What Is Fedora? Everything You Need to Know

Alongside Arch and Debian, Fedora is one of “the big three” Linux distributions. It traces its lineage back to Red Hat Linux, the original RPM-based distro.

Fedora is known for its cutting-edge technologies, the latest software, and frequent updates. It’s also one of the few major distros to embrace stock GNOME. Lately, the distribution has become more user-friendly, with a welcome screen, Flatpak support, and the ability to enable third-party repositories in setup.

Basic Info and Specs

Here’s a breakdown of Fedora’s basic information and relevant modern specifications:

File systemBtrfs
Init systemsystemd
PackagesRPM*, Flatpak, AppImage
Release cycleSix months
Latest release5/10/2022
Latest version36

Fedora has a number of notable defaults that modern distro-hoppers should take note of, including PipeWire, Wayland, and Btrfs.

History of Fedora

The history of Fedora is inextricable from the history of Red Hat. The distribution was originally known as “Fedora Linux”, then “Fedora Core”, before finally settling on just Fedora.

Fedora Linux was a third-party repo for the original Red Hat Linux, while Fedora Core was a free community-maintained version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Today, Fedora is upstream from Red Hat Enterprise Linux and serves as a good preview of what’s to come in the paid Workstation version.

While a community project, Fedora is obviously funded by Red Hat, which is now owned by IBM.

Notable Features of Fedora

With such a long history, Fedora’s accomplishments are innumerable. Fortunately, this distribution has a lot going for it right now, so there’s no reason to reach back into ancient history for highlights.

1. Ships With Stock GNOME

One of the biggest draws to Fedora is its use of a mostly stock GNOME desktop.

You’d think with GNOME being one of the “big two” Linux desktop environments and so many distros shipping it, that stock GNOME would be common, but no. Today most distros that ship GNOME include a ton of modifications that try to make GNOME conform to 90s-era GUI conventions.

Fedora doesn’t do that. Instead, it provides one of the cleanest and most up-to-date examples of GNOME outside the VM-only GNOME OS development snapshot.

2. User-Friendly

While many distros go above and beyond to help new users with graphical installers and welcome screens, no one really expected open-source stalwart Fedora to join in. But it did. Fedora supports Flatpak out-of-the-box in addition to RPM files.

What’s more, you can now enable third-party repositories during setup. Upon installation, you’re greeted with a helpful, linear welcome screen that explains UI basics, gestures, and shortcuts.

Traditionally thought of as a distro for Linux users, the modern Fedora is close to garnering mainstream recommendations, with some folks even calling it the new Ubuntu.

3. Offers Cutting-Edge Software

Fedora updates every six months, with no LTS version, so you’re always getting the latest updates, and the latest version is always the flagship edition.

Beyond frequent upgrades, Fedora is beating most of its rivals in shipping cutting-edge, open-source software as default. It was the first major distro to switch from ext4 to Btrfs, from X11 to Wayland, and from PulseAudio to PipeWire.

4. Fedora Is Dependable

While you don’t often see a distribution known for being both cutting edge and dependable, you don’t often see distros sponsored by IBM either.

When Fedora introduces fundamental changes, like the examples above, it’s a good sign that those technologies are finally ready for primetime. Then you begin to notice other distros slowly following suit.

If you want to be on the bleeding edge, there are development versions of Fedora like Rawhide not covered here.

Fedora Editions

Fedora offers three normal editions and two official “emerging editions”. However, only two of those five are for desktop use. We’ll be skipping the Server and IoT-focused flavors.

1. Workstation

Fedora Workstation is the project’s flagship desktop edition. It features a mostly stock GNOME desktop and out-of-the-box Flatpak support.

Download: Fedora Workstation (Free & Open Source)

2. Silverblue

Emerging edition Fedora Silverblue is an immutable variant of Fedora Workstation. The major difference is that users are likely to encounter trouble installing RPMs, as Flatpak is Silverblue’s native package format.

Download: Fedora Silverblue (Free & Open Source)

3. Kinoite

Kinoite is an up-and-coming edition of Fedora that isn’t listed on the homepage yet. Kinoite is simply a KDE Plasma-flavored alternative to Silverblue.

Download: Fedora Kinoite (Free & Open Source)

Fedora Spins

Like many distributions, Fedora offers a variety of alternate downloads featuring an assortment of desktop environments. Fedora calls these variants “Spins”.

1. KDE Plasma Desktop

Fedora’s KDE Plasma Spin leaves most of the KDE defaults intact, only changing the wallpaper and the application launcher icon, and enabling double-click to open/launch.

Download: Fedora KDE Plasma Desktop Spin (Free & Open Source)

2. XFCE Desktop

The Fedora XFCE Spin uses the traditional BSD/Mac-style interface layout. It looks quite nice for a lightweight desktop environment.

Download: Fedora XFCE Desktop Spin (Free & Open Source)

3. LXQt Desktop

Not stopping at “the big three” desktop environments, Fedora also offers LXQt. This Qt-based alternative to LXDE provides a simple Windows XP-like experience.

Download: Fedora LXQt Desktop Spin (Free & Open Source)

4. MATE-Compiz Desktop

Stuck in time, Fedora’s MATE-Compiz Spin is perfect for those who long for the glory days of GNOME 2 Ubuntu and flashy desktop effects.

Download: Fedora MATE-Compiz Desktop Spin (Free & Open Source)

5. Cinnamon Desktop

Surprisingly, Fedora offers a spin featuring Cinnamon, Linux Mint’s in-house desktop.

This iteration of Cinnamon features Fedora branding, a blue accent color, slim taskbar, and is notably lacking Mint’s XApps. Despite these changes, it’s refreshing to see Cinnamon utilized differently than in Linux Mint.

Other than SOAS, this is the only Fedora spin to not ship the default Fedora 36 wallpaper.

Download: Fedora Cinnamon Desktop Spin (Free & Open Source)

6. LXDE Desktop

For those who prefer the original GTK-based version of LXQt, Fedora has you covered with a spin. LXDE is another lightweight desktop modeled after older versions of Windows.

Download: Fedora LXDE Desktop Spin (Free & Open Source)

7. SOAS (Sugar on a Stick)

After running out of all the desktop environments you’ve heard of, Fedora continues to impress with the SOAS spin. You may know it better as Sugar on a Stick, which as its name implies is Sugar on a bootable USB stick.

The early learning desktop environment became widely known when it was chosen as the OS for the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) project.

Download: Fedora SOAS Spin (Free & Open Source)

8. i3 Tiling Window Manager

Yes, Fedora even has a tiling window manager spin, so now you too can post on r/unixporn. All kidding aside, i3 is one of the most popular tiling WMs around and a perfect starting point for getting into the world of keyboard-driven tiling WMs.

This class of sub-desktops offers superior screen efficiency, lower system overhead, and increased user interaction speed via keyboard-driven shortcuts.

Download: Fedora i3 Tiling WM Spin (Free & Open Source)

Who Is Fedora For?

Not only is Fedora an original distro, but it’s also become quite user-friendly over the last few years. That’s a rare combo, as Arch is decidedly not user-friendly, and Debian just added a graphical installer a couple of years ago.

If you’re a GNOME fan, Fedora is the only major distro shipping an up-to-date version of vanilla GNOME. Mac users and younger people who grew up with mobile devices may also appreciate GNOME. And laptop users will fall in love with the Wayland touchpad gestures for workspace control.

Fedora is a leading choice among Linux desktops, and cases can be made for new Linux users and even gamers to choose it.

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