Archive for January, 2009

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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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Kubuntu 8.10 vs Mepis 7.9.94 vs Puppy 4.1.2

January 9, 2009

Okay, how about a smack down between 3 of my favorite distros?  Okay, Kubuntu is not my favorite as this is the first time I’ve tried it, but it is a biggy.  I have ragged and ragged on Ubuntu even though I have tried to like it.  I do prefer KDE, so I’m going to give that an honest look and see if that warms me up to the Ubuntu brand.  I’m pitting this distro giant against Mepis which has been a fav of mine since discovering Linux and is responsible for me falling for KDE.  The release I’m running is 7.9.94 which is the RC1 of 8.0.  Not quite as stable or developed so the advantage goes here to Kubuntu before we even start.  Puppy has been my light weight fav for a long time and is an odd one out in this little comparison.  But we’ll see how well this little distro measures up.  Since I’m running totally off of live CD’s, Puppy actually gets an advantage as it runs totally in RAM.

Hardware: Dell VOSTRO 1500 w 2 G RAM and Intel core 2 Duo usually dual booting XP and Mandriva 2008 spring.
Tasks I will be using for comparison:
1. Booting
2. Getting on my wireless network
3. Working on this post in Google docs.
4. Getting a screenshot (or two)
5. Watching a Youtube video
6. Detecting an 8g flash and saving the pictures/screen shots to it
7. Finding my other partitions
8. Find my webcam
9. Play a game
10. Get me a beer

Good luck to the contestants. First up, Mepis Live CD.  Insert and restart…

mepis-menu

It took less that 5 minutes to totally restart but it took another 15 minutes to get on my wireless network.  NDSWrapper is included and I found it by looking in the lower left menu and going SYSTEM/Mepis/Network assistant.  For a nOOb like me, it was not as straight forward as I would like.  It said I would have to completely restart in order for changes in network setting to take effect.  This is obviously not true, but I did logout and log in again but still had to fiddle with the settings until I saw a notification that said I had a network connection.

mepis-network-assistant

I did take a few screenshots using ksnapshot.  Firefox is right in the bottom toolbar, where it should be.  Kmail is the mail client and Open Office handles the office tasks.  All in all, it was a nice full suite of programs and everything was where I expected it to be, since this is running off the familiar KDE 3.5 interface.  One extra I did try was the Kmag under accessibility options, and you can see my network connection and the time.

mepis-network

Mepis had no problems detecting my flash and saving the screen shots there.  Next it was time to go to YouTube, and of course Fred was right there so I gave him a shot.

mepis-youtube

Yeah, he’s really pathetic, but he’s even moreso without sound.  And sure enough, it just occurred to me that I had not heard any sound since booting.  And so, while Mepis was able to view a Youtube video, it failed in the sound department, at least off the live CD.  While it located the Mandriva and backup partitions, it did not detect the main Windows partition.  This is important in case I ever wanted to use this as a rescue disk.

mepis-sound

At this point, the test is over since it is kind of pointless playing a game without sound.  The game selection looked a bit skimpy but this IS a live CD.  It also failed to get me a beer, which was really disappointing since I could really use a beer at only 1/3 of the way through this process.  Next up: Kubuntu.

kubuntuscreen

This might be a bit sketchy as I’m going from a somewhat distant memory.  Kubuntu uses the KDE 4.1 interface, and this was my first experience with that.  It really is an attractive interface, moreso than anything I’ve used thus far.  Getting the wireless to work was a snap…easier than anything else I’ve ever run.  It easily recognized my flash drive where I saved the ksnapshot pics.

kubuntu-toolbarThere was also sound, as I ran Amorok which had a sample file that I could check.  However the rest of the exercises did not go so well.  First off, I was unable to get to Google docs because it does not support the default (and only) web browser, Konquerer.

kubuntu-webwriteKonquerer is supported by other aspects of Google but not online document editing.  So that really crimped me, but it is useful to know that limitation.  Next, I went to YouTube to see if I could watch Fred spaz out.

kubuntuyoutubeI could neither see nor watch him as flash is not supported out of the box on the live CD of Kubuntu.  I’m not terribly surprised, knowing Ubuntu’s ways as I do, but it still scores as a FAIL in this diagnostic.  And Kubuntu had no games.  Zero, zilch.  Not even mahghong or whatever it is no one ever plays but is included in every other distro.  All in all, Kubuntu is a very attractive and snappy distro that holds a lot of promise.  Too bad Mepis couldn’t have stuck a bit closer to Ubuntu’s development, because I think Mepis does a better job with KDE.  I liked that Kubuntu did so well connecting to my wireless network (TOTALLY painless) but not including flash or Firefox caused problems.  I set these tests up before trying these out, just so you know I was not intentionally trying to trip up Kubuntu.  I didn’t try a webcam test on either Mepis or Kubuntu, but I would not hold my breathe on that one.

So how about the latest Puppy?

puppy-menuMoving along to Puppy, which is the last test of the day.  Puppy, one of my most favorites, actually gave me more problems than the others as far as finding the wireless network.  I ended up getting through it using the NDISWrapper, but it was a bit of a pain.

puppyconnectionThe screenshot program is not as nice as Ksnapshot so not as many screen captures here.  The odd thing is that the default browser on Puppy is SeaMonkey and that had absolutely no problems accessing Google Docs.  Then I went to Youtube and was able to watch and hear Fred with no problems.

puppy-youtubepuppy-xsoldierPuppy does include a fun Galaga-type game called Soldier X that could get a bit addictive to those of us into that genre of game.  But Puppy also failed to get me a beer.

Given the struggles I had with all of the distros of one sort or another, I never did really try to find my webcam,

All in all, I actually enjoyed looking at Kubuntu the best and Puppy the least.  But Puppy succeeded in more of the tasks than any of the other live CDs making it a continued favorite of mine for just working where I  need it.  The purpose of a live CD is to see how a distro will work on a given hardware system, and these three CDs did give me a chance to look at the respective offerings and showed that they do have differences in functionality.  Given this particular demonstration, if I were to recommend a distro to someone new to Linux, Puppy is the only one of these three that is able to do most of the tasks that I tried right out of the box. When you add in the benefits of its small size and its speed, it really whips up on the other two distros handily.   Granted, it does not have a full office suite, but being able to use Google apps helps shore up that problem.

Puppy Wins!

None of these distros got me a beer, but I suppose they all make up for it by being free, as in beer.  Linux made some good gains in 2008 and I see more gains being made in 2009 as long as more apps start being available on the web.  When applications start being less dependent on the operating system, the advantage swings almost entirely over to Linux.