Let me tell you about my angst regarding Ubuntu

I suppose I’m trying to make my peace.

I’m enjoying my new Fedora 10 setup on my desktop. Not because it’s the latest and greatest. The fact that it works is good enough for me … aside from it not being Ubuntu. And frankly, I’m not 100% sanguine with the reformat-every-time-somebody-sneezes mill; at least Ubuntu 8.06 is LTS, lasting about 3 years if I were to want to wait that long.

What gets me is purely subjective, the only thing vaguely rational about it is thinking about the time I went to a LUG meeting while still a relative newbie and announced that I used CentOS. Those who’d been around a while were extolling the virtues of linux and its diversity, and how you can pick and choose. Funny, of the dozen or so there there, as I recall, there were probably at least 10 Ubuntu boxes. I recall feeling a bit of pressure to change. So much for diversity, score one for the fanboys.

As for my part, I guess if you grow up on one side of the fence the other side seems strange no matter what.

When I use my computers with some form of Red Hat (be it Fedora or CentOS) I truly enjoy using it, even when what I’m doing has nothing to do with the underlying OS. On the other hand, when I was using Ubuntu, the experience was quite joyless. Sure, it did what I wanted. Sure it met two important criteria for me (the immediate criterion of supporting my printer, and the general criterion of not having to reformat every time someone sneezes.) Sure, from a technical perspective, the user experience was identical other than a few minor administrative differences. But the joy seemed to have been sucked right out of things.

Hmmm … my F10 disk 2 was corrupted

Funny, when I was downloading F10 I had to get the disks from 3 canadian sources … IWEB.ca (they offer Ubuntu server … 🙁 ) and the downloads for disks 1-4 kept on stalling mid way through. Then I tried the NRC … and could only get disk 1 before I got challenged for passwords. Finally, the LUG at the University of Sherbrooke gave me the last disks. Problem is that the disk 2 I ended up getting was corrupt. Fortunately this morning I managed to get disk 2 from the NRC before being asked for a password, and the installation is now complete!

Ubuntu Free!

James Brown was right — I feel good!

I’m installing Fedora 10 on my desktop right now as I type.

Last week I updated months’ worth of blogs. One of the big themes that came out was my long-standing dislike for Ubuntu. Admittedly, unfounded beyond being a bit old (Red Hat) school, slow to adjust to change, and generally distrusting anything attached to big marketing and fanboyism.

The thing that did it involved the admittedly trivial differences with the tool bars under OpenOffice.org (why change them?) and the behaviour of the notes for commenting in Writer.

Hmm, my disk 2 is not good, if I have time tomorrow I’ll have to download another .iso, otherwise the computer will just be in standby for a couple of days, I have to go on a business trip tomorrow afternoon.

to be continued ..

I may just have that reason to get rid of Ubuntu …

I may just have that reason to get rid of Ubuntu …

Firstly, a while back I said that Ubuntu came across to me as the Linux Playskool version. One of the funny things that Ubuntu does is that it seems to use different icons for OpenOffice.org (OO.o from now on) in the gnome quicklaunch bar up top that are round and admittedly OO.o themed with the seagull theme in it. As well, the buttons for new document, save, print, print preview, etc., in OO.o are different from what is available under the Fedora factory install, and the factory installs of OO.o downloaded directly off of the openoffice.org website and installed under CentOS. Or for that matter, the OO.o factory install under Windows. This last point — that even though one might say I’m comparing the results from two Red Hat systems to a Debian/Ubuntu system, I’m also comparing what’s distributed by a distro vs. the original deal under essentially the same system — is what clinches it for me. (I hope that I’m not making a fool of myself, unwittingly not realizing that OO.o doesn’t come with these things but rather is drawing from some library of icons, Ubuntu choosing one set, Red Hat choosing another …. But hey: That would happen to be the point of this post: why the difference?)

