More Adventures in Linux

After playing with 64-bit Fedora 9, I began to feel a little like the pop idols on Iron Chef, with the horrible dubbing: “Um, tee-hee, I don’t think I’m hardcore enough for this distro!”  There wasn’t anything really wrong with it, I suppose, other than sludgy response, Flash 10 not working, the scroll wheel being excrutiatingly slow, always having to drop to the terminal to do things…  That’s not really a knock on Fedora 9.  It’s a beautiful program, but probably my 2+ year old lappy isn’t suited to playing around with that particular flavor of Linux; not when it’s essential that I use my external monitor.  (Not to mention the fact that I am not a seasoned pro at this…) I generally liked the Gnome environment better than KDE, especially the way the desktop effects worked–it’s truly slick.  (And I have since learned that Fedora probably did the best job of recognizing and dealing with the meager video card that I have.  I’ve also learned that the stunningly slow internet browsing I was experiencing was due to IPv6.  I found some code that would disable it, but someone else pointed out that all you really need to do is type “about:config” in Firefox’s address bar, search for IPv6, and toggle the selection: Presto!  (That’s one thing I truly love about the Linux community: whatever problem you’re having, someone’s had it, too, and the fix is findable.))

Anyway, since I had a lot of issues that mitigated against having a pleasurable experience with Fedora, it was time to write it off and try something new.  Why not try Ubuntu, I thought?  Cool, I said, that will be fun; but let’s not play with Ubuntu, let’s play with Kubuntu, because everyone seems to like KDE better than Gnome, and besides, there are widgets right out of the “box”!  So, I downloaded Kubuntu 8.10, ran it as a Live CD, and generally found it to be quite nifty.  Hella faster, that was for sure, even off the Live CD.  So, I clicked “Install,” and hesitated at the partition screen.  I didn’t want to let it just use the entire hard drive, because, for now, I need to keep my XP system; having something reliable is essential.  And not fully understanding, at the time what all the partitions were doing, and not understanding why it kept telling me to make the existing Linux partitions into something that I didn’t have an option to do, I hit the web and searched for what most people thought was the easiest distro for dual-booting with XP.  Ubuntu and Kubuntu came up a lot, but so did OpenSUSE 11.

I took a look at what OpenSUSE had to offer, and I liked what I saw.  Yeah, it’s a Novell product, and Novell plays with Microsoft, and that sorta diminishes the whole ethos, but at the same time, playing with Microsoft suggested (and was sorta confirmed by reviews online) that dual-booting would be quite easy.  And besides, the KDE screens looked really nice.  (‘Course, they all do, pretty much, don’t they?)  So I grabbed it, burned the Live KDE distro, and went to work.  It loaded up quite quickly, about as fast as Kubuntu.  And it seemed great.  Now, at that point, I was more than used to my screen’s resolution not being recognized; for whatever reason, using an external monitor with a laptop really confuses the hell out of these distros.  However, I wasn’t expecting OpenSUSE to not give me any option higher than 1280×1024.  I don’t have ANY monitor that has that resolution; my laptop is 1280×800 and my external is 1680×1050.  So, whatever, it looked terrible.  But, given that there must be a way to fix this after the install, I went forward with it.  And installing truly was simple.  When it gets to the partitioning point, OpenSUSE said, in effect, “I recommend you keep your Windows partition, and let me write over that Fedora install you have there, and use the partition you created when you first started tilting at these windmills.”  And since that was precisely what I wanted to have happen, I was more than happy to say “By all means, my good distro.”  Installation was painless, and it loaded very quickly.  Resolution, of course, was terrible, and the standard method of changing resolution, using the System Configurations tool, still limited me to 1280×1024. So I went searching for help on the ‘net (disabling IPv6 first, of course).  Someone recommended to someone else to try using Sax2, and indeed, it gave me lots more resolution options.  But damed if they worked.  Simply put, everything got fouled up, and OpenSUSE became entirely unusable.  So, onto a different distro.

Since I already had Kubuntu 8.10 on Live CD, I installed it.  Everything worked great until I went to change my monitor’s resolution.  And the damn thing just locked up completely.  Couldn’t get anything to work.  Rebooting just rebooted into a locked screen.  Trying failsafe mode did nothing, because of some such error or something.  Whatever.  My patience was wearing thin.  But I’m also determined to see if a law firm can really make use of Linux and open source software.  So I did another search on distros that people seem to like, and Mandriva is tops on the lists.  I chose the Gnome option for 2009.0, because people have been complaining about KDE 4, and I tend to agree with the general tone.  Also, I discovered that the environment doesn’t feel quite as cohesive as Gnome.  Yes, there are really cool translucent effects on things, but then there are old-school classic-Windows looking touches.  Just made me feel like I might as well go with Gnome which makes me think of OS9.  Not that I like OS9, but at least the environment feels unified.  Also, if you don’t choose the Free option, you’ve got built-in Flash and supposedly better support for video drivers.  I can attest to the former, but the latter was terrible.  Install was fine, but, again, trying to make the resolution make sense was a lesson in anger management.  And to top it off, while the hardware configuration tool recognized exactly what video card I had, the driver it wanted to install turned out not to be a driver that was appropriate, which I discovered too late.  So, the result was a desktop that looked nice, but missing menus, and when I did just happen to glance upon one, the text was about 700x bigger that it was supposed to be, and there was no way to see what was going on; things were so screwed up that–when I thought that maybe I’d just reinstall from the Live disc–the Live environment acted precisely the same way.  Not fun.

So, fine, Ubuntu.  Everyone says it’s the most newbie-friendly distro.  And I had this partitioning thing down pat at this point.  And I hadn’t tried Gnome via Ubuntu, so…. maybe?  Yup.  Installed like a charm, allowed me to have 1680×1050 on external, notified me of updates, and they installed smoothly, hasn’t crashed yet, Flash installed nicely, and I’m currently using Firefox on Ubuntu 8.10 to do this blog post.  Now, it’s not like I have dual monitors; lappy’s screen doesn’t look right, but the main concern is the external monitor and that’s working at least.  I think the color leaves a lot to be desired, but that’s fixable.  I also need to reboot, so I’m not sure if all this will have to be retracted in ten minutes.  Also, it won’t let me run any nifty desktop effects, but maybe that’s for the better.  Clearly my computer’s not up to it.

I’m a little annoyed at the constant asking me for my password any time I want to install something or change a setting.  Isn’t that something that Microsoft and Apple get made fun of all the time for?  But I understand there’s a good reason for it.  Anyway, though, Ubuntu is working, and stands a very good chance of existing on my system in the morning.  And I think that for my needs, 64-bit truly isn’t the way to go right now.  But it truly feels like something a law firm could actually use for its computing, and that was the main goal of this exercise, anyway.  We’ll see.  It’s only been up and running for a couple of hours…