Fedora 9 Review

After spending a good deal of time configuring Fedora 9 I thought I would take this opportunity to provide my thoughts and feedback. The following is my Review of Fedora 9 (F9).

“Sulphur” smells only just a little.

Installation Media

The first thing I was happy to see was that the team finally decided to offer Fedora 9 in multi-CD installations in addition to the DVD installation. This has been missing since Fedora 7. I’m glad someone realized that Live image installation is NOT the same. I chose the DVD installation.

Installation

Note: For the first time I simultaneously installed Fedora on both a Laptop and Desktop. Additionally I used both 32-bit and 64-bit versions for installation.

As always the Fedora installer always seems to slowly lose features. Although in this case some very useful features got added. This release saw the addition of partition-resizing in the installer as well as encrypting your file system. While I do not think that majority of users require the encryption, the re-sizing ability is welcome as it accepts the possibility that many people wish to dual-boot or are not yet ready to abandon Windows. Unfortunately, I did not trust the Fedora installer to re-size my (pre-setup out) partitions.

For Package Selection I was fairly pleased with the default set of packages. I find that with each release there are less changes I need to do. Although I would still prefer if KDE, thunderbird, and k3b were installed by default. Oddly my install later added up to be a whopping 4.8GB! Almost 1GB bigger than I recall the similar installations for either F8 or F7! Not sure what was added!

The First Boot did see some minor changes. The security settings for both the Firewall and SE-Linux (Security Enhanced Linux) were removed. I would guess that many people possibly just disabled them upfront instead of actually learning to use them. I guess this is probably a smart move for Fedora.

Software: Fedora Desktop

After the First Boot configurations were set I made it to the login screen. This is where I will use the phrase: “Familiarity Be Damned!”. I follow the Fedora defaults of using Gnome but this release really had some major changes in software components.

The new verion of GDM (which manages logins) requires you to double-click your name and has this annoying animation after selection. There is an option at the bottom for selecting alternative desktops (e.g. KDE). Overall the login screen seemed incredibly clunky and unpolished. I felt it was a minor detraction, since technically I did not see any major functionality lost.

After logging into Gnome, my first reaction was that nothing major had changed. Which from the perspective of the GUI seemed to be true. I did notice 2 new applets on the top-right. The first was PackageKit and the second was NetworkManager.

PackageKit seemed to give a pretty simple interface for accepting new updates. I liked it for the most part, it reminded of a similar feature in Ubuntu. Although, if one saw over a 100 I doubt there would be much usefulness in “Reviewing” an update before install. Overall positive improvement.

NetworkManager which I was believe was available in FC5 is finally enabled by default in Fedora 9. The previous network service is disabled. This is a potentially problematic issue. Some setup’s (like my desktop) may find NetworkManager a nuisance. I ended up disabling NetworkManager in Fedora and concluded that this option was still too beta-quality. That is until I tested the same on my laptop. I enabled the WiFi and clicked on the applet which showed my WPA2-PSK access point. I entered my pass phrase and I was connected! No configuring, no tweaking, no firmware-ing, no ‘yum-ing’. My Intel Pro ABG3945 Wireless worked out of the box! So, I can only conclude that NetworkManager, while not perfect for all configurations, is definitely worthwhile for some.

Firefox 3 – While I did not go through all the new applications, I am not very impressed with Firefox 3 (not Fedora’s fault). The interface seems a little annoying and only 2 of my 10 extensions work, which makes surfing a little difficult in Fedora 9.

Otherwise the GNOME setup seemed satisfactory. The only other quirk I had was that point-and-click NTFS partition mounting did not work for me like it did in Fedora 8. As usual I just prefer to have all my NTFS partitions fixed and mounted at boot. Also occasionally after I login I find that my time is several hours off? I do have NTP running. This causes a nuisance for dual-booting.

Software: Java

Fedora 9 ships with OpenJDK instead of IcedTea that was shipped in Fedora 8. I want to believe that the development is moving closer to be functionally same as the popular Sun Java, but I am confused. OpenJDK is version 1.6 while IcedTea was 1.7? Okay, no biggie. What was the biggest disappointment was the OpenJDK web-browser plugin did NOT work on the popular Java Test Page. Why does this bother me? Because IcedTea in Fedora 8 worked like a charm.

Software: KDE 4

Although I was initially excited about trying KDE4, that excitement quickly faded after using KDE for a few minutes – “Familiarity Be Damned!” Simply put, it is missing too many features and there are enough changes to frustrate you. While again, I do not blame the Fedora developers for including this, it does add to the feeling that many software components in Fedora 9 may seem incredibly unfamiliar or just NOT ready.

