Fedora 18 — A New Anaconda



 

 


Fedora 18, dubbed “Spherical Cow,” was released Tuesday, January 15, 2013. This review is based on my first impressions over just a couple weeks. I have played with it extensively on a couple virtual machines and on my primary personal workstation.

Note: Monday, February 25, 2013—This review was updated with information about the new firewalld daemon.

ISO Images

There are several images in addition to the standard install image. These include various specialized spins for different desktops, such as KCE, LXDE, and Xfce, as well as spins focused on design, security, and an electronics lab. There is even a spin just for kids using the Sugar desktop. Sugar is the Free Open Source desktop designed especially for children as part of the One Laptop Per Child project. Sugar is now developed under the umbrella of Sugar Labs, a nonprofit spin-off of OLPC.

The ISO image for the standard installation DVD is somewhat larger than the previous release. It is now 4.4GB in size and no longer fits on a 4GB USB memory stick, though it still does fit a standard DVD of 4.7GB.

To get started with Fedora 18, download the ISO image of your choice from the Fedora Project web site, burn it to a CD, DVD or USB stick and boot it.

Installation

Anaconda is the standard Red Hat installation program and has been ever since I have been using Red Hat and Fedora. That is at least 15 years. And the Anaconda installer is the big story of Fedora 18 as it is the most visible change for those who install their own.

Anaconda Rewrite

This release of Fedora 18 marks the first major change in the installer that I can recall.

Anaconda has been two separate code bases that were both so old and ratty that a completely new version was created for this release. This version of Anaconda has been completely rewritten from scratch and both text and GUI installations are contained in a single, more easily maintainable code base.

The new installer is also a completely new approach to the process of performing a Fedora installation. The new Anaconda uses a “hub and spoke” design rather than the serial wizard-like installer design of the past. That is, after a single page to choose the keyboard language for the installation, there is a menu page that allows the user to choose which components of the default installation to change.

There is only one choice that must be made, that is the Installation Destination, which determines the target hard drive(s) and partitioning. All of the others menu options are…optional. Of course there will likely be good reasons to take some of the other menu options.

The Fedora 18 Anaconda installer main menu.

Figure 1: The Fedora 18 Anaconda installer main menu.

Figure 1, above, shows the main menu for the new Anaconda installer. Any changes to a default installation are made by selecting one of the six menu options. Any sub-menus that have choices that must be made are highlighted with an orange warning icon, and so long as any warning icons are left, a bright orange banner at the bottom of the page. It is impossible to proceed with the installation so long as the warning banner is present.

I have found that this radically different approach to installation truly does meet the new Anaconda design criterion of making installation easier and faster. It takes far fewer mouse clicks to perform an installation than it ever has before. In part that is because the vast array of installation options that used to be available are not now.

Desktops

Desktop environments are mutually exclusive during installation. So if you like multiple desktops and switch between them, you will have to install your additional favorite desktops later. You must select additional groups for installation when you choose the desktop you want to install. These include Design Suite, Fedora Eclipse, KDE Applications, KOffice and LibréOffice.

LibréOffice is no longer installed by default when installing a desktop system. You must choose to install it separately or install it later, after the main installation. There is no option whatsoever to select individual packages for installation and they must be installed later.

After making software selections, you can go on to make other configuration choices and the system works in the background to verify your software selections and check for dependencies. This multitasking is one of the great advantages of the new installer design, and I recommend selecting your software first so this other activity can take place in the background while you perform other configuration tasks.

Other Installation Tasks

The disk partitioning interface during installation has also changed significantly. The old partition program has been replaced by a newer one that is probably going to be less intuitive for experienced users and system administrators, but which will just as likely be more so for less technical users. I found that after a few installations and I became more familiar with it, the new partitioning interface became more natural and easier to use.

Network configuration has reverted back to having network connection state being active on boot rather than waiting to connect to the network when user logs in. This required that I take an additional step of several clicks during installation or changing ONBOOT=no to ONBOOT=yes after installation. So this is a good change.

