Fedora 33: Honing Linux's cutting edge

When it comes to a Linux distribution that explores the outer limits of what Linux can do, Fedora should be your distro.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Fedora has long been a favorite of Linux developers. Just ask Linus Torvalds, who uses Fedora on his personalized powerhouse workstation. Now Red Hat, Fedora's parent organization has released the latest and greatest update of this popular Linux distribution: Fedora 33

The new Fedora 33 Workstation comes with the greatly improved GNOME 3.38, desktop. If you aren't already familiar with GNOME, Fedora is not the Linux you want to learn it on. Try Ubuntu or openSUSE to get to know GNOME.

However, if you're a fan of  immutable desktops, you may want to check out Fedora Silverblue instead of Fedora Workstation. 

Silverblue tends to be more stable than other desktops. Also, if something does go wrong, you can easily reboot and rollback to the last working version. And if the rollback goes wrong, you can still download and boot any other image that was generated in the past, using the ostree command.

All versions of Fedora are built on top of the Linux 5.8.15 kernel. For applications, it comes with the usual assortment of the latest versions of LibreOffice, office suite, and Firefox, web browser. 

And, of course, it wouldn't be Fedora if it didn't include the newest languages and programming libraries. This includes gcc 10.2.1, Python 3.9, Ruby on Rails 6.0, and Perl 5.32.

The latest Fedora also replaces the ext4 file system with the B-Tree File System (BTRFS) aka the Butter FS. The Fedora developers are doing this because, besides BTRFS being stable and mature, it uses a single-partition disk layout, with its own built-in volume management. This makes it easier to manage disk storage. 

Under the hood, Fedora has also replaced the old-school swap partition with zRAM. Traditionally, when you run out of space in RAM on a Unix or Linux system, what's in your RAM is "swapped" out to your hard drive swap partition. Once there, it goes from moving at the speed of memory to the much slower speed of your drive. You only have to run into this a few times and you'll soon be able to recognize it when your machine suddenly slows to a crawl. 

With zRAM, instead of going to your drive, your excess data and programs are compressed and moved into a RAM drive. While you can still run out of space here, you'll enjoy better performance for longer. 

There's one change I'm not crazy about. On the desktop, they've replaced the default shell text editor from vi to nano. Since I have the vi command set embedded in my fingers, I'll just keep using vi thank you very much. 

Fedora, however, isn't just for Linux desktop power users and programmers. You can also get Fedora Server, for experimenting with your server. While I can't recommend it for production servers - they call it bleeding edge for a reason - it's excellent to see where RHEL and CentOS - which I do recommend for production - are going.

You can also use Fedora IoT to push the limits of the Internet of Things and Edge computing. Its most noteworthy new feature is the Platform AbstRaction for SECurity (PARSEC). This is a new open-source initiative to provide a common application programming interface (API) for platform-agnostic hardware security and cryptographic services. It promises to be very important as more and more computing is moved to IoT devices and the edge. 

Finally, there's Fedora CoreOS. Like Silverblue, it's an immutable operating system. Here, though instead of the desktop, it's an automatically updating, minimal operating system for running containerized workloads securely and at scale. Fedora CoreOS comes with several update streams. For now, the next stream is based on Fedora 33. But, testing and stable updates will soon be arriving. 

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