Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Distributions (yet) again

I know some people who use Linux, who have a massive collection of Live and Install media which goes back a long ways. If I keep up at this rate, I'll be one of those people before long.

See, this started a few days ago when Mum decided she didn't like OpenSUSE, and wanted something new. Her computer isn't exactly robust, however, so we always try out potential candidates before they touch her computer.

We went through, and settled on Mandriva. I've heard a lot of good things about it, and I'm sure in other circumstances, I might even have seen a few of them.
Mandriva, to me, is a pest. I used the GNOME Live CD, because her computer doesn't have a DVD drive, nor does it support booting via USB. A bit of a pain.
It booted on another computer perfectly, and apparently it 'looks perfect' according to her.
It working, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.
On first boot after install, it started downloading files without any explanation of what they were. After examining what scant details were available, I concluded it was adding repositories and checking for updates.
So, when I finally got to a useable desktop environment - two hours after starting the install because of it's immense slowness - nothing seemed to be different, so I told it to check for updates. It said there weren't any.
So I went hunting for packages that she wants. To my surprise, there are no packages uninstalled!
It hadn't added repositories at all, and it took me the better part of half an hour to finally track down why, and get it to add some. Even then, a good half of them told me it couldn't download some file, and therefore couldn't be enabled.
But, it provided updates and some of the missing software, so I accepted what it let me have, and turned to RPMDrake.
And turned away from RPMDrake.
While RPMDrake is good in the sense that it allows you to mark actions easily, it is, in comparison to urpmi - the backend, like apt-get - dreadful.
DistroWatch's page on package management came to the rescue, allowing me to finally upgrade from the command line.
With that finally done, I decided not to trust RPMDrake, and merely made lists of the package names I'd need to install, passing them directly to urpmi. Most of them worked. Some of them, like K3B, downloaded a dependency and then complained loudly that it didn't exist.
But it just downloaded the package it's telling me doesn't exist? (And yes, I did check. Several times, in fact.)
While sorting this out, I thought I'd go and start up rhythmbox, and put on some of my music to ease my mood - joy for being able to keep /home separate.
However, even this complained about half my media, forcing me to retreat back to RPMDrake to find missing gstreamer plugins, which, you guessed it, downloaded dependencies and then told me they didn't exist again.
Mandrake may have it's good points, but I saw almost none of them before I gave up at that point.

I've since gone through my growing collection of media, and tried some others.
Slackware invariably gives a Kernel panic, regardless of the computer I try to install it on, or what's in that computer.
OpenSuSE has a window manager that doesn't work.
Debian Lenny is old.
Ubuntu Karmic... well, speaks for itself. I've yet to hear one good thing about Karmic that Jaunty can't do with an extra repository, or a compile-it-yourself source archive.
BSD had another small look in, and a look out again after I remembered that I understand absolutely nothing about it.
Linux Mint had a Nautilus that segfaulted almost immediately.
Fedora has SELinux. 'nough said. See my earlier rants about Fedora.

All in all, not very useful.
So now I'm trying to try (yes, you read that right) Ark Linux.
The problem now is that the computer being used to test this on, when using the graphic installer (I prefer them over text based, but if the text based explains what it's doing, why, and what I'm meant to do clearly, I don't mind them either. An example is Gentoo with the Handbook) the mouse isn't detected. Meaning I can't set up partitions correctly.
I'm seriously considering breaking out an old Windows XP install here. And coming from me, who tries to avoid Windows at all costs, that's saying something.
Buck up, Linux. You need to do better than this.

Rock on, people.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Linux and 'the best'

Some of you may well agree with what I'll say next. Many won't.
There is no such thing, especially within Linux, as 'the best'.
That doesn't seem to stop people from trying to identify it.

Take the Linux Questions forum - now, I have no objection to their polls for the best this or that of the year. I've even voted there myself, and made a few posts. But as far as I'm concerned, it's just a measure of how many people share the same opinion.

See, for me, my 'best' setup is like this:
Openbox/Gnome session, with Guake terminal and aMSN on autostart, the topshelf applet on the top Gnome panel for quick access alongside a CPU and network monitor. Using Firefox as the web browser of choice, and OpenOffice.org as the Office suit of choice.

