Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review of Ubuntu 9.04 on a low resource system

The test system is an antique HP Vectra running a PII-450 with only 256MB of physical system memory. The hard drive is a little more modern 7200rpm 40GB drive.

To be honest, Ubuntu blew it. What sounded like a great new release has left me scratching my head. To start with, I new that Ubuntu would have a lot of problems getting into the Live CD mode. Thats a given considering the severly low memory. I began the installation by choosing the Install Ubuntu option. I turned off all of the f6 options. Selected f4 and chose OEM Install. While the installer was booting, I noticed that yet again Ubuntu has chosen to go with a heavily memory intensive Xorg + installer configuration. I haven't understood this for a while, as Ubuntu is based on Debian Linux. Debian developed a very elegant graphical installer based on gtk-directfb. No xserver! Debian graphical installer runs very well on low resource systems. Why oh why won't the Ubuntu devs wake up to a better way of life. The work has been done for them!

Installation was a bit unresponsive on this system. But I got through it slowly. Remove the cd and reboot. Everything is going great, got through the core boot process very quickly, I'm impressed. But Xorg didn't want to start. After Xorg restarted it's self three times Ubuntu handed me a screen saying that it was running in a low video mode. Ok, no biggie, just go on and start. So I clicked OK. Then I am handed a screen asking me what I want to do about it. So with a very poorly implemented series of troubleshooting screens and about 20 minutes I am dumped out on the command line. Come on, every major distro I have installed on this system has been able to detect this nearly 10 year old video crad. The card is a Matrox MGA G200.

So, now I'm at the command line. Try to run a few major text editors, the only thing I could find was Vi. Thats not good. Many noob's can't even figure out how to exit Vi, much less get a file open with it. Why not something clean like MCEdit or ee? So I open the xorg.conf thinking surely it's just a lil tweak and we will be rolling - then I can file a bug report and be on my way. Xorg.conf was an empty shell. All of the sections were there, but they were empty. What??? Do I have to write this thing from scratch?

I finally found a way to get into a desktop and ran dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg. Only changes it made were to the keyboard setup. Checked out the xorg.conf again. Now the keyboard setup is fleshed out but still no real setting in the device section. I added a line specifying the vesa driver instead of mga. Reboot and viola, boot's up now. This whole mga thing is gonna haunt me tho.

Nice log in screen. I run an old RealTek rtl8185 wireless network card in this test machine. Linux has always had issues with this card, it's a 50/50 shot of the native rtl8180 driver locking up the system. Thats the only thing I have ever seen that could repeatedly lock up a Linux box. During initial installation the rtl8185 did lock up Ubuntu. So on first boot I blacklisted the rtl8180 module and shutdown the system. Reinstall the card and turn it back on. Ndiswrapper has always been able to run the WinXP driver for this card. So the system is rebooted. I copied the relative windows driver files into my home directory. I looked around for maybe ten minutes trying to find some gui that could easily handle installing the ndis drivers for my rtl8185. No luck, so I drop to the command line to run 'sudo ndiswrapper -i net8185.inf'. program not installed - run apt-get install ndiswrapper-common to install it.

Okay, I give up. Ubuntu - I haven't worked this hard to get one Linux box up and running since RedHat 4.01. You guys need to download VectorLinux 6.0 Gold Standard and find out what a real Linux looks like.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Stallman is an Extremist

I have a few word to say in response to the zdnet article 'Apache or GPL?' mikefarinha had posted a comment regarding Richard Stallman in which he said "I'm sorry but the GPL crowd bastardizes the word freedom how they use it." mikefarinha had quoted several paragraphs written and spoken by Stallman.


agreed, stallman is an extremist...
but if you own a dell laptop, all of your drivers and diagnostic utilities were shipped in a fat16 partition that boots FreeDos. freedos is the answer to those situations where you have to have an os, just not one that take 2.5 gig of space. freedos is a gpl project. many many companies use it for boot utilities such as memory checkers, hard drive diagnostics, flashing your bios. there's a hundred more that i fail to remember.

now, had the freedos project not been started, those tools may not be so easy to use, after all, MS discontinued MS Dos. now, whether or not development continues past FreeDos 1.0, it will be available forever. it's open source. no one in particular owns it. use it, modify it, donate to the project if you want development to continue. whether it does or not tho, freedos will still be available for those small projects that need an os, just not the biggest most powerful thing available.

