The installation software used in Red Hat Enterprise Linux has a long and storied history. Hewn from a stone found deep underground in Durham, North Carolina (during the early days of Red Hat Linux), the installer has grown from a simple single-platform tool to a complex multi-architecture / multi-interface application used to deploy Red Hat Enterprise Linux. After more than ten years with the original evolving code base, the installer engineering team decided to use the advent of a new release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux as the perfect opportunity to make a few significant changes to the installation software. We are excited about these changes and hope that users will find the new installer to be more versatile and easier to use. Here are some of the main improvements and enhancements that you will encounter when working with the new installer for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Beta:
- A new graphical user interface. The installer now sports a brand new graphical user interface (GUI) based on GTK+ 3.x (a core part of the GNOME desktop environment). This powerful new interface was designed for both seasoned users and for those who are new to the Red Hat Enterprise Linux platform. Whether you are migrating to the newest release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux on a group of servers or you are a developer wanting to experiment with Linux on your own workstation, we have aimed to streamline installation. While all of the power and control that seasoned users are accustomed to is still there, it’s now easier for new users thanks to the installer’s ability to “auto-detect” certain answers to installation questions, like: “...where is the installation media located?” or “...where do you want to install?” or “...what kind of keyboard are you using?” With many of these questions now answered automatically, users need only complete a handful of steps before Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Beta is up and running on their system.
- Storage configuration based on mount points. One of the most difficult challenges that an operating system installer faces is determining how to detect, configure, and present the hard disks (or other storage devices) that an end user might desire to utilize during a given install. While most end users have a single hard disk in their workstation or laptop, Red Hat Enterprise Linux supports multiple hardware architectures and a wide range of enterprise storage configurations; in doing so, it’s easy to imagine how screen real estate can become crowded by a multitude of configurable options. To remedy this issue, in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Beta, we have introduced a new concept that centers storage configuration around the mount points you will be using. Why did we elect to go this route? We found that most users knew they wanted “/” and “/home.” We also found that users either did not care how those mount points were created or they had very specific requirements for each. The installer now asks you to (first) define the mount points on your target system and then lets you configure the storage technology underneath each one. For example, with this new approach let’s say you elect to use RAID for “/” and LVM for “/home.” Perhaps you want to experiment with Btrfs? Or maybe you like the default settings? Whether the case is simple, complex, or somewhere in between... the new mount point oriented storage configuration makes it faster and easier to define where Red Hat Enterprise Linux (and your own data) will go.
- Kickstart is the same. Red Hat Enterprise Linux has a long history of supporting automated installation through our Kickstart functionality. We work very hard to maintain backwards compatibility with existing Kickstart files and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Beta is no exception. You can continue to use your existing Kickstart files and, as with any major Red Hat Enterprise Linux release, we have added some new Kickstart commands and have expanded some existing commands with new options. We have also included command line tools to help you validate Kickstart files before running an installation.
- Advanced enterprise environment improvements. When surveying users of previous Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases, we found a number of use cases not originally anticipated. To our surprise, users were often performing installations using serial consoles or some form of a console server. Unfortunately our (old) text mode installer did not work well in that environment. We have rewritten the text mode installation specifically with these limited environment use cases in mind. In addition, the new text mode installer also gains some of the workflow benefits of the graphical installer, such as being able to complete steps in any order. The installer also offers the ability to rescan the current system's storage layout, which allows advanced users the ability to go to a shell while the installer is running and configure storage devices manually. When you return to the installer, clicking “Rescan” lets it discover what changes you made to the system.
These are only a handful of the many changes that have gone into the new installer. Having dedicated a lot of my time to this work, I could very easily continue to write (at length) about a multitude of other installation enhancements. Let me know if there’s something you’d like for me to review further.
In closing, we hope you find Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 Beta (especially the installation process) to be a solid addition to the Red Hat Enterprise Linux product line. We are certainly proud of our work and are excited for you to try it and let us know what you think!