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Life with Linux One Week at a Time
(or Linux in 104 easy lessons...)

I've been a MS-DOS/Windows user for about 20 years. I tried Linux in College (but I didn't inhale) circa Red Hat 6.1, networked it with Win98 and NT4 on a 10base2 home network, and installed Apache. That was as far as I got and since I had programs that only ran on Windows, I didn't play with it much besides some custom tweaks. Since I dog-sit for a friend when he goes on vacation, it seemed the perfect time to try living full-time with Linux.

Another friend of mine gave me some old computers (my garage is the mythical lost graveyard of old computers). I managed to cobble together one good working computer out of the parts. I may get the second one running if I can replace the bad capacitors on the motherboard but that is down the list right now.

Downloaded and installed Ubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon" after trying the live CD. At this point I should admit that I am going into this blind. I have no books so the only documentation available is whatever I find on the Internet. What follows are my thoughts, observations, and reactions to stumbling blindly through a brand new Ubuntu Linux install by a Windows veteran (i.e. somebody who scoffs at warnings about mucking about with the Registry).

It's taking a little time to figure out. Compiz, for example, should have been a lot easier to configure and I can't seem to upgrade Gnome. Wireless networking was a breeze on here. Far easier than Vista.

The Grand Experiment - The First Week.
Monday I began my grand experiment - which lasted about an hour. I had preinstalled Ubuntu on an old Athlon 1400+ in a Asus A7M266 board with 512MB RAM and a GeForce4 card before going over to a friend's house to dog sit. When I got there I couldn't connect to the network either wired OR wireless. Gave up and packed up the computer. Turns out the router had flaked out and I needed to leave it off for more than the 20 seconds I initially tried. Tuesday - the experiment continues. With a wired connection I got online and installed Opera, Azureus, some other stuff, and checked email. Synaptic made it no problem whatsoever to install programs. No need to "apt-get" anything. Ubuntu immediately found and installed 8.04 "Hearty Heron" the latest LTS. Here's where I ran into my first problem. I wanted to try out the cool effects and Vista-like looks but I had to install the nVidia drivers. OK no problem. Ubuntu found and installed the correct nVidia-glx video driver. After a reboot I now had a refresh rate of 62Hz instead of the 85Hz I had before. Not good. Searched online but nothing I found worked including adding the vertical and horizontal rates for the monitor to the configuration file. Ok I'll live with it for now to get visual effects. I also changed the desktop to a more XP-like layout (e.g. one taskbar at the bottom, system tray in the corner, quick launch toolbar).

Installing compiz was a chore in itself but it did teach me how to use Synaptic. I spent off-and-on another two days trying to get the glass effect of Vista until I found out I needed to download a theme for Emerald. Then I had to figure out that I wasn't actually RUNNING Emerald was why changes weren't showing up. I still haven't figured out how to start Emerald automatically when I boot. Maybe a "Startup" folder in the menu would be nice?

 1) Rebooting - They say you don't have to reboot Linux when it's running. They DON'T say how many times you have to reboot while setting it up.
 2) nVidia drivers - They need to work. I should have 1152 or 1280 @75Hz AT LEAST. Not 62.
 3) Unrar - you HAVE to reboot to get it to work with the archive manager. Otherwise, GUI lockups ensue.
 4) Emerald - There should be a (better) tutorial on how to install/set up themes.
 5) Explorer/File Manager(Nautilus) - You can't right-click and move anything. You have to cut and paste.
 6) Icons - They suck. Just plain ugly. (#5 and 6 seem to be Nautilus issues)
 7) Scrollwheel - Clicking the wheel doesn't pagescroll in Firefox. Had to dig up the checkbox in Opera.
 8) WMV playback - Is spotty - literally. Possibly just an encoding issue.
 9) Can't easily rename "Home Folder" to "Home Directory"
10) No Ctrl-Alt-Del - Why not? I put the system manager applet in the notification tray.
11) Rhythmbox sucks. Pure and simple. Will try XMMS.
12) Changing the wallpaper should be easier. Windows does it with a simple context menu in Explorer.

On the plus side:
1) File copy - I like how multiple copy/move operations are combined into one window.
2) File copy - Progress is measured in kB and MB transfered and there is a timer.
3) File Manager reacts where the cursor is (like Win98). I don't have to click on the pane to change the focus.
4) Passwords - Can get annoying but is better than what Vista does I think.

I also had a problem with the mouse losing it's mind and jumping to the edge of the screen or even across the screen and opening seemingly random links in the browser. This may just be a bad mouse but it is one of the few extra PS/2 mice I have with a scrollwheel.

Opera(9.64) crashes waaaay too much. This happens when I open several tabs at once in the background by right clicking. There can be as few as three or four to as many as ten tabs when this happens. CPU goes to 100% and I have to kill the process and restart Opera to recover. Fortunately it's a whole lot easier to recover on Ubuntu than it is on Windows which is something I like very much. I've been using the system monitor for this instead of the Force-App-to-Quit utility. I haven't investigated the cause of this and it doesn't seem to happen in Firefox.

