Version 36 of Fedora, the free community Linux distribution sponsored by Red Hat, has arrived.
There are several parallel products under the Fedora banner, and they all have new releases as well.
The default desktop is GNOME 42, along with spins with KDE, Xfce, LXQt, MATE, Cinnamon, LXDE, Sugar, and i3.
There were a few delays before release, but that’s not that unusual with Fedora releases. We covered highlights of what’s new when we reviewed the beta back in March and that’s still true now. The release version isn’t massively different, and the release notes and change set give all the details.
In addition to Workstation, there is also Fedora Serverwhich doesn’t have a graphical desktop (although you can install one if you want) but offers Modularity – parallel installations of different versions of components.
Alongside them is Fedora IoT, which has had its own edition since Fedora 33. Like openSUSE Kubic, SLE Micro and Ubuntu Core, it is a small, lightweight distro (3GB disk, 1GB RAM) with installation and transactional software updates.
This means that the root filesystem is read-only and updates are done via ostree. It works on x86-64 and some selected Arm SBCs.
Speaking of transactional software, Fedora silverblue version 36 was also released. Silverblue is a desktop distribution, but it uses the same kind of transactional installation system like the IoT edition. The root filesystem is read-only, the only way to add new software is through Flatpaks, and it has no conventional package manager at all.
Silverblue is based on GNOME, just like the main version. If you’re not a GNOME fan, there’s also an immutable version of Fedora based on KDE, called Kinoite.
Silverblue and Kinoite can trace their ancestry back to CoreOS, which Red Hat acquired in 2018. Fedora Core OS is another separate project, although for the moment its stable version is still on 35: version 36 is available in the trial and next streams.
Finally, we have to mention Fedora Rawhide, although it does not have specific versions. Rawhide is not a release as such, but it is an option. It’s Fedora’s equivalent of Debian “Sid”: an ever-evolving snapshot of the distribution’s next running release. It’s not exactly a rolling release like Arch Linux or even the new Ubuntu mobile rhino, but if you want the latest and greatest versions of everything, it’s here for you.
One of the reasons we specifically mention Rawhide is to talk about disc formats. Fedora formats the hard disk with Btrfs by default, as it has since the 33but it should be noted that this doesn’t still confer many advantages.
Much like Fedora Silverblue, Canonical with Ubuntu Core and SUSE with Kubic and MicroOS are experimenting with immutable distributions. The difference is that they use copy-on-write (COW) file systems: Btrfs for SUSE and ZFS for Ubuntu.
One of the great advantages of a COW-compliant filesystem is that it allows snapshots to be created very quickly: essentially, the OS can say “create a snapshot of this directory at this point”, and the system automatically and invisibly starts redirecting any changes. to these files in new separate copies.
the idea is that if an update goes wrong and something stops working, you can just reboot and go back to an old snapshot where everything was working. It works through a tool called snapper in SUSE distros, and Ubuntu is working on something similaralthough neither that nor ZFS are enabled by default yet.
In SUSE distributions, including openSUSE Leap and Tumbleweed, if an update fails, you can choose an old snapshot from the GRUB boot menu and immediately bring your computer back to life. Then you can either keep working or, if you have time, fix what went wrong. It is the great feature that makes Tumbleweed so usable as a streaming distro.
It would be easy to conclude that because Fedora now uses Btrfs that automatically brings it to parity with openSUSE, but that is not the case. Fedora does not support snapshots by default at all. You can to permit but it is not trivial, and as Fedora keeps its
/boot directory in a separate partition formatted with the old ext4, it won’t automatically include kernels. If you want it too, it’s a important task.
Without that, there really isn’t a significant benefit to using Btrfs. RHEL does not include Btrfs or ZFS at all, which is why it had to develop OSTree: to provide snapshot-like functionality on non-COW filesystems. Since it spends money and effort on this – and special OSTree-based editions such as Silverblue, Kinoite and Fedora IoT – this effectively means less reason to work on supporting snapshots on Btrfs.
Indeed, not only is there no gain in using Btrfs, but there are potential costs. Btrfs can be fragile, which is why SUSE has a whole page on how to retrieve of errors, supplemented by the worrying line:
This is why the new bcachefs filesystem uses the hook “The COW filesystem for Linux that won’t eat your data”.
Btrfs is less of a problem on a server, like an SLE box, probably protected by a UPS – but Fedora is primarily a desktop and laptop distro, and as such Btrfs is potentially a liability rather than a benefit . Since Red Hat has its own next-gen file system, stratisFedora is unlikely adopt bcachefs for the foreseeable future.
Overall, as we said about the beta, Fedora 36 is a solid and mature distro. The lack of stable releases, unlike Ubuntu LTS or openSUSE Leap, means it’s not the most boring and secure choice – we note, for example, that Slack is no longer supports Felt. GNOME fans who like to customize their desktop might also want to beware of automatic update expansions. Unlike Ubuntu, each release receives updates up to a month after release after the next, so when you upgrade you can skip a version. A yearly upgrade cycle isn’t so bad.
The Reg The FOSS office believes that in some respects interesting things are happening with the modularity in the Server edition and with the immutable file systems of the IoT, Silverblue and Kinoite editions.
We gave Kinoite a short test drive, and GUI-wise it looks like any other distro. It’s fast and responsive, and you can add graphical apps from the Software Center like a normal distro. The differences are only apparent at the command line level: there is no
dnf command, no package manager at all, and even superuser can’t create a new directory in the root folder.
A read-only root filesystem means these editions should be more robust, safely immune to issues like sudden power outages, unlike any other mainstream distro. It might be a shock to the system for an experienced Linux user, accustomed to opening a shell and customizing their installation, to discover that they cannot.
But it’s probably the future of Linux distros, and Fedora, more than any other mainstream distro, offers the first taste. ®