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Redhat Linux 6.1

Red Hat 6.1 is now available. I was out buying a book or something the other day and saw it on the shelf, so I picked it up and finally got to it this weekend. As I already had a 6.0 installation in place, I decided to try the "upgrade" option. I really have no need to do this; the Red Hat machine is just a "test and play" box, so I could have just wiped it out and started fresh, but I wanted to see how well the upgrade would work. Unfortunately, at first it didn't work well at all.

The 6.1 now has a "graphical install"- it's X - and both a fresh install and the upgrade default to using it. Fine with me; machines are fast enough nowadays that X isn't the slowpoke it used to be, so I let it rip. After a minimal set of questions about my keyboard and mouse (why couldn't it take that information from the 6.0 install?) I left it to run unattended while I went off to eat dinner.

When I came back, it was hung. It hadn't gotten far; just part way into install X stuff, and there was no disk or CD activity. I switched to ALT-F2, and found that the install shell was quite alive. Nothing on F1, F3 or F4 told me of any problems, so I three-fingered it and started over. This time I got a check box asking if it was OK to automaticaly resolve dependencies- this had not popped up during the first install. I affirmed that was indeed OK, and then I watched carefully as it happily installed right through X and then stopped again a few minutes later- farther in than the first time, but still barely begun.

Time to forget the graphical upgrade! So one more ctrl-alt-delete, and this time I typed "text" before pressing enter. This got me the character mode install screens I'm at least somewhat used to, which asked me the same questions about keyboard and most, and then went right into upgrading. It seemed to be faster, and it was obvious that it would have no problem finishing, as it had installed just about everything, was well over 80% complete, and then..

exit signall 11
 

splashed all over my screen, along with a polite message informing me that it was OK for me to reload or reboot. Gee, thanks.

So I decided to give up on an upgrade. I'm no fan of the IPU (In Place Upgrade) (see Upgrades), so I pretended that I had all my non-existent data files safely backed up and headed straight for the Gnome Workstation install.

As with most OS'es, the install is quicker than the upgrade-probably half the time or less. Of course that doesn't count your time reconfiguring and restoring backups. In my case, I didn't have any backups to restore, so all I needed to do was configure the network card and ppp.

Let's see, how is it that you configure a network card when you skipped it during install? Netcfg? Nope. That would make sense, but that's just IP addresses and the like. I know I can just tuck it in /etc/conf.modules (and can someone please tell me why that isn't /etc/modules.conf?), but there must be a tool. Linuxconf seems likely, and it actually is there, but I couldn't find it. Bruce Garlock pointed me to Networking->Client Tasks->Basic Host Information, but I never would have thought to look there. Why not a general hardware manager? Why doesn't netcfg let you configure hardware? Oh well: Linuxconf still has a long ways to go-SCO's scoadmin is so much more logical and integrated.

When I attempted to use linuxconf on 6.1 to add my nic, it blew up on me- it made the entry in /etc/conf.modules, but did not configure the ip address. I had to use netcfg to do that.

I had to leave my Linux box at that point because I had a customer's HP Vectra to load. This too would be 6.1, but it would be a gateway and mailserver. I decided to try the graphical install first. That went pretty well. Although I had carefully identified the video hardware ahead of time, I needn't have bothered: the graphical installer probed and got everything it needed; I didn't need to change a thing. I chose a custom install and "Everything" for software. I had set up a 256 MB swap, a 50 MB /boot, and the rest of the 4 GB as one / filesystem, and let it go at that. When it got to the screen where it is about to start the install, it appeared to be hung. I waited several minutes, nothing seemed to be happening. Hoping for the best, I went off and worked on something else for half an hour; when I came back I found the installation chugging right along and it finished without any problems.

I then decided I'd try the text install. That didn't work out quite so happily. As I said above, the graphical install probed the video and identified everything correctly- but text couldn't. Every time it tried to probe, it failed. That's very strange, but I just set it up manually; after all, I already knew that it worked. Other than that, the text install went fine.

The rest didn't.

This machine is ultimately supposed to be a gateway, so it has two nic cards. The first nic came with the machine, and that was no problem- the install saw that card without problem.

The second card supplied by the customer was a no-name- and I do mean no-name. I looked all over the darn thing for a clue as to who might have made it, but found nothing. It was PCI, so I popped it into a Win98 machine to see if it would recognize the signature; nope, Win98 didn't have a clue either.

I had some cards hanging around the office, but they weren't 10/100, which is what the customer wanted, so I decided I had better run out and buy one because, if possible, the customer wanted this Monday. Unfortunately, the nearby store only had one card (!), and this was a 3com "OfficeConnect" card. With some trepidation, I bought it, hoping that Linux had support for it.

Linux doesn't. Not directly, anyway. It wasn't recognized at boot and "kudzu" put an "unknown device" entry into /etc/sysconfig/hwconf (see "man kudzu"). I wasn't happy. But a little internet research turned up that this card is really just a slightly stripped 3c905B, so adding it's signature to the 3c59x.c driver should solve that problem. Should, of course, is the word that always leads us into frustration.

Modules, modules

Given this situation, it would have been very nice at that point to just add the signature, compile that one driver as a module, and be done. Unfortunately, when I tried to do a "make modules", I was told that the current kernel doesn't include module support. Now that's completely incorrect, but I guess it is true from make's point of view- the source it has to work with hasn't yet been compiled at all. I could have forced the issue by hand (and did, later), but I figured it's no big deal to recompile the whole thing anyway and it might even be advantageous to get the features I know I want while leaving out what I don't. So why not? Let's just remake the whole thing.

