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Building a Linux Desktop?

April 13, 2013

For the past 3 years, I have been happily running some version of Linux on my home laptop and almost NEVER switching to the Windows side.  For most of that time, I ran Ubuntu installed with Wubi.  And it worked great ans still ran faster and used less resouces than Windows.  I highly recommend this route for anyone squeamish about making partitions.  I finally went ahead and carved out a real partition for Ubuntu 12.04 just because I wanted Ubuntu to have much more space.  It still involves some buggy steps to go back and forth to Windows, because of nvidia issues.  But right now I rarely have to switch.

I present work for the largest virtual school outfit in the country and they are married to Windows.  Everyday while working I am reminded of why I love Linux.  But with no substitute or Outlook compatible program in Linux, I too am married to Windows for work.  But my work laptop is proving to be anemic on power.  So I want to build a desktop that can run Linux and Windows with a minimum of fuss.

One of the biggest complaints about Linux is that there are hardware vendors who do not support Linux or that there are problems with linux.  So it stands to reason I would start out with Linux-compatibility in mind and then get Windows to play with that, instead of the opposite which most people seem to do.   Living totally without Windows is not an option at the moment.

SO, which of the latest components are going to work?  Is there a particular brand that is more Linux Friendly Like Acer, Asus, HP?  Or does it depend?

I’ve never used VMware or anything like it before.  Would that be the best way to integrate Windows and the associated Office products on my new machine?

 

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New Laptop Win 7 x 64

August 12, 2011

Has it really been nearly 2 years since I did anything here?  Actually all of my blogging has suffered, but I’m going to see if I can write myself back into the scene.

First I want talk about my newest laptop and Windows 7 and my experience with that, and then will update about Linux in the next post.

In Feb. 2010 I did get a new laptop because my old one, Laptop Alpha, was going to pieces…almost literally.  The power cord was coming unraveled, the case was cracking and breaking and it was just in terribly bad shape.  It eventually just died…would not boot under any circumstances.  So it was time to get a new machine and I knew I wanted something with a more powerful graphics card.  Enter the Asus UL50VT.  The link takes you to a basic list of this laptops features and specifications.  It came with Win 7 x 64 Home Premium.  It also came with a basic Splashtop Linux preinstalled, but in a very nonconventional way which is not listed in the specs.

Basically, there is a separate power button for the other (Linux) OS that will be up and running in about 8 seconds and will shut down in about 4.  It is a bare bones OS, meaning it is designed to get a person on the web or looking at pictures or handling basic media but nothing too sophisticated.  And it was a very handy thing in the very early days of using this machine, but more about that in a moment.  This was a very novel approach to the problem of having to wait forever for Windows to boot up.  Heaven forbid you have not updated or had the machine on for an hour or so to get new virus or malware definitions.  With the Linux part of the machine, none of these were issues.  It turns on and you go.  Period.  But you do pay the price in some of the functionality as far as using any of the programs that are not preinstalled with that Linux program or trying to save on the hard drive.  It was designed for speed and simplicity.  While it did not do a lot, this little Linux always worked and was stable.  It never froze or crashed.  (See another view of Splashtop Linux on the Asus)

Windows 7, on the otherhand, was an entirely different story, at least in this 64 bit version.  I had gotten my wife a new laptop the Christmas before buying this machine and it was a 32 – bit Windows system that she really likes and had few problems with.  But on this machine, it has been a constant struggle to get along with Win7 which I attribute to it being a 64-bit machine.  There ARE improvements over XP with this OS and most programs can be installed fairly painlessly and flawlessly.  But after a month, programs were freezing and crashing all the time, and there was no way to force quit them using the program manager.  It simply would not work.  With subsequent updates and service packs, this condition has improved dramatically, but I also had to do a completely new reinstall from my back up disks in order to make the Windows side work decently enough.  Windows still requires a myriad of babysitting programs to keep it protected from malware and to keep running smoothly.  On a Wednesday morning, after “Patch Tuesday“, I can expect to lose at least 30 minutes while the OS is updated.  However, with Java, Adobe and virus definition files, the updates are kind of continuous, and rarely add functionality as they are mostly security patches.

