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Getting frugal: Red Hat Network's low-cost upgrade to Red Hat 9

It took longer than expected, but Joe Barr is pleased with RHN's budget-friendly upgrade

(LinuxWorld) — These are tight economic times. One of the things I can't afford to do any longer is to run out and buy the latest distribution of Linux to hit the shelves, whether it be from Mandrake, SuSE, Xandros or Red Hat.

Little good it would do me if I could; Susan is using the laptop and I am down to a single computer in my home office. This is my work machine and I prefer to leave it on the same distribution and release for long periods. Recently I decided to put my Red Hat Network (RHN) subscription to greater use. I normally use RHN to run up2date at least weekly so I can keep up with the latest security fixes and updates. This week, I decided to download the ISO images of "shrike" and upgrade my desktop from Red Hat 8 to Red Hat 9.

Galeon and wget

The first step was grabbing the images. My RHN subscription gives me priority access, and I was seeing from 225 to 250 KBs via my RoadRunner cable connection. I won't complain about the speed, but I did have a lot of trouble getting a complete download of disc 2. I tried it about 10 times, and the transfer would just die suddenly at various stages of completion. When I finally got a full download of disc 2, the CD I created from it was no good. Rightly or wrongly, I blame those problems on Galeon.

I got a tip on the #redhat channel on irc.freenode.net to use wget instead of Galeon's built-in ftp. The wget technique was good. I got a complete download of disc 2 on my first attempt. The CD I created from that download (using cdrecord) with the speed set to 2X) worked perfectly. Not counting the wasted/aborted downloads, I estimate it took about 2 hours to download the three CD images. Burning them a little added roughly another 2 hours to the total time. I can't be more accurate than that because after I started each burn I got up and did something else for awhile.

PartitionSizeRed Hat 8Red Hat 9Size
hd15 Gb//15 Gb
hda610 Gb/home  
hdc19 Gb/backup/backup9 Gb
hda6120 Gb/bigdog/home120 Gb
I had decided not to do the upgrade thing because I wanted to do some big changes in my partitioning. A reader suggested in the forum attached to my recent story on adding a new hard drive to an existing system that I should have mounted the home directory on my new hard drive. I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to do exactly that. The chart above shows how my three drives were partitioned before and after my installation of Red Hat 9.

The installation begins

Before beginning the installation, of course, I made backups of critical data. I shut down Evolution before starting the backup to make sure I didn't lose mail received after I did the backup. Killing two birds with one stone, I copied my home directory from its old location on hda6 to where it lives now on hdd1. That was as easy as typing cp -R /home/warthawg /bigdog. The "-R" argument makes the copy recursive, so that all subdirectories under /home/warthawg are copied as well. Because I was copying the entire directory, all of the hidden files (those with a . in front of their name) were copied. I also saved copies of my XF86Config and my hosts files.

Then it was into the installation process itself. As I noted earlier, I tested the CDs before starting the installation. That took about 15 minutes total. I had to choose the manual partitioning option to accomplish what was needed. I didn't see any mention at all of fdisk. I had my choice of using DiskDruid or letting the installation handle it all. The GUI tool made it relatively easy to delete the existing partitions on hda and create a new partition in their place. It also made naming the mount points a snap, so I had /home on my new drive and kept /backup where it was. I didn't format any of the partitions except the new one on hda and the swap partition.

I chose the workstation installation and, for a little more than a half-hour, sat there watching the infomercials and occasionally changing the CD. After all the packages had been installed, the installer rebooted and I started the final phase of the basic installation. Red Hat 9 features some new, pretty graphics to guide you through the steps of adding a user, setting the time and date, checking the sound card and registering with RHN.

Updates and patches

I got a scare when I was finally asked to log in for the first time. GNOME balked at startup, complaining about not being able to access needed files. I thought I had majorly messed something up. In fact, I had messed something up, but it was trivial to fix. I had copied my original home directory as root and root was the sole owner of everything in the directory. I typed chown -R warthawg.warthawg /home/warthawg as root from a command line, then tried again to log in as a normal user. All was well, but not all was done. I had more to do in order to be back in business as I had been under Red Hat 8.

I started Evolution to make sure all my mail was still there, and sure enough, it was. Then it was time to grab any updates available. I visited RHN to transfer my entitlement to the new system, then ran up2date to grab any existing fixes. Sure enough, there were patches for 14 packages, with gcc being the largest. The entire update process took a little more than 10 minutes.

Next came the Nvidia patch for the new (2.4.20-8) kernel. That was as easy as visiting the Nvidia Web site and downloading the driver, then running the self-contained installation. When that was finished, I copied the /etc/XF86Config to a backup location, then edited the configuration file according to Nvidia's instructions. I logged out, logged back, and the NVIDIA driver came to life. Of course, I had to start NWN for a few minutes. Just to make sure the new driver was working properly, you understand.

One last item for the XF86Config. I don't understand why, but the Red Hat installation still needs deuglification as per the LinuxPlanet HowTo. I just copied the font directories from my saved XF86Config from Red Hat 8 into the new one. It makes a big difference in appearance.

Another gotcha bit me when I decided to surf a bit. Galeon wasn't installed. It was easy enough to grab it with up2date, though. About a minute later, it was installed and I was surfing with all my old bookmarks intact. I also had to grab a new copy of the Acrobat Reader to handle my PDF chores, because I had forgotten to save it before starting the installation.

What's new in Red Hat 9

Threading tops the list. Red Hat 9 contains the first implementation of the Native POSIX Threading Library (NPTL). While the technology is a bit over my head, my understanding is that the version of NPTL shipped with Red Hat 9 is more about fixing broken standards in the current threading library than about improving performance. The buzz I hear indicates that NPTL on the 2.6 kernel may mean a significant performance improvement with just about any threaded application, including Apache, MySQL, Evolution, and Nautilus.

The rest of Red Hat 9's story seems to be about the addition of more applications to the distribution: OpenOffice.org, Ximian Evolution, and CUPS for print management. There are some fit and polish touches, though. For instance, I noticed the dialogue box in Free Cell is more visually pleasing. Where Red Hat 8 was rich with its new look, most of Red Hat 9's beauty lies under the hood.

Is it worth it?

In summary, my low-cost upgrade from Red Hat 8 to 9 took a lot longer than normal. Nevertheless, at the end, I had my old familiar desktop and all the accoutrements with which I had started. Red Hat 9 slipped onto my system like a comfortable pair of slippers.

There were several reasons for the extra time it took, not the least of which were the download and CD-burn times. The special partitioning needs I had — the ones that kept me from doing an upgrade rather than a new installation — also drove up the installation time.

Would I have rather been installing from retail CDs with documentation and support? You bet. Am I glad the low-cost method was available, even though it took a little longer and required a little more of me? I sure am. Am I thinking of switching back to Mozilla from Galeon? Yes to that, too. Bless Linux for the choices.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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