Jon ‘maddog’ Hall
Many times people come up to me and ask me what distribution I use on my notebook (due to my traveling my notebook is my main “production and testing” system) and why. I tell them I use the distribution that makes sense for me, and often that is dictated by the work that I am doing and the company for which I am doing that work.
Over the weekend I switched my notebook distribution of Linux from Ubuntu to Fedora.
So, the rest of this blog will not be some sort of rant against Ubuntu, Mark Shuttleworth or any of the Ubuntu community. Ubuntu has been a great distribution for the past three years that I have used it.
This decision to switch at this time was all about the current work that I am doing to make a living with FOSS. I am doing a project for the company “Red Hat Software”. While Red Hat did not require (or even suggest) that I switch my notebook from Ubuntu to RHEL or Fedora, I have long stated in many conferences and forums that people who produce an operating system or functionality for their customers should use the same environment as their customers as much as possible. It is why I switched from SuSE to Ubuntu over three years ago, and why I switched to Fedora over the weekend. No political statement implied, no functionality lacking that I could not work around. I switched simply because I believe in “eating my own dog food”.
Before I switched I did some investigation into what facilities and programs that Fedora 13 supported. For the past several years I have been using Evolution as a front end to my email system, with its integrated calendar, contact list, tasks and memo list. I have organized my life around it, and a distribution that did not support Evolution (or that Evolution did not support) would have been more difficult for me to use. Fortunately Fedora does support, and even features, Evolution so the bulk of my issues were satisfied.
I also took this event to re-evaluate my disk layout for my notebook. I had allocated far too much disk space for the system, and decided to recover that disk space and allocate more of it to the user area. At the same time I decided to switch from ext3 to the newer ext4 file system. With all of this in mind, it make more sense to me to completely back up my home directory, install Fedora, then restore my files.
I looked at the different Fedora releases and spins, and was attracted to the Fedora Electric Lab (FEL) spin. This is a version of Fedora 13 that includes an integrated set of tools for designing hardware.
Recently I have once again become interested in digital hardware design after a long (twenty year) hiatus from that endeavor. While I was never the type of hardware designer that would design CPUs or even memory chips, I could work my way through simple digital logic designs for controlling motors and various other devices. Software today allows for verifying hardware designs and designing printed circuit boards (PCBs). Putting those capabilities together with services available over the Internet for producing PCBs on a “one-shot” level made the whole situation too tempting. Systems like the Arduino and other projects leading towards “open hardware” have rekindled my hardware design “fires”, so I opted for using FEL as my base system. Whether I will have the time in my schedule to indulge those hardware design interests is something yet to be seen, but it will probably be fun just to follow along with what others are doing.
There were other “spins” of Fedora that were tempting, such as the “design” spin (for “creativity”) and an “education spin”, but I had enough familiarity with the programs featured on those spins to add the programs later myself. It had been a long time since I had done anything with electronics, and I opted to let the “spin” install the software for me.
The FEL spin is a live DVD. I booted the DVD and tested it to see if it handled all the devices on my ancient Thinkpad X31, which it did beautifully. No issues with device drivers whatsoever.
Then I started the installation.
No surprises at all until I got to the disk partitioning. I probably did want more control over my disk partitioning then the average person “starting out”, so I opted for manually setting up the disk partitions on the disk. The disk partitioning did seem to be a bit more complex than I had remembered it from Ubuntu, but perhaps that was due to either a faulty memory or the potential to be a bit more flexible in the basic workstation installation. Fedora seemed to offer me more options in partitioning my disks with LVM, but to be fair I had never used much of LVM with Ubuntu on my notebook, preferring to just limit myself to the physical partitions offered. Even with the “LVM surprise” the disk drive partitioning was not insurmountable, and probably would have been less confusing if I had actually read any instructions ahead of time. I had violated my own main law of “read the manual”, so I should complain only to myself.
The rest of the installation went smoothly (and quickly) and finally the system asked for a reboot.
After the reboot the system showed me the licenses, allowed me to set up my main user account and user password (the root password was entered during the main installation), and let me log in.
After logging in I immediately updated my system by selecting “Software Update” under the “System=>Administration” menu. At that point in time there were 527 packages that needed updating, and I felt fortunate to have a relatively fast Internet connection. While the update manager showed me what packages were being updated, installed and removed, it was doing a lot of things in parallel. It would have been nice to have some information on how many packages were left to update, or an estimated time of finishing, but the update manager seemed to be doing many things in parallel and if that was true then it may have been hard to calculate those estimates.
After that I restored my user files and was mostly finished.
I did notice that this distribution (like many others) installed a base number of packages, and I wanted a bit more flexibility with my distribution, so I started installing other packages. Again, thanks for the fast Internet connection! And another “thanks for speed” afterwards when making sure that all the updates were in place.
I also needed to install some (ahem) “functionality” that Fedora does not distribute for various reasons. This lack of functionality is not a complaint about Fedora because Ubuntu also does not distribute this “functionality” in their mainstream release, and for many of the same reasons. It is just that I was used to the pattern of obtaining this functionality with Ubuntu, and it was a different pattern and series of steps of obtaining them for Fedora. Neither distribution was “right” or “wrong” in their choices or their techniques, just different. I long for the day when these particular features will either be able to be distributed integrated, or replaced with functionality which mitigates the need.
Eventually I restored all of my data files. Here is where I had another small glitch. I wanted my login name and directory name under “/home” to be “maddog”, and to have a uid and gid of 1000 to match my backups. Ubuntu typically starts its uid and gid numbers at 1000, and Fedora starts at 500. Neither is “wrong” of course, but in restoring my directory structure it would have been nice if I could have told Fedora during installation to make my uid and gid 1000 instead of the default of 500.
Another feature of Fedora that I will have to get used to, but I am sure I will appreciate more as I go along, is SELinux and the alerts it gives to me. I have received several alerts regarding file permissions on various programs in my environment that might normally be cause for alarm. These permissions on programs came from a time when there was a “gentler, more forgiving Internet”, and it was probably past time to make them more secure. Since I knew about these various issues I could then investigate and fix the permissions which (in the long run) I am sure will create a more secure system. There were not a lot of issues, only about five or six, but it was nice to be reminded of them. Even though I like to think I run a fairly secure system, I am not omnipotent, and I look forward to SELinux being a watchdog for my back.
Now I have a brand new distribution to investigate in depth, along with working with some open hardware design. This is not to say that this blog will be “Fedora, Fedora, Fedora” since I have other projects which I am working on which use other distributions, but for those of you who are used to seeing Ubuntu come up on my notebook when I talk at events, this will explain the change to Fedora.