Upgrades—Not!

There are no options to perform an upgrade to an existing installation. The new Anaconda installer does not detect existing installations with an option to perform an upgrade. There is a new upgrade procedure that works over the Internet or with a local DVD or ISO image, called fedup. The fedup program is also new and so potentially has bugs. Chapter 19 of the on-line and downloadable Fedora 18 Installation Guide seems to recommend reinstallation wherever possible rather than upgrades.

I tried using fedup to perform an upgrade from Fedora 17 on a fairly simple virtual machine configured as a desktop. After the upgrade from a DVD it was necessary to perform a YUM update to get all of the latest updates. Missing RPMFusion repository GPG keys further confused the upgrade issue or perhaps were the primary cause.

I was able to perform an upgrade on a physical pizzabox that I am using as a firewall and router but it had a pretty minimal installation. However I did install the missing GPG key links in /etc/pki/rpm-gpg. I did this after running the fedup -v –network 18 command. The commands I used to create the missing links are shown below.

RELEASE_NUMBER=18
ln -s RPM-GPG-KEY-rpmfusion-free-fedora-$RELEASE_NUMBER-primary  RPM-GPG-KEY-rpmfusion-free-fedora-$RELEASE_NUMBER
ln -s RPM-GPG-KEY-rpmfusion-free-fedora-$RELEASE_NUMBER-primary  RPM-GPG-KEY-rpmfusion-free-fedora-$RELEASE_NUMBER-i386
ln -s RPM-GPG-KEY-rpmfusion-nonfree-fedora-$RELEASE_NUMBER-primary  RPM-GPG-KEY-rpmfusion-nonfree-fedora-$RELEASE_NUMBER
ln -s RPM-GPG-KEY-rpmfusion-nonfree-fedora-$RELEASE_NUMBER-primary  RPM-GPG-KEY-rpmfusion-nonfree-fedora-$RELEASE_NUMBER-i386

I will be experimenting more with using fedup but for now I also recommend against performing an upgrade and will do reinstallations.

Other Significant Changes

The other significant changes that will be noticeable by many users are where USB pluggable storage devices get mounted by default and printer configuration. Administrators will notice a new firewall service.

firewalld

A new firewall, firewalld, is now the default firewall for Fedora. Of course Fedora is the proving ground for many new things so, while this change was not particularly well documented, changes to Fedora in general should not be a surprise. The firewalld daemon is mentioned in three short paragraphs in the Fedora 18 release notes which only references the man pages for the new firewalld commands for further information, and once as being a new addition in the Technical Notes document. Both are available as PDF files from the Fedora Documentation Project.

The firewalld rules are quite complex compared to what I have been using with IPTables. This, and the fact that I am not yet familiar with the rule syntax or the overall structure of firewalld means that, for now at least, I need to revert to IPTables on my Fedora 18 hosts.

Reverting to IPTables

The good news is that the old IPTables firewall is still available until I can learn how to best create the firewall rules I need with firewalld. However it, too, has changed and some of the old IPTables rules, especially those using state related rule sets have been altered.

First, to convert back to IPTables, stop and disable the firewalld service and start and enable the iptables service.  Of course you must do this safely with your network disabled until you can get your new (old) firewall back in place. Then use the iptables-restore command to restore your old IPTables rules from the saved copy. You did save a backup copy of your IPTables firewall rules, right?

At this point, IPTables gives some errors indicating that one should use new connection tracking rules in lieu of the state-related rules. The best part is that IPTables is smart enough to give you the warning message and then translate the rules into connection tracking rules. At that point you can simply use the iptables-save command view the translated rules and redirect the output to /etc/sysconfig/iptables to save the translated rules.

Here is a link to the Fedora Project FirewallD documentation. http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/FirewallD

Printer Configuration

The new printer configuration menu (in System Settings) is much cleaner and faster than the previous one. It not only looks nicer, but is easier to use and faster to configure printers. It also seems to fit in with the System Settings menu, where it seemed previously to be tacked on as an afterthought.