Now to set the stage:

Way back about 10-12 years ago I was flirting with Star Trek story writing in alt.startrek.creative, mostly Wussley stories (two varieties for those who are interested: Serious, dark, look-over-yer shoulder, mild paranoia-filled stories about him being the victim of all sorts of pranks, that would pretty much fit within the ST:TNG universe, or some semblance of it in which the Wuss is pretty much as presented in the series, with the above-mentionned personality traits; and, stories in a different ST:TNG universe in which he’s a pimply, geeky, socially-ill-at-ease, hormone-driven teenager everyone hates and takes pleasure in torturing, exploding, etc. The first involves storylines, pranks, characterizations and so on that are almost believable within the ST:TNG universe; the other, caricature stories that obviously would never occur.) I put my name up on a website that offers to read over stories from other Star Trek writers and provide feedback.

Fast forward to December 2008 and funny enough, I get my first request to read over a story. “If MS Word format is no good, I can give you another format …” I giggle and respond, “Oh, don’t worry, OpenOffice.org has no trouble at all with it …”

Under the Insert menu there is the “note” function. I don’t know what the function is called under MS Word, but there is a direct equivalent and have used it at the office. The idea is that a pointer and dotted line lead from a point in the text to a balloon in the right margin in which you can write comments.

Under the OO.o 2.4 factory setup under Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 LTS, a funny thing occurs: Wherever you insert one of these notes, there is an inconspicuous yellow square, and you get to see the text when you pass the pointer over it. Should you notice it at all. I get so annoyed with it that I start using footnootes instead.

Then another funny thing occured: I went to the cottage with my laptop. No, that’s not the funny part. 🙂 I load up the doc in the OO.o 2.4 factory setup under Fedora 9, and whaddya know, the notes appear in the margin where they should.

The appearance of the notes in the margin is not a recent occurrence in OO.o, at least in the 2.0 series: back in August 2006 under CentOS 4.4 — OK, this is still the Red Hat family — I received a document with the notes visible in the margin (being a work contract I declined the document and asked that they resend the proper version, please.) I was using the standard OO.o 2.whatever downloaded and installed directly from openoffice.org (since the CentOS 4 series originally came wih OO.o 1.5.something series; I’d been using the OO.o 2.0 series for close to a year at that point under Windows before I’d made the switch to linux.)

I’m thinking that I should download Fedora 10 CDs to install on my desktop. A silly litmus test must be performed first, of course: I should do a print test off of my F9 laptop with my printer. Of course I’m confidant that F9 has the latest HPLIP drivers, which was the killer for CentOS back in June, but …

It’s an Ubuntu World After All …

So last night I went to a Linux Meetup up here in the Wonderful City of Montreal, my hometown. I have my laptop up and running. Another participant walks up to it, notices the stylized “F” in the upper left-hand corner of my gnome desktop beside the “Applications” pull-down menu, and says “Ooooo, that’s different …”

The person using my laptop matter-of-factly responds, “Well sure, it’s Fedora” and continues with what he’s doing. I enjoyed that.

(Curiously, at the same time, I wonder what was going through his head as he switched the default keyboard over to US-English. Montreal is a predominantly French-speaking city, the second-largest French speaking city after Paris, in fact; I’m a native-English speaker, operating my computer in English, using a Canadian-French keyboard; he, a native-French speaker, obviously preferring the US-English layout.)

At a previous such meeting, I found it refreshing to observe two people on opposite sides of an heated discussion: One, annoyed that “When people think of Linux they think of Ubuntu” and argues how the wonderful thing about Linux is the diversity and choice, how everyone can drive the colour of car they wish, and it doesn’t have to be black. The other is arguing not so much in favour of Ubuntu per se, but the notion that if one distro is strong enough and helps move the Linux cause forward, so be it, it’s a good thing.

Fedora 9 wireless — out of the box!

