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Saturday, November 9, 2013

7 Weeks with Linux - Impressions

I've been using Linux as my primary (well, only) operating system for about 7 weeks now. There are things I like and things I dislike and things that are simply annoying.

The Good

So I figured, if today the main thing we need is a web browser, so why do we need more than a free OS? Indeed, Ubuntu comes with Firefox by default, and for me, a Chrome favorite, installing Chromium from the Ubuntu Software Center (aka the App Store) was a piece of cake.

Installation of the OS was real easy, and so was the upgrade (started with Ubuntu 13.04, upgraded to 13.10).

Linux seems to make fairly good use of the hardware and gave me accelerated OpenGL graphics, audio and network out of the box.

Ubuntu also comes with several extras from basic tools like a notepad (gedit, that is by far better than windows notepad, and more resembles notepad++), through picture, video and audio players, to advanced tools like an entire office suite (libreOffice, which is nice but quite heavy, so I prefer online tools), all out of the box. Most other things can easily be downloaded from the Software Center.

The Bad

While most things can be installed from the Software Center, not everything is available, and not once I found myself searching the web for a better solution for a program I couldn't find. I'm talking about development tools, which was pretty odd to me, as I thought Linux is the cozy home of all software development. Well, maybe just home, surely not cozy. The better development tools I know are for Windows. Linux is all about hard, notepad development and command line compilation. Sure, you can find MonoDevelop, and Eclipse is Java base which makes it cross platform, but that's about it, and they are limited (PHP anyone?)

I could find AptanaStudio, an Eclipse based IDE for web development, and this is the main tool I use, and acutally this is the same tool I used on Windows for the same kind of development, so I guess I can't complain, except for it not being in the Software Center.

Coming down to the people from the development ivory tower, I couldn't find an official app for SkyDrive.

The Ugly

There are many things that are just annoying. I thought that by the end of 2013 they'll be handled by now, but it seems Ubuntu rather put their efforts on the HUD (Heads Up Display) that gives me results I don't need for my searches rather than implement missing drivers and such. And I already wrote a post about security.


This is were you search your computer. You type something in, and get a list of results. The results are from installed apps, files you may have, apps of the Software centers, and all over the world - Wikipedia, Foursquare, YouTube, MySpace, whatnot. I find it very annoying.
Another thing that is annoying in the HUD is that when you change search criteria, say from "All" to "Software", it loses the search term.

Local Network Connectivity

Connecting to the Internet is simple and done quickly. That's true also to connecting to Windows networks through Samba (SMB:// addresses). However, it just doesn't recognizes other Ubuntu machines on the local network.
I tried sharing the folders and giving access to just about everyone in the universe and still it doesn't recognizes the other machine. Which is annoying, because the other machine is in the living room, which doesn't have the same conditions to work with as the main computer. I want to copy files, that's it. Just log in using the file manager to the other computer on the network and move files around. And I can't even get there. Annoying. I though this would come out of the box, and I can't even get it to work at all.


I run an Intel Core I5-4430 system. A small one. I didn't put a discrete graphic adapter in it since the one integrated in the CPU is far beyond all my (current) needs. However, when trying to run software like BOINC distributed computation (World Community Grid), or a BitCoin miner, it tells me it couldn't find any usable GPGPU (that's General Purpose GPU. It actually says things like "No usable GPUs found" or "No OpenCL devices found").
Intel don't have drivers yet. Don't know if they will. After a lot of searching and attempts to get this to work with all kinds of workarounds, I just gave up.

These are my main impressions from Ubuntu, but all in all I still rather use it than Windows, and if only because of Windows' lengthy reactivation issues.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Moving to Linux - Said and Done

In one of my earlier posts I blogged about switching to Linux.
That was in May 2011, today is September 2013... it took over two years, but I'm happy to say that the transition has finally happened! (two months ago)

It happened when I bought my new computer about two months ago (the old one pretty much died):

When I bought the new computer I wanted it to be as small as possible and yet to have an optical drive, USB 3 connectors, 8 GB of RAM and 500 GB hard drive. I knew I needed to move the data from my old hard drive, and didn't know if I'd have any way of connecting it in addition to my new hard drive, so I got an external hard drive dock.

