Red Hat's community Linux distribution Fedora has always been popular with open-source and Linux developers, but this latest release, Fedora 34 seems to be something special. As Matthew Miller, Fedora Project Leader, tweeted, "The beta for F34 was one of the most popular ever, with twice as many systems showing up in my stats as typical."
Why? Nick Gerace, a Rancher software engineer, thinks it's because "I've never seen the project in a better state, and I think GNOME 40 is a large motivator as well. Probably a combination of each, from anecdotal evidence." He's onto something.
When Canonical released Ubuntu 21.04 a few days earlier, their developers opted to stay with the tried and true GNOME 39 desktop. Fedora's people decided to go with GNOME 40 for their default desktop even though it's a radical update to the GNOME interface.
Besides boasting a new look, GNOME 40 is based on the new GTK 4.0 graphical toolkit. Under the pretty new exterior, this update also fixed numerous issues and smoothed out many rough spots. If you'd rather have another desktop, you can also get Fedora 34 with the newest KDE Plasma Desktop, Xfce 4.16, Cinnamon, etc. You name your favorite Linux desktop interface, Fedora will almost certainly deliver it to you.
Under those bright, shiny faces, you'll find the Wayland display server. Unfortunately, as is the case with all Linux distros that use Wayland to replace the good old X.org display server, it does not work and play well with NVIDIA graphics. The Fedora developers are working upstream with NVIDIA to support its proprietary driver. I can only wish that NVIDIA would get the f-bomb clue Linus Torvalds gave them nine years ago to open up their drivers so we could finally have a first-rate, open-source NVIDIA driver. In the meantime, if your PC has NVIDIA graphics, you'll automatically be reset to the slower, but working, X.org display server.
On the audio side of life, Fedora has moved to Wim Tayman's PipeWire, and audio and video server, for audio. This replaces PulseAudio and Jack. While still new, it's been praised by many as being superior to PulseAudio, which has long been the default Linux audio server. Since its APIs are compatible with PulseAudio, most applications will work with it without any changes. Fedora has also worked upstream with Google and Mozilla so it will work with the Chromium and Firefox web browser families. That said, if you're doing professional-level audio work, it may not work with your applications. For example, while PipeWire does work with Audacity, the popular audio program, you may need to do a little tuning to get it to work just right and it doesn't work yet with the popular OBS Studio podcasting program. In both cases, developers are busy trying to get them to work and play well with each other.
At this point, I should point out that this is part of life with Fedora. Fedora, as I've said many times, is a bleeding-edge distribution. It explores what's possible to do with Linux, not what's guaranteed to work. That's a big reason why I recommend other distros, such as Linux Mint, for people who want a day-to-day work desktop Linux. Fedora is for developers and brave, adventuresome Linux users. It's also the upstream for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).
Speaking of programmers, they'll be happy to use the latest update of Toolbox. This lets you easily create containers, which you can then use to host isolated development environments. So, for example, if you want to work on a program on top of RHEL, you just run:
toolbox create –distro rhel –release 8.4
...from a shell and, ta-da, instant RHEL instance ready to rumble.
As always, Fedora comes with the latest versions of languages and libraries. For instance, it includes Ruby 3.0 and Golang 1.16. Fedora is also running on top of the 5.11.12 Linux kernel, which was released only a few weeks ago.
Another feature I like is that, since Fedora 33, the default file system is Btrfs. I find it faster and more responsive than ext4, perhaps the most popular Linux desktop file system. What's different this time around is that it now defaults to using Btrfs transparent compression.
Besides saving significant storage space -- typically from 20 to 40% -- Red Hat also claims this increases the lifespan of SSDs and other flash media. SSDs and the like have a built-in limited lifetime depending on how many writes a given drive does. Most users will never reach that limit, approximately ten years of normal use. But developers, who might for example compile Linux kernels every day, might reach that point before a PC's usual end of useful life. For them, transparent compression may help keep their computer going until they need to replace it with a newer, faster machine.
Of course, as always there are many other versions of Fedora. There's a Fedora for servers; Fedora CoreOS, which is for people who want to run containers with the latest operating system improvements -- it has a two-week update cycle; and Fedora IoT for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. You name the job, there's probably a Fedora just for it.
Want to see for yourself? Download Fedora, look over the Fedora 34 release notes and bug list, install it, and you're ready to go. Enjoy!