This week has seen my reintroduction to Linux. My previous incursion into such territory was having Mandrake installed on an old desktop, and it wasn't a wholly pleasant experience. Not wholly unpleasant, but not enough to convert me. The desktop went a couple of years ago to be replaced by a laptop, and I haven't seen fit to reinstall a Linux distro since. It was just a bit too much work, a little bit slow and clunky. But, in a fit of adventurism, assisted by the absence of wife and child, I dug out an Ubuntu live CD I downloaded months ago with good intentions, and decided to give it a whirl. Heretoforth springs my considered thoughts on the subject.
Ubuntu wants to project an image of being easy to use - "Ubuntu just works". No better test of such a thing than to get it installed. I have a certain fascination for the concept of the live CD, which will let your average Joe Punter try out a distro without having to install anything. If only more software would let you do that before it stamps it's size 9's all over your lovingly ordered hard disk and sticks it's chocolate covered fingers in your registry. So you try the live CD, and when you've tried it, and liked it (hopefully), you hit the button that says "Install" and away you go. Alarmingly, this is exactly what I did with Ubuntu, and it really just worked. Admittedly repartioning your disks isn't something your gran would want to do, but the tools were there to do the job without fuss for anyone of reasonably sound mind. Also admittedly, I was rather hoping it would just work, because being a cowboy I didn't bother with the tiresome business of backing up my data. I like that little frisson when the progress bar stalls and the screen blinks - it's sky-diving for nerds. End result, 20 minutes later, the machine reboots, Grub pops up, and we're off. Handshakes and whiskies all round.
The Ubuntu desktop is instantly familiar if you've ever been near a Linux distro before. On the downside, it's in 1024x768, which may as well be 320x200 for all I'm concerned. I like dinky. My laptop can manage 1280x800, and damn it that's what I want. But I can forgive Ubuntu for not knowing that, and there's a handy Screen and Graphics item in the System menu, so it's a quick change. Oh, apart from it's not - there's no option for 1280x800. Suddenly memories of the same thing on Mandrake come flooding back, and my enthusiasm for Linux is slightly dimmed. It's slightly tempting to say that if Linux is to make it as a mainstream desktop OS, this sort of thing has to work out the box. But who are we kidding? The whole point of Linux is that it isn't a mainstream desktop OS, it's an OS for nerds. If your gran started using Debian, it would kind of defy the point.
So let's just admit that here - you use Linux because it's not straightforward. When you see that your choice of resolution isn't in the list, a small trickle of excitement ensues. And when you finally trawl Google and get to type
sudo dpkgs-reconfigure -phigh xserver-xorgand press Enter to accept the defaults on lots of obscure options, you are a l33t h4x0r. Of course, this all has it's limits. No-one wants to spend 5 hours on this stuff. That's reserved for the wireless card, and is, of course, a whole other story...
(to be continued...)