Mike Schaeffer's Weblog
Fri, 15 Sep 2006
The long^H^H^H^Hshort road to Linux...
I ran Linux for a few years back in college ('94-'97), lapsing back to Windows for professional reasons when I started working full time. After ten years of running Windows full time, I finally got sick of its crap (excuse my French), replaced the 40GB disk on my Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop with a brand new 120GB and installed Ubuntu 6.06. Two partitions: one swap and one ext3. No Windows partition, no dual boot. This happened a couple days ago, and the experience has been almost uniformly positive. To wit:
  • Suspend to memory and (more importantly) suspend to disk both worked properly the first time out of the box, no questions asked. The only 'issue' is that the fit and finish isn't quite as nice as on Windows. Windows has a nice progress bar for the suspend process and on Linux the display goes through a couple corrupt screens full of noise before getting to the desktop.
  • The widescreen 2MP display was recognized immediately. Installing the Ubuntu packages for flgrx got 3-D acceleration on my ATI Radeon X300 working with no trouble at all. All I need to do now is get a nice compositing window manager. Update: ATI's X300 driver deliberately doesn't with the Composite extension necessary to run a compositing window manager. Oh well.
  • WiFi almost worked out of the box, the exception being the Wifi activity light on the laptop's case. It never lights up, which made enabling the radio confusing but doesn't seem to have caused any other problems.
  • The base Ubuntu is pretty sparse, but it was trivial to install 2GB worth of development tools with Synapitics after the install. Synaptics works well enough that I question why bother with Fedora's 5CD install process. (Out of a historical sympathy for Redhat 6, I first tried installing Fedora Core 5 and had a hard time getting Windows XP to do a valid burn of CD 3. This is why I wound up with Ubuntu.)
  • Plugging in USB keys and drives worked out of the box the first time, even for read-only accsss of my NTFS formatted external 120GB disk.
  • A video recorded on my wife's Canon SD400 showed up with a thumbnail in Nautilus and played, with audio, with the default media player.
  • Audio worked out of the box, even the annoying startup sounds.
  • The qemu emulator and tne kqemu accelerator (hopefully, my Windows solution) both compiled and ran easily. Update: All I had to do do boot Windows XP was start qemu with an image created by saying dd if=/dev/sdb of=orig.img. Of course, Windows XP immediately started complaining about not being activated. We'll see if MS lets me reactivate it: I have a license to run XP on this machine, even if the expectation was that I'd run it on raw hardware rather than via emulation. Oh, and it's too soon to really tell about performance, but it looks usable for filling out timecards, etc.
  • I wasn't expecting it, but I've been able to open and work with several work-related Word for Windows documents using OpenOffice.

Of course there are problems, but overall this is amazing. The last time I ran Linux, it took weeks of downloading and compiling source code and extensive script customization to get things to work right. Setting up X11 to not blow up my then brand new $1,300 Sony GDM-17SE1 17 inch monitor gave me night sweats for days. Once it did work, there were half a dozen different widget sets on the screen at any time and your choices for word processing included Andrew ez, groff, and/or TeX. Linux has come a long way.

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