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Reged: 11/24/03
Posts: 246
Loc: N. Virginia
Linux Long-term Report
      11/26/07 05:08 AM

Well, it has been seven months since building my dream Linux system. Time to report on how things are going. Keep in mind that I'm using Kubuntu Linux, currently version 7.10 with KDE 3.5.7 desktop.

On the hardware front, everything continues to work great. The Intel Dual Core E6600 2.4 GHz CPU runs flawlessly at 3.125 GHz and doesn't get very warm with the Zalman 9700 fan running. All attempts to get the 800 MHz DDR2 SDRAM to run faster than about 870 MHz failed miserably. Increasing the voltage didn't help much. Not that the system lags at all--in fact it flies. The EVGA GeForce NVidia 8800GTS provides snappy 3D effects in Linux, and NVidia continues to provide great support for the Linux drivers.

In a new development, my seven-year-old Trinitron monitor finally started dying. Based on my experience with my excellent Samsung LCD HDTV, I opted for a Samsung SyncMaster 940BX. What a great monitor! No bad pixels and a super display that takes almost no room on my desk. Samsung continues to make the best LCD screens on the market.

Working daily with an operating system over a period of time is a lot like being married--all the advertising hype eventually wears off to show the reality hiding underneath. So given that, does Tanker Bob think that Linux is truly ready for prime time?

No. And believe me, that answer would have surprised me a year ago. However, long-term exposure reveals the warts behind the hype. I believe that Linux is best suited for geeks for several reasons.

Operating System
First, the hard-working Linux kernel team seems to have great difficulty maintaining consistency in the operating system core. For example, the USB subsystem for autoloading and recognizing USB devices in the first version (October 2006) that I used worked fine. The USB subsystem was broken in the next release in April 2007 when the kernel team tried to institute an autosuspend capability for laptops. Many people had issues, especially with scanners, but all that was supposed to be fixed in the October 2007 release. Guess again. The USB subsystem is even worse in this latest release, generally refusing to autoload USB Flash sticks, external hard drives, PDAs, etc. While there are workarounds for some devices, there are not for others. The situation continues to deteriorate to the point of limiting the operating system's usefulness if you use USB memory devices a lot. Although the bug was reported immediately, over a month later it still has not been assigned to a programmer to fix. That's inexcusable.

Second, the GRand Unified Bootloader (GRUB) is easily confused on systems with combinations of Linux and Windows formatted disks with multiple partitions. When this happens, the user must manually edit the GRUB boot menu to fix it to match the BIOS loading order of the disks. Worse, to even get the system to boot when GRUB gets is wrong, you need to boot a CD or floppy with Super Grub Disk loaded. Sound like a bear? It is, even for experienced users. An average user doesn't stand much of a chance. This is one of the most basic operating system functions. It's well past time for the Linux team to get this right.

Although Linux's isolation of user access to the system memory and files should protect your system against rogue applications, I've had a common KDE utility completely trash the root partition. I had to format that partition and completely reload the system to recover. Being smart, however, I my /home directory with all my data and most setup files on a separate partition, so I didn't lose anything important. To be fair, I had my initial WinXP install eat itself three times when XP was first released.

Compiz-Fusion presents quite a challenge. In my opinion, it produces superior visual effects to Vista and there are a lot of themes available, but it's a pain to use. The big reason is that is forgets some of its settings every time you restart the system. Which ones? It seems pretty random. It also doesn't play nice with the multiple desktops in KDE. You can get them to work, but it takes a non-sensical setup combination in the basic desktop and Compiz options. Oh, and you also have to execute a command to reload the system panel every time after loading Compiz.

The good news is that both the Gnome and KDE desktops have some eye candy built in now. The transparency in KDE 3.5.7 is still beta quality, and it shows. But the effects are nice in general.

The Linux software RAID system works extremely well. Setting it up requires using the installation partition editor on the alternate install CD, but that proved faily simple following the directions here. I finally have my two 320GB SATA drives running in a RAID1 configuration. The key was NOT using the built-in NVidia FakeRAID setup in the motherboard chipset.

The only Linux office suite roughly equivalent to MS Office under Windows remains buggy when using Compiz-Fusion. Although the word processor does pretty well that way, the other elements of the suite simply don't work at all with the Compiz-Fusion video system. If you use Compiz, and that's one of the big reasons to put a high-powered video card in a Linux system, you need to create a set of scripts and keep them handy to turn it on and off properly. I never encountered anything like that in Windows, and the average user won't (and shouldn't) tolerate it.

You're probably getting the idea that a significant amount of work is necessary after each system restart. The good news is that Linux rarely needs resetting. You can reload the video subsystem (called the XServer) without restarting, and that takes care of most situations. My system routinely goes weeks without restarting, and I have gone several months running 24/7.

What about the rest of the Linux software universe? Great. The multimedia, Internet, and general utilities are all excellent. The suite does everything that the average user would do in MS Office, problems with Compiz-Fusion aside. k3b is an outstanding product for working with CDs and DVDs. MPlayer with the SMPlayer KDE front end plays everything well when provided with the correct codecs. The GIMP image editor provides equally capable support for manipulating images. The Kate text editor makes Windows Notepad look like a child wrote it. In fact, I'm writing this post in Kate. I have yet to be disappointed at the offerings under Linux, and the support is better than most commercial products. And the best part? They are all FREE!

So what do I think about Linux? I still love Kubuntu and will not go back to Windows. But I'm not an average user and there have been times when I've really struggled, especially with GRUB.

If you have a simple system with only one or two hard disks and don't use the fancy eye candy of Compiz-Fusion, then Linux will probably work fine for you. So will Windows, except that Linux and all common applications are free and the security is significantly better. The only commercial program I have on my Linux system is VMWorkstation so that I can run WinXP in a virtual machine for Logos System 3, Quicken, and TurboTax, the only Windows programs that I use anymore. Everything else is FREE and high quality.

I'm fully committed to Linux, and Kubuntu in particular, and am not looking back. However, if you want to follow, know what you're getting into. Unless you stay on the main roads, there be lion, tigers, and bears out there. Probably no more than Vista, but that won't make you feel better when one gets you.

Tanker Bob
Tanker Bob's Handheld Computing Page
Reviewer at MobileTechReview

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