Fedora 7 Review

I have been using Fedora 7 for 2 weeks now and feel I’ve setup and configured almost all of the software and hardware as I would like. The following are my observations and assessments of this release.

Installation: Media

Many people have complained that the methods for installing Fedora 7 (F7) were poorly thought out. There are 2 types of ISO’s available for download: Live Images and basic DVD Installs. The Live Images boot to a useable instance of Fedora in memory and provide a method to install the contents of the disk onto the drive. Similar to Knoppix and Ubuntu, but new for Fedora. The DVD install contains the basic set of software and is identical to previous releases.

There is however one major caveat: If you wish to install by CD-ROM you must use a LiveCD. Previously releases provided a multi-CD set which was identical to the contents of the DVD. This has been discontinued. Hence if you have installed via CD you will have to download a great deal more independently and a further limitation is that you cannot upgrade via Live Image.

To make matters worse the forums and mailing lists are flooded with people complaining about the inability to boot or improper detection of CD or DVD drives. I destroyed 1 DVD-RW and 2 DVD-R before I got K3b (in F7-Test release) to burn correctly. Even worse, the DVD kept “disappearing” during the initial steps of the install. However eventually it did finally make it all the way to installing.

Installation: Package Selection

Anaconda (Fedora’s installer) has not significantly changed since Fedora Core 6. The most significant change in F7 is that is merges the 2 main repositories: Core and Extras into one. That being said, one might expect significantly more software available on the DVD media. Quite the opposite, the DVD contained significantly less than previous releases (more later). I followed my common package selections and performed the install.

I was thrilled to find NTFS-3g included in the package selection. It is great to see NTFS read and write support out of the box – considering countless users dual-boot with Windows.

While I personally do not need an “Install Everything” option, I am greatly disappointed with the lack of any form of Disk Space Usage indication. The installer does count the number of packages (~1100) but that does not help much. In the end I installed about 4.0GB of from the 2.8GB DVD.

First Boot Startup: Smolt

Like previous releases, F7 does several setup steps upon the first boot. The most notable addition is the ability to use Smolt to provide Fedora developer a snapshot of the hardware details of your machine. While this may appear to be a privacy issue, I have seen many users on forums provide their smolt-id to help diagnose problems. This is incredibily better then having to ask for lspci output and similar redundant questions. The first boot has this disabled but does strongly encourage users to submit the information. While I have no personal problem with this, I wish more people with low-end systems would use Smolt!

Software Setup: Desktop

I logged into Gnome (default in Fedora) and went first to the terminal to begin my software customizations. I find it very annoying that the terminal has yet again been moved! This time again from “Accessories” to “System Tools”.

Other than the new background the only major attention grabbers were the login animated logo screen has been removed and the “Fast User Switching” shows up in Gnome. I should mention that this functionality has been in KDE for quite some time. The silly thing about it is that I only have 1 main user. Why would I want this enabled? It only shows my name. I added some other users but depending on how you add them it may have problems. For example: I manually added “User” who cannot login (set shell to /sbin/nologin), I do not think that account should show, but it did. Is this a “lets copy someone else without thinking things through”-feature? I don’t find much use for it.

One new feature included is the automatic creation of some commonly used directories: ‘Documents’, ‘Download’, ‘Mail’, ‘Music’, ‘Pictures’, ‘Public’, ‘Templates’ and ‘Videos’. By design if you delete them they come back – a feature by the name of xdg. The irony is not they come back but that no applications use them! Firefox downloads by default to the Desktop and not Downloads! Similar behavior can be seen in Multimedia applications and Mail applications.

Firefox 2 – while it really is not that new, Fedora Core 6 only had version 1.5 with no support for FF2. The disappointment I have with FF2 in F7 is that it kills my CPU. My Athlon-64 throttles the CPU from 1Ghz to 2.4Ghz (I use the CPU Frequency Scaling Monitor in Gnome). The problem is that EVERY SINGLE PAGE LOAD spikes the CPU to max 2.4Ghz – JUST to load the page. This happens for simple sites as well and also when I’m scrolling in FF2. I never saw this behavior in FF1.5 (or for that matter with FF2 in Windows). The browser seems to get worse with more tabs. I do not know if I should blame Mozilla, Fedora or GTK/Cairo/something-or-other-widget – either way I am very disappointed in the performance.

