Raspberry Pi: Hands-on with Fedora 26

The new Fedora 26 release includes a Raspberry Pi version; I'm going to try it on a Pi 3 and see if it works any better than the Fedora 25 version did.

I previously mentioned that the Fedora 26 release was imminent, and it was released as planned: the release announcement is a bit thin, but the release notes are, as always, very complete. It is worth reading through both of them before starting to install or upgrade Fedora.

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For new installations, the standard Workstation version, which has the Gnome 3 desktop, can be downloaded from the Get Fedora page. Other desktops, and other targets, can be downloaded from the Fedora Spins page.

What really caught my eye, though, was the mention in the release notes of the Fedora ARM version, which should run on the Raspberry Pi 2 or 3, and a variety of other ARM-based systems.

This is not entirely new, there was a version of Fedora 25 for the Pi, but it was, well, sub-optimal. There was a significant list of things that were known not to work, and when I tried it I found a few more. Overall, I was pleased to see that it existed, and was a full-fledged member of the Fedora family, but I could not have actually used that release on the Raspberry Pi for anything. I said at the time that I hoped future releases would be a lot better. Now it's time to find out!

So today I have two objectives: upgrade a Fedora 25 system to 26, and try out the new Fedora ARM version on a Raspberry Pi. Let's start with the boring one...

For the past few releases, there have been two different ways to upgrade a running Fedora system to a new release: either using a GUI upgrade tool, or using the traditional CLI.

I am a very traditional kind of guy (that's a politically correct way of saying dinosaur), so I always perform a CLI upgrade using dnf, and I mumble about all those new-fangled things today while it runs. This time I decided to at least take a look at the GUI update.

Sometime shortly after you login to a Fedora 25 system, you are likely to get a notice that a new release is available.

gnome-software-f25-f26-upgrade.jpg

If you click that notice, or just go to the Gnome Software utility and click the Update tab, you will get a window which offers you more information about the upgrade, along with a button to start it. If there are also some pending updates for your Fedora 25 installation, there will be another part of the window informing you of that.

It may seem counter-intuitive to install updates if you are about to upgrade, but my experience has been that it is always best to start such a major upgrade from a fully up-to-date system. So the first step should be select that, and let it install updates and reboot.

After the reboot you should get the Fedora 26 upgrade notice again, this time without the additional pane about Fedora 25 updates. Now you are good to go. Click the 'Download' button to start the process. The system will then download everything necessary for the upgrade, tell you when it is ready to reboot, and then reboot and perform the actual upgrade installation.

However, as I said, I still prefer the CLI upgrade procedure -- it makes me feel like I am a bit more in control of the process. The step-by-step details of how to do this are given in the Fedora Wiki, and also in a Fedora Magazine article. The basic steps are the same as what the GUI upgrade does, of course, but here you get to control when each of them is done, and you can continue working in other windows while the first three are in progress:

  • Install the latest Fedora 25 updates, and reboot
  • Install the Fedora System Upgrade plugin
  • Download all of the packages which will be needed for the upgrade
  • Reboot and perform the upgrade
details.png

I just did that on my Acer Aspire V notebook, and it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish, with absolutely no problems.

So, congratulations to the Fedora team for another smooth upgrade process! Now, though, let's move on to the fun part of this post: installing Fedora 26 on a Raspberry Pi 3.

The Fedora ARM distribution includes both server and desktop versions. There are two server versions, one which is presumably the standard Fedora Server distribution and which weighs in at 2.1GB, and the other is a Fedora Minimal version, which is only 440MB. That's quite a difference! I'm going to skip over those for right now, because I am far too anxious to get to the desktop version on my Raspberry Pi.

There are a number of different desktop versions available, ranging from the standard Workstation (Gnome 3) down to an LXQt version, which I am particularly pleased to see. Also available are KDE Plasma, Xfce, MATE, and Sugar-on-a-Stick images.

The installation image sizes range from 1.2GB (Workstation) to 725MB (SoaS). I am going to install the LXQt version, because I think (and hope) that it will provide a good balance of desktop functionality with reasonable performance.

The Fedora ARM Installation Guide gives detailed instructions, including a description of how to run the ARM image using the QEMU emulator... what a concept.

All of these images are xz-compressed raw disk images. If you have a running Fedora system, you can download the Fedora ARM Installer, and it will do all the work necessary to uncompress the image and copy it to an SD card. Alternatively, you can do it yourself with a command like this:

xzcat Fedora-LXQt-armhfp-26-1.5-sda.raw.xz | dd bs=4M of=/dev/sdX iflag=fullblock oflag=direct status=progress

This takes a while, because the 900MB compressed image actually expands to 5.1GB to be written to the SD card. Oh, and that means you have to use at least an 8GB card. The installation image will not fill the SD card, but this will be automatically corrected on the first boot, so you don't need to worry about that.

The first boot takes you to a modified version of anaconda (the Fedora installer). This version only includes options to set the time/date/timezone, network selection and hostname, and user settings for the root password, and user account creation. The one thing missing here is a keyboard layout selection, but that can be taken care of on the first login.

After completing this part of the startup, the boot process chugs along for a bit longer, although really not all that long, compared to my previous experience with Fedora 25 and other non-Raspbian installations on the Raspberry Pi. Before too long it comes up with the standard Fedora login screen.

Logging in produces this LXQt desktop:

pilxqt.png

Fedora 26 LXQt on a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B

Image: J.A. Watson

Hooray! Wow, is that ever good! My first impression is that it is significantly faster and more stable than the Fedora 25 LXDE release was, but let's take a closer look.

The first thing that I noticed was that the Pi 3 built-in wi-fi adapter wasn't recognised. That's too bad, but that was also the case with the Fedora 25 release, so I assume (hope) they are still working on it. When I plugged in a wired network cable, the connection came right up, so that was good news. I was very pleasantly surprised, though, when I plugged the standard Raspberry Pi USB wi-fi dongle in and it also came right up!

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I couldn't find the Network Manager icon on the LXQt panel, I think something is wrong there, but I was able to go into Preferences / Network Connection and configure my home wireless network information there. As soon as I did that the wireless connection came up, and I could remove the wired network cable again.

I also went into Preferences / Keyboard & Mouse, and changed the keyboard layout to Swiss German. Whew.

I poked around for a while, and I was quite pleased with the performance. Firefox starts up in a reasonable amount of time (for a Raspberry Pi), for example. Things like the screenshot utility and the image viewer come up quickly.

There still seems to be a bit of instability in the boot process, though. When I shut down and then tried to boot again a few minutes later, the boot process hung before the GUI came up. It did get far enough that the virtual consoles were running, so I was able to login and get a shell prompt on one of them, and then reboot again. It then came all the way up normally, with no indication of problems anywhere.

After going through this several times, I ended up with the feeling that the boot hangs about one time in four or so. That's not good, but I am hopeful that the Fedora developers will get this sorted out before too long.

I am considerably more pleased with this release on the Raspberry Pi than I was with Fedora 25. I am looking forward to using it, and hopefully getting updates that will take care of the few issues I have with it right now. If they were to get the Pi 3 wi-fi and Bluetooth working, I would be ecstatic...

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