Thursday, December 6, 2007

Not Quite Dead Yet, plus Ubuntu and Mint

OK, sure. It has been a while since I wrote anything here. It has been everything I can do to keep my corporate Blog up to date recently.

Since my last post from India (back in the end of October), I have been to Vancouver, the Gulf Coast twice, Far West Texas (Home), and right now for the last two weeks, San Francisco. To write about home use of Linux or Open Source, I would have to actually have been home! I did use my iPhone a great deal to stay hooked in, but I have already posted a fair amount about that. The only new thing there is that I finally downgraded from 1.0.2 of the firmware to 1.1.1, and re-installed all the hacks and everything to re-enable all the cool things Apple left out. I finally have Solitaire on the iPhone! Thank you Chris Miles!

Ubuntu 7.10 and Mint 4.0 on the Acer 5610

In my most recent post over at talk.bmc, I mention using Ubuntu 7.10 and then Mint 4.0 on my office desktop system, a Dell D620. What I did not mention there was that tested each of those release first on my personal Acer 5610.

The very most interesting thing that is different for me between Ubuntu 7.10 and Mint 4.0 did not show up on the Dell at all. On the Acer, the SD flash card reader that is built in to the left hand side of the unit has never worked under any previous version of Linux. It was present in the hardware inventory, but nothing ever mounted when the chip was inserted. Research said that support was coming for the specific chipset from ENE Technologies, and should arrive along about 2.6.22 or so. Ubuntu 7.10 did not appear to see the reader any better than 7.04, or Mint 3.1. But Mint 4.0 had the reader, and the chip in it (I left it there for testing long ago) mounted and ready for use!

Mint 4.0 has many other nifty features over Ubuntu 7.10. As Ubuntu has matured and picked up some of the functionality of Mint, I was wondering what the Mint folks were going to do to stay ahead of the curve. The answer is, they continue to innovate.

The major new nifty thing I have found is the new updater. At first I was very skeptical about whether Linux really needs YAUT (Yet Another Update Tool). I mean really: Adept, Apt, Synaptic, Yum, Yumex, YAST, UP2DATE, ... to name but a few. But the new MintUpdate does a risk classification for each patch on how likely the patch is going to be to cause your system to have problems. The update screen is clean, easy to read. I like it.

One problem I had was that I wanted a very specific feature of the new Compiz Fustion enabled: The one where the cursor hovered over the task bar reveals a small composited screen of the application. I find this very handy for checking on things I started running and then left to go do other things. I use this almost in preference to putting application screens on multiple workspaces. I could not find in Mint how to turn that back on, and said so in my talk.bmc post. The answer came in at once via a comment from "67GTA":

You have to install "compizconfig-settings-manager". It was left out of Mint by default. There you can tweak the effects. It was Advanced Desktop Effects Settings in Ubuntu 7.10.

Sure enough, with this installed, I could turn on the window preview, and I was good to go.

Linux has been good enough for a long while to be a complete enterprise desktop, although it helps if the place you work is smart about the infrastructure they deploy. The more attention to open standards they have paid, the easier it is. The more they have deployed closed stuff like MS Exchange, the more coping skills required.

Oddly, most home usage has been ahead of the corporate environment in this regard. Webmail, POP, IMAP, SMTP, AJAX web applications, and so forth have been staples of most ISP's / Broadband carriers for years. You only get into trouble when you want to do things like play MS Windows specific games, and Linux is even starting to be able to do that. Mint's broad hardware support and easy installability make it hard to ignore as a viable home OS. Between Linx and the Mac, I have not used MS Windows at the house (other than to experiment with Vista) for years.

Hard Drives Not Included

My brother has been running Ubuntu 7.04 on a hand built computer for a while now. I have never had to do anything to support him (unlike MS WIndows days) till now.

Linux is pretty good. Probably better than pretty good. But no OS can withstand having its hard drive fall apart. FSCK's show low level corruption that just can not be repaired.

My first house call ever on his Linux box will be to rebuild it on a fresh hard drive. Ubuntu 7.04 will become Mint 4.0 in the process. Hopefully we'll be able to get something off his old harddrive... but I am not holding my breath. This thing was *toast*.

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