Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Doesn't play well with other children"

Coming up...

A report card on some of my favorites: Kubuntu, Mepis, Arch...

Rationalizing my discontent

The first computer I ever owned had an 8086 processor, a 5 1/2" floppy drive (back when floppy disks were floppy), and a 32 mega-byte hard drive. I think the OS was DOS 6 or 7. I worked for a large church at the time, and when they upgraded, I was the beneficiary of their cast-off. I was delighted... for a while. Someone even gave me a stack of floppy disks that enabled me to upgrade it to Windows 3.0. I think it worked.

In the spring or early summer of 1995 the church planted a computer on my desk at work. This time, the OS was Windows 95! Now we're really cooking! I got a lot of work done with that machine, and subsequent ones... but experienced my share of headaches, too. I learned what the blue screen of death meant. I learned how to reinstall Windows. More than once.

Eventually we "moved up" to Windows 98. That was when I really began to move from satisfaction to annoyance and irritation. Windows 98 seemed like a giant step backwards in stability, without much in the way of forward progress. Perhaps the worst thing about Windows 98 was how llloooooooonnnnnggggggg it hung around!

The infections of frustration and discontent began to fester, especially when the brand new $700 dollar system I purchased for our home came with the same blue screen of death I had grown to love on the hand-me-down boxes I had just gotten rid of.

I don't remember where I first heard of Linux, but my experiences with Windows 98 had created some fertile ground for the seed.

...to be continued...

The Summer (Autumn, Winter & Spring) of Our Discontent

I have been a regular Linux user since sometime in 2002. Generally I have dual-booted with Windows 98/XP or Vista, but once or twice there were two Linuxes competing with Windows for space on my hard drive. Currently my computer is 100% Microsoft free.

To the best of my recollection, these are the Linux distributions that I have tried:

SuSe 8.0 This was my first experience with Linux. I didn't know at the time that software didn't have to come in a box with a manual and cost $40 or more. But you will forgive me... we were using dial-up at the time! More recently I also tried a Suse 11.0 beta version.

Red Hat 7.something. I think someone at the Grand Rapids Linux Users Group gave me the disk. More recently I have tried Fedora 9 (Red Hat's "community" version).

Knoppix 3.something, and more recently, 5.3.1

Debian 3.something

Mepis 6, SimplyMepis 7

Kubuntu 6.04, 6.10, 7.04, 7.10, 8.04, 8.10 (Obviously I've spent some time here.)

PCLinuxOS 2007, PCLinuxOS 2008

Sidux 2007-04 (Eros)

Mandriva 2008

Elive 1.8.2, 1.8.4



And finally... in case you were wondering... my "Linux du jour," Arch Linux.

Do you think I have a problem?

Aspiring connoisseur of fine Linuxes...

What I look for in a Linux distribution:

1) Stability of the basic operating system is crucial, of course. By that I mean I should never see "kernel panics," failure to boot, or what is known in the Windows world as the Blue Screen of Death. (To be honest, I haven't seen a BSOD for several years, even when running Windows.) Failure to boot... well, that's another story, most of the sorry details of which I brought upon myself.

2) It has to look classy, which for me, at the moment, means KDE 4.x.x.... that is, the latest version of the K Desktop Environment. Those in the know may be asking "what about that stability you were talking about?" Well,
I have had relatively little trouble with KDE 4.1 on my current setup. I am a visually oriented person, and I like the glassyness and the transparency effects of KDE 4. My only real dissatisfaction with it at this point is the few applications I use regularly which are still using the KDE 3.5 libraries, such as OpenOffice (office suite) and Amarok 1.4.10 (music player).

3) Quick access to a large repository of software packages. This generally means Synaptic, or a similar graphical tool used for sorting, selecting and installing of Linux software packages.

4) Frequent visits to major news websites these days requires the latest updates to FlashPlayer, Java, etc.

5) A large user base, with good online documentation, such as a wiki, and with a friendly user forum where I can go to get help with technical problems.

6) Ongoing development. I prefer not to wait a year for patches and upgrades.