I have installed Fedora Core 1 (Yarrow) to see what has changed between it and Red Hat Linux 9 and to get a feel for this new and powerful Linux operating system. For some people, the name Fedora will not be a familiar name, for others (Red Hat Linux or OS enthusiasts), Fedora could (In some ways) be considered to be the ‘new’ Red Hat Linux 9.x or 10 release, the not so long awaited sequel to Red Hat Linux 9, which came out in late March 2003. However, Fedora Core 1 is not Red Hat Linux 10 (as I try to explain below), and to quote from the front page of the Fedora Project website:
‘The Fedora Project is a Red-Hat-sponsored and community-supported open source project. It is also a proving ground for new technology that may eventually make its way into Red Hat products. It is not a supported product of Red Hat, Inc.‘.
In short, Red Hat has decided to focus strongly on the Enterprise market (follow the money, there is nothing wrong with that) and as a result has discontinued marketing or producing new versions of what many considered to be its ‘home user’ freely downloadable versions of Linux, but all is not lost, not by a long shot. Red Hat has not abandoned the home users (or free OS down-loaders like me), not at all, it is providing some of its expertise in OS development, tools and financial sponsorship to the Fedora Project
I do think it’s a shame that Red Hat isn’t doing any obvious marketing for Fedora, even the recent ‘end of support’ emails that was sent from Red Hat to RHN subscribers recently announcing imminent EOL of support for many of RH’s 7.x,8.x etc. OS’s did not mention Fedora even once, not even a URL. If you go to http://www.redhat.com you will see a graphical link on the main page to the Fedora Project, but it’s certainly not prominent.
To simplify things as much as I can, Red Hat does offer stable, corporate Desktop versions of Red Hat Linux (http://www.redhat.com/software/rhel/ws/) which are available at cost, but come with phone based/web based support options, Fedora on the other hand is freely downloadable, will change often (every few months) and will have much more limited support options (for companies) due to its’ price tag and quickly evolving nature (think latest gizmos, latest add-ons). However, Fedora is already a strong community with IRC channels, forums and web-based support, so I think (and hope) it will be around for a long time to come.
I’d recommend that before installing Fedora Core 1, that you do a media check on your CDs, most people will ignore this and go ahead with the install, but you could be unlucky like me and end up half way through CD 2 only to get a file copy error which can slow your installation right down to a snails pace and which basically means you have to either download the ISO again or burn the ISO to cd again. Doing the media check will tell you at the beginning of the installation phase if your CDs are ok and gives you a bit more confidence in your media.
I’d also recommend that you take a look at the Release-Notes, to see if there are any known issues with whatever hardware that you are using, and if you are planning on upgrading Red Hat Linux 8.x, 9 to Fedora, then please do check http://fedora.redhat.com/docs/release-notes/ and read the section which explains some post-installation issues for Ximian GNOME amongst other things.
Installing Fedora is a breeze, and it is so similar to Red Hat 8.0 and 9 installations that Red Hat users will feel right at home, featuring very easy to follow GUI screens that guide the in-experienced or experienced users from start to finish with ease. I chose to do the standard CD based installation, there are now graphical based FTP and HTTP installs, but I guess they would be more suited to people with fast internet connections, or lan based installations.
The CDs available for download are still 6 in total, although most of us will get by with just downloading the first 3 CDs only (thankfully) in order to install and setup Fedora. The last three are source CDs and you can easily distinguish that fact by the CD file name, for example yarrow-SRPMS-disc1.iso is the 1st Source CD and not needed for the ‘general’ user, instead download the following three cds from here or from your nearest mirror
When I installed Fedora Core 1, I picked the ‘custom’ option on the installation type screen, this allows me to choose ‘everything’ which as its’ name implies, installs everything included on the 3 CDs. It takes longer to install (approx 1-2 hours, depending on the speed of your computer) and takes more space on your hard disc (5.8 GB or so) but, I would recommend this option for new users, because it helps to avoid dependency or other errors at a later stage when compiling programs or installing various rpms. You can of course uninstall any of the packages you don’t require easily in ‘add/remove applications’ once the installation is done.
