Fedora 21 is out and I’ve been able to spend some time with it. The last version of Fedora I looked at was more than two years ago, so there have been quite a few changes since then. The new version of Fedora comes in three basic options: Fedora Cloud, Fedora Server and Fedora Workstation.
For this review I opted to use the GNOME version of Fedora 21 Workstation. The GNOME desktop is the default environment of Fedora, but there are a number of other Fedora spins available for including the following:
So do check out the alternative spins if GNOME isn’t your cup of tea. The Fedora developers have made sure that there is a desktop environment for everybody to choose for their computer.
What’s new in Fedora 21
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release:
Linux kernel 3.16.3
Terminal application improvements
Support for Wayland (experimental)
DevAssistant developer helper
Web service integration
GNOME 3.14 has a number of changes including a redesigned GNOME weather app, a redesigned Evince app, better support for Wi-Fi hotspots, multitouch gestures on touchscreen devices, Google services support in Photos, and a few other things. The GNOME 3.14 release announcement has more information about its features and changes.
I’ll have much more to say about the Software installer in that section of the review, but suffice to say it’s a big step forward for Fedora and kudos to the Fedora developers for getting it done.
The terminal application now supports transparent backgrounds, automatic title updates, a toggle for disabling shortcuts and you can search for terminals by name in the GNOME desktop.
Experimental support for Wayland is included in this release for developers to test their applications. Developers will also enjoy the DevAssistant which helps setup different programming environments, as well as better web service integration. And all users will appreciate the improved HiDPI support in Fedora 21 Workstation.
Fedora 21 download and install
You can download Fedora 21 from this page. You can get Fedora 21 in 32-bit or 64-bit versions. I downloaded the 64-bit ISO file and it weighed in at about 1.47 GB.
Fedora 21 is also a live distro, so you can run it right off the disk to test it before installing it on your computer. I recommend that you check out the live desktop if you’ve never used Fedora before, it will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with what Fedora has to offer before committing to an actual install.
Here are the recommended minimum system requirements for Fedora 21:
1GHz or faster processor
1GB System Memory
10GB unallocated drive space
The installer in Fedora is quite good though it is a bit different than what you’ll get in Linux Mint and some other distributions. It may throw you off if you haven’t seen it before, but stick with it and you’ll find that it’s very easy to use. Just follow the on-screen prompts and you should have no problems. You’ll need to type in a root password and create a user account. While you do that the installer will be installing software and you can watch its progress at the bottom of the installer menu.
At one point you’ll also be able to connect your various online accounts. Google, ownCloud, Windows Live and Facebook are all options on the Connect Your Online Accounts menu. Since I have don’t plan on using Fedora as my day to day desktop distro, I opted to skip trying to connect any online accounts. I also loathe Facebook so there was no chance I would have bothered with that anyway.
The Fedora installer seemed pretty fast (though I didn’t actually time how long it took, I would have noticed if it lagged like some other distros), and I had no problems completing my install. One thing that it lacks is a slideshow that users can view while installing Fedora 21. Other distributions offer this and it can be a nice way of easing new users into a desktop distro by pointing out various things such as new features, updated applications, etc. I’d like to see the Fedora developers add something like that in the next release.
If you need assistance with installing Fedora 21, see the official install guide for more information.
The Fedora 21 desktop
I noted earlier that the default desktop of Fedora 21 is GNOME. GNOME is…well…it’s GNOME, and you either like it and want to use it or you don’t. If you haven’t used GNOME before then I recommend patience, it’s a different way of working that you can get used to if you give it some time. But it is not the same as MATE, Cinnamon or Xfce and if you are used to just those desktop environments then Fedora 21 might throw you off the first time you try it.
Note that you can also opt for the GNOME Classic desktop if you prefer that to the current version of GNOME. Just click the gear icon on the login screen and then select GNOME Classic. There is also an option to use GNOME on Wayland if you want to give that a try too. My preference would be GNOME Classic, but I tend to be a bit more old school in my desktop environment preferences. Your mileage may vary considerably, so try the old and the new versions of GNOME if you aren’t sure which one will work best for you.
