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Am I done with Ubuntu?

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

I made the mistake of hitting the Upgrade button on Ubuntu updates manager on my main development box the other day when it asked me if I really was going to go another day without Oneiric, and within a fairly short time had an unbootable Ubuntu box. Usually Ubuntu upgrades are fairly smooth, this one was bad. For a little bit of context, I have been using Linux for a long time. I started with RedHat, wandered through Fedora when it appeared, Gentoo, Suse, OpenSuse, CentOS, ClearOS, Debian, and Ubuntu, but for the past while I’ve been using Ubuntu. For years I used and advocated KDE until version 4, at which point (about the same time I switched to Ubuntu) I moved to Gnome. I have been using XFCE for a few months, and I’m basically done with both KDE and Gnome for now. So far I haven’t lasted for more than a few minutes on Unity before I get completely disgusted and change to something else. Somebody told me this week I’m just one of those old grumpy Linux guys.

I didn’t spend a lot of time figuring out what went wrong with the Ubuntu upgrade. Instead, I downloaded a few updated versions and put them on a thumb drive, and tried out some variations on the setup I’ve been using for a while. I installed Mint 11, Mint’s Debian XFCE version, and Xubuntu. As a side note, why aren’t there any really good tools to make bootable live Linux installs on USB for Linux? Most of the directions on the web say to do it on Windows. Blech. I ended up using unetbootin, which works.

My brief reaction to each of the three installs? Mint 11 has all the advantages of Ubuntu, except that its currently a version behind and has mintier branding. The main reason I’d use it is if I wanted to stick with Gnome, which is a possibility if it weren’t for the fact that I’m really liking XFCE. So, Mint 11 isn’t in my immediate future.

The Debian version of Mint is somewhat enticing. I like the idea of rolling updates. I’m not a huge fan of straight Debian, for no reason other than I have a kneejerk ideological reaction to software that is too ideological. Software should be practical. Debian is from a planet I’ve only ever visited for short periods. Yes, I know Ubuntu is Debian based, but it is suitably commercialized. Odd position for a Linux fan to take, isn’t it? I am fairly sure I’m not alone. All that being said, I could see myself using and liking this distro, certainly over the vanilla Mint 11 Gnome version.

Xubuntu works reasonably well. The new Ubuntu Software Center stinks. What happened to options and the ability to configure stuff? It’s pretty, but gutted. That’s basically my reaction to the direction Ubuntu is going generally. Ah, for the good old days when all the configurations were in bash and lisp files.

My first step on all three installations, after changing them so the focus follows the mouse properly, was to try to compile CouchDb 1.1. It failed on all three. There seems to be a mismatch between compiler versions and what CouchDb’s configure is expecting. I haven’t taken the time yet to figure out what the problem is. At this point I mostly just need to get on with my coding. The CouchDb binary package available on these distros is out of date. For my purpose on this dev box, it doesn’t matter enough to spend time on it. However, I will need to sort this issue out at some point. By contrast, node.js compiled easily on all three.

For now, I’ll probably use Xubuntu. When I have more time on my hands, it is likely I’ll wander off into a search for a different Distro, and move out of the Ubuntu family again. I’ll need to do something with my laptop (the machine I actually work on), which is a light weight Acer currently running Ubuntu 11.04 with XFCE. I’m open to suggestions, but I guess I’m not in much of a hurry. None of the recent installs on my dev box were exciting enough to make me want to spend more time on it. And for someone who’s spent way too many hours over the past fifteen years or so distro hopping just for fun, that’s too bad.

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Categories: linux

My linux distribution odyssey (so far)

November 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Last year I wrote a post about trying out Ubuntu, but then moving back to OpenSuse.   I was very happy with OpenSuse, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anybody.  However, when Ubuntu 8.10 was released I moved to it.  Some people just can’t make up their minds, I guess.  Then I moved to Ubuntu 9.04, and a couple of weeks ago I upgraded that to 9.10.  All of these worked great.

I used to tell people that the linux distribution they chose is a matter of taste, and there were several perfectly good choices, but I’m not sure I really meant it.  In my linux life, I’ve used Redhat, Gentoo, Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, CentOS, Conectiva, and several small specialized distributions.   I ran KDE for years, and was clearly superior to all those Gnome users.  Now (since the release of KDE4) I run Gnome.  I somewhat expect that at some point in the future I’ll find myself back on KDE.  My longest chunk of time was on Redhat, before they came up with the whole Fedora thing, and for me that was clearly the winning choice.  During that time (and a while after) I wouldn’t touch anything with Debian in its lineage.  Then I got a job in which I inherited some Debian servers, and I was pretty miserable for a bit, but I got over it.  I have a long history of being a distro snob of one kind or another.  I have at some point or other fervently disliked some of the best software out there.

For now, I’m pretty happy with Ubuntu.  It works really well, and long gone are my days of hacking at some perl script or trying to figure out why code distributed with the distro would not compile on my box.  For some time now, stuff just works.  I still occasionally find a use for dusting off my perl skills, but not because I couldn’t find good tools from somewhere else or because basic components of the software I need don’t work.  In fact, its pretty rare to not be able to just run a search in Synaptic, install something, and be on my way when I need some new application.  My hacking time is spent solving the problem I’m actually trying to solve, instead of on getting to the point that I can start working on it.

