Fedora 8: Close, But No Cigar

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Fedora had a chance – a real chance – to unseat Ubuntu last week. Not for my primary machine, the Thinkpad, but for the Ultra 20 workstation. And just to address the rumors, no one’s switching back to Windows. The laptop is Gutsy and is likely to be until Heron is out; I merely need a Windows instance handy for testing, which neither Lenovo nor Microsoft is making easy.

Anyway, on the workstation front, Ubuntu had done nothing to deserve a dismissal, but the cool kids in #redmonk kept bragging about all of the new hotness in Fedora, and, well, I wanted to be cool too. So it was out with Ubuntu, or maybe it was Indiana, I can’t remember, and in with Fedora 8. Or it would have been, were it not for the fact that Fedora doesn’t make available LiveCD’s for the x86_64 architecture, only DVDs. Why? You’d have to ask them.

But after an aborted attempt to get Fedora running on a memory stick – the instructions assume you already have a running Fedora instance and I tried to cheat – I finally caved and walked up the street to get a DVD burner. I probably needed one anyway, but this wasn’t how I’d planned on being introduced to the OS.

Once I got it burned and laid down on the machine, I set about experimenting with the featureset I expected would differentiate it: virtualization. And differentiate it did. Once I figured out how to install it, anyway.

Looking around the menus, I didn’t see anything handily labelled “Virtualization.” This was because I hadn’t managed to include it as part of the default install. Knowing a bit about the packages I wanted, I was installing KVM and related libraries piecemeal until I ran across the virtualization package under “Add/Remove Software” (click the “Browse” tab, then “Base System” and scroll down). That conveniently dropped in virtually everything I needed. At which point, I expected to be off to the races.

The reality? Not so much success as much as total failure.

Opening Fedora’s Virtual Machine Manager, which is a very nice piece of software despite my lack of success with it, I first attempted to virtualize Ubuntu Gutsy. Start with what you know, I figured. Curiously, however, I had to manually start the libvirt daemon as it hadn’t been initiated despite the install and subsequent start of the Virtual Machine Manager. Once that was figured out, I created a Gutsy image and began the install. Everything went smoothly until it failed, complaining of “corrupt packages” and an inability to connect to the network. Given that I later used to the same disk to create an instance of Gutsy on VMWare, I think the media is fine. And the network connection worked beautifully during the initial part of the installation. So I did the easiest thing I could think of, and gave up on Gutsy.

Instead, I’d try to virtualize Windows Server 2008, as I knew Senor Dolan had successfully done just this. Forgoing his instructions, which were command line based, I thought I’d try to use the GUI just as an experiment. That failed, as it was rumored it might, due to ACPI errors. At which point I turned to Michael’s CLI method, which also failed because Fedora returned a “command not found” to kvm. Turns out that kvm is instead qemu-kvm on Fedora: my bad. After I figured that bit out, the install of Windows Server 2008 promptly bluescreened.

Next, I tried to virtualize Vista. Blue sreen numero dos. Complicating my efforts with all of the above were the slight differences between Fedora and Ubuntu; you can’t modprobe on Fedora, apparently, even as root. Nor can you sudo, by default – su is your only option.

Given these frustrations, and having killed more hours than I’d alloted on all of the above, I decided at that point to cut bait. Fedora 8 was blown away in favor of Ubuntu and VMWare, the latter of which installed both Gutsy and Windows Server 2008 relatively seamlessly (Vista probably would have loaded but my tester’s copy has a bad license key for it and thus I couldn’t proceed).

So Fedora’s virtualization is terrible, then, right? And VMWare is the future?

Not quite. VMWare is unquestionably more polished at this point, as well as more stable and more usable. But my failures with it notwithstanding, the open source virtualization story is impressive for an early stage product; judging by others’ results, anyway. The Virtual Machine Manager, as mentioned, comes with a nice, simple GUI that’s very usable once you get the hang of it (connect to the localhost before you try creating VMs). More importantly, the virtualization technologies under the hood in KVM and Xen are more capable than many realize. Xen, as an example, is the underlying technology behind Amazon’s EC2, and KVM is hugely popular with the distros due in part to its light weight. Both are eminently capable of virtualizating the very operating systems I failed to, and my lack of success is at least as attributable to me as it is to the packages themselves.

