Fedora 34 is out! This latest version is a more substantial update featuring the brand new Gnome 40 desktop environment. We already took the beta version for a quick spin in order to get a glimpse of Gnome 40. Now it’s time for another look with an in depth review of the final product.
Fedora Workstation 34 can be downloaded here. It is a 2.0 GB download with decent download speeds. I moved the ISO to a thumb drive using Etcher and proceeded to install it to my Dell E7240 test laptop.
Although Fedora’s installer does not “verbally” offer to install alongside existing OSes it does just that and it does it very well indeed. I had Xubuntu and Ubuntu Mate already on the 128 GB hard drive occupying it in a roughly 50:50 ratio. The Fedora installer tells us how much space it needs and offers to free up space from any of the partitions available. I decided to give it 25GB from the Xubuntu installation and then let it do its magic. A good six minutes later we were good to go (not counting the time to resize the partition – that was another couple of minutes).
I restarted the computer and got all three installations listed in GRUB. I tested the previous Xubuntu and it booted just fine. Now, back to Fedora. After first boot we need to finalize the installation entering a username and password and toggle a few other minor settings. This is followed by Gnome’s welcome app, a stylish but very simple affair. It only provides a few hints on how to use the desktop in general.
Boot times are long at around 18 seconds for the log-in screen to appear and another few for the desktop to fully materialize. Fedora’s splash screen shows the vendor logo during boot along with their own recently released simplified Fedora logo.
Kernel in use is 5.11.12 and Wayland is the default display driver as has been the case for a while now.
I installed htop and after a fresh boot with WiFi disabled I got the following figures:
- 1.04 GB RAM
- 119 Tasks
- 251 Threads
This was a very pleasant surprise! My look at the previous Fedora 33 had shown 1.52 GB of RAM being used! They managed to get it down by a third – Well done!
The desktop now defaults to the overview “Activities” screen after logging in. That feels a bit jarring but actually makes sense because stock Gnome does not show items on the desktop nor have a visible dock. The new enchanted forest wallpaper isn’t really my thing but is of course easily changed. Choice is a bit limited but there is always the beautiful fractured blue wallpaper that changes with the time of day.
The desktop itself is clean with only a panel at the top. The right hand side of the panel houses the usual system tray, in the center we have our calendar and notifications and on the far left the “Activities” button. Hitting the super key also toggles the Activities screen.
The dock is now at the bottom and virtual desktops are now laid out horizontally. Hitting the 9 dots icon on the dock or “super + a” reveals our installed applications while minimizing the desktops overview. My only real gripe with the new layout is that the virtual desktops are less helpful. The old vertical ones on the side were visually more practical.
What I appreciate about Fedora is that we get the pure Gnome experience. Probably only few will actually use it as is. Most will perform at least some amount of tweaking to adapt it to their workflow. This can be done via Gnome extensions and/or the Gnome Tweak tool. As with every new Gnome version, some older tweaks will need to be updated before they would work again here.
Out of the box, the system does not allow for any visual user customization other than the wallpaper. No changing icons, no switching to other themes, not even a dark mode is accessible. I can imagine how this might rub some people the wrong way.
For a more comprehensive overview of the desktop check out my previous post on Gnome 40.
Fedora does not ship with restricted extras but it is not too hard to add them as we’ll see below.
Multimedia Playback: The system plays all media through the included Gnome Videos app. My music files played just fine, both mp3 and m4a files. Some videos however didn’t due to missing codecs: Mp4 files were missing the H.264 decoder and mkv files the AV1 decoder. However, in both cases the system offered to install the missing codecs from the Software Center. Both went without a hitch and started playing the media immediately without even needing to reopen the file. Very nice!
To get access to more restricted extras that cannot be found in the Software Center it is common to add one or two popular third party repositories like RPM Fusion to the system.
Bluetooth: I connected to my JBL speaker and my music played instantly through that speaker. No additional settings were needed – Excellent! In Xubuntu and Ubuntu Mate 21.04 I had to additionally connect the speaker after pairing it.
Display Options: The reason I started using Fedora a few years ago was because I had gotten myself a laptop with a touch screen. Gnome was without doubt the best Linux desktop suited for that at the time. A couple of years later Full HD displays became all the craze and this is where Fedora again had the advantage with it’s early adoption of Wayland and the fractional scaling that went with it. It was the perfect match for my Surface Pro 2 with its tiny 10.6 inch screen. So, how does Fedora 34 perform in this respect? Perfectly well! Fractional scaling is still considered experimental so you need to enable it with a simple terminal command:
gsettings set org.gnome.mutter experimental-features "['scale-monitor-framebuffer']"
The effect is instant and simply works. Also connecting to my dock with an additional screen automatically added the new available real estate. For this part of the review I used my Full HD Dell E7250 in a live session.
Being a purist and minimal distribution we get less software out of the box. I prefer it this way to be honest. Here is an overview of the most prominent apps included:
- Internet: Firefox in version 87. That’s it, no email or torrent client. Gone is Evolution.
- Office: LibreOffice Writer, Calc and Impress only.
- Multimedia: Gnome Videos, Gnome Photos and Rhythmbox.
- System: The latest Nautilus, Gnome Disks
Other Gnome specific apps included are the Calendar, Clocks, Contacts, Weather and Maps – all in their latest 40.0 version.
Additional software is traditionally handled by the Software Center. It is nicely responsive and upon first launch it asks us whether to enable third party repositories with some restricted extras. Right out of the box there were already 8 updates waiting to be installed, including a newer version of Firefox (v.88) which hadn’t made it to the ISO. Fedora also uses Flatpaks and they are enabled by default. I am happy to report though that most major apps like GIMP, Chromium and Blender I checked were in their normal version which means less data to download. I only encountered Inkscape as a Flatpak with a 2.1 GB download – Seriously, that is the size of the whole OS! I also wanted to test Gnome Web again but sadly it too was a 2.0 GB download!
As usual I tried to install AbiWord but it wasn’t found, nor was VLC! For VLC we would need to add the 3rd party repository RPM Fusion. AbiWord, however, is available for installation using the terminal. I believe some apps do not show in the Software Center if the description is missing.
sudo dnf install abiword
The related spread sheet program Gnumeric was in the Software Center so I used that as a test but it failed with an error saying a component was already installed. That might have gotten installed when I added Abiword via Terminal. A reboot corrected the issue and Gnumeric installed just fine after that.
Well, what can I say as a long term Fedora user? I am not crazy about the new Gnome 40 layout but I could easily get used to it anyways. Everything seems to have been rounded up – no more 90 degree angles. Seems to be the thing these days if you want your desktop to be en vogue! Dreading the day we’ll be sold rounded monitors. These niggles aside, Fedora has gotten nimbler. The lower RAM usage shows how much optimization has been done behind the scenes and that’s impressive. As usual, Fedora gives us the latest Gnome has to offer and I personally like their bi annual release cycle – short enough to not really need to apply updates in between and just long enough not to be annoying.
Have you updated from Fedora 33 to Fedora 34? Let us know how it went in the comments below and any other observations you want to share with the community.