I connected the dock to the USB and power, placed the old hard drive in there, turned the power on and made sure the computer will boot from USB.
Indeed, my old Windows 8 (yeah, I know, but it replaced my older Vista (again, yeah, I know, but it was state of the art when I bought it), and besides, it didn't cost me that much) came up, but since it detected my hardware configuration had changed (basically all of it), it booted directly to repair mode and suggested to automatically repair my Windows installation.

Sounds great! Sure, do that!

Windows was then started working its magic for about 20 minutes, just to let me know it had failed. Thank you so much!

After thinking how to fix things (I even thought to re-install Vista from the original DVD I had, but the only valid key was written on a sticker on the side of my old computer, and that sticker was already half torn, so I didn't have a key), I figured I can perhaps use Linux to fix it. I don't remember now exactly what my idea was, but it very quickly changed to "Hey! I can just use Linux instead and that's it!"

And that's what I did:

  • I installed Ubuntu 13.04 64 bit using a flash drive.
  • In order to recover the important data from the older hard drive I used the external dock and copied everything I wanted to save.
  • I had a network drive I wanted to mount in a certain way. I thought this would be simple, and turned out it took a little work to get it done the way I wanted it, but now it's good.
  • I had some paid services (well, just one actually - CrashPlan), so I downloaded it from the website and installed it. I had to reconfigure it to work with the new configuration, and it was a little time consuming hassle, but now I have a working automatic backup running again.
  • I also had other online services (DropBox, Copy) I wanted to use, but happily, these were just working out of the box.
  • SkyDrive, however, does not, and I still don't have it configured. Instead, I just moved everything I had on SkyDrive to Copy.
  • I don't know about Google Drive - I use it online, but I never had its local application installed.
  • I was using the BOINC Manager (for grid computing, running tasks from World Community Grid), so I just installed its Linux version, and everything is the same.
Now about that Windows installation I had... I didn't want to just throw it away, and some applications still must run on Windows... OK than - let's install it on a virtual machine!
I installed and launched VirtualBox, loaded some old virtual machines I had (I had the Windows 8 Developers Preview installed as a virtual machine on my old hard drive, so I just copied it and used it as a base for my new Windows 8 installation). I recovered the installation key from the purchase emails, updated the installation using it, got a new key, re-registered it by phone and now, after all that hard work, I have a Windows 8 virtual machine, ready for a rainy day.

So, to sum things up - transition to Linux wasn't smooth, and there are still some things I don't like (that's for another post), but I have no major problems with it, I like it a lot, and all in all I think it was a good decision. Hopefully in the next versions such transitions could be made smoother and more people will prefer to use it over paid alternatives.

Old Computer Died. RIP?

When I bought my computer in early 2008 I decided it should be a beast.
I got a Tower casing with a quad core processor, 4 GB RAM, 250 GB hard drive and some medium level nVidia graphics adapter.
I figured I could always replace some parts (like memory, hard drive, graphics adapter) but generally, it was a strong computer that was suppose to be sufficient for my needs for many years.

It did survive almost 6 years, but in its last days (well months, actually) it started giving me hard time:
It was shutting the screen down off all of the sudden, or rebooting just because, or having the entire screen go the same color (I remember off-white, pink and light blue as the colors it used to get stuck in) and doesn't letting me do anything anymore.

I tried to understand what was happening by looking at system logs, but it quickly reminded me of an old joke: "How many programmers does it take to replace a light bulb?". None. It's a hardware problem.

So I got a new computer (double the performance, half the price, quarter the size), installed a brand new operating system (moved to Linux, finally), and now the old one is standing on the side of the room, useless.

Now the thing is, I think it is salvageable. A good chance it is the graphics adapter, and if I can only get a new one things will work just fine. I thought of connecting the monitor the on-board VGA output, but alas! There is no on-board VGA output!

I feel sorry not to resurrect this computer, because it has a fairly good specifications even in today's (2013) standards. For one, it has a quad core processor, when most processors today are only dual core. OK, so it's the first major quad core series and much slower than the new series, but who really cares when all you want to do is use the browser? Second, it has 4 GB RAM, meaning it must run 64 bit operating system to use it all. Most cheap systems still come with a 32 bit operating systems, and some come with only 2 GB of RAM. And third, it has room for more! More memory, more hard drives, more bays that can be used...

Maybe sometime soon I'll try to save it. Or maybe I'll just sell it for some low price. I thought I'd give it away as a donation for some school or something, but I figured I can't really donate something that doesn't work.