For the first couple months, I found myself on the Linux side of this machine a lot of the time, because Windows was so awful with the freezes and crashes.  I think most Windows users are used to this and accept this as a matter of course.  But I had been using Linux most of the time on my old laptop and was just used to things working.  I’m not against working through a problem, but there are times when a body just wants things to work!  I give Win7 high marks for being able to work with peripherals like mp3 players and cameras with little or no effort.  You plug things into it, and it knows what to do.  I could listen to music or watch DVD movies with little or no fuss.  It came with a student copy of Office 2007 which I could use for 30 times before I would have to buy and unlock it.  But I use open office and the times I have to use MS Office are few and far between.  It would be nice if I could install my copy of Office XP on this machine, but MS Licensing says I have to register with the mothership and call the home office in order to use the program I bought legally on this machine.  Microsoft licenses are the biggest and best reason to go open source, because they cripple your ability to use their products as long as you want in order to try to force you to upgrade and buy more of their stuff.  I don’t mind paying for something if it can really do a better job.  But rather than adding functionality to new products, MS will make the old product unusable to force you to pay for features you may not want or need.  Screw that!

I do love my Asus laptop, even though I recently had to get a new battery and paid a cut-rate price for a cut-rate battery.  Even if I rarely use the battery, it is nice to have when I need it.  But there is no way I am going to get more than a couple hours with it, as opposed to the 11 hours that is advertised.  The screen and keyboard are spacious and this laptop is relatively thin and light.  But it was installing Linux that made this machine the start that it is, at least for me.

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Running Second Life?

November 23, 2009

Basically, I am in search of a good, reliable distro that will work.  Of course, every time I review a distro, the definition of “work” changes a bit.  For instance, working within Google Docs is a must-have, as is finding my flash drives and other partitions.  And at the moment, running Second Life is a major quest.

Second Life is a virtual reality program/game in which you interact with the environment and people using an avatar.  It is fun and somewhat addictive, but it also exacts a heavy toll on system resources.  Finding an OS that supports it reliably has been a challenge.

One thing that this hair pulling has resulted in, is me learning more about the command line interface.  CLI is sacred ground unique to Linux.  I know of no Windows users who currently profess the virtues of DOS although there are some geeks who will use the cli in Windows on a rare occasion.  And I don’t know if such a thing even exists in the Mac world.  But to die-hard Linux geeks, CLI remains the ultimate passport to Linux nirvana.

So I’ve worked through a portion of the tutorial at linuxcommand.org.  While I do have an appreciation for the power of the command line and its elegance and power it does rely on memorizing exact syntax in order to be of greatest use.  You can look and poke around with a few basic commands, and there are aspects of it that make it infinitely easier than the old DOS commands of 1989.  Once I get comfortable with it, I might even use it to install packages more often, as it is pretty slick.

But my most fundamental question remains unanswered: how do I get that SL executible shell script to actually run? I can search it, list it, copy it, move it and do all sorts of nifty things.  But somewhere the most fundamental of all commands seems to elude me.  Where is RUN? Or EXECUTE?  LAUNCH?  How do you get a program to actually DO anything other than be redone, renamed, looked at and admired?

In Mandriva 2008, it did run almost without fail, although it did crash.  A lot.  I’m just now learning that this is a constant in SL.  In Windows, it lags hopelessly much of the time.  In Linux, it runs much faster if you can get it going at all.

When I updated to Mandriva 2010, it quit running and constantly opened the file in kwrite or another text program.  Getting the SL viewer to run was impossible.  I then began experimenting with some other distros and options.  I liked Mandriva, and would stay with it if not for that one fatal flaw.  I arrived at a few other possibilities:

1.) A 4 G flash of 0.7 ArtistX I had lying about.  This is built off of Ubuntu 8.10 and holds most media programs in the Ubuntu repositories, and specializes in 2D and 3D graphics.  It actually was the most seamless solution in that it most easily detects and connects to my wireless network.  However, the sound is very flaky (will often cut out and stop) and it is slower.  I would have installed this, except none of the Ubuntu distros to date detect the partitions on my Dell Vostro 1500.  Ubuntu won on my wife’s computer, as it detected all of her partitions but it is a FAIL here for an install.  The settings on the persistent USB do not persist, so I have to re-set each time.  Painfull, but doable.  I would stick with this if the sound stayed on and if it was a smidgin quicker.  The sound it the biggest dealbreaker here.

2.) Puppy Linux 4.1.3 – gave it a shot but never did get it to run.  If thArtistX had the persistence of Puppy and its speed, it would be a natural.  I only mention it because I did try it.  I didn’t think it would work, but definitely worth  a shot.

