From famine to feast…

[* If you don’t know who or what these are, check the Glossary page]

RIP Kubuntu

To famine!…I left the title I started this post with (From famine to feast…) because it illustrates how frustrated we are trying to find a Linux distribution that works with our old hardware.  I thought I was going to tell you how we went from no satisfactory Linux distribution to having two that were performing excellently. Two minutes after I wrote that title, I broke Kubuntu. That’s the second time.

The first time we broke Kubuntu was when RoboFrog first installed it. The installation was no problem, but the software updater froze while updating the system. It reached 48% and just stopped. HE* waited for 20 minutes before taking any action, then forced a reboot. HE told me before HE did it that it probably wasn’t going to be a good thing. HE was right. The system no longer booted.

We knew that interrupting a software update wasn’t a good thing, so we chalked that one up to our own stupidity. RoboFrog reinstalled Kubuntu and used command-line tools to update the system. Everything went perfectly. Kubuntu was functioning extremely well. The system was beautiful. We used it for six days…before I broke it.

You see, I’m the crash-dummy here on the LilyPad.  The-Frog is our fixer…I’m the breaker. I really have a talent for it. I can break almost anything. Luckily, HE can fix almost anything. It’s a great partnership, a yen/yang sort of thing.

How did I break Kubuntu? I went into System Settings->Input devices, selected Apple Aluminum Keyboard, and rebooted. On reboot, KDE slowed to a crawl. I tried to change the keyboard setting back. I clicked on the ‘K’ application menu and waited. It took more than 20 seconds for the application menu to appear. Wow! I selected the System Settings application, got the bouncing cursor that tells me that the application is loading, the normal cursor returned…and nothing. I tried that a couple of times with the same result. Rebooted…same result. That’s when HE stepped in an took Whitestar* away from me. HE already had the Xubuntu disk in hand and before I could say boo, Kubuntu was gone.

I told you last time that I figured out that HE has a thing for Xubuntu. I think HE was just waiting for an excuse.

This is all happening in real-time. HE’s already loaded Xubuntu onto Whitestar and updated it. The updater worked brilliantly. RoboFrog changed a few system settings that I’ll tell you about next time, turned to me and said, “Now let’s see if I can break it.”

“Break it? You just got it fixed.”

“Trust me,” HE said. “This is our system. It’ll work.”

HE hasn’t been that confident in a very long time. HE proceeded to bring up Synaptic (our preferred GUI* package manager) and marked every single piece of software that we normally load. We usually only mark and install half a dozen packages at a time until we get everything loaded. We’ve tried this with the Ubuntu Software Center and it just chokes. It likes one or two packages at a time.

Synaptic says that we asked it to install 715 files! I keep watching Whitestar as I write this on Defiant waiting for something bad to happen. In the time that I’ve written this, Synaptic has already completed the download and just finished the installations! From the point that RoboFrog took Whitestar away from me, in about 40 minutes, HE loaded Xubuntu, updated the system, and loaded all of our software. The system didn’t even break a sweat when HE asked Synaptic to load 715 files. Maybe there is light at the end of this tunnel.

Another 15 minutes and HE has Whitestar talking to the server and reloading the backup files. I’m a bit surprised (impressed, really). In roughly an hour HE has gone from nothing to having Whitestar completely restored.

Amazingly, I’m back to Whitestar. The first thing that I notice is that Xfce is very fast. I loved KDE. Even with the problems we experienced, if we had new hardware, I’d want to give it another shot. Xubuntu, though, seems to be running very well on our eight-year-old hardware. It’s beautiful; it’s fast. Now if it’ll just behave itself.

Okay, that’s enough of the Kubuntu saga. We have moved everything to Xubuntu. If I read RoboFrog correctly, this is where we’re going to stay for a while. Kubuntu lasted for six days. This is day three for Xubuntu. We’ll see how it goes.

RoboFrog gave Defiant to me a couple of days ago with Xubuntu loaded and told me to put her through her paces. I’ve already had a few pleasant surprises. Next time Xubuntu…I hope!

