What's new in Fedora 27

New Hat

© Lead Image Craig whitehead, Unsplash.com

© Lead Image Craig whitehead, Unsplash.com

Article from Issue 208/2018

Fedora Linux is a favorite of developers, sys admins, and other tech-savvy users. The new release sports a new Gnome and other useful enhancements.

The Red-Hat-sponsored Fedora project recently released Fedora 27, and I couldn't wait to take a look. Fedora Linux holds a very special place in my heart. In fact, Fedora was the distro that led me to the desktop Linux world. And I'm not the only one who holds Fedora in high regard: Linux creator Linus Torvalds uses it as his primary distro. Linus once told me in an interview, "One of the reasons I like Fedora is they tend to be fairly good about new kernels." He also said he appreciated the efforts the Fedora community, especially Red Hat, put towards kernel development. "They do have lot of kernel engineers. So one of the reasons I ended up going with Fedora is just that they do a good job on the side I cared about."

Fedora Linux comes in three editions: Workstation, Server, and Cloud. This article will focus on the Workstation edition, but it is important to know that, in the case of Fedora, "workstation" does not mean "end user." Fedora's target audience is people like Linus Torvalds – developers and power users who are looking for early versions of the latest Linux updates. Or, as Fedora Project Manager Matthew Miller once explained to me, "Fedora Workstation appeals to our traditional default user base in many ways, but will have a greater focus on software developers and content creators – and, as the name implies, on people who don't want to do all of their computing from their phone." According to Miller, the Fedora project has always thought of its target user as someone who could also be a potential contributor.

I tested Fedora 27 on multiple machines – Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition, Dell Precision 5720 AIO, a custom built PC with Intel i7 Core 4780k and GTX 1070 Ti, VirtualBox, VMWare Fusion, and Parallels Desktop. All of my systems have a minimum of 16GB and maximum of 64GB of RAM, so I have really not tested it on an underpowered system. Installation was flawless on each of the bare metal systems and virtual machines.

I do have some mixed feelings about Anaconda, the Fedora installer. It's not very intuitive and could be confusing to a new user. For instance, the option for creating a system user is easy to miss (Figure 1). The inconsistency in the button placement, and the instructions and warning display in an almost unreadable font color, fall short of expectations for a cutting edge distro.

Figure 1: The installer offers no clear instructions about creating a user.

First Impressions

Once you manage to install Fedora successfully, you will see a welcome screen that offers to configure keyboard layout and fine-tune privacy settings. You can also disable location tracking, disable automatic problem reporting, and enable access to non-free software.

The wizard offers Gnome integration with online services, including Google, Nextcloud, Microsoft, and Facebook (Figure 2). If you forget to create a system user during the installation process, you will also have to create a user.

Figure 2: You can easily configure online services on Fedora 27.

Fedora is known as a Gnome distribution, although alternative Fedora "spins" versions are available for other desktops. Red Hat is the leading contributor to the Gnome project, and Gnome is the default desktop environment for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, so the investment in Gnome is quite evident. The close connection between Red Hat and Gnome means that Fedora users get early access to many of Gnome's new features and functionalities. For example, in previous years, Fedora users got a early look at the Gnome Software package tool, as well as Google Drive integration for Gnome's Files file manager.

Fedora 27 includes the latest stable release of Gnome, version 3.26, which brings some changes to the UI and many improvements under the hood. As someone who uses 4K or HiDPI monitors, I like the options available through Fedora/Gnome. You can choose tiny fonts and icons with massive screen real estate (akin to four 1080p monitors on the same screen) or scale the full screen down to a boring 1080p.

Gnome has done some impressive work for those who use multiple displays. Fedora now supports fine-grained configuration for all connected monitors using the redesigned display settings. A preview of the content showing on the connected monitors lets you set resolution or scaling for best experience. Some of the advanced display features require the Wayland display server protocol, which is now available as an option on the login screen along with the aging X11. The only downside of using Wayland is that it may give you a hard time if you are using any dedicated GPU cards, but Fedora is not known for out-of-the-box GPU support. (My Fedora systems never survive updates if I use non-free drivers for NVidia cards, so I resort to using integrated graphics for my Fedora machines.)

The system settings utility, which is simply called Settings (Figure 3), has a brand new user interface that replaces the good old grid style. I like the refreshing look, which cuts down on clicks, but I struggled to find the monitor settings, which were buried in the devices settings.