For the time being, however, Ubuntu remains my preferred distribution, simply because I think they’ve done a better job of making the distribution usable, and without the virtualization to differentiate it Fedora’s not the best choice. That said, Fedora showed enough even in a brief, unsuccessful trial to indicate that it will push Ubuntu in the months ahead, which should be beneficial for both distributions and their users. Competition is good.

More interesting to ponder is what Fedora and its virtualization capabilities mean for VMWare. Granted, I could get nothing working. But part of that is my own ignorance, and it can’t be questioned that the basic building blocks are in place. Not necessarily on the UI and management sides, as yet – VMWare is way out in front in that regard – but how long will it be before the hypervisor and basic virtualization is commoditized and freely available? 18 months? 12? 6?

Undoubtedly, VMWare would answer its critics by contending that it will continue to innovate to stay ahead, and certainly it’s got the talent to do so. They’ve poached some of the better kernel engineers on the planet at this point. But what we’ve been discussing within RedMonk and with a few external parties recently is at what point the firm begins to compete head to head with the entrenched systems management players. After you get by the technical challenge of supporting guest operating systems, after all, comes the real challenge: managing them all.

So while I’m certainly not predicting doom for VMWare as some are inclined to do – like Microsoft, they’re massively entrenched in their particular market(s) – I am very interested to see how they navigate low end commoditization from open source and increasing competition at the high end from vendors that know systems management at least as well as VMWare does. Oh, and then there’s Microsoft.

A chain of thought that I would not necessarily have arrived at without my Fedora experiment; proof that we can learn even from our failures. Fedora may not have poached me as a user yet, but I’ll be sure to try it again in a few months. Who knows what I’ll learn from that experience.


  1. I’ve heard complaints that the latest VMWare betas are using a web interface running on Tomcat (ie, Java) for management. Whether this is just for the server products or what I don’t know. See also http://www.imbrandon.com/2007.12.02/ugh.html

  2. Hi!

    I guess you figured out Applications -> System Tools -> Virtual Machine Manager, rather than looking for a menu item titled “Virtualization”. I believe that even in Ubuntu, you don’t actually have such a menu, when you install VMWare.

    The installation however has a Virtualization section. By default, it installs QEMU/KVM, and not Xen (you can also choose this as an option, obviously).

    Its funny how your Gutsy failed… The crashing Windows, i.e. seeing a blue screen, seems really normal at the moment. I have no idea why, as Vista installs just fine in Ubuntu Gutsy’s KVM, but not in the KVM available on Fedora.

    Not being able to modprobe is clearly because /sbin/ is not in your path. Try sudo /sbin/modprobe or /sbin/rmmod. So no, su – is not your only option.

    You forgot to mention that VMWare isn’t available via apt-get… The commercial repository in Ubuntu Gutsy doesn’t have it yet (the Feisty Fawn did).

    Just some thoughts…

  3. Oh, and for management – one of the suggestions for APOC was to write an SMF adapter for Solaris, but someone could also write one for Apache, MySQL or whatever other software you’re running.

  4. Interesting experience. It looks very much like what happened to me with installing QEMU and KQEMU on Ubuntu. (http://thesalmonfarm.org/blog/index.php?s=QEMU). In the end, like you, I went back to VMWare software – stable and “just worked”.

  5. Apparently there are some issues with splash screens crashing KVM… I used the rather counter-intuitive “kvm -no-kvm” for slower installs, and then dispensed with the option for running the real (virtual) thing. Ubuntu Server was/is fine, and XP the same but I was still having probs with Ubuntu Desktop… which I minded less as I was running it as a base OS.