3.) PCLinuxOS 2009.1 – I have rediscovered PCLOS and really like it.  And I was able to successfully get Second Life to run…at least until I updated from the repositories.  Then I was back in Kwrite land instead of Second Life. But the video was very shaky and erratic, while the sound and speed were superb until then.  I had random visual distortions in the game, but easily this was the best solution of the lot, so far until it crapped out totally.  The other thing was that it had a hard time getting up on my wireless network.  I put my ndiswrapper .inf files on a flash to speed up the configuration process that gave me an idea…

4.) PCLinuxOS Live CD – Obviously, the update after the install spelled doom for my Second Life experience, so I decided to see if I could get it to run in Live CD.  And in fact it did work very well, once I got on my wireless network.  Again, I flashed the Linux version of the software to speed up configuration.  I was able to play for several hours without a single crash or hang, even with conditions that would otherwise have been very laggy.  But the next time I tried, it failed to grab my wireless network.  It detected it, but getting on failed repeatedly.  This would repeat on the installed and updated version in #3 above.

5.) Windows XP – I do have to mention it because it is always a fall back of choice.  The program always executes, every time.  And there are no wireless isues….ever.  However, it is incredibly slow and laggy.  I can not interact or talk to more than one person at a time and it still bogs down to a crawl.  My experience with SL with Windows is not very positive at all.  The Linux experience is much better if not for the flakiness of those other issues.  And Windows will crash and hang…often.

Anyone else playing Second Life?  Which Linux distro works best for you?  I suspect Ubuntu might be a clear winner here, if it wasn’t for the issues I have with installation and sound.  I can more easily compromise video quality than sound.  Second Life as a deaf person is possible but not very much fun.  And I have no idea why Ubuntu’s partition manager fails to detect my windows partition.  Doing fsdisk or whatever the cli is renders up the correct partitions and I am even able to mount them all, but the installation partition manager still fails.  I am ready for Ubuntu but it doesn’t seem ready for me!

Second Life isn’t THE deal maker or breaker in what I need from a distro, which is why running it from removable or temporary media is fine with me.   But it is just one other program and experience that helps to differentiate the strengths and weaknesses of the different flavors of Linux.  And even similar distros across different machines, renders differing experiences as illustrated between installing Ubuntu on my wife’s HP Pavilion and my Dell.  We both have XP NTFS partitions, but hers was detected and mine wasn’t.

Right now, PCLinuxOS occupies the linux partitions and I love the simlicity and little features that make this a great distro.  But if it fails to hang on to my home wireless connection between boots, it will get the boot.  That IS a deal breaker for me on this laptop.

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Ubuntu Wins!

October 15, 2009

I never thought I would say that in this blog. But there it is, for all the world to see.

Of course, “win” is a relative thing. “Winning” usually involves the direct comparison of more than one distro, and then one of them gets chosen over all the others. I’ve done direct comparisons in terms of functionality before.

On the list of machines that I have to interface with, this post is actually from Laptop Charlie, which is my wife’s machine. There are some people who were born to use a computer or any machine as they can intuitively get along on their own with little in the way of support and guidance. My wife is not one of those people. She requires a lot of attention and nursing to keep her supported with a computer. I have no idea what she did, but somehow the grub menu and master boot record got corrupted to where she could not access Windows or the Ubuntu 8.10 that I had installed.

While we were unable to boot any OS, my wife was anxious about her pictures that she had recently put on the XP partition. I thought we might be able to flash from a live CD and tried Ubuntu and Antix 8. However, neither of these were able to access her Windows partition. So, I tried Puppy Linux, which was able to access and copy those files to a flash drive. Honestly, Puppy continues to impress. If it had a more robust repository and package system, it would be unbeatable.

After a certain amount of fiddling, I was able to access the XP recovery partition by reinstalling Ubuntu. This recovery operation took about twice as long as a fresh install of Ubuntu, but we eventually got everything back to where we needed it. My wife was able to play with Mandriva, Puppy, Antix 8 and Ubuntu. She has never really liked Puppy because it just doesn’t look very nice compared to the others. She also hasn’t cared for Mandriva as a distro, but will use it if she has to. It came down to Antix and Ubuntu and she tried both.

After a couple of days of comparing Antix 8 and Ubuntu 9.04, Ubuntu won. And this was a big win, because she actually began installing it herself! I was busy cooking dinner while this was going on, so was only able to offer a minimum of pointers, which was enough to get her through the process almost entirely on her own. The only bit that she really needed help with was when it came to partitioning, and Ubuntu even makes that pretty easy and painless if you’re doing a basic dual boot. After only about 30 minutes, she was able to connect to the wireless router and was off setting up her bookmarks and preferences. she downloaded and installed Flash on her own as well as the security updates.

