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My Drive through Linux Hell


Entry Monday, 11/25/2013 12:59:59 PM – Mentat 687

Sometime last week while I was over my mother’s house babysitting her dog Jack, I had gotten completely fed up with my rather long in the tooth notebook. I had purchased the thing about 4 years ago (with it being already 1 year old by the time I had purchased it) and with Windows XP taking upward to 20 minutes to normalize coupled with the support for XP coming to a close soon… I thought it a good time to extend the life of the notebook by installing Linux instead of Microsoft. After all, I have moderate experience in Linux from years ago when I was experimenting with dual boot systems on my desk-side and while the tips and tricks I had learned from the UI might have been a bit rusty, at the time I was pretty confident that I could slosh through an installation and getting a few more years from the notebook.

Heh, I couldn’t be more misplaced with this confidence, let me tell you.

First off, I decided that choosing the xfce UI would be best mainly because I’m running a Notebook with a 1 GHz Atom Processor with 1 GB of RAM. Xfce has a low overhead memory requirements and lower need for processor. But then again I only learned this when I loaded up the LTS version of Ubuntu and ended up breaking Unity within an hour of installation… That and Mint Cinnamon which while being faster than Ubuntu 12.04 LTS seemed to lag in weird places and at arbitrary times.

Testing was sort of a strange combination of a standard and capriciousness. The standards I tried to use when reviewing each of the distros that I had tried out of speed of load up/programs once at the desktop, familiarity with the guts of the OS, ease of finding solutions to problems (using a standard Google Search), and familiarity with the installed hardware just to name a couple off the top of my head. The capriciousness was more along the lines of prejudiced dislike of experience I’ve had from working with Ubuntu from years ago… This included:

1. My inherent disgust and repulsion to the Ubuntu community at large. Saying “it worked for me” when someone posted a question for troubleshooting is not helping the original poster nor giving a solution to the problem posed. An attitude I see is still propagating the Forums even to this day.

2. The draconian method that Canonical did for changing the operating system by adding features that the community at large didn’t want in the first place. A move that I often described as the best cock-sucker or ass-kisser getting what he wanted. The “Software Manager” being the prime candidate for proof to this given the amount of heat that generated when it was added in the one of the October releases. Or better still changing the ALSA sound drivers to PulseAudio; a move that even the developers in Dev Tracking forums said “…was not ready for release at the present time…”

3. My personal favorite, how close the distro was to forking from Ubuntu. The closer the fork, the more suspicious I was of it.

So with this in mind, anything Canonical was off the slate to testing on the notebook. Oh, but even then don’t let that fool you… I tried them anyway — like the masochist that I can be. As I said a couple of moments ago, I downloaded Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and broke Unity within an hour. Pretty awesome too given the community gave instructions for how to recover it and they only made things worse. Xubuntu 12.04 LTS while being the xfce UI was still stalling in places that it shouldn’t, and 13.10… HA HA HA.. Let’s just say that it didn’t like my laptop hardware and shouldn’t, and 13.10… Let’s just say that it didn’t like my laptop hardware and seemed to think that dimming the screen constantly was good for it. So good for it in fact, my laptop was overheating from it constantly being on.

Following is the list of Distros I worked with, and my initial responses to them:

Fedora: I actually considered this one for a short time, in spite of the fact that it would be like learning new commands (YUM instead of APT-GET, etc.)… Plopping in the live “CD” (this notebook is capable of booting off a thumb drive like my desktop) I realized that the Live couldn’t and wouldn’t find the wireless even after trying to check through the web on my desk-side, so I continued to try to install it anyway… When it got to formatting the drive and demanding not only should I encrypt the HDD but also to install LVM and encrypt the drive in spite of the fact that no other Gnome/KDE/XFCE that I’ve dabbled with needed it… I stopped right there and then. Too much learning, and couple this with what they say about the cons for Fedora on Distrowatch that “…occasionally alienate some desktop users…” was a major turn off. The thumb-drive was formatted as quick as you can say, “…the hell with that…”

SolydX: At first I thought that this was going to be an all right installation. Sure it’s a fork off of Ubuntu and contains within it the dreaded “Software Manager”, but unlike Xubuntu, it didn’t have the wretched push for Steam — something that this computer definitely doesn’t need. I went through the installation the first time, choosing to install their proprietary “Plymouth” (which is basically the black screen that blocks seeing all the tty commands running prior to the X UI loading up), which was broke in the distro (Yes, I checked the MD5 and it was all right). Rebooted and tried again, this time un-checking Plymouth. Loaded up like a charm. So I began to check for which programs I wanted to load up. 10 minutes into that, I get a notification from the “Update Manager” that a whopping 460 MiB needed to be patched in for the update. Not good. Did it and upon reboot, saw that the GRUB-loader had added two more lines to choose from. Basically like Ubuntu used to, whenever a major patching was done, it gave the user the choice between the new version and the old to boot up from. Definitely not good. So, I chose the newer version and what do my eyes see when it’s loading up… Debian screens from a previous attempt at the program. Then at desktop instead of seeing SolydX’s info, it was a Debian desktop before it swapped over to SolydX. Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone!

