Which Linux Distribution?

December 8, 2009

Deciding which Linux distribution to install is more of a personal choice. You should install a few of them to see which version do you like. However, there are some characteristics that could identify among the different distribution. The most popular Linux distribution is Fedora and Ubuntu.

Ubuntu

If you are new in Linux, Ubuntu is the only choice. Ubuntu is design for people who are migrating from Windows or Mac. It is novice friendly and easy to use. Its documentation is very rich and clear. Ubuntu also has a very large support community. Furthermore, Ubuntu focus its feature enhancement more on the desktop experience. Compare to Fedora, Ubuntu is more concern of stability and therefore it won’t adopt any new technology that is too new and unstable.

If you want a stable and user-friendly desktop experience, Ubuntu is the choice. If you do not like to tinker with operating system and just want to use it for normal usage, choose Ubuntu.

Fedora

Fedora, however, is the most technically advanced distribution. Any new technology will be adopted by Fedora first.  If you want the latest and most advanced technology, use Fedora. Therefore, Fedora is not as stable as Ubuntu. Sometime you would get a problematic kernel update which forces you to switch back to older kernel for a while. Fedora is more suitable for season Linux user who wants to try out the latest. You must not be afraid of tinkering with the operating system when using Fedora. If you are technically inclined but new to Linux, you could try Fedora. The support community for Fedora is good.

For feature enhancement, Fedora is more concern of security and it may include enterprise feature which might not benefit you. Fedora is the test bed for trying out new technology before such technology is adopted by its sponsor Linux Red Hat in their enterprise operating system. If you are an IT professional considering adopting a new skills in Linux administration, Fedora is the choice. By learning Fedora, you will be sure that Linux Red Hat would adopt some of the technology eventually. For anyone who would like to learn some system administration that could help in their career in IT, Fedora is he choice.

Enterprise: Linux Red Hat and CentOS

In the enterprise market, Linux Red Hat is the most popular open source distribution. However, Linux Red Hat is not free. You can download Red Hat for a free trial. After which, you have to pay for any updates and support. For those looking to learn the skills in administering Linux Red Hat, you could use Fedora or CentOS. CentOS is very similar to Linux Red Hat. In fact, what CentOS did is to get the source code from Linux Red Hat, remove its trade mark and marketed as CentOS.

Please bear in mind that CentOS is not 100% compatible with Linux. CentOS is trying to be as similar to Red Hat as possible. I could say that CentOS is 99% compatible with Linux Red Hat. For those who want to learn Red Hat administration, CentOS is the choice because you can download it for free. In the enterprise market, some companies try out CentOS before adopting Linux Red Hat. There are some companies who would not like to pay for updates and support would use CentOS operationally.

Mobile Distribution: Knoppix and DSL

Beside the two popular desktop distributions Fedora and Ubuntu, I would like to introduce you to some light weight and mobile distribution. Such distribution is not rich in software but it is good enough for simple usage. Knoppix contains in a bootable CD with a collection of GNU/Linux software. There is no need to install Knoppix to the hard disk as you can boot it up from CD.

Another mobile distribution is DSL (Damn Small Linux). It is derived from Knoppix and it is much smaller in size. It contains only 50MB and could be stored in a thumb drive. Mobile distribution could be used for demonstrative or educational purpose. However, Linux administrator uses it frequently for hardware troubleshooting or repair.

Distribution for Hardcore Geek: Gentoo and LFS

Gentoo Linux was designed for power users. Its installation could be cumbersome although recently it includes an installer to simplify the installation. If you would like to modify your operating system to your liking, Gentoo could be your choice. Gentoo also got a good support community with comprehensive documentation.  Gentoo users are more technically inclined. In fact, Gentoo forum provide a lot of the highly technical solution to the common problem in other distribution.

If you want to build Linux from scratch, you should consider LFS project. Linux From Scratch (LFS) is a project that provides you with the steps necessary to build your own custom Linux system. The most important reason for using LFS is to learn how a Linux system works internally. Building an LFS system teaches you about all that makes Linux tick, how things work together, and depend on each other. Along the way you could customize it to your own taste and needs.

Debian

Finally, I would like to mention Debian. Before Ubuntu arrives, Debian got the largest support community with a large collection of software. Debian also got the largest group of developers working on the project. The existence of Ubuntu, which uses the base code of Debian, split up the manpower and resource from Debian. In fact, a lots of other Linux distribution are derived from Debian.

Usage

With all the different Linux distributions mentioned above. I would like to highlight that the usage between these distributions can be very different especially in the area of software installation and distribution. We can categorize most Linux distribution into 2 classes.

The first class is the Red Hat class of distributions. Red Hat uses rpm files to package their software and it uses yum for software update and distribution. Red Hat class distribution includes Linux Red Hat, Fedora and CentOS.

The other class, is the Debian class of distributions. Obviously, these distributions use the base code of Debian. Debian uses deb package for software packaging and it uses apt-get for updates and distributions. Debian class of Linux includes Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Knoppix and DSL (via Knoppix).

I hope the analysis above will help you to make up your mind on which Linux distribution to choose.


Fedora Live Installation and Configuration

September 30, 2009

Version: Fedora 11 (64-bit version)

Downloading Fedora
• You can download the latest Fedora distribution at http://fedoraproject.org/en/get-fedora
• Download the LiveCD and select either 32-bit or 64-bit depends on your system.

Testing Fedora
• To test out this version of Fedora boot with LiveCD and preview the software without making any changes to the hard disk.
• You can check if any of your hardware is not being recognized, before you proceed for installation.

Installing Fedora
• Click the install option on the desktop after you are satisfy with the evaluation.
• You need to select the language, keyboard, host name and time zone.
• Then you need to set root password.
• You need to configure the disk partition.

Hard Disk Partition
• If you have only one primary drive, you should let the system configure the drive.
• If you are having mixed partition with the Windows File System; then you need to configure the partition yourself.

Manual Configuration of Disk Partition
• Create 1 partition (100-200 MB) using ext3 file format with mount point ‘/boot’
• Then create a logical partition for swap file. The size should be twice your available system memory.
• Then use the rest of available hard disk space to create 1 partition using ext4 file format with mount point set as ‘/’
• Alternatively, you might consider separate partition for ‘/home’ or ‘/var’

Setting Boot Loader
• In Fedora, the boot loader (Grub) must be loaded into sda.
• If you indicate otherwise, the system assume you are using other boot loader as the primary boot loader, then you need to configure your primary boot loader to point to secondary boot partition for chain loading
• For those who prefer to create every MBR in every drive, you must unplug all drives from the system while installing fedora. Note: you must physically unplug the drive as Fedora would still able to recognize any additional hard disk even if you disabled the drives using BIOS.
Completion of the Installation
• After the system completed its copy of file images, you need to reboot once in order to complete the installation.
• During the final phase, you need to accept license, create a user and you are given an option to choose authentication method. For normal user, there is no need to configure authentication method.
• You need to set date and time. After which you are given a choice to send hardware profile.
• Finally, you are prompt to login using the user you have created. At this stage the installation is complete.

Updating Fedora
• Updating Fedora is as easy as Windows and it is automated. You will notice a message indicate that you need to update the OS. Follow the direction in the message will bring to the update manager and follow the instruction.
• You can also use command yum to update the system. Open a terminal window, type $su -
• Enter root password
• Type #yum update

Updating Drivers
• If there are some drivers are not being recognize or configured properly, you can download the drivers and install it.

Installing Creative X-FI Sound Blaster 64-bit driver
• The driver from Creative Lab is no good for Fedora. You to download ALSA driver from the website http://www.asla-project.org

Steps to Install Sound Blaster Linux Drivers
1. Download ALSA driver from ALSA web site. Extract the folder.
2. Open a terminal window and navigate to target folder.
3. Type $su – to get root access.
4. You need to install kernel source and development package before installing drivers.
5. #yum install binutils gcc make patch libgomp glibc-headers glibc-devel kernel-headers kernel-devel
6. After completion, proceed with the followings: #./configure
7. #make
8. #make install
9. This should complete the installation.

Installation and Configuration of Commonly used Applications
• Most of the popular applications are preloaded with Fedora; you might need to add some plug-ins.
• For additional software you can install using System >> Administration >> Add/Remove Software. The utility will search for the application you intended, download it and install it automatically.
• You can also use command line (yum) to install the software packages.
• Fedora uses yum to install and update its software. When connected to the internet it will automatically determine application dependencies.

Configuring Yum
• Yum automatically connect to the official mirror sites of Fedora to retrieve latest software packages.
• You might want to add additional repositories that provide additional software. Two additional sites are recommended, one is rpmfusion.org, the other is livna.org

To setup repos from rpmfusion:
•#rpm -ivh http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-stable.noarch.rpm
•#rpm -ivh http://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-stable.noarch.rpm

Setting up repos from livna.org
• #rpm -ivh http://rpm.livna.org/livna-release.rpm
• #rpm –import /etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-livna

Installing Yum plugin
• While yum has many plugins available, I would recommended you to install the fastestmirror plugin, it speeds up downloads by attempting to find faster sources.
• To install the plugin:# yum install yum-plugin-fastestmirror

Using Yum
• To install software using yum just use the command: #yum install
• To find out details about the software packages use the command: #yum info
• You can also perform group install using #yum groupinstall

64-bit Issue
• The following software only available in 32-bit version. If you really need them, you might want to recompiled into 64-bit.
• Some 32-bit software like OpenOffice runs well in 64-bit OS. Some software may have installation problem due to the difference.
o Adobe Air
o Adobe Reader
o Foxit Reader
o OpenOffice

Web Browsing
• Firefox is preloaded with Fedora; you just need to install additional plug-ins.

Firefox Plug-ins: Google Toolbar
• Go to the site where Google toolbar is hosted and install directly from the web.

Firefox Plug-ins: Adobe Flash Player
1. The flash player can be downloaded at http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/. Download the package to begin installation.
2. Save the .rpm file. Quit your browser.
3. Open a terminal window and get root access.
4. Navigate to the directory and run the following command
5. #rpm -ivh flash-plugin-10.0.32.18-release.i386-rpm
6. Launch your browser. To verify installation in Firefox choose Help > About Plug-ins from the browser menu.

Productivity Suite
• OpenOffice is not included in the LiveCD. To install it goto System >> Administration >> Add/Remove Software.
• Type openoffice in the search box and click find. With the list given, select the OpenOffice package you want.

PDF Document
• Fedora has default PDF reader (evince) so no installation is required.
• For 32-bit OS, you might consider install Adobe PDF reader or Foxit PDF reader.
• Fedora has built in PDF writer; here is the direction of how to use it.
o For Firefox, select print >> print to file, make sure you specify the document type as PDF and also specify the filename and location of the file.
o For OpenOffice, use ‘Export to PDF’ function.
• You will need a PDF writer if you intend to use it on any other application that do not have print to PDF or export to PDF capabilities. In this case, you need to install cups-pdf.

Playing Multimedia Files
• To play the most common multimedia formats, including MP3, Mpeg, rm, QuickTime, WMA and WMV, you need to install additional packages; when you install VLC Media Player, yum install will includes all the necessary codec.
• Playing DVD is more complicated because it involves restricted format. You need to install a DVD Media player and CSS Packages.
• Although Fedora comes with Totem Movie Player, it lacks DVD functions such as navigation through the menu, titles etc. I would recommend using VLC Player or Xine.

Installing Media Player
• To install VLC Media Player: #yum install vlc
• To set VLC as the default player, open any File Browser. Select Edit >> Preference >> Media
• To install Xine: #yum install xine xine-lib-extras xine-lib-extras-freeworld

Check Region Setting
• To check your region setting you need the package “regionset”.
• Open a terminal window with root access
• #yum install regionset
• After installation, from command line enter: $regionset
• Your region setting will be shown.

Installing CSS Packages
• To install the CSS packages use the command: #yum install libdvdcss

DVD Ripping
• In the event you need to rip or backup your DVD; you can install various DVD ripper.
• In this section we will install k9copy
• #yum install k9copy
• Please search for k9copy on direction of usage.

End.