Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Saturday, June 15, 2002

 

Installing redhat 7.3



I couldn't help but notice that David Coursey, executive editor at zdnet, started installing redhat 7.3 at just about the same time I did on thursday.

He's dug himself a small hole.

Note to David: You are installing a 2002 era Linux on a Windows 95 era box, and while you can easily get GNU/linux to run well on such a machine, you have to make some informed choices as to your environment, which you haven't. (yet)

You've got the problems of the genie in the movie Aladdin, which Robin Williams so well vocalizes:


"Enormous Powers!!".
"        Itty bitty living space...."
.

In particular, chosing KDE as your default desktop is not a good idea on such a small/old machine. It has a lot of shared libraries which, well, aren't shared with major productivity applications such as openoffice and mozilla, which are gtk based. You will save an enormous amount of RAM if you were to use GNOME as your default (and it is redhat's default, actually) instead. Even if you stick to KDE or switch to GNOME, I'd suggest burning a few (<60) bucks to get up to 128 or 256mb ram for your machine, and/or switching to an even more lightweight window manager such as icewm or matchbox.

Note 2: Yep, getting the screen set up properly is a pain. But you only have to do it once. It is rather amazing how many otherwise intelligent people running windows don't know enough about it to change their screen resolutions/refresh/color depth on Windows, either.

OK, enough kibitzing on David's article. I look forward to hearing more about his adventures on monday. Here's the story of mine.

My primary machine at home has been a dual, 180Mhz Pentium Pro computer for nearly 6 years now. "Lugosi" has been a great computer. I'm very attached to him, he's done a million things for me - I'm typing up this blog on him now! He's still fast enough for most of what I do, but one of his cpu fans has had a death rattle for months now. The sound has been driving me bonkers.

Frys wanted an outragous 50 bucks for a replacement fan.

I'm sorry, Lugosi, your time has come.

Thursday night I stopped at Central Computer and picked up the new components. They were:







Asus V333 Motherboard155.00
Athlon 2000+ CPU169.00
256MB DDR 2700 DRAM69.00
80GB Seagate Hard Drive125.00
Logitech Itouch wireless keyboard/mouse79.00
Total:597.00

All I really needed was the motherboard, cpu, and ram (440 with tax), as I could cannibalize the rest of the parts from another computer, but I wanted a single, bigger, quieter hard drive, (Rattle and Hum, the album by U2, is vastly preferable to the same tunes by "Lugosi and his 3 hard drives"), and the wireless keyboard was just too cool, so...

It took me about an hour and a half to assemble the dang thing. It took me forever to mount the cpu fan, and in doing so I cut my hand on backplate. Bleeding into a new computer is always a good thing, it's an ancient geek voodoo magic to ensure its long life and reliability. I ran some tests, tweaked some bios settings, installed an old network card, and packed everything up to take into work friday morning.

The IT department at my company convienently keeps a mirror of the redhat distribution on a server, accessible via http and via NFS. It saves on external bandwidth and beats shlepping CDs around. They also keep the mirror updated with the latest rpms and our corporate specific applications. With the aid of a single floppy, also provided by IT, it took me about 5 minutes to boot the machine and get through the configuration steps, and then 16 minutes to get through the network install. The time I spent building and installing a faster machine compares favorably with the time David spent installing an old one.

On reboot, I noted three problems, the network did not see my NIS server, anaconda deleted my USB mouse and keyboard, and the X11 graphical environment would flicker the display a couple times and then fail to start, leaving me with a text only login prompt. Time to login as root and figure things out.

OK, it turned out that in setting medium firewall security on the install, I'd disabled every possible attack against my machine - and also made it less useful than I needed it to be. Security is always a compromise between usefulness and, well, security. So I used the lokkit tool to add support for ssh, http, and dns in this configuration, but I still couldn't convince NFS or NIS to work, so I said "screw it" temporarily and disabled security altogether. (Note to my IT guys - temporarily... temporarily...) I note that even with this level of security disabled, there are plenty of other less invasive internet-proven security measures also in place automatically, a Linux box is more secure than a windows box would be at this stage.

The USB problem was nifty. For some reason the USB drivers weren't being started on bootup. I googled for USB linux HOWTO, and after a little reading, I figured out that the usb kernel modules weren't being inserted. I had a bad moment when I did a modprobe of the core usb driver by hand - and my keyboard "locked up"! A few moments of twiddling later I realized that I had enabled usb but not enabled my usb keyboard driver. Grr. OK, one nice thing about Linux is that you can log into it from another machine using telnet or ssh and do the same amount of work, so I did that, and, following that USB howto, inserted more driver modules until my keyboard worked again.

