Friday, May 13, 2011

At Work with Linux: Installing Fedora 14 on a Dell D630

My company has a policy of replacing our notebooks every three years. Since I've been there going on three years, it was my turn for a new system. I chose another Dell, a Latitude E6510 with a Core i7, a 128 GiB SSD, 4 GiB DRAM, and Windows 7 Enterprise. Normally you turn in the older hardware, but I elected to keep mine and install Linux on the platform. So I upgraded the D630's hard drive from 80GiB to 120GiB and proceeded to install Fedora 14 via DVD.

The older system wasn't all that bad: a Core 2 T7700 processor, 120 GiB HD, 4 GiB DRAM, an NVIDIA® Quadro NVS 135M video card, and wireless via Broadcom's BCM4321 802.11a/b/g/n (rev 03) chipery.

Mostly everything worked initially after the installation, which included audio of all things. What didn't work was video hardware acceleration, wireless, and CD/DVD automounting. Here's what had to be done to enable those last three capabilities.
  1. Install the Fusion repository. You need this repository for the nVidia and Broadcom wireless drivers. As usual the grandstanding zealotry of certain developers keeps all the necessary drivers from being incorporated in one location (or on one DVD), especially something as critical as wireless drivers.

    The Fusion repository is necessary to achieve the same full hardware capability under Fedora that is achieved under Windows XP. It's a bit hypocritical to extol the virtues of freedom to be had under Linux when my freedom is deliberately limited when attempting to enable all my hardware's capabilities. And the only reason I discovered Fusion is because of Googling on my Windows 7 notebook via wireless...

  2. Install the nVidia drivers. The Quadro is equivalent to an nVidia GeForce 8400 card. Once installed, you can then install Compiz desktop effects, which I will note later.

  3. Install the Broadcom drivers. In spite of Linux's inherent superiority over Windows, you'll want to reboot your system after this installation to make sure everything works. Do this before you try to enable anything via the System network applets.
At this point you have the full hardware capabilities of the D630 available to you, especially nVidia graphics and wireless. I found that setting up nVidia and wireless to be no more complicated under Fedora 14 than under Windows XP, and maybe a little easier than under Windows 7. Bottom line is that the notebook is now a first-class citizen with regards to features and capabilities with all other systems in the office and in the lab. I find tailoring the three major systems (Linux, Mac, and Windows) to be pretty much equivalent, and none of them difficult. The Linux haters at sites such as TMRepository who complain about having to use the shell are just behaving trollishly in order to drive hits towards the site.

I have also performed the following to add features making the Fedora installation more to my liking.
  1. During the initial installation setup, right before you click the button to begin the installation, check the checkbox allowing you to fine-tune what packages will be installed on your system. Go through the Tools and Base sections and deselect all Java packages. Taking the Fedora selections installs an eclectic set of tools that are scattered all over the place, are several revisions behind, and have too many entangling dependencies. You don't want to install any Fedora Java tools of any stripe. Once Fedora is installed and running, then go to the Oracle site and download the latest Java JDK. If you want Netbeans or Eclipse, then go to their respective site and download those IDEs. That include Apache ant, or any other Java-based selection of tools.

  2. Install Google Chrome in place of Firefox. Installing the Google Chrome repository gives you a browser that will keep itself up-to-date outside of the regular Fedora Firefox update cycle, and in a more timely fashion. Furthermore, unless and until Google changes the system, Chrome on Linux will always be guaranteed to remain up-to-date regardless of the distribution's age.

    To install the repository reference, add the following file (/etc/yum.repos.d/google-chrome.repo) with the following content in google-chrome.repo:
    [google-chrome] 
    name=google-chrome 
    baseurl=http://dl.google.com/linux/chrome/rpm/stable/x86_64  
    enabled=1  
    gpgcheck=1
    gpgkey=https://dl-ssl.google.com/linux/linux_signing_key.pub
    Then yum install google-chrome-stable. This will pick up the proper version and install it.

  3. Install Compiz if you want the Compiz desktop effects. But enable Compiz manually by adding compiz-manager to System | Preferences | Startup Applications, logging out and then back in, then going to System | Preferences | Compiz to tune the Compiz effects. If you enable Compiz effects via System | Preferences | Desktop Effects, then you'll wind up with a dumbed-down Compiz desktop that you can't tune with System | Preferences | Compiz.

  4. Make sure that the autofs package is fully installed. I tried to install a package on Fedora that spanned multiple DVDs, but every time I tried I couldn't pop out the current DVD and install the next as called out via the installer. Turned out that autofs wasn't installed by default (why? It is for RHEL 6). After installing autofs the installation succeeded.
That's about it. Right now the notebook is behaving as well as would be expected, at least for me. I have no Flash installed (this is a 64-bit installation), depending on HTML5 video to stream content via Chrome. Everything so far Just Works Like Everybody Else. Not better. Not worse. Just as good. Choice is good.

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