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January 19th, 2010:

The Night of the Monumental Fail

(And you thought I was talking about the Massachusetts senatorial election…)

Pulled down the Fedora 12 DVD ISO earlier today, burned it to disc, and turned it loose on my Linux SX270, which at the time had a 60 GB hard drive with a functional Ubuntu Intrepid partition on it. I’d been meaning to install Fedora for some time, and wanted to try a few things on which I’ll report in the near future.

Alas, things went what may be irretrievably bad, or bad enough to be irretrievable without completely wiping the hard drive, including my Ubuntu instance.

No, I don’t know what went wrong. It’s hard to troubleshoot a failed install of an OS. What happened went this way:

  • I used the built-in partitioner (Disk Druid, unless I misrecall) to shrink the existing 55 GB partition to 22 GB.
  • I allocated the rest of the drive to the Fedora partition.
  • With the shrink/allocation apparently successful, Anaconda dove in and started the installation. After installing 106 package files, the process stopped. The machine wasn’t completely frozen–the mouse pointer still worked–but nothing was happening, no disk activity, nada.
  • After watching it sit at file 106 for over an hour, I gave up and hit the power switch. The machine had only 512 MB in it, so I dropped my spare 512 MB DIMM into the second slot. I know that most Linux installers set a lot of stuff up in memory prior to the actual install, so maybe it just ran out of RAM.
  • When I booted back into Ubuntu to take a look at what remained in the wake of the crash, I saw the new partition, and saw that it did not have a file system. That seemed odd to me, since for all appearances it was copying files to the hard disk.
  • I rebooted from the install DVD and started the install from scratch. I tried to make use of the partition I had created on the first pass through, but nothing selectable allowed me to make use of the partition.
  • I booted back into Ubuntu and deleted the new partition. I then restarted the install DVD and told it to use the free space where the new partition used to be. Again, it stopped at the partitioner, this time telling me that there was no root partition defined. I defined the existing Ubuntu partition as root, and kept going.
  • Almost immediately it died and gave no sign.

Now, I have nothing irreplaceable in the Ubuntu partition. I could wipe the whole drive if I wanted to. But it makes me wonder if the engineers at the Fedora project ever took into account the (inevitable) event of an install failure. Is there any machinery in Anaconda to pick up the pieces when an install croaks and it has to start fresh?

If a Linux distro won’t install with 1 GB of RAM, I’m not sure it still qualifies as Linux. Or is there something else freaky about this machine? I don’t know, and don’t know how to find out. I have room on my slightly cranky 3 GHz Pentium downstairs, and that box is loaded. I’ll try again down there. Still, this counts as a very significant fail for Fedora. I’ve installed Ubuntu on SX270s at least five times, and never had any problem more significant than a video mode screwup requiring minor editing of xorg.conf.

Next attempt: OpenSuse. We’ll see if it can move into Fedora’s slightly scorched apartment, or if it needs to gut it to the walls first.