If there’s one thing I read a lot in technology news, it’s that the year of Linux is finally upon us. We’ll all be using it on our desktops and laptops within the week, I’m sure.
I read this article this morning, about how much time the writer saved by ignoring a Windows XP problem, and installing Linux on his wife’s laptop instead. Curiously, he chooses to install an old version of Ubuntu, rather than the current version. I’m not sure why. If now is the time to try out Linux again, why not pick the latest version?
Spurred on by this anyway, I downloaded the latest version of Ubuntu (11.04), burnt a CD, and thought I’d run it on my laptop.
I tried this a few years back on the same machine, and found that Ubuntu didn’t support my laptop’s trackpad. A search on forums discovered this was a common problem, and the solution was too complicated for me to bother with, so I forgot all about it.
Today, I burnt the disc, inserted into my laptop, and.. still waiting.. still waiting. It’s been a long time since I ran a Linux live disc, but I don’t remember it taking this long. It loaded a ‘Welcome’ screen which asked me to pick a language, and say whether I wanted to install it or run it from the disc. I picked to run from disc. My trackpad is working!
Eventually it booted into a usable desktop, but they’ve unfortunately taken something from Windows here. That is, the desktop has loaded, but there’s still more stuff loading both visually and audibly. Can I use it at this point or not?
The WiFi is working, it correctly found several wireless networks (including mine), and I’ve got sound. Good times.
I tried to load an audio player called Banshee, and at this point the entire thing froze up. I couldn’t click anywhere, the keyboard wasn’t responding, so I did a hard shutdown.
Restarted, again with the live disc in it. Got as far as the ‘Welcome’ screen, picked a language, clicked to run it from the disc, and…. it’s stopped. It hasn’t done a thing in 10 minutes. I’ve just got a kind-of spinning hourglass.
I can still use the mouse though! There’s an option to restart in the top corner. I’ll pick that.
It takes me back to an ugly command prompt, with a page of dialog about what services it is stopping/starting. The last one says “Stopping bluetooth” (my laptop doesn’t have bluetooth), and it then ejected the CD. It has neither shut down, nor restarted. Another manual switch-off then?
Third time lucky?
I’ve put the disc back in, switched it back on. Let’s see. I’m past the welcome screen. I’ve got a desktop. Looks-wise, it’s a massive improvement on the last time I tried Linux. It’s no longer a horrible brown colour, for a start.
The speaker, and WiFi icons on the new version are so similar to Mac OS X, that one is probably suing the other for copyright infringement. There’s a visual “dock” type system similar to a Mac, while also being different. Nice though.
I open LibreOffice Writer (equivalent of Word/OpenOffice Writer). It opens, slowly. Very slowly. Then it closes again, inexplicably.
I connect it to my wireless network. Seems pretty straightforward. I open Firefox. Waiting. Waiting. I don’t think this is going to work. I know this is running from a CD, but even still – this is very slow.
While it’s doing that, thought I’d do a print screen, for this blog post. It comes up with a box in the centre asking me where I want to save this screenshot, but in doing so, I’ve seemingly lost the dock of icons, and the menu bar at the top.
At this point, it’s frozen up again (I got the two photos above, from Google Images). Mouse/keyboard no longer responsive. I push the power button once. I get the mouse back, and a menu asking me if I want to shut down or restart. Then the menu disappears. Then it comes back. Then disappears. Back, disappears, back, disappears. If I’m quick enough, maybe I can click one of these buttons before it goes again. This time it doesn’t come back. I graze the touchpad to see if I can move the mouse, something flashes, the screen goes blank, then back to the ugly prompt of closing services. Eventually I get this message, which I take a photo of.
This is easily the worst result of a Linux live disc, ever. I’ve tried in the past on a variety of machines, various Debian-based things, Mint, DSL, Ubuntu/Kubuntu, Mandrake/Mandriva, and a few other ones. They all worked better than this.
The laptop is a Celeron-M processor’d HP 510, and it’s a few years old, but according to Ubuntu’s documentation, the “recommended” ram is only 512mb, which this laptop has, and I’m a long way above the minimum. They recommend a P4 1ghz minimum. This is one of the later mobile Celerons (1.5ghz), so I think that should be OK.
In the same way that the author of that original article didn’t bother to try and troubleshoot his wife’s Windows XP problem, I don’t think I’ll bother trying to troubleshoot this Linux one.
I’m not slamming Linux entirely. It’s used on a lot of mobile devices, and set-top boxes, etc. It probably powers the server this blog is hosted on. I’m just not sure that it’s ready for mass market home users on PCs/laptops. Maybe it never will be.