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Foresight Linux Impressions

Well, I made the plunge. I wiped my hard drive clean last night, and installed Foresight to bare metal. Why not a VM like originally planned? I don't know what the issues were, but KVM was sloooooooooow. Reading up on all the support questions, docs, wiki's and sites I could find, I still could not get KVM to respond in any decent manner. Yes, my CPU supports virtualization and yes, the kernel module 'kvm_intel' was installed. So, rather than fiddle with that all day, I just backed up my data (I'm sure I didn't get all of it), formatted and installed.

First initial impressions were a bit shaky. Foresight uses the Anaconda installer from Red Hat. In fact, Foresight is a distro based on Red Hat (actually, rPath Linux which is based on Red Hat). So, a major plus is the fact that a /root/anaconda-ks.cfg file exists when my install finishes. So, automating installs over the network can be done easily with this feature. This is one major feature that is missing from Debian/Ubuntu installs. But, a major drawback is the predetermined selection of packages, without the ability to modify them. Having a preset default of packages is good, but the user should still have the choice to install/remove what he/she does/doesn't want/need (I just had to continue with the / 🙂 ). This is a drawback to Ubuntu as well. However, they do offer a mini-boot ISO with the ability to install a base system, building on top as needed.

After install, which took about 40 minutes, I rebooted. The familiar Red Hat boot comes up, letting me know what services are starting with a green OK if started or red FAILED if they didn't start. After boot however, X won't start. No problem, I've encountered this hundreds of times. I see that the video driver is the culprit, change it from 'i810' to 'vesa', and restart X. It didn't recognize my capable resolution out the gate, so I changed that from the preferences in the Gnome menu. Not a big deal. I then needed to restart X. I hit ctrl-alt-backspace, and it hard locks.

Actually, it doesn't hard lock, but X crashes miserably, and is unable to recover itself, or the terminal. I can still SSH into the box, as OpenSSH server is installed and running by default. Stop X, and restarting remotely is the only way to recover the crash. Once back up and running, I decide to start playing with the conary package manager a bit, as this is the entire reason that I installed this distro to begin with. So, out of habit, I hit ctrl+alt+f1 to go to tty1, and it crashes again, with no recovery. So, from SSH, I remotely login again, restart X, and give it another go. Come to find out, logging out, restarting X, or changing to a TTY crashes X with no ability to recover locally. At the request of a supporter in #foresight, I install strace and see if we can debug the strace output. X is a pain to debug, as it has its own builtin timer that litters the debug output.

We can't find the problem with X, and changing to the 'vga' driver causes the same issues. Someone in the channel mentioned that Foresight uses a heavily patched Xorg, so I suspect that not all the bugs are worked out. I decide to upgrade to 2.0 alpha, hoping that the bug is fixed in the newer release. I run the command for the upgrade, and let it go over night, with a warning that if I have network bumps, the upgrade may fail, and I may have to try again. After getting up to feed my daughter at 4am, I head to my laptop to see how the upgrade went. The output shows that everything went fine, so I reboot hoping for the best.

Now, not only do I have video driver issues with X, but mouse and keyboard driver issues as well. So bad, I can't even type using my own keyboard. I need to plug in a USB keyboard to get access. Rather than fight with X on an alpha release, I decide that Foresight isn't quite there for me yet, and will be the install of a later date. After all, I do have a Lenovo Thinkpad T61, and I think the newer hardware is causing problems for the distro. I won't blame it all on Foresight, as I had problems with Debian when initially installed.

So, what do I do now? Either, I can keep at it for the next 6 months, as I told myself I would do, or I can reinstall a new distro, keeping to my goal of running a new distro every 6 months. I decide that due to the nature of my hardware, I'll install these new distros in virtual machines, rather than try to fight with the hardware on each and every install until all the bugs are worked out. So, being an Ubuntu advocate, and seeing as though I don't have these problems with Debian/Ubuntu, I decide to install Ubuntu Gutsy as the host this time around. Also, I just realized that there are some data files I forgot to backup, so the VM solution is superior I think.

In conclusion, Foresight Linux isn't quite there yet with my hardware. I can't blame them as is filled to the brim with hardware issues on various distro installls. However, 1.4.2 is their stable release, and X should be a bit more stable than what I was experiencing, I would expect. So, when I get a VM properly setup, maybe I'll give it a roll one more time and see where it takes me. I have 6 months after all, right?

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