She has already commented how she enjoys the look, feel and speed of this new Ubuntu. And it does make a pretty awesome desktop system. She is making some noises about wanting to sample Windows 7, when it comes out, so it will be interesting how it might compare to a new Ubuntu. But this distro has officially matured into something that seems to be legitimately friendly for a new user who is used to XP.

Oh, but that is not the final word on my wife’s preferences. No, she has told that what she would really like for Christmas is a Macbook Pro. Um…yeah. Right. *I* would like a Macbook Pro! But buying a Mac for everyone in the family would be akin to buying a new car!

We’ll still have to see how it does as far as hooking up to her printer/scanner and I’l update that when it happens. But I really do like this latest incarnation of this distro.

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PCLinuxOS 2009

April 22, 2009

I’m not trying to grab a headline or an audience, but I do feel an obligation to at least blog this distro. PCLOS 2007 had totally won my household over when we tried it. Since that time, it became the main distro of the family computer as well as the linux that my wife (a total Linux nOOb) put on her machine. Every machine in the house (my laptop, the family desktop, my wife’s laptop) is dual booted between a Linux and Windows XP. XP still is the main gaming machine and still does the heavy video and graphic work. Linux is mainly surfing the net with a few odd applications thrown in. I really like Open Office for 90% of my office applications but still have to go into my old office XP program for a few specialized templates.

I was totally amped up and waiting for PCLOS to come out with the new version. While 2007 was working fine, it seemed like a lot of the packages needed updating and I was looking forward to some new functionality which other distros were already starting to incorporate. Then one day, it was time. I went for the Big Update. PCLOS is supposed to be a rolling release, which means it sort of updates as it goes along. However very few updates have been issued over the past 6 months and then finally came the Big One. And it was huge, being nearly 500 mb in size. I patiently waited for this thing to download on the old desktop and then it installed. Then it promptly would not allow me to log in. I got to the Grub bootloader, selected PCLOS and it went to the login screen. I selected my icon or typed in my name, then tried the password. the password would not type in after the 2nd or 3rd character and the whole thing froze. It was done.

My initial assumption was that this update overwhelmed my machine, as it was a bit long in the tooth. But I read reviews of other people who were successfully running it on less that what I had, so I wasn’t sure. Maybe the update was munged. So I downloaded and tried a live CD and had the exact same problem. It still froze on the password login. This was odd, but I chalked it up to some sort of hardware thing.

I then decided to try to update my wife’s laptop, which is a lot newer and more powerful. This time I was able to run a good update. The splash screen is very attractive. However, the first glitch was that it totally lost the wireless connection and no amount of cajoling from me (albeit limited) would bring it back. This was a major disappointment for me. And for my wife, who was just really warming up to to Linux. She actually took it a bit better than I did by simply deciding that she would just go back to using Windows XP. Her tolerance for fiddling is lower than mine, but she’s more agnostic about OS’s.

It was at this point when I ran my little comparison where Mandriva 2009 became the distro of choice on the family desktop. But the damage is done because I’m the only one who really uses it. My wife and kids are back to using Windows XP. Mandriva has its share of flaws that I’ll share later, but this release of PCLOS turned out to be less than spectacular for our family. I did briefly visit the the forums and there were many complaints, even so far as one thread comparing PCLOS 2009 to Vista. It’s difficult to argue about that since it did result in our family mostly going back to XP, which Vista has done for a lot of people. But the forums seemed to consist of someone complaining about an issue (somewhat snarkily) and then replies would be:

  1. Give me more specifics so we can help you work it out

  2. We’re a very small development team and can’t configure to every hardware variant

  3. Report your specific problem and hardware configuration

  4. I don’t know why it doesn’t work for you because it works great for me.

  5. I have problems with it too.

  6. I can’t be bothered with it and have moved on to [insert another distro here].

I’m not going to niggle about the responses or which is right or better, especially since I didn’t bother with the support forum at all, but am just blogging it instead and optioning #6. But unlike PCLOS 2007, PCLOS 2009 is not climbing the distrowatch charts. The 2007 version actually dethroned the mighty Ubuntu for several weeks and is the only distro in the past few years to have come as close to really competing in numbers of hits per day, being in excess of 2,000 for several days and weeks. But PCLOS 2009 has never even approached that level of competitiveness even though it remains (barely) in the top 10. In fact, it appears to have gotten less hits per day since the new release came out than the old version! So I know I am not the only one who has found this release disappointing.