Things have really come together in the last couple of years for Linux.  Its amazingly good.  Things work amazingly well, on every piece of hardware I ever use.   My kids and my wife still use Windows.  Its fine for games.  Ubuntu is easier to install.  Its easier to maintain.  Its easier to install and manage software on.  Its easier to patch.  Its even easier to use.  If I want to get stuff done, I never choose Windows.

And the message, I think, of my odyssey through all the different linux distributions is that it doesn’t matter.  I’ve used several linux distributions.  I’ve used KDE, Gnome, and Enlightenment (and probably something before KDE, but I don’t remember what).  The key to my computing world is choice.  Use what works for you for what you are doing now.

That’s not what life is about, but it is what computers are about.  They are tools.  Use what works.  Use what you like.

If you haven’t tried Ubuntu yet, you should.

Categories: linux, ubuntu

Ubuntu’s nice, but I’m headed back to OpenSuse

July 7, 2008 2 comments

I ran Ubuntu for about a month.  It is a very nice distribution.  Everything worked very smoothly.  I had no real problems with it.  I’m not going to use it any more.  There is nothing at all wrong with it.  On the other hand, there aren’t any real advantages over OpenSuse, so I’m going back to what’s more familiar.  If any Windows users ask me what Linux flavor they should try, now that I have actually used it I am comfortable recommending Ubuntu as a good choice.

OpenSuse 11 is excellent.  They have continued to develop a very good distribution, and here again everything pretty much just works.   The installation is very smooth.  The Network Manager for KDE is improved, as is the update manager.

One difference that threw me for a few minutes was configuring Xinerama across two screens on my Dell D620.  In Ubuntu, the key is to install the nVidia drivers, and use the nVidia tool to configure X.  On OpenSuse, you need the nVidea drivers, but you have to use SaX2 (accessible through YaST) to configure X.  Once you do this, its very smooth and easy to get working.  Just to be clear, the display works fine without the proprietary drivers, but to get the best use out of multiple screens you need the drivers from nVidia.

Once or twice a week I go into the office for meetings.  Its not unusual for me to unplug the monitor to carry my laptop to a conference room, and plug it into a projector without changing the configuration at all.  OpenSuse handles this without problems.  Ubuntu just wouldn’t do it satisfactorily at all.  I didn’t take the time to figure out how to get it to work, although I’d guess there’s a way to get the results I wanted.  It didn’t happen “out-of-the-box” like it does with OpenSuse.

I initially ran KDE4 under OpenSuse 11.  It looks very nice, but it is not ready for real use yet, at least not for me.  It is still lacking most of the options that make me really like KDE.  Panel configuration is simplistic and just not ready yet.  Fortunately, OpenSuse has packaged things so you can easily install KDE3 beside KDE4 and choose which to run.  Installing KDE3 was as easy as loading the package manager and picking KDE3 from the package patterns list.  Now I can check back on KDE4’s progress as it gets better.  KDE3 is just so good, they are going to have to do a lot more work on KDE4 to bring it up to being close to as good.  Until then, I’ll choose flexibility and customizability over the extra coolness of KDE4. KDE4 has a lot of promise.  It is going to be beautiful when its ready.

A few direct comparisons between OpenSuse running KDE and Ubuntu running Gnome (not attempting to differentiate which are distro and which are desktop environment features).  Ubuntu’s printer and network configuration is easier.  I like Ubuntu’s package management tools better than YaST, but both work quite well and are fairly easy to use.   The odd difference between the Ubuntu package manager on the normal menu vs the one on the system configuration menu is strange, but both worked for me fine.  I like the ease of YaST’s patterns, which I mentioned made it easy to install KDE3.  Its been quite a while since either of these distros has failed to resolve a dependency for me without having to go hunting.  Overall, I like YaST over the configuration tools in Ubuntu.  It is nicely organized and consistent, and they keep adding more stuff to it.  The real reason for my preference might be familiarity.  YaST has been improving steadily, but has been consistent in its look and feel for several versions.  The one thing I really don’t like to use YaST for is to configure Apache.

The short answer to a comparison between Ubuntu and OpenSuse is that there is no clear winner.  They are both excellent.  They both install and run without a lot of headaches.  They both perform well on my hardware, and they both found and configured all of my hardware without difficulty (including various USB devices I plug and unplug at whim).  The few differences are minor, and for the most part (other than the issue with unplugging the monitor and plugging it into a different display, which Ubuntu didn’t like), it comes down to a matter of taste more than it does functionality.

Both of them beat Windows soundly, on features, customization, and ease of installation and use.  Linux just keeps getting better, and the gap is widening.  Now if we could just get commercial software to distribute end user software that is cross platform…  but that’s a post for a different day.

