Why I liked Ubuntu (and my thoughts on Gutsy Werewolf, aka Fedora 8)

One of the reasons I like Ubuntu is because they have a really swanky commercial repository, and they make it easy for me to get some commercial software, without pulling an RMS-styled “Freedom is a feature” on me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Fedora with all my heart, but when you get out of the distribution business per se, you feel that you might just want your primary machine to “Just Work”(tm). And long gone are the days where I carry 2-3 laptops when I travel – I just aim for one (I have lots of photo gear to worry about, instead).

The Feisty Fawn, was a pretty good Ubuntu release. That is, I got my commercial software fix – Sun’s JDK (moot these days, hello IcedTea in Fedora, for instance), VMWare Server (its free, kind of useful for running other distributions), and even Opera (sometimes I’m bored with Firefox, Galeon, Epiphany, I need to test things in another browser).

When Gutsy Gibbon got released, I couldn’t wait to update to the next, best thing. You expect things to move forward, never regress right?

Well, Sun’s software still works. As does Opera. But VMWare, has since, stopped working. Kernel 2.6.22-14 does not come with appropriate VMWare modules. Yes, that means, there’s no vmmon or vmnet loaded (or even, loadable, to be exact). Effectively, they’ve broken VMWare. I wondered why, so I hopped on to a package search, only to find out that VMWare has been removed from the commercial repository. No real explanation that I can find as to why it doesn’t exist.

So, my next option is to maybe build-my-own-package. There’s a guide titled VMWare in Ubuntu Gutsy – Kernel 2.6.22 that might be a good read for those that want to use this. Then I recall why I moved to using Ubuntu daily – I did it to get away from the frustration of having to build things myself. I did it, for the “Just Works”(tm) experience.

My options are to move to using some free software, quite obviously. There’s KVM, Xen, or even VirtualBox. Hey wait a minute, I can get all this in Fedora 8 too, can’t I?

The Gutsy Gibbon was supposed to come with a rocking new tool, displayconfig-gtk (i.e. System -> Administration -> Screen and Graphics). Unfortunately, it is broken beyond all thought. Then I remember an old friend, system-config-display, from Fedora – at least it works, and it has been around for ages (since what, Red Hat 8?). displayconfig-gtk is supposed to give me all the wonderful hotplug goodness of an external display, but it doesn’t. I can manually push xrandr to at least mirror my display (Intel chipset, might I add), which I’m sure I can also do in Fedora 8.

So I’ve come to the realisation that things are broken, and I’m going to have to do things manually, if I want them to work. This is irrespective of if I run Ubuntu or Fedora. Being just an “end user” is hard, to almost impossible.

My needs-to-work-list:

  • sleep/resume – this can also be kernel version dependant, Ubuntu has the advantage for a less aggressive release policy, but it seems Fedora is catching up with wanting to ensure laptop stuff, just works
  • wifi – ipw3945d is my poison, and it seems that both Fedora and Ubuntu have this working out of the box (a stark improvement to previous Fedora’s where you had to get the firmware yourself). Of course, repeated sleep/resumes tend to make WiFi die, and that just annoys me
  • video out – this is hacky at best, Ubuntu works if I tweak things manually, I wonder if Fedora 8 will have this any better. Nonetheless, xrandr should come to my rescue
  • sound – well, my laptop is my primary music listening device as well as video watching device. Ubuntu and Fedora should have this working just fine
  • codecs – I need to watch DivX, play MP3s, and so on. Ubuntu provides this via Medibuntu and Fedora via Livna
  • media keys – Ubuntu and Fedora should have this working fine, and GNOME in both environments is highly friendly
  • virtualization – I don’t care if I end up using KVM (which is looking like what I’m going for), or Xen (no ACPI, and obviously can’t sleep/resume), but I think I’ve had it with VMWare unless they have sensible packages. I have useless VMs sitting on my laptop now.
  • fully 64-bit OS – I plan on moving on from 2GB of RAM to 4GB of RAM (its kind of cheap nowadays), and want a fully 64-bit OS. Ubuntu works, sure, but I have to have ugly chroot hacks for a 32-bit environment. Fedora just works, some say because RPM is broken but I say, if that’s the case, its broken in a good way. Mixture of 32/64-bit rpms, are sweet
  • Skype, GizmoProject – closed source, install your own, works on Ubuntu and Fedora

My “it’ll be nice if it worked” list:

  • compiz effects – Doesn’t seem to work on Ubuntu, I wonder if Fedora will have it any better
  • hibernate – not quite suspend/resume, but it can be handy to have around
  • sd/mmc/memory stick card reader – Doesn’t seem to work on Ubuntu (Feisty, last I tried it)
  • tv out – Never tried, but if video out is this bad, I doubt s-video is any better

I take it that’s enough ranting for today. Congratulations to the Fedora Project for releasing Fedora 8 today. I think Werewolf will be a gutsy release alright.

