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.

Daylight Savings Time Change RedHat 8.0

In the past I’ve never actually changed my time settings on my computer, usually when booting into Linux the NTP (Network Time Protocol) server does the trick. However the local operating system (whether Linux or Windows) usually retains timezone settings in some way. I do not know if the RedHat/Fedora method is consistent with other Linux distributions. My personal desktop is running Fedora, Ubuntu, Windows 2000 and XP – all rather modern software with updates, so I wasn’t the least bit worried. However I seem to have forgotten my PVR (Personal Video Recorder) computer.

In 2004 I built a home theater type PC to play and record digital media (DivX, MP4, MPEG2, MP3, etc.) and set it up with my television and my amplifier. I had made the original draft of the idea in 2003, and even though RedHat 9.0 was available I had built my design on RedHat 8.0. So essentially I forgot about the DST change, until today, when I found out some TV shows were all 1 hour off.

I really did not do any form of investigation on how to fix this. My first thought was that I needed to update the NTP rpm and that would fix it. So I foolishly uninstalled the previous RPM and pulled a RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) source rpm and installed it. That’s when it occurred to me it had nothing to do with NTP. I knew that NTP uses UTC (Universal Time Coordinates), but I wasn’t thinking. So a quick look on the web tells me that timezone data in RedHat is directly handled by glibc. How nice, one of the core parts of the operating system. I wasn’t in the mood to do that much updating. So I followed the instructions provided here. Basically all I needed to do was replace the timezone data filestzdata and restart the NTP daemon.

Worked for me.
Good thing I’m not a server administrator.

Mar 17, 2007: Looks like Jason had the same issue on his Myth box. :-)

Virtualization and Emulation Choices in Linux

I have a decent computer with a large hard drive. My initial intent was to boot multiple different operating systems (as can be seen by the 6+ EXT3 partitions). However the latest technology hype is the need for virtualization or emulation. In effect, this would allow loading one operating system inside another without any reboot.

I use the term “hype” because the consumer demand (i.e. non admins, non developers, people with real lives) is very low. My personal issue, as is shared by Linux users in general, is often the need to boot into windows for a single website or for developers testing a webpage. Additionally some users prefer to test a new Linux without having to lose their primary system. Not everyone has a convoluted partition scheme like I do.

So I did some hunting (well not much). Being the frugal fedora friendly fellow that I am, I wanted a general purpose low cost solution. The choices I have are VMware Server, Xen and QEMU.

VMware Server

VMware is a professional NON-open source software. It provides virtualization so that the client operating system running inside the server can see the resources of the host directly. This is good.

The good:

  • Full virtualization
  • Free download
  • Provides prepackaged RPM’s
  • Can run Windows inside Linux

The bad:

  • Registration key requires full address, email, phone and other information
  • Not open source, EULA, etc.
  • Known to have problems with system updates

Xen

Xen is an fully open source package for unix-based operating systems. It provides virtualization with support from the kernel.

The good:

  • Supported directly through Fedora
  • Kernel support drastically improves performance

The bad:

  • Requires separate kernel
  • ACPI does not properly work in xen-enabled kernels. Hence no cpu frequency scaling or suspend. (very bad)
  • Some drivers have problems running inside a Xen client operating system.
  • Cannot run Windows on all hardware

QEMU

QEMU is an open source CPU emulator. Emulators have to re-interpret every instruction from the client operating system, hence significant speed loss. It supports various cpu’s including x86, x86-64, ARM, PPC, etc. It has a kernel accelerator module which helps performance.

The good:

  • Supported directly through Fedora Extras
  • Can run Windows inside Linux
  • Can run 2 completely separate architectures together

The bad:

  • Very very slow
  • Kernel accelerator is proprietary with a restrictive license

Thoughts and Concerns

I have not yet tested VMware server because I personally think that the information collected is not worth it. I would rather pay a nominal fee ($10-20) for a key. I have tested WMWare Player (no registration required) which can load virtual machines created in the Server. I found it incredibly slow and some non-trivial setup steps.

I do not plan on bothering with Xen due to the loss in ACPI functionality. I don’t think I want my computer hardware limited just so I can load another operating system with less memory running slower which is already limited due to the virtualization. Some newer CPU’s from Intel and AMD have been reported to support features that will allow Windows to run in Linux in Xen. Of course, obviously will require new hardware. Additionally Xen still has quite a few bugs. Perhaps once it is running smoothly and the hardware becomes standard I will switch to that solution.

