Fedora 32 mini-review on the Blackbird and Talos II

It took a little time due to hardware hijinx and the present chaos at the day job, but as is traditional, here is the regular mini-review on the latest release of Fedora (now F32) on OpenPOWER. Fedora is what we run here at Chez Floodgap/Talospace, largely because when I got my first Talos II in 2018 Fedora 28 was the only distro that worked right out of the box. However, it's also advantageous because it incorporates updates at a much faster pace than other distributions (which is why you could boot a T2 with it back then), and it's instructive because problems found here can be sorted out hopefully before they get to folks on more conservative distros. That's why I think it's worth all of us caring about it, even if you don't run it. This post is on Firefox 76 on F32.

With this release Fedora 30 progresses to end-of-life, which it hit two days ago. F31 will remain supported until F33 comes out in 6-ish months, when it too will have roughly a month's grace period before being EOLed. As before, I update Fedora manually rather than through GNOME Software. If you haven't seen the process in awhile, it looks like this:

sudo dnf upgrade --refresh # upgrade DNF
sudo dnf install dnf-plugin-system-upgrade # install upgrade plugin if not already done
sudo dnf system-upgrade download --refresh --releasever=32 # download F32 packages
sudo dnf system-upgrade reboot # reboot into upgrader

This process did not go quite as smoothly as before; two packages (that apparently were dependencies of other things) were unupgradable, and the usual --skip-broken couldn't clear the logjam, so I had to dnf remove then by hand. In addition, there is an annoying bug that started sometime in F31 where reboots seem to end up using the serial port as the console no matter what the setting is in Petitboot (you have to do a shutdown and power on instead). Fortunately, I fixed TenFourFox FPR23 to finally work properly with the new web-based BMC firmware, so I could watch the action from the Power Mac G5 using the OpenBMC's serial-to-LAN redirector (see screenshot). If you are on the console, however, for some reason the upgrader on both my Blackbird (with a naked BMC) and my T2 (with a WX7100 workstation card and the firmware in BOOTKERNFW) still reboot up to a black screen. Switch to another VTY, like CTRL-ALT-F2, and log in as root, and you can periodically issue

dnf system-upgrade log --number=-1

to watch the action. The install took a little less than an hour. It automatically restarts afterwards.

Relatively little seems to have changed in terms of system performance (on kernel 5.6.x). VLC seemed a bit quicker on my no-GPU Blackbird at pushing pixels, though mplayer is still the speed champion for media playback. Running Wayland on the Blackbird was yet again an unmitigated disaster and I have not seen any information to suggest this has changed for simple framebuffers in general (so if you're a straight BMC-only system as mine is, fuggedaboutit). On the T2, Wayland is still not as snappy as Xorg, but performance was not massively different and window theming and decorations seem more consistent. However, several games still won't launch in Wayland such as DXX, and because I'm dependent on appmodmap and there is still no equivalent feature in GNOME or Wayland to find out which window is active, Wayland on the whole remains a loss of functionality over Xorg for little gain in my book. startx forever.

If you use a lot of GNOME extensions like I do, then be prepared for some additional fallout as usual. Argos, which I use to power my little DIY IPMI fan monitor, doesn't appear to be working right in GNOME 3.36: scripts update the menu bar but their actual drop-down menus don't work, so I'll have to look into it since the maintainer isn't anymore (it looks like someone else is working on the issue, and this diff seems to fix it). Dash-to-Dock would not update properly with the GNOME tool in Firefox for a couple tries and then suddenly started working for reasons I still don't understand.

However, the worst issue was GNOME crashing every time I opened the Applications drawer. Nothing showed up under All, and if I clicked on Frequent, GNOME would either reset itself or actually force me to log out. After some poring through journalctl -e, I realized it was Appfolders Management that was the problem. Disabling that got me the apps back, and it's not really necessary anymore either since you can drag and drop apps into folders without it now. Other than modest UI changes, though, I don't notice much different about the current GNOME except that my build of Firefox Nightly now has a weirdly elongated icon in the top bar.

Overall, F32 is not a compelling release, but after a couple false starts it's working, and once I got past the usual growing pains there have been no serious problems. I'm hopeful that IBM will take a bit of a firmer hand with Red Hat and especially Fedora in the near future: I'd like OpenPOWER to finally graduate from the "alternative architectures" and be a first-class citizen with x86, which I also think will bring more attention to the port, and hopefully its niggling polish issues can be dealt with. But Wayland is still horrible without a GPU (and isn't feature-comparable with Xorg even with one), and GNOME continues to wreck its own extension ecosystem with wild abandon. Red Hat has substantial influence on these projects as many of these projects' developers work for them. Maybe we should be paying more attention there as well.


  1. Good luck on that final bit. In an email response to a question surrounding the PPC64LE port of Fedora, Matthew Miller of the Fedora project has stated that he sees no interest in promoting a workstation build of Fedora directly to the downloads page. I think attitudes need to change at the project level before this can happen.

    I feel like, in spite of IBM owning Red Hat, and by extension running the Fedora project, PPC64LE still isn't taken seriously outside of a server role.

    1. I remember you mentioned that in E-mail. I don't get why they wouldn't either, because they *do* have aarch64, and those kinds of workstations have to be nearly as esoteric (by comparison to x86_64).

    2. The primary vs alternative status has strong relationship to the size and the activity of the user community. Last time when I checked there were 5x more users on aarch64 than on ppc64le (based on MirrorManager statistics). I know we have users on Power, but still the fedora-ppc mailing list or IRC channel are almost completely quiet. Without having visible and active community very little can change.

    3. "aarch64, and those kinds of workstations have to be nearly as esoteric" Don't forget millions of RasPis out there in contrast to some hundreds/thousands of RAPTOR boards.

    4. But how many of those are actually being used as workstations, as opposed to worker bees? There are RPis around here in Floodgap Orbiting HQ, but they're doing specific back-office tasks (like the one that handles SMS connectivity).


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