Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gutsy Gibbon *and* What's Happened to Our Resolve?

I had a quiet weekend. The girls were gone to the coast for a bead retreat, leaving me and a near infinite number of cats in the house. After about a day they started getting frantic, since I'm not enough companionship for four of the furry little varmints.

I spent a large part of Saturday upgrading the operating system on three of our computers. Micro$oft has announced that they are "end-of-life"'ing Windows XP, and none of our computers are capable of running Vista: they have neither the memory nor the horsepower for this gargantuan slow OS.

Both Rachel and Clarkie have been running Ubuntu Feisty Fawn (7.04) on their IBM Thinkpads. (These machines are so old that even XP isn't an option, and Windows 2000 was end-of-life'd three years ago, to the great objection to many customers.) I'd been advised that Feisty Fawn is really hard on a laptop's hard disk (bad interleaving? My source wasn't clear), so I wanted to upgrade to Gutsy Gibbon (version 8.04. Where do they come up with these names? What's 9.x going to be? Heroic Horse? The mind boggles).

However, X Windows was also a bear on those machines as well. Clarkie's was the worst: it would appear to run for about five minutes, and then it would freeze. (In all fairness, it turns out this was a hardware bug on the graphics chip that only Linux exposed!) On both machines I had to install it without X windows and then make extremely arcane adjustments (read, software nerd magic) in order to make the graphics work.

I started with upgrading our newer desktop. I'd put OpenSuSE on it a few months ago, and it promptly ate its X-Windows configuration. (Yet another example of the above problems.) Since it still had an XP partition for people who were determined to use the desktop with its DVD burner, I left that as a project best saved for a quiet weekend.

Imagine my pleasure when Ubuntu "just worked". Oh, OK, I had to do it twice, since it (reasonably enough, in retrospect) declined to delete the failed SuSE partition without manual intervention. It even found and installed our two networked print servers without as much as a hiccup.

On to Clarkie's laptop. I wanted to get the worst out of the way, since I had such troubles with it before. It really was harder, since I had to start by backing up her email folder. She had 900 megabytes of email! Accck! She warned me before leaving for the beach that she likes to rummage through her wastebasket and examine deleted items. Sigh.

Anyway, so I used the non-graphic version of the installer, forced a clean install (I really didn't want to see what happened if I tried an upgrade), and clenched various fingers and sphincters when the computer finally rebooted at the end of the install. Imagine my pleasure and surprise when everything "just worked"! Even the wireless internet (which always required manual intervention on her laptop to work after you booted) went in relatively painlessly. Oh, the mail program had a severe bit of indigestion when I imported her old email, but it eventually "came out all right in the end." A little bit of magic ("acpi=force" in the vmlinux options to grub), and it even powers down correctly. That worked, briefly, under Feisty Fawn, but then--to my great annoyance--it autonomously decided (you think Clarkie would play with Linux boot options?) to stop working.

Rachel's was relatively simple. She'd already backed up her many gigabytes of Anime and other things to a shoebox drive, and her email was only 50 megabytes. Also, she's turned into an Ubuntu power user, so I didn't really sweat a lot of the personalization on the other end after the OS got rebuilt. I noticed that even pidgin (the instant message program) is a standard part of the Gutsy Gibbon build; I'd had to install that manually on Feisty Fawn.

I was pleased to discover that Gnome includes graphic support for NTP. No more worries about the computer clocks drifting away from reality. I pointed all of the OS's to a handful of time servers and called it good. Pretty cool!

Another nice touch are some additional login options. I set Clarkie's to automatically log in after ten seconds to her own user account. It turns out that she still has to enter a password; after I made that change it now challenges for a password in order to unlock the magic secret decoder ring for the home wireless network, but I guess that's fair that you have to enter a password sometime if you need access to a secret :-).

Gutsy Gibbon even set the graphics bells and whistles correctly. On the desktop (which is a pretty decent 1.3GHz P4), it enabled a moderate amount of animation in the GUI. It correctly characterized the graphics cards on the Thinkpads as being a short step up from stone knives and bearskins, and disabled it.

Overall I'm extremely pleased with the new Ubuntu. Whereas I would have given Feisty Fawn an overall C- (based on stability and usability), my tentative grade for Gutsy Gibbon is a C+ or possibly even a B-. Microsoft, watch out: not only is the price right (free), but it doesn't require the hardware equivalent of a Hummer H2 in order to run (though if you have one it would just scream with speed.) Finally, with the addition of OpenOffice and Firefox, you end up with a complete deck of cards (which is what Apple keeps bragging is so great about the Macintosh).

Begin soapbox (you didn't think I would stop without one of these, did you?) Have a great day!

I saw another article in the newspaper about people starting to carpool in the Portland area.

(Bill Maher's book looks like a lot of fun, by the way.)

I've heard that during World War II my grandparents faced gas rationing to the tune of 3.5 gallons per week of gasoline per car. (This was to conserve rubber and possibly refining capacity by the way, we weren't an oil importer then.)

Visualize, for a minute, how long 3.5 gallons per week of gasoline would last you, with your current driving habits. Umm, that's not rhetorical. One statistic says that the average American passenger vehicle (excluding buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles) consumed 541 gallons in 2005, or about 10.4 gallons per week.

What's happened to Americans? Every time you pay the enemies of civilization to put fuel in your car, you're paying for bullets to kill American soldiers.

Here's an oxymoron, a "support our troops" magnet on the back of a single-occupant passenger vehicle.

(I wish I could have found this image with a Hummer emblem or some such next to it on the back of a car.)

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