So I did. It takes more than a few minutes to do that, but most of it is unattended, so I set things up to run and went off to lunch. When I came back, I booted the new kernel. The good news was that the Office Connect card was picked up and recognized, but the bad news was that I was getting errors about modules with unresolved symbols. This made no sense, so I retraced my steps, but no, I hadn't missed anything. After screwing around with it for an hour, I went to the net again and found that I'm not the only one to have had this problem: there were several people reporting the same thing in the Red Hat newsgroups. It's nice to know that you probably haven't screwed up, that the problem is in Red Hat's corner, but that doesn't help the immediate need to get this working.

Another card

I decided I'd reload the OS and go a little farther out to get another card- one I wouldn't have to recompile for. So, to clean everything out for a fresh start, I set up for reinstall and left it running while I went searching for a nic card.

If I had the luxury of ordering a nic card, this wouldn't have been a problem. Unfortunately, the stores around here that are open on Saturday don't carry a lot of nic cards to start with, and what they do carry is mostly Windows specific, and that's especially true with 10/100 cards. But I got lucky on my second stop- I found a Linksys 10/100 and it said "Linux" right on the box. Too bad I didn't notice the little "*" in my excitement, but I didn't, so it wasn't until I was back in my office and had taken out the OfficeConnect and intalled this that I discovered that they supply a Linux driver- Red Hat has no built-in support for this card. A driver meant, of course, a recompile. So I was back in the same boat again.

Choices, choices

I could revert back to 6.0, but this was Saturday, and I had no way to contact the customer to find out if that was OK with him. I could scramble around Monday morning and try to find a card I could use, but I already had a busy schedule. I decided to go back and try to fix this module problem. That was probably dumb, because I'm not a kernel-level kind of guy. I get by, I know a little bit here and there, but I'm no expert. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So I reasoned that this time I could just do a "make config" and tell it to include module support, but short circuit the rest by editing the 3c59x.c driver, doing a "make modules" and then manually copying the 3c59x.o to /lib/modules/net. I'm sure there's even a way to just specify I want that particular section only, but modern makefiles confuse me- I've got to delve into that someday and get a better understanding of them, but for the moment I find much of it incomprehensible. So I did all of them, and copied the driver to /lib/modules/net. I did an "insmod 3c59x" to be sure it was happy after that, and that had no complaints, so I was reasonably confident. I had already taken out the Linksys and reinstalled the 3Com, but when I rebooted, "kudzu" (that's the program that searches for new hardware) came up seeing the signature but not knowing what the card was: "3Com unknown". I'm not entirely clear on how "kudzo" works with modules, so I hoped that wasn't a problem and let it continue. However, it now hung dead trying to initialize eth1.

That's where that Interactive initializion came in handy. I ctrl-alt-deleted it, and this time pressed "I" when it was offered. I bypassed starting both "kudzo" and "network", and then just hit "C" for "continue" to let the boot continue.

Hurricane?

As the info I had found on the net indicated that 3Com called this chip set "Hurricane", that's how I had identified it when I modified the driver. I now wanted to be sure that had gotten into my module, so I did a "strings" on the .o file and piped it to "grep urricane". To my surprise, not only did my entry come up, but so did another- an entry that also referenced the correct PCI signature had already been there! So it looked like I hadn't needed to modify the driver at all, but something was still screwy, because that card was not recognized with the original install kernel. But perhaps that kernel hadn't been using the module that I was now looking at. So I backed out my changes, did the "make modules" yet again, installed it, and tried rebooting. The "kudzu" still didn't recognize it other than "unknown", but I let it configure anyway, told it not to migrate the network configuration and that I did not want to set up networking. The darn thing still hung at eth1.

Yet I now knew that it should recognize the card. So what was wrong? By using the interactive option again, I got the machine up, and then edited /etc/conf.modules to tell it that "eth1" should use the 3c59x driver. I then did a "modprobe eth1" and "dmesg | tail" showed me that, yes indeed, it had found the card.

Patience

I decided to let it hang there for a while to see what would happen. Well, gosh, if you ignore it for a few hours (a few minutes, really) it gets by the hang and boots. So, I just went ahead and configured the interface with the ip address I wanted and rebooted. This time, no hang- everything was fine. Was that the problem all along? I had to take the time to find out, so I reinstalled once more (by the way, none of this time was charged to the customer. This is my learning time, and customers don't normally pay for that).

So in this final install, I configured both eth0 and eth1. I hadn't done that the first time because I assumed (wrongly) that this OfficeConnect card wouldn't be found. It turns out that it is found, but it still puts "unknown" into /etc/conf.modules and "unknown device" into /etc/sysconfig/hwconf. These are what had thown me off to begin with; if I had simply blindly configured the interface instead of assuming, I would have been fine. On the other hand, these little side trips always lead to more knowledge, so I don't complain too much.

New Features

One thing I noticed right away was that ability to get an Interactive startup-if you press "I" during the boot, you get asked whether or not to start individual services. That is real handy for troubleshooting. Another thing that caught be by surprise was that the CD automounts when you put it in (assuming that you are logged in on the graphical Gnome screen). I suppose new users might like that, but won't it just frustrate and confuse them when they can't eject it as easily? It doesn't unmount when they log out, so I would imagine that this is just going to confuse some folks terribly.

This release also includes the new Sun versions of Star Office. I almost missed that: it's a separate CD and I didn't notice it in the box until I read that it was supposed to be there and went looking for it.

Red Hat's web page www.redhat.com talks about the new features they think are important-priority ftp access by way of their new Update Agent, the PXE technology that allows installation across the network, LDAP, and 128 bit encryption.

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© October 1999 Anthony Lawrence. All rights reserved.



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