Review Ubuntu 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon: Practicalities and working with it
I don't talk about Linux on this site much anymore because my focus has shifted somewhat but I can't avoid writing this post after the past 24 hours. What follows is a mixed review of Ubuntu from a very practical point of view.
My trusty laptop has been trying to die for a good 12 months; bad hard drive sectors, faulty RAM and other annoying illnesses. Under Windows XP it had become massively unstable and would BSOD (blue screen of death) at regular intervals when the mood took it. I decided that it was going to be put onto Ubuntu for stability and security - hopefully getting more life out of it.
The best part about doing this (with any distro)
The main reason why I wanted to do this was that Linux tends to be more stable and won't crash in the spectacular and time consuming way Windows does. When Windows would BSOD Ubuntu will just ask me to log on again (as X restarts I guess) which is a lot nicer than waiting for an old, ill laptop to completely reboot.
Installing Ubuntu - Partitioning
I've always liked the Ubuntu installer, it's pretty sensible and the partitioner (Gparted) is an excellent implementation; it's certainly the best I've used by a long way. A child could manage the partitions. I remember (around Breezy Badger I think) having to install it through console, organising the swap myself (etc). Now you just pick an empty partition or resize a current one and let the app get on with it. Easy.
Installing Ubuntu - Configuring
Configuring the install is a doddle, point on a map where you are, pick your language and keyboard layout and then create a logon - easy. It spends time installing and informs you to restart your machine when done - easy. Once restarted you're in to a working Operating System - painless thus far.
The MAJOR problems started here
Like many Linux users I was installing onto my Laptop which normally raises a couple of eyebrows (through the use of custom hardware etc) but I was aware that things had advanced significantly throughout 2007. One of my main undoings could have been my Packard Bell (as they use bespoke hardware) but I'm not the only PB laptop user in the world so it should be fine.
To get restricted-drivers to work you need the Internet it seems, not good when your restricted drivers are those for your Wireless.
This really made me sit back and scratch my head. Logically enough the developers can't implement non-open-source drivers: this much I understand. Unfortunately it needed to download the drivers in order to make the Wireless work. That's similar to needing to drive 50 miles to get petrol to put in a car that's out of petrol. So I'm sat with a laptop that can't do anything without an Internet connection, but to get the connection to work I need to connect to the Internet to get the drivers... Catch 22 huh?
So I did what I shouldn't have had to do, hook up to another machine
Fortunately my desktop is set up with a spare cat5 cable for times like these, so I can just bridge the connection. However imagine if I was doing this install to my only machine? I'd be screwed if I couldn't directly connect to a router... Once hard-wired to the Internet I got the drivers I needed and was able to unplug and get wireless working.
Before I start moaning, let me say that networking in Ubuntu (once Wireless works) is a dream
You can see and interact with Windows networks without any issue at all, they're detected, browsable and you can execute files directly, it's excellent.
Then ensued 12 hours of annoyance, frustration and attempted suicide
Okay so I've got Wireless, so I'm doing what every Linux user does on a fresh install. I'm hitting Synaptic hard to get my environment back to what it should be; grabbing VLC, G++ etc so that I'm set for life. It's only when I browse my Windows network to my TV drive (where all my Simpsons, Family Guy, Blackadder etc lives) do I realise that I have no sound. No sound at all. Is it the codecs? No. No sound from anything.
A quick Google search later shows it's a common problem
A lot of other laptop users are experiencing the "no sound" problem too, unfortunately there are about 101 different solutions - all of which I tried. I checked the volumes for everything and they were all un-muted, I tried adding new configuration lines to my Alsa-base file, I downloaded and installed any number of backport-modules, I went through dozens of "try this" posts... No joy.
So after 3-4 hours of toiling without result I decide "sod it" and try to install PCLinuxOS
Unfortunately PCLOS wouldn't install. It was throwing an error, so I check the disk and it doesn't pass the "media check". So I burn another, which does pass. But it still throws an error at the same point. So I redownload the ISO for PCLOS, burn that, it passes the test but still won't install. It got fair enough to nuke my Ubuntu install though...
So another 2 hours later I decide - BACK TO XP!
Unfortunately my laptop decided that it didn't want to play ball this time and refused to let me finish installing XP (for reasons I'm sure you're probably aware...). So it's nearly 1am and I'm reinstalling Ubuntu... Ubuntu goes back on, I repeat the installation steps I explained above, got the Internet working by attaching myself to the router directly and then set about fixing my sound problem.
Seriously though, I'm a patient guy who has used many different flavours of Linux over the past couple of years and getting Ubuntu 7.10 to work on my laptop was beyond the level of understanding and patience you'd get from a "normal" person. Hopefully they'll fix these usability issues in 2008 because I wouldn't recommend installing Ubuntu unless you're comfortable within the Linux environment.
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