Boosted RAM to 1GB.

Week number two.
Got Emerald running on startup - no problem. Just had to type "Emerald --replace" into the Emerald settings. Linux wallpaper
Found several cool new backgrounds and changed the log in screen. I need to look into why the login screens compress horizontally (as if the resolution isn't right). The icons are still butt-ugly but this is apparently a Gnome theme/icon issue (and not Nautilus like I had thought). Unfortunately, I haven't found a set I like. I may have to mix and match my own. I've also discovered that my website text overlaps the page at the bottom in both Opera and Firefox on Linux. This will require a CSS fix I think.

I never found a way to add separate email accounts in Evolution which is ok. There may be a way but I prefer Thunderbird anyway. Still sorting out some issues with extensions (e.g. Foxytunes, Minimize to Tray).

Four days this time.
Dog sitting for my sister this weekend. Connected to the router in the basement wirelessly. At home, using the live CD, connecting wirelessly was painless. Far easier than getting Vista to connect with my AirLink wireless card. However, using an AirLink USB adapter has been a problem usually requiring retyping passwords and reenabling the adapter. It should be a lot easier to connect but this may be an AirLink issue or a wireless USB issue.

Dumped Rhythmbox in favor of Audacious. I considered XMMS, XMMS2, and Beep but since Audacious is still being developed and has support for Winamp skins, that decided it (I really like the classic "TubeAmp" skin).
Vacuumtube skin
I have two complaints here. One is that there is no ability to enqueue songs from Nautilus via a context menu such as Windows has for Winamp. The other is that FoxyTunes doesn't support Audacious but does support Beep and XMMS. So, ultimately, I may move to Beep. We'll see.

I also tried out DVD playback. Of course it didn't work immediately. I had kinda expected this but after a few minutes research on the 'net I fired up Synaptic and installed libdvdread3. Then I found these commands: "sudo apt-get install totem-xine libxine1-ffmpeg libdvdread3" and "sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/". All I did was cut-and-paste into a terminal and voila I was watching "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" in VLC.

Hearty Heron is, of course, behind the times. There are newer versions of OpenOffice, Gnome, GIMP, and Firefox to name a few. Synaptic couldn't find me updated packages for any of them so I thought "Let's try doing it the hard way" and downloaded the Firefox 3.5 tar.bz2. After unpacking it I tried double clicking on just about anything named Firefox. Somehow, something ran and I got Firefox 3.5. But I couldn't get my existing shortcuts to point to it. So now I need to learn how and where to manually install software when I can't Apt-Get it. Synaptic makes things soooo easy!

Back home now.
Decided to jump in and move up from the LTS 8.04 "Hearty" to 8.10 "Intrepid".
Aaaannnd stuff broke.
I don't know if it was stuff I had mucked about with or if I uninstalled something I needed but I lost text in both the menus and bookmarks for Opera and every time I booted up it gave me the "usplash...ALERT /dev/disk/...doesn't exist. dropping to shell" error. Typing "exit" at the prompt sends it on it's way and everything is normal after that but the error occurs every time. My notification area also crashed. Even after deleting and attempting to add them back, I couldn't get the System Monitor or the Volume control to reinstall.

"Intrepid Ibex" does have some improved tools for networking and nVidia driver and X-server app that works. I suspect I was running at 70hz refresh all this time but it wasn't reported correctly until now.

Intrepid lasted about 24 hours.
This evening I upgraded to 9.04 "Jaunty Jackalope".
From what I can tell after a short time with it, Samba is much improved. It was a LOT easier to find Windows shares and vice versa now. The Notification area is also back the way it should be. So far so good. The only problem I've encountered is that I can't save the X.conf backup file. I have a suspicion I know why but the fix will have to wait until my next week with Linux.

Overall, it has been a pretty good experience. I like the fact that I'm running a circa 2002 computer that for the most part looks as good as Vista in terms of the Aero interface and performs reasonably well.

Things to do / learn at this point:
Learn to manually install software.
Figure out how to put a custom icon set together.
Find out why Opera crashes so much.
Try some other File Managers
Figure out how to rename "Home Folder" to "Home Directory" in the menu.
(Trouble)shoot this mouse.

Update - It WAS the mouse. Replaced and all is well
Opera version 10 seems to be better

Early reviews of 9.10 "Karmic Koala" are less than stellar. I think I'll wait until 10.04 "Lucid Lynx" before my next upgrade.

After a long and laborious step-by-step upgrade process, Ubuntu 11.04 borked my desktop test system. As best I can tell 11.04 is a steaming pile of dog poo! Thank god I didn't upgrade the laptop. It's gonna stay at 10.10 "Maverick Meercat". I am now investigating Linux Mint or ANY OTHER alternative to Ubuntu. And on THAT subject: A tablet is a tablet. A smartphone is a smartphone. A desktop is a desktop. No, I do not want "Metro" or "Unity".