    Right now I’ve gone with VirtualBox which is jolly nice but it does seem to cause problems with X, exhibited by not-infrequent freezes of the desktop (generally I get to move the cursor around, which passes the time).

    Cheers, Jon

  6. It’s odd how noone mentions http://www.virtualbox.org as a free (as in beer, if you choose the prepackaged version) or free (as in freedom, without some stuff if you choose the gpl version) virtualization alternative. Much more stable than QEmu/KVM to run windows, with a nice interface. It’s worth a try (they have ubuntu packages available).

  7. To sum this whole thing up, the only problem you had with Fedora was not being familiar it if you leave aside the the virtualization trouble.

  8. An OS should be selected based on the job(s) it will be doing; Ubuntu while a good distro is not the best choice in all cases. Red Hat’s Fedora is not for the hobby Linux user nor is it for people just moving to Linux from Microsoft Windows. Fedora is for those with Linux knowledge and experience not wide eyes. Choose wise as doing your homework first and realize that because a given distro does not meet every need that its comparison with another it has failed, no. There are by comparisons weak points to every distro; remain vocal as a community but remain flexible.

  9. My biggest problem, so far, with Fedora 8 is that fast user switching and desktop effects don’t work together. I can use either one alone without problems but combined X locks up whenever I try to switch users.

    Everything else has worked fine for me. I can browse the web (complete with Flash and Java support), read my email, work with images and documents, play DVDs, play MP3s, and even run Windows XP in VMWare Player with no issues.

  10. […] tecosystems » Fedora 8: Close, But No Cigar Good review of fedora 8. (tags: linux fedora review) […]

  11. My biggest problem, so far, with Fedora 8 is codec buddy not like Ubuntu. It just take me to paid codec sites not the free ones like Ubuntu. I think at this point I can honestly say Ubuntu is a more polished

  12. I know that you can get Vmware for free these days, however you should give VirtualBox a try. I use it for all my virtual server needs. It works great and it’s completely free and has features that are not available in Vmware, or rather that you have to pay for to get in Vmware.

  13. I use both ubuntu and fedora, as well as something called Vector Linux. I also have used a variety of virtuals in different boxes and with different host systems. I agree with some of the comments above that take issue with some of this writer’s points.
    First: Ubuntu is built on Debian, which is to say it uses an older and more stable kernel than Fedora, as well as using more polished and stable versions of other programs. TYhis was its credo from the beginning: to provide a stable and trouble-free system for people who wanted to consider moving into the Linux world.
    Fedora was started as a “bleeding edge” project to test new and potentially unstable products, kernels and ideas for RHEL. Clearly Fedora is riskier and more prone to crashes, failures and problems than Ubuntu, it is part of the risk, part of the allure.

    So, to compare them is, IMHO, completely mistaken.

    Second: the virtuals are also different products with sometimes different end market goals. I agree with the poster above who mentioned Virtual Box. While Xen is a good server choice for real-world production, for myself, doing little projects that require a working instance of WIndows, VB is easier to setup, destroy, rebuild and mess with. The community support is outstanding and the project is building an excellent product that is aware of freedom and freedom issues. or most of the world VB is a good solution at the moment> Caveat? everythinjg is changing fast, so next week I might have a different opinion.

  14. Vmware server is in Gutsy now.

    Add to sources.list
    deb http://archive.canonical.com/ubuntu gutsy partner

    apt-get install vmware-server

  15. When the only tool you have is a hammer (UBUNTU), every solution looks like a nail(UBUNTU). That is, the author wants Fedora to be another nail. to respect UBUNTU’s file naming and menu structures.
    But perhaps it is UBUNTU that renamed the files, and Fedora did not, If both renamed them, then that adds to complicating his comparison.

    Normally, if I am not an expert in a field, and if I did not know precisely what I was doing, I would contact, via the web forums, someone who had been through the experience beforehand.

    My view is that the author suffered from stress due to time constraints, and could not do his analysis as it should have been done.