Assuming you load the current version of GNOME, you can get started using the Fedora 21 desktop by clicking the Activities button after your desktop loads. Firefox, Evolution, Rhythmbox, Shotwell, the file manager, the Software installer, and the Show Applications button are all available on the panel. At the top of the Activities screen you’ll find a search box, and on the right the desktop switcher.
If you click the Show Applications button you’ll get a list of all the other applications on your system. Two tabs are available on the bottom: Frequent and All. After you’ve used Fedora 21 for a while, you’ll probably appreciate the Frequent tab since that’s a fast way of accessing the applications you use most often. Or you can use the search box to quickly find them.
Fedora 21 system settings
If you want to change how your system is set up, click on the Settings icon after you click the Show applications button on the panel. The Settings menu will come up and you can do all of the usual things such as change your background, adjust online accounts or privacy settings, change your network settings, manage users, etc.
There are three main categories on the settings menu: Personal, Hardware and System. So it’s easy to quickly locate the settings icon that you need to click to make your changes.
Linux software included in Fedora 21
Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.
Available in Software installer
Fedora 21 provides a fairly good default selection of software that should cover most desktop needs. If you want more applications just click Activities and then Software. The Software installer is quite reminiscent of the Ubuntu Software Center and Linux Mint’s Software Manager. If you’ve used one or the other you will feel at home in Fedora 21’s Software installer.
When you load the Software installer, you’ll see a featured application at the top, followed by Editor’s Picks and then some Recommended Applications for one category or another. Further down the menu you’ll see a list of applications categories. Click one and you’ll see some sub-categories in the left frame, along with some featured applications in the right frame.
Applications categories include Audio, Education, Games, Graphics, etc. And you can always search if you prefer that to browsing around for applications. You can also see all of your installed software in one tab of the Software installer, and your available updates in another. I updated my system immediately, and had no problems installing the updates.
Installing or removing software is easy. Just click the blue Install button or the red Remove button, and then your administrator password. The Software installer will do the rest of the work for you. After the application installs, you can click the Launch button right from the application’s menu in the Software installer.
Overall, I think the Fedora developers did a good job with the Software installer with a couple of exceptions. Currently you can see star ratings, but no user reviews are available to read. I always enjoy reading the opinions of other users before I install software. Sometimes it helps me to filter out applications I might not actually enjoy using, so I appreciate having that option. I’d like to see it in the next version of the Software installer.
The other thing that I don’t like about the Software installer is the name. You can sort of tell that Fedora is a distribution geared toward developers because it’s never been very slick in terms of naming things. I’m not sure why they just didn’t call it Software Market or Software Central or Software Center or something similar. Right now it’s just labelled as “Software” and that comes across as half a name.
The name thing is a minor nitpick, of course. The Software installer works well and provides access to many different applications, so I have no complaints about the actual usage. But a full name would be better than just the generic term “software.”
Where to get help for Fedora 21
If you’re having problems, please post your questions in the comments below. You might also want to check out these Fedora 21 resources:
Final thoughts about Fedora 21
Fedora 21 ran very well for me, I had no problems using it. It seemed fast when launching applications and none of them crashed for me. As a desktop distribution it seems quite stable right out of the box, and I think most users will appreciate that when putting it through its paces.
For desktop users the biggest and probably most appreciated change in Fedora 21 is the Software installer. It puts Fedora at almost the same level as Linux Mint, Ubuntu and other desktop distributions with intuitive and easy to use software management tools. As I noted above, there are a couple of things that need to be improved in the Software installer, but the overall experience is quite strong already.
Now one question remains: should you use Fedora? You most certainly can use it as your main desktop distribution, but remember that Fedora 21 Workstation is geared toward developers. Casual users can and should check it out, but there are things in it that might have no appeal to non-developers (such as the DevAssistant). If that’s a deal breaker for you then Linux Mint, one of the Ubuntus or some other distribution might be a better option. If the developer-centric focus doesn’t bother you then Fedora 21 might just be your next desktop distro.
Fedora 21 is best suited to intermediate and advanced Linux users, but beginners can certainly give it a try in a virtual machine or by running the live desktop off the disc.
What’s your take on Fedora 21? Tell me in the comments below.
Fedora 21 screenshots: