Wednesday, May 13, 2009

computers: sort-of switching to Linux

My key software applications, the Firefox browser and Thunderbird e-mail client, are cross-platform. I do all my command-line work in a Cygwin bash shell, which implements UNIX command-line tools in Windows. I've used Linux and Solaris at work for years, and occasionally fiddle with my Linux-based One Laptop Per Child XO-1. I don't pay the unneccessary Microsoft Office tax. I'm not playing any computer games right now.

So I should be a perfect candidate to switch to Linux. Knowing this, I've left unused partitions on my Windows computers for an eventual Linux install.

I took the plunge a week ago on this desktop PC. At boot I can choose to start up Kubuntu Linux running KDE 4.2.2! It's handsome and full-featured, and it's easy to install thousands of free programs. But I'm typing this from Windows XP.

Installation went OK, nearly everything worked, and after entering a complicated command once I can access documents and music from my Windows C: drive. But getting from 90% working to 95% took several evenings, and I may never get to that final 5%.
the desktop made sound, but Flash videos were silent
(I found the magic incantation to make low-level audio prefer my sound card.)
no cutting-edge Firefox
(I finally found a special 64-bit nightly build.)
no Thunderbird 3
Supposedly there's a 64-bit build somewhere.
no Quicken
I guess I have to install WINE windows support
display corruption
install a different video driver?
background music or Flash sound turns into horrible screech the moment I load a new window
don't use my fancy sound card?!
locks up about once a day
more to come
I wrote separately on my choice and installation of Kubuntu; the gory details of the problems I continue to overcome are at http://userbase.kde.org/User:Skierpage.

My biggest let-down from my theoretical love for Linux and open source software to the reality was in software installation and update. Virtually everything that runs on Linux is freely redistributable, so as I've noted one installer can install any piece of software from a choice of thousands, and keep everything you've installed up-to-date! But the graphical installer lacks features, there are literally dozens of package installation programs (people on IRC told me to use apt, aptitude, dpkg, synaptic, adept, ...), and nothing keeps a history of "Thursday at 1am you installed package random_lib.3.14 because a stranger on chat thought it would make sound work." The killer feature is a maze and a mess.

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