Saturday, December 23, 2006

FC6 Zod LiveCD: You win some, you loose some

Just in time for Christmas... The Fedora Project released a LiveCD of Fedora Core 6. I was able to download the 680MB CD ISO in about 20 minutes (broadband is a wonderful thing), then burn a CD and try it out on a few machines around the house.

A live CD is an opportunity to test-drive a distribution without having to perform any permanent installation to get it to work. Live CDs have been around for quite some time; I was introduced to Yggdrasil Linux via a live filesystem on a CDROM back in 1994. It was fortunate that long-time friend Jim Smith had a machine on which it would work at the time. It was a truly magical moment to see it boot and run from the CDROM. Now I take such functionality for granted, so much so that I expect it to come up and Just Work with the hardware as well as network resources such as a LAN and the web.

First the bad news: it failed to completely boot on my Gateway notebook. The part of the distribution that failed (as usual) was the graphical desktop. I was able to go to a text login and log in as root, just to check out the underlying OS. That part seems to have started just fine. But the desktop, or more specifically, Xorg, refused to play properly with the nVidia GeForce Go 7800 that's part of the notebook. More's the pity, I suppose. I managed to copy the dmesg and Xorg log files, and I'm mulling if I should file a bugzilla report.

Next, the good news. I popped it into europa, the home of OpenSuse 10.2 and Windows XP, and fired it up. This is the second time I've tried to run FC6 on europa. The first time I tried to install it on europa it failed. This time the LiveCD came up cleanly and the desktop worked the way it was intended to. In fact it worked almost too well: it came up in 1920 by 1440 resolution at 60Hz. I've got an aging Viewsonic P90f 19 inch monitor plugged in, and even though I could read it, the tiny text combined with 60Hz refresh drove my aging eyes crazy. I dropped the resolution down to 1280 by 1024 at 75Hz, and viewing became excellent and tack-sharp.



I like the desktop image for the LiveCD a lot better than I do the original DNA image for FC6. Somebody did a really good job on the photo. I don't even mind that it's blue. As you can see the desktop is clean, with a limited number of icons on the desktop. Note that my Western Digital Passport USB drive was automatically mounted and shows up on the desktop. It's a little touch, but it's a very nice touch. Current Linux distributions are filled with such nice little touches.

The first thing I had to try was Nautilus. Sure enough, it came up in crippled mode.



I know, I know. The 'crippled' view is supposed to be the 'right' view. Well, for quite a few of us it's not. We want the old fashioned Microsoft file-explorer view with a tree navigation pane on the left, not the older OS/2 file explorer view. As usual I fired up the Gnome configuration tool, and navigated down to the necessary flag and set it. The reader should note the fact that the Gnome configuration tool has the tree navigation view on the left.



With this version of Gnome on FC6, all it took was one setting (enable always_use_browser) to configure Nautilus to look and behave the way I've grown used to.



In fact, not only did I get the tree view, but I got magnification icons and the icons-vs-detailed view control back on the window. They seemed to disappear with Gnome 2.14, or at least the versions that shipped with OpenSuse 10 and 10.1.

After 'fixing' Nautilus I clicked on the system desktop link.



Right there on the computer view I noticed the Network icon, so like a monkey with any shiny object, I clicked it. The Network icon invokes the SMB services that turn on by default, and I was able to navigate to my daughter Megan's Windows XP shares.



As you can see, my daughter has a penchant for Monty Python and the Evil Dead movies (primarily because of Bruce Campbell). Among other things. The take-away from this is the ease of integrating with current Windows XP systems, at least in the home. I didn't have to configure anything at all. I just simply clicked my way to where I wanted to go. It Just Worked.

Of course I wanted to fire up Firefox and Gaim, two applications I use quite a bit. I was disappointed and surprised that Firefox 1.5 is still being used instead of 2.0



Although I can't state as an absolute fact, I'm pretty certain this is fallout from the Ice Weasel madness. This LiveCD is made from "all-free software", and that applies even to the logos of the applications. I'd like to think that Fedora Core is drama-free, but perhaps not.

I was also surprised by Gaim. In contrast to using only a prior release, FC6 LiveCD is using version 2.0 beta 5.



An interesting contrast between trailing edge Firefox and bleeding edge Gaim. As you can see It Just Worked. Which leads to the implication that the networking drivers and supporting subsystems (DHCP) also work out-of-the-box without any intervention on my part.

Conclusions

You're better off trying to run FC6 LiveCD on a desktop box as apposed to a very current notebook, such as the Gateway M685 (note that the Gateway runs Open Suse 10.1). When it runs, it runs extremely well. This is probably the best Gnome-based distribution I've seen to date, and that includes Ubuntu's latest stable release, 6.10. The FC6 LiveCD provides an excellent experience and introduction to Linux in general and Fedora Core 6 in particular.

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