System Issues

While there may be many software updates at the system level, I did not notice anything new that would significantly change the user experience. I would say on a very positive note that sound seemed quite issue-free. The PulseAudio (first included in Fedora 8 ) worked great for me. While not a big deal, the doc writers should have made sure to add libflashsupport in the Release Notes to get sound in Flash working.

Now to SELinux – the super security tool everybody loves to hate and nobody has the patience to learn. For the first time I found running Fedora with SELinux set to Enforcing has NOT caused a single problem. All plugins, drivers, 3rd party and proprietary apps ran without issue. This was 3 different hardware installs! First time ever! It only took 4 years!!! Well, I’ll wait till a SELinux policy update renders my system useless. But overall, I was quite pleased.

Fedora included Upstart which is Ubuntu’s new startup system. While I know that this opens the door to many optimizations during startup, I did not notice any major changes. I think this will be gradually improved over time.

Hardware Support – Laptop

While I do not have much new hardware on my desktop, I do have a Thinkpad Laptop. I was shocked that almost every single feature worked out of the box for my laptop: video resolution, sound, touchpad/pointer, SD card, wireless, battery, volume, brightness and hibernate. While my mute button still does not work correctly and the suspend is a little buggy, I have not really debugged them. Even so, the amount of time in the past I would have to configure all of the previously mentioned options was days of tweaking, researching and kernel compiling. I was really pleased with how well Fedora 9 – 64-bit worked on my laptop.

System Issues – Xorg X-server

Unfortunately the release of of Xorg 1.5/7.4 was not ready in time for the release of Fedora 9 so a development version 1.4.9999999999999 was shipped (not sure how many 9’s). While there is nothing technically wrong with this, the Nvidia binary driver (must have for 3-D and compiz effects) will not work correctly with this release. Since no one knows the Nvidia’s release schedule or the internal working of their hardware, basically you cannot do 3-D or effects in Fedora 9 if you are an Nvidia user (like myself). I wish the Xorg release was ready. I’m eagerly waiting to fix the last remaining quirk on my Fedora 9. Annoying, but people should have patience.

Conclusion

I’m not a big fan of shipping development versions of software, but in the open source world – everything is development software. Overall I am not super thrilled with Fedora 9 on the desktop but the drastic improvements on the laptop front are well worth it. Obviously I don’t plan on using Fedora as a server.

I don’t think I will ever agree with some of the default decisions (e.g. NetworkManager over network) but nothing seemed too difficult to resolve. I think this release was definitely moving in the right direction. Much better than Fedora 8. I feel Fedora is trying real hard to catch up to Ubuntu’s polished quality.

I personally would recommend that people wait for at least the update to Xorg. This seems to be a big road block for many. I do not think that there was a major lack in quality in the distribution as a whole (like in many past releases). I just think that many of the components shipped in Fedora 9 just need a little catch up time.

Glad I tried multiple different installs, it broadened my perspective. Maybe Fedora 9 “Sulphur” will do the same for you? Happy installing!

New Blog Theme

I am trying out a new theme for this blog. I made it more black-and-white. Also I think it is more consistent with my other more technical pages. I will be revamping the style-sheets and layout on those as well.

In case anyone is wondering, I wrote it from scratch so it may still look a little odd in some browsers. I’d appreciate anyone using less popular browsers to let me know if it looks odd, especially Opera and Webkit/Safari users.

Comments/opinions welcome.

Fedora 9 Released

Can you feel the burn of “Sulphur” ?

After an unfortunate 2 week delay the Fedora project just announced the release of Fedora 9. Fedora has always been known to be the latest and greatest and this release is no different, rough edges and all. A great deal of hard work has been done to put this all together.

The highlights from the Release Summary:

Desktop

  • GNOME 2.22 – many added functions, improvements
  • KDE 4.0.3 – the highly anticipated KDE4!
  • XFCE 4.4.2 – now in it’s own LiveSpin as well, just like KDE and GNOME
  • Online Desktop – providing a desktop experience designed around online services

Administration/Hardware/System

  • Network Manager – major improvements for wireless network management, mobile broadband, GSM, CDMA as well as Ad-Hoc networking
  • Bluetooth – devices and tools now have better graphical and system integration
  • Laptops – users benefit from the “quirks” feature in HAL, including better suspend/resume and multimedia keyboard support
  • PackageKit – An easy to use tool for updating.
  • YUM – performance improvements.
  • Xorg 7.4/X Server 1.5 (almost) – Major updates to X including faster startup and shutdown (unfortunately not quite complete but should be updated soon)
  • Upstart – Originally from Ubuntu, this will eventually replace the old init system leading to faster bootup time