Included Software

Considering the 2 main Fedora repositories Core and Extras were merged, there was not a considerable amount of new software included on the DVD. The inclusion of NTFS was nice, and KDE users would be happy to see Amarok included. But for the most part a great deal of default software was removed. Many of the compatibility libraries and related software were removed. I manually had to install: Vim X11, Thunderbird, GFtp, X-Chat and K3b. These were all previously included in Fedora. Why the change? While some exclusions are minor, I was surprised to see K3b removed from the installation media. This is a highly polished CD/DVD writer application.

Of all the exclusions on the default install, the one that will NOT be missed was Beagle. This is the (clumsy and quirky) desktop search application which consumes unnecessary CPU and Disk, but yet fails to work really well.

System Changes

SELinux: Security Enhanced Linux
While not a major change some new utilities were added to better support SELinux – namely the SE Troubleshooter Applet. At first I found it helpful and used some of its reports to “fix” issues with files or options in SELinux. However the problem with it is that after a short time of using it, I became overwhelmed with the amount of warnings it provided. Many for things I did not realize I was running and many for very minor things that should not be restricted. An annoyance was that many times when I followed the “recommendation” to resolve the issue, it had no effect. Even though I always end up disabling SELinux, I was hoping this would help me leave it enabled. However it only re-enforced my opinion that I’m wasting my time with it.

YUM: Software Installation with Automatic Handling of Dependencies
A significant improvement was made to YUM. The time it takes to perform software installations (# yum install package) was reduced. It made the “yum experience” much more pleasant. However I was greatly disappointed to read that this comes with the price of higher system resources. Luckily I use YUM sparingly and keep track of every package I install.

Memory Consumption – I cannot be sure if this is the result of Fedora 7 or whether or not I had a memory hog running in Fedora Core 6 – BUT my memory consumption is incredibly lower in F7 than FC6. A few hours with F7 leaves about 1GB used and 1GB free (that’s free NOT cached), whereas the same time period in FC6 would leave about 1.9GB used and 100MB free. I don’t know the culprit, but with the exception of VMWare installation I have everything I had in FC6 installed in F7. Odd, but I’m not complaining.

Hardware Support

The news surrounding the release mentioned notable improvements in wireless. However I am not able to test this. The biggest change I found was in the handling of drives. I do not know if it is related to the new libata features in the kernel, but countless people have problems with their CD-ROM’s or DVD-ROM’s – many during the installation (considering that FC5 and FC6 worked correctly on the same hardware). There are some reported issues with partitions and RAID system, etc – however I did not run into these either. While I had problems with the DVD-ROM I was able to resolve it. … As an opinion/comment – I am curious why so many more hardware quirks showed up with this release? Kernel? Library? Well, something new seems to be causing regressions – one of my greatest frustrations with Fedora in general.

ACPI – Power Management
Some improvements and changes were made to power management that would affect how Fedora handled Suspending and Resuming. While the changes are supposed to improve the experience for more people, some previously working suspend/resume functionality maybe quirky. At first I thought I was immune to this. I tested S3 – Suspend to RAM and it worked (with Nvidia) and S4 – Suspend to Disk failed (as expected with Nvidia). However after only a few days with suspend my USB system stopped resuming correctly at random times! I was forced to manually remove USB modules/drives using and reload them using modprobe. I thought I had seen the end to this in Fedora Core 4!

Conclusion

I think overall the installation was the worst part of Fedora 7, everything else seemed simple enough to work around. While I do feel a marginal speed improvement in the general feel of the operating system, I do not feel like there was a notable improvement over Fedora Core 6. The improvements to some applications such as YUM are welcome, but they really cannot excuse the new quirks (i.e. ACPI).

My basic view of improvement when it comes to a new release is that it should take less time to setup everything and that setup should be done with more ease. In this case that did NOT happen.

