19 months, 16 *successful* installs

I just did a tally of all the installs I’ve done on my personal systems since the end of June, 2008, when I bought a new-to-me desktop and took advantage of the opportunity to upgrade from the CentOS 4.x series (to the CentOS 5.x series. πŸ™‚ ). And I was a bit blown over; unfortunately, not surprised, but blown over nonetheless.

Over 5 systems, I’ve done 16 successful installs; then there were a few dud installs that had to be restarted right away, although a couple of said duds were counted because the installs were actually useful for a few weeks, including one not counted as a successful install during the most recent cycle despite the fact that it was a successful install; unfortunately, the boot sector on the drive died (it was to be expected, back last June or July, Palimptest identified the drive as having a fatal error on it, and the drive was declared as having about 6 months to live, and whaddya know!) so I had to get another “new” drive, which I happened to have handy, and do another install.

To be fair, there has been one factory sealed new system thrown in there (what fun to wipe the Windows install, which curiously, apparently irreparably froze up after all the updates were done, the whole thing to be able to say “yeah, but Windows worked on it!” — which it didn’t!), another system that just about hasn’t been used since and after a few months has now been removed from the upgrade cycle, another system that finally died or at least on whose ghost I have given up, and a finally a replacement system for said “death in the family”.

One of the reasons why I always say “I’d love to go back to CentOS if it weren’t so hopelessly obsolete” is that it’s stable and has a long life to it (something like typically 7 years) — Fedora *has* been good to me since I started using it from version 9, and hence with CentOS you don’t have to upgrade every six months like with Fedora — oops, that’s every 12 months or so — given the support cycle (wink wink). πŸ™‚

Problem is that when you have several systems, you’re still doing installs every 6 months or so if the systems aren’t in sync with each other; further one of the consequences of using second hand or third hand computers, buying new computers, upgrading parts and hard drives, and even trying out another distro at least once is that your systems are hardly every likely to be in sync for the whole 13 months or so lifespan of a new-version-released-every-6-months distro like Fedora. And of course, that someone who would like to avoid having to do new installs every 6 months is going to upgrade a system that is out of sync to bring it in line with the others in the hopes that “this will be the cycle when I get to enjoy the whole lifespan and not have to upgrade 6 months from now”.

Hence the ideal of trying to avoid the “install every 6 month habit” by syncing the installs with each other when a single new install is done in order to hopefully avoid having to reinstall in 6 months is fallacious when you have at least two systems — in fact, you end up doing the opposite since you not only are installing (or re-installing) at least once every six months for one legitimate reason or another, but you end up doing multiple installs, many of which are unnecessary in and of themselves, every 6 months, just to keep everything in sync. And as such, the “install every 6 month habit”.

Of course, I have often been enjoying the process despite myself; in fact, I’ve managed to put together an ever-increasingly long list of steps to take from start to finish when installing a system (which I’ll be presenting to one of the local LUGs in a few weeks.) Fortunately, my computers are purely home desktops or hobby servers without any critical processes on them, and my brother at least humours my habit by doing those little bits that are still beyond my ever-increasing sysadmin skill set (which of course is growing with each install cycle). And in the process I’m gaining a practical appreciation for what I’ve known all along since I started using Linux in 2006 and started using CentOS: The likes of Fedora and Ubuntu may be great, but you have to re-install every 6 months! Who wants to do that?!?!” (Apparently, I do. πŸ™‚ )

It must be interesting having multiple production servers with multiple versions of a given distro, let alone more than one distro (ie. a mix of CentOS, Debian, SuSE, and for some good fun, Slackware). Good thing that usually having “the latest and greatest” usually isn’t as particularly important on a server so that it can actually have a useful life. Must be hard for the likes of Red Hat, for instance, when it must add new drivers all the time, but in order to keep from breaking compatibility and adding “bad change” into the distro other things don’t happen (things like the HPLIP version that is one incremental subversion or whatever it 0.x increments are called behind the minimum requirements for my 2.5 year old printer, and which has since gone through several such incremental upgrades and at least a whole version upgrade since.)

News Flash — Linux spotted in the wilds of Montreal!

This morning I did something very unusual, for me. I took the commuter train into work instead of driving my car, and I saw a Gnome desktop on someone’s laptop computer! Doing a double take, I checked, and whaddya know, it’s definitely a Gnome desktop, it’s very familiar, it isn’t brown, and yup, it was Fedora 12.

