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The problem with asking a technogeek whether or not something is possible is that you will almost always get back the answer "Yes".



"Can a program be written that monitors all the computers on the network, regardless of who makes it, or what OS it is running?"




"Can it be ready a week from Tuesday?"


"What year?"



There is the rub: a technical question needs a scale framed around it. Is Linux a viable desktop OS: Yes. Can we use Fedora at the office? Yes.


Those last two, while true, ignore scale and ignore training and ignore whether or not other 'flavors' of Linux would be better. Our recent experience with replacing our Tru64 TruCluster with a CentOS based cluster is a lesser example: yes it was possible, but it did require having a guy like Dan Goetzman to read the kernel code, read the traces, find the problem, and write a workaround. Since then, it has worked extremely well. You can not ignore the fact however that most companies do *not* have a Dan or even a Dan-like person on their team. Such skills, while not unavailable are rare enough that most folks just go with a vendor created solution.



That is the eternal tradeoff of IT: Roll your own and get exactly what you want, but then be forever locked in to being the maintenance and update group, or go with a vendor solution where all of this is essentially outsourced.



Our CentOS cluster is an enterprise grade solution, but in point of fact, only because Dan is standing behind it. CentOS has no vendor support. Without Dan, we would have used RedHat Enterprise Linux and bought support instead.



It is in this frame of reference that I went to look at Fedora 9. I know it is not supported, and that it is not meant to be an Enterprise Linux Desktop, any more than my recent foray with Mepis is or was. Fedora is a technology exploration, and I was exploring.


Back to the Stack



I started out a while back to create a test environment where I could compare various Linux environments side by side. At the time, Fedora 9 was pre-GA, and was not behaving well on the test gear. At the time I was trying out the LiveCD version of the install, but Fedora was just not getting the video right, where pre GA or just-recently-GA versions of Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, and Mandriva were working fine on the exact same type of computers. These are standard Dell desktops no less. Nothing to weird about them. Certainly not laptops and their more esoteric hardware.



Even before I did the test installs, I was starting to feel a certain level of frustration with Fedora. I could not quite figure it out. It used to be my *main* distro. I used it ahead of everything else: Where Mint sits today, once there sat Fedora: From Fedora releases 1-5, it was, for me, the *it* distro, replacing Mandrake.



With Fedora 1 through 5 I had to hack the wireless to work on all my laptops. I was getting downright fast at it. Either finding the unsupported-by-Fedora-but-Linux-native-driver-stuff, like MadWifi, or shortcutting it with NDISWrapper. Either way, Fedora was on the air in short order. It was no harder to get going than SUSE back then, and Fedora hacks were better documented on the Internet. it seemed like everyone used it.



When I started using Linux as my full time desktop here at the office, it was Fedora. Not any more, and not for a while. Now-a-days, I only install it to see what is happening in it, and it usually ends up being frustrating because in terms of ease of install and supported hardware it has been passed standing still. Fedora feels stuck in the past, with the Anaconda installer: In truth it is no different to install now, in terms of difficulty, and need to add in 3rd party repositories, than it was in the beginning, or at least that is the way that it feels. One person at the office (a fellow Linux desktop user) said that they felt that Anaconda itself was getting more fragile with every release.



Ubuntu, Mint, Xandros, OpenSUSE, Mandriva, PCLinuxOS... you name it. All of them are dead easy installs, and usually they just work out of the box.


Fedora stands alone



Fedora is outstanding in its field: That is where we found it. Out standing in a field... Sorry.



I have known intellectually for a long time that Fedora is different from all the other highly used Linux Distros. Knowing that and have a visceral understanding of it are not the same thing though. I used to think of OpenSUSE as being a kissing cousin to Fedora, once SUSE started to use the Fedora-like development model. But there is a big big difference, especially now.



Here is where I get into trouble sometimes when I am looking at things like this. I have to recall that Fedora may look exactly like any other Gnome based Linux; Same menus, same packages, same projects underneath it all, but it is assembled out of the bleeding edge stuff. Can it be made to work: yes. Is it interesting to see what some packages are doing? Yes. Should you use it as an ELD: Only of you don't need support.



The OLPC project has been working for a long time to create a production version of Fedora 7... and the Fedora project is two releases down the road from there. Support on OLPC is about what you'd get from Fedora too: online forums, Wiki pages for Doc, etc. No number to call, no throats to choke if you are so inclined.



You can get support, from a commercial company, for years, on Ubuntu (especially the LTS versions like the current 8.04). Mint is community supported but close enough to Ubuntu to be pretty supportable. Many of the things published in the Ubuntu forums work on Mint. Xandros and SUSE stand behind their versions with support options.



You want support on a Linux desktop from RH, you go with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Desktop or one of its variants.



Part of what made relative lack of support for Fedora pop back into focus for me was a note I got from the CodeWeavers folks:



...The bad news is that extensive testing on Fedora Core 9 has revealed
severe problems with FC9 itself.  There's a serious font-drawing
problem, and also a periodic crashing bug.  Both of these are problems
in Fedora and outside of our control, so this latest release is likely
to exhibit those problems as much as the betas did...



