Thursday, May 14, 2015

Scientific Linux 7.1 review

I was wise enough to use Scientific Linux 6.6 at home.  I started the SL6x series with 6.2. In 2003, I started out with RHEL 3.3.  I don't like 7.0 and would use it later.  Why would anyone prefer SL 7.0 for daily desktops over SL 6.6 when everything is at stake? It wasn't wise to use SL 7.0, it actually crashed twice.  I started out with RHEL 3.3 from CompUSA.

Let's start with the GOOD news: Scientific Linux 7.1 is vastly improved over the disaster known as Scientific Linux 7.0. The coders and developers at both Red Hat and Scientific Linux need to be highly commended for their efforts they put into 7.1. The BAD news is Scientific Linux 7.1 is UNPOLISHED and still needs a lot of work.

One of the advantages of having a pair of mirror image machines is you can spot problems that would normally have you tearing out your hair trying to solve. I had no problem this time around doing the initial install of Scientific Linux 7.1. It was only after I did the install that I started having troubles. The single biggest problem was in adding the latest version of kmod-nvidia drivers. I also ran into issues installing VMware Player 7.1.0 -- which installed just fine... but then crashed the first time I started it up. It was the problem with the Nvidia drivers that would throw me. I found every hack in the book, but no matter what I did, the second I rebooted the machine I got a Black Screen with a blinking cursor. After 5 complete installations I was set to throw in the towel and live without the Nvidia working.

While I did my install using manual partitioning, my buddy did his using LVN partitioning, but did not want to lose his Windows partitions. He got the same results as I did. So we decided he should try to manually partition his SSD. He never made it past the point where he could install the OS, which I breezed through. We decided to check into BIOS. The first thing we noticed is that he had two CD-ROM drives listed, not one, even though he only had one physical device: One UEFI and one NON-UEFI. The UEFI was listed first, then came the NON-UEFI. Just for fun we had him change the order and placed the NON-UEFI CD-ROM first. He then rebooted and had ZERO problems with the install. Next he then found an interesting link in regards to installing kmod-nvidia drivers in Scientific Linux 7.1, and followed the instructions, and PRESTO he had Nvidia up and running. Linux-7/

Excited by the news, I jumped on it, only to end up with a Black screen and a blinking cursor. One other difference in our install procedures was I installed the whole thing -- 7 GB -- which required that I install it from a thumb drive, while he installed his from a DVD live version. In BIOS the thumb drive shows up as a UEFI hard drive. Based on my buddy's experience I went over to the "Boot" portion of the BIOS and found in there a NON-UEFI version of the thumb drive. While I could not put this version in train I could over-ride the boot sequence and boot directly from this NON-UEFI version. The first thing I did was to install the LVN version and followed the hack my buddy found... and like him my system came up with Nvidia. I then went back and installed a test version via manual partitioning, but first I checked out to see what partitions were created by the automatic LVN partitioning scheme. What was created a a /boot, a /home, a /, and /swap; where as in all my installs there was also a /boot/efi partition. This time I left out the /boot/efi partition and the software installed just fine!!! Also the hack worked just fine and and the kmod-nvidia drives installed just fine as well. For the 8th time I did a total re-install only this time I booted from the NON-UEFI drive and left out the /boot/efi partition during the install.. It is just a guess but I suspect that Microsoft with its undue influence over everything, everything now defaults to UEFI, to include UEFI devices, motherboards, etc, and these receive priority over non-UEFI items, thus if you have a recent vintage motherboard, or other devices, they are set up to comply with the Microsoft UEFI policy, but to be backwards compatible, there is a list of non-UEFI items. If you are installing Scientific Linux 7.1 your first trip should be to BIOS, to ensure that whatever device you are booting from is NOT UEFI ENABLED. If you are doing Custom Manual Partitioning DO NOT install a /boot/efi partition -- you do however need a /boot partition. Once you have done that the rest of the install is rather straight forward.

The BIOS hack needs to be published and save everyone from tearing out their hair in frustration. Were it not for the fact I was working with a mirrored computer I might not have caught this.

The biggest problem with Scientific Linux 7.1 is that it is grossly unpolished. There is no reason that you should have to jump through a bunch of hoops just to install kmod-nvidia. A "yum install kmod-nvidia" should be all that is needed. Other problems come to the installation of Users and Groups. In Fedora, all you do is go to Administration --> click on "Users and Groups" and be on your merry way. Both in Scientific Linux 7.0 1406 and 7.1 1503 there is no easy way to add Users and Groups, as the administrative icon is missing. If you want to add Users and Groups you need to be Old School and do it from the CLI. That said I was able to add the Users and Groups icon back in: You need to 1) enable several repos including elreo, epel, extras, and nux-dextop. 2) Run yum grouplist 3) Run yum groupinstall "MATE Desktop", yum groupinstall "Xfce", yum groupinstall "Milkymist", and groupinstall "Haskell". It is somewhere in one of those four groups. When you next click on Applications --> Administration you will find the familiar "Users and Groups" icon.

