Mike's general stuff ~ Random

Recent article subjects: [Linux] [Hardware] [Browsers]

Adventures in trying out Linux

Over the last 5 or so years I've tried about 8 to 10 different Linux distros.  There are two reasons why I tend to give up this little mission to get away from Windows.  The first is usually getting all my hardware to work (sound and graphics are the usual stumbling blocks), and the second is attempting to install software.

Currently the 'flavour of the month' is Mandrake Linux 10.  I'm even using it right now, using OpenOffice as I can't be arsed to code the HTML using a text editor such as nano.  Lots of copying and pasting, and either nano just doesn't cut it for that sort of thing, or I haven't given it enough time.  But TextPad on Windows just works.

Hardware detection actually went alright, compared to previous attempts with other Linux distros. Mandrake (and probably other Linux distros which died on IDE detection) didn't like my motherboard's APIC, so I switched it off (after reconfiguring Win2k to use plain old ACPI with 15 IRQs... no big deal).  I was impressed to see that my soundcard and graphics card (see my PC spec) were automatically detected.  Nice.  My monitor wasn't (Iiyama 19" S900, it does get detected on Windows), oh well, I'll just choose the closest one to it in the list available.  Hey, there's a monitor list, rather than me having to dig out my monitor manual and type in scan frequencies, nice.

The installation was pretty quick, mainly as a result of me choosing to download 3 CD ISOs rather than going for the 'over the net' install, which takes too long on on broadband, even though I don't want to install world+dog software.  I've got used to Linux distros stealing the bootloader, so 'whatever'.  I guess configuring the NT boot loader to allow booting into Linux is a bit of a pain anyway, and I can just reinstall the Win2k MBR if need be.

First boot into Linux.  X works first time, as does the mouse (I use for gaming).  The trackball (plugged into the serial port, can work with a standard mouse driver) doesn't.  Nor can I get it to work.  Font anti-aliasing is also a refreshing change from the retarded font set which usually accompanies Linux distributions.  Mozilla 1.6 and OpenOffice 1.1.0, not bad.  OO 1.1.1 would have been nice, but I'm sure I can update that later (yeah, right)

Which brings me on to software updating and installation.  I still have to use tar to install Firefox and Thunderbird, and move them myself into where (in my not particularly vast knowledge of where things should go on Linux) I think is the best place.  So after refreshing my memory about how to use tar, I 'installed' FF and TB, which actually run faster on Linux than on Windows on my machine.  Possibly not quite as quickly as FF and TB installed onto ramdisk in Windows, but less than a few seconds, I am impressed.

Mandrake does have its own software update system.  Which only lists stuff on the CDs.  Great.  Suggestions from various forums include 'just use urpmi!'.  Except that the Mandrake guys in their infinite wisdom leave it unconfigured, so I have to configure the software installation tool before proceeding.  Then I still can't install any software through any other means than tar, unless I'm lucky enough for it to be on the installation CDs (like I was with XMMS).

I'm probably going to give Mandrake the longest chance I've given any UNIX variant, but unless I can get it to install software in a non-retarded fashion (ie. not tar), it might still be short-lived.  Windows just has setup.exe, with a helpful and intuitive wizard to guide the clueless on their way.  AmigaOS has a properly unified installer which 99% of all Amiga applications use to install themselves.  The installer includes dependency handling, asks decent questions and hints as to the answers, tells you if it will create a directory inside the one you specify or not.  It doesn't bomb out with random/obscure errors, and works 99% of the time.  Bear in mind this is an installer that is over 10 years old and it is way ahead of the competition.  All it needs is a unified uninstaller :-)  Linux is a real pain in the arse because it has about sixteen million different installers, and none of them are intuitive or anywhere near 90% reliable.