Although you’ll most commonly hear me waxing lyrical about OS X these days, I’m a long-time Linux user. I’ve been running various flavours of Linux at home since Redhat 5.0 days.
Why Redhat and Fedora? Well, a good friend of mine noted a long time ago that it was the distribution likely to get the blessing of enterprise vendors as time went on. I’m not here to invite a flame war, and I’ve been impressed with a lot of other distros over the past couple of years in particular (while I keep meaning to give Ubuntu a “proper” run, I use it for development in VMWare Fusion on the Mac). I’ve run Fedora on a server and a workstation at home for a while now, and I’m always pretty keen to see what a new version has to offer.
Enter Fedora 9. I use my MacBook Pro pretty exclusively these days, so I just wanted a quick and easy way to see what Fedora 9 was like. I considered the Fusion option, but then read about the “Live USB” option. This is really nice… there’s a (currently Windows-based, sadly) desktop app that you run to select the “spin” of Fedora that you want, point it at an inserted USB memory key, and away you go… I chose Fedora 9 and let the Thinkpad download the image and then install it on my 1Gb USB stick. I also asked for a 200Mb “persistent overlay”, i.e. space that I could use for persistent storage of data like (I assume) my home directory. This is a far nicer option than a Live CD, as I can take my data with me.
A quick reboot, choosing a temporary boot device, pointing at the USB stick. The boot process was not all that promising, as it initially reported what looked like errors about inability to assign USB identifiers (or something), but it did all boot fine.
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In fact, it booted more than fine. I was pleased to find that Fedora 9 picked the “right” (i.e. max) resolution for my display straight away. The only customisation I needed to do to make the desktop more pleasant was to reduce the font size, but I can see why they went with the default size that they chose.
The next thing was to get myself online, or at least onto my home network. Based on past experience I went into the Network config under system preferences and started fiddling with the NIC settings. Didn’t work – although it could see the wireless card it didn’t want to let me join the network. Then I spotted the little wireless icon in the system tray at the top right of the screen, and clicking there let me join my home network immediately – with OS X levels of ease. Very impressive stuff.
Sound worked straight out of the box too… if I come across as surprised, remember I’ve been using Linux since RH 5 and I’m well aware of how flaky much of this stuff has been over the years.
Firefox worked fine, Pidgin let me configure my Google Talk account within seconds, taking a screenshot and editing in Gimp was no problem… this was a lovely experience overall. I was even able to install the Flash plugin for Firefox (although I had to download and install the RPM via sudo, rather than it just working via the Firefox addons installer).
All-in-all I was extremely impressed with the ease-of-installation and use. I’m not sure how often I’ll want to use this, but the fact that I have a fully-usable Linux distro on a bootable stick is just brilliant.