Fedora Silverblue — The Future Is Now

Having been a rampant Linux distro-hopper for years now, I’ve tried many distributions from the most sane and usable, to the most quirky and challenging. Every one of them has something interesting to offer, but Silverblue sticks out above the bunch to me, with a lot of very exciting features to offer that also happen to be modern-day necessities. Silverblue has become my primary operating system because of its awesome features and important considerations for system reliability and integrity.

I think the most noteworthy of Silverblue’s features is the immutable root filesystem. This essentially means that the core of the system is not able to be modified by apps and services, or even by the user! This ensures that the most critical components retain their integrity to avoid breakages. What this also means is that, unlike traditional Linux distributions where every app/package that gets installed has the potential to cause dependency breakages and even remove critical components of the system, Silverblue does not suffer from this.

This general concept isn’t new, either. Actually, macOS uses an immutable base OS, as does Chrome OS. The same is also true for Android and iOS. Essentially, some of the world’s most used and most successful operating systems deployed to consumers worldwide deploys an immutable base system. On top of these systems is where you install your apps and services, and make the changes you want. Similarly, Silverblue features Flatpak as the primary method of installing apps on top of it. As an example, 44 out of my 49 applications installed are Flatpaks. The five applications not installed as Flatpaks are actually core system applications, specifically; Settings, Terminal, Files, System Monitor, and Disks. Of course, not everything is available as a Flatpak, but that’s okay! Silverblue has a solution for this as well.

Enter, Toolbox! Toolbox is a really awesome container technology that is shipped with Silverblue, and allows you to create containers within your OS that can have their own sets of software installed, independent of the host OS. I use Toolbox containers to provide things like FFMPEG, 7Zip, and a few other utilities from the Fedora repositories. GUI applications can also be installed via Toolbox, and you can even install the RPMFusion repositories just as you would with a traditional Fedora system. I rely on Toolbox for many utilities which are important to me, but not things which I consider important enough to be part of my base OS. Such as the applications I listed above, FFMPEG and 7Zip are things I rely on, but they are not as important as my kernel, my display stack, or my network manager in any way. While it’s unlikely that I’d run into conflicts, the point is that with this implementation, I will never run into conflicts, and that’s the way it should be.

This is all really cool, and furthermore, Silverblue benefits from the fact that it’s based on Fedora, with their adoption of modern technologies such as BTRFS which is resilient, fast, and stable, providing Fedora with feature sets it previously didn’t have, such as file compression which is now enabled by default (ZSTD:1). Beyond that, it’s kept up to date in regards to the kernel, system libraries, and more. Meaning you get all the important updates quickly, but don’t suffer from the sharpness of the bleeding edge in other distributions. You also get cool things like compressed ZRAM swap. Which is essentially memory compression to make the most of your available memory instead of relying on swapping to disk!

There are many other cool aspects to Silverblue that make it my distribution of choice, including the fact that updates won’t ever break things while I’m using my computer. If the OS gets an update, it gets staged to be deployed during the next boot. This means no manual service restarts, or open applications slowly falling apart as time goes on. Beyond that, when the available updates run into issues, they just don’t get applied. And if I ever need to, I can roll back to a previous “image”. All this, and I know that every time I boot up, I’ll have an up-to-date system. It’s exactly how an OS should be. It’s reliable, it’s functional, and it’s sane.

If you’ve not tried Fedora Silverblue, I highly recommend giving it some thought. It is quite different from traditional distributions in many ways, so have patience, and try to understand the different methods of software installation and management, among other things. It’s definitely worthwhile!

Thank you to all the folks who make Silverblue possible. Everyone at Fedora, GNOME, Toolbox, Flatpak, and more. You’re all amazing and I appreciate the work you’ve done!

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