You can easily install Fedora as dual boot on your computer (just like previous versions of Red Hat Linux) if it has another operating system on it, just make sure that if you do decide to go this route, that first you must have the other OS installed, and second that you have enough space on a free unformatted partition for Fedora, and third, that you are happy to allow GRUB to take control of your boot sequence. You can also update previous installations of Red Hat Linux using the automatic update feature during the installation phase (it will auto-detect your previous install), however I have only tested this functionality on Red Hat Linux 9, so I cannot comment on earlier versions such as 7.x.
The Default Install – What is it like?
Booting Fedora Core 1 will at first look like any normal Red Hat Linux boot, you’ll see the kernel initialising but then, instead of being presented with a whole bunch of onscreen status initialization messages, you get a rather nice GUI screen with a computer icon and a status bar that shows the percentage of completed tasks in easy to understand format. That is a nice change and a welcome one, you can also, see all of the standard messages within this front-end by clicking on the ‘show details’ link. Very nicely done, and I only have two minor gripes about it, firstly, how about having the entire boot done in this graphical format (with the option for text based messages for those that want to see them), and secondly, do we really need to give Kudzu 30 seconds to ‘scan for new hardware’ on every boot? after all it does delay the boot process by 30 seconds especially if you have not added any new hardware, perhaps 5 seconds would be more appropriate. I’m sure some people will jump in here and say that Kudzu itself can be disabled or adjusted so that it doesn’t take 30 seconds, but that’s not my point. I just think a faster boot time would be more appropriate. Also, how about adding the extra gui functionality to the shutdown portion in Fedora Core 1 (it is still text based).
Once the system has booted, unless you specifically chose the text login option during the installation phase you’ll get a nice out of box experience (firstboot) which effectively asks you for user name(s) and to test sound output and so on, until after a few questions, you are presented with a very blue graphical login screen using Red Hat’s Bluecurve graphical greeter. It is nicely done, and has a clean polished professional look to it. After you have logged in, you will see what looks like a standard Red Hat 9 desktop in GNOME (gnome-desktop-2.4.0-1) with the bluecurve theme and with the little Red Hat clearly visible in the menu. However, you don’t have to look far for some of the newer changes under the hood. First off there is the new color scheme for the Bluecurve theme, I think it is gorgeous, and secondly if you click on the Red Hat and choose preferences, you’ll see a brand new option (to Red Hat Linux default install users at least) called ‘screen resolution’ and this little application allows you to change resolution in real-time on your desktop without needing to restart x. Very nicely done, but (there’s always a but) why couldn’t this screen resolution application be included as a listed function when you right-click on the desktop (alongside change desktop background for example), that would be very convenient and user friendly. In my tests I was easily able to change the LCD resolution on my laptop from 1400×1050 down to 1024×768 and vice versa with no display issues.
Still on the display theme, by clicking on the Red Hat and choosing system settings, and then ‘display’, I now have some new tabs listed in my display settings, Dual Head is now an available option for this ATI Radeon Mobility M6 video card, and that’s very cool, it sure wasn’t there in Red Hat 9. However, this added bonus, requires you to restart x in order to see the changes. That’s a shame, especially seeing as the screen resolution application mentioned above did not require this restart of x. So I pressed CTRL+ALT+BACKSPACE to restart x and logged back in again to see the changes, all i noted was that the second monitor was showing exactly what was on my LCD so I went back into the display settings/dual head TAB and spotted a drop down menu. That drop down menu gave me the option of Individual
Desktops or Spanning Desktops. As the Individual Desktops didn’t seem to do anything for me I chose ‘Spanning Desktops’ and applied my settings, once again, I had to restart x for the changes to be seen. So I did, and nothing interesting happened. I kept playing with these settings for about 15 minutes and could not get ‘spanning’ or for that matter ‘individual’ desktops to work, perhaps it was just me or perhaps I messed up my installation, or perhaps my particular configuration was just not yet ready for this. Pity though, I was really looking forward to seeing this in action. I tried this on two different laptops, one with ATI Radeon Mobility M6 and the other with ATI Radeon Mobility M9, and I had the exact same problem with both.
If you chose to install everything like me, then you’ll have lots of applications, games, web browsers and various odds and ends to entertain you. You have apache version 2 to serve web pages, you have samba to access windows shares, you have CUPS to organise your printers for you. Mozilla is still the default web browser and is now version 1.4.1, which is very nice and easy to use. It doesn’t have plugins installed, so you will need to install JAVA (Mozilla 1.4.1 Java plugin HOWTO here – http://anyweb.kicks-ass.net/linux/tips/tip13.html), shockwave and so on, yourself. OpenOffice (the Office suite) is included and is version 1.1.0. Email handling is handled by Ximian Evolution version 1.4 and there’s even GNUCash to handle your financial needs. All in all lots of Office Software to keep you working away quite happily.
