Fedora 39 waves goodbye to modularity, but has enough spins to make your head spin
20th anniversary version of Linux distro brings lots of new goodies
Fedora Linux is released when it's ready, so two decades plus one day after its debut, the latest version is here, with lots of new goodies.
Nearly a year before the first Ubuntu release, the first edition of Red Hat's new free Linux distro, Fedora Core 1, appeared on November 6, 2003. There were a few delays to the release of Fedora 39, but it came out this week and The Reg FOSS desk has taken several spins for a quick test drive.
We looked at the beta version back in September, and not all that much has changed, so regular Reg readers will already know what to expect. Fedora is a mature distro now – next year, it will be old enough to drink alcohol in Red Hat's homeland – so the changes are not all that dramatic. It comes with kernel 6.5, and the official Workstation edition sports the same GNOME 45 used in Ubuntu 23.10. Fedora 39 contains version 1.3 of Inkscape, which is its "digital twin," originally released on the same day – although Inkscape took 16 years to reach version 1.0 so its version number is still lagging well behind.
With the introduction of Fedora Linux 39, Fedora will discontinue building modules and shipping modular content to users. The fedora-repos-modular and fedora-repos-rawhide-modular packages will be retired and modular repositories will no longer be composed.
We took a few of its "spins" for, er, spins, and the results were pretty good. The KDE edition struggled in VirtualBox 7, and crashed with a driver error in UTM if we enabled 3D acceleration, but with that disabled, it installed and ran perfectly. The Xfce spin was happy both in VirtualBox and on our bare metal testbed Thinkpad T420. Unlike the latest Ubuntu, it successfully detected the machine's Nvidia NVS 4200M discrete GPU, although in our brief testing window we couldn't get the driver working.
It's also ahead of Ubuntu in the number of editions with alternative desktops, with 11 official spins. It has an edition with the Sway tiling window manager, another with the Sugar environment started by the One Laptop Per Child project, and it still offers an LXDE edition, as well as LXQt, the successor environment to which Lubuntu switched. There's also an experimental edition with the Phosh phone UI, which runs on the PinePhone, PinePhone Pro, PineTab, and Purism Librem 5.
Version 39 brings a new edition, Fedora Onyx, an immutable variant built around the Budgie desktop, which joins its siblings Kinoite (with KDE), Silverblue (with GNOME), and Sericea (with Sway).
The obvious comparison for Fedora is Ubuntu, and we often encounter a lot of bitterly acrimonious advocacy one way or the other. Then again, that's a hallowed tradition of the Unix world and long predates the existence of Linux itself. In fact, these distros have profoundly different goals and are aimed at different markets.
- Canonical reveals more details about Ubuntu Core Desktop
- GhostBSD makes FreeBSD a little less frightening for the Linux loyal
- Revamped Raspberry Pi OS boasts Wayland desktop and improved imager tool
- Trinity desktop's latest release snaps into action on Q4OS 5.3
Fedora is an upstream distro in the family of its primary sponsor, serving as a foundation for CentOS Stream and RHEL. That's why its policy document contains terms like "leading edge" and "innovative." It's just one member of a larger family, which includes the largest paid-for enterprise distro and its siblings. That means it uses the same commands and same config files in the same locations as the dominant silverback of this particular troop. As such, if you work in the world of paid-for Linux, Fedora is a shoo-in choice. If you want something slower moving, there's CentOS Stream, as used by edgy startups such as Meta.
These things mean that there are no stable, long-term supported versions of Fedora. If you want that from its creators, you must pay – although there are some 20 other organizations who will be happy to help you.
Fedora 39's LXQt spin has version 1.3, but that still can't do a vertical taskbar. Good job there's still LXDE as well
From the perspective of the Red Hat market, the Debian family is a rounding error. Even if it has 50 times more users, they don't pay anything for it, while a few years ago Red Hat made $3.4 billion. Around then, the Debian project had less than a million in the bank. Hardly worth even mentioning, really. As Douglas Adams put it: "Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor – at least, no one worth speaking of."
The KDE spin did go entertainingly wonky in VirtualBox, however, so we recommend avoiding this combination
Fedora 39 is more polished than ever, and even installing proprietary drivers is now straightforward. We still find the installation program rather clunky, but it works, and installing onto a complex multiboot system with five other OSes across two SSDs worked fine. Fedora's UEFI bootloader was even able to boot a copy of Ubuntu installed in legacy-BIOS mode without a problem – its interop is massively improved from just a decade ago.
The developers are working on a new installer which should surface in Fedora 40 early next year. It's solid, it works well, and there's a desktop to suit everyone … and if you want an LTS version without paying, you could always run Rocky or Alma. ®