I think if the development team had stuck with incremental updates, as they had originally intended, they might have avoided the avalanche of problems. But by going for a Big Update, they invited Big Headaches. Instead of a steady trickle of small adjustments and problems, they ran into a deluge of problems and a large population of formerly happy people who were no longer happy. A 6 month release cycle does seem pretty frequent, but other distros probably figured out that this caused less headaches in the long run and I think the PCLOS team probably are also figuring this out as is Microsoft with a (relatively) speedy Windows 7 release after the Vista debacle.

Is there a way to downgrade back to PCLOS 2007?

So now I’m again searching for a family Linux. As it stands, my laptop is running Mandriva 2008, which is okay. It seems easier for me to work with than Mandriva 2009 at the moment. The 2009 version is also running on a lower powered machine so I’m thinking about considering a lighter distro and Antix might be the answer there. And my wife still has the crippled PCLOS 2009 on it but is totally XP at the moment.

What I liked about PCLOS 2007:

  1. Everything seemed to work out of the box even with older hardware

  2. Lots of useful programs included

  3. Deep repositories (even if some packages were a bit old)

  4. Very easy to set up and maintain

  5. Easily worked with key hardware: wireless and printer. Mandriva 2009 can not deal with our Epson CX7800 printer (let alone the scanner portion of the all-in-one)

  6. KDE interface

  7. Played nice with Google Apps (Google docs, Google Earth, Picasa)

It’s tough watching such a favorite fall from grace, but this is a very key feature of why I like Linux so well. Unlike the proprietary OS’s, Linux offers a ton of options. When Vista sucked, users were left with the sole option of “downgrading” to XP. Like other people, I chose to stick with XP on my laptop rather than hassle with Vista issues. Oddly enough, I’m probably better prepared for a new MS OS after having gotten used to using open source programs than I was a year ago. Even Apple, whose OS X is seen a bulletproof is burdened with getting everything perfect every time. One screw up can be deadly. While PCLOS might hurt as a distro, Linux as a whole remains on a robust trajectory of improvement. No one has to please all of the people all of the time because there are plenty of choices. And I plan on trying s few and look forward to reviewing them here.

D.D.

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Which Will Run?: Mint 6, SuSE 11.1, Mandriva 2009 or Antix 8

February 16, 2009

In this post, I describe how I compared 4 distros to run on the old family desktop.  For reasons unique to this machine and to my own situation and preferences, Mandriva 2009 won this little contest.

I’m presently auditioning for a new distro.  PCLinuxOS 2007 has been the family favorite for the past year or so.  Last weekend I went ahead and did an over-massive upgrade.  I was anxious to get a look at all the new stuff, but could not for life of me, get past the login screen.  It would lock up totally, and there I was stranded.  I tried rebooting several times, but could not proceed.  The new splash screen looked lovely, but not much good when I couldn’t even sign in.  The update must have knocked something out.  Lesson learned: update in small increments.  PCLinuxOS is looking a bit old compared to many of the other distros in the top 10 on Distrowatch, so it is time.  I know the PCLOS team is working on a new release but I’m going to have a look at some others anyway.  I could always use the other OS that came with the machine, but I absolutely love Linux, especially for being online.

I’ve downloaded the ISO’s and burned them to the CD’s.  I’m ready to compare these newer distros on the family desktop.  This desktop is quite old but I’ve tried to string it along as long as I could.  It is a 1.8 G  Celeron with 632 RAM, a 40 G primary HD and a 200 G secondary HD.  It also has two optical drives, a USB 2.0/Firewire card and a video/TV input card.  The display is a garden variety CRT.  XP SP3 resides on the primary drive and PCLinuxOs resides on the second HD.  PCLOS de-throned MEPIS as my distro of choice.  Not only was it more attractive and easier to use, the repositories seemed to be particularly deep.  Extensive repositories and ease of installing new apps rank high on my requirements for any Linux distro I choose.

So I’m going to set up the tasks before trying any of these, and then blog the results as I go.  First, we’re going to run off the live CD for a bit to see what we can do.