On the entertainment side, you have XMMS version 1.2.8 to play your audio files (winamp clone), and it does not have the MP3 plug-in loaded (a popup window explaining patent licence issues preventing the inclusion of the plug-in is loaded the first time you try and play an MP3 with XMMS), so you’ll need to fix that also. To fix the MP3 ‘problem’ you’ll need to get this file from here or here. Once you have downloaded the file, expand it by typing tar -zxvf xmms-mp3-fc1.tar.gz and you will now have three files. Copy the two lib files (as root) to /usr/lib/xmms/Input/. Restart xmms and all should be good.
Fedora has also bundled something called Rhythmbox version 0.5.3 to play radio station music and other types (vorbis). I fired it up and tried to connect to Digitally Imported (Netherlands) but it popped up an error ‘failed to create spider element, check your installation’. So I checked the properties for that stream, and they were listed as http://126.96.36.199:8000/, I copied and pasted that address into Mozilla and it showed me a U ShoutCast D.N.A.S Status page saying the stream was up and with 43 of 300 users listening, so why couldn’t I hear anything. It quickly dawned on me that once again I needed a plug-in to listen to these online radio installations, the help files included with Rhythmbox stated that the player plays MP3, FLAC or OGG/Vorbis files, but didn’t mention where I could add the ability to play MP3 streams. It would be useful if Rhythmbox included a message like the one in XMMS detailing that this MP3 support is not included, rather than having users trying to figure out what a ‘spider element’ is.
DVD playback software is also nowhere to be found on the entertainment (Sound and Video) menu, in fact there wasn’t one video capable player included in this menu, and that’s quite ironic considering it’s title. This was the same in Red Hat 9, and 8.0, and can be fairly easily solved by installing either xine or mplayer or both (once they are updated to work with Fedora).
Internet applications are abundant and there are lots to choose from, web browsers include Mozilla, Konqueror and Epiphany. You can chat online using GAIM (which even works with msn messenger after you have enabled the included plug-in), Xchat, Ksirc or Licq, you can remotely admin your other computers using rdesktop or using the vnc client (vncviewer). You can even install vncserver locally and remotely admin your Fedora box and it works very well. It’s nice to see this powerful software included by default (by choosing Custom install and manually installing it or choose everything as suggested earlier).
A basic Firewall application is included and it’s called lokkit (you can run it from the console as root, or click on the Red Hat menu, choose system settings, security level) and it allows you to Enable or Disable the firewall, plus to trust certain well-known services like WWW (http). To Customise ports you can start lokkit in a console and choose the customise option. There is no Internet Connection Sharing application included in Fedora, but that can be done manually by using iptables and a bit of know how.
There is a new login screen (Happy Gnome with browser) which some people will like, its similar to Windows XP’s user list (with photos) so you can impress your buddies with it, but by default this login screen is not picked (Bluecurve is the default), you have to manually set it up and it’s very easy to do so (system settings, login screen, graphical greeter).
Is Fedora Core 1 right for me?
If like me, you want to see how new and exciting Linux releases are doing, then you’ll probably go ahead and install Fedora as soon as you have downloaded it. Its fun and new and worth looking at, and I have tried it on 4 different machines so far, two of which are laptops. The laptops both installed fine but I was disappointed to see that ACPI support is still not turned on by default in this release, I guess it must be too buggy. What that means is that some new laptops with ACPI only BIOS’s will not report any battery levels in Fedora or show advanced power management features, you’ll have to read the Release Notes (check the kernel notes section at the end of the notes) to enable that functionality. APM based laptops will not have any problem displaying battery status.
The third system I tried it on has a Promise Raid SATA controller with an OS already on it, when I tried to install Fedora, it complained that it couldn’t find any hard drives, so I googled and found a Red Hat Linux 9 driver for the promise card, but…. that didn’t work with Fedora, seems I need to re-compile that driver within Fedora to get it to work. This was not because Fedora couldn’t handle SATA (it can) it was because it could not talk to my raid card and I didn’t have time to continue with it.
