More notes on Linux

I have been goofing around with Linux on the desktop for a few weeks now. The prime reason is to build a media server for Plex, but there are a few other projects that it will get leveraged for, including hacking around with my Mojo board.

the good

Installation – it was a bit convoluted to initially install. The PC I set it up on was old enough that it didn’t support booting from a USB stick, so I had to dig out a DVD burner to burn a boot DVD.

Once I got it in the drive, and the system booted, it was smooth sailing. While the system was a bit unconventional (I originally built it to be a VMWare Workstation testing platform) and had some weird hardware, including a PCI express wifi card, all the hardware was found and the proper drivers were installed.

Part of this was due to it being based on a solid Asus motherboard, my go-to for builds, and the i7-920 CPU is still pretty snappy (quad core, 8 threads), and 6 GB ram (hey, don’t give me grief, as memory was a lot more expensive in 2009 when I built it). The Intel SSD boot drive, an 80GB unit was ample to hold the OS, and the two 1TB spinning rust drives (7200 Seagate Barracuda’s)

The ATI Radeon board is supported, and fairly well. Really no problems at all.

The Interface – My prior experience was circa 2012, and then, while the UI was usable, it felt “clunky”. While I don’t know the intricacies of the display manager(s), I can relate that it has gotten a lot better in 5+ years.

One thing, as a Mac person, that I noticed is that a lot of the bits feel “Mac-like”. The right click menus are familiar, the file manager is familiar, the “dock” is similar.

But, if you are a Windows person, it is also familiar. The task bar is a reasonable facsimile of the Windows 7 setup.

I also recall having to be very adept at using the apt program to find packages and install them. While the apt program is pretty good at managing the dependencies, and also for doing upgrades. Now there is an ubuntu “app store” like program. Find something you like, and just click “install” and it is magically installed.

SNAP packages, are sandboxed applications. The first one I installed was a Markdown editor. Easy-peasy. Analogous to the new Apple world where applications are sandboxed, with private libraries.

All in all, it is very usable, and it doesn’t get in the way. Very functional, and accommodating.

note: this is all in reference to ubuntu 16.04 LTS

The Bits – I seemed to recall in the past the need to have some magical incantations to mount things like USB keys, or external drives. Now you just plug them in, and they magically are mounted in the /media/$USER/ directory, navigable in the file browser. In short, it “just works”.

Upgrading is automatic, or at least as automatic as on my Mac or my PC (in fact it is better than my ork PC where I have to abide by the SCCM).

Of course, you can still drop to a terminal shell, and use the apt-get command to do most of the grubby parts.

I have also installed a couple of other packages, where I had to add lists to the apt repository. Not trivial, but quite workable.

I had never used rsync before, but as I am ripping a butt-load of DVD’s for my Plex server, it is a handy tool to move and synchronize files. I will be using this more me thinks.

I am far from a CLI expert, but I can usually figure out how to get the basic things done. Fortunately, stack exchange, and other sources are a google search away, so I can get things done. But I am beginning to build a file of useful commands, something that I haven’t done before. Part of the reason I am a spastic nerfball on the command line is that I don’t live in it every day. I will never be a guru. And that is OK.

I was pleasantly surprised that there is an official Spotify app. I was expecting to have to use the web player, but the option to install the player was offered, and I jumped on it. Works great.

1Password has a beta plugin that links to their online repository of my credentials. It works – mostly – as long as there aren’t hinky things with the login credentials.

Thunderbird is the installed email program. It works, but it isn’t my favorite. It’s Google integration is good, but it fails to work with the Yubi key. Had to fall back to the authenticator app on my phone. Workable, but annoying.

The Bad

The power management – uh, how to put this – sucks. Sure, it will shut off the monitor on a timer, and the like, but suspect/wake? Yeah, that kinda works, but every 3rd or so suspend, it comes back, but with borked network settings. It loses the ipv4 information, and the ipv6 is gibberish. Unreachable, non ping-able, and internet access was sketchy. I’m sure there was some magic I could have done to bring it back, but in the end I had to reboot.

It crashed a couple of times. The message on the screen seemed to imply that it was the ATI radion drivers. Once it lost the two extra disks. Again, a reboot brought them back to life.

I am pretty sure that part of this is the old hardware that has been idle since at least 2012.

I will still mention how much I dislike Open Office. I know a lot of people love it, but for me, it is just meh.

I am pretty surprised that Google doesn’t have a “Drive” (or sync) app for Linux. Alas, Dropbox is fully supported, and behaves as expected. There are some options for Google Drive synchronization, but they are clumsy, or cost money (cough). Knowing that one of the supported options for Google employees is a laptop running Linux, this is disappointing. Perhaps they all just use the web interface and GoogleDocs.

Summary

It is mostly a viable desktop OS. Lots of open source software you can install. Maintaining the system has become easier. There are some wrinkles. Can you use ubuntu without ever touching a terminal? Perhaps. But if you want to really use it fully, you need to roll up the sleeves and dive in.

Not quite as polished as the Mac, not as slick as Windows 10, but quite decent.

I did boot up the 17.10 that is in testing, and the new interface is slick. But it is not ready for primetime yet.

While I doubt that 2018 will be the year of Linux on the desktop, it is getting close(r).

%d bloggers like this: