Good times with Fedora Linux upgrades

Fedora is a unique Linux distribution in that every 6 months a new version is released. And for those that are not aware, Fedora is sponsored by Red Hat, and is basically the beta or cutting edge version that is versions ahead of the more stable and established Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).

Fedora is a unique Linux distribution in that every 6 months a new version is released. And for those that are not aware, Fedora is sponsored by Red Hat, and is basically the beta or cutting edge version that is versions ahead of the more stable and established Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Think of Fedora as the testing grounds for RHEL.

I've used Fedora for years, basically because I've used Red Hat Linux since the late 1990's, and I've always loved the fact that Red Hat stands behind its products. And Fedora is no exception. But, upgrading entire system every 6 months seems extreme when used on an everyday PC. Or is it?

I've found that upgrading from version to version of Fedora is quite easy in fact. And one bonus is that all of the software on the system is automatically upgraded to the latest version which includes the latest bugfixes, etc. Sure, running software updates on the existing distribution running on the system will work, too, but updates are no longer released for a particular version of Fedora about 13 months after it is initially released. While this sounds bad, it really isn't. The upgrade process for Fedora is as simple as inserting the CD (or flash drive), selecting "upgrade" at the main menu, and following a few simple steps. What you end up with is a system that is totally up to date and refreshed with all of the latest RPM packages, while all data is completely retained.

What is more of a pleasant surprise with Fedora upgrades is that all files and settings are completely retained for most if not ALL software on the system because Linux stores everything in the user's profile folder. This is quite different from other operating systems like Windows where settings are both in the profile folder and scattered in the registry and other areas of the PC. And, each version of the Gnome desktop reads in the older settings, upgrades them, and everything "just works". Icons, shortcuts, everything is retained. I work everyday with others using Windows (XP and 7), and am used to seeing things in Windows break, not work at all, or spending extra time maintaining systems using Windows. Using Linux is a breath of relief, because things usually work the first time around, and when they don't, there's a huge amount of community support available because it is all open source.

Just recently I upgraded one of my systems running Fedora 12 to Fedora 14 and actually backed up the entire /home filesystem so that I could repartition the drive. The future plan is to have a system partition (/) of 30 GB, /boot at 500 MB (default), swap (at double the physical memory currently or in the future), and /home using the rest of the available disk space. This is assuming the disk in the system is at least 80 GB total, allowing for plenty of room for /home. In the future for upgrades, I am going to use Clonezilla to separately back up the /home and / partitions separately before a Fedora version upgrade, just in case it needs to be rolled back. Having /home and / on separate partitions gives a little more flexibility in that either partition can be backed up or restored separately with Clonezilla. This is just playing it safe because I deploy systems for many people, I have yet to find any upgrade issues that cannot be fixed.

Even though Fedora 14 is out of date (considering Fedora 15 just came out), I have still been amazed at how various parts are continuously improved with each version. For instance, the delta RPMS that are used when downloading software is amazing. This was introduced a few versions ago. Download sizes are cut down by up to 70% (or sometimes more) using delta RPMS (yum does this automatically but shows you the amount saved). The command shell is more user friendly: if you type in a command that doesn't exist, it will try to make a suggestion for you. This is just plain brilliant. I am also giving SELinux a try to see if I can make it work. In the past, I've always disabled SELinux however this time I'll give it an attempt. Personally, Linux is gaining popularity, so the possibility of viruses or malware will increase over time. When configured correctly, SELinux is a great tool. When SELinux is set to "enforcing" or "permissive" modes, every time an action is blocked a notification will appear in the app tray near the top right near the clock (in Gnome), which gives a FULL description of what was blocked and how to fix it. There is also an option to have it fixed automatically, which is another absolutely brilliant feature. SELinux is no longer difficult to work with.

Personally, I am not ready to move forward with Fedora 15 just yet for any production or everyday systems, because Gnome 3 is still very young. But, in 6 months when Fedora 16 is out, I may then take a look. Fedora can upgrade systems two versions back, but cannot upgrade older versions, so keep that in mind. The developers have done this so that users can upgrade at their leisure from one version to the next, and skip a version if desired.

All in all, I am still amazed at Fedora and how far it has come. It is VERY user friendly, and the command shell that everybody is still hesitant of, is only really needed for advanced users, or to fix an advanced problem which can usually be fixed by updating first. This is great stuff, and I strongly urge others to hop aboard with Fedora (Ubuntu, or other mainstream distributions) and leave the Windows train before Microsoft completely takes over your PC and wallet.


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