Fedora Tips You Can Hang Your Hat On

From managing network installations to the best places to find new packages, you'll tip your hat to our Fedora rundown.

By Carla Schroder | Posted Feb 28, 2006
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Today I shall reveal Fedora's three biggest, most mysterious secrets. Yes, these are the mysteries that have kept you awake for many nights, wondering and pondering, and futilely Googling. First, I shall reveal How To Perform The Secret Net-Install. Then, Add An Actual Menu Editor To GNOME. No, really! They took away the menu editor in Gnome 2.0 and never put it back, but by gosh you can't keep a good Linux geek down, so there is a third-party menu editor that is yours for the taking. And finally, I shall reveal some excellent alternative download repositories so that you can always have the packages you really really want, instead of being limited by the official Fedora repositories.

Video Driver Destruction
Before we get into the good stuff, I ran across this little gem on the Fedora developer's list. Please read this before installing proprietary, binary ATI or Nvidia drivers, as it may save you some considerable headaches. The binary installers like to overwrite key libraries, which is so unnecessary and obnoxious. They're free, folks, come get new ones, OK?

Fedora Network Installation
Fedora is a big bugger. You may download and burn five CD ISOs, or a single DVD ISO that weighs in at over 2.6 gigabytes. A single DVD is convenient, but that's still a heck of a big download. Everyone else has a nice network installer where you download a minimal boot disk, set up your installation, and then the installer downloads only the packages you need. Fedora's Anaconda installer does too, but you have to know where to look. Keep a second Internet-connected computer handy while you're doing this.

The first step is downloading the boot.iso image. No wait, that's the second step. The first step is finding it, because it's cunningly concealed. Start at the official Fedora download archive, or any mirror. Pick your Fedora version and architecture. Suppose you want Fedora Core 4 for i386. Navigate your way to the pub/fedora/linux/core/4/i386/os/images/ directory. And there you'll see a number of installation boot images. We want boot.iso, which at a mere 6.4 megabytes will download in one or two eye-blinks, and easily fit on a CDR or USB thumb drive. Boot 'er up and away you go.

When you get to the "Installation Method" screen, select FTP or HTTP, depending on which mirror you have selected. Continue on through a few more screens until you get to the "FTP" or "HTTP Setup" screen. This is the maddening part — you must get the filepaths exactly right, or it will complain and make you re-enter them until you get it right. The good news you get to keep trying, rather than starting the installation over, unlike a certain popular proprietary operating system with the patented fragile installer.

Suppose you want to use the Kernel.org mirror, ftp://mirrors.kernel.org/fedora/core/. On the "FTP/HTTP Site Name" line, enter mirrors.kernel.org. To find the correct entry for the "Fedora Core Directory" line, you need to surf around on the kernel.org site until you find the one you want, which in our Fedora Core 4/i386 example is ftp://mirrors.kernel.org/fedora/core/4/i386/os/Fedora/base. Your entry for the Fedora Core Directory is /fedora/core/4/i386/os/.

How do I know this? I found out by trial and error, and am generously passing the knowledge on to you. Anaconda gives sort-of helpful error messages when you make mistakes with the filepaths.

From this point it will download the core installation image, which will take awhile as it is nearly 80 megabytes. (Poke around the download directories if you're curious, and you'll find everything.) Then you'll get the familiar installation screens just as if you had installed from a CD or DVD.

One thing to keep in mind with Internet installations of new distributions is trust. You're letting a remote installer probe your hardware and collect information. I doubt that any Free Linux would even bother to try to collect and abuse such data, since they are not into making money no matter what ethical or legal boundaries they break, unlike so many companies we know and love. Just be aware of how the process works.

Getting More Software
The default official Fedora software repositories are adequate, but not comprehensive. They do not include software with unfriendly licenses or ugly patents. However, there is still a whole world of nicely-packaged software out there, just waiting for you to grab it with Yum or Apt-RPM. (If you're still struggling with individual RPMs, dear reader please do join us in the 21st Century.)

FreshRPMs.net is a good place to get packages for both Fedora and Red Hat. Go to ayo.freshrpms.net to download RPMs that set up your Apt or Yum configurations for you. Install them in the usual way:

# rpm -Uvh [packagename]

This automatically configures your yum.conf or apt.conf and installs the GPG keys.

Dag Wieers' Apt/Yum repository has good-quality up-to-date releases. This takes a bit more work to set up, see the FAQ for instructions.

A new addition to Fedora Extras is the Livna project. It is included in FC4, and can be added to older Fedoras. (See the configuration page). This contains packages that can't be included in the Core or Extras repositories because of licensing or patent issues.

It pays to be careful where you get packages. One of the problems that has long plagued the RPM world is the abundance of poor quality RPMs. Sticking with quality package archives prevents a lot of problems.

Alacarte, the GNOME Menu Editor
No more do you have to endure tired excuses why they took away our GNOME menu editor and have no plans to reinstate it, nor must you edit XML files, for now there is the excellent Alacarte menu editor for GNOME. It is Freedesktop.org compliant, and it works great even though it's still a baby. The author, Travis Watkins, plans to propose it for inclusion in GNOME 2.16. Currently it's in Fedora Extras, so you can have it today with yum install alacarte, then look for it in the Accessories menu.

Building the Perfect GNOME Desktop
Come back next week to see my secret blueprint for the Perfect GNOME Desktop revealed. And no, the answer is not "Install KDE." Really!

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