A site devoted to discussing techniques that promote quality and ethical practices in software development.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A long journey to meet the Penguin

Since I have lost interested in Windows ME II, alias Vista, and totally disgusted with their activation scheme and DRM turning the OS literally into a Police outpost, I have decided to turn my attention to something differently. I have decided to re-acquaint with my long lost friend that I began my computing career in.

I have heard so much about Linux and how little resource it demands to run; it is free (that is what OS should be) and that it has a much stronger security system (a fact that has been questioned); Linux is a strong contender to ME II. So I have decided to check out UBuntu, a distribution or variant of Linux.

Below is my experience of meeting and installing UBuntu:

I happen to have an old discarded Laptop, a Toshiba Satellite 1800 Series with a Celeron 800 and 256M of RAM lying around with Windows XP Pro installed into it that I can use to check out Linux, since UBuntu supports multi-boot option.

Well, it is an old machine but I have been told that Linux does not require much to run. So it sounds like a perfect machine to test Ubuntu out. I am sure ME II will choke on this specification.

The first attempt used a downloaded CD image of the desktop version 7.04. I popped the CD into the machine on Wednesday evening and naively believing that I could use it to config an ADSL modem. How wrong was I.

The Ubuntu Live CD fired up reasonable quick, not without drama, allowing me to experiment with the OS. When it was booting up the graphical environment, an error message box popped up complaining GNOME Settings applet could not start, etc. All I could do was to close it. Some how it did not hold back the starting process.

It looks very nice and the graphical interface was definitely not in the Unix I cut my teeth in in learning C programming back in the '70. It's a nice addition.

Running totally from the CD was really painfully slow and you can hear the poor drive going crazy. So I decided to bite the bullet and to install this onto my hard drive, which still had 6-7G spare. This was the beginning of the fun bit revealing the not so polished side of Ubuntu.

I opened the Install applet on the desktop. For a period that felt like eternity and was indeed eternity in computer time, the CD Rom drive went berserk zipping back and forth lights blinking and all the screen was showing was a frame with the title "Install." After more than a hour or so, a list of locales beginning to appear in a combo box but more were to come.

Not knowing what lied ahead and I was not totally comfortable of risking the machine at that moment, I aborted the installation, an action I regretted. The installation process did not have any instruction on aborting it and shutting down. So I simply powered down the machine forcefully. For some reasons, I did not see the red button on the top right corner of the screen that was designed used to power down.

From that moment on, I could not recover that list of locales. It's strange that running the installation from a CD Rom should guarantee that no previous installation state was recorded but somehow, there were variations between each attempt, indicating something was recorded but in where? In some attempts, I left it ran for hours and all I saw was a frame with nothing in it. It's not a freeze by any definition because the CD was still being read on and off. One had to wonder what it was doing. Some progress message would be greatly appreciated. It couldn't be just reading that hundred or so locale names. Some attempts encountered error with the message complaining about failure to load the paned "OAFIID: GNome_MixedApplet".

After so many failed attempts, I suspected the image might be faulty or the machine could not tolerate version 7.04. So I tried the version 6.06 (alternate).

This ISO image produced even far worse outcomes. It froze my machine trying to populate the list of locales consistently. It might be doing some memory scanning or something but definitely no CD drive activities and no hard disk activity. I had even left it "ran" for hours just for curiosity.

After several attempts, I gave up on this and was even considering trying XUbuntu as it's for lower spec machines. Before doing that, I decided to give 7.04 one final attempt using the "alternate" ISO image. I had no idea what "alternate" meant and I also selected the download for machines with less than 256M, which sounded more suitable for my machine.

This ISO image differed from the other in that it did not start Live CD. It jumped straight into installation mode - in text mode. The best parts were that it was fast and informative comparing to the graphical installation.

I was a bit apprehensive when it guided me through in resizing the NTFS partition and in creating the new one. The on screen message was not clear enough. What the heck? It's a late Friday night and soon into Saturday. So I went ahead.

It finally completed the installation and after removing the CD from the drive, I pressed the button to reboot. Instead of coming up with the familiar graphical screen, after displaying some messages that quickly vanished, I was staring at the black screen with no disk activity and no progress message.

I thought that was frozen, so I forcefully shut it down. When it restarted, it went through some recovery process akin to NTFS' Chkdsk /F . When that was completed, the same black screen came back. Once again I powered it down. On the next reboot, I decided to play with it and ran the memtest. This went through some lengthy tests and after completed one full cycle, I decided to reboot.

Not knowing what would come next, I went to do something else. When I returned to the Toshiba, the Ubuntu log in screen awaited me. Finally success and the Penguin was there to welcome me!

One of my first missions was to check out the command prompt, being a keen command line practitioner, and it's now called the Terminal. The next was to determine what kind of privilege I was given. The installation screen should advise me that I have been give root access rights. I only discovered this on the Ubuntu web page.

While I was exploring this, I stumbled onto some panel that required elevated privilege and I was challenged. This is very similar to the ME II's UAC . The only difference was that I was required to supply the password in Ubuntu, even when I have root access rights but in UAC I would only be required to select the accept button on the consent box.

I began to feel confident and tried my luck in pinging the Internet. No such luck. It turned out that Ubuntu did not recognise my old PCMCIA network card, a Xircom RealPort2 card. So now, I have the most secured Ubuntu in the world and I was happy of progress so far.

Many of my failed attempts might be the result of lack of communication from the installer. Definitely the installation program was not as slick as that from Microsoft. There is room for improvement. But I can put up with that since it's free and it did not treat me as a thief by constantly asking effectively "prove to me that you bought it", the most offensive customer treatment that Microsoft has ever invented.

What I saw impresses me and it's now time to explore - a spirit I have lost, for the first time, on any Microsoft OS, particularly the ME II.

No comments:

Blog Archive