Fedora 8: beatiful and brittle like a snowflake

I make a point of trying out Fedora at leat once every year. I think it is a matter of romantic intoxication; I felt betrayed when RedHat 9’s XFree86 fried the flyback of my favorite, very expensive, 17 inch high resolution CRT. That toy is with me nomore but it still gives happiness to someone else. Yup, I repaired it and passed it along.

Life is too short, you never know if you will break your neck getting out of bed tomorrow, or slipping in the shower today, so I chose to grab a copy of the Live CD installer i686 edition to be as compatible with all the hardware I own as possible.

First I tried it in my desktop, an Athlon-XP box, in the aging workstation category class. Close but no cigar. I installed it in the first part of the hard drive and left the other half to install FreeBSD later on. As soon as I installed FreeBSD, Fedora’s kernel became unable to boot the system. It didn’t matter if I installed FreeBSD first or second or in the first or the second half of the disk, if I used Fedora with LVM2 or plain primary and extended partitions… Whatever. Debian and a couple of obscure distros share space fine with FreeBSD in that same disk, therefore the problem is Fedora’s kernel patches that make the kernel barf on whatever it is that FreeBSD does to the partition table. As I’m not willing to dedicate a whole HD to Fedora, it is out of the question in my desktop.

Then I tried it in my laptop. This one is a nice last generation Dell job. In fact this model is sold with Ubuntu Linux in the US of A and to some select European suckers (as my friend Benct would put it, he can’t buy it because he doesn’t live in one of the three countries of the EU with lucky bastards willing to pay top Euro, did you know that Dell charges the same in devalued US dollars or Euros? Poor suckers, err… Europeans. Apple, HP, Lenovo and the other leeches are even worse). OK, it took 5 tries, something to do with the fact that I use JFS for all filesystems in this laptop, with Ubuntu Linux as its main OS btw. Of course, using JFS in Fedora’s root partition when installing from the Live CD is out of the question!

The software choice in Fedora’s Live CD is rather scarce and in my opinion backwards. OK, Abiword is great, but it was great in 1999 too. The technical decisions are highly disputable. Canonical manages to put a whole OS install in a 700MB Live CD that contains more or less that of a standard install made with a 700MB alternate CD and that includes OpenOffice.org! The problem as I see it is the choice of filesystem and compression for the live CD. They may pretend that they want it to be as compatible with older hardware as possible, but there are limits to what you can do and yet, I have booted Ubuntu’s Live CDs in Pentium IIIs with 192MB RAM… squashfs and gzip compression can only go so far. After installing what did I find? A beatiful desktop and both a broken wifi, sound and video camera. The first was fixable after a 331MB update over the wire, downloading and installing the latest firmware for my wireless radio from Intel’s website and setting up a little modprobe hack to modify the default settings of the kernel driver to stop hardware network scanning (Network Manager and wpa supplicant do just fine on its own). I also had to set my access point to broadcast its ESSID, that is, I had to publish the ESSID of my access point. Talk about a borked Network Manager (0.7 btw). The video camera is still at large and the sound chipset model has to be declared explicitly when loading the kernel module.

Ah! And don’t get me started on the init system, it plainly sucks. There are sysv init implementations of implentations and this one is one of the most baroque in the wild yet. Let’s hope that the adoption of upstart infuses sanity into that heap of bullknit.

My conclusion: I like Fedora 8. It is beautiful –did I mention the default horary slideshow desktop?– The visual impression is stunning and the overall visual integration is sobering, although I find the color range chosen for the Nodoka theme childish and too pretentious in a KDE Plastique kind of kitschy way but it is staying nonetheless. The OS is as rock-solid as usual since Fedora Core 5 but the warts show. I won’t be switching to it soon, but I’ll keep it installed as Rawhide while enjoying the bumpy ride to Fedora 9.

Update 01
It is already February 21 and I’m loving riding on Rawhide. Now, if somebody would care to fix HAL so that I have soft brightness control again…

Update 02 It is April 18 and yes, upstart is a great improvement. PackageKit is like heaven after using Pirut for so long as well. Yumex is still a staple though. Fedora 9 is already a blast.