posted by Robert Tischer on Wed 8th Oct 2003 19:29 UTC
IconThe purpose of this review is to provide some additional exposure to source-based Linux distributions in general, and Sorcerer in particular. We've been using Sorcerer where I work since January of this year and have been completely satisfied with the experience. Hopefully this review will give you a good idea of why we use Sorcerer, and it may move you to try it yourself. I'm no systems adminstrator, so if I can install and work with Sorcerer, most people with a little Linux experience will be able to also.

Prior to installing Sorcerer, I had used RedHat (7.3 and 8.0) and SUSE (8.0) for a few months, so I was somewhat familiar with Linux, the file structure and I knew how to go through the ./configure, make, make install routine.


The first thing I did was to download the latest ISO, which can be found here. I used the sorcerer-ia32-20030911.iso.bz2 for this review, which was a beta version. This has been updated to sorcerer-ia32-20030930.iso.bz2, which is in the stable tree. I next unzipped the file using "bunzip2 sorcerer-ia32-20030911.iso.bz2" and burned the iso image to a CD-R. The system requirements for Sorcerer are provided in the original installation guide. Two things I've noticed about Sorcerer are that it likes a bigger hard drive and more RAM. Other than that, whatever you can install Linux on, you can probably fit Sorcerer on too, but keep in mind that your system will be compiling the software, so older, lower powered systems will drmatically increase an already time consuming process. Most of our systems running Sorcerer are 1GHz AMD Durons with 1GB+ of RAM and 30GB-80GB hard drives. On this type of system, a program like XFree86 might take around 15 minutes to compile.

Since I was satisifed that my system was sufficient, I set my BIOS to boot from the CD-ROM, put the newly burned Sorcerer ISO in and rebooted. The first thing you get is a fairly typical Linux boot screen, where you have the opportunity to enter some boot parameters. This is important if you have things like SCSI disks and is noted on the screen. As a side note, do yourself a favor and at least glance at the screen. Sometimes a question you have just might be answered right there. I didn't have anything special, so I just hit enter. The next screen is a menu that allows the ISO to work as a rescue disk. From here you can load modules, drop down to a shell, etc. To proceed with the install, just select "Continue Booting." When the ISO kernel finishes loading, the login screen appears. The login ID is "root" and there is no password, so I just hit enter again.

After the login, type "sorcerer.install" (this is instructed on the screen also) and the install menu is activated. The entries on the menu are NLS, DISC, OPTIONS, KERNEL, NETWORK, SHELL, and DONE. Highlighting the selections provides a description of the item. I've installed Sorcerer several times and I always use the installation guide, and there is also the Installation Walk-through. Basically, you navigate the installation menu from top-to-bottom. Selecting NLS, for example, lets you choose your time zone and default editor. I'm a vi fan, so I chose "elvis" as the default editor, but the default is a pico-like nano. The DISC menu item is where you partition your drive, create, intialize and mount your filesystems, and transfer Sorcerer from the CD-R to your hard drive.

I chose to use fdisk to partition my drive, but you can also choose cfdisk, or parted if you are more comfortable with those. I use fdisk because that's what's used in the install guide. For this installation I'm installing on a secondary hard drive, so I selected "disk1." There is a problem with the install guide at this point, which first has you set up a swap partition of 1GB. I need to make a note here: Sorcerer needs lots of memory, in fact SWAP + RAM should be at least 1GB, which is why the install guide has you set up a swap partition of 1GB. However, the way it's suggested doesn't work because the install guide's instructions have you set up the first partition, swap, from the first sector, letting fdisk set the last sector based upon the partition size of 1GB. Then it instructs you to set up the boot partition of 50MB, using the first sector. This obviously can't be done, so I first set up the boot partition using the first sector and 50MB size, then I set up the swap partition, using the default selection and 512MB (remember I have 1GB of RAM), then I set up the third partition, root, with the rest ot the drive. You can, of course, define whatever partitions you like, /home, /var, etc. We store everything on a network drive, so setting up a separate /home partition is no big deal for us.

