Saturday, December 20, 2003

I Came, I Saw, I Blogged

OK, you're probably wondering why I called you here today. This is my Linux Blog, an online version of the notebook I've been updating for a few years. It's here because I recently trashed my installation of Mandrake Linux 9.1. (An unfortunate set of events involving rpmdrake deleted.)

I looked through the documentation for several of the usual suspects: Debian, Gentoo, Slackware, and finally settled on Fedora, the brand-spanking-new descendant of Redhat. Three reasons: (1) In the years I've been using Linux, I've mostly used one version of RedHat or another; (2) I'm cheap, and using Fedora leaves no nagging I really should pay them feeling; and (3) Have you looked at the installation instructions for Debian, Gentoo, and Slackware? Fedora comes with the Anaconda Installer, which I'd used before and was comforable with.

When I started using Linux on my home machine (about 1998, it says here), I bought one of those blue-marbled composition notebooks to write down what I had done to the machine (an old 486DX2, as it happens) and what I was going to do with it. You know, programs installed, why the %!$&!ing thing didn't work, how I fixed it (if I did), and where the documentation landed when I threw it across the room. That worked well, but it isn't exactly searchable. This becomes a problem when installing a new distribution, because you always forget how something was installed.

So this blog is supposed to be an extension of that notebook, where I record all of the torture I put this machine through and the tweaks that were needed to get a program to work. Hopefully it will be useful to others, as well, and, even more hopefully, someone will have intellegent suggestions on how I can get things to work the way I want them to.

The Hardware

OK, the (cheap, of course) machine is a Dell Dimension 2350, 2.2 GHz Celeron Processor, 256MB DDR SDRAM (actually paid for the upgrade from 128MB), CD-RW drive, Intel "Integrated" Graphics and Audio, and a 60GB disk (free upgrade). We're connected to the net courtesy of Comcast, which also provides the SciFi channel so that I can watch Stargate SG-1 for me to watch while we're working here.

Half the disk still has XP on it. The partitioning done during the Mandrake 9.1 install was as follows:

/dev/hda1   ~ 31MB: vfat (for Grub?)
/dev/hda2   ~ 30 GB NTFS for XP
/dev/hda3  Extended partition which holds:
         /dev/hda5   ~ 6 GB ext3 root (/) partition
         /dev/hda6   ~ 0.5 GB  swap partition
         /dev/hda7   (remainder) ext3 /home partition

Installing Fedora

Downloaded the Fedora Core I ISO images from Who decided that a Linux distribution should take 3 CDs? Seems to be a marketing thing.

OK, it's about 10 p.m. Power up the Dell, tell it to boot from the CD, and put in Fedora #1.

Asks if I want to do a graphical install. OK, why not.

Offers to determine the integrity of my CDs. Seems like a good idea, because if I have crappy media I won't be able to burn new CDs in the middle of the install. (Cheapbytes is the default option in that case, but it will take a few days.) I assume we're doing checksums here. After about 20 minutes it tells me that the CDs are OK. Insert CD #1 again and hit continue.

Running Anaconda. Sounds good. Correctly fingers my monitor, video and audio card, and mouse capabilities. It tells me I should set up my two-button plus scroll wheel mouse as a Microsoft PS/2 Intellimouse, so I go with that.

Workstation Install This option is supposed to install a graphical desktop, plus "tools for software development".

Disk partitions You still have to tell anaconda where things are going to go. I decide to keep my current partitions, including the NTFS one for XP, at least for now. Tell the installer to format hda5, format it, and mount it at "/". Didn't do anything with hda7, which will come up later.

Boot options Use Grub to boot either Fedora or XP.

Network DHCP connection. Setup the firewall. Nothing gets in.

Packages The workstation install option selects some packages, but there are many more which can be chosen. I add in the entire KDE setup (default desktop is GNOME), delete the DVD stuff, install teTeX (I'm a LaTeX junkie) and docbook, and all of the "development tools", i.e., the header files you need to compile things.

About to Install abandon all hope, ye who enter in. OK, what the heck. It's 10:45 pm

Note that install information will be kept in /root/install.log and /root/anacond-ks.config

The "/" partition is formatted. Bye, Mandrake.

Kernel installed is 2.4.22-1.2115.nptl.i386 (I think, can't entirely read my writing).

Create a boot diskette (strongly recommended)

Load in CD #1, #2, and #3 in turn. It's finished at 11:19pm.

Let's use this thing

Reboot. Don't get the "you passed an undefined Node Number" on boot. This was an annoying feature in Mandrake and in KNOPPIX having something to do with the VGA graphics. RIP.

Fedora has a graphical boot sequence after the first screen. It knows this is a first-time boot, so it asks for

Clock settings It's EST, OK? I also set up NTP (Network Time Protocol) to keep the clock on time. RedHat has its own NTP servers. Nice. Under Mandrake I had to go out into the world to find a server.

Create my user account

Log into the user account. It boots up into Gnome. Where are my files? OK, doing a "df" I see that the is no separate "/home" partition. Realized my mistake during the installation. The fix is relatively easy:

"su" to root edit /etc/fstab to mount /dev/hda7 at /home (see the /dev/hda5 entry)


Try to log onto my user account. Crash in "less than 0.1 seconds". Remember that under Mandrake I ran IceWM as my boot manager. Fix this by doing a "Ctrl-Alt-F1" and logging into my account from the console. All my old /home directory is there, as it should be. Delete the .xsession file. Ctrl-Alt-F7 and try again.

Still crashes. Tell Fedora to log in under Gnome. This works.

su to root, run up2date to get software upgrades. Don't upgrade the kernel just yet, but do upgrade everything else. This takes a while, so go upstairs and continue reading Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, which is really good for times like these. Come back down at about 1:30 am and see that everything is done.

and so to bed.