Installing Fedora 15 via boot.fedoraproject.org…

I recently decided it was time to upgrade my home desktop machine from Fedora 14 to Fedora 15. Since I generally tend to do a clean install rather than an in place upgrade and because I’ve recently acquired a much better internet connection, I decided to try out the Fedora boot server – boot.fedoraproject.org (BFO). BFO is a service that allows you to boot your computer directly into the Fedora installer over the internet. I think it uses gPXE/Etherboot under the hood, although I didn’t have to touch these directly. The following is a brief review of the service based on my experiences. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to work out how to take screenshots from BFO so I don’t have any pretty pictures :-(.

I started out by visiting the BFO website and doing a bit of reading. The downloads page doesn’t really give you much info on how to proceed with BFO, so it’s best to check out the FAQ. BFO can be accessed in one of two different ways.  You can either download a boot image for some physical media (CD/DVD, USB and Floppy (!) images are available), or you can boot BFO directly from GRUB. The physical media images are of course pretty tiny since you’re not downloading the whole distro, just enough stuff to boot from the network. However, one of the attractions of BFO for me was to do away with physical media all together and so I went for the GRUB option.

In order to boot BFO via GRUB you obviously need to have GRUB installed as your bootloader. This shouldn’t be a problem if you are upgrading from an existing Linux install. To install BFO you run the following commands (as root) from the BFO FAQ:

wget -O/boot/bfo.lkrn http://serverbeach1.fedoraproject.org/pub/alt/bfo/bfo.lkrn
grubby --add-kernel=/boot/bfo.lkrn --title="Boot BFO"
reboot

This will add a new “Boot BFO” entry to your GRUB config and reboot your machine. Technically, you probably don’t want to reboot immediately since you should check that you have a decent length menu time out for GRUB (edit the ‘timeout’ line in /etc/grub.conf and run the ‘grub’ command afterwards).

Once I had completed these steps and rebooted, I was able to access the GRUB menu by pressing ESC. I then selected the new menu entry and proceeded to boot BFO. At first I got an error because my machine couldn’t get an IP address from the router. I had suspected this would happen since I don’t have the ethernet plugged in and these things usually don’t like wifi. I went searching for my long ethernet cable and everything worked on the second try. After a bit of loading (presumably downloading stuff) I was presented with another boot menu, which asked me what I wanted to boot. I selected the Fedora 15 x86_64 installer. BFO then started loading the kernel and initrd images for this (it took a while).

Once the installer booted up it was very much like the normal Fedora installer (in fact it is). I was able to go through all the usual stuff like partitioning, etc. Once nice feature of this installer is the package selection screen. This lets you install groups of packages (like ‘Games’ or ‘Software Development’) as well as individual packages. I can only think that this is a feature of the full Fedora DVD installer which is why I haven’t seen it before (I’ve only installed from Live CD previously). Happily, it enables you to get a much more functional system out of the box rather than the fairly bare Live CD install (for example it installed LibreOffice by default).

Once I’d finished making my package selections the installer started formatting the drives and installing packages. This was significantly slower than the Live CD install since it had to download and install each package separately (rather than the disk-dump approach taken by the Live CD installer). Once this was complete I rebooted and filled in my user details. I then had a fully functioning Fedora 15 install.

My Verdict:

My experience with BFO has been overwhelmingly positive. The install is significantly slower than a Live CD install, but when you factor in all the time that is saved by not downloading an burning (and reburning!) ISO images it’s probably about the same. Everything worked perfectly for me. except the previously mentioned wifi/ethernet issue which was more my fault than a BFO problem. The only improvement I could suggest is that the commands I mentioned above could be wrapped up into an RPM package and made available in the Fedora repository so they are available for everyone very easily. This would make the whole system very polished and easy to use.

Overall, I would highly recommend using BFO for your next Fedora install. It really beats any other install method I’ve used to date.

Quick QR Code Generation

QR Codes are a really easy way to share information between your desktop or laptop and a smartphone, which don’t have the privacy issues inherent in Google’s Chrome To Phone. The excellent FOSS Barcode Scanner app for Android makes scanning these codes and opening the scanned data a breeze. However, generating them on the desktop can be a bit of a pain. There are several websites, browser addons and APIs for generating these codes, but up until now I haven’t found anything really quick and easy.

That is until today, when I discovered the ‘qrencode’ utility. Qrencode does exactly what it says on the tin. It takes some text, encodes it as a QR Code and writes the result as a PNG file. It’s a simple command line tool, which opens up awesome scripting possibilities.

My use case is simply to send the URL of a web page that I’m viewing on my desktop to my phone, via QR Code. I found that qrencode was quite happy to write its output to stdout, which meant I could display the result directly using ImageMagick’s ‘display’ command, e.g:

You’ll notice that by default the QR Code is quite small. We can fix this by increasing the block size:

Next, I wanted to automatically pull the text to encode from somewhere to save typing – the clipboard was an ideal candidate. Enter ‘xclip’. Xclip is a command line utility to read and write from/to the X system’s built in clipboard. I used bash’s backtick command substitution to grab text from the clipboard and encode it:

And there you have it, a simple one line command to generate and display a QR Code from the contents of the clipboard. I created a bash script containing the command and assigned it to a keyboard shortcut in Gnome (Ctrl-Shift-Q), so that sharing URLs to my phone is as simple as selecting the text in the location bar and hitting Ctrl-C followed by Ctrl-Shift-Q.

If you want to give this a try, you’ll need to install the utilities discussed, in Fedora these can be installed with:

Enjoy!

UALUG Fedora Article

Ahoy’hoy!

Anyone that follows my Identi.ca feed will probably be aware that I recently switched away from Ubuntu and Archlinux and over to Fedora. This was mainly due to frustrations with Arch (I need a system which lets me get stuff done without too much overhead in looking after it) and my increasing feeling that Ubuntu isn’t going in the right direction for me as a power user/developer.

I recently wrote an article on Fedora 13 for our University LUG – UALUG and I thought I’d post a link for readers of this blog. The article focuses on Fedora 13 as a platform for developers and basically details my own Fedora 13 setup. It’s written with the aim of advocating Fedora for people new to Linux, but it also serves of my review of the latest Fedora release.

Anyway here’s the link: https://ualug.ece.auckland.ac.nz/archives/246.

Hopefully I should be posting some more interesting content here soon as I’ve been playing around with some interesting stuff. It’s just a matter of me finding time to write it up! Bye for now.