Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Linux or Windows

Last week I finally got a motherboard transplant to work - from living in an absolutely outrageously oversized case (big, rounded, scarlet, and with hips, no less) to living in a normal beige ATX box. I had to transplant some of the fans, of course, and there's an 8-inch fan that I'd like to put in too but can't find a good place for it (maybe I'll cut a hole in the case!).

This thing used to run Windows XP-64, which I got about 3 months after it escaped from Microsoft. It's been a good OS, although lacking in drivers initially. For example, HP never upgraded many of their drivers for it, but Brother and Konica-Minolta both did, so those were the printers we bought. See here for a review of it.

It's a reasonably powerful machine - 2 GHz AMD cpu and 2 GB of RAM - especially so when I bought it in the late summer of 2005. I ran a lot of virtual machines on it. So, once I re-housed it, I was faced with the obvious decision to make - which OS to use. Anything less than Windows XP was obviously out. I wanted a change from Windows XP/64, and, having regretted giving my son a machine with Vista on it for the last 16 months, Vista was definitely not going to be it!

Windows 7 isn't out yet, so that just about writes Windows off. I don't think it'll run Leopard, so I took a look at the Linux alternative. Ubuntu 8 looks nice - I've created a few machines with it and had a good result. I have a copy of Solaris, but who knows what IBM will do with it (why would they kill AIX in favour of Solaris?). I looked at a few others, decided I rather like the new KDE desktop and its features, and then found the Ubuntu 9.04 was out.

So I read all the reviews and, as it looked good, downloaded both the Desktop and the Server editions (there's a Netbook edition too, but I'm not buying hardware just yet!). I burned CDs on my trusty Windows laptop (the Acer Aspire 9300). Neither would load properly. Bad burns ? I tried. No - same error. Bad downloads! So I pulled them again. Burned again. Went to bed!

Next morning, I put the Server disc in to the reader and booted. After about 20 questions and enough time (just) for me to eat my morning bowl of porridge (see later), it was up and asking me to log in. Wow! I haven't seen an OS load that fast since we put Windows NT 4 onto a 4-cpu DEC Alpha machine! Up it came with a pure character interface. Oh sugar! I really don't feel like learning Linux command line this morning! So I Googled how to install GNOME, found the instruction (last post):
/etc/init.d/gdm start
and re-booted the machine. Now I get a black screen with a little graphic asking for name, and then password. After that, I'm in to GNOME's default background (light blue with a stylised "G" logo). Very clean, very nice. Off to work.

By the evening I was really ready to try things out, so I went exploring. The install seems to take up about 13 GB of space, including GNOME and all the applications that Ubuntu comes with, so the OS itself probably takes less than half that. Windows XP Pro takes over 8 GB and it's ten years old, so anything less than that is quite good, considering.

So, what have I been using it for? Well, so far I've been using it to burn backup CDs. I ran into a problem with my original Benq 1640 drive - Ubuntu doesn't see it as a burner - just a reader. I replaced it with a $30 Lite-On (five years newer and faster) and burns fly. What I'm doing is backing up all the stuff from the old disks that used to be in the Windows XP/64 machine but that's rather complicated. I mount the disk in a Firewire-connected carrier that plugs into an old Sony VAIO laptop (old enough that it runs on Windows 2000, and a coupon for Windows XP came with it!). The VAIO shares the drive, so my Acer can see it, and I pull the files onto the Acer and organse them. After that I grab them from the Acer with the Linux machine and drop them onto the disc symbol and burn them. As easy as Windows has been promising but with little helpful things like telling you if it thinks that the folder tree is too deep before just burning it and failing half-way through the disc.

I've been playing with the OpenOffice.org product. I also have it on my Acer, and also on the baby Asus machine, running under Windows. In both of these the JVM takes a long time to load and start, before the app. (Writer, Base, or whatever) is loaded. With Ubuntu 9.04 almost all of that wait vanishes. I can only think that the JVM is permanently loaded, but it's much faster.


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