Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Linux Year in Review

I haven't chronicled my Linux adventures since attempting to upgrade to Debian testing back in January. I depend on my blog to keep track of my Linux trials and tribulations in case I have to figure out later how I fixed (or messed up) some recurring problem. In January the update path from Debian Lenny to Debian Squeeze just wouldn't work on my hardware. After a couple of days of trying, I installed the latest Kubuntu and called it "good enough for now."

As spring progressed, I had continuing "challenges" using Kubuntu 9.10. Desktop compositing in KDE didn't work at first, then I got it going, then it gave up again. OpenOffice crashed consistently until I replaced the package openoffice.org-kde with openoffice.org-gtk.

The Ubuntu update process seemed too "pushy," with less user control than I was used to. As it updated Xorg and drivers, I began to have the sorts of problems with Kubuntu that had snagged the Debian stable-to-testing update process. Eventually, the update process removed the sound card driver and replaced it with one that didn't work at all. So I had flaky video, and no sound at all.

I tried a clean install of the next Kubuntu version, 10, but I still had no sound and video problems. By this time, I was really sick of KDE 4.4. The eye-candy was cute, but it really didn't add anything to my work process--in fact, it was mostly a distraction from productive work. Clearly, it was time for another shot at Debian testing. This time, the netinstall disk worked without a hitch, and I had Squeeze up and running in short order.

I didn't even bother to install KDE--I've just used Gnome, the Debian default desktop. I depend on several KDE-based programs, but I installed them with all the KDE libraries and programs they needed, and they have worked just fine.

This summer, I finally broke down and bought a laptop to use at my collection of part-time jobs. I teach college classes on Microsoft Office and Windows, and it became more and more burdensome without regular access to a Windows box. I originally planned to buy the Windows OS and make my desktop a dual boot machine, but that was just about as expensive as buying a laptop with Windows 7 already installed.

Turns out I don't hate Windows 7 nearly as much as XP or Vista (although I don't like it as well as 3.1, which let me use DOS whenever I got frustrated). The cherry on top was setting up my laptop to dual boot with Linux and Windows 7. I followed a tutorial from an Ubuntu group for setting up a dual boot. It was a tutorial for dummies in that it didn't explain what the various steps were doing, it just said "Do this. Now, do that." It worked and it didn't hurt my head, but now I wish I'd understood what I was doing.

Of course, I installed Debian on the laptop, not Ubuntu. (I don't follow instructions, even for dummies.) The only hitch I encountered was that after I ran an update on Windows 7, the boot loader was messed up. I was able to fix it by running the Debian netinstall disk I'd made, using "rescue mode." I reinstalled grub (the boot loader), and ran the command "grub-update."

It's probably lucky for me that I had that problem then, because this week, after running Debian testing updates on my desktop, I got a kernel panic upon rebooting. I reinstalled grub (the new, improved version, evidently), ran grub-update, and, after about 4 reboot attempts, it's back in business. I'm not sure why I had to reboot so many times before it worked, but that's what happened with the laptop, too.

Now I have a laptop, a working Windows machine, and no more classes to teach. I hope I can scare something up before my Windows OS and software are obsolete.

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