After partitioning the drive, you need to create and initiate the filesystems for the new partitions. Here is the reason we get to sorcerer-ia32-20030930.iso from sorcerer-ia32-20030911.iso. I read the recent SourceMage review on Distrowatch and noted that the author of that review had tried to install Sorcerer, but failed because the installer wouldn't create a reiserfs filesystem for the root partition. Trying to create a reiserfs filesystem also failed for me. Now, this gives me the opportunity to make two points about Sorcerer. First, the install menu is really a framework, so if you have sufficient knowledge, you don't even need to use it all. Thus, at this point, if I really, really, wanted to create a reiserfs filesystem on /, I could quit the installer back to the shell and use "mkfs -t reiserfs [/dev/...]," then go back to the intaller. Second, I could join the Sorcerer mail list and ask the users. You'll that I downloaded the Sorcerer beta ISO. It wasn't labeled beta for no reason. In fact, the reiserfs problem was a bug, which was corrected for the sorcerer-ia32-20030930.iso because I reported it. For me, I've used both reiserfs and ext3 and I never noticed a difference, so ext3 was fine, which is what I ended up using. After creating and initializing the filesystems (the CREATE and INITIALIZE menu options), I hit the TRANSFER menu item, which transfered Sorcerer from the CD-R to the new partitions.

After transferring Sorcerer to your hard drive, you can set the Sorcerer options using the "Options" menu item. The options you can set Compile options: Architecture (i386 for PC's), Build, Debug flags, Compiler (the current Sorcerer comes with gcc 3.2.3, which is default, but at some point you may need to install and use gcc 2.95.3) allows you to select a default compiler, Hardware type, Language (c++), and compile flags; Features; Integrity; Rates; and Sorcerer which the Installation Walk-through covers. You have to go through this in order to create a "default" file containing your specific compiler options. This default file can be found in /etc/sorcery/cpref and there are various template files provided for your use. You can also create other files with different compiler options in case you want to change options for different applications.

Now it's time to configure your kernel and set up a boot loader. Sorcerer gives you a choice of boot loader, but these choices don't include GRUB, although you are free to download and install GRUB on your own - you just have to remember to keep it updated on your own also. I'm somewhat familiar with LILO, so that's what I use. Because I'm installing on a secondary hard drive, I choose to put the boot loader in /boot although I could just as easily have put it in the MBR on the secondar drive. You need some hardware-specific information to configure your kernel properly, so note specifics about your processor type, sound card and network card. There is ample information available about how to configure your kernel, if you want some extra help. I usually go through each menu item, read descriptions and decide whether or not to enable a particular item using that information. It usually doesn't take much time to compile the kernel, so if you leave something out, you can always re-do it later. I'm not too concerned about kernel size (GASP!), but some people are and if you're one of them, read up on it.

I now have my kernel configured and compiled and I'm on to the next menu item, NETWORK. Here is where I set up my networking. First I set up my hostname and choose Ethernet TCP/IP with DHCP. However, I also use a direct pppoe connection for adsl. What works for me here is to go back through the NETWORK menu item (yes, I re-enter my hostname) and choose PPPOE. Choosing PPPOE allows you to configure rp-pppoe at this point, although you can also run the rp-pppoe configuration later. At this point, I think I'm done with the install, so I select DONE and, per the install guide instructions, I don't choose to re-boot, but I go back to shell and type "halt."

Some Post-Install Stuff

Since I have just installed Sorcerer on a secondary drive, when I re-start my system, I boot into the original set-up on disc0. Now it's time for me to re-configure LILO to use the two hard drives. This is what I did: I created a new directory /mnt/disc1/boot and edited my /etc/fstab to include "/devices/discs/disc1/part1 /mnt/disc1/boot ext2 defaults,noatime 0 0." I then re-configured /etc/lilo.conf for the new image by setting "boot = /devices/discs/disc1/part1." Then I ran /usr/sbin/lilo, which picked up Linux-2.4.22b, the new kernel on the secondary drive. After rebooting, Lilo showed the new Linux-2.4.22b choice, as well as my existing Linux-2.4.22 located on the primary hard drive. Viola! I'm now seeing the Sorcerer boot screen, which is just the usual text-only init level 3 login prompt.

Table of contents
  1. "Installation"
  2. "Usage, Problems"
  3. "Screenshots, Conclusion"
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