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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Although I don't intend to keep daily journals of my trials of various Linux distributions this summer, I will chronicle the first day I spend with each distro. The first day with any new operating system (or variant) is a day when "first impressions" are conceived and ultimately, judgment is made (I know, I know, one is not to judge anything at first glance, but who doesn't form a bias for or against something after the first encounter?). And so, after slight delay, I start my adventure into the wide (wild?) world of Linux distributions: First stop, Fedora 7.

The Install:

Installing Fedora was very straight forward. After choosing my default language and keyboard layout, I was met with some partitioning options. Opting for a "custom setup", the partitioner that the Fedora installer provides leaves little to be desired for a basic install. I was able to select which disk partitions I wanted to use, which of these I wanted to format, and where I wanted each partition to be mounted. I chose to use my home partition from my Ubuntu install, and everything appeared to work well.

Along the install process I was also able to chose whether or not to install a boot loader. I chose yes, and was presented with options on adding other distros to boot. By default, it detected Windows on my first hard drive, but failed to notice Ubuntu. I added the root partition where Ubuntu was installed on to the list, but upon boot, I did not see an entry for Ubuntu in the GRUB menu. This was not a huge problem as I was easily able to manually edit the GRUB menu.lst file and add an entry for Ubuntu. For first timers to Linux, the most important issue was that the installer detected Windows, and allowed for an easy dual boot setup.

As with all installs, I was asked which timezone I was in after which I was asked to set the root password.

Moving on, I was offered to customize my package selection. Choosing to do so, I was able to select or de-select large package groups, such as games, office productivity, editors, and others. This step also presented me with an option of which desktop environment to install. I generally like to see a more detailed and customizable approach to package selection, as openSUSE and other distros provide.

EDIT: Upon reviewing the installation process in a VMware virtual machine, I noticed that one can in fact choose exactly which packages to install. This can be done by click on "Optional Packages."

Including configuration, Fedora 7 took a little over half and hour to install.

Overall, the installer was very simple to use, but also surprisingly powerful. Instructions were always readily available and one could read the release notes at any time.

Initial Boot:

As I mentioned before, the installer did not manage to add Ubuntu to the GRUB menu, however I was able to load Fedora without any problems.

While the OS was loading, I notice that my screen was way off, and that a good 2 or so inches were off the screen. Adjusting my monitor did not help this problem. Apparently my resolution was not detected and the nVidia drivers were not installed.

Next problem came when startup tried to activate my network connection, which it thought was an Ethernet connection. It took forever to realize that it just wasn't going to get ip information from a non existent connection, and finally just [FAILED].

The setup following installation held no surprises. I was asked if I wanted to configure a Firewall and if I wanted to enforce SELinux. After this I was asked to set the date and time. Next came a screen outlining my hardware profile which I was asked to send in to Fedora to help with development. Since my internet connection did not work at that point, I had to choose not to send the information. Then came user creation and finally a test of my sound card (it worked).

On attempting to log on I was presented with a wonderful error saying that I didn't have permissions to my own home directory. This did not let me log on, and even made X crash. Interesting error considering I just installed the operating system. I messed with a few permission but nothing worked. Then... it dawned on me: I shared this home partition with my Ubuntu install and I have the same user name with both. So, it created the new "linnerd40" folder in the home partition over my other "linnerd40" folder from my Ubuntu install. However, the "linnerd40" folder was still only accessible to Ubuntu. Great. Since time was running rather short, I decided to go for another install, this time just letting the root and home partitions be the same (not the way I like to set stuff up). This worked.

Before going any further, I added Ubuntu to the GRUB menu.lst file so that in the case of an emergency, I had at least one stable operating system to boot into. I rebooted and tested going into Ubuntu. Everything worked, until login. I received the same error as I had when I tried to log into Fedora. Apparently, when tampering with the permissions in Fedora, I had screwed up access to my own home folder in Ubuntu. I messed with some more permissions and ended up fixing the problem (with some help from the Internets) using the following commands:

sudo chown -R linnerd40 /home/
sudo chmod 700 /home/

Yay for the command line! Long story short, Ubuntu and Fedora now work.

First Impressions:

After a successful login, I was greeted by a fairly decent looking Gnome desktop. The new "Flying High" theme is not going to be winning any awards but appeals more to me than Ubuntu's "Human" theme. First on my list of problems to fix was the screen resolution. After pulling the latest copy of nVidia's Linux driver from my flash drive, I killed X and went into run level three (run: /sbin/init 3) for the install of the driver. However, installation failed when it detected that gcc-devel was not installed. So, I got back into X and searched for an application for installing packages. I found an "Add or Remove Programs" entry in one of the menus and tried that. However, it gave me an error saying that package information could not be retrieved due to lack of a network connection. I popped in the Fedora 7 DVD and tried installing packages from there. I found the .rpm file I needed in the FEDORA directory on the DVD, but upon trying to open the file to install it, I received the same error. This was extremely aggravating as installing from a .rpm file that was present on my hard drive (I copied it from the DVD) should not require a network connection. So, I went with the command line method of:

rpm -ivh package.rpm
This worked... but immediately I found myself in dependency hell. To install gcc, I needed glibc, but I also needed glibc-devel which needed glib-headers which needed the kernel-devel package. Perhaps that wasn't quite the order, but needless to say, I was searching for and install packages for a quite while. RPM dependency hell was why I stopped using SUSE. Apt is a much more efficient method of package management and I don't see why a distro wouldn't use it.

EDIT: Upon reevaluation of Fedora 7 in my VM (with working Internet), I see that some of what I said above is unjust. Yes, RPMs do have a tendency to lead to dependency hell, as I experienced much with SUSE and previous versions of Fedora. However, yum (the package manager used in Fedora) does handle dependencies quite well, much better than I had remembered. A simple:

yum install gcc
fixed my problems. Still, I prefer apt/ Debian style package management over RPM any day.

After going through hell to get all the packages I needed, I was finally able to install the nVidia driver. I then set my screen resolution using the nVidia- xconfig tool and was well on my way to a more pleasant desktop experience.

The next problem I wanted to tackle was wireless support. Although my card was detected (rt2500 chipset), it was impossible to configure it correctly. Using this guide I was able to get very close to success, but I continued to get errors when trying to activate the device. As of yet, I have not found a fix.

So far... :

So far, my experience with Fedora has been less than enjoyable. However, I hope that after spending a week with Fedora, I will change my mind. It seems like a very stable and thought-out distribution. The default package selection is excellent using Firefox for web browsing, GIMP for image manipulation, Pidgin for instant messaging, Rhythmbox for multimedia playing, and many other stable software selections to fulfill the daily needs of any average computer user. The Fedora team has made a great effort to provide a usable, friendly installer while allowing for advanced configuration and has done so superbly. Back when I first started with Linux, Fedora Core 4 was one of the first distros I tried to install. I had to give up on it since my wireless card was not detected, and at the time I did not know how to fix such problems. Fedora has definitely evolved since Core 4, and I am certain that once I get my wireless card working I will be able to see its true power.

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