November 15, 2006


     So like I said, I've started working with linux. It's a pretty big switch. I guess I'll just run down the list with my whole ride from start to finish:
     I've poked around with linux a lot over the course of my computer-using life, and you learn a thing or two. My first version of Linux was (scoff if you must, Linux users) Red Hat version 6. Just to let you guys know, that's ancient. It was a dinosaur even when I got it, with my "Red Hat Linux 6: Unleashed" book I found on the bargain shelf at Barnes & Noble. I installed Linux on my first salvaged computer that I had unsuccessfully tried to put Windows back on, way back in middle school. I went ahead and put linux on the thing, with a minimum of trouble, due to my 1,300 page book, desribing 99% of the process. I got the thing up and running in text mode, and learned a whole host of linux commands that still serve me very well even on today's modern machines. Things like how to navigate in text, and the names of four diferent text editors that exist on almost (if not all) distributions of Linux. I also learned where the shutdown command is contained, and to this day I'm still surprised when it's easy to mount something (mount cdrom?! Come on guys! mkdir /mnt/cdrom;mount /dev/cdrom0 /mnt/cdrom!!). I quickly learned some of the key differences: unlike windows, when you insert a disk, it's up to you to tell Linux how to deal with it, you need to manually yell at it to do things like attempt to reconnect when you disconnect, and you need to uninstall things manually (once you figure out some tricks, it's not too odious). Unfortunately, the computer was even older than the distribution of linux, and even after spending several days getting the GUI working (that's Graphical User Interface. read: Desktop), it was still no good. It ran, but slow as molasses.
     Linux has come a LOOOOOOOOONG way since then. And even every now and again when I need those skills, there are new things you can do that make the old things easier. So when I went out on my journey to transfer over to Linux for my regular desktop, I had a lot of options because I thought myself fairly "ready" for anything Linux could throw at me. So I began!
1) Picking a Distro:
     So the first and probably the most challenging/frustrating thing I had to do with linux was pick a distribution (I'll explain this word in a second...). Unlike Windows XP where you only have Home and Professional, Linux has a whole bunch of different choices. You can pick something old and infrequently updated that's stable, like slackware (I wouldn't really suggest this one) or Debian SARGE (I wouldn't really suggest this either). The main thing that's good to hear about these is that they're going to WORK. On almost anything and everything, it'll run and install. Unfortunately it may not install and run as well as you might like: distributions like these will often make it on to your system no problem, but only run in text mode with no internet, and without a lot of heavy help, you probably aren't going to figure out what the hell you can do with a text-based system. And beyond that, with really old kernel versions, you aren't going to be able to run all those awesome new bits of cutting-edge linux software you hear do much about (I'll explain a kernel later, if need be, but just think of it as the version: like windows XP versus windows 98). So, we're probably not going for an old, stable system (a note here should read that I tried to go for the old first, only to be disappointed: I wanted something that I knew would work, but this was a little too limited for me), what next?
     Next up on our list is the big hitters: Debian Etch (testing), Fedora Core/Red Hat (same company, Fedora is just the new name for the free stuff), Suse, Gentoo, and Mandriva. So notes about each one before I start:
     Debian: Known as one of the most geeky systems out there. It's noted as being the basis for many other systems (most famously the Ubuntu system), and is incredibly reconfigurable. It's a programmer's dream.
     Fedora Core (Red Hat): Known as a turn-coat, for its change to a corporate entity. Fedora Core is a supported distribution, but the fact that it's part of a corporate entity and could disappear as a free system at anytime is rather disconcerting. In installing it on my server, I found it to be a fine system, but the hardware support was less then stellar.
     Suse: Honestly I didn't know and don't know much about Suse going into or comping out of the whole process. All I've heard was that they make very good working machines (like office work), and that Mitch likes it.
     Gentoo: I've never had a very good experience with Gentoo, but that's probably just because I've never had the time to work through it. Gentoo is lengendary because the entire machine is compiled according to what the hardware in your machine looks like. It touts itself as being the most "junk free" of all the systems because nothing you don't "need" is installed. Unfortunately this means three things. One is that you'll be spending a couple hours hunched over trying to configure the thing (and you'll probably need someone who knows what they're doing); two, you'll need to leave it alone for like... two days while it compiles; and three, you'll need an internet connection that you can leave on for a while (andshould be broadband). It's a good idea, but it requires a lot of time that most people don't have.
     Mandriva (formerly Mandrake): I put this one on one of my computers and gave it a shot a while back. I found it was a little too user friendly. It blocks you from doing a lot of things with a warning, which gets annoying fast. But it is a very functional desktop OS that is geared towards people who aren't computer whizzes (but hold on, there's something better I'll talk about later).
     Okay, now you have and idea of what's out there, here's what I tried:

2) Kit's Attempts:
     So first I went for something not on the list. It's called Ubuntu. What is that? I hear you cry. I know, there's a few too many flavors of Linux to choose it would seem. But Really, I'm going to hold you down here: Unless you're feeling particularly adventurous, I wouldn't really recommend anything except Ubuntu, Debian Etch, and Mandriva (and MAYBE Fedora Core). Why? All of these have really straightforward installs, support most common computers, and they have enough users that you can get some help online if you need it. This means that you won't be pulling your hair out about trying to figure out what some obscure error message is, and you won't have to go in desparate search of instructions for using anything simple. Basically, installing these should work as follows: put in disc, follow directions, computer works with basic internet.
     So why did I chooses Ubuntu? It's an offshoot of Debian, that's all the rage on the internet. It's touting itself as "Linux for humans." Basically: it's really straightforward. And it was. From start to finish everything about the install is about as straightforward as it gets. It didn't ask any really vexing questions, the install was 100% graphical, and everything worked. It came up after the install, working well, save for one problem: the "add/remove programs" program wasn't working. Now, unlike windows where you never use the "add" part of "add/remove," because you don't pay for the software, you can't really go to a store and buy it. Instead, it's up to you to find what you're looking for on the massive databases listed by your distribution, or to find what you're looking for online.
     But back to my install: it wasn't working. And apparently it won't work for you either. That piece is still under development. Fortunately, this proved to not be much of a problem: I could simply use the other "add/remove program" interface called "synaptic package manager." It's not as user friendly, but it allowed me more control, and I could do something like search for "AIM" and find all the programs that have anything to do with AIM. It was fairly straightforward, but the non-working add/remove function set me off. And I also had trouble getting Gaim 2.0.0beta4 to compile. Once I started running into weird issues with my synaptic program manager as well, I decided to give up on the system. Even though it was very good and straightforward. It had a few too many weird errors for me.

     So Next was Debian Sarge. Long story short? Too old.

     After that came Debian Etch. Basically? The install and interface is almost identical to Ubuntu, but it seems a little bit more stable. The only real frustration I had was getting flash to work, because the old one doesn't synchronize the sound with the video. Basically once I got that working, it was smooth sailing. This isn't to say that there weren't problems, just that they weren't that bad. I'll describe what I had to do:

     So one of the main things I use the computer for is, of course, the internet. Thus, I would like the following things to be perfect: flash, embedded video/audio on webpages, and ftp transfers (putting files on my website). So far? I've really only gotten flash up and running. Adobe (the company that now owns flash) decided to not release flash version 8 for Linux. This means that a good portion of flash stuff didn't work on Linux until about a month ago. They just released flash player 9 beta for Linux, and it works wonderfully... almost perfect. This required a little bit of work to get up and running properly, but the readme was straightforward, so it didn't matter.

Posted by Kickmyassman at November 15, 2006 10:57 PM
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