I even attempted to upgrade an existing installation of Red Hat Linux 9 on one system, and the upgrade went as smooth as silk. After the installation was completed I got a message in gnome telling me that my old desktop was linked via a shortcut on my new desktop. I did notice that upgrading Red Hat Linux 9 to Fedora Core 1 does not configure it to use the graphical boot feature, but a quick glance again at the release-notes tells you that you have to must install the rhgb package, and add the rhgb boot-time parameter to your bootloader configuration. To test this I went into system settings, add/remove applications, and selected the X windows system package details. Adding the rhgb (Red Hat Graphical Boot) package was not so simple, once I clicked on update it prompted for CD 1. I inserted CD1 and it popped up an error ‘Error Installing Packages – There was an error installing packages, exiting’. Clicking ok closed the Package Manager so I browsed the CD manually (/mnt/CDROM/Fedora/RPMS) and found the rpm (rhgb-0.11.2-1.i386.rpm). I copied that RPM locally and tried to manually install it. I logged in as su – and did rpm -Uvh rhgb-0.11.2-1.i386.rpm and it installed. Then I used vi to edit /boot/grub/grub.conf and added rhgb after the line that reads:
kernel /vmlinuz-2.4.22-1.2115.nptl ro root=LABEL=/ hdc=ide-scsi
so that it now reads
kernel /vmlinuz-2.4.22-1.2115.nptl ro root=LABEL=/ hdc=ide-scsi rhgb
saved that file with :wq and rebooted, and voila graphical boot
If you do attempt to upgrade an existing installation of Red Hat Linux, then please back up your data first, I personally have not lost any data from doing an upgrade to Linux, however you don’t want to be the one who has to explain where the data went if something goes wrong.
For users who want MP3 functionality or video playback out of the box, Fedora Core 1 disappoints in this regard (much like Red Hat Linux 8/9 did), I would suggest that you uninstall the included XMMS version 1.2.8 and install the older 1.2.7 version (which has plug-ins freely available on the internet for MP3 support) until someone releases an updated plug-in for the new version. As regards xine (which I did attempt to install) your results may vary, but it complained about xine-libs dependency problems (wanted GLUT and SPEEK, and in turn GLUT wanted OPENGL which wanted……), so I gave up. I have not yet tested nVidia drivers (accelerated) yet but will do soon, I’m confident that nVidia will release Fedora Core drivers shortly.
Bluetooth hardware support has been updated but I didn’t have a bluetooth device to test so no comment. The kernel (2.4.22-1.2115.nptl) has been updated to include NPTL (as you will notice in the GRUB boot screen) and in Fedora’s own words ‘Fedora Core 1 includes the Native POSIX Thread Library (NPTL), a new implementation of POSIX threads for Linux. This library provides performance improvements and increased scalability’ so I guess that new kernel will delight some and bore others.
I can summarise my experience with Fedora as being a mixed bag of emotions, in some cases it surprises pleasantly (resolution changing for one, and the half-gui boot up) but in other cases there is nothing obviously apparent about this release that hits you in the face with that WOW factor (GNOME looks essentially the same as it did since Red Hat 8.0 came out more or less). Yes there is the ability for up2date to use Yum and APT repositories but for users unfamiliar with that technology then is that really something to go ‘hey look what this can do?’ The very act of updating software is usually to fix something that is broken or to add new features or to apply a
security update, if the use of Yum could/can fix the lack of MP3 functionality (for example) then I’ll give it my thumbs up, if not, then big deal.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising Fedora, far from it, I really really like this distribution, I think it is very professionally done and worthy of a download and installation, however, there are going to be a lot of Linux newbies disappointed initially by the lack of included MP3 functionality and DVD/Video playback, and adding that functionality back will not be straightforward for those people (until clear and easy to follow HOWTO’s start popping up on the internet).
If you like to experiment with the latest cool stuff on the Linux scene then get downloading now. I’m sure that you will not be disappointed especially if you are an experienced Linux user from the Red Hat stable. If you are new to Linux then perhaps this is a good distro for you to play with, but I guess you’ll need to do some research on IRC and Google to get things working the way you want.
It’s up to you to decide Fedora’s future. I hope it’s a bright one.
by Niall C. Brady (c) November 6th 2003.