Getting Fedora working in VirtualBox

After a hiatus induced by disk errors seen on start up, I have gone having a go with Fedora again. In the world of real PC’s, its place has been taken by Debian so virtualisation was brought into play for my most recent explorations. I could have gone with 10, the current stable version, but curiosity got the better of me and I downloaded a pre-release version of 11 instead.

On my way to getting that instated, I encountered two issues. The first of these was boot failure with the message like this:

FATAL: INT18: BOOT FAILURE

As it turned out, that was easily sorted. I was performing the installation from a DVD image mounted as if it were a real DVD and laziness or some other similar reason had me rebooting with still mounted. There is an option to load the hard disk variant but it wasn’t happening, resulting in the message that’s above. A complete shut down and replacement of the virtual DVD with a real one set matters to rights.

The next trick was to get Guest Additions added but Fedora’s 2.6.29 was not what VirtualBox was expecting and it demanded the same ransom as Debian: gcc, make and kernel header files. Unfamiliarity had me firing up Fedora’s software installation software only to find that Synaptic seems to  beat it hands down in the search department. Turning to Google dredged up the following command to be executed and that got me further:

yum install binutils gcc make patch libgomp glibc-headers glibc-devel kernel-headers kernel-devel

However, the installed kernel headers didn’t match the kernel but a reboot fixed that once the kernel was updated. Then, the Guest Additions installed themselves as intended with necessary compilations to match the installed kernel.

The procedures that I have described here would, it seems, work for Fedora 10 and they certainly have bequeathed me  a working system. I have had a little poke and a beta of Firefox 3.5 is included and I saw sign of OpenOffice 3.1 too. So, it looks very cutting edge, easily so in comparison with Ubuntu and Debian. Apart from one or niggles, it seems to run smoothly too. Firstly, don’t use the command shutdown -h now to close the thing down or you’ll cause VirtualBox to choke. Using the usual means ensures that all goes well, though. The other irritation is that it doesn’t connect to the network without a poke from me. Whether SELinux is to blame for this or not, I cannot tell but it might be something for consideration by the powers than be. That these are the sorts of things that I have noticed should itself be telling you that I have no major cause for complaint. I have mulled over a move to Fedora in the past and that option remains as strong as ever but Ubuntu is not forcing me to look at an alternative and the fact that I know how to achieve what I need is resulting in inertia anyway.

ImageMagick and Ubuntu 9.04

Using a command line tool like ImageMagick for image processing may sound a really counter-intuitive thing to do but there’s no need to do everything on a case by case interactive basis. Image resizing and format conversion come to mind here. Helper programs are used behind the scenes too with Ghostscript being used to create Postscript files, for example.

The subject of helper programs brings me to an issue that has hampered me recently. While I am aware that there are tools like F-Spot available, I am also wont to use a combination of shell scripting (BASH & KSH), Perl and ImageMagick for organising my digital photos. My preference for using Raw camera files (DNG & CRW) means that ImageMagick cannot access these without a little helper. In the case of Ubuntu, it’s UFRaw. However, Jaunty Jackalope appears to have seen UFRaw updated to a version that is incompatible with the included version of ImageMagick (6.4.5 as opposed to 3.5.2 at the time of writing). The result is that the command issued by ImageMagick to UFRaw -- issue the command man ufraw-batch to see the details -- is not accepted by the included version of the latter, 0.15 if you’re interested. It seems that an older release of UFRaw accepted the output device ppm16 (16-bit PPM files) but this should now be specified as ppm for the output device and 16 for the output depth. In a nutshell, where the parameter output-type did the lot, you now need both output-type and output-depth.

I thought of decoupling things by using UFRaw to create 16-bit PPM files for processing by ImageMagick but to no avail. The identify command wouldn’t return the date on which the image was taken. I even changed the type to 8-bit JPEG’s with added EXIF information but no progress was made. In the end, a mad plan came to mind: creating a VirtualBox VM running Debian. The logic was that if Debian deserves its reputation for solidity, dependencies like ImageMagick and UFRaw shouldn’t be broken and I wasn’t wrong. To make it fly though, I needed to see if I could get Guest Additions installed on Debian. Out of the box, the supported kernel version must be at least 2.6.27 and Debian’s is 2.6.26 so additional work was on the cards. First, GCC, Make and the correct kernel header files need to be installed. Once those are in place, the installation works smoothly and a restart sets the goodies in motion. To make the necessary Shared folder to be available, a command like the following was executed:

mount -t vboxfs [Shared Folder name] [mount point]

Once that deed was done and ImageMagick instated, the processing that I have been doing for new DSLR images was reinstated. Ironically, Debian’s version of ImageMagick, 6.3.7, is even older than Ubuntu’s but it works and that’s the main thing. There is an Ubuntu bug report for this on Launchpad so I hope that it gets fixed at some point in the near future. However, that may mean awaiting 9.10 or Karmic Koala so I’m glad to have the workaround in the meantime.