Unless there is some immediate need for something new in Fedora 7 (which does not apply to many people), I think people should either wait to upgrade from FC6 or just hold off for Fedora 8. In the meanwhile Ubuntu or OpenSuse look nicer everyday. I do not mean to dismiss the great deal of hardware put into the infrastructure for Fedora, but frankly this release just lacked some much needed quality.

Dell Linux Survey

Dell’s IdeaStorm provided a method for Dell customers to provide feedback to the company on what consumers really wanted. Not surprisingly, the biggest request was for Dell to pre-installed Linux on their Desktops and Laptops.

Currently there are vendors who support Linux on their computers, however most of this focus has been on enterprise level linux (Red Hat Enterprise Desktop, Novell SuSE Desktop) and not necessarily free community distributions like Fedora or Ubuntu. While enterprise versions have the longest support cycles, they often lack modern hardware support and many small features that the common desktop would require.

There is an official Dell Linux Survey running from March 13 to March 23 asking consumers to help prioritize Dell’s linux focus.

VOTE!

I urge everyone to vote and tell everyone they know to vote. Please be realistic with your prioritizations. Priority should be on a community distribution, and NOT an enterprise distribution.

Realistically UBUNTU is the best choice for distribution (whatever you do, DO NOT pick Fedora) – or write in KUbuntu.

VOTE!

Linux Opinions and Directions

If you pay attention to Linux news, I’m sure you’ve heard that Eric S. Raymond (commonly called “ESR”) has dumped Fedora in favor of Ubuntu. In case you’re wondering who he is, he is the author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar which is one of the best essays about open source development (highly recommended reading by the way).

The first thing that might come to mind is “so what?” So what if this open source advocate switched? What difference does it make? Essentially not much. However the workings of major open source projects are just as political as any other aspect of human behaviour. While there maybe a common philosophical goal of “free software”, how to achieve that goal is anyone’s guess. All groups have different approaches and biases that heavily influence their development. Simply put, ESR’s public exclaimation was just a very public last-ditch attempt to influence Fedora. Will this be effective? I don’t really know.

Other’s have tried different attempts of influence. In 2005 Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, very publicly switched from the Gnome desktop to the KDE desktop. In a recent response, Gnome developers told him to use the Gnome desktop for a month and discuss the problems. Instead, Linus provided patches (source code updates) to improve Gnome. I don’t think that’s the response they were expecting. In truth I think both sides know that not much will change.

So what does that mean to the average end user of Linux? Basically that the agenda of the developers overrides the desires of end users. That’s it. It may sound cynical, but it makes sense. While many will argue about the freedoms and choices given to users, it really makes little difference for people who don’t know anything about their computers to begin with. While some choices are very nice (there are many more options than Fedora and Ubuntu for linux), some are much more restrictive (KDE or Gnome, not much else exists). Knowing all your options is not always very straightforward.

What about Fedora? There have been lots of changes in the Fedora linux distribution that will take effect in the Fedora 7 release (not Fedora Core 7). In some ways I’m considering switching myself. I cannot in good faith recommend Fedora for a desktop and the same goes for Gnome (which Fedora uses by default). Even though many open source advocates belong to a “community” I often wonder who that community includes? Could I influence Fedora or Gnome? Well if the inventor of Linux can’t then I don’t feel very encouraged myself.

Both ESR and Linus may be quite pompous at times, but their underlying concerns are very sincere and legitimate. I’ve been with Redhat using Gnome since RH6.0 in 1999 and I’ve been helping everyday users with Redhat/Fedora problems since 2001. Do I plan to switch? Well every day that seems more and more likely.

New Hardware: 64 Bit

AMD released their first X86 based 64 bit processor over 3 years ago. While the original processors, Opterons, were for servers, the desktop variants, Athlon 64, soon followed. Due to the open nature of the Linux kernel, distributions of Linux supporting the 64 bit architecture were readily (and freely) available before Windows.

In the past year, the Athlon 64 has made its way into laptops and more users are finding 64 bit versions of their favorite Linux distributions satisfactory for their needs. Hence I finally upgraded to 64 bit hardware. My delay in upgrading was primarily due to the common problems faced by early adopters. Often Linux users are hurt much worse than Windows users in this arena.

