Newly released Fedora 33 Workstation features Gnome 3.38 and replaces the EXT4 file system with BTRFS. What does that mean and what else is new? Let’s have a look at it now!
Fedora uses the Anaconda installer. I chose to install it to my external SSD using the whole drive. I used automatic settings with full encryption.
The good: The installation process went quite fast and I was up and running in no time.
The bad: Fedora messed-up my original boot-loader on the internal SSD. It seems it removed it and created a new one on the external SSD. I shall have to sort it out after the review but I am not impressed. I probably have only myself to blame as using automatic settings for more complex set-ups is not really recommended. Deepin’s installer on the other hand didn’t cause this kind of headache, so that’s that.
We are greeted with a beautiful, if a tad tacky, wallpaper with a spacial view of our planet. A first time Setup wizard let’s us setup the WiFi connection and asks whether we wish to enable location services and automatic problem reporting. Then it offers to connect us with online accounts and finally lets us setup the user with name and password.
After logging in for the first time we are greeted yet again with another app. This time it’s the new Welcome app. It’s quite minimal and just shows us the basic way to interact with the Gnome desktop in general. I’m sure it will get more comprehensive with future releases.
Interestingly, there was no time and date setup during any part of the installation process. The user needs to adjust it in the settings once installed.
System & Desktop
For fedora 32 users the main noticeable difference apart from the new wallpaper would be how the app grid view can now be modified. Apps and drawers can be moved around freely to better suit one’s workflow. There are some visual tweaks and a bit of added functionality compared to fedora 32. For a full set of changes Gnome 3.38 brings to the table, eh desktop, check out my other post over here.
The other major changes are under the hood:
Fedora 33 now uses the BTRFS file system by default instead of the usual EXT4. This is a more modern, yet some say less tested, file system that enables some new features. One of them is the ability to create system snapshots that let us revert back to an older state in case something major goes wrong. This wouldn’t replace traditional backups on external drives though.
Another major change is with swap. Normally fedora and other systems create a swap partition on the hard drive that is utilized when system RAM is used up. It is also used to write what is in RAM to disk so a system can be suspended like closing the lid of a laptop. Fedora chose for their latest release to use ZRAM instead. This basically uses part of the System RAM in a compressed state as swap. Clearly this has both advantages and disadvantages and it will be interesting to see how it works out. ZRAM is of course faster than a disk based swap partition but it reduces RAM available to the system in the first place. Some people voiced concern that this might render suspending the system on a laptop impossible but I am happy to report it works without a problem.
Phoronix have made comprehensive tests between fedora 32 with EXT4 and normal swap and fedora 33 with BTRFS and ZRAM. The results show a slight edge for fedora 33 but that would be hardly noticeable in normal day to day operations. I compared htop figures of my own fedora 32 installation with fedora 33:
Figures taken after a fresh boot:
- RAM utilization:
- Fedora 32: 1.22 GB
- Fedora 33: 1.52 GB
- Tasks active:
- Fedora 32: 128
- Fedora 33: 124
- Threads in use:
- Fedora 32: 305
- Fedora 33: 289
This isn’t a very fair comparison as my install of fedora 32 includes some extras but we can clearly see the jump in RAM usage. That is probably due to the ZRAM allocation. In any case, this is a heavy distro and I wouldn’t use it on anything with less than 8 GBs of RAM. CPU usage while idle hovered at around 2% for both releases which is a good value.
Fedora 33 Workstation doesn’t come with too much software out of the box. We get Firefox for browsing. We get LibreOffice Writer, Calc and Impress. We also get Rhythmbox for Music and Totem for videos plus a bunch of Gnome apps like Maps, Photos and Weather as well as some utilities. Gnome Web is not included by default nor is Evolution.
I opened the software center and there were already 20 updates waiting to be installed. As you can see from the screen shot, the app store didn’t fully load, a bug I have been seeing for quite some time now. Then, as a test, I searched for Abiword but only got LibreOffice Writer as a result? Searching for VLC returned no results at all! Then I looked for GIMP and thankfully it showed up. Upon looking at it further, however, I noticed it was the sandboxed Flatpak version with a 2.1 GB download size! Where did the RPM version go?
I decided to install Web, Gnome’s web browser. I had written about it and it’s issues a short while ago so I kept my expectations low. Again, the software center offered the Flatpak version for installation which was a 2 GB download. Considering the size, the download was quite fast and the app was promptly installed. First launch was also quicker than expected. For normal text based sites it was usable but for anything else it’s a jittery mess. You can check my previous post on the subject which mirrors my experience here.
As usual with Fedora, you do not get restricted codecs out of the box so some media files like .mp4 will not work by default. There are many tutorials on the web on how to add these extras. This is always a reminder to me that fedora isn’t really meant for the masses.
Fedora uses Wayland as a display driver by default and while fractional scaling has been available for several releases now, it is sadly still not considered mature enough to be offered in the system settings. It needs to be enabled manually through a simple terminal command:
gsettings set org.gnome.mutter experimental-features "['scale-monitor-framebuffer']"
Once done we get extra scaling options at: 125%, 150% and 175%. For me 125% is ideal and seems perfectly stable.
Release 33 in many ways reflects what we’ve come to expect from fedora. It boldly adopts newer and sometimes controversial technologies. It’s default setup is basic and devoid of any extras. It’s the closest thing to a pure Gnome experience. The new welcome app seems to suggest they’re aiming to be more accessible to the masses but as long as we don’t get an edition that includes restricted extras it will be a hard sell. The state of the software center was my biggest disappointment. RPMs seem to have taken a backseat and content wasn’t fully loading. Will I upgrade my installation to version 33. Probably yes. The support cycle basically forces me to do so. For me, Gnome still offers the best touch based desktop experience on Linux and fedora is a good base for that. Now, please excuse me, I need to go fix my boot loader!