Ubuntu

A bit of geek post so if your eyes start to glaze over just skip!

I can’t even remember why I originally decided to try out linux. Had never really thought about it before. It was probably frustrations with endless re-installs of Windows XP to get it running smoothly again that made me look elsewhere.

I originally started trying to install Ubuntu because it was the most popular distro. But I could never get a live CD to work properly and install on my machine so I started looking for something else and ended up with openSUSE. Live CD worked great, installed nicely and it ran fine enough, with some major tweaking, with the at the time brand new KDE4.  I had work to do to get my video card (an older AGP Nvidia 6200) to work well enough with the transparencies and what not. This would come back to haunt me again and again.

After a while, KDE4 started to drive me crazy. It was taking up tremendous resources on my now old desktop (it is an AMD Sempron running at around 2ghz with a gig of ram) and everything was slowing down. And I started getting a weird problem with attaching USB drives, which caused the graphics to hang for 5 minutes or more. So it was off to try Ubuntu again.

After installing it with the alternative install CD I still had graphics problems but managed to work out how to install the drivers from Nvidia. I still had problems with the graphics (artifacts, real problems with transparencies which causes problems with the terminal and system monitor programs, some flash video problems) but GNOME requires much less resources and my system hums along with barely even touching the swap. I was struck by how quiet it ran, barely even touching the disk. And as Nvidia has updated their drivers my system has worked better and better. I still have some problems but they are manageable.

I now have that Ubuntu desktop machine running Samba as a server for the laptops to access the external hard drives filled with music and video and to share the house printer. It could not have been easier to set up.

Just for something to do, I recently tried KDE again, by installing Kubuntu on both my desktop (alongside GNOME) and my laptop. The desktop had even more problems with the graphics, as transparencies are everywhere in KDE. It was really annoying, as most of the transparent elements (like the kick off menu) were completely transparent, like no background of any kind, just text printed on what was behind it. Made it impossible to read the menus depending on what was behind. On the laptop the system looked really nice but I had a host of problems from the wireless card to mounting the drives from the desktop and printing. Seriously, why was this so hard? For instance, I finally got it to mount the drives from the desktop but not through fstab, because that is run before hooking up to the router so I had a shell script run on a delay that did it. But even though the drives were there, I could copy to and from them, I couldn’t stream a video from them in VLC before copying the whole thing locally. I logout and login to GNOME and it works fine. Same with printing. Never got it to work in KDE but GNOME printed fine.

I could have figured out all of these problems. But I was surfing in Kubuntu last night on the desktop and everything was sluggish. Checked what was running and xorg was using over 200mb. I thought, “it isn’t worth the trouble, no matter how sweet KDE looks” and switched back over to GNOME. Back to the lightning speed even on my 5 year old computer.

I don’t have an overall point here, other than as flashy and customizable as I find KDE, GNOME just seems to work more intuitively. And as much as KDE looks and feels much more like Windows it also acts a bit like Vista (gasp!) in that stuff just seems to either not work well or requires a lot of messing about. GNOME would be more like a Mac, in that it doesn’t really take much to get everything to work well and maintain stability.

Eventually, over the next year or so, I am going to be building myself a new, more powerful desktop. We’ll see how many systems I double or triple or quad boot on that. With Ubuntu moving to their Unity desktop which seems…weird I might try out a pure Debian release. And then maybe openSUSE again for a KDE distro. Windows 7, which is really the best system Microsoft has ever done, will stay on the laptop. There are some things (like Media Monkey, the best audio player/cataloger in existence) that will keep one foot in the Windows camp.

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