In any event, the original hardware for the Athlon 64 included features such as AGP 8X Video, Serial ATA (SATA) and Gigabit Ethernet. All of which are no longer considered “new”. The advent of Dual Core Processors, PCI Express and DDR2 Memory has further lowered the cost of older hardware.

I swapped out my previous motherboard (Asus A7V8X-X) with a Asus A8V. And the previous Athlon XP 2500+ CPU (1.8GHz) was replaced with a Athlon 64 3800+ CPU (2.4GHz). This decision allowed me to reuse the 1 gigabyte of Dual Channel DDR 400Mhz RAM and a Nvidia GeforceFX AGP Video Card.

Linux booted up perfectly fine on the first try – all drivers properly detected and there was absolutely no manual changes in configuration required. However for Fedora Core I may need to revisit the required running services. (Windows on the other hand required multiple reboots with uninstalls and re-installs of driver packages.)

I plan to revisit most of my guides and instructions in the next few weeks to address any differences between 32 bit and 64 bit Linux.

Fedora Core 5 Test 3 Review

This is my personal basic evaluation of Fedora Core 5 Test 3 (FC5-test3). Since I had recently installed and tested FC5-test2, most of my observations will be based on the differences between these 2 beta releases. Upon initial investigation there are not significant changes since the last test release.

Installer

I installed using the ISO images on disk to a spare 8GB partition in the same way I did for FC5-test2. For the most part Anaconda (the installer) has not changed much from test2. The partitioning defaults were still the same and still rather quirky.

Installer: Software Selection

There has been a slight improvement in the package installation menu since test2. A simplified screen lets you just install the basics and skip all manual package selection if you so choose. The four basic included choices are: “Office and Productivity”, “Software Development”, “Web server” and “Virtualization Xen” (which is not selected by default). These may be over generalized groups, but should be adequate.

At first this may seem odd, but it makes perfect sense for those users who will either plan to run massive updates (thereby replacing most packages anyways) and also for people who plan to selectively add software as needed (ex: minimalistic server configuration). In any event I chose to manually select packages. The odd thing about Fedora is what is selected as defaults. The K Desktop Environment (KDE) option is not selected. Why? I always recommend new users try out both Gnome and KDE.

There is still neither Install Everything or a disk usage estimate – a really necessary option. From my very basic research, I do not think that these are trivial options. Since the installer has moved to yum based design, more work will have to be done to support what was originally available. In the end I used about 3.8GB.

Gnome provides a menu option Add/Remove Software directly from the Applications main menu. I was pleased to see this as many users had requested a simpler immediate way to install new programs. However this crashed everytime I ran it, the same thing happened when I ran pup directly. For whatever reason a reboot fixed this. Reminds me more of MS.

Again, the default services installed and running were unnecessary. I’ve noticed many new names since FC4 services. I plan to research and investigate each one before FC5 final to better understand what is necessary and what is new (or just cool).

Software Setup

The initial login screen was very polished. There was a cursor problem in test2 which is fixed with a shiny animated cursor that is very attractive.

As usual Gnome is the default installation. The login was quite speedy. They seem to have modified the menu layout yet again! Simple example: I want to open a terminal. Typically this is in the System Tools, but it was not there. No problem, I’ll use the Run dialog to launch either an xterm or a gnome-terminal. However the Run dialog is also missing!!! I did finally find the Terminal at the bottom of Accessories. Why? This reminds me of MS Windows putting the Command Prompt in Accessories. Go figure.

I tried the Beagle(?) Search app again, but it still would not run the daemon when selected.

Firefox 1.5 is available but I could not get the Flash plugin to work correctly. I know this is a problem with SELinux, however in my limited usage so far, I don’t find it useful to keep SELinux active. Although I tested everything against SELinux Enforcing Mode for most basic applications.

No major changes to KDE, which means it still looks odd. I played around with the Switch User option which as it turns out really does not have much to do with KDE. They simply lock the current session and create another login session on another console terminal (ex: Ctrl-Alt-F7 is standard, so the next user will be on Ctrl-Alt-F8). I’ve seen power users doing this for years.

