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OpenSUSE 11 22 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Distro Wars, Linux, Suse, Ubuntu.
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Having been disappointed by Ubuntu 8.10, I moved on to Fedora. Absolute failure. Looked ok, couldn’t set up a network connection. Fro some reason, /bin and /sbin were not in root’s $PATH, so for a moment I was unable to run dhclient and ifconfig. Don’t have a clue why that was. Next, I tried the Red Hat admin GUIs. Why they are GUIs, escapes me. you have to type system-config-x, as there is stupidly system-install-packages and system-control-network, so no tab completion for you. This is exceptionally stupid, as the former is just the program pirut, and the latter is a form of system-config-network. Why there are two escapes me. On the plus side, the graphical installer (anaconda) was good, and the startup display is quite good. It also has a nice gdm setup that does away with usernames (you click on your icon then enter a password).

Next, up, OpenSUSE. This has a very nice version of the old installer, which, on newer hardware, actually runs decently. The installer is very clean with a green and silvery look. On the downside, however, it suffers from the same problems as before. Partitioning is a mess. Surprise surprise, I don’t want to wipe my disc. To get custom partitioning, you have to click on a drop box, then click on partitioning. It’s something most people would want to configure, yet is bundled with useless options in a hard to access location. No warning is given that it is going to format a disk, except for small red text, so noobs could easily just click through and not realise until it is too late that they are going to lose data. That one really should have been addressed by now. Also, even though I am installing from a DVD, it has a funny box that lists the installation media that are in use, along with a total. Looks a bit stupid. The install is extremely slow, compared to others.

Now I start to remember why I dislike Suse. First, it makes you except a EULA. I feel dirty whenever I have to do this. It also makes you accept one for Firefox, something that caused a furore in the Ubuntu crowd.

Next, it comes without nano. This is highly annoying as nano is my primary editor.

Thirdly, it bundles a desktop search called kerry beagle. This may be usefull for some users, but this really should be opt-in, rahter than a difficult opt-out. Somewhere, there should be an explicit option to enable or disable it. It caches the user’s home directory, as well as keeping all of firefox’s web history. Also, even in KDE 3.5, it bundles the stupid ugly menu, which Novell made. Though, it is easy to go back to the getter ‘classic’ menu.

Fourth, it gave me the hostname linux-th98. Whatever the hell that is. I don’t remember a choice. Ubuntu handles this by making the domain username-laptop or somehting, which works fairly well for some.

Fifth, yast blows. Yast2 (graphical) is a pain, and the non graphical one is really difficult to work with (Imagine a UI where instead of having a mouse, you press tab.) I wanted to eliminate the beagle group, but there is no groups settings that I found, other than user 1000. The Gnome settings dialogues are more useful. Flowing from this is that files such as fstab and menu.lst are expected to be edited in a stupid GUI (even though they’re text) and so there is no clean tab format.

So. All in all not too bad, as I can’t find too many things to complain about. Most of these are my personal preference. There are other things that have good defaults, like the screensaver and kdm theme. I’ll hang onto this one for a while if I can figure out how to blast beagle off the face of the Earth.

On the black machine, Suse wins. But generally, I would say that Ubuntu wins thus far for ordinary users. Of cource, Debian is the natural choice for those in the know.

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Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex Dissapoints 17 November, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Debian, Distro Wars, Grub, Linux, Ubuntu.
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Ubuntu has a long and sad history of disregarding the needs and wants of power users in their drive for ease for users who are unfamiliar with, and have little inclination to become familiar with Linux. To me, it’s dissapointing. More hardline flamers have become angry at Ubuntu and Canonical. This is my experience.

I have a cheap computer. An old one died, so I simply bought a few cheap components to replace the dead box, reusing some drives. The machine has integrated grpahics, because I haven’t coughed up for a real card yet. Vesa drivers work fine, but both the 2d nv and proprietary nvidia divers don’t work. Probably because the mbo only cost me ~70AUD. I’ve known about this since I’ve had the machine. I can’t be bothered to fix it, because I can use 3d apps on another machine.

Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex uses a new version of xorg. Supposedly, it has a very little configuration needed and can dun with no /etc/X11/xorg.conf. This sounds like a good idea. But, for me it means that there are problems.

After finishing the Debian installer, Ubuntu boots. No grub menu is shown, another pet peeve I have. If you do hit escape, you are confrinted with an ugly, black screen. Then you get usplash. Great for some. Then again, if you turn it off you get ugly readouts from a kernel with useless timing enabled. Ok, this is a problem in Debian too, but I compiled my own kernel. Then you get the same ugly gdm theme Ubuntu has been using since forever.

