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RULE: about Red Hat not shipping i386 kernels anymore


On Oct 20 2002 Michael Fratoni, the author and main maintainer of the RULE project installers miniconda and slinky, started a very interesting discussion on the psyche mailing list, asking why there is no more an i386 kernel in the stock RH 8.0 CDs: for the RULE project this is a problem, because the current install procedure assumes that the standard CDs do carry the kernel for older CPUs: in general, this is also a problem for everybody who needs modern Red Hat on old hardware.

UPDATE 2002-11-20: There is a 386 kernel for 8.0 in RedHat’s update site. The mirror also has it. The problem with the CDs explained below of course remains, as well as the one in the long term.

Why did this happen?

If a 386 CPU is the base line, there are really a lot of combinations of CPU, main boards and peripherals to consider. Red Hat is a for profit company: it is just natural, and perfectly reasonable, that they focus on, optimize for, and support, the hardware used by the majority of their paying users.

Why is it bad?

Of course, this means that running the latest Red Hat on obsolete hardware just became a bit more difficult: the RULE project home page and FAQ already explain in detail why this is not an irrelevant or good thing.

What should Red Hat do?

As already mentioned, there is no point in asking to RH official support for old hardware. We really hope, however, that Red Hat:

  • will keep a 386 kernel around, both on the updates server, and in the official CDs starting from 8.1 (others have already noted that space is not really an issue here: just put a huge UNSUPPORTED label on it, and keep going)
  • in general, will keep it as easy as possible for external developers to customize every new release for “corner cases” like those of interest to RULE (this second point may be much more important for RH than it could seem at a first glance: a RULE user may not bring any money to RH, but allowing as many future sysadmins as possible to practice RH before they can afford the HW for any other OS is an entirely different thing, isn’t it? Just think to when they become old enough to sign their first purchase order).

What should Red Hat users do?

  • PLEASE ask to Red Hat, either directly to Red Hat or on the mailing lists to continue to package and make available an unsupported i386 kernel, even if you don’t need it personally. Again, why make life harder for schools and non profit institutions when there is nothing to lose?
  • Come to play with RULE if they want to make it faster: even if we don’t say it explicitely, why optimize only old PCs? In other words, having a 1 GHz CPU is no excuse for not making it run like a 2 GHz one…

What should the RULE project do?

Michael Fratoni, excellent as always, has already announced some workarounds and future plans to deal with this issue. Several peoples have asked why RULE doesn’t just switch to another distribution. See the FAQ and the “Other subprojects” paragraph below to know why.

Judging from the number of list members (~100) and from the average time we talk on the list we still have not enough mass/average competence/free time/whatever to create and above all maintain a whole distro from scratch (if I’m wrong, just tell me, and I’d be really happy!)

At the same time, many of the reasons for the project as currently structured remain valid, starting from the fact that many problems with today’s SW are born before it is packaged for this or that distro. Everybody keeps telling ” install the Gthing from GNOME or the Kthing from KDE, and the whole mountain of dependencies that come along”: the packaging format is marginal.

In parallel, no distro integrates lean applications at INSTALL time to give real functionality without spending weeks reading tons of manuals. EX: mutt+abook+fetchmail+procmail+w3m+(2/3 shell scripts) = same functionality as Evolution or Kmail, from multiple accounts to clickable URLs, but show me one distribution where they are configured to work together from the first login! This is an area (shell scripting + advanced post-install configuration) where we *can* make a difference, and which is, by its own nature, highly portable across distros, and RULE can and should (as already said in the FAQ) keep as much of our work as we can portable.

The majority of current list members have no spare hardware to play with, and must use only RH in their paid job anyway: hence, at least for the short/medium term, Red Hat remains the base RULE distro.

Remember that the CPU and the distro are side issues, after all. RULE is a moving target with very practical reasons behind, not a cult worshipping the i386 CPU. RULE is about using the latest reasonable set of Free SW applications on weak PCs. Today that means i386: when they will have all melted, we’ll still have a lot to do squeezing Red Hat 15 and Emacs 55 on those obsolete Pentium 4 with only 1 GB of RAM…

Of course, I hope that Michael will keep miniconda and slinky current, since without them RH on old HW is impossible from the beginning. Another important reason to stay with RH (IMHO) is the one pointed out by Colin Mattoon, i.e. to remember to an important corporation that there are people who cannot afford the full thing, and that RH should at the very least not make their life deliberately harder.

Other subprojects

After repeating what the real problem is, and why we stick to Red Hat for the time being, let us make clear that other distributions are welcome in RULE, as long as somebody steps in and does it himself: the only requirement is document whatever you do and make it so that we can copy what you do back in Red Hat (like changed Makefiles, reduced sets of libraries, kernel config options, whatever). Remember that everything at the script and config file level is easily portable…

Somebody mentioned the possible need to just recompile all RPMs for i386: much ligther than creating a new distro, but fully useful only after sorting out dependencies and configuration as already explained. In the meantime, don’t forget it, and offer to the list a script to do it automatically from a base RH install with gcc only, and stock source CDs…

(shameless plug) Please look at the Distribution Analyzer (see software section of this website) and help me to port the DAn tool to RH 8.0 and other distros: I’m sure we’ll all learn a lot about figthing bloat from it, including how much of it is RH’s fault, and how much comes from the pristine sources…

RULE = Run Up to Date Linux Everywhere
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