Archive for November, 2007

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Just trying to get a job done

November 19, 2007

I’ve really neglected this blog!  Almost as much as I’ve neglected the Linux machine I’ve had sitting here since May.  It is a dust collector, largely because of issues I listed in the last post.  Namely, despite the hoo-ha of the community, Windows programs seem to work better.  Quality is defined as a combination of performance, speed, utility, features, availability and stability.  Only Windows has been offering up this sort of combo on a consistent basis.  And that is disappointing considering my enthusiasm for Linux was fueled by frustration with M$.

 

But that doesn’t mean that Linux has no place around here.  I still read and write extensively with my Zaurus, which is still the dandiest little gadget in my house.  I just never leave home without it.  But I demand more from my desktop machine or even a laptop.  And the following represents a case in point.

 

I had a need this weekend, and for awhile it looked like Linux might prove to be the answer.  This would be highly fortunate, since this would be a public presentation, thus turning others on to Linux or at least showing them an alternative.

 

I had downloaded a 13 minute video that I was going to show in my adult Sunday school class.  The video was downloaded and turned out to be only available in QuickTime’s .mov format.  And that is where the pain started.

 

My first idea was to simply burn this to a DVD and I would play it on the church’s DVD player.  But my DVD burning software choked every time I tried.  My old version of Nero was willing to burn, but the product would have no sound.  I then fiddled with downloading some conversion software to change the .mov to an avi or pretty much anything else.  Again, the programs I tried choked.  Keep in mind; I’m at home working over a modem.  I’d nabbed the video at work earlier in the week.

 

This is when I decided to try Linux, since I know some of these distros had DVD burning capability and just might be able to work.  It was worth a shot.  The only distro I’ve downloaded in the past 6 months is Puppy 3.01, so decided to try that.

 

This was my first go ’round with the newest Puppy and it was it’s nice and easy self, although the desktop seems to have gotten uglier since 2.15.  We were back to the 2.01 Win95ish theme.  But I persisted because we had a job to do.  Unfortunately, Puppy’s DVD authoring software had no more success with burning this video that my Windows programs. 

 

Okay, no problem.  I had my work laptop, and I would simply play it on there for the group that ranges from 5 to 25 people.  Right?

 

That work laptop is under IT lockdown, which means I had limited ability to change much on there.  And it didn’t have QuickTime.  Which means it would not even *play* the video!  ACK!

 

I pulled my Linux distros out again.  First there was Puppy 3.01, because it was the newest and fastest.  Gxine is the default player on this distro.  It played the video nicely except there was no sound.  Crap.  Okay, I’ll move on.

 

I reached for Ubuntu 6.06, next.  Dapper Drake was supposed to be the Big Deal, right?  The default player here is Totem.  However, Totem failed to play this video at all, saying it needed more codecs or whatever.  But since Ubuntu can’t spot a modem (we’ve been through THAT before!) it wasn’t going to get more codecs.  I needed something that could run off a live CD.  The video itself was residing on a 1 G memory stick and none of the distros had issues reading the thumb drive.

 

Next, I tried Mepis 6.0.  The default player here is Kaffeine.  And Kaffeine work *marvelously*!  So in this comparison of media players, Kaffeine clearly stole my heart.  And so I determined the Mepis would be a costar of this presentation, and was delighted at the prospect of showing off my nerdliness.

 

But I quickly discovered another problem.  The laptop LCD display was inadequate as you had to be right in front of it to see it.  While I could plug in a regular full-sized monitor, the thought of lugging that thing to church was prohibitive.  But no to worry, because I had bought a 19″ Polaroid LCD TV monitor that also had a VGA connection.  Unfortunately, Mepis was unable to show up on the thing.  I was stuck again.  Windows had no problems showing up, though.  Hmph.  Since there’s no Windows version of Kaffeine, back to square one.

 

I finally downloaded QuickTime Alternative and managed to miraculously install it.  Problem solved.

