hour of needless tweaking the likes of which I've already shown you a dozen times before. But suffer we must, and so.

The installer remains awful, since Fedora 18. Convoluted, non-linear, breaks all the conventions of normal workflow and reading slash decision making hierarchy. Blivet, the partitioning tool froze there for a good few seconds, as it always does, NVMe notwithstanding. No labels, no indication you've selected a partition to be formatted. Just bad.

Blivet freeze

Did I mention this problem like 1-2 years ago? Yes. Does anyone care? Nope.

Blivet

So much wasted space. A tiny list that takes 5% of the screen, 95% empty whiteness, and the installer doesn't even have the first column (Device) set wide enough to display the full partition string. No indicator if any of the partitions will be formatted, either. Wunderbar.

Using it

The installation completed successfully, and quickly (even when running on battery power), just about 6-7 minutes. On first boot, you will need to configure your user, decide whether to use the likes of location services and bug reporting, optionally connect Online Services, and enable third-party repos. This last step is quite useful, as it allows people access to applications and codecs beyond the strictly libre realm.

The Wireless connectivity was preserved in the installed Fedora 36 instance, and the language dialect was correctly set to English US, as all software interfaces ought to be. Now, I had a long task ahead of me. Making the desktop ergonomically sane and usable. Basically adding all the bits and pieces that Gnome doesn't do by default.

Customization

I didn't invested too much time, because I didn't feel like it. But it still required a lot of effort, even my few seemingly small changes. Install Gnome Tweaks, the new extensions app, the old screenshot tool. Restore window borders, sort out the fonts, install new icons (La Capitaine). Then, get Dash to Panel and exhale loudly, because now the desktop can actually be used.

I then wanted to change the wallpaper. Doable, but tedious. You can add "custom" pictures, but only one by one. Also, notice the visual bug in the file picker window. The icons are truncated.

Wallpaper bug

Well, in the end, I had something reasonable, but it took way too much effort.

WIP 1

WIP 2

Applications, everyday use

Okay. The software arsenal isn't great, and if you want good stuff, you need RPM Fusion, Free and Nonfree. The default set revolves around Firefox, Rhythmbox, Videos, LibreOffice, and a few other tools and utilities. Not the biggest or most versatile set.

Apps

I tried to play an MP3 file, and for some reason, Videos launched - even though the system has Rhythmbox listed as the default application, plus it shows no clip art at all. Then I tried to play one of my usual test-set video clips, and Fedora complained about missing codecs. At least, this was easy and quick to replenish.

Missing codec

Default apps

Music

VLC for the win!

Performance, responsiveness

The boot time clocks in at about 20 seconds, among the slowest I've seen on this box - some distros are 3x faster to get to the working session. The actual system is really fast. None of the woes that plagued Gnome in the past. Samba performance is about 17-18 MB/s, among the fastest I've seen yet in this particular setup. Another super-fast element: dnf. The package management is blazing fast. Really. Most likely the fastest I've ever seen on any system.

Resources

The CPU is rather noisy, and will spike on any little activity, but this does not affect responsiveness in any way. Memory usage stands at almost two GB on idle, which is silly. The system monitor also has the Cache value shown, which is meaningless, both in pure technical terms and also for anyone who wants to use this tool to get a basic overview of the system utilization.

Resources

Battery life

Quite reasonable. I don't know how efficient the power profiles in Gnome are, but the system offered a fair deal of electron juice, without any visible performance or responsiveness penalty. With full brightness and moderate usage, Fedora 36 reported 160 minutes of time at 65% (2/3) battery change. This means 5-5.5 hours of light usage, maybe a bit more at 50% brightness. Decent, but not the best we've seen on the IdeaPad. BTW, here, I tried using the built-in screenshot tool, and because it has no timer, you can't capture overlay windows like say the system menu. Gnome screenshot did the job. Another reason why the default thing is totally useless.

Battery life

A few other things

The system was stable, but the desktop did freeze once for a couple of seconds. Not sure if the Gnome shell crashed and restarted itself. If you plug the power charger in, the display dims completely, an old bug I've reported with at least half a dozen distros before, and I guess, it won't ever be fixed, and like all my previous laptops, test or production, there will be some hardware issue. Also, Pipewire errors:

pw.conf: execvp error 'pactl': No such file or directory, pipewire-pulse

Conclusion

What can I say? Fedora is Fedora. If there's one good thing you can say about this distro, it's that it has a consistent identity, and has stayed true to it for quite a long time. You get some nice improvements in the tech stack, decent speed, and solid stability side by side with a horrible UI design and usability model. But the latter can be tweaked, tuned and tamed to some extent, which is good, although it's still wasted energy at the end of the day.

Fedora 36 is not drastically different from the last half a dozen versions I've tried. It's okay I guess, and probably more than that if you like the Gnome desktop. There's nothing really revolutionary here, and no killer feature that would make it amazing, or turn the tide on the Linux home market. Anyway, my testing is done. Another year, another release, and the wheel of Tux turns. There's not much else I can add here that would bring any extra value. Should you test it? Yes. Would I run this in my production setup or some such? Not really. And on that emotionally neutral note, we call it a day.

Cheers.

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