Friday, July 10, 2009

Switching to Linux - the saga

This is going to be a somewhat long post -- I'll keep it as brief as I can. Before I decided to switch to Linux, I decided to see if there were any books on the topic at my local library. They had 1 (one) whole book about Linux, that being the 4th edition of Learning Red Hat Enterprise Linux & Fedora, by Bill McCarty . It's 4th edition copyright was 2004; and there were 2 installation CD's enclosed. It explained some basics, which helped me decide to go ahead and make the switch. And of course, I also backed up a lot of important files to CD as well as to an external USB hard drive I got a few months ago.

I had a good idea there was probably something more recent available at a book store, so the following week I bought a Ubuntu linux book at Barnes & Noble that had an installation CD and DVD included. I tried out the live dvd, and it was slow due to having to access the DVD drive, but it came up eventually and I decided to go ahead with the install, after reading the instructions.

The Ubuntu install didn't work, when I used the text install option to see what the hang-up was, I got a message about a kernel panic. I'm not sure how a computer or a kernel can panic, and it's impossible to reason with a kernel that wants to panic; so I went online and read some things that suggested that it needed disk space for the install, it didn't know it was going to get the whole hard drive. So I spent much time defragmenting the 20 gig drive (which had 4 partitions), tried installing again, then got the same error message.

Since Ubuntu isn't the only linux distro, and since I had the RHE Linux and Fedora book with 2 disks, I decided to try to install Fedora instead. It went without a hitch. But then I discovered that I couldn't get online, since I'm using a usb - ethernet adapter for my DSL modem, and/or a Linksys cardbus (pcmcia) wireless adapter -- Fedora core didn't recognize either of them. That just wasn't going to work. Now I was ready to panic, since Win2k was no longer on my computer. I thought I'd see if I could find something newer at another book store.

I found a Fedora 7 'bible' at another store, and that installed just fine. And it did recognize my DSL modem connection, so I could get online. (While the software itself is 'free' -- these books sure aren't! Both books were about $50/each, which wasn't exactly in my budget, but it's nice to have them as reference. I'd actually recommend having at least one.)

Then I ran into the issue of getting Flashplayer installed and working, as well as getting my Linksys wireless cardbus adapter working, all of which required more research since that wasn't covered very well in the book I'd gotten. Thankfully there are a lot of good instructions online, you just have to be able to find it. For the wireless it took several attempts, trying different drivers, but eventually I got it working. Yay!

By now I found out that Fedora 7 was an 'old' version (it's only 2 years old, much newer than Windows 2000! But Fedora pushes out a new release about every 6 months, and they recently released Fedora 11.) I tried twice to install F11, using 2 different methods and it didn't work. So I had to re-install Fedora 7 twice. And F7 runs rather well on my laptop, I just thought it would be nice to use the newest version. It's also running the newest version of Firefox (3.5) just fine, too.

After relating some of the issues I had installing F11 on the Fedora Forums (here), someone agreed with me that my laptop configuration was at the lower edge of what is expected to work with F11 and then suggested I may want to look into Puppy Linux. I looked at it and since it's only about 100mb for the CD, I downloaded it, and tried it 'live' (meaning it'll boot from the CD and run in RAM, without disturbing your hard drive), which also had some issues. I discovered I could use the boot command option of 'acpi=force' to get it to boot, and it did run pretty fast. Since my 2nd (3rd?) installation of Fedora 7 used what they call a 'logical volume manager' I couldn't install Puppy on the hard drive with LVM.

I didn't really want the LVM anyway -- it's probably a good thing if you're running servers and need to add or remove drives while everything else keeps running, but for a single home computer, I didn't think it performed as well as using it without the LVM. So back to re-installing F7 yet again, with a free partition so I could install Puppy, too. I actually ended up installing a puppy derivative called 'Slaxer-Pup' because it recognized my wireless adapter, loads the drivers and everything -- which wouldn't work with Puppy 4.2.1 because the 'acpi=force' option disabled the IRQ that the wireless device uses.

One of the reasons I wanted to get Puppy Linux working was because I also have a 9 year old desktop PC that only has 64mb of RAM. I may decide to add more RAM, but if Puppy will run on it as it is, all the better! I'm not going to attempt that for at least a couple of weeks though. I suspect that if I had a newer computer, in the range of 2-5 years old, instead of a 10+ year old laptop, everything may have gone smoother. Some people install Linux and 'it just works', with a few tweaks here and there. I've certainly learned a lot, and I'm happy with my setup of a dual-boot of Fedora 7 and Puppy Linux.

One thing I noticed while visiting various websites, is that pictures and graphics seem to be sharper and crisper under Linux than they were in Windows(tm); I'm not sure why. I also noticed that some websites were un-readable, due to font issues. I did some research on that, and found some 'web core fonts' as well as some other fonts to install (in /usr/share/fonts); and during my several re-installations of F7, I always had a copy of those to put back on the system, so now everything looks good.

During the several weeks I was doing all of that, I also managed to listen to a couple of online radio programs about the new EFT 'open hand policy', and I'll do a post about that in the next few days or so.

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