1. Boot and load the live CD
2. Detect a USB flash drive
3. Take a screen shot (or two) and save it to the flash
4. Connect to the network via Ethernet
5. Add to this post using Google Docs
6. Watch a Youtube video
7. Play a game

Yes, this is a very superficial review based on live CD’s.  If any of these distros sufficiently impress me, I might do an install and do a more thorough job.    So let’s get cracking…

Open SuSE 11.1

I knew there would be issues with this machine, simply because it is more than 5 years old.  In the case of OpenSuSE, it appears that the integrated video card is the main weakness.  Or at least it was a jumbled display that kept me from getting very far.  I did try several of the screen options from the default to 800×600 to VESA.  Nothing seemed to be working.  I’m sure some of you could have done some command line magic to make it work, but I’m only going so far on a live CD.  The purpose of the live CD is to see if the program works on my hardware, and in this case, OpenSuse would not.  I may try it on my laptop just to see how it looks and does on more modern hardware.

Linux Mint 6.0

In my last article, I tried several distros and several people commented recommending Mint.  So this was definitely on the short list. Mint 6 (Felicia) is fresh out, and I weas looking forward to trying it out.  However, it did lock up on the hardware I’m testing out now.  It goes on the list, along with SuSE to try out on my laptop later.  Basically, it cycled all the way through the loading process and then simply stopped doing anything on a dark screen after the login.  I rebooted a few times to see if I could catch anything, but it always got stuck on a dark, blank screen.  That’s okay, because it reminds me that my hardware is considered dated.  Moving on….

Antix 8

Antix with a game and some menus

Antix with a game and some menus

Finally!  Something that ran and worked right out of the box!  It might be argued that Antix is a distro made for a machine like mine or older or smaller.  I liked the look straight away and it seemed fairly intuitive.  Since I was wired in, there was no niggling about getting on line. I fired up the Ice Weasel and there I was.  I logged into Google and was able to continue my review in Google docs, no problem.  I could have also used the Dillo browser if I wanted.  This is a light distro, so it booted fairly fast off the live CD.  The screenshot tool was right there.  Easy peasy, except when I tried to get it on to my flash drive.

I plugged in my flash drive and nothing happened.  So I opened “Media” in the menu and was able to find my flash drive and open it.  But getting the picture from the temporary Antix folder to the thimbdrive was a bit of a challenge.  I discovered that resizing for a simple drag and drop was not working and neither was copy and paste.  I eventually was able to drag and drop from the Antix home directory into the opn flash folder on the task bar.  Not elegant, but it worked.  I found the game gweled which was an interesting little puzzle game.  Check that off the list.  Next was Youtube, and Antix gave me no problems there.  I had no problems watching a video and my sound worked well, too.

Antix watching Youtube

Antix watching Youtube

As a final step, I looked at the repositories, which use Synaptic to manage packages.  The collection of programs available was okay but not exceptional.  Unlike PCLOS, which had no problems providing Picasa and Google Earth, the Debian repositories are a bit stricter and more selective.  I’m sure I could find Stepmania and Frets on Fire if I looked around a bit more, but they weren’t there out of the box.

Antix, like the more robust MEPIS from which it came, is a very capable, functional distro.  It reminds me a lot of Puppy Linux, only with a more attractive appearance.  A more direct comparison of these twio light weights might be useful.

Moving on…

Mandriva 2009

Mandriva desktop

Mandriva desktop

This is a cousin of PCLinuxOS, and the look and feel are very familiar.  How familiar?  Well, I’ve been using Mandriva 2008 on my laptop for the past year and the differences are pretty minor.  But the question was; would it work as well on the older family desktop?  The answer to that is a big YES!  No problems with the disply, video or sound.  Youtube worked.  Google docs worked.  TVtime was able to lock on to my video/TV card with no problems.  No problems with KDE 4.1 that I could find in my brief overview.

However, Mandriva did not come with any games on the LiveCD, so that is one strike against it.  Of course, I already know about the repository situation and while not quite as large as PCLOS, I have seen it grow more generous.  I know there are plenty of games to be found if I want but I do want to be fair and point out that one strike, minor as it is.

