computers: trying new distributions

I’m still running the Kubuntu flavor of the Ubuntu Linux distribution, now up to version 10.10. It’s lovely that Linux distributions get steadily better for free, and thanks in a small part to my bug reports and testing.  The glitches I had with Ethernet are gone, it better understands my sound cards, etc.

But 1 GB of memory isn’t enough to run a browser. This is hard to believe, so I thought I’d try some other operating systems to see if they have less resource needs. Windows and Mac users don’t realize there are lots of free operating systems out there, and that you can try them out by “simply” downloading a CD-ROM image and burning it to a CD-R or transferring to USB flash drive. Microsoft and Apple’s operating system business depends on you not being able to make your own bootable copy of their operating system, but free open source operating systems want you to do this and share the tools and utilities to make it easy.

Chromium OS

While Android goes from strength to strength, Google is still developing Chrome OS, a lightweight Linux operating system that runs a browser. That’s pretty much what I want. Because it’s open source, you can adapt Chrome OS to work on other computers. That’s what the teen hacker from the UK “Hexxeh” has done, he builds a version of Chromium OS every night.

Bottom line: it didn’t work for me. Either his build doesn’t support my ATI video card, or Chromium OS requires more advanced graphics than my card implements. In theory I could build my own version of Chromium OS, but it’s very complex.

New Linux desktop experiences

The Ubuntu Linux distribution and the Gnome user interface project have both committed to next-generation desktop projects, Unity and Gnome Shell respectively. Much gnashing and wailing about duplicated efforts, lack of code sharing, etc. And when people review the resulting desktops it tends to be superficial “I don’t like it” responses.

Fedora 15

I supported the inspiring vision of One Laptop Per Child vision through its Give One Get One program (I think my given one went to Rwanda), and my XO-1 laptop uses a Fedora spin, so I’m familiar with it and impressed by their work.  So I thought I’d give it a try, and also check out Gnome shell.

I reused the USB flash drive that had the failed Chromium OS build on it. First I had problems with arcane cylinder-head geometry issues when I rebuilt the drive. Then I discovered that although Fedora’s script to make a live USB runs without errors on Kubuntu and ends with "Target device is now set up with a Live image!", it is actually incompatible with the Ubuntu 10.10 system utilities.

With those out of the way I finally booted into the spiffy Gnome desktop, where I’m typing this blog post. And… it’s hard to tell. Maybe Fedora 15 is using less memory. Maybe I’ll like the new, very different, desktop. Meanwhile I have a ton of beta feedback.

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