Hardware Support

As always with every new distribution release a newer kernel is included which will typically improve support for most hardware.

I am having some serious problems with the Nvidia driver and have not got it to work at all. There has been quite a great of discussion on the fedora mailing lists regarding this issue. When investigating the driver, I noticed that the kernel-devel RPM places files in /usr/src/kernels instead of /usr/src. While this may sound like something inconsequential, I have personally seen over years how people tend to hard code values to known locations. (Correction: This has always been the case, normally I have the kernel source installed hence making the kernel headers unncessary).

Power management (ACPI) has slightly improved. If I try S3 (Suspend) the system goes to sleep properly, however when I wake up from S3 the video failed to re-initialize. This is actually a positive change from FC5-test2. Getting the video to work is only a matter of drivers and some tricks. Since I don’t even have the Nvidia driver working, I don’t know all of the possibilities. When I tried S3 after a reboot with SELinux disabled, the system woke up perfectly! When I ran command line S4 (hibernate), the system also works 100% perfectly as it did in FC5-test2. Finally a proper working suspend AND hibernate working out of the box from Redhat/Fedora release!

Hardware Support: Peripherals

My All-in-One Card Reader detected perfectly but worked differentely from both FC4 and FC5-test2. However I was able to the access both SD and Compact Flash but I have to double click on their icons first. Which is another nuisance with the mounting/automounting system. When I insert a data CD it does not show up automatically on the desktop, but it does for an audio CD. Of course this can all probably be modified, but these defaults seem rather odd for a new user.

Conclusion

For the most part important things changed mostly towards the right direction between test releases, however some quirks were only replaced with other quirks. Some things I know are more problems with the individual components (ie. odd Gnome characteristics) but even so the Fedora team should try harder for consistency.

For the most part I’m happy. I disagree with some of the decisions made as how to best improve this distribution, but I still find it highly useful and my primary desktop. The progress made since FC4 is mostly in the background (hardware, system, administration, etc.) so visually I do not feel much has changed, but almost everything works as I would expect — and many things much better than FC4.

As a beta release, FC5-Test3 seems like very solid release candidate. Granted there are many bugs and oddities to address but I think they are manageable. For the time being I will try to spend as much time as I can with this release to best prepare for FC5 and to create some useful personal notes for installation. I expect a draft in a week or two, but I still have lots to learn.

Fedora Core 5 Test 2 Review

Using a template for distribution evaluation, I have installed and tested FC5-test2. Unfortunately since I did not install FC5-test1 due to installer limitations, I cannot compare this with test1. However, from what I’ve seen so far it seems much better than the poorly created FC4.

Installer

I chose to install using the install from ISO images on disk option (available via the linux askmethod boot option). I burned CD1 to a CD-RW and booted. I installed to a spare 8GB partition. Overall Anaconda (the installer) has been further streamlined with fewer options. The partitioning options seems a bit confusing, seeing as the default option is to “Remove all partitions on selected drives and create default layout.”. Not wise for the newbies (newbies should NOT be installing a Test Release). Another change was the firewall configuration and SELinux configuration were moved to the “firstboot settings”.

The SELinux configuration gave many more options with regards to specific parts of the operating system. I typically avoid SELinux due to the difficulty in managing it, but it seems the gui options are very welcome. However, I looked over many of the options and frankly a novice would find them very confusing and cryptic. As a single user desktop, I don’t see the significant added benefit to such a system.

Installer: Software Selection

The most significant (or insignificant) change was the altered package installation menu. There is no Install Everything option and due to the selection layout, may cause more people to miss some necessary packages. Additionally, there is no disk usage estimate. I’m sure this will be fixed in a future release, but it makes it hard to manage hard drive utilization. In the end I used about 3.8GB.

Overall the packages including resembled FC4 including Java and Eclipse (which I don’t use and prefer other installation sources).

The PUP installer for yum seems much worse than yumex, which exists in the Extras Repository but is not included in the standard install. Not sure why.

The services installed were incredibly unnecessary. There seem to be more than were in FC4. I don’t understand why things like bluetooth, cpuspeed or even isdn are enabled when all of these are hardware dependent. Most people will not support most of those. I’ve heard that the services and init system will probably be soon re-done. I can’t wait.