It makes sense that Mandriva would be well-suited for this particular machine since Mandriva has been geared toward the netbook market where system resources are at a premium.  It also is very easy to use for users new to Linux.  There is also one other feature that makes Mandriva a good match for this particular machine.  This machine is in the family room and is the one used by my two young boys.  My 10 year-old is especially into using the computer and is also the most apt to wander into a site he shouldn’t.  That is why it is in the family room where we can monitor him, as parents.  Mandriva is the only distro that I know of that has any sort of special parental control feature where a parent can whitelist or blacklist certain sites as well as set up a certain time window for internet access.  It isn’t terribly sophisticated, but the gesture is very much appreciated.  Mandriva may be poised to become a distro that is more family and education friendly than any other distro and arguably more friendly than the other two primary commercial OS’s that people are using.  Especially in light of tougher economic times, it really is hard to beat free.  There is a paid version that comes with support that is still a bargain compared to what people are paying for more propietary systems.

Open Suse is the most serious and business-like of the bunch, and also the biggest.  There is a reason this distro is in the top 2, routinely.  I can see this being easily a distro of choice for serious computer developers.  I have no idea what happened to Mint today.  My guess is that it has moved on and is aiming at becoming a more modern distro and leaving older hardware in the dust.  I have run earlier versions of Mint on this machine, but the 4.0 version was not as impressive as Mepis 7 was at that time.  PCLOS blew them both out of the water.  I suspect Mint 6 is more about the latest and greatest, geared toward people running newer hardware.

Antix was a very nice distro.  Not as light as Puppy, but it has a key advantage in having a larger and easier to use repository of other programs.  If my machine was any lighter and older, Antix would be the distro of choice today.  In fact, I have an old 550 MHz machine sitting around with 256 Mb RAM that would be perfect with this little distro.

But the old family computer is still a good machine, well equipped with all the peripherals I could cram on it.  Mandriva 2009 has won the day as being the newest, most powerful and user friendly distro that this machine can handle while being able to detect and handle everything that is attached.  I’ll probably be looking at replacing this with a new desktop in the next year or two and Mandriva should help us with the transition as the XP side of the dual boot becomes more and more obsolete.


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Why Picking a Linux Distro is Like Picking a Girlfriend

January 10, 2009

Wow. Thanks to all for stopping in!

In case it wasn’t obvious, my last post was something done on a whim and on the fly. I set up some conditions and then performed some tests. I don’t thnk these were particularly rigorous tests. Like most nOObs, I’m more concerned about things that just work. If something makes a good initial impression, I’m more willing to tweak and work with it later.

Choosing a Linux distro is a lot like choosing a girlfriend. If she appears too needy or too high maintenance, I am probably not going for a second date. Of course, a pretty face doesn’t hurt, but as my previous review showed, there is a lot more to her than her looks. But looks and the amount of effort required are all subjective things. Most of us nerds enjoy fiddling with things and many will enjoy the challenge that the spirited and untamed distros bring. Some of us like a distro with a nicer personality. Some like a distro that is younger and others prefer ones that are more mature. Some are purists and prefer a distro that is totally pure and unsoiled by proprietary software. And some of us don’t particularly care and will take the one that is the easiest no matter what corporate entities she has gone to bed with. Whether you are a purists or a pragmatist, there is probably a Linux girlfriend distro for you. Or, you could stay with same whore everyone else purchases or the exclusive high classed beauty whose pimp only allows her to serve clients who can afford to use her in the more expensive accommodations.

Everyone has different criteria, and I didn’t think my initial criteria were that rigorous. Afterall, getting on the web, typing a document, watching some youtube and and having a bit of fun are minimum requirements that can be satisfied by many cell phones! My Dell laptop is hardly exotic so should not be beyond the reach of any modern distro.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of flavors of Linux so having some relatively quick way to screen them is important if you are on the hunt for a new one. The live CD provides a very efficient method for doing this. Not everyone has a bunch of extra machines sitting around waiting for a new OS to be installed/tried. Trying it out before having to commit is one of the first things that enabled me to overcome my own anxieties about trying a seemingly alien OS and if you want to see more people trying Linux, you can not underestimate the value of decreasing anxiety. And this is why it is so important that there is some robust functionality out of the box. Ubuntu and Mepis both brand themselves as being friendly for someone trying Linux for the first time. But if I fail to get sound or video working, my opinion of the OS will NOT be friendly. Yes, there are work-arounds and tweaks and fixes aplenty. But if I want work-arounds, why not stick with Vista which has better work-arounds for all of its ills?!? It’s only a live update or a service pack away!

I do appreciate the feedback and several people suggested Mint as a viable distro. It is on my short list of distros to try. What other distros would be worthy opponents for Mint 5? Are there any other tasks that a distro should be able to perform out of the box besides the ones I already tried in my last review?

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