HE’s at it again!

[* If you don’t know who or what these are check the Glossary page.]

“Good morning,” says I as I enter the Robo Computing Center, morning tea in hand. HE’s* hunched over Defiant* typing away.

“I’ve done it.”

“Mmmm,” I reply cautiously. Do I really want to know? HE continues working, oblivious to my presence. I know I’ll regret it, but I can’t resist.

“So, what is it that you’ve done?”

“I’ve reloaded Xubuntu onto Defiant and I’ve worked out all the kinks.”

It’s rare that I’m without something to say, but I was dumbfounded. We spent the past three weeks coming to a decision once and for all about which Linux distribution to use. I thought we decided it was Kubuntu. Kubuntu is working extremely well and KDE (Kubuntu’s GUI*) has some amazing features. The ONLY complaint that I have at all with Kubuntu is that on our older hardware it’s a bit sluggish. It’s so refreshing to have a system that just works.

“YOU DID WHAT?!” I’m cool under fire. I didn’t know whether to grab a big stick an go to work on HIM or just tell MsRoboFrog.

“Defiant’s running great. I fixed the problems with Xubuntu. Here, use her for a few days and see what you think. Give her a good workout.”

It’s finally dawning on me what RoboFrog is up to. First, let me tell you something about The-Frog. HE’s like a bulldog. Once HE get HIS teeth into something HE just won’t let go. HE’s tenacious, relentless. When a problem beats HIM and HE walks away, you may think that it’s done. Don’t count on it. HE’s just run out of ideas for the moment. HE walks away, stews for a while…and then HE’s back trying something new. I should have seen this coming.

We used Arch Linux with Xfce as our GUI for a long time. That’s how we got hooked on Xfce. Our hardware is old, so an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink interface like KDE is sluggish. Xfce, however, is lightweight and  runs crisply on older hardware. So I understand why HE’s stuck on the idea of using Xfce.

RoboFrog was impressed with Xubuntu from the moment HE set eyes on it. If I had paid attention I would have noticed that over the past three months HE has returned to Xubuntu repeatedly. Now I have the picture. HE’s determined to make Xubuntu work. Maybe HE’s done it. HE seems to think so.

Okay, I’ll give Defiant a workout, but I get to be curious around here too. I’ve demanded (for what that’s worth) that RoboFrog leave Kubuntu on Whitestar*. Here’s what I’m curious about. Assuming that HE has finally worked out the problems with Xubuntu, how many of the things that Kubuntu (KDE) allows us to do can be duplicated with Xubuntu (Xfce)? We like both; let’s see how they compare.

We’re back … I think!

* If you don’t know who or what these are check the Glossary page.

Shoot-out At the OK Corral

RoboFrog is an irresistible force when HE* gets in one of HIS* moods, and trust me, for three weeks HE has been…grouchy. It all started innocently enough. Remember that Defiant’s* hard drive died. HE ordered a new one from allhdd.com and chose not to expedite the shipping. It took about seven days to get the drive.

NOTE: Our experience with allhdd.com was very good. They had the product that we wanted at a reasonable price. Their communication was excellent and the drive arrived at the promised time. We will definitely purchase from them in the future.

It’s fun to watch HIM* when when HE gets something like a new hard drive. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid in a toy store any happier or more excited. Replacing Defiant’s (IBM ThinkPad T43) hard drive isn’t a big deal. There’s an external cover to the drive bay on the right side of the machine, held on with one screw. To replace the drive remove the bay cover, slide the old drive out, remove the metal cage from the old drive and install it on the new drive, push the new drive into the bay, and replace the cover. That’s it. Install an operating system and you’re done. At least that’s what HE had hoped.

Note: There are two caveats when replacing a hard drive on a T43. First, they’re really picky about hard drives. You need to get one that specifically works with this machine. Check here for drive information. Second, don’t get the drive upside down. Make sure to maintain the same orientation for the new drive as the old.

