Sunday, February 04, 2007

Colour Me Brown (and Unimpressed), Part 2

What a kerfuffle, so far.

OK, so I eventually got booted into Ubuntu. Having determined that no amount of fiddling around with the GNOME theme manager was going to make me happier, I set my mind to the task of installing kubuntu-desktop, which installs a full KDE desktop environment. This brought me oh-so-close to the point of having no free space on the partition, - but when I attempted to deinstall ubuntu-desktop to free up space, Synaptic informed me that some critical functions depend on it! (I don't remember the exact wording.) So, not wanting to spend YET another god-knows-how-long on fixing something that shouldn't be broken in the first place, I left ubuntu-desktop alone.

On booting into (what for all intents and purposes was now) Kubuntu, I found that there were quite a lot of things I didn't like - and some I couldn't change, such as the horrid layout of the control panel that Kubuntu-desktop installs by default. I then realized that my desktop resolution was paltry, so I attempted to rectify the situation but couldn't get the distribution to display above 800x600 in 16-bit colour (even after using, contrary to Ubuntu's settings, both the fglrx driver, and the same X driver (r128) as my Gentoo box uses, which gives me 24-bit colour at a resolution of 1400x1050).

I eventually decided to try running X without having an /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, and see how that worked out. X's hardware detection must be pretty good these days, because it finally gave me a working X display at a decent resolution (albeit that the KDE Monitor Control Panel now complains that "something" is missing. No matter, as I doubt I want to spend any time trying to change it again.)

As you may know, Ubuntu is based on Debian GNU/Linux. A few years ago, when I tried Debian, one of the things I disliked about it was that although it gave me a decent resolution with my ATI graphics card, the display was lined - that is, it looks as if you have put some fine mesh on top of the screen. Naturally, this makes it difficult to read text on the screen, and I'm none too sure that given prolonged use it won't damage my monitor. Imagine my surprise when, after deleting /etc/X11/xorg.conf, I came up with a display which, as I said, was at a decent resolution, but still displayed those annoying lines! Why is a distribution which purports, to all intents and purposes, to be "Debian for desktops", and which uses a mixture of stable and unstable packages still plagued with this annoying problem, years later? More importantly, why is the r128 driver which works so well for me in Gentoo not worth my time in Ubuntu?

OK, so anyway. The next thing I decided to do was play a stream in Amarok. I've had trouble with Amarok in Gentoo before, but at this point that is ancient history. It's my favourite music player on any platform and it works like an absolute charm. As in Gentoo, so in Ubuntu? Oh, no. No sound came out of any stream I could get my hands on, and since the version of lvm that I had installed didn't seem to want to play along (of which perhaps more later) I couldn't access my logical volume of music to see if any of that played. Attempting to play music from a CD in KsCD, too, produced a sound that was more like that of an old vinyl that had been abused on a 40-year old cheapo Decca than the "perfect" sound you're supposed to get from a CD. Sigh.

Although Ubuntu is by no means the only distro I have had problems like this with, nor is this by any means the first time I have had run-ins with it (though I have to admit that this attempt was far more successful than the rest), what befuddles me is this: Ubuntu is supposed to be perfect for beginners. I've yet to sample Ubuntu's various (free) support channels, so I may well get sorted with a little bit of help - but I wonder who, on being told that there's-this-new-operating-system-out-that's-out-called-Linux-and-yes-it's-supposed-to-be-scary-but-it-isn't really-isn't-and-anyway-there's-this-new-distro-out-called-Ubuntu-that's-Linux-for-human-beings is going to want to fiddle about with getting his X server (if he even knows what that is) and will know where to start getting music working? I could probably do this all on my own given the time and inclination - but I have eight years' Linux experience and I don't mind learning how to do these computery things. If Ubuntu is "for human beings" and has these problems, is the Linux beginner supposed to conclude that any other Linux distro is going to be even MORE of a pain? Because trust me, dear reader, most of them aren't.

I understand what Mark Shuttleworth is trying to do and I applaud it. I'm also grateful that the publicity seems to be bringing more and more people to Linux; I just worry that it is being massively oversold. And "being massively oversold" is what drove me crazy about Windows, after all.