Ubuntu upgrades: do a clean installation or use Update Manager?

Part of some recent “fooling” brought on by the investigation of what turned out to be a duff DVD writer was a fresh installation of Ubuntu 8.10 on my main home PC. It might have brought on a certain amount of upheaval but it was nowhere near as severe as that following the same sort of thing with a Windows system. A few hours was all that was needed but the question as to whether it is better to do an upgrade every time a new Ubuntu release is unleashed on the world or to go for a complete virgin installation instead. With Ubuntu 9.04 in the offing, that question takes on a more immediate significance than it otherwise might do.

Various tricks make the whole reinstallation idea more palatable. For instance, many years of Windows usage have taught me the benefits of separating system and user files. The result is that my home directory lives on a different disk to my operating system files. Add to that the experience of being able to reuse that home drive across different Linux distros and even swapping from one distro to another becomes feasible. From various changes to my secondary machine, I can vouch that this works for Ubuntu, Fedora and Debian; the latter is what currently powers the said PC. You might have to user superuser powers to attend to ownership and access issues but the portability is certainly there and it applies anything kept on other disks too.

Naturally, there’s always the possibility of losing programs that you have had installed but losing the clutter can be liberating too. However, assembling a script made up up of one of more apt-get install commands can allow you to get many things back at a stroke. For example, I have a test web server (Apache/MySQL/PHP/Perl) set up so this would be how I’d get everything back in place before beginning further configuration. It might be no bad idea to back up your collection of software sources either; I have yet to add all of the ones that I have been using back into Synaptic. Then there are closed source packages such as VirtualBox (yes, I know that there is an open source edition) and Adobe Reader. After reinstating the former, all my virtual machines were available for me to use again without further ado. Restoring the latter allowed me to grab version 9.1 (probably more secure anyway) and it inveigles itself into Firefox now too so the number of times that I need to go through the download shuffle before seeing the contents of a PDF are much reduced, though not completely eliminated by the Windows-like ability to see a PDF loaded in a browser tab. Moving from software to hardware for a moment, it looks like any bespoke actions such as my activating an Epson Perfection 4490 Photo scanner need to be repeated but that was all that I needed to do. Getting things back into order is not so bad but you need to allow a modicum of time for this.

What I have discussed so far are what might be categorised as the common or garden aspects of a clean installation but I have seen some behaviours that make me wonder if the usual Ubuntu upgrade path is sufficiently complete in its refresh of your system. The counterpoint to all of this is that I may not have been looking for some of these things before now. That may apply to my noticing that DSLR support seems to be better with my Canon and Pentax cameras both being picked up and mounted for me as soon as they are connected to a PC, the caveat being that they are themselves powered on for this to happen. Another surprise that may be new is that the BBC iPlayer’s Listen Again works without further work from the user, a very useful development. It very clearly wasn’t that way before I carried out the invasive means. My previous tweaking might have prevented the in situ upgrade from doing its thing but I do see the point of not upsetting people’s systems with an overly aggressive update process, even if it means that some advances do not make themselves known.

So what’s my answer regarding which way to go once Ubuntu Jaunty Jackalope appears? For sake of avoiding initial disruption, I’d be inclined to go down the Update Manager route first while reserving the right to do a fresh installation later on. All in all, I am left with the gut feeling is that the jury is still out on this one.

Forcing Ubuntu (and Debian) to upgrade to a newer distribution version

Ubuntu Software Sources screen

Updates tab from Ubuntu Software Sources screen

Ubuntu is usually good at highlighting the existence of a new version of the distribution through its Update Manager. That means that 8.10 should be made available to you at the end of the month so long as you have sorted the relevant setting for 8.04 to realise what has happened. That lives in System > Administration > Software Sources > Updates. If you haven’t done that, then 8.04 will continue regardless since it is a long term supported release.

Otherwise, it’s over to the command line to sort you out. One of the ones below will do with the first just carrying out a check for a new stable version of Ubuntu and second going all of the way:

sudo update-manager -c

sudo update-manager -p

if you are feeling more adventurous, you can always try the development version and this checks for one of those (I successfully used this to try out the beta release of Intrepid Ibex from within a Wubi instance on my laptop):

sudo update-manager -d

Neither of the above are available in Debian so they seem to be Ubuntu enhancements. That is not to say that you cannot force the issue with Debian; it’s just that the more generic variant is used and, unless, you have gone fiddling with visudo, you will need to run this as root (it works in Ubuntu too):

update-manager --dist-upgrade

A quick way to do an update

Here’s a quick way to get the latest updates on your PC using the command line if you are using Ubuntu or Debian:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

Of course, you can split these commands up if you prefer to look before you leap. At the very least least, it’s so much slicker than the GUI route.