One of the things I wanted my laptop to do this past weekend was have reliable wireless. Go figure, a bunch of computer-savvy geocachers invade a New-England Inn on the promise that “Oh yes, the internet works here, we’re setting it up just in time for you” and, whaddya know — they messed it up, and wireless internet is not to be found for most of the weekend. (sheesh)

Anyway, the first impressive thing is that out-of-the-box Fedora 9 recognizes my card and it works; at this point I’d finally put in a wireless router in the house. There’s only two out of four bars, even when the laptop is inches away from the router., but it’s already impressive that it works straight out of the box. Remember, this is Fedora, Ndiswrapper is not a part of the distribution. So Fedora has done a good job of integrating wireless.

Here’s the real clincher: my brother recompiles a vanilla kernel from kernel.org, and we’re going to do some tweaking to get the wireless stronger. Whaddya know, just compilling the latest kernel gives me four bars. I wonder if Ndiswrapper is there? Little matter.

Seems that 1) the Fedora people have done a really good job on its end of integrating wireless, 2) the Gnome desktop people have really done a good job at taking over and doing wireless, and 3) Linus et. al. are doing the right thing too.


Laptops, Linux, and US Customs

This weekend I went to meet some friends in the beautiful Commonwealth of Massachussets. I live north of the 45th Parallel in this part of the world (many of you might think “So what?” Think of the 49th Parallel, where the Canada/US border is much of the time out west.) I find crossing the border stressful, I always have all sorts of delusions about the difficulties I’ll be experiencing while answering questions from someone carrying a gun. (Usually the remarkable crossing is returning home: The Canadian guards roll their eyes in a bored kind of way when I pass them my passport, no doubt thinking “Oh, he’s a citizen, we have to let him in.”)

One of the things I was worried about was my laptop. On the advice of my Linux-guru brother, I ask him to set up an automatic login so that should the friendly US border guard ask me to show him my computer, it’ll boot up no trouble and not go through a login that may raise suspicion that I might be logging into a bogus account hiding all sorts of nefarious things. He also recommends that all .mp3’s be absent as well as other, ahem, illicit material (which I don’t normally have anyway), advice I take to heart.

However, besides the nuisance of a possible confiscation of my beloved 5+ year old laptop, what really has me worried is a suspiciously-asked:

“What’s that?”
“The gnome desktop under Fedora Linux.”
“Oh, that looks different.”
“Sure, you can get Linux off the internet for free …” (wince, I shouldn’t have said that, at least not that way …)

And then a bunch of annoying explanations that no Sir, I don’t have any illegally downloaded software, yes Sir it’s free and legal to do so, no Sir, there’s no copyright infringement here, no Sir, I’m not one of those nefarious computer crackers you hear about, think of this the way you might think of a Mac; an alternative to Windows …

Of course, the really nice border guard at the US border couldn’t have been less interested in the fact that I had a laptop with me, let alone that I turn it on.

Fedora 9 to the rescue

So I hate Ubuntu. But in a fit of insanity I wiped the CentOS 4.7 format on my laptop and 5.2 on my desktop because I want my 1 year old HP printer to work, and I installed Ubuntu earlier this summer. The choice was “easy”, I downloaded an Ubuntu live CD and try to print something, which it does without a peep or saying boo.

I said “enough” and while I’ve kept the format on the desktop, I reformatted my laptop with Fedora 9, since I don’t need to use my printer from my laptop. Seems to work, no problems.

I’ve also managed to get a 500Gig drive — Yup, read it and weep, the cheap guy who in 2000 thought my ISP-operating brother was nuts for installing an 80gig hard drive on one of the company servers wondering what the heck even an ISP needed 80 gigs for on one server — to put on my PIII to use now as a file server. Funny, I don’t really need it, there’s already, uh, don’t tell anybody, an 80 gig drive there, and I could have found another hard drive somewhere to replace the OS HD that spun out a few months ago. 🙂 It also has F9 on it now, although installed from the F9 live CD instead of from the full distro disks. Sheesh, AbiWord?!?! 🙂

Now all I need is an excuse to wipe Ubuntu off my desktop.

