Fedora 18 “Spherical Cow”


I think everyone has a bit of a love/hate relationship with their technology.  We hate it when it doesn’t work, or we can’t figure something out, or something breaks or doesn’t make sense.  But we love the new upgrade, the fancy new desktop background, animated menus, or what have you.  Fedora 18 was just recently released so of course I had to jump on that and get all the new stuff here as quickly as possible.  Is it great?!?  Was it worth the wait?  Is it a waste of time?  Do I love it?  Do I hate it?  Yes!

fedup (or fedora upgrade)

Over the past week I’ve been migrating several of my machines from Fedora 17 to Fedora 18.  The old “preupgrade” tool that was available for upgrading your system to new releases no longer is available for upgrading to fedora 18. Instead a new utility called “fedup” is provided.

What do I think of the new “fedup” tool?  For me on my systems it has been a resounding #fail.  Both systems I tried to update got trashed.  In the first case I was able to run “fedup” and do the initial pre-load.  Upon rebooting I was able to do the “upgrade” boot and the installer ran all the way through to the end and it all looked really good.  But when I rebooted after completing the upgrade I found a mess.  My system couldn’t boot or booted partially into an error state of not being able to find what it needed.  I didn’t continue to debug or try to figure out what happened.  Personally I’d rather have a fresh clean system, than a trashed system that’s been just barely patched together enough to boot and run.  So I blew everything away and loaded from scratch off the DVD ISO.

On the second machine (a laptop this time.)  I ran fedup and prep’ed the system for upgrade, rebooted into the upgrade installer and proceeded with the upgrade.  But partway through the package installation process my entire machine rebooted with no warning.  This laptop isn’t prone to doing that sort of thing.  Blame it on the hardware?  Maybe, but …. ???  This also left me with a system that wouldn’t boot, so again I blew it all away and loaded Fedora 18 from scratch off the DVD.

In both cases, installing from scratch from the DVD worked flawlessly after seeing fedup fail.  On my other machines, the DVD install from scratch has worked well.  So fedup is a #fail, but otherwise I’m happy.  There’s something to be said about a clean system that hasn’t carried over all the cruft from previous revisions and years of use, so I’m not entirely unhappy that I was forced to install my systems from scratch.  (I have a sophisticated backup system “backuppc” and store my home directories on separate hard drives, so an install from scratch is not as big a deal as it might be if I had everything on a single drive with no backups.)

Freshly installing Fedora 18

In all cases (for me) installing from scratch has worked perfectly.  I’m disappointed that the upgrade didn’t work, but the fresh install procedure works quite well.  In my case what ultimately happens with a fresh install is that later I stumble on packages I forgot about or configurations or tools I had setup for some task on the old machine, and a few months later when I need to do something again, I discover that and need to scramble to get it going again from scratch on the new system.

Here are some installation hints, tips, and tweaks for Fedora 18 that I discovered along the way:

  • Naming your machine: the layout of the network config dialog box caused me to miss seeing the field where you enter the machine name.  When I was all done, I had “localhost.localhost” which I was not happy about.  I used: “hostnamectl set-hostname ” to set the domain name (which seems to be the way to do it on Fedora 18).  There are some nuances of fully qualified domain names that I’m not sure I got 100% right, but for now it’s close enough, the machine has a name.  The real answer is to make sure you enter your machine name during the install process (in a box way down in the lower left of the screen that can be easy to miss.)
  • Picking a drive: one other area of the installer that I tripped on was also mainly due to screen layout/ui issues.  I was installing over the top of an existing linux system and I wanted to wipe those existing partitions.  So after selecting the target disk, there is a continue button hidden in the lower right corner of the screen.  Hit that and you can go on to “reclaim” the space, delete the existing partitions and let the installer automatically reformat and repartition that area that is now available.  (Note it happily works around existing windows partitions on a system that’s already setup for dual boot.)
  • Nvidia drivers: several of my machines have nvidia graphics hardware.  I am heavily involved in FlightGear which requires 3d hardware acceleration.  The nouveau drivers are ok for desktop work, but no where close to good enough for all out 3d graphics.  In the past I’ve downloaded the NVIDIA driver from nvidia.com and installed things manually.  This time around I added the rpmfusion.org repository and installed the akmod-nvidia package.  This seems to have worked well so far.  We’ll see how it gets through a kernel upgrade.  Being left in the cold for a few days with package mismatches isn’t really an option for me so I could be back to manual installation before long — depends on how quickly the rpmfusion.org guys can track fedora updates.

Tweaking for Personal Preferences

No one likes a straight up stock machine (except maybe iUsers) so right out of the starting gate we need to tweak and configure several things.  Here is my list of “must tweaks.”