 

But this further highlights the twin problems of any Linux desktop.  Namely, software and hardware.  More recent versions of Mepis might have worked but I have no way of knowing.  Other distros that made an appearance in working with the monitor were SuSE 10.1 and Dream Linux 2.2.  The live DVD SuSE wouldn’t even boot up and Dream Linux looked dreamy on the laptop but never showed up on the TV. 

 

So Window$ XP wins again.

 

So here are issues that I’ve had to struggle with in my attempts at making Linux work:

– Printer/scanner support

– Modem support – even with a serial modem!

– LCD monitor support

– Media playback out of the box (DVD, QuickTime)     

– Lack of a usable Stepmania package

– Abiword’s lack of dictionary

– Lack of RTS games

– Various programs hang, and most distros rely on a command line kill.  Puppy does not, fortunately.

 

These issues could be overcome with more persistence and skill, perhaps.  But I, as an average Windows power user geek, am not going to invest a whole lot into fiddling with it much when I have a machine that more or less works fine running Windows.  There’s very little that I can do in Linux that can’t be done on Windows but the reverse is definitely not true.  If that machine breaks down, it will be nice to have the other as a back-up.  But Linux has not yet earned a spot in the first string. Many of these issues, like the printer and modem are the most basic of productivity issues.

 

I still have my eye out for the distro that can do the job.  Perhaps I need to make clear my criteria:

– Adequate support for my printer and other hardware

– Modem support

-Basic programs that are completely functional

– A working functional version of WINE

-Adequate multimedia support

– Relative ease of use

 

Mepis would be a clear winner except for the whole modem and WINE thing which is where Puppy fits in as the sole distro that has gotten me online.  Puppy’s other main advantage is speed, since it runs totally in RAM.  Mepis is heavy in the software and packages if one can get online to get them.

 

 

D.

 

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Issues

November 19, 2007

Written 7-6-07

I really am on a search for a Linux desktop solution that just works.  I have lowered and lowered my expectations along the way.  Or at least I have changed them to fit into something that I might expect from a secondary PC.

 

So I have this P3 866 MHz PC with 512 M of RAM.  I have Mepis 6.0 installed but also run Puppy 2.15CE on top of it.  So let’s talk about what I’ve learned about this thing over the summer.

 

First off, Puppy seems to be the distro that gets me on the internet the fastest.  I’ve fiddled and fiddled with the Mepis KPPP program and it still has no idea where my serial modem is.  Puppy detected it with ease and within a few minutes I was off and surfing.

 

Puppy has issues with my sound card, having no idea where it is even after running the sound wizard.  Mepis has no issues with sound, and will play small videos I’ve downloaded.  But of course, since I can’t get on the internet with Mepis, these would be downloaded with Puppy or Windows XP.

 

Neither of these two distros knows what to do with my Lexmark X75 printer.  Both Mepis and Puppy had previously ran an HP 640c printer.  But no go with the Lexmark.  This model is even listed in the Mepis drivers, but there was still no acknowledging the thing was there.  The printer never installed.  A big part of having a second machine was making that scanner/printer work.

 

Actually installing a program has been problematic for both programs.  Mepis does decent with items in the repository, but that doesn’t help at all if I’m not online.  Puppy is online but they have switched to some sort of extension-like format which is difficult to navigate around, much less actually install something that works.

 

Abiword, on Puppy, is a lovely program but I have not been able to install a US English dictionary in order to do spell check.  In fact, there are no dictionaries of any kind installed with it.  Such a simple thing and yet with the above problem of installing and running programs it has been a persistent annoyance. 

 

By contrast, the Windows version of Abiword comes with a dictionary built in.  And this has been the ongoing lesson.  If I have learned nothing else, it has been that Windows programs install and run better than Linux versions.  The one exception might be Open Office, which opens slightly faster in Linux than Windows.  At least OOo has a working dictionary in both versions.

 

Linux, as an operating system or kernel or whatever, has issues.  It has issues with programs that were supposed to be more native to open source.  Windows versions continue to be superior in ease of installation and getting them to run.

  

dick