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A turbuntulent week

I was really thrown off course this week. Monday was mostly decent, but on tuesday I had to go set up a laptop for a couple of older people where my mother works. The man bought his wife a laptop without asking her, and due to their rather strange relationship she apparently didn't like that. She had to be in on the buying decision. So even though she is slightly more savvy with basic computer operations, she refused to set it up herself leaving him by himself, so he apparently decided to call me so I can do it.

Laptop was paid about $1800 USD and came with Windows Vista. My job was something that'll probably seem ridiculous to a common geek; turn the laptop on, go through the first steps (country, language, keyboard layout, setting up login etc.) and then setting up larger fonts, an internet connection, installing Firefox (they embraced it since I suggested it to them as better than IE, a while ago), setting up some easy bookmarks to content they frequently visit and showing him how to do the basic things he needs. I gotta say, Windows Vista is so slow that this brand new Centrino Duo powered laptop feels like it is from 2001.

Still.. I got paid for it so I can't complain about the time. However, incidentally, this wasn't the only computer I had to worry about this week. My sister called me that day saying how her disk started making strange noises again and she couldn't boot properly. I didn't get to work on this that day (I had other business in town). However, on the morning of that same day my own computer had an issue, and I was looking forward to seeing what the hell is wrong with it.

It failed to start up until I unplugged it from the wall and then plugged back in, indicating a power supply issue. I doubt it is anything serious considering that it is a cheap PSU that came with the case and therefore simply lacks the quality feature that would prevent it from glitching this way. The worst of the problems was Ubuntu, which suddenly couldn't load GNOME properly. The panels were unresponsive, the nautilus would keep crashing, some programs wouldn't load and when I try to kill GNOME or anything else that was affected, it would fail to start up again until I completely reboot.

Ultimately I ended up completely removing my home directory as well as my ubuntu user account and redoing it again, after which it worked, but still had some minor glitches here and there which I just couldn't satisfactorily explain. So I felt urged to just do a clean install instead to keep running a probably corrupt system. What corrupted it I honestly don't know, but my best guess might be that one of the recent updates didn't go well and infected the system with corrupt and therefore unpredictable and severely unstable components. So on my next boot, they started acting up.

I was curious and a bit worried, though, that the issue was caused by the PSU glitch, but then again Fedora on the same computer worked perfectly, so it didn't seem like a too plausible theory. Nevertheless, as I was suggested that PSUs tend to cause a lot of problems, I wanted to see how much would I need to pay to get a good replacement, and after looking at a few sites were disappointed to find out that it's a component I can't afford to save too much money on. So either I stick with the one I have and risk more problems in the future or I better plan on buying a good one as soon as possible.

That was wednesday, and on its evening I went to my sister to check her computer out. She has an old computer stuffed into a microATX case with a power supply hanging outside of it due to insufficient airflow making the CPU overheat. The PSU itself is flawed because it repeatedly fails to boot properly unless she quickly switches the PSU switch to off and on. So you can imagine why I doubt pretty much every component in that computer and couldn't possibly be sure whether this seemingly hard drive issue is not actually a motherboard issue or even directly a PSU issue. It could really be anything.

Still, we concluded that the best bet is that it is an HD issue, at least it couldn't hurt to start there since there is a warranty and we can have it checked and then take it from there.

And so came thursday, I decided to replace my Ubuntu with something else, but for a while now I barely see any real alternative to Ubuntu aside from Debian. In fact, my last few distro shuffles were between Ubuntu and Debian based distros only. I thought of giving sid a try again, by installing bare and building up - but then I decided to try something else that I didn't try before, a bare Ubuntu install. I got an alternate install CD and did a command line install.

Result? Well, let's just say I'm not very confident about it. So soon and I am already getting issues with GNOME not wanting to install because some dependency refuses to install. Aside from that it appears that even when you do a bare install building it up yourself, you soon end up with pretty much the same kind of bloat you have with proper Ubuntu - and unlike Debian (iirc), it swaps too easily. I am sorry to say that Ubuntu, and especially hardy, are unstable, unpredictable and memory leaky. Unfortunately, the only really attractive alternative to me, Debian Sid, tends to be a bit too unstable. And all other distros are either too old, too unpopular (translating to lack of packages and support), also too unstable or just not any better than Debian and Ubuntu.

Of all the choice in the GNUland I feel almost homeless, and I am realizing that the claims of greatness in terms of stability, reliability, ease of use and often usability, are practically nothing but myths. Operating systems suck. GNU/Linux sucks slightly less than Windows, perhaps, but I don't quite feel like gloating about it anymore.

So I suppose the lesson I am learning is this. I just have to pick the sucks-less OS I want and then learn to navigate its turbulent waters. At least then, when some alien problem hits me, I might just know what to do. Another lesson is; never be too proud of your OS of choice. I'm no fan of Linux anymore. I'm just a user who happens to believe free (as in freedom) is a bit better than proprietary and GNU/Linux is a bit better than Windows (only thing I think might technically rival GNU/Linux is OS X).

From this perspective, fanboyism in the computer world seems... well..just plain dumb.

Thank you


Wow, that was one week. As


Wow, that was one week.

As Fedora 9 also still is pretty "turbulent", maybe version 8 might be something. It works really nicely.
Or how about CentOS? That's based on RHEL. But as it's mostly made for server-use it's not as "fresh" as Fedora, and doesn't bring as much desktop-stuff. Still, it might be worth checking out. (I also wrote a bit about it in my blog... ;-) ).

On the other hand you might even try something completely different. Maybe OpenSolaris, or a BSD. DesktopBSD for example is quite nice. It's based on FreeBSD but has a lot of usability-improvements compared to it which make desktop-use quite nice.

To be honest if I were fine

To be honest if I were fine with older packages I would probably go with Debian Stable, except that it doesn't even work on my computer, apparently it's still too new for it as Debian stable is just too old. I wouldn't know if CentOS would have the same issue, but.. I like as recent software I can get with acceptable stability..

I tried OpenSolaris briefly, but still has a great deficiency of available software and IIRC my graphics card didn't work. It's just too early for it. I also spinned DesktopBSD briefly and my mouse didn't work.. apparently have to mess with X settings or something (I tried though without success). I'm not quite confident about it being quite ready to replace something as complete as Ubuntu..

To be honest I think I just have to learn to take a bit more initiative when it comes to maintaining a chosen system. If I make it a habit to only use safe upgrades, check bugzillas every now and then and do dist-upgrade only when I first check it wont end up making my system unable to boot or function properly (as well as leave an old kernel option in case of problems) I might even be able to successfully run Debian Sid, enjoying the benefits of having a system built up by myself, faster, less bloat etc..

It's likely that's what I'm gonna try for a while. On sunday I'm probably setting up Debian Testing (lenny) and then perhaps upgrading to s