Openbox because it lightens up almost anything. For a time, even KDE managed to run near flawlessly using it on my old laptop.
Gnome because in my opinion, there is no desktop environment more customisable.
Guake - I've been told it's dated, obsolete and old. I've been told to use Terminator. That doesn't change the fact that Terminator doesn't do what I want. Guake is a one button drop down terminal. I use the terminal that often, having Guake there on F12 whenever I want it is perfect.
aMSN. Personal choice. Emesene is good in a pinch, but aMSN is my preference. XChat handles IRC, and that's all the rest I've ever needed.
TopShelf. A damned useful Gnome Panel applet if I ever saw one. You feed it your files, and it sits around pretty much as an instant link to them. For example, I'm writing two stories at the moment - they're both in there, and it's invaluable when I suddenly have an idea (Usually at 3 am...) and have to write it down before I forget. (Also thanks to the quick start up time. You'd never think a laptop this old could start up so damn quick)
For the CPU monitor, I use CPUFire. I like watching the fire. The normal system monitor applet handles network traffic, with the colours changed so blue is local, red is up and yellow is down. Instantly able to tell what the traffic is like.

Now then.
Much as I keep trying to find other browsers, Firefox has a firm hold on me. Chromium/Google Chrome are useful short term or speed browsing alternatives, but Firefox, despite it's being slighty overweight in memory and CPU usage, simply cannot be replaced. I've even got to the point where I refuse to use Debian's rebranded Iceweasel because I wanted true Firefox, and installed it to /opt/Firefox though that was mostly to figure out what /opt was actually for.
As to OpenOffice.org... well, there's plenty of solutions out of there, but I find it's perfect. Even more so with the Gnome package enabled, providing Gnome integration.

So, some of you have probably read that and thought, Hey, that's not the best one, why don't you use this instead? (You are of course welcome to say such things in the comments! I welcome new ideas.)
As I said before though - this is what I currently find is my 'the best'
Before though, I've had a 'best' that was pure Openbox. And another that was KDE/Konqueror/KOffice. My Gnome setup on desktop PC's is totally different from this setup for my laptop.

So as you can see... it's difficult to tell where the 'best' really is. Statistics and polls can only tell you what popular opinion says.

And now, for a shameless self plug. You might have noticed I mentioned something about writing stories. Yes, I write. Not much, and currently I'm unpublished (And unpublishable, until I rewrite a lot of words) but there are some stories online you can see.
They're fanfictions, and they're sparked off ideas I've had while watching my little brother. Don't ask. He's more crazy than I am.
But if you want to see my stories as I upload them, point your web browser to http://www.fanfiction.net/u/2198404/ to find me, and at the bottom of the page you'll find my stories.

Now I'm off to go write some more to one of them before I forget what I was going to write. Where's that topshelf applet...

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Giving a Squeeze

Guess what? Yup, it's that time again, when I bore you with one of my infrequent and random update posts.
Remember how I said I was using Debian Lenny?

I went off it. Lenny is missing too much, and is too far outdated to be usable - at least, that's my opinion, now I've upgraded to Squeeze.
Debian Squeeze, for those who don't know, is the testing branch - not the unstable one, sid.
Squeeze is happily plugging away perfectly, and curing so many of the problems I had with Debian.
I experimented a bit with KDE again. Now, knowing my ancient laptop, you might think that would be suicide for it, but did you know, you can remove a lot of the heavyness of KDE by using an Openbox/KDE session? At least, it worked for me.
I also take back negative things I've said about it. Once you get the hang of it, it's not actually as bad as I thought.
That was, however, the current KDE backported to Lenny - on Squeeze, it mysteriously slowed down.
So I've gone back to good old GNOME.
My only issue so far, has been with Frostwire. It needed something that wasn't in the repository, but after a helpful chappy on the Debian IRC channel referred me to the Debian Multimedia repository, all was solved.

In short? If you're thinking of using Debian, I'd say go for Squeeze. Lenny is uber-stable, but also full of old material. Squeeze is also stable - at least, I've had no stability issues - if anything, it's fewer.
Also, a useful point for people. If you change your Debian sources.list file (Note: not all 3rd party repositories support doing this, if you get 404 errors, change it back to lenny/squeeze) so that wherever lenny appears, it's replaced with stable, and for Squeeze, testing, then when Squeeze becomes stable, you'll automatically get the updates for it - and the same for when Sid becomes testing, and something else takes the place of Sid as unstable.

Another interest of mine lately is Longene, the Unified Kernel project. While I've not tried it, it's remained something of an intrigue to me.
It aims to be Wine and a bit more. Firstly you add a package that adds a kernel entry. This kernel supports both Windows and Linux calls, as I understand it, which improves handling of Windows programs.
Secondly, you add a second package, which patches Wine, so it understands what to do.
Apparently, this increases compatibility considerably.
Some people may find this useful, but be warned, as the first package is actually a kernel module, you may find that it's incompatible with other kernel modules, such as the proprietary NVIDIA graphics drivers for one.
If you do decide to use it, be aware of that, and of course - BACKUP.
(Which you should do anyway)

That's all from me for now. Keep on enjoying the new year.
Rock on.