Figure 3: The Settings utility has a new user interface.

That's when I noticed an improved search in Gnome (Figure 4). Not only does it show more items as a list, it can also search system functions like shutdown, logout, etc. My only gripe with Gnome search is the lack of content search, where I can search for an item like SSN and it shows a preview of the document that has my SSN. (I like the way Spotlight does this on Mac OS.)

Figure 4: The search feature is much improved.

Speaking of Mac OS, Fedora 27 brings emoji support to desktop Linux (Figure  5). Users can now embed color emojis in their documents, but, unlike Mac OS, Gnome does not provide dedicated keyboard shortcuts. You have to open the new Characters application and then drag and drop any emoji into your document. The good news is that developers are working on an emoji picker that can be integrated with other applications.

Figure 5: Choosing emojis in Fedora.

The default Gnome web browser of Gnome, called Web, now lets you sync your passwords, bookmarks, and browsing history using Firefox Sync, which is integrated with the desktop. No worries about forgetting your passwords. I wish there was a system-wide sync service so that once I log into my user account on Fedora, my emails, contacts, calendars, passwords, etc. are automatically synced – that way I don't have to reconfigure them every time I upgrade to a new Fedora release. On the positive side, Gnome's calendar, mail, and contacts have partial support for offline work; the changes get synced when you get connected.

The Gnome Tweak Tool, which is simply called Tweaks, has an interesting change. Tweaks is designed to let the user customize the desktop with a few advanced configuration options. Tweaks now has an option that lets you move the windows buttons to the left. I wonder if they are doing this for Ubuntu users who are switching back to Gnome after Ubuntu abandoned the Unity desktop, which placed the buttons on the left side. You can also choose to display the battery percentage for laptops and disable the touchpad when typing. This last feature is quite handy, as I get annoyed on my Dell XPS 13 when my cursor hops from one place to another while I am typing.

External Hardware Support

Fedora automatically detected my networked Brother laser printer, and it was ready for printing without the need for additional drivers. Gone are the days of desktop Linux users struggling with printer drivers. My wireless Apple keyboard and touchpad also worked without any issues; the only minor issue was function key mapping on the keyboard, but I am used to that by now. I had to install exfat drivers to access my Panasonic GH5 camera storage, which required more extra work than expected. I had to manually add rpmfusion repositories in order to get exfat. Unfortunately, Gnome software was not able to find fuse-exfat, so I had to resort to the good old CLI:

$ sudo dnf install fuse-exfat

I mounted the camera and opened the .RW2 raw images that even Windows 10 can't open. Gnome has come a long way with its support for high resolution previews of raw images.

I also was able to play .mov files from the camera. And the most refreshing improvement was out of the box support for MP3, since the patents on MP3 have expired. Red Hat legal gave Fedora permission to ship MP3 encoding in Fedora, so users can now enjoy MP3-encoded songs without any issues.

I can easily mount my iPad Pro, iPhone X, Pixel 2, and Galaxy Note 8 to transfer files.

A Bit about Developers and Sys Admins

Fedora 27 also comes with some significant improvements for developers. The debuginfo metadata packages have been split up into smaller sub-packages, making it possible to install just the debuginfo for one specific sub-package or library. The new Fedora also comes with version 2.26 of glibc, which offers many new features, including a per-thread malloc cache that significantly improves the malloc API family of functions on certain multithreaded workloads. Unicode 10.0.0 includes improved support for character encodings, character type info, and transliteration tables. Fedora 27 also ships with Node.js 8.

Sys admins may be aware of Fedora's effort to achieve modularity. Modularity makes the life cycle of applications independent of the platform and other applications and, as a result, makes the system less likely to break with an application or system upgrade.

Fedora 27 also brings improved support for SSDs. If you create new partitions using LUKS encryption, they will automatically be configured to use TRIM, which increases the lifetime of SSDs without affecting encrypted data security.

The new Fedora also offers improved Kerberos support, including the new Kerberos Cache Manager (KCM), which, according to the developers, is "better suited for a containerized environment." OpenSSH Server now adheres to system-wide crypto policies, making life easier for sys admins. The developers have removed support for insecure SSH-1 protocol and upgraded Samba to version 4.7. Fedora 27 is the first Fedora version to include Samba AD domain controller support.

For developers or sys admins who work on ARM systems, the good news is that Fedora 27 includes disk images for 64-bit ARM devices like Pine64 and Raspberry Pi 3.

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