  • “yum install vino”  This adds desktop sharing.  I have several computers on my home network and this helps manage and use them by allowing me to share and view desktops from one machine to the next.  I don’t need a monitor and keyboard and desk for each computer.  Look for “desktop sharing” to enable this and run “remote desktop” to connect to shared machines.  And yes, if you are wondering, I am a heavy ssh/command line  user too. 🙂
  • “yum install gconf-editor”  This is a graphical tool that allows you to tweak gnome-shell options.
  • I run 2 monitors on my main machine and by default, gnome-shell makes all windows on the second monitor follow me to every virtual desktop.  If you aren’t sure what a virtual desktop is, then sheesh, how do you live?  I’d give up my coffee before my virtual desktops!  So to make the second monitor obey desktop switching run gconf-editor and Desktop->Gnome->Shell->Windows-> uncheck workspaces_only_on_primary
  • By default gnome only maps 4 virtual work spaces to hot keys.  Virtual desktops (err work spaces?) are worthless without being able to hotkey between them.  From a shell you can run the following command to assign Alt-1 to switching to the first virtual desktop.  Then replace 1 with 2, 3, 4, … to assign hot keys for up to 9 work spaces.  I usually do 6, that’s as crazy as I get: gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.wm.keybindings switch-to-workspace-1 “[‘1’]”
  • For what it’s worth, I tend to setup specific tasks (like email, or working on a program, or web browsing) each in their own virtual desktop, and then throughout the day I can hotkey back and forth between them as needed.  For the cynical, this is sort of like the instant spreadsheet “boss hack” on the old video game that I can’t remember the name of now.  Facebook and google+ can get their own virtual desktop. 🙂
  • Autologin: I’m getting lazy in my old age so why not setup the machine to log me in automatically?  In “System Settings” (under user name in top bar when logged in) select “User Accounts”. Select the account and enable “automatic login”.
  • rpmfusion.org provides a number of packages that aren’t available in the default Fedora distribution.  I like installing mplayer which plays all those odd format movies.  Or maybe you want to be able to play mp3’s from rhythmbox.  Run this long command as root: yum localinstall –nogpgcheck http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-18.noarch.rpm http://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-18.noarch.rpm  Then install what you want.  In my case I do: yum install mplayer ffmpeg gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-bad-nonfree gstreamer-plugins-ugly unrar
  • NVIDIA hardware accelerated opengl drivers: A must for any gamer or flight sim enthusiast (or flight sim developer!)  Once you setup the rpmfusion.org repository you can run “yum install akmod-nvidia” to install nvidia drivers for your system.  Be sure to reboot to activate them.
  • Here is my personal list of extra packages I like to install on any fedora system: yum install emacs jpilot lsb gnumeric subversion subversion-devel apr apr-devel openal-soft openal-soft-devel freealut freealut-devel freeglut freeglut-devel libudev-devel fltk-devel fltk-fluid libopenvrlm-devel system-config-lvm librsvg2-devel libpng-devel libjpg-devel texi2html chrpathopencv opencv-devel aspell lm_sensors gnome-shell-extension-weather gnome-shell-extension-cpu-temperature gnome-shell-extension-systemMonitor gnome-tweak-tool libreoffice minicom inkscape
  • Virtualbox: I’ve always run virtualbox (now owned by oracle) but Fedora by default now has something called “boxes”.  I need to check that out at some point and see if it works.  If I can migrate my disk image over without needing to reinstall Windows XP again from scratch it might be worth doing, just to use default packages.  Oh by the way, I’m a linux guy, but I have windows xp setup in a virtual box to run a couple small programs once in a while.
  • Do you want to see the date on the status bar?  Run gnome-tweak-tool and do: Shell -> show date in clock -> on
  • Do you want google chome?  Go download the package from google and “rpm -Uvh .rpm”  Make sure you have run “yum install lsb” first to get the required supporting libs.


So far I’ve been very pleased with the newest release of Fedora.  Fedora 18 is a worthy successor to Fedora 17 and the previous versions too.  If you are coming from some other platform, you may find aggravations or things that don’t work (or don’t work the same way.)  But if you are coming from a Fedora background, everything I do works at least as good or better in the new Fedora 18.  With a bit of tweaking for personal preference, it offers a very solid and very powerful system with recent versions of the kernel, gnome, gcc, libreoffice, gimp and other major software packages.  It is built around standard open source packages so if there are glitches or things I (or others) might not like, you will often find the exact same behavior in other modern Linux distributions that are built on the same packages.  The upgrade installer “fedup” is worthless as far as I’ve been able to see.  But installing from scratch works great.  I can’t say if Fedora is better or worse than other linux distributions (I know we all have our personal preferences) but I will say that I’m a solidly commited “linux guy” and Fedora 18 is really great and the best Fedora so far.