That could be the title of a Hornblower novel. But instead it characterizes my little side project for yesterday: installing CentOS 7 on my desktop machine at work. “Oh what a tangled web we weave!”
I knew going in that over a year running at the bleeding edge of Fedora had spoiled me, but was still convinced that for my desktop in the office switching back to the latest stable release of CentOS/Red Hat was the best option for my own combination server admin + software development workstation.
After struggling with that for a whole day I have to admit the error of my ways.
That desktop is receiving a fresh install of Fedora 20 as I write this. Due to low bandwidth conditions in the environment I’ll do most of the work from the 4 Gb full install DVD (more on how I did that in a later article) and then kick off a yum update remotely after hours. That means that at least part of tomorrow will be all about restoring data and configurations from the backups I made of the previously broken Fedora installation on the same machine.
What went wrong? Well, mostly my own unjustified expectations. CentOS 7, being based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 7, is mostly a stabilized version of Fedora 19, which those who read this blog know I found to be eminently stable right up until its “fork” into the RHEL 7 beta late last year. It ships with kernel 3.10.0 and the usual array of server software including polished versions of formerly technology previews like Docker. Even with the addition of the latest EPEL beta repository for RHEL 7, however, the list of desktop related packages available is considerably shortened from what can be found for Fedora 19 or 20 today. The reasons are, I think, mostly a matter of strategy for Red Hat, who has consistently emphasized RHEL’s position as the premier Linux server distribution and dismissed any notion that it is trying to be competitive in the desktop space.
Now RHEL 7 is an impressive release for server-only applications. I have installed and configured CentOS 7 several times from the Minimal image and been very happy with the results. But as a desktop distribution it is sorely lacking when compared to previous releases when they were new — which underscores the need for the new approaches being pursued in the Fedora Next and CentOS SIG initiatives (and passionately argued by the new Fedora Project leader, Matt Miller, in his Fedora Present and Future series in Fedora Magazine).
For now the Fedora Project seems well on their way in that regard. The number of different “spins” and new options available via the standard install DVD demonstrate how seriously the project and the community behind it are taking the challenge. I’m looking forward to seeing the positive changes that are being promised starting with Fedora 21 (although at the moment it isn’t clear whether an upgrade or fresh install will be the recommended path, in light of my prior experience with upgrades from Fedora 19 to 20 I will most likely go the fresh install route).