That’s when things went bad and RoboFrog transformed from kid-in-the-toy-store to The Terminator. Changing the drive was no problem at all. Loading the operating system, though, turned into a three week nightmare.

I don’t want to get into a long discussion of Linux distributions and the trials and tribulations HE had trying to find a distribution that would work on all of our machines. Frankly, we’re both completely worn out with trying to find an acceptable Linux distribution.

First, we retired Untouchable* (at least temporarily). We decided that life had gotten too complicated. We’re going through a dramatic change, removing clutter, getting things organized, and looking for ways to simplify everything in our lives. We will undoubtedly write about this in the future, but for now, we decided that a desktop and a laptop were all we needed. Second, Untouchable got the boot because it’s the only 64-bit machine that we have. Now we install both machines from the same medium; that’s one small variable eliminated. Whitestar is our only desktop machine (I’m not counting Chatterbox, our file server) and Defiant our only laptop.

All of our equipment is older, on the order of eight years. We suspect that’s one of the reasons we’re experiencing so many Linux problems. We’re starting to consider new machines. To simplify things further, we may buy a very capable laptop with a docking station. That would bring us down to one machine plus the file server. Our biggest worry is that if our one machine dies, we’re completely out of business.

Back to finding a Linux distribution. RoboFrog started with Ubuntu Studio 11.10, and as I said, this is where the problems began. It worked…okay…not great. And, that’s when HIS mood went sour. HE shut down everything we were doing and informed me that we weren’t doing anything else until we had an acceptable operating system running on Defiant and Whitestar. Notice that I said “acceptable operating system.” For the first time in five years, HE put Windows™ back on the list of possibilities. I was stunned. I never thought I would hear that from HIM.

Over the past three weeks HE repeatedly installed

  • Ubuntu Studio 11.10
  • Xubuntu 11.10
  • PCLinuxOS 2012
  • Fedora 16 Xfce
  • Fedora 16 KDE
  • Arch Linux
  • Kubuntu

HE would run one of them for a couple of days thinking HE’d finally found us a home. Then a problem would pop up. After HE told MsRoboFrog, for the third time, that the problems were resolved SHE started giving HIM the evil-eye. I noticed that HE took Defiant to the basement and stopped mentioning computers to MsRoboFrog.

RoboFrog always had great confidence in the Linux world because no matter how many distributions HE tried or how much trouble HE had with them…HE always had Arch Linux to come back to. That confidence has been shaken.

Arch has been our favorite distribution for a long time. Sadly, we’re retiring Arch Linux. We get all of our news and media entertainment from the Internet. We read the morning news on Yahoo! and Google, stream music from Pandora, movies from Amazon, and TV from Hulu. All but the morning news depend on Adobe Flash Player® to deliver content. Something changed recently with Arch Linux and Flash. We tried Arch Linux a couple of times on both Defiant and Whitestar with the same results. Flash video looks more like a slideshow (and not a particularly fast one) than video. That’s a deal-breaker. We searched the Internet and Arch Forums, but found no way to correct the problem. We’ve lost an old friend.

You may wonder why, given the wireless problems we had with the *buntu’s, that we’re testing them again. Remember that we installed the Diamond Wireless Range Extender? Well, the problem with losing the wireless lock is gone. We’re very happy with the Diamond Wireless Range Extender.

So…who won? We’re holding our collective breaths, but HE has Kubuntu running on all three machines: Whitestar, Defiant, and Chatterbox*. (There’s an interesting story about Chatterbox and Kubuntu, but I’ll save that for another time.) Kubuntu is not just running okay; it’s running extremely well. We’ve been running Kubuntu for four days. Don’t laugh; that’s twice as long as any of the others.

We’re going to continue testing Kubuntu (and try to steer clear of MsRoboFrog for a while) and hope that we truly have resolved our Linux issues. For the moment, I don’t have to worry about HIM taking us back to Windows™. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it would certainly be a significant failure in what we’re trying to do here on the LilyPad.

More Kubuntu next time…and, I hope we’re back!