Fedora 10: An Effortless Upgrade

These days, it is very difficult to highlight the visible and noticeable changes in a distribution. As it is, there is a reluctance to upgrade in case some working application breaks down. In the absence of anything striking, a reasonable position can be, “Why bother?”If the cost of upgrading is low, more people may upgrade. Hence, aside from the noticeable differences, we will discuss a couple of lesser-known techniques to upgrade Fedora with less effort.

What’s different?

Can a user tell that the machine is now upgraded? Of course—the boot up screen is different. There is a nice colourful progress bar as the system boots. Then, the default wallpaper is different. After that, the usage is about the same as before. My personal view is that not noticing a change is an advantage. There will be no need for retraining. That said, here are some of my observations:

  1. Fedora 9 introduced KDE4 and it caused a lot of problems for KDE3 users. Once KDE4.1 came, I actually switched from being a predominantly GNOME user to a predominantly KDE user. I liked the sparse desktop. I liked the Dolphin file manager, particularly the split mode and the terminal panel within Dolphin. I got used to the new menu system. Fedora 10 continues with the enhancements in KDE4. The change most noticeable for me was in the Amarok player. It left me confused. I can play the music but at times can’t figure out whether I have found a bug or haven’t learnt how to use Amarok! I suppose I will get used to the new interface and the additional capabilities, or switch to Rhythmbox!
  2. The other major change is in OpenOffice.org. Fedora 10 now includes version 3.0. An OpenOffice.org 2 user will be perfectly at ease with the new version. While I was writing this article, the KDE desktop started behaving oddly. Although OpenOffice.org worked perfectly fine, the KDE menus and the clock widget did not get displayed properly when using the proprietary Nvidia driver (not supported by Fedora). But the display was fine if the AIGLX option was off and the composite option was disabled. However, on GNOME, even with the desktop effects enabled, the behaviour was as expected.
  3. The login page of GDM includes a form to set convenient universal access features. Being able to increase the text size with a simple click will be especially convenient for older users. As on Fedora 9, GDM still has a bug of not recognising xdmcp connections. A patch is available on the forums, but the patched version is not yet available from the repositories. As is common on Linux, a bug is not a major bottleneck. We can use KDM instead.
  4. Switching to the new Plymouth system initialisation system did not make a noticeable impact on the booting time on my desktops (from power-on to the login page). I suspect that the speed up may be noticeable if there are lots of services that are started, and more savings may come if the kernel does not have to rediscover all the devices and reconfigure the hardware every time it boots. A gain of the new booting process is that diagnosing start up problems on Debian-based distributions and Fedora will now be similar. It all starts with /etc/event.d/rcS. I am reminded of a comment in a mainframe code: “This is where you start, where you end up is your problem!”

Kidstuff

The Fedora 10 repository now includes Sugar, the learning software environment for the OLPC project. As yet, only a few activities are packaged in RPMs. I expect that more will be added as time passes. The Fedora project team hopes to get more people actively involved in the Sugar project by making the platform accessible to a wider population. I would strongly recommend that you try the turtleart activity, based on Logo. It is a colourful, fun way to learn programming.

RPMFusion

In addition to the Fedora 10 release, the availability of RPMFusion repositories has been extremely valuable. The confusion between whether to use Livna or FreshRPM’s is over. The migration has been transparent for all those who were using either of these two repositories and conflicts between the packages have been ironed out.

Pre-upgrade

The pre-upgrade utility has become very useful with Fedora10. The idea is that it will analyse the packages that are installed and download the required upgrades while you continue working. The utility will also ensure that dependencies are not destroyed for the packages that have been installed from alternate repositories. This is the first time I did not have to do anything to ensure that the multimedia functions worked for the various formats, even after the upgrade. The steps involved are as follows:

# yum install preupgrade
# preupgrade

On my system, it downloaded 1.8 GB of packages in 24 hours. If you stop in the middle, it restarts from where it left off. Once the packages are downloaded, reboot the system and it will install the upgrade.

The upgrade failed once. It needed about 1.5 GB of free space. I could boot normally, create the desired space and run preupgrade again. This time, the upgrade was uneventful.

This step took a little over two hours. So, the effective downtime was two hours. A fresh install will be faster, but will need all the settings to be redone and the additional packages to be downloaded.