Graphics/Multimedia

  • GNOME Cheese – a webcam photo and video creation utility
  • PulseAudio – updated and now default

Java

  • OpenJDK – A switch from IcedTea. Closer alignment with Sun Open Source Java

SoftwareUpdates

  • Firefox 3.0 (almost) – Not quite complete but massive improvements over Firefox 2
  • Eclipse 3.3.1
  • Perl 5.10 – many improvements
  • OpenOffice 2.4 – many new features
  • Kernel 2.6.25

Installer (Anaconda)

  • More flexibility in installation
  • Partition Resizing – A very welcome option to allow resizing EXT2/EXT3/NTFS partitions before installation (esp when dual booting with that other OS)
  • Rescue Mode – improved now with FirstAidKit

You can download Fedora 9 using the standard mirrors or using the Torrent (recommended).

Please user the Fedora-List mailing list or any of the forums for help. I have published my Personal Fedora 9 Installation Guide which should provide people with some hints for people eager to try it out. Lots more to do!

Fedora 9 as I have examined for a few weeks now is definitely far more polished than the past releases. I am sure people will like it! A more thorough examination to follow. Till then …

… I hope you like the smell of Sulphur.

MPlayer compile on RedHat 8.0

I have a 4yr old Athlon-XP machine which I use as a Media Center/Home Theater PC. It is running RedHat 8.0 (heavily modified) with a Hauppauge PVR-250, MPlayer and some simple/buggy front end. Seeing as I designed it at the end of 2003, quite a bit of software is out of date.

The most critical componets are the ivtv driver that runs the PVR-250 and MPlayer. I won’t update the ivtv because I built it for a 2.4.24 kernel and I had to write my own recording application and my own scheduler daemon for recording TV. So as with all interdependent software – its easy to break something.

My MPlayer has been giving a great deal of trouble recently. It is running version 1.0pre5 which I beleive was released in 2004(?). Some of the MPEG2 recordings from the PVR-250 have some issues during playback. I’m hoping the problem will go away with an updated MPlayer, although I know I will get improvement with ivtv, but I can’t afford to do that.

The last “released” version of MPlayer was 1.0RC2. There are no available packages for RedHat 8, so I used my MPlayer compile guide. Since MPlayer only recently supported a GTK2 gui I chose to use a GTK1 gui since that’s what I had in Redhat 8. Virtually everything else was properly autodetected. So my configure step looked like this (quite simple):

[root@proteus MPlayer-1.0rc2]# ./configure --enable-gui \
	--enable-largefiles \
	--enable-gtk1

Unfortunately the make step (the compiling) broke with this error:

In file included from /usr/include/netdb.h:28,
                 from network.h:16,
                 from stream.h:65,
                 from stream_dvd.c:32:
/usr/include/netinet/in.h:259: parse error before '(' token
/usr/include/netinet/in.h:259: parse error before "__u32"
/usr/include/netinet/in.h:260: parse error before '(' token
/usr/include/netinet/in.h:260: parse error before "__u16"
/usr/include/netinet/in.h:262: parse error before '(' token
/usr/include/netinet/in.h:262: parse error before "__u32"
/usr/include/netinet/in.h:264: parse error before '(' token
/usr/include/netinet/in.h:264: parse error before "__u16"
stream_dvd.c: In function `dvd_parse_chapter_range':
stream_dvd.c:168: warning: passing arg 2 of `strtol' from incompatible pointer type
make[1]: *** [stream_dvd.o] Error 1
make[1]: Leaving directory `/root/dvr/mm/mplayer/MPlayer-1.0rc2/stream'
make: *** [stream/stream.a] Error 2

I hunted through the mplayer-users mailing list and found out that this is a problem with a Redhat being very old and basically no longer support. Someone suggested doing the following.
Edit /usr/include/netinet/in.h and at line 259, add following:

//mjm - to compile for MPlayerRC2
#undef ntohl
#undef ntohs
#undef htonl
#undef htons
//mjm

Then I was able to rerun the make. Then I reverted the file back to its original.

Some other things: I did also update to the latest release of XviD. I’m pretty sure that the ancient version of Xine is probably broken as well, but since I only used that to play DVD’s, I’d much rather use my Samsung DVD Player.

I know that RedHat 8 is forever out of date, so I’m updating the system to CentOS, but that’s been quite troublesome, more on that later.