Ok, Ubuntu works …

I haven’t gotten around to removing Ubuntu from my desktop. Frankly, besides what I’ve described as problems with it, basically, the desktop experience is pretty much the same as under a Red Hat system. Ugh. Which means, it’s staying a while just to avoid the hassle of reformatting.

Uggghh … I need a bar of soap

I think I’m going to be sick. 🙁

I never cared for Debian and derivatives because Debian never seems organized enough to get a new release out. In all honesty I’ve never tried Debian. I hate Ubuntu, mostly because I’m very suspicious of anything with great marketing hype and hordes of fanboys to boot. (So much for my initial suspicion of the Stargate movie in 1994 and all of its over-hyping; I have long since wished I had overcome this and gone to see it in the theatres, and I do love SG1 in reruns. 🙂 )

Last week my brother and I were jumping hoops again and again to get my printer working under Centos 5.2. Last January we’d gone to a lot of trouble to get it to work under Centos 4.6 (I finally upgraded to the 5.0 series about a month ago.) No matter how many hoops we’d jump through and resolve there were still more, or another set would surface. Realize that this is a relatively new printer that must have come out at least last fall if not earlier, my brother received it as part of a “throw it in with the new laptop he bought” kind of deal. Red Hat therefore had gone through at least one update, if not two (at least 5.2 if not also 5.1) to add the appropriate drivers or move to the next HPLIP version that would support the printer. To give you an idea, Centos 5.2 comes with HPLIP 1.6.something, my printer needs at least 1.7.something, and the current version is 2.8.something.

Seems to me that commodity printers should be supported, it’s not as though a corporate situation doesn’t use printers. Though they would probably say that my line of printers is too commodity for an enterprise to be interested in, they probably want high-capacity, high-quality printers, not an inkjet meant for the consumer market.

I knew that the printer worked under ubuntu since I tried a live CD from them and it worked without saying boo. My brother was “willing” to continue trying to get it to work but was pushing hard to switch. “You can always switch back to Centos you know.”

The printer was a killer. So is getting wireless on my laptop, using a several years old (about 4 years old) pcmcia wireless card; under CentOS 4.6 I had a kernel under which it worked but any time there was a kernel upgrade I would have to switch back if I wanted to use the wireless. We hadn’t done anything yet about the wireless but had a plan.

I still haven’t gotten the wireless to work under Ubuntu but to be fair I haven’t tried yet at all.

My first reaction was that Ubuntu was the Playskool version of linux.

I also HATE the fact that the default user under Ubuntu is a defacto root user — first thing I did was get rid of the annoying sudo requirement by assigning a password to root, but it’s not of much value because so far I haven’t come across anything in Ubuntu that really requires root the way it would under ANY other linux distribution, other than the fact that it constantly asks for passwords to do anything. Also annoying is that I can’t log root into a gui to do things that way (including to REMOVE the default user from the admin ring.)

This may be the undoing of Ubuntu along the lines of the way that Windows is plagued with problems because most of the time the default user has admin rights and can install and run just about anything unless the Admin user shuts it down. The only upside is that it always asks for your password, but I expect that most windows converts would find this annoying and just mindlessly enter their password just to get on with things.

Once I got over the shock, the problem now is that the user experience, other than the administration to which I’m accustomed mostly doing under a command line instead of gui, is identical to Centos. (The main ubuntu distro desktop is gnome, as is the case for Centos.) Admittedly, the Synaptic gui package manager along with the extensive Ubuntu repo vs. the Centos repos is as good as they say, and worth the switch. And 8.04.1 is an LTS version, meaning that it’s supported for 3 years instead of having to go through the reformat treadmill every 6 months (OK, Fedora supports versions for a month after the release of the second release following, meaning about 12-13 months.)

I hope that RHEL (and hence Centos) shapes up and realizes that some people like using as a desktop, and that making it at least vaguely usable without pulling teeth and hair is as important as making it stable.

I have to go now and wash my mouth out with soap.