Thursday, 5 June 2008

apt-get install linux

I have an EEE PC. However until last week something just wasn't quite right. Here's a story about my tenuous relationship with Linux.

My experience with Linux is very much a love hate one. I'd love to love Linux, but Linux just isn't making this easy for me. My first experience with it was only a little over a year ago when I eagerly launched a live CD - at the time, I wasn't really sure what that was - but I must admit it was impressive. Gutsy Gibbon ran like a panther compared to XP, which, constrained within the confines of a Dell Dimension 3000, was (and still is) just 'putting on a brave face'.

Eager to release Ubuntu from the limitations of its live CD, but cautious of upsetting the fragile but dependably unreliable XP, I concluded the way forward was to install it on an external hard drive. Don't do this. I did and it worked for a day. The problem was, of course, unquestionably due to my naivity in thinking I knew what I was doing. Because the bootloader 'Grub' was installed on the external drive, a delicate 'ballet' of switching things on was required to get beyond the boot menu. Eventually even this failed and XP came to the rescue by rebuilding the MBR.

Knocked slightly by this, I sat in the familiar but uncomfortable gardens of XP which always booted, rarely crashed and talked to every piece of hardware I owned. Over time and with every unresponsive window and XP 'quirk' my resentment towards Windows grew. One night, with a still-warm CD of Gutsy I slowly built up the confidence to repartition my internal drive and do a fresh install of Linux. All went to plan and as the days went on Windows made its way further and further down the Grub boot order.

And then along came Hardy Heron. Brilliant! An overnight upgrade later and then bye bye Linux. First it takes an age to log in, then parts of the desktop are missing, and finally I can't get past the splash screen. Undeterred and giddy with the success of installing Ubuntu, I bravely entered the 'Fail safe terminal' where I diagnosed the fault to lie with Gnome. Convinced with my prognosis and inspired by forum posts I sudo apt-get'ed my way to reinstalling Gnome. Don't do this. It doesn't work. Apparently apt-get remove gnome; apt-get install gnome; isn't big, and certainly isn't clever.

Xandros on the EEE PC

Crawling back to XP, I dismissed Linux as 'not for me'. Then along came the EEE PC, with Xandros pre-installed. Dressed up to look like XP, Xandros is poor visually, but more importantly, poor functionally. The package repository was pathetically small and restrictive. Nonetheless I messed around in terminal apt-getting myself around, hoping to find programs to do the jobs I wanted. This all ended when I typed apt-get upgrade which filled the internal solid state drive and locked up the PC, nothing would load.

Puppyeee on the EEE PC

I though puppeee linux (EEE spinoff from puppy Linux) was the temporary solution, it was. Wireless worked, keyboard almost worked, it was incredibly responsive and it looked a little rough around the edges. Incidentally, to date it is the only linux distro to make it to the end of its natural life without being broken by me.

Bored of the steep learning curve of puppy and envious of the gnome desktop I installed eeeXubuntu onto my eee. The process was educational but about 5 days longer than the tutorial I was following implied. XFCE window manager is a great gnome substitute and is lightweight enough to be usable with such a small device.

eeeXubuntu on the EEE PC

My dependence on Linux has grown and grown since fixing the EEE and now even my trusty dell is running Ubuntu Hardy Heron.


kozmcrae said...

The speed at which new distros were created for the EeePC is amazing. This is just a preview of things to come. If Microsoft had somehow gained control of this new class of devices, there would be no other choices in operating systems.

Chris said...

Yeah thats true. Which is why I think XPs life has been extended to cover the small PC market, since Vista is too bloated. Apparently even the one laptop per child (OLPC) devices are being modified to support XP.