January 27th, 2005


Trying out Linux distributions...

Migrating my email and other data to another system has made it possible to experiment freely with different Linux distributions.

I was perturbed with FC3... but now that I've seen the same phenomenon (gnome-cd recognizing the CD but not playing more than about one second of any track) on another distro, I can't blame Red Hat any more. Looks like it's a GNOME thing.

Then again, even though there's now apt-get and synaptic for RPM-based distributions, I have to say that a bunch of RPM operations are dog slow.

Ubuntu's Hoary Hedgehog is still in beta... very nice and pretty darned solid, but some sound problems. (I couldn't get any sound from anything but lbreakout2; if I'd messed up the sound card configuration, why would one program be able to make noises?) Stick with Warty Warthog for now, and you'll have a very nice Debian-based distribution.

I'm typing this on the computer now after having installed Vida Linux 1.1, an interesting combination of Gentoo with the anaconda graphical installer and with a program (porthole) that is to Gentoo's portage what synaptic is to apt-get, almost. (porthole only lets you emerge one thing at a time, modulo dependencies being pulled in.) $30 gets you a full install CD; for free you can download a CD that installs a relatively bare bones but still quite usable system, and then you can emerge all the stuff that didn't come with the CD anyway. (Time for me to finally get around to the CPU upgrade, so I can speed the emerges of some of the big things. An Athlon XP 1500+ took around a day to emerge KDE, so goodness knows how long an 800 MHz Duron will take... though actually, Gentoo and hence Vida Linux supports emerging binary packages, letting you trade some control for what can be significant compile times.) If you take the download route, I hope you'll send them some $$$ anyway; it's a nice distro that combines the flexibility of Gentoo with the ease of installation of Fedora et al.

Vida Linux is looking pretty darned impressive. There are still a few rough edges, though: I think I had the on-mobo sound enabled as well as the sound card in place, and it took some looking around and configuring to get set up to use the sound card. (I still have to go edit preferences on the mixer programs; they still label themselves as messing with the on-mobo sound hardware!) The thank-you message displayed during installation needs a little grammar correction, but more importantly, the progress indicators are a little wonky. The global progress indicator maxes out way too early, making one think that it has hung when it is really emerging right along. (ctrl-alt-f5 shows the progress in a textual fashion; I think ctrl-alt-f1 or f2 takes you back to the graphical progress screen once you've reassured yourself.)

Vida Linux sets up with GNOME by default (a version which shares the gnome-cd problem of FC3), and, provoked by the Mad Penguin review, I emerged gdesklets and StarterBar, and now my system's eye candy rivals that of Mac users. :)

Do I have a preference? Well... I'd really prefer that gnome-cd get fixed. Aside from that, they're all good, though if you have an older, slower computer, I would lean away from the source-based distros, and make a point of grabbing a small, less resource-hungry window manager like fluxbox, icewm, or xfce4, and Vida effectively gives you Gentoo with minimal hassle. (That said, the Gentoo installation instructions are quite thorough and straightforward, and Gentoo installs have always gone smoothly for me.)
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