That may seem a bit of a cheek coming from a Gentoo fan but consider: Not only does Gentoo warn you all over that it's hard, it also has by far and away the best manuals, documentation, and user community I have ever seen for a Linux distro (with the possible exception of old versions of SUSE, whose manuals I haven't had the pleasure of reading). Some people may wonder about the wisdom of compiling all your software, but Gentoo doesn't hide this aspect of itself from you: it does what it says on the tin.

I'm not going to abandon Ubuntu just yet and I want to see how easily these problems can be resolved. But I think my points about how this is just too much for a beginner still stand.

Colour Me Brown (and Unimpressed), Part 1

In the course of a discussion/flamewar with folks on a mailinglist over Gentoo vs. just-about-every-other-distro, I made a commitment that I would try Ubuntu over the next few weeks and see what I thought about it.

I would like to point out before I start that I'm not a Gentoo bigot - I've tried many distros in the past and some of my favourites include Slackware, SUSE, and FreeBSD (not strictly a Linux distro, but close enough!). Unfortunately, I can't of course use SuSE anymore due to my stance on the MS/Novell deal. Oh well. I also have fond memories of Mandrake, as it was then, the first distro I had any luck with. It seems to have fallen out of favour since then, but back in those days it was probably THE distro for a beginner.

Having heard that Ubuntu takes "only 30 minutes to install", I started the install late last night. I found myself still at the computer at 5 am! Older and wiser...(!)

However, it didn't take long before I ran into problems. The first was that Ubuntu refused to install the /boot files in a partition that was XFS formatted - but not until I had already set the partitions up! So I went back and tried to partition the space I had set up into three partitions - one each for /boot, / and swap. I gave the / partition 3GB of space - 50% more than the install program recommended - and the recommended 256MB of swap. Everything seemed fine until I rebooted and tried to login, selecting drive 2 from the BIOS screen. Grub loaded, but couldn't find a valid partition and file to boot from. So I rebooted and tried again.

This time, after settings up as before I noticed that the installation program, in its wisdom, had decided that the 4GB partition should become the swap partition, and that 1/2GB, contrary to the instructions, was quite enough for /, thankyou very much. So I attempted to rectify the situation by giving the system 1.5GB swap - three times the amount of memory in this machine.

This time, everything seemed to go well. The system installed, I rebooted and chose the second disk to boot from. Still no joy. It turns out that Ubuntu had gotten the GRUB configuration hopelessly confused. No matter, just drop down to the GRUB commandline and set the correct parameters.

(cont. in Part 2)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Gates Calls Jobs Liar: Pot Cites Kettle Regarding Hue

Newsweek has published an interview with Bill Gates in which he accuses Steve Jobs of lying about Vista in his latest Mac adverts.

Now, notwithstanding the content of these ads, whatever they may be (I haven't seen them so I can't comment), it does strike me that there is a certain amount of hubris/chutzpah/irony in the idea of Bill Gates accusing others of "lying".

For the past I don't know how long, successive Windows releases have been bandied about as "the easiest to use, most secure operating system ever" (that's operating system, mind you, not Windows. Despite this, they have been roundly trounced every time by one of MacOS, Linux, or both - and to anyone who knows the history of non-PC computing before Windows95, it can hardly be a surprise that Windows95, like much if not everything else Microsoft have come up with, is hardly "innovation". Microsoft apologists will counter that everyone in the software business copies everyone else, and I'll grant them that's true. That does not mean, however, that those who copy are being "innovative" anymore than I am being "innovative" in posting in English. (A technology blog written in Quenya might be innovative, but it would be understandable to very few.)

I'm also one of those Linux users who has been using the OS long enough to remember not only when Microsoft pretended to like Linux, but when it was actively making it known that it considered it "carcinogenic"and its users "Communists".

As one Texan blogger might have pointed out, it's interesting that a "Communist" OS is doing so well that Microsoft are having to support it.

So Bill, please watch whom you call a liar, and the rest of you, dear readers, please watch out whom you believe.


PS. Yes, as the eagle-eyed of you will have spotted, I did indeed "innovate" the title of this blog straight from a Microsoft/Linux-related article on The Register.