Some of you will recall, possibly even care, that one of my recent pass times has been installing and trying out different flavours of the operating system Linux.
It is all Steve's fault.
I work with him. He has a passion for unix and linux that I respect and even admire. I have been, well, not emulating it, but trying to understand it.
My first real exposure to linux was on my netbook computer, which I'm using to write this here blog post. It came with a variant of linux called Xandros, and it's a piece of excrement. It hasn't been updated in years. Asus contracted Xandros to put a custom variant of their linux on their eee line of netbooks in 2007, but nothing has been done to update it. Some new updates on default apps, but no new kernel or anything like that. Sucks.
But, it works. The key combo to toggle wireless on and off works fine. You can update the Firefox enough to use add ons like Xmarks. It is just bland and very difficult to update and customize in any meaningful way. If you want to add gnumeric or abiword or whatever, you can, but creating a launcher icon and adding it to the other desktop icons is an exercise in frustration. I once spent 90 minutes one Sunday morning trying to get dropbox working. I got the app to show up in my desktop tray, but that's about it. Forget it starting on boot up.
Ubuntu has been so much easier. It taxes the limited resources that the netbook has, but it flies on my older desktop. I even got lubuntu, and lightweight ubuntu derivative, working on that old toshiba laptop I bought last month. Much more stable than the version of linux I first tried on that laptop.
Which brings me to puppy linux.
There is a strange cult around puppy linux. I began to fall sway to its alleged charms until I realized it is too unstable an operating system to be really useful.
Let me explain.
Puppy Linux is a variant of linux designed to run on really old computers. Whereas Ubuntu and its kinfolk will barely fit, compressed, on a single cd (698 megabytes or so), Puppy will only occupy about 100 megabytes. Puppeee, made for the Asus eee series, takes up more, a whopping 128 megabytes on a cd or usb stick. For that you get a word processor, a spreadsheet program, tons o'utilities, a few games, and even your choice of browser.
There's a lot to like about Puppy, or at least to try to like.
But, the most recent version of Puppy, based upon Ubuntu 10.04 (nicknamed Lucid Lynx) isn't very good. It's nicknamed Lucid Puppy, or LUPU for short. It takes up 128 megs of space. But, my frig, you have to partition even a small hard drive. You have to install a bootloader like grub and modify the default code it produces just to get the damned thing to boot on your computer. And, it crashes more than Lindsay Lohan on her birthday.
I managed to connect to the web on that computer using lupu. Even got xmarks up and running. But surfing was no fun. The browser would inexplicably crash on me. Sometimes, the computer would freeze, and I'd have to turn the computer off.
Which would corrupt what's called the Puppy save file. Ah, yes. Don't forget about that. It only holds all the settings you have carefully set up as well as the apps you might have downloaded and installed. It's a vital file, but it's more prone to corruption than any politician I can think of.
The last time it happened was 2 weeks ago, when I was at the cottage for a few days. I had it unplugged and the battery died and the computer with it. I couldn't fire up Puppy any more, not without lots of work, which I spent hours doing. I managed to get it to the point where the computer would boot into lupu again, but with some errors I could never quite figure out.
There had to be a better way.
Xubuntu is allegedly a lightweight version of ubuntu, but the xubuntu cd I offered to the computer was unacceptable to it.
Then, I read about lubuntu, and my heart sang and even skipped a beat. I felt like a schoolboy. It is designed to run on much older computers. The system requirements are perhaps a bit less modest than Puppy's, but I wanted to try it out.
I installed it last weekend, and it runs quite well. Got Firefox and xmarks working. Youtube videos run after a fashion, but it's all I can expect. Most websites load and run acceptably. This old computer will live out its last days at my mother's place, in my old bedroom, and be mostly used for transcribing blog interviews. May jump on the net with it from time to time.
What I went through is something that the average person would never have done. The average person would have thrown that computer away a long time ago, or spent more time than I did cursing the gods for creating such a crappy operating system. I'm not ready to do that, but I do wonder what it is about puppy linux that inspires such passion in its devotees. I just don't get it. At best, it's not ready for prime time. At worst, people are too forgiving of its eccentricities and weaknesses. I'm not one of them.
You know how I feel about cats. I love them. You know how I feel about dogs. I'm ambivalent about them. But, I hate puppies, or rather, Puppy Linux.
I come by it honestly.