Fedora Core 6: Beauty or Beast?

After the usual new-release downloading frenzy died down a bit, I downloaded the 3.3 gigabyte DVD .iso image, stoked the boiler of my test PC, and put Fedora Core 6 through its paces. My mission: to determine if FC6 is suitable for production systems, or if it’s better suited as a bleeding-edge testbed. This could be a wee hint:

Fedora Core is a rapidly evolving system which follows the latest technical developments. Fedora Core may not be appropriate for use in business-critical applications in your organization.

So let’s keep that in mind as we embark on our Fedora Core 6 adventure. Today I’ll talk about installation, and next week dig into the neat stuff you can do with FC6 after getting it up and running.

Installer Follies
I don’t particularly care for reviewing the installation of a new Linux. It should be as exciting as watching paint dry— make it go, have a leisurely tea break while it works, start using the computer. With most modern Linuxes the default installation lets you can do this. Linux is the easiest operating system to install by a country mile—easier than any of the free BSDs, easier than any commercial Unix, so much easier than Windows it’s worth gloating over.

But the FC6 installer is adventurous enough to comment on. I tried both the graphical and text installers. The text installer does not go as far as the graphical installer— it installs to a runlevel 3 console prompt without starting X, which I prefer— it’s no trouble to type startx when I need an X session. But it doesn’t do any post-installation chores such as setting up an ordinary user; you have to remember that for yourself. Perhaps the assumption is gnarly geeks use text installers and don’t need handholding. At any rate it’s perfectly serviceable, and I never understand why some users are so rabid about having a GUI installer. The text installer still gives you a nice ncurses-based graphical interface.

There’s a bit of buzz over the New More Better Anaconda installer. Anaconda has traditionally been reliable, but not very flexible. The new excitement is over being able to add additional repositories during installation, rather than after. Be still my palpitating heart. I guess the folks who are excited about this never tried the Debian Etch installer, which is incredibly feature-ful and does everything except bake fluffy buttermilk biscuits. (They come out a bit dense, but I expect this will be fixed in the next release.)

Unfortunately this new feature crashes the installer and you have to start over. Which mine did. However, there are other nice new features such as network installation from the server of your choice, either public or private, PXE boot, and using network authentication. To use any of these alternate methods you must use the linux askmethod boot command.

But while it has made gains, some other things have been lost. When you first boot up the installation disk you are presented with the usual “press the F-keys for more information”. How lovely- I always press the F-keys for more information. Don’t waste your time- these F-keys don’t tell you much, they only hint at wonders they will never reveal. Like

“To pass an option to the kernel, use the following format:
linux <options>”

But nowhere do you get a list of boot options, such as enabling support for additional filesystems other than ext 2/3. They aren’t in the installation manual either.

Continuing on the same theme, when you customize your package selection you get little helpful information. The “optional packages” selection window is too small and is not resizable, so you’re forced to scroll horizontally to read unhelp like “gnome-utils – GNOME utility programs” and “verbiste-gnome- gnome panel applet for verbiste”. It does not say what GNOME utilities are included, or what Verbiste might be, or the size of the packages. It never tells you the size of your total package selection as you go like it used to. Another small annoyance is the “optional packages” button is grayed out unless you select the package group first, which means extra work just to see what the optional packages are.

Back in the olden days the Ananconda installer included bales of helpful information. It would be nice to have it all back.

Package Cruft
If you don’t manually review your package selection, you’re going to get stuck with a lot of useless baggage (which is true of most any general-purpose Linux). For me this means things like the joystick controller, Bluetooth, scanner support, CD/DVD writer software, Wacom tablet support, and PCMCIA on desktop systems. In my ideal world the system would be scanned for hardware, then package selection adjusted to reflect what’s actually there. Then when you do plug in a new device, the hotplug system recognizes it and suggests the appropriate userland applications to automatically fetch, and you say “yes please” or “no, I’ll select my own”. I’m sure this is much easier to say than to implement, but I can dream. At any rate I can’t count this as a Fedora defect, just a wish.

What’s A Multiboot?
After all these years, Fedora still doesn’t recognize other Linuxes on multi-boot systems and it does not add them to the bootloader menu, not even other Fedoras. It barely recognizes Windows, calling it “Other”. I’m cutting FC6 a lot of slack and not expecting it to be perfectly polished, but this is just plain dumb.

Nice Things
The partitioning tool (thankfully) still includes options for setting up RAID and LVM (Linux Volume Manager), and if you passed in additional filesystems at boot you’ll be able to set them up here.

  • The GUI installer can be run entirely from the keyboard- you’ll get a lot of mileage out of ‘tab’ to navigate and ‘spacebar’ to select
  • Mega eye-candy. Lots of themes, backgrounds, and theme and background managers, and lots of exotic new art
  • Includes a full complement of desktops and window managers: KDE, Gnome, XFCE, and a herd of others. You’ll need to enable the Fedora Extras repo and be connected to the Internet to get more than KDE and Gnome
  • OpenOffice is finally divided into modules, so you install only the bits you want

Compiz, the hot new 3D desktop thingy gets installed but not enabled by default. I won’t be reviewing this because it is abundantly covered by other reviewers. If you have a supported video card give it a try- it’s pretty amazing.

Post-Installation Fun
I installed Xen, which turned out to be a mistake because it created a batch of virtual network interfaces and horked networking to the point that I could not even ping localhost. (I’m not blaming Xen, but my ignorance of it.) So I turned it off, told it to not start at boot, rebooted, and lo! I had networking. FC6 promises easier Xen management, which we’ll talk about in more detail next week.

While I was figuring out where my network had gone, I tried to uninstall a couple of suspect packages, and guess what— neither Yum nor Pirut would work without network connectivity, not even to remove packages.

SELinux: The Annoying Uninvited Party Guest
SELinux is activated by default. If you don’t want it, you don’t get a chance to get rid of it until post-installation, and then you’re stuck with an extra reboot to finish turning it off. Whine whine whine I know, but sheesh, why not make it an option from the start? The good news is FC6 attempts to make administering SELinux easier, which we’ll get to next week. (Hint: you can set policies in the post-installation phase.)

Coming Attractions
That was an awful lot like work. But we finally have a running FC6 system and can start having some fun. Come back next week for a look at Xen, SELinux, Smart Card support, and an answer to that vital question, Is FC6 Ready For Production Systems?


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