That was interesting two ways: The obvious technical issue, but also that Codeweavers was *trying* to support Fedora as a viable desktop for Linux.


Looking at BMC for a moment, we only support versions of Linux that have vendor support for the version: currently Novell and RedHat GA releases. I personally would like to see Ubuntu added to that list, but I am sure that comes as no surprise to anyone that reads this blog. No I am not announcing or hinting at anything. Just wishing.


ELD and Fedora



Anyone who is a Linux maven could make a go of Fedora as an ELD. I know lots of people here at BMC that do just that. Fragile installers do not scare them, and fixing drivers is no big deal, etc. Fedora, for them, is beauty because it is bleeding edge. Sure the Xorg server in R9 is experimental and causing screen tearing. Now. In a few days or weeks it will get fixed, and then they'll have access to the latest greatest features. The speed. The bleeding edge hardware support. It will have been worth it. To them.



As an ELD for the masses though, all Fedora is going to do it give you a clue as to what you will see in some point in the future: maybe RH ELD 6.  And even that is not a dead certainty: RH will err to the side of stability, so some bleeding edge stuff will not make the cut. Maybe RH ELD 7. Maybe never.


For use in a shop like ours.. an MS Exchange based shop, I always look at what Evolution is looking like and how it is behaving. I have learned over the years that the point release of the project is not all you need to know. The way that the Distro packages and tests it is important. See what happened when I tried to run Evolution under Mepis for example.



I did test 2.22 on Fedora 9. It works almost the same as 2.12 did on the last Fedora, and it also works about the same as 2.12 or 2.22 does on Ubuntu or Mint. Recall the 2.12 and 2.22 are adjacent releases, despite the jump in the numbering. Evo has all the same features, and all the same problems. Do a mass delete from Evolution on one computer, and the other one will completely loose track of the inbox message count. Exchange back end crashes fairly often still. Finally, nothing has really happened (as I feared it would not) on the MAPI support front.



I did do one experiment I have never done before: I set up both IMAP and Connector at the same time and pointing at the same inbox on the same server. When the connector crashes, IMAP keeps right on running. This tells me that the instability is probably not in the base Evolution code, but in the protocol connector of "Connector" itself.


Install of Fedora 9


I originally planned this post to be about how the Fedora 9 installer has changed between the pre GA and GA code. I changed my mind. I was interested in the 'fragile' comment that had been made. It matched my experience with the pre-GA LiveCD. I decided to go conservative, and download the install CD set (the Dell test computers not having bootable DVD media). It was by and large the same Anaconda install I have seen for a while now except that it would not run in GUI mode. I had to run it in the ASCII character based curses based mode to see it. No big deal: Done that before.



When the final boot came, the same thing happened that did with the LiveCD: The video mode was whacked (same as the GUI install it appeared), and the boot messages were invisible. The Dell monitor said "This video mode can not be displayed".



I booted to single user, erased the /etc/X11 xorg.conf, ran 'system-config-monitor', and got past that problem. But now 'firstboot' had not run, so I manually added userids and config-ed things on the system that the firstboot stuff normally does.



I don't know if this is a global thing or not, but I have to agree now about the fragile comment my co-worker made: the installer is not very solid. We both have Dell gear to work with so it could just be a limited sample type problem. Given the ubiquity of Dell gear, and the fact no other OS is having these issues with the same hardware, that seems odd. Perhaps by being on the bleeding edge some backward compatibility was left behind?


Once up and running, it is a very standard Gnome desktop: None of that MS look-and-feel stuff that SLED or Mint is going in for. It is fairly crisp on the older hardware, but that is a Linux hallmark. I would have been shocked to see it going slowly. 2.0 Ghz and 512 MB of RAM is still a *big* Linux system, even if this hardware is over three years old.



Applying maintenance via yum makes the video break again on reboot. I guess a new xorg came in, and replaced the /etc/X11/xorg.conf on arrival, but that is just a guess. I powered it off and put it away. I know what I came here to find out. It will be there should I get curious about something else.


The Computer Pile


Fedora now lives in that same logical place in my pile of computers that MS Vista does. Something I fire up whenever I get curious about something. Not that Fedora is as bad as Vista: I got curious about how Vista works after SP1 is applied, and I came to test that last weekend. Answer: No idea: It needs 8 GB of free space just to unroll the patch bundle! Vista takes up 12GB of the 15GB partition. It would be all kinds of work to get it more space.



I decided to try applying point patches. Over two hours later, I had about 23 patches installed. When I did the patch update on Fedora I installed over 100 new or patched versions of things, on much slower hardware, in about 15 minutes. No: Fedora is not Vista. It just is not Mint-Ubuntu-SUSE-Xandros-PCLinuxOS-etc either. That is neither bad, nor good. It just is marching to the beat of a diffrent drummer and and I need to remind myself of that from time to time.