The migration to Fedora 10 was effortless. Everything worked fine after the upgrade, including MPlayer, VLC, and MP3 playback. After that, I used yum update to upgrade the multimedia packages.

Using update to upgrade

It is possible to update Fedora 10 with virtually zero downtime using an unsupported process. I had first come across an article on upgrading from Fedora 6 to Fedora 7 with yum last year and used this technique for upgrading from Fedora 7 to 8 and then from 8 to 9. On both occasions, I had a few problems with some multimedia packages. This time, the process was remarkably smooth thanks to the availability of RPMFusion repositories as well. The steps involved are:

  1. Download the following packages from the Fedora 10 repository:
    • fedora-release-10-1.noarch.rpm
    • fedora-release-notes-10.0.0-1.noarch.rpm
    • yum-3.2.20-3.fc10.noarch.rpm
  2. Use rpm -U to update the above three packages
  3. Clean the existing repositories using yum clean all
  4. Finally, run yum update

The fourth step will take a very long time to first download the packages. On my parents’ system, it needed to download 1.2 GB and took about 18 hours. The update went on in the background for over two hours. As libraries and packages get replaced, some applications may present a problem, but I did not face any. I wasn’t doing anything serious—just playing music and browsing.

If an installation DVD is available (like the one bundled with this month’s LFY), copy the RPMs into the /var/cache/yum/fedora/packages after Step 3, and the update will download only the missing or updated packages.

I find this method very useful for small networks. The cache directory can be shared over the network and the keepcache option can be set to 1 in yum.conf. This is much easier than mirroring a repository locally. Only the packages required by at least one machine are downloaded, only when needed.

Disappointments

  1. I am disappointed that Presto and Delta RPMs did not become a part of the Fedora 10 repositories. These will have to wait till Fedora 11. The Fedora 10 Delta RPMs are available for i386 using the Yum repository setting baseurl=http://lesloueizeh.com/f10/i386/updates in fedora-updates.repo. For the first update, I needed to download only 21 MB instead of the 111 MB if the full RPMs were downloaded. At the time of writing, Delta RPMs were not available for x86_64. See fedorahosted.org/presto for the current status.
  2. Once in a while, when the system checks a disk at boot time, the boot-up delay can be long, but there is no feedback on the GUI to the users, asking them to be patient.
  3. The Intel display driver caused a machine (three years old) to hang. The problem is with kernel 2.6.27 and not with Fedora 10, per se. I faced a similar problem on Fedora 9 and Ubuntu 8.10 as well. The workaround is to add the following option in the device section of xorg.conf:
    Option “NoAccel” “True”
  4. The other disappointment has nothing to do with Fedora. The list of mirrors selected for India points to countries around us—Taiwan, Japan, Russia, etc. I needed to change the mirror list manually to point to the US servers for better, more consistent performance. My disappointment is that no Indian ISP is mirroring the common distributions even though the ISP would save on substantial international bandwidth. The couple of Indian mirrors available do not have adequate bandwidth and, in my experience, have normally been inaccessible.

Wish list

  1. I would like to see Delta RPM support even for upgrading a distribution.
  2. I would like PulseAudio server to just work even on remote desktops. The default setting of the PULSE_SERVER variable should be picked up from the DISPLAY variable.
  3. I would like to see Firefox 3.1 available on Fedora 10 and not have to wait for Fedora 11.
  4. I would like to see GNOME 2.6 included in Fedora 10, with an option to roll back to 2.4, if I so desire.
  5. Actually, I would like to be able to upgrade my installation continuously and not ever face another new version. (More on that in LINUX For You, April 2008.)

Recommendations

  1. The new versions of distributions contain very little that is substantially different from earlier versions. Most of the packages are minor upgrades, with improvements and security fixes. The major issues with a distribution are resolved very quickly and it does not make sense to wait months or years for
    the distribution to be stable!
  2. It is easier to work with OpenOffice.org 3 on Fedora 10 than to install and maintain it on your own on a lower version.
  3. An upgrade is like an insurance policy. If I need to work with a recent application, the chances are that I would find it in the latest distributions. For example, it is much easier to explore the Sugar environment on Fedora 10 than on the earlier distributions.
  4. Finally, upgrading a distribution keeps getting easier and less prone to problems with add-on packages.

Hence, should you upgrade? A reasonable position is, “Why not!”

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