What about tunes?!? If you are looking for kscd, forget it, I've looked and still can not find it. The news is slightly better if you are a fan of Amarok. IF you plan to run amarok do try to install it before you add your kmod-nvidia drivers. Before I "fixed" the OS to run kmod-nvidia, I had no problem installing amarok, and it worked just fine; after I "fixed" it so I could run kmod-nvidia I went to install amarok I got the following message:

Error: Multilib version problems found. This often means that the root
cause is something else and multilib version checking is just
pointing out that there is a problem. Eg.:

1. You have an upgrade for qtwebkit which is missing some
dependency that another package requires. Yum is trying to
solve this by installing an older version of qtwebkit of the
different architecture. If you exclude the bad architecture
yum will tell you what the root cause is (which package
requires what). You can try redoing the upgrade with
--exclude qtwebkit.otherarch ... this should give you an error
message showing the root cause of the problem.

2. You have multiple architectures of qtwebkit installed, but
yum can only see an upgrade for one of those architectures.
If you don't want/need both architectures anymore then you
can remove the one with the missing update and everything
will work.

3. You have duplicate versions of qtwebkit installed already.
You can use "yum check" to get yum show these errors. can also use --setopt=protected_multilib=false to remove
this checking, however this is almost never the correct thing to
do as something else is very likely to go wrong (often causing
much more problems).

Protected multilib versions: qtwebkit-2.3.3-3.el7.x86_64 != qtwebkit-2.3.4-3.el7.i686

I suspect the problem occurs because when you run the hack that "fixes" it so you can install kmod-nvidia part of it requires you to install 32 bit libraries. To quote the source:

"When running a 64bit OS, the 32bit Nvidia libraries may also be needed for compatibility, I always install them. The good thing is that kmod-nvidia also disables nouveau automatically, so no more manually tweaking modprobe and grub

"yum install kmod-nvidia nvidia-x11-drv-32bit"

I suspect that the "!= qtwebkit-2.3.4-3.el7.i686" is 32 bit and that conflicts the amarok install. You might try to get around the problem by installing amarok before you fix the nvidia drivers problem. No guarantee, but it is worth a shot.

The alternatives included in Scientific Linux 7.1 are sparce -- Rythembox being the ONLY alternative.

Another place where Scientific Linux 7.1 falls down is when it comes to turning ON and turning OFF services. You use to go to Applications --> Administration and find "Services", you go there open it up and then at a glance you could see what was running, and what was not. You could also choose to STOP and/or RE-START any given Service. Like "Users and Groups" this too is missing. There may or may NOT be something similar in Scientific Linux 7.1: If you go to Favorites --> System Settings --> find System Administration --> find and open Startup and Shutdown --> Service Manager you have something that looks sort of like the old service manager. things such as ntp, etc, are missing. The *old* version was far better, and for better or worse, it should be included as an alternate to the "new" version.

One place that is a clear improvement is VMware Player. Once I "fixed" the problem with installing the kmod-nvidia drivers, it also it seemed to "fix" the problem with the Vmware Player. It now opens all my Virtual Machines without a problem. One BIG improvement was that even though during the install the 1 TB SATA is not in the train (it is listed as being found, just not listed in the boot sequence)Scientific Linux 7.1 goes out and can see all the directories on that HD. You just need to select the directory, enter your secret sauce root password, and BINGO!! you now have access to the data on your other drive!!!

OTOH if you are looking for Games -- card, or board -- SORRY you are out of luck. I've gone in search of these and none can be found.

CONCLUSION: Unlike Scientific Linux 7.0 1406 which was a Total Disaster, Scientific Linux 7.1 1503 is very much a usable OS though still lacking in features. It is clearly NOT designed for a newbie who would through up their hands in total defeat. It really is a DIY type of OS -- if you are willing to sink a lot of time into it, it really is a nice OS with some nice features, but there are clearly places where it can be improved: It still needs a way for people to Add Users and Groups; kmod-nvidia should be a rather straight forward install without needing to jumps through hoops; amarok, kscd, should be part of the multimedia package set as these are two old standards people know and love; games -- totally missing and found on every distro except Scientific Linux 7.1 (and probably RHEL 7.1) need to be added; Administrative tools such as the "classic" "Services" that was found under Application --> Administration should be reinstalled; and overall the OS needs to be polished. In short Scientific Linux 7.1 needed far too much hacking to be made usable. Unless I encounter other problems I can now say I will be migrating off Fedora 20 and to Scientific Linux 7.1. While it still needs work -- a lot of work -- Scientific Linux 7.1 is quite usable, even if not as polished as Fedora 20, and 21. The Problem with Fedora, is you are always on the Bleeding Edge -- and trust me you do a LOT of BLEEDING; Scientific Linux by contrast is nice and stable for the most part, however Scientific Linux 7.x has been quite a disappointment. With the release of Scientific Linux 7.1 1503 I can now say it is usable even if it still needs work. For the Newbies out there I would pass on Scientific Linux 7.1, and wait until Scientific Linux 7.2 is released when hopefully many of the problems I have encountered have been fixed; for the more experienced user with a handful of tricks published above I think you'll really enjoy this release, understand this is closer to a Beta or a RC1 release than a final release since it still needs work.

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