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As part of the transition from a contractor to a full-time employee of Cox Media Group Digital & Strategy (check out our github), I’ve been issued a Mid-2010 (6,2) 15” MacBook Pro laptop, to replace my current Early-2008 (3,1) MacPro desktop. The desktop is currently running Fedora 17, dual-boot with with Mac OS X (left in place for firmware updates and emergencies) using the rEFInd boot manager to choose between the two OSes. It took me two days to get this working right on my desktop, but it had been my plan to duplicate this setup on my laptop. I found a lot of conflicting information online, but I decided to give it a try.

Well, I have Fedora 18 and OS X 10.8 dual-booting on the laptop, but not as planned. After a day and a half of research, troubleshooting and re-installs, here’s what I found to actually work, in the hope that nobody else will go through the ordeal I went through. Following that are some notes about the new Fedora 18 installer (Anaconda 18), especially important for anyone who’s used Linux for a while. To those who are new to Linux, don’t be dissuaded by the above. Most of the frustration I experienced is because I’ve been using Linux for a relatively long time (about 10 years), had my own ideas about exactly how I wanted things setup (which are decidedly not supported by Fedora), and had some assumptions about the installation process based on earlier versions.

How to get it working:

Forget about rEFInd. This had been the original advice from Matthew Garrett, @mjg59, kernel coder, contributor to the Anaconda project, and all-around authority on booting Linux on EFI/UEFI hardware. My advice, and the method that worked for me:

  1. Shrink your Mac partitions and leave as much free space as you want for Fedora. using the Disk Utility tool in OS X (I also created an 8GB VFAT partition that both OSes can read/write to).
  2. Download Fedora 18 64-bit DVD image, I chose the KDE version. Verify the sha256 sum if you want (they don’t have a readily visible link to the checksum file. Copy the download link, paste it into your address bar and remove the filename. You should get a directory index that includes a -CHECKSUM file.
  3. Per the Installation Guide’s Making Fedora USB Media page, use liveusb-creator to setup the installation image on the USB flash drive (I needed to start it with the --reset-mbr option). You can also use other tools (dd if you’re not on a Fedora-based distro), or a DVD, but this is the method I chose.
  4. Due to a bug in liveusb-creator, you may need to manually edit /EFI/boot/grub.cfg on the created USB stick if grub gives you a file not found error. If that happens, please see my bug report above for the action to take (in short, you need to mount the USB stick, chmod u+w /EFI/boot/grub.cfg then edit that file and replace every occurrence of “isolinux” with “syslinux” and every occurrence of “root=live:LABEL=Fedora-18-x86_64-Live-KDE.iso” with “root=live:LABEL=LIVE”).
  5. Boot the USB drive (use the alt key when you turn on the laptop to select the USB drive) and just install Fedora normally, letting it do its thing. Select a boot disk and let it put GRUB2 on the EFI partition.

When you boot, it will boot to GRUB. There will be some options for Mac OS there, but they don’t work (more on that below). If you want to boot Mac, hold down the alt/option key when you power on the laptop, which will bring you to the boot disk selector and you can pick the Mac disk. I know it’s not pretty or ideal, but it’s the best option right now.

Making it Better:

GRUB2 tries to automatically detect other OSes and configure them in the boot loader (this is done through /etc/grub.d/30_os-prober, commonly just referred to as os-prober). It tries to boot Mac directly through the xnu_kernel64 module, which not only isn’t installed on the boot partition by default, but just doesn’t work with at least Mountain Lion (10.8). So getting GRUB to boot Mac means either having the bugs in the xnu module fixed, or figuring out how to setup a chainloader to boot from GRUB to Mac. The latter is probably the method I’ll investigate, but for now, since I rarely use Mac, I’m happy having to use the alt key at boot to get there. To remove the annoying, broken Mac OS options from the grub screen, run the following commands as root (they assume you have your EFI partition mounted at /boot/efi which I believe Fedora should do by default:

cp /boot/efi/EFI/fedora/grub.cfg /boot/efi/EFI/fedora/grub.cfg.bak
echo 'GRUB_DISABLE_OS_PROBER="true"' >> /etc/default/grub
grub2-mkconfig > /boot/efi/EFI/fedora/grub.cfg

Thoughts on the Fedora 18 Anaconda Installer

I found a couple of issues with the new Anaconda 18 installer that were either unweildy or confusing for someone who’s been installing Linux for a long time. Overall, the new installer is very nice. It has a clean, even elegant UI, a relatively nice flow from start to completion, and is certainly beginner-friendly. It has fewer options than any Linux installer I’ve ever used before - not even options for package selection, firewall or SELinux configuration, etc. - but I guess this is in line with the goal of making Fedora a desktop OS for the masses. I would have appreciated an “advanced mode” installer that was more like Fedora 17 (or even much older versions), but I guess I’m an edge case, at least in the Fedora community. However, I did find two things especially difficult, both related to the fact that my laptop has two main drives (a 500GB hard drive and a 120GB SSD):

First, the installer prompted me to select a “boot disk”. I guess I should have read the installation guide, but I assumed that nomenclature translated to either “which disk should the automatic partitiioning put yout /boot partition on” or “which disk should I set the bootable flag on in the partition table”. In fact, it means “which disk should I put GRUB on the EFI partition of”. I installed, rebooted, and was shocked - and somewhat distressed - to boot directly to GRUB2 instead of the rEFInd installation I had setup. The installer didn’t have any of the previously-customary “warning: this will overwrite your MBR/EFI boot partition” notices, so I felt safe letting it continue. It turned out that this was the way I ended up going, and it also turns out that there’s a bug in Anaconda that makes it fail installation if you tell it not to write a bootloader to disk (though it’s patched by one line of Python code). But I was deeply distressed that - contrary to the experience of every, admittedly more complicated, Linux installer I’d used before - the Fedora 18 installer overwrote my EFI bootloader (analogous to overwriting the MBR on a BIOS boot machine) without ever warning me or asking for a confirmation.

Secondly, the partitioning tool is clearly designed for only one destination disk. The overview screen lists configured partitions by label and mount point, but not by physical device, so figuring out which partitions are on which physical disks takes a click on each and every partition to view that information in the detail panel. When you create a new partition, it’s automatically put in a LVM volume group spanning all disks. Changing the target of the automatically created volume group requires a few clicks, as does changing the physical disks backing any new volume groups. To assign a newly created partition to a specific disk, you have to click on an unlabeled “tool” icon under the list of partitions, far away from the information on the partition in question. It’s a nice interface for someone who clicks the “partition automatically” button, or who just knows they want to add “an extra partition”, but for anyone who has a specific layout in mind (like having /, /boot and /var, specifically sized, on the SSD and /home on the rotating disk) it takes about 4-5 more clicks and dialogs to add a partition than the last Fedora installer did. Mainly, it’s lacking any sort of Advanced Mode for partitioning that allows the user to quickly and accurately layout a more complex partitioning scheme.

Below are some screenshots from the Fedora 17 and Fedora 18 Installation Guides, which contrast both the overview of all partitions and the individual partition settings:

Fedora 18 Overview, from 9.13. Creating a Custom Partition Layout:

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Fedora 17 Overview, from 9.14. Creating a Custom Layout or Modifying the Default Layout:

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Fedora 18 Partition Creation/Editing, from 9.13.3. Create LVM Logical Volume:

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Fedora 17 Partition Creation/Editing, from 9.14.2. Adding Partitions:

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