Fiddling With Fedora 8 First Impressions – Part 1: Installation

Last night, for some reason, I decided to download and install a copy of Fedora‘s latest release, version 8. But “I thought you didn’t like Red Hat releases,” you might say? Hey, I’m sick and on cold meds – I can’t be held accountable for my actions.

Note that I am writing this from the perspective of someone who has been using Ubuntu as his primary Linux distro for over a year, so if Fedora veterans observe some obvious things that seem new to me, I apologize in advance.

Since I haven’t really used Fedora as a desktop in years, and haven’t actively configured and maintained a box except for applying some patches to a web server for the last few years, I decided to give it a go on one of my laptops1 that I was not using. I downloaded the installer, which I observed to fit on a single CD. As I recall, the last time I wanted it, I had to download at least four CDs, and I never knew which ones I would need to do my installation until the installation was complete. That always bothered me. Sometimes I’d need discs 1, 2, and 4. Sometimes I’d need 3, other times I wouldn’t. I know it was dependent on my package selections, but it always seemed very random. I’m, glad to see the CD shuffle is no longer a requirement.

First thoughts on the live CD boot: it’s pretty. The interface looks very slick, and polished, more so than Ubuntu. It may be just my opinion, but I think the fonts look crisper. It could be the color scheme. Whatever it is, I approve. Canonical: take note.

The boot process can be viewed on startup. By default most kernel boot messages are hidden, but you can reveal them if you are curious, or if you are having startup issues and you want to troubleshoot them. Canonical: take note.

The default installer uses GNOME, like Ubuntu. Like Ubuntu, I was given a choice to run all of the apps that are included right from the CD without installing.
Unlike Ubuntu, I did not see any options to resize my hard disk or make new partitions to do an installation. I don’t know if I missed them, or they just weren’t there. (Recall I am sick, on cold meds, and at this point it was very late in the evening.) I was given the opportunity to remove all partitions and use the whole disk, remove all Linux partitions and use them, or manual. I chose to remove my Ubuntu partition from this machine and use it. The process seemed to go smoothly. I give a nod to Ubuntu here for its ability to resize a partition without having to remove things and lose data.

At the end of the installation I was prompted for my root password. Unlike Ubuntu, which heavily uses sudo and has no active root account by default, Fedora makes a root user and you give it your password. This is a matter of personal preference, and I do not think one practice is necessarily more or less secure than the other, for a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this post.

Once complete, I ejected the CD and booted into Fedora. At the GRUB boot loader, I was given a choose to boot Fedora or “other.” Ubuntu is nice enough to point out that the “Other” is Microsoft Windows. Fedora users, I guess you just need to take it on faith that Windows is still there until you test it out. (Which I did, and Windows was indeed still there.) Point to Ubuntu for being a little clearer, but half a point to Fedora for having a prettier GRUB splash screen.

Fedora first boots into a wizard. The second page of which tells you that there is indeed a EULA which must be agreed to. Ubuntu doesn’t make much note of the GPL while you’re installing it. One one hand, it’s better to point these things out so people know the restrictions under which they are operating. On the other, why bother someone if they’re not forced to agree to a EULA? Personal preference again.

By default, Ubuntu starts with no network services enabled. Fedora continues the wizard by asking what services you want to allow through your firewall. I can see a novice user getting lost here, but I was happy to open up SSH (open by default), HTTP, HTTPS, and Samba on this machine, since I will be using it for network analysis and just plain fiddling from time to time. Note that I was warned that “clicking ‘Yes’ will override the firewall security settings” which were already in place. Uh… yeah, that’s the point. I think I prefer Ubuntu’s method here, where you just don’t have any services running by default.
Next I was told that “SELinux provides finer-grained security controls than those available in a traditional Linux system,” and that it can be set up to Enforce, Warn, or be Disabled. It also said that most people should keep the default setting, so I did. Ubuntu does not include SELinux by default. Instead they use AppArmor. I have very little experience with either, so I will conclude that this is a draw. Note that Novell/SUSE appears to prefer AppArmor.

Next I was prompted to choose the date and time. Curiously, the current time was shown as 09:24:41 (correct) but the time shown in the selection boxes was 08:59:34. I wonder if that was the time at which I launched the wizard. Either way, I had to do a double-take to confirm I wasn’t going to be setting my clock wrong or plunge into some kind of time-warp. Also I noted that NTP is not enabled by default. I clicked the “Network Time Protocol” to enable it and use the default Fedora pool servers. Half a point to Ubuntu for not bothering me with something I need not be bothered with.

Next I was brought to the Hardware Profile page, a program called Smolt. This helps the Fedora project achieve greater hardware compatibility by giving them info about my system. I chose to accept this. I thought Ubuntu had a tool to allow you to profile your system, but I could not find it. I found a relevant article on Launchpad though. Point to Fedora.

Next I was prompted to create an account. During a typical Ubuntu installation, you create your own account, which is a sudoer. In Fedora, you set a root password, then choose to make an account for yourself later. I did this, because it’s stupid to run as root all the time. Note, I was given an option to use Network Login, with choices of NIS, LDAP, Hesiod2, and Winbind. Theoretically, this would allow me to log on to my Windows domain at the office. Great! Except Winbind is grayed out and I cannot select it. No matter, I’m not at the office so that wouldn’t work anyway, but still, that would be nice. For a home user, this is just confusion. For an office user with an existing directory server, this is great. I want this in Ubuntu. Point to Fedora (even though I don’t know if this feature will work for me yet, they get a point for trying).

After all that, I’m at the login prompt. Summary: the installation of Fedora 8 is more complicated than that of Ubuntu 7.10, but I think a moderately more advanced user will appreciate it.

Up next, first impressions of the desktop.

Footnotes:

  1. Dell Latitude D500
  2. What the hell is Hesiod?

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