A few weeks ago my brother had posted on SlashDot asking if anyone had seen Linux in use in the wild — not data centres, of course, nor at LUG meetings or other such gatherings of Linux types where of course Linux is expected to be seen, but random, innocent spottings in places like at restaurants, café’s, university or college student halls, on the streets, on the train, etc. The responses were an underwhelming (or disappointingly overwhelming) “no”. In fact, my brother said that I was the only person he knew who used a Linux desktop besides himself, and that I’m far more pure about it than he. (In fact, he uses Windows as regularly as Linux on his personal systems, while I “only” use Windows at work, and don’t particularly care for it.) Besides seeing Linux desktops at LUGS and Linux Meetups, offhand I can only think of two people I know who say they use Linux at home as their desktops.

I started chatting with this person, and they apparently develop software for a particular industry (no, not that industry), to be used on Red Hat 5.x servers; they use Fedora because CentOS is hopelessly out of date for things like wireless support on his computer; however, unfortunately, they have been finding Fedora 12 unstable … not my experience so far.

Suffice it to say that even put aside the Fedora part, this chance meeting made my day!

Fedora 12 installed — I’m a linux addict with an install every 6 months habit

Well over the past couple of weeks I’ve just installed Fedora 12 on three systems — mainly because I got a great great great new P4 3.0GHz home server, which I have been considering using as my desktop while using my current desktop as the server, a P4 2.8GHz.

To my dismay I have done this 6 months after I made a point of having the same version of Fedora on all my computers so as to avoid the “reformat a system every six months” treadmill that I was on by having different versions, because, well, my old server died and of course there was no point to putting a 6 month old version of Fedora on which I would only *have* to change 6 months from now, anyway … Sigh, the bliss of using CentOS, were only it not so completely obsolete, I would love to use it again … However on the other side, Fedora is the crack cocaine of “latest and greatest”, so for the moment there’s no going back!

All of this started back in, what, September, if not before; I couldn’t get the 80 gig drive and the 500 gig to play nice together, or so I thought. There *was* an issue with different spin speeds, but wait folks, there’s more. When I *did* have the 500gig as the boot disk, something seemed off with the amount of available storage, although I wasn’t fully aware. When I finally brought the 500 back as the boot drive, the installation went well several times with Fedora, then with Centos 5.1 (which would have been promptly updated upon reboot.) Except, the first reboot wouldn’t work, the system would freeze, and the keyboard buffer would fill up real quick. Forums were of little help, with sufficient dead ends and apparent red herrings. Finally, I started figuring out on my own that the BIOS was way too old to recognize such a large drive, and flashing it with a “new” bios would have required a lot of fun with WINE, which I wasn’t really wanting to get into using a live CD.

Christmas and a new server came along, and I’m up and running with a desktop upgraded from june 2008 — CentOS 5.1 to 5.2, July 2008 some version of Ubuntu, December 2008 Fedora 10, July 2009 Fedora 11, and now January 2010 Fedora 12 … and a netbook, a laptop which is no longer used, an old server, and a new server following a similar route for much of the way each. So much for even taking advantage of Fedora’s “1 month after the release of the second version following” … I’m still upgrading every 6 months!

As a result, though, I finally now have refined my “to-do” list when installing a machine so that it’s not so much of a hassle, and in fact two of the three setups were not only a breeze in and of themselves but the to-do lists also made the rest of the work a breeze, too. Of course my brother told me two years ago that his list was 300+ steps long and heÒ€ℒd found a two year old such list, that was only about 120+ items long. My list is currently somewhere around 58 items long depending on how you count it … I wonder how long it’ll take to get to 300? πŸ™‚

However, I had problems with the desktop right after it was installed like a breeze, the disk boot sector died (I expected it would anyway as of about 6 months ago) and funnily enough the mem stick on which the setup worked like a breeze before suddenly wasn’t cooperating. Gotta figure out what was going wrong with UNetbootin creating the ram stick images from ISO, in which, curiously, the boot image required after the disk formatting in Anaconda wasn’t being properly copied or at least activated on the ram stick.

Anyway, I think I have to work on getting the most out of the system, I bet that months from now Fedora will find a way to make me upgrade again, with that lucky number associated with it and all … πŸ™‚