Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Two years of tuxing

Two years ago to the day, my sister got herself a blue Acer Aspire one. It was my first brush with a netbook and the awesomeness that is SSD. More meaningful however, was my first interaction with a modern Linux distro.

I had dabbled a bit with Mandriva and Red Hat way back in 2004 and had wrung my hands in frustrationat having to visit the terminal each time i wanted to install a program. Also, the repositories were as big as they are now, plus internet speeds were still only a notch up on the ancient dialups i grew up on. Suffice to say, I couldn't figure out what the great fuss was and i decided to give linux a pass then.

Circa 2008 and i switched on the system and lo behold, in 6 seconds, the SSD launched me into the desktop. i was taken aback and i searched around to see if this was a reworked BIOS screen that would lead to a booting sequence, but no, it was the desktop of the Linpus Lite distro.

While limited largely by hardware, the OS was snappy, and once i activated the XFCE desktop, way more productive. And thank the stars, application installation was relatively hassle free once i figured out how to use the YUM installer. But i kept thinking - There has to be a better linux experience out there!

So i took a plunge and downloaded the 9.04 version of Ubuntu (Jaunty to us) and installed it. Although it gobbled up 4 GB out of the measly 8 GB HDD, it ran lightning quick on the netbook, and the apps base was noticeably larger than Linpus. Despite the horror stories, most of the hardware ran well with all drivers installed in the background.

In the next six months, i got myself a netbook, went through Karmic, Lucid and Maverick on it and the experience got progressively better. I ran Open Suse, Fedora, Mint in Virtual Boxes but kept coming back to Ubuntu. It was simple, similar to Windows, almost ascetic in hardware requirements and NEVER crashed on me. I also noticed that I booted into windows less frequently, maybe down to three times a week, just to keep my patches and AV definitions up to date. Windows was also required to run those oddball devices that refused to run on non windows systems, or to hook up to external monitors/ projections.

Well, i discarded my netbook and got myself a nice HP DV6 and dual booted it. This was the first time i ran into problems with Ubuntu, and Open suse. The thing with Linux is that it's great for Hardware that came out a couple of months before the last kernel release. What it's not so good at, is being compatible with upcoming or brand new hardware that's come out. With a new computer, You are playing a game of roulette, hoping that your computer will work pretty well out of the box.

I had problems getting my Wifi and my Switchable graphics working under 10.10. Of course the ever friendly forums helped me figure out how to get the wifi working, with a bit of compiling and making, but with windows, you don't have to do all that. It's something that Linux must work on. Having to figure out how to get Wifi working was something acceptable in 2003, not 2010. Of course the switchable graphics don't work, but I've made peace by not installing the radeon drivers for linux (They crashed my ubuntu desktop anyway) and making do with the Intel HD graphics which run all the compiz options on max.

Win 7 unfortunately for Linux, is just as a good an OS and i think that most people would be happy enough to carry on with it. that's where i think the linux community missed it's chance to go mainstream.

But still, as a great example of how open source can really work, i recommend everyone to atleast try out a live CD, if for nothing else, the novelty of an idea that an entire OS can be run off the USB drive and still access your hard disk files and do some productive work.

Back to Bashing.