Wednesday, January 16, 2013

At Work with Linux: Fedora 18 on Fedora 17

Fedora 18 was officially released yesterday after a long troubled gestation period. I downloaded the DVD ISO from the Ga Tech mirror and burned it to physical media before heading home. I also had done the same with openSUSE 12.2. I had picked up a Seagate 500GB 7200 RPM notebook drive for around $70 at a local Best Buy. I was fully prepared to go home and install either one of those on my wife's prior white MacBook 4,1.

After putting in the new drive I first tried to install Fedora 18. It would never boot on the MacBook, instead dumping me out at a raw grub prompt. I tried several different ways to boot Fedora 18 on that MacBook, but gave up and installed openSUSE 12.2 instead.

The openSUSE install was mostly successful, in that I was able to get it onto the hard disk and have it boot afterwords. But after an hour of just moving around in the environment, I pulled out the old Snow Leopard DVD and installed a fresh copy of Mac OS X on the notebook. After picking up all the updates, the MacBook was back at its productive best.

I wasn't too terribly surprised at my failure to install Linux on a MacBook. After all the failures, big and small, that I've suffered installing Linux on various Windows notebooks over the years, I've learned to take my victories where I can. My last few Linux installations on Dell notebooks have been noteworthy in how completely successful (for me) the Fedora installations have been, so I went into this with perhaps a bit overconfidence. The MacBook issues brought back a sense of humility.

In the end I abandoned openSUSE because it didn't have the wireless drives baked into the DVD, and the poor operation of the MacBook's built-in touch pad. Sorry, but after all this time I will not go hunt down a network cable so I can hunt on the net for the necessary wireless drivers, as well as how to fine tune and tweak the mouse pad.

That was last night. This morning I installed both openSUSE 12.2 and Fedora 18 on VMware virtual machines. The installation and operation of both were problem free. The top image is a screen capture of Fedora 18 running in a VM on the Fedora 17 desktop. Fedora 17 in turn is running rather flawlessly on a Dell Latitude E6510. This, of course, leads to my next course of action: install VMware on the MacBook, boost the MacBook's memory, and install Fedora 18 as a guest on the MacBook. There's plenty of hard drive space now on the MacBook, and I've got plenty of experience working in such an environment.

Even though my freshly minted Fedora 18 ISO was less than 24 hours old, I was surprised to find I had to download a good 200 package updates, including a kernel update. The upper photo is what happened when I went to install Cinnamon for my desktop. I installed Cinnamon, cleaned out a lot of packages I didn't want  such as Java (and all its dependent packages), Eclipse, and Tomcat. Java in particular I want to install myself from Oracle, Eclipse I want directly from the Eclipse website, as well as Tomcat, and only very specific Java-dependent packages such as ant and other tools.
While I was still under Gnome 3 I installed Chrome stable. This is what happens when you do a yum install google-chrome-stable. I then installed the Cinnamon desktop so that Fedora 18 would hopefully duplicate Fedora 17's desktop. And then I logged out.
I'd like to complement the developer(s)/designer(s) of the login screen. It's nice, it's clean, and at least with only one account, it's a sight for sore eyes. An excellent login screen is like excellent packaging, in that it contributes to the positive experience of working with the distribution. And before you ask, no, I didn't install KDE. I don't know how I got that.
Logging back in, with a wallpaper of my own choosing, this is what the Cinnamon desktop looks like. I like the transparency touches combined with the minimal window decoration around the main menu.
In playing around a bit with the Gnome System Monitor, I noticed that just running that GUI tool drove CPU usage to 100%. And it's just that tab. I used top to give me a second opinion (toggling over to Processes gave me a clue, but the usage dropped as I watched).

One quirk with Cinnamon that surprised me, negatively, is that I can't change the window decorations any more. I can (and have) with Fedora 17. So I guess I'll be keeping Fedora 17 on the notebook for a bit longer. Or maybe I'll pick up Mate.

What have I learned from this whirl-wind exposure?

  1. Like it or not the best OS for a MacBook is OS X. So I'll live with it. It's (mostly) Unix under the hood, and has a bash shell I can live in.
  2. If I want Linux on a MacBook I'll install VMware on OS X and then run Linux in a VM. I have come to love the power and flexibility of virtualization. It removes the need for hardware support. Let the recommended host OS handle the underlying hardware. Today's virtualization tools, combined with today's hardware (or even five years ago) is more than fast enough.
For the record, the Fedora 18 VM is provisioned with 1 CPU and 1GB of memory with 40GB of disk space. Enough for experimentation. I can use folder sharing to move large datasets around between the host and the client OS. This gives me plenty to work with on my personal machines without getting wrapped around the axle over the "purity" of my computing environment. Besides, variety is the spice of life.