likewise, even if microsoft and apple go belly up (and i hope they never do). these wonderful machines that we have laying around will still have an operating system to run them. if world war 3 were to happen tomorrow and every company on this planet were to be destroyed, somewhere there will survive a copy of linux and it's source code. we will survive. we will rebuild, we will not have to hack something together from scratch.

it's okay if you prefer closed source software. it's okay if you use code from my own little fserve project and don't donate money to me. i had fun putting it together. i learned quite a bit doing it. it looks good on a resume. it's okay. we can all be friends. i like open source for the development cycle. it's kinda like the weather in arkansas, if you don't like it... wait five minutes, it'll change.

i like open source because if it doesn't work, i might just learn something trying to make it work. i like it because when i needed an fserve, the one i found didn't quite do what i needed... so i made it do what i needed. now i may be the team lead on a project of one, but at least i didn't have to write it from scratch.

stallman is crazy, but crazy makes headlines. that, i think, is what he wants to do. it gets us attention. thats okay. i personally don't care for gpl. i think it is too restrictive. i write code and post it to the public under a bsdish license because i want it to be there the next time i need it. my fserve still uses a lot of the original code that was released gpl, so i have to release my changes under the gpl. thats okay.

i released a gdm theme under gpl, because the theme i based it on was gpl. last time i lost a hard drive, i was able to find my theme on the internet and download it. so that okay.

so i guess gpl is okay, some are more diehard than i am. but thats okay, i use it because i don't want to have to write the same code all over again. it's like reinventing the wheel. by the way, can you imagine where linux could go if both microsoft and apple would lay down their battle-axes and cooperate?

There were a couple of very inteligent responses to my posting, you can follow them here. Once your done with that comment, just scroll down to find a few other intelligent responses.

A lil upset with

I do a lot of commenting on Recently, I've been having trouble finding some of my comments, I like to check back to see if anyone has responded to them. Today I posted three comments to this zdnet article. I checked back after work, all three of my comments had been removed! Often my comments are well thought out and multiple paragraphs (okay, many times they are longer than the article they are in response to). Today, not so much.

The article in question, in case you didn't click thru and read it, is about how Adrian Kingsley-Hughes squeezed the new Windows 7 release candidate onto a netbook. I mentioned in my first comment, responding to another comment about wiping the netbook and installing Ubuntu, simply stated I would wipe Ubuntu and install a very optimized copy of VectorLinux. Another comment I posted said something about purchasing a $300 Win7 site license for a $300 netbook, might as well just buy a $600 laptop with Win7 preinstalled. My third comment was a link to a $400 laptop from Everex running gOS.

I spent about 20 minutes looking through my extensive list of bookmarks to find that link. I still don't understand the point in removing it. Adrian Kingsley-Hughes had written a very poor article, really more of a long comment, about installing a very expensive Operating System onto a very cheap netbook. Total cost being about the same as similar laptop hardware. I was simply pointing out how rediculus the idea was. Why would you want to even consider a full blown Windows OS on an 8 inch screen. We're talking about trying to do real computing on a device about the side and shape of a portable dvd system.

Come on, it's ridiculous. Only Adrian would even consider it. I would consider VectorLinux, simply because it's optimized for just such low end hardware. VectorLinux is built from the ground up to run in less than 256MB of ram on processors clocking in under 1GHz. Total install is less than 2GB. I am running VectorLinux on two different HP Vectra's both clocking in at 450MHz with only 256MB physical RAM. Vector runs as well on these machines as Windows Vista runs on a 2GHz system with 2GB physical RAM. Granted Microsoft has put Win7 on a serious diet. System requirements are not that much higher than good old WinXP. Well, the real unpublished requirements anyway.

All that is to say, I believe I made reasonable comments to the story and other responders. Apparently, zdnet disagreed. There was no sense removing my comments. That served no purpose, except to hush up the fact that there is a Linux Distro (VectorLinux) that makes Windows look like the over fed pig that it is. Or the fact that Adrian is more of a propagandist than a journalist.

That's my two cents.