And a happy Diwali/Deepavali to all Hindus. As an aside, the number 8 is interesting – in Chinese, it loosely translates to being lucky. And November 8 2007 seems to be the “festival of light”. The only way it could’ve been any more numerically lucky is if it were released on 08-08-2008 (a day for a lot of weddings, I assume).

I seem to enjoy asides today, so here’s another. I ran dict gutsy, and it has some interesting definitions:

  gutsy \gutsy\ adj.
     1. marked by courage and determination in the face of
        difficulties or danger.
       Syn: courageous, plucky.
      2. rough or plain; not sophisticated or refined; earthy.
        Opposite of {sophisticated}, or {refined}.
       Syn: earthy, lusty, robust.

I wonder if, definition-wise, Gutsy Werewolf is #1 and the Gutsy Gibbon is #2?

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  1. Jeremy Katz says:

    Don’t discount those VMs you have on disk — the vmdk format used by VMWare has been reverse engineered and the version of kvm in Fedora 8 has those bits. I haven’t actually *tried* it, but I’ve read reports that it works just fine. And moving to kvm is definitely the right thing to do :-)

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  3. James says:

    If you are reinstalling, you might want to give Project Indiana (aka OpenSolaris Developer Preview) a spin. I haven’t tried it myself, but here’s some guesses as to how it will stand up to your list:
    * sleep/resume – unlikely to work
    * wifi – good chances of working, and nwam is apparently a nice alternative to n-m
    * video out – probably similar chances of working, it’s got a mostly-upstream Xorg
    * sound – OSS is included, should be fine
    * codecs – you’d probably have to compile your own, using spec-files-extra. Fluendo does have some plugins for OpenSolaris available
    * media keys – I’d assume these work ok
    * virtualization – Xen (rebraned as xVM) is available
    * fully 64-bit OS – You get a 64bit kernel and a mostly 32bit userspace
    * Skype, GizmoProject – unlikely to work
    * compiz effects – compiz is available
    * hibernate – again, unlikely to work
    * sd/mmc/memory stick card reader – also unlikely to work. it has better chances of working in gutsy/f8, there’s been support added for more devices upstream.
    * tv out – again, probably similar chances

    It’s good to see Fedora has built up steam and caught up with Ubuntu, after being caught napping when warty came out. F6 was ok, F7 was better, and as you say, F8 is as good, if not better than Gutsy. Now we’ll reap the benefits of two quality desktop distributions competing for mindshare. Hardy is going to be a conservative release, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see new features, perhaps a Time Machine clone? 10.5 looks to be a fairly rich vein of ideas to mine, unlike Vista.

  4. AndrewJ says:

    I am new to the whole Linux thing but I am 100% in agreement with about half your points in this entry. While Ubuntu is a great distro I however feel it better to learn Fedora. Why is this ? honestly i have no idea. I just like the simpler commands for yum then the APT packagemanager and so on but I am going to give Gutsy Ubuntu a more in depth review for myself once I have a chance

  5. Paul Bersch says:

    Installing VMware is pretty easy.

    1. Install the build-essential, linux-headers-`uname -r` (to get the ones for your current kernel), and xinetd packages using apt.

    2. Download the VMware Server tarball from VMware and extract the contents.

    3. Run the vmware-install.pl script in the extracted directory as root.

    If I remember correctly, all of the defaults it suggests are correct. You pretty much can just hit “Enter” until it asks you for your serial number. It automatically compiles kernel modules and even adds itself to your menu.

    Certainly it is harder than just installing the package from the repositories, but it’s easy enough that if a user can’t do it, that user probably wouldn’t be able to figure out how to use VMware anyway.

  6. Mike Fedyk says:

    The partner (previously named “commercial”) lags behind a bit in new ubuntu releases. I usually install realplayer from there.

    When feisty first came out, there wasn’t a realplayer available in partner repo, so I just installed the package from the edgy-partner repo. I checked a few months later after checking through the updated packages since the feisty release, and realplayer was updated from the feisty partner repo now that there was a package available.

    Unfortunately that won’t work with the vmware package for feisty (it probably doesn’t have a new enough any-any patch for 2.6.22). Also it’s too bad that vmware 1.0.4 hasn’t been updated in the feisty partner repo, there are some security updates in the new version I believe.

    So, to sum things up: “Uhh, the partner repo is usually empty for the latest release and then gets populated in the near-term afterwards — install a package from an earlier release, it’ll probably tide you over until an update comes out for the latest version.”

  7. Paul Bersch says:

    The any-any patch is no longer necessary. VMware fixed that with the 1.04 release. I can confirm that it works on Gutsy.

    From the release notes:
    “This release fixes a problem that prevented the VMware vmnet module from building correctly on hosts running Linux with kernel versions higher than 2.6.21.”