Debian Live CD: what a love/hate I have for this Distro. I attempted installing it several times. The Live CD looked good.. While the windows were a bit chunky and looking more than a bit out-dated (compared to Mint, Xubuntu (in LTS and cutting-edge distros), even SolydX it had the speed even booting from USB that made it appealing. I knew from friends that Debian can be more than a little bit puritanical about software to load up on its Operating System… It’s sources.list only tends to point to Debian software that the team believes should be run on it. The live CD seemed to have worked up until it got to the GRUB loader and then stopped working. GRUB wouldn’t load no matter what instructions I found on the Internet. 45 minutes of trying to trudge through fixing this, I gave up and moved on.

Mint: Another Ubuntu fork. The masochist that I am tried to use the “Software Manager” to run the installs, hoping — perhaps even praying — that since it was first introduced, things would work out for the best for it. Nope. Didn’t. Not at all.. I watched it tick through some of the programs that said it had successfully installed: only ended up being partially to not at all installed. Sometimes it even stopped and didn’t install anything else. When I went checking on the packages that only half-loaded in Synaptic I marked for re-installation and only then did they get fixed. Not a promising start, but at least I was able to fix things. The clincher though was loading up Chrome. Slogged down the system to the point of unusable. I understand how Chrome works in Linux and Windows 7 – it checks for updates upon first load up. That’s part of the reason why I stopped using XP because it took a full 10 minutes for Chrome to finish checking (which only made disk-writing take all that much longer to stop). With Linux? It seemed to check for updates longer than it should and trying to use it seemed to have put a burden on the system itself. Gave that up and said, screw it… It’s on the back burner unless I can find the system itself. Gave that up and said, screw it… something better.

ZenWalk: Started off not too promising right from the start when it told me that it couldn’t recognize the resolution of the monitor. Giving me a list to choose from all of the options were standard 4:3 monitors (squares, not widescreens). I didn’t like that at all, but I continued with the installation. Got to the part where I had to choose what sort of installation I wanted to perform with it — and in spite of choosing the guided/complete install for ZenWalk it still kicked into fdisk for formatting the drive. Didn’t like that as it was more occult and menu driven (really 100+ choices for format times is too much) so I decided to abort the installation. The thing about Linux installations that I’ve experienced so far is that when you reach the disc formatting, unless you say “yes” to commit to these changes, the drive is basically left the way it was prior to boot up from USB/CD/DVD. Not with ZenWalk. No, it made changes to the disk and did so removing 6 GiB of the total 120 GiB for its own installation in spite of aborting.

Because of ZenWalk I was up against a wall trying to get this to work because I prefer using Windows’ FDISK to fix the problem (it’s far easier to use than any Linux command prompt program… I gave up and hoped that one of the other Linux distros would fix what this horrible Distro did.

Debian Install DVD: this is where the love (turns to anger) came in. Debian ignored the partitions that ZenWalk had laid out and put everything back to normal: 118 GiB to the main partition. 1 GiB to the Swap and 1 GiB to extended (basically the catalog for ext4). Grub loaded up from the installation USB without a hitch and things were running the way I had expected and seen from the Live CD. I began going through adding more sources to the sources.list and then installing programs that I wanted installed to make my notebook “workable”. So just when I was done the first round of installs, I reached the point where I had installed KeePass and needed to get to my passwords to load up my mail accounts… Popped in the Thumb-drive.. Nothing. Didn’t auto-mount. Checked the settings in the Desktop Settings, checked them on. Did a restart just to be on the safe side. Still nothing. An hour and a half later of troubleshooting a half-dozen alternatives, all the while watching in fdisk Debian changing the drive assignment from /dev/sdb1, sdc1, sdd1 and on and on and on… I gave up.

And the winner is…

Mint… At least for the moment. After doing everything from command line (and sometimes from Synaptic Package Manager), not loading up Chrome (at all), and generally taking my time working with Firefox, this time it seems to be doing rather well. Got a strange start-up and shut-down splash showing Ubuntu 15, but according to this forum thread I realize it might have been my own doing given that I was hellbent on installing the latest version of Red Notebook (which uses Ubuntu PPAs)… At the time of this entry, I went with shutting down the splash screen and that makes me happier. Not to mention it gives the illusion as though it’s working faster given that it’s flying through the daemon launches and shut downs. If I have to reinstall… eh.. It’ll be another distro.. Just not sure which.

Anyway, that’s the reason why I haven’t been around for a bit making my fractals. Now that everything’s back to working on the notebook, I’ll be back to my usual dailies.. Off to make supper. Until the next time.

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