The problem is, gdm didn’t come up. Rather than dropping to a shell to let me diagnose this, there is an ugly black screen with low resolution. I try as few options, none of which work. To finish applying settings, I’m informed that the xserver will restart in one minute. Pressing ok leaves the screen pitch black. The Ubuntu developers must be fond of black.

Dropping to a shell lets me find that there is indeed an xorg.conf. Wonderful. startx works, after killing xinit. And he voila, gnome appears. In SVGA (800×600) resolution. Xrandr will only let me change this down to 640×480. Brilliant. Copying over Debian’s configuration file is no good. Somehow, the new xorg does not accept screen resolutions in the configuration file. Anyway, after trying the other trick I’ve heard of, I remove the file. This works wonders, and now, somehow, my screen size becomes 1024×768 when using startx. No such luck when starting, the xserver still refuses to start. My next move is to uninstall the nv driver. Good thinking, I hear you say. Well, now gdm will start. But somehow, my former trick doesn’t work, and I am stuck with SVGA. So what am I supposed to do? Reinstall a broken driver?

Forget it. I’m sticking with Debian. Debian has failed in interesting ways, but I have always been able to fix it. I don’t like xorg.conf, or for that matter grub’s menu.lst, or fstab. But I’ve just learned to get used to them. Sooner or later I’m going to man up and just use vim. Don’t get me wrong, making the user do less work is great. I like apt, and rarely compile anything from source. I’m not a sadist. But, I think that these ‘miracle’ fixes, like having no configuration files, are a dumb idea. Why? Because there are situations that no developer can foresee, and they will end up just not working. And what do you do then? You edit the configs. I’ve done things the hard way, and my Debian install has more or less worked ever since.

Are there really too many distros? 29 July, 2008

Posted by aronzak in Distro Wars, Linux, Ubuntu.
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Many people seem to be saying it of late; that there are too many Linux distributions (distros), and that the choice is too hard for new users. While it may be hard to choose for some new users (without the help of a friend, a guide or common sense in some instances), I disagree with the argument that there are too many distros. A few points on the matter:

1 Major distributions control most of the market

Have a look at this:

As you can see, as a percentage of people using linux on the desktop, 30 % use Ubuntu (including major derivatives), and 20 % Suse. That means that all of those countless others are ‘competing’ for only 50% of the market. If we say that there are 500 distros, then 498 are crammed into 50%. Also Red hat, Fedora and Gentoo chomp up another 15%. That means that roughly less than a third of regular, day to day Linux installs are of not mainstream distros, leaving roughly 495 distros to fight it out over 35%. See where this is going?

2 Minor distros

Unfortunately sites like distrowatch tend to include distros that two men and a dog use in their full lists. Many are worked on only as a hobby or project by a maintainer, and they are only ever small and die out when people lose interest. They do not really intend to have users new to the Linux operating system use them, so the idea that theri existence turns people away I don’t buy.

3 Specialised distros

Don’t get me wrong; a huge number of distros are doing really great work catering for a specific need or use (small, live, etc…) This is another fact commonly overlooked, with many believing that all distros are ‘competing’ for the same market. If you download Asianux, don’t be durprised that the default language isn’t English. Same goes for Spanish and Portugeese distros. Many distros are specialised for some puprose or another. If you are an ordinary user, you are not interested in versions for government or hospital use. That rules some out.

4 Distros run in the family

This may seem a minor point to those that don’t get it, but distros branch out from families, usually using the same package management system. Different methods of software installation work different ways. Therefore, we need to have different families. Also it is worth recognising that some customisations of some major distros are not that significant, and are not really distros in their own right.

5 News hyperbole

There is a perception that all distros are significantly different. All distros talk themselves up, and tech news writers tend to use hyperbole when they report on new releases, suggesting that each new release is somehow radical and completely different to the last. This may make a story sound exciting, but usually the biggest change that users will notice between releases is the default desktop.

6 Linux is not a company

Many people have suggested that Linus exert control over distros to amke them all merge into one. This fundamentally assumes that Linux and the open source community operates in the same way as other software producers to create a product. Linux, however, is not a company selling a product. There are companies involved, that talk up their own products, but there is no central “Linux” PR organisation. Linus is there to develop a kernel, not to try and make Linux’s use widespread.

7 Too many desktops?

Some have suggested that choosing a desktop is complicated. Firstly, there is not a great choice between mainstream desktops. Choose one of three. Next, if you feel like something different, it’s easy to install another desktop. They’re all the same (more or less). The differences are hyped up, with the different ‘camps’ zealously defending their product. (you should see some of the arguments between gnome and KDE, they’re really vicious over nothing) In reality, all are pretty much just as easy to use, except for minimal environments (icewm, fluxbox etc…)

Next I’ll write about how to go about choosing a distro.