So far, I am using QEMU which seems to work well enough. I have tested Windows 98, NT4, 2000 and Fedora Core 3 all with adequate performance. I even once tested FC5-64bit inside of FC5-32bit (3 hour installation and 30 min boot is NOT worth the time) — (there is a Youtube video loading XP on the PlayStation 3 using QEMU). Even though QEMU can be horribly slow it does serve its purpose. I have seen IE6 in Windows 2000 emulated loading pages faster than Firefox 1.5 native in FC6!!!

I have a working solution currently. I am keep a watch on the emulation and virtualization technologies hitting the market. Not having to reboot to test something would be wonderful. My ultimate configuration would be a 64-bit host Linux with a virtualized Windows XP 32-bit and virtualized Linux 32-bit. … The time will come eventually.

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 on Dell D810 Laptop

Over the last weekend I installed Fedora Core 5 on a Dell Latitude D810 laptop.

Unlike Jason’s laptop criteria, I basically required a Dell laptop. I wanted the D610, however it was unavailable and I had to settle for the D810. Even though I customized it, I really did not have any control over what hardware specifically would be better for Linux. However one luxury I was afforded was to be able to maximize the provided features.

In fact the only features that possibly would have made a significant difference were the ATI video chipset and Wireless chipset.

On Video: My personal opinion has been the Nvidia GeForce based chipsets on laptops (I’ve used Sony laptops) typically outperform the ATI based chipsets. There was not much option here, however so long as the video RAM was dedicated I was satisified.

I had selected the maximum 1920 x 1200 screen and default open source Xorg driver for ATI seemed a little slow for 2-D drawing and motions. I tested the glxgears for about 150FPS (very slow), however with the very easy install of the proprietary ATI drivers, that was increased to about 900FPS (very acceptable).

On Wireless: This has always been a nightmare in the Linux world. It has improved over the past 3 years since I’ve used it, but too often do new hardware changes cause problems. Regardless the 2 options were an A/B/G device or B/G. I picked the B/G solution since I’ve seen even less success with A based chipsets. The B/G was from from Intel, which Intel does support for linux.

I was eager to try Fedora Core 5’s new wireless tools (NetworkManager, etc) however I was very much disappointed. I was easily able to install the Intel ipw2200 drivers. However the default network tools did not detect my SSID and there were some problems with the connection at first. The NetworkManager caused me to lose the connection and it would not re-connect. In the end I was able to get the wireless working perfectly with a reboot.

I did have 1 minor nuisance with the Dell keyboard. The Wifi Toggle (wireless on/off button) is implemented as a Blue-Function Special Key instead of a physical separate button. As you can guess, I was not able to get that key to work when running Fedora. The syslog kept complaining. Oh well, booting into Windows fixed that. More investigation is needed as I know this should be possible to work.

Other Points

I was very pleased with the Linux performance on this Dell laptop. Virtually everything worked as I expected.

The power management properly support S3 (suspend to ram) and S4 (suspend to disk – “hibernate”) with or without the ATI and wireless drivers. (Same cannot be said of Nvidia!!!)

The harddisk was SATA which worried me at first, but FC5 detected it properly. I even booted with an older CD with kernel 2.6.9 which gave no problems.

The pointing devices were nice also. The touchpad and pointing thumb-stick gave no difficulties.

As a linux laptop, I would highly recommend this laptop. It is a bit bulky and large but since it functions mostly as a “desktop” this isn’t a serious concern. I feel I lucked out with the convenience of installing Linux on this laptop, however I hope my points help people make more educated decisions when selecting laptops.

Nvidia Linux Drivers

Nvidia recently released an update (1.0-8174) to their high performance Linux video card drivers. Usually driver releases are done to support new hardware. In this case SLI series video cards and others such as the GeForce 6100, GeForce 6150 and GeForce 7800 GTX 512. Other than the driver itself, there were some significant changes made.

  • There is finally an HTML Readme. Previously the text based file was very hard to navigate. (BUT these HTML files do not work in Mozilla or Firefox due to improper mimetypes!!! )
  • This a nvidia-xconfig application included. The installer will properly configure your xorg.conf file. No need to do it manually.

From my installation it appears as though the installer has become more sophisticated, which is welcomed. Many Linux newbies have had frustrations with installing the Nvidia driver.

My FC4 Installation Guide has been updated to reflect this new release.

EDIT: Dec 23, 2005 There was an incremental update 1.0-8178. If everything worked from 8174, no upgrade is required.