Discussion on the future of floppies in 5.x and 6.x
scottl at freebsd.org
Wed Jan 7 23:32:34 PST 2004
Every FreeBSD release cycle in the past year has hit bumps due to install
floppy problems. This is becoming more and more of a burden on the
Release Engineering Team, as we simply do not have the resources to
constantly battle the floppies.
FreeBSD/i386 is the only port left that generates install floppies.
Their primary purpose is to fascilitate installing FreeBSD on systems
where a CDROM is either not available or is incompatible with the
'Non-Emulated El Torito' boot method that we use on our CDs. Systems that
cannot boot these CDs are typically those that are also not certified for
WinNT4, Win2K, or WinXP. Thus, nearly all machines produced after 1997
can boot our CDs.
It is certainly possible to run FreeBSD 5.x on machines of this and prior
vintage, and I certainly do not want to dispute or question any motives
here. However, the number of machines in this category is steadily
declining as time goes on, while the effort put into supporting install
floppies seems to be on the rise. I certainly do not want to orphan these
machines, so we need to find a compromise.
One solution is to find a dedicated 'floppy maintainer' that will
frequently assess the floppies during the normal developement periods and
work closely with the Release Engineering team to ensure that there are
few surprises when it's time to cut a release. I would expect this person
to develop and execute a test plan that covers all of the common aspects
of installing via floppy: basic sanity checks, loading drivers, installing
via the various mechanisms, etc. This person should also be comfortable
with modifying makefiles and the sysinstall source.
The other solution is to replace install floppies with an 'Emulated El
Torito' CD image. I'm not going to go into the differences between
'non-emulated' and 'emulated' except to say that 'emulated' is the method
used on FreeBSD 4.x (and prior), Win95, and Win98. Virtually every system
in existance that supports a CDROM supports this method. This image would
contain the loader, kernel, and MFS root, just like the current
'bootonly.iso' image, but would be configured for emulated booting. Users
could download this image, burn it, boot it, and then install FreeBSD just
like they normally would. Of course this adds the requirement of needing
a CD burner, but these devices are becoming common enough that it could
be a reasonable expectation.
Switching to this method doesn't entirely remove the headache of release
floppies, but it does make it signficantly easier to deal with them. The
'emulated' method actually uses a 2.88MB floppy image that combines the
first two 1.44MB floppies that we traditionally produce. By combining
them, we have a bit more flexibility since the driver modules that are on
the second floppy can go back into the kernel image and benefit from the
compression that happens there.
So, this is something to consider before 5.3. After that, we are
stuck with the consequences of whatever we choose (or don't choose) for
the entire 5.x lifespan. I do not cherish the thought of fighting
floppies for another 2-3 years. I'm happy to work with someone who steps
forward and is committed to maintaining the floppies as they are today.
Otherwise, we need to seriously consider the alternative.
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