By Gene Wilburn
When I started using Linux in the early 1990s, my first distro was Slackware, followed soon after by Red Hat. Eventually I discovered Debian Linux and it quickly became my favourite, especially after Red Hat evolved into an enterprise company.
Along the way I tried Ubuntu Linux and Linux Mint and liked both, partly because they were part of the Debian family of distributions. Over the years I’ve watched them become easier to use and more polished. I run the latest Linux Mint on my desktop machine.
Even so, I enjoy trying out different distributions to see what they offer. Of course, Linux is Linux, no matter which distribution — under the hood they pretty much all do the same things. Where they differ the most is in packaging systems, method of installation and maintenance, and the user interface.
My test computer for experimenting with distributions is a Lenovo Thinkpad E431 i3 laptop, introduced in 2010. It contains 4GB RAM and 500GB of hard disk. Not a speed demon, but it has plenty of memory and storage, and is supported by all the Linux distributions I’ve tried.
Using this laptop, I took a look at the no-nonsense Fedora 36 Workstation. Fedora is sponsored by Red Hat and is characterized as a “bleeding edge” distribution, continuously introducing the newest versions of applications. It is popular and has a large support community.
After loading the Fedora .iso file onto a stick disk, I booted it up on the Thinkpad and asked it to install to my hard disk. The installation procedure worked but was less explicit about what was going on than, say, an Ubuntu installation.
The only confusion I encountered was in letting it know it could blow away the existing Linux Mint and use the entire hard disk. There is less feedback than I’m accustomed to, and it was unclear to me whether I had set it to delete the existing partitions. It turned out to work fine, but I prefer the feedback I get with an Ubuntu-family install.
After Fedora booted up for the first time, it displayed the latest GNOME user interface, which left me wondering what to do. There were no docks or panels on the screen. My first hurdle was how to access stuff. I tried clicking at the corners and clicking on the background screen, to no avail. Then I pushed the Windows key, which led me to the dashboard, or “dash” as it seems to be called. From the dash I could launch selected software or invoke a full screen of installed apps, similar to Launchpad on a Mac.
I’ll never understand why most distributions, including Fedora, do not include a Terminal app in the initial dashboard. That’s always the first thing I need to use.
Fedora Workstation is highly integrated with GNOME and is configured to present an uncluttered screen, leaving most of the screen available to applications. I like this approach, especially when working on a restricted screen such as a laptop.
From apt to dnf
Instead of the apt command-line tool of the Debian variants, Fedora uses dnf for command line management of software installations. Fedora packages are .rpm files rather than .deb files and Fedora supports both Snap and Flatpack, which are increasingly used for software distribution. Fedora differs from Debian-based distros in its security mechanism. Ubuntu-family distros use AppArmor while Fedora uses SELinux.
In practice, switching to dnf is straightforward for an experienced Debian user.
In Debian distributions, you might install a software package such as btop by typing
sudo apt install btop
In Fedora you would type this instead
sudo dnf install btop
The two systems are similar enough that transitioning from apt to dnf presents no particular challenge.
Changing the Look & Feel
Although I find the GNOME interface interesting and slick, I couldn’t get comfortable with it, so, in the great Linux tradition, I added my favourite GUI, Cinnamon, as an alternate GUI with the simple command
sudo dnf install cinnamon
and, upon completion, Fedora installed the Cinnamon option. This significantly increased my comfort level.
I give Fedora 36 highest marks: It’s a great distribution. I suspect, though, that it’s a better Linux for experienced users than beginners. For those new to Linux I think Ubuntu or, particularly, Linux Mint, makes a better choice.
If you want to use a solid, leading edge Linux, and have a bit of Linux experience, Fedora is one of the top choices.
Gene Wilburn is a Canadian writer, photographer, and retired IT professional.