Rather than figure out the right way to enable usb on boot, I just added
modprobe usb-uhci
mount -a
modprobe hid
modprobe mousedev
modprobe keybdev
modprobe wacom # My graphics tablet


to the /etc/rc.d/rc.local file, which is the last thing run as part of the system startup, and added a line to /etc/fstab:

none /proc/bus/usb usbdevfs defaults 0 0

so that the usb device filesystem will be mounted (made available).

Now, a typical windows or NT guy would have rebooted multiple times at this point, but me, I just did a:
telinit 3; sleep 5; telinit 5
to restart graphics.

Hot dang, it came up, at the right resolution and everything. I fiddled with the default Redhat tools and environment for a while, and decided that, while it was pretty good, Ximian's GNOME desktop was better. So I popped over to Ximian's site, and started an install of their entire desktop suite, while I went off to get some real work done. (The install would have gone much faster if my IT guys mirrored Ximian as well as redhat, but I digress)

Ximian has a cool thing called Red Carpet, which makes it really easy to get new applications and update existing applications. I spent a little time updating the machine to the most current, recomended upgrades, notably mozilla 1.0, and subscribed to the OpenOffice channel and installed OpenOffice, and debated seriously about maybe trying the GNOME 2.0 test release.

I did a couple other things to improve my user experience, notably, I changed my mozilla preferences to support tabbed browsing by default and to open new tabs in the background (This last is a godsend for browsing over slower links), started a copy of several gigabytes of corporate apps. Then I did what every veteran NT and Windows administrator longs to do in the middle of an install... I went home.
Interlude for dealing with Valley traffic and dinner excluded
From home, I logged onto to the new machine and resumed working.

"Wait, wazzat?", Cryeth the Windows user! "But your new machine is at your office!".

Well, out of the box, Linux supports Client/Server networking & client/server X11 graphics. This is an extra cost option for windows NT/2000 users (Windows Terminal Services - I couldn't help but laugh when I looked up this link - Microsoft has announced an important licensing hotfix. Linux programmers focus on producing better applications, not licensing schemes!)

Close to 100% of all Linux applications work transparently over the network (The ones that don't are things like dvd players and games that require extraordinary amounts of bandwidth). No matter where I go, on whoever's computer I'm on, I can be at my desktop, running my applications. I don't even have to be running a linux box where I am, there are many easy ways to take advantage of this capability - putty is a great Windows ssh tool, and you can go either go the free route (cygwin's XFree86) for X or get a commercial X11 for your PC such as starnet's product. Mac OS-X is already X11 based, so you don't need to do anything to it to run graphical apps over the network though I still recomend finding an ssh client.

But as much as I like point and drool interfaces, (I regularly run xemacs, mozilla, and evolution over my DSL link) sometimes using a command line is more efficient. I happily browsed the web using the "links" tool; I got audacity audio editor, (which is comparable to CoolEdit) and it's related libraries, libdvdcss, and lm-sensors (useful for seeing things like tempurature inside your machine), among other useful things. Lots of interesting tools and applications for linux can be found by browsing sourceforge, freshmeat, and rpmfind.

Graphical installers are all the rage in the Windows/Mac world, but I really don't understand what's so hard about typing
rpm -Uvh *.rpm
, especially when you can install a whole bunch of packages, all at once! by just typing rpm -Uvh *.rpm after your download frenzy.

Maybe people on other OSes like going through graphical installer after installer, clicking on next button after next button, and reading EULA after EULA, and clicking "yes I agree" to terms written in the most obtuse legalese - but I don't. I do Linux because I don't have to put up with that sort of crap....

OK, so after about 10 hours or so (4 of active use) I've got a mostly built machine that does most of what I need it to do, I'm a happy camper. There are things left to do (like getting printing setup, and in fixing a performance issue I noticed) that I'll blog about later.

In conclusion I just wanted to point out some things that typical reviewers rarely point out about Linux:

  • A network based install of the core OS takes 16 minutes. It had a useful, full desktop and office productivity suite, out of the box, as well as hundreds of other applications. Getting hung up on the ease of the install is a barrier to linux, but once you're over that hump it gets easier. I think it would be only fair for this veteran Linux user to tell his horror story on installing Windows 2000, but not today.
  • I did a significant portion of the install remotely. It didn't require rocket science.
  • I didn't have to co-ordinate with license lawyers, corporate or otherwise
  • I upgraded to the latest and greatest stuff using an innovative network based installer
  • The software cost was... nothing. The hardware cost was... next to nothing.


  • More news as it happens. I hope that perhaps my sharing my install, methods, and tools, will make your linux experience a more enjoyable one. Have a good weekend!



    Michael

     
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