  16. I had the opportunity to use both VMware and Fedora’s virtualization tools. To be honest Fedora’s tools are just plain bad. Trying to sugar coat this to make FOSS look good just doesnt help anyone. It won’t help the devs make it better, it just downplays the problems.

    Because VMware is stable and most OSes just work, I have no problems using it. FYI server 2008 IS labled experimental so there will almost always be issues associated with that. BSODs are common at that point.

    Virtual Box is great for some uses, but they don’t always support features that VMware does like x64 multi-CPU, SCSI disk support (if you need that).

    Fedora’s Xen based Virtualization is not exactly up to snuff. The underlying technology has potential, but the mangement tools are still lacking alot of polish and usability.

  17. […] Occasionally, I’m reminded of this, as was the case this week when this week’s Fedora piece was linked to by Linux.com, Linuxtoday, and Tuxmachines. Between them, they sent over somewhere […]

  18. QEMU/KVM virtualization works very well in Fedora 8 … just not for the latest OSes (Vista, etc.). It will improve over time.

    Using Virtual Machine Manager, libvirtd, qemu, and KVM I have a complete firewalled “corporate IT” system running on a quad-core 8GB Intel-VT machine:

    [A] 5 separate internal networks
    [B] one being an internal Windows network
    with a WinXP and 3 separate
    Win2003-Server machines (and I can even
    VPN to this network from outside the
    real physical hosting box)
    [C] running CentOS, Fedora on other machines
    [D] 10 virtual machines defined, 6 typically running
    [E] beautiful performance
    [F] all machines fully hardware-accelerated
    (both i386/i686 and x86_64)

    I’d like to install a fully emulated sparc-based Solaris 10 (or even Solaris 9) OS … then I’d be happy. A full software dev/demo environment, a hosting platform for multiple websites on different external IP addresses. Fully firewalled.

    It’s a pain to figure what works but it’s beautiful once you get the hang of it, much better than Xen.

  19. P.S.: use the ‘virsh’ command-line utility to do things that the virt-manager won’t do. (Using the direct QEMU console opened on /dev/pts/NNN is also useful.)

    At various points during exploration I was not fully happy with resulting virtual machines definitions that virt-manager automatically generated.

    You can use “virsh undefine VM_NAME”, “virsh dumpxml VM_NAME”, “virsh define VM_DEF_FILE.xml”, and various others to remove/add/edit virtual machine definitions (e.g., to boot up cdrom-liveCD-rescue-disk instead of from hard drive, to mount additional hard drives on VM), start/stop networks, etc. You’ll need to learn the XML format for VM definitions.

    Also useful is the QEMU console where you can issue commands to the virtual machine’s virtual hardware drivers (?) to change mounted CD-ROM images, send special key combinations, etc. (use commands such as ‘echo “sendkey ctrl+alt+delete” > /dev/pts/3’ and then ‘cat /dev/pts/3’ + CTRL-C to see results). There’s a trick to finding the /dev/pts/NNN the particular virtual machine is listening on.

  20. Urca,

    It is clear you have worked out some of the finer points of QEMU/KVM to solve problems that users such as Stephen O’Grady and myself have experienced.

    I have been using Fedora for 2 years as my main desktop OS, so I can get around the OS okay. However QEMU/KVM presented so many problems I gave up and went back to using VMware Server.

    Would you have, or be able to direct us to a URL that has a good HOWTO on setting up QEMU/KVM on Fedora?

    I followed the guide here: http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=656&num=1 but once I started trying to install a Guest OS I had repeated problems.

  21. Regarding your statement about not being able to modprobe in Fedora… as a previous commenter said, this is simply an issue with your path. This is a linux “feature” and has nothing to do with Fedora itself.

    Consider this:

    *** The below command make you become root, but does NOT inherit root’s environment variables. Modprobe, ifconfig, etc, would all require a full path.
    $ su

    **** The below command makes you root AND gives you root’s environment, namely $PATH/
    $ su –

    So try that… simply add the space-hyphen after su, and then modprobe and other will work without any additional work.

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