Categories: linux, opensuse, ubuntu

Trying Ubuntu 8.04

May 24, 2008 3 comments

I’ve been using Suse (and OpenSuse) for years, ever since moving off of RedHat when they started Fedora.  Other than a couple of Gentoo detours, RPM based distributions of Linux have been where I have lived since RedHat 6 point something.

I have been having some problems with my laptop (running OpenSuse 10.2) and it got to the point that I thought it might be easier to get a clean install than figure out what was causing my various problems.  That sometimes happens when you get a year and a half of messing with stuff accumulated.  You can’t easily roll back what you can’t remember you did.

So I’ve been waiting with anticipation for OpenSuse 11.  But I got tired of waiting, and this weekend I decided to try Ubuntu, which I’ve played with but haven’t actually used.  This is quite a change for me.  I’ve worked with Debian servers from time to time, but not by choice.  I have also been using KDE for a very long time (starting with KDE 2).  For the first time in recent memory, I’m moving to Gnome.  I might end up changing back to OpenSuse and KDE when it is released, but this will give me a month or two of spending the ten hours a day I spend on my laptop finding out what the other side is really like.

Ubuntu installed very nicely.  The installation process doesn’t seem as flexible as OpenSuse.  I missed OpenSuse’s easy package group selection.  But overall, I was fairly impressed.  Within just a few minutes I had a shiny new Ubuntu desktop.  Of course, it didn’t use my external monitor, and the display resolution it started with stunk.  But a quick install of the binary drivers (not installed by default because they aren’t “free” in the sense that they don’t come with a open source license), and a little configuration tweaking, and I had my dual monitor Xinerama setup working nicely.

I am not a fan of sudo, at least on boxes on which I am the only user, but I think I can get used to using it.  I’d rather open a terminal and su to root.  But its not a big deal, I’ll adapt.  On boxes where there are multiple people who might touch system wide settings, sudo is very nice.  That just doesn’t apply to my laptop.

Wireless, sound, and all of the rest of my hardware just worked.  Adding packages was very easy, and everything worked very nicely.  While there are some things I like about smart over synaptic, I’ve used synaptic before and it has come quite a distance since I last worked with it.

One thing that really impressed me was adding a printer.  The system-config-printer tool found my printer on the network (I print directly to the IP address using CUPS) and got it set up and configured almost without intervention, and it was about the easiest printer setup I’ve ever seen.   Way easier than it would have been in Yast (at least on OpenSuse 10.2), and of course way easier than Windows does anything.

I prefer administration tools that put everything in one place for you, rather than having to hunt for the right tool to tweak settings.  So I like the approach of the KDE preferences tool and Yast better than the “What was that thing called again” search for the right tool.  Some of that might be familiarity, but Ubuntu/Gnome could do a better job of streamlining the preferences process.

Overall, I am impressed.  The system install, adding software, getting things configured, and getting started using the new setup was very quick and easy.  I think just about anybody could do it.  Having recently struggled through trying to get Windows 2003 servers working properly, Linux definitely beats Windows, and I would not have any trouble at all recommending Ubuntu to anybody.

Some of my easy conversion might be because I’m not exactly new to Linux, and I knew going into it what some of the differences were going to be.   There are also a couple of non-distro related factors that make migration easier than it used to be.  I have a handy external USB hard drive.  So backing up my home directory so I could repartition my laptop was simply plugging the drive in and dragging the home directory over.  The hard part was waiting until it finished before I started messing with it.  When I got Ubuntu installed, I just dragged my stuff back to my new home folder.  Also, so much of my work is on Google, or in an svn repository, or other places out there somewhere in the cloud that saving the actual stuff on my hard drive is much less critical than it has ever been before.  My laptop is much more of an interface for stuff out there somewhere than it is actually used for storage.

If I change back, or if I find out things that make a difference, I’ll post them here.  I’m not sure how much I’ll like the differences in editors, terminal, and so on.  Only time will tell.  At the moment, it looks like my experiment might turn out to be a little boring, so I’ll stop talking about it for now.

Categories: linux, ubuntu

/proc

February 15, 2008 Leave a comment

A long time ago in another job far far away I was responsible for managing system administrators, and for ensuring the eternal availability of all network services. As is the wont of people trying to make sys admin jobs more efficient and tolerable, I wrote a number of automation scripts to collect information from servers and report it centrally. The actual sys admins in the department at the time had their hands full with their day to day work, so I dedicated some of my time building automation tools for them (at the expense of other things on my to do list, I’m sure). Now there are lots of projects you can borrow other people’s hard work to accomplish this, but back then there was less and I did it myself.

During that time I became way too familiar with the /proc directory on Redhat servers. I have since forgotten most of what I knew at the time, but this nice article by Federico Kereki on Linux.com brought quite a bit back for me. Everything you ever wanted to know and more about a host you can get from /proc.

More than the actual results, I remember going through source code figuring out what the information in the /proc files actually meant, and which information could be reliably used to provide which results. Its easy to misuse statistics, as much so on understanding system health as in any other arena.

Anyway, nothing productive to say here, other than the article is worth reading.

Categories: linux