Software Setup

The login was typical as it has been for recent Fedora releases. I did notice both a Failsafe Gnome and a Failsafe KDE login option, which I’m sure will come in handy.

As usual Gnome is the default installation. During the first boot I made some additional basic setup options. I booted into GNOME 2.13.4 which from first glance seems similar to the Gnome 2.10 available in FC4, however I’m sure there are significant updates. (The open file dialog is still pathetic.) I noticed the the top toolbar now shows a “power plug” for Gnome Power Manager, however it does not work (more later).

I did not notice any significant new software. I tried the Beagle Search app, but it complained I needed to start the Beagle daemon. I tried the link to start, but it didn’t work. I also tried the F-Spot Photo Manager but it starts with a dialog box that, won’t fit on my 1024×768 display and I didn’t see the big difference between it and gThumb. I tried my camera with it, read below.

Firefox 1.5 is available but I could not get the Flash plugin to work correctly.

The Gnome network manager seems to have improved, I was able to access my Windows Network very quickly and easily. With FC4 I saw multiple inconsistent connection problems.

Even though I normally use Gnome, I also breifly tested out KDE. As usual KDE was polished but (by default) ugly in Fedora. I noticed multiple new options but nothing specific to my hardware peripherals or even power management. I did notice a Switch User option which reminds of OS X and Windows XP.

Software: Server and Development

Since I do a great deal of software development and web development, I have not tested this release to see how well it will accommodate all my software or scripts. Since the most serious updates were in Java and the inclusion of Mono, I doubt the GCC 4.1 will affect me. As with FC4, the GCC 3.2 compiler was also optionally included. Looks like I may also have to compile a GCC 3.4 for some testing and downgrade my PHP4 (maybe recompile that also!).

Hardware Support

As always with every new distribution release a newer kernel is included which will typically improve support for most hardware. I had no specific problems that I could not resolve.

The Nvidia driver would not work properly without a driver patch. … Sound was perfect out of the box as it has been since FC3. However some apps did some complaints. XMMS acted strange and the KDE artsd server complained.

Power management (ACPI) in my opinion is partially broke. The Gnome Power Manager fails when I try to put my desktop to either Suspend or Hibernate (I know both of these options do work!!). If I try command line S3 (suspend) the system locks up. If try command line S4 (hibernate), the system works 100% perfectly and I am able to reboot from S4. Oh well, the GUI doesn’t let me, maybe I will play around with it later.

Hardware Support: Peripherals

My All-in-One Card Reader detected perfectly but the SD or Compact Flash would not automatically mount as they did in FC4. I can manually mount then, but I wanted it to work in the GUI. In FC4, Gnome would usually give a permission error and mount as read-only.

I was disappointed that the camera pop-up dialog box did not appear when I plugged in my Canon S500 (which worked perfectly in FC4). The F-Spot software worked adequately at importing without any problems.

Conclusion

Currently I am reading the fedora-test-list mailing list provided by Redhat to follow up on some issues with Tes2. Otherwise, I plan to hack out some configuration options just to get a good grasp on how the final Fedora Core 5 will function.

As a beta release, FC5-Test2 seems like a good start. The gross slow-downs I had with FC4 seem to be okay, and since many applications have started to accomodate GCC4, I feel a system wide improvement. Nothing much to see, but the little nuances and improvements are always welcome in Linux. And as always there are regressions. I was disappointed at the minimal hardware improvements for my peripherals (I haven’t tested them all).

I will spend more time over the next few weeks till Test3, and plan on starting my Personal Fedora Installation Guide for FC5.

Merry Christmas from Macromedia Flash

The most current version of Flash for Linux is version 7.0 while Windows users are already on 8.0. However Macromedia has officially stated that there will be an upcoming version 8.5 for Linux. However it will be shipped after the Windows version becomes available. Even though that post states that no 64bit version is being planned, another engineer has stated that there is some work being done towards a 64bit version.

In the end, it’s good news to see Macromedia/Adobe putting forth some effort to support Linux .