I found configuring a new printer to be much less of a hassle.

USB Storage Mounting

USB storage has, in the past, been mounted either automatically or by the KDE Device Notifier on a new directory created on the fly in the /media directory. They are now mounted on /run/media/usr. I am not sure why this change has been made as the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard defines /media as the place to mount temporary storage devices.

This can be circumvented by creating permanent directories in /media. You can then add a label to the USB device if it does not already have one and then add an entry to /etc/fstab. If you have scripts, like I do, that rely on your USB storage devices to be mounted at a specific location, you will probably have that setup already.

If you are simply an end user and do not have complex requirements other than to mount your devices and access them, you will now simply have to look in a new place.

Startup

The last few Fedora releases have been moving the startup functions from the old SystemV start scripts to systemd. Fedora 17 seemed to complete that process with the exception of 3rd party software that still uses the old SystemV start scripts. The new systemd daemon can still use the SystemV start scripts or you can use the old chkconfig and system commands for those services. For services that have been converted to systemd, the old SystemV commands still work, but they are piped to systemd.

The thing I did notice about systemd for Fedora 18 is that it seems—subjectively—to be faster to boot up than Fedora 17. Speedy boots is one of the primary criteria for systemd and this one appears to have been achieved.

Documentation

The Fedora documentation is very good and covers almost all aspects of installation and system administration. There are several documents in the collection and they can be downloaded as PDFs, various e-reader formats, or perused on-line.

The fedora documentation can be downloaded from Fedora Documentation. Documentation going all the way back to Fedora Core 1 is available.

I find the Fedora documentation to be among the best ever written for any software of any type, ever. The only other software documentation to rival it is that for LibréOffice. The best thing is that both are free for the downloading.

My compliments to the folks who write the Fedora documentation. You are doing a fantastic job!

Hardware

There is not a whole lot to say here other than the fact that Fedora seems to be compatible with pretty much all but bleeding edge hardware. It is my understanding that support for the Intel 386 CPUs has been removed from current kernels, but is has been a long time since I have had a working 386 system.

Fedora 18 worked well with my Intel CPU’s on-chip video, but the only video connector on the motherboard is HDMI and the maximum resolution for that is standard HD, while I have a large display capable of 2560×1440. So I use an nVidia video adapter and the nouveau drivers work fine with that.

The nVidia nouveau  drivers show improved performance and compatibility with current hardware. I had previously had some problems with cursor instability where it would flash and disappear in a short, seconds-long cycle. That bit of irritation is now gone.

Conclusions

The new installer provides a much faster installation experience but it comes with a bit of a learning curve.

Overall, the flexibility of the Anaconda installer has suffered significant setbacks for power users, but it is very likely much more friendly to regular users who just want a few easy choices (or none at all) during installation. This seems to be the direction that Fedora, in particular, has been heading the last several releases and is an indication to me that there is a strong desire among the Fedora project leaders to make it easy for regular users.

Of course I have lately taken to doing a simple, no frills installation anyway, and then installing an RPM of my own design that makes a few changes and installs a script that I then run to install all of my desired and required packages. My script also makes a good number of configuration changes so that I no longer have to spend hours after doing an installation in order to reconfigure the system to my liking.

The Fedora user experienced has changed little from the previous release or two. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that the user experience is defined by the desktop and none of these has changed much since Fedora 17. Adult users can have their choice of desktops and there is even the Sugar desktop for the kids.

Due to the new anaconda installation software, and the also new fedup upgrade procedure, this is definitely a Fedora release to test carefully before installation or upgrade.

I would also like to see the ISO image size pared down so that it will once again fit on a 4GB USB memory stick.

My subjective experience leads me to believe that Fedora 18 is faster than Fedora 17, and that this is likely due to improved nouveau display drivers.

All in all, Fedora 18 seems like a minor upgrade for Fedora itself while it is a major upgrade for the Anaconda installer. Fedora 18 is powerful, stable and fun to use. Fedora has always been my favorite distribution and Fedora 18 gives me no reason to change my mind.