by Jonathan Roberts
This interview is the first of a series we’ll be co-publishing with Fedora Interviews. In this one, Jeremy Katz talks about improvements to Fedora Live CDs.
Live CDs are still something that are relatively new to the Fedora Project, but because of their integration to the build system and the user facing tools such as livecd-tools allowing for easy re-spinning, they’re a fairly central part of what Fedora can offer people. Could you give us a bit of background on this and explain the current state of live spins in Fedora
Since the first official livecd release for Fedora Core 6, we’ve spent a lot of time on improving the tools used for building live images and helping to make them less of the “this is a quick hack job that works” into tools that actually can be built upon, maintained, etc. One of the big pieces there is around wanting to have reproducibility for your images–we accomplish this through using a kickstart config for the livecd definition.
Fedora 8 was really the first release where we were starting to have more people building livecds using the tools–the KDE SIG has been active in doing so since Fedora 7, but with Fedora 8, we also gained the Electronic Lab (FEL) spin, the Developer spin, and the XFCE spin.
In Fedora 9, one of the new features is persistence for Live USBs. Based on the impression I get, this is a feature that is in high demand and probably has quite a number of uses. Where did your motivation for working on this feature come from; was it the demand from the users, or were you scratching your own itch?
A little bit of both really. It’s definitely a feature that gets asked about by users, especially since we’ve supported running the live image off of a USB stick since Fedora 7 through the livecd-iso-to-disk script. But it’s also something that I’ve thought would be nice and interesting to support all along. Being able to carry your (customized) distribution around on a USB stick and preserve any documents you work on, etc is pretty cool.
And how does this feature work? What would a user have to do once they have a copy of the Beta release to test it?
It’s pretty straight-forward to use. The main thing is that you need a USB stick that’s at least 1 gig in size, 2 gigs is even better. Then, you’ll use the livecd-iso-to-disk script and run it:
# ./livecd-iso-to-disk --overlay-size-mb 1200 /path/to/iso /path/to/stick
In this case, I’m setting up a 1200 MB file to store my persistent data. If you only have a 1 GB stick, then you’ll need to use something more like 250.
What work was required on your part to create this feature?
Most of the legwork to implement the early form of the persistence work was done by Douglas McClendon. I just then massaged the patches a bit and made the integration a little cleaner.
Do you have any interest from other projects, OpenOffice.org or Gnome perhaps, who are interested in using these technologies for the promotion of their own projects and Live CDs?
No, but we haven’t really reached out. Which perhaps we should.
Are there any other improvements to the Live CDs for Fedora 9, or do you have any that you’d like to get implemented for later Fedora releases?
For Fedora 9, a lot of the effort has been in making livecd-creator have an API that is exported and can be used by other tools that want to build images. So, e.g., for LTSP image creation, they’re now using the livecd-creator imgcreate module as the backend for building the LTSP client images.
I think the big thing that we need to do in the future is try to get some nice “content” to have available on the CD–things to help a new Fedora user know what they can do with the system, etc. If you’re interested on working on these sorts of things, please let me know. Also, it’d be nice to look into a larger image so that we can fit more bits.
And finally, would you care to tell us a bit about yourself? What got you interested in free software originally? What you like to do with your time when not hacking on Fedora?
I’ve been involved in free software for way too long now, originally getting involved because it was fun to see how things worked. When not working on Fedora things, these days, I’m spending a lot of time at school, as I’m currently enrolled in a graduate program at MIT in addition to working at Red Hat. I’m also a pretty avid cyclist, doing both utility/commuter biking as well as longer, more relaxing recreational rides.