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Hands on with Fedora 18

Much anticipated, Fedora 18, otherwise known as 'Spherical Cow' has finally arrived - here's what to expect.
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By J.A. Watson on
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Fedora 18 - Gnome 3 Desktop - Application Menu

Linux users have been waiting quite some time for Fedora 18.  The final release has been postponed seven times, for a total of more than two months, from the originally planned release date of 6 November 2012 to the actual release on 15 January 2013. 

No one can accuse the Fedora developers of being slaves to a calendar, or succumbing to pressure to ship a release before they believe it is really ready. 

According to their public statements, the primary causes of the multiple delays were a rewrite of the anaconda installer and a new utility called fedup, which is a new Fedora upgrade utility. 

With the arrival of fedup, all upgrade functionality has been removed from anaconda as well, which should make it considerably smaller and less complicated. I will include some notes and screen shots of the new anaconda later in this post.

One of the major new features in this release is support for UEFI Secure Boot. 

I have installed this release on UEFI systems, with Secure Boot enabled and disabled, and on traditional BIOS systems as well, all with no problems. 

My previous two blog posts discuss some of the issues of UEFI and Secure Boot installation, so I will not go into more detail on that here. 

I have installed this release on pretty much every laptop, sub-laptop, netbook and desktop system I have around here, and had no trouble with any of them. All of the hardware was detected and supported out of the box, with no additional searching, compiling, downloading, installing or other special actions required. 

That includes CPUs, graphic controllers with VGA, DVI, HDMI and laptop display connection (including the dual-display setup I have on my desk - Fedora is the only distribution I use that recognizes and configures dual monitors automatically), wired and wireless network controllers, audio input and output, and whatever else is around here.

A few other highlights of this release:

  • Linux kernel 3.6.11 - This means it has a lot of new device drivers and hardware support.  For example, this is one of the very few current Linux distributions which supports the Ralink 3290 WiFi adapter in my HP Pavilion dm1-4310 out of the box.
  • X.org X Server 1.13.1 - Supports my various Intel and AMD/ATI Radeon graphic adapters with the FOSS radeon driver. I don't currently have anything with a nVidia adapter, so I can't comment on support for that.
  • Gnome 3.6.2
  • Firefox 18.0 - Keeping up with Firefox releases is not exactly easy any more. In fact, you have to install the latest updates after completing the base installation to get up to 18.0.
  • LibreOffice 3.6.3.2 - Writer, Calc, Draw and Impress all included
  • Shotwell 0.13.1 - Photo management
  • Rhythmbox 2.98 - Audio player
  • Totem 3.6.3 - Gnome movie player

As is normal with the Fedora distribution, there is no non-FOSS software included. The most notable example of this is that there is no Adobe Flash player included. An explanation of this, and instructions for downloading and installing the Adobe Flash Player for Fedora are on the Flash - Fedora Project web page.

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Fedora 18 - MATE Desktop

New in this release, Fedora includes support for the MATE desktop. For those who are not fond of Gnome 3, MATE offers a traditional Gnome 2-style desktop, with upper and/or lower panels, menus, desktop icons and a variety of associated applications. 

MATE is not included in the base distribution, to get it you have to run the command "yum install @mate" (as root, of course). It would be nice if there were a meta-target in the Software Install utility, but if there is, I haven't figured it out yet.

After installing MATE, the next time you log in you will see a new "Session..." button on the password entry screen.  Click that, and you can choose between the Gnome and MATE desktops. MATE has come a long way, and for my purposes I can no longer distinguish between it and the actual Gnome 2 desktop.

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Fedora 18 - KDE Destop

Fedora also offers a KDE (version 4.9.4) distribution. This is not just a KDE desktop built on top of the Gnome distribution, it is a separate distribution built with KDE utilities and applications. Some of the notable differences:

  • Konqueror browser (instead of Firefox)
  • Calligra Words, Sheet and Stage (instead of LibreOffice)
  • Gwenview (instead of Eye of Gnome)
  • digiKam (optional, instead of Shotwell)
  • Amarok audio player (instead of Rhythmbox)
  • Dragon Player (instead of Totem)

Of course, if you prefer Firefox, LibreOffice or whatever, you can still go to the Software Management utility, search and select the version you prefer, and install it on Fedora KDE. There are a variety of other application differences, and of course all of the standard utilities such as the file manager, CD/DVD disk burner are KDE-specific rather than their Gnome equivalents.

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Fedora 18 - KDE Netbook Desktop

I can't let a new release with KDE go by without plugging my favorite netbook desktop - KDE netbook. 

This is included in the standard KDE distribution, all you have to do is select it in "System Settings/Workspace Behavior". It changes the desktop into the multi-sectioned layout shown above, with a top panel (which auto-hides when an application is started), a quick launch area, a search bar, and an application/utility menu area. It just keeps getting better with every new KDE release.

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Before disk and partition selection

This is the initial view of the anaconda installation summary screen. 

What is important here is the Storage Installation Destination, click that to select the disks and partitions where Fedora is to be installed. You can also change the timezone and keyboard layout if necessary - but note that changing the keyboard here has no affect on the installation process itself. 

If you want to change the keyboard layout for that, you have to use the normal tools - go to the application menu and type Language, then select the Region and Language utility program, and use the Input Sources tab to select a new layout.

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Default is lvm

After clicking Storage Installation Destination and then selecting the disk you want to install on, you will get this screen with installation options. 

The exact content of the upper part of the window will depend on how your disk is partitioned and how much free space you have. In the lower portion of the window you will find a Partition Scheme Configuration drop-down.  Fedora uses lvm disk management by default, if you want to use standard partitions you have to click this drop-down and select that option.

If you want to specify the partition layout yourself, you have to click the I don't need help box. anaconda will then not try to figure out a partition layour for you, when you click Reclaim space it will simply take you to the next screen where you can do it all yourself. I found this a bit scary, I didn't want it to reclaim space, I want to tell it myself which existing partition to reuse, but you have to click that button to go on.

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Select existing to overwrite

This is the initial view of the existing disk partition layout. 

Don't be confused or intimidated by my rather large number of partitions, a more typical one will probably have something like one to four partitions, depending on what is already installed. 

If you want to reuse an existing partition, click the drop-down for that installation in the list. Then select the partition you want to reuse, and its details will be shown at the right side of the window. 

In the Mount Point input box, enter what you want to use this partition for (it is / in this case). You must also click the drop-down for Customize... and then click the Reformat box, and then click Apply Changes.

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Old root partition has been taken for new installation

After applying the changes in the previous screen, click the drop-down beside New Fedora 18 Installation and you should see the root partition that you are reusing. 

If there is a swap partition on the disk, it will be picked up for this installation automatically at this point. Click Finish Partitioning to commit the changes and return to the installation summary.

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Note the special EFI boot partition

If you are installing on a UEFI system, it will require a special EFI Boot partition. 

If you already have another operating system installed (Windows 8 or some UEFI-capable Linux), you can figure out which partition is already used for EFI boot, and then manually reuse that one by marking it for mount on /boot/efi in the new Fedora installation. 

Important: do NOT mark the Reformat box for this file system. Of course, if you don't want to reuse the existing partition, or you don't want to bother figuring out which one it is, you can just make a new partition for this, or just let Fedora make the partitions itself automatically.

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After all required input is complete

An important note - when you return to this screen after completing disk partitioning, it will initially still say "Please complete required items...".  It takes a short time (5-15 seconds) for anaconda to process and check the changes, then if everything is all right it will remove that message and the Begin Installation button will become active.

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