The Linux Journey Begins Anew

My requirements for a computer aren't easily met by any particular OS. In fact, the one that comes closest (Windows XP) is soon to go the way of the dinosaur and be replaced with the Ice Age.

I have had stumbling blocks to moving on for some time. I wanted it easy to use, and capable of doing what I feel is important: playing music, playing MY games, working with images, browsing the network, looking at web pages with unlimited content types, recognize my flash sticks, usb input devices and all the buttons on my mouse just to name a few...

Since I stopped playing DAoC, the one major stumbling block is now cleared, so I can once again take my foray into Ubuntu.

7.10 Ubuntu is out now, and has support for a program called Compiz. This is just an example of what that means. It's a way of working with your operating system like no other. It just kinda makes things fun without a drain on system resources. Enabling Compiz made absolutely no difference in the performance of my machine.

This journey was not without difficulty. A number of incompatibilities presented some serious challenges to achieving my goals without compromising.

I put the CD in and... Nothing. As near as I can tell, the very fast SATA 3 I use isn't well-supported and had problems with being seen properly by Linux. After a good bit of research, I found that just putting "irqpoll" in the startup command line fixed the issue. It could be that I might want to make a change to the BIOS so that the computer is allowed to control Plug-And-Play rather than the OS (I think I have OS-Controlled PnP now).

The sound card simply isn't supported. For my new system, I bought a pretty special Creative Labs X-Fi Extreme Gamer soundcard. It's performed very decent under Windows, but CL hasn't been very forthcoming with assistance for those out there trying to write drivers for this card, so there's really not any availability. There was a 64-bit version out there, but I had many more problems trying to get the 64-bit version of Ubuntu working. I was getting tired of troubleshooting and just wanted something to work, so I ended up doing something unique.

My system has a built-in soundcard on the motherboard. I had disabled it some time ago in an effort to stabilize my system under Windows. Just for giggles, I enabled it, and voila! Linux saw it and I have sound. Not what I want exactly, but sound was a Must-Have, and I'm good to go.

Multi-button mice are not easily supported. I have a Logitech MX518 and I'm addicted to forward-back buttons on my mouse. I MUST HAVE THEM. Well one of the long-standing problems with seemingly EVERY Linux distribution is no out-of-the-box mouse support. You have to go into the xorg.conf and create your own settings. This wasn't hard, but after some 8 years of there being 4+ buttons on mice, you'd think there could be something to interface.

Steam was a challenge, but had some VERY surprising results. Steam is a gaming interface created by the makers of Half Life. Steam has some very odd hooks into the computer. It is a windows-based game, so I had to run Wine for Windows emulation... oh I mean... compatibility... Hehe Anyway, Steam uses some code called Gecko within their IE-linked browsers, which is very hard to find. The website which had it happened to be down last night when I was working on this so I found an alternate site. It even took some Wine registry editing to pull off, but I did get it working.

Then work it did! Launching CounterStrike this morning was pretty surprising. Under Windows, using my speedy disk management, advanced controllers and all that nonsense, I could usually be in and playing within about 12-15 seconds if I hadn't run the software before. With Wine & Ubuntu it reduced that delay to a mere 5 seconds. Very impressive, considering I have a compatibility layer working to translate the code. I'm looking forward to trying my new racing game next.

Another surprise is that through trying to get Steam working, I picked up Wine Doors, which is a Windows Application Management tool. It's incredibly easy to use and offers pre-made configurations for many popular Windows titles, not to mention some help in supporting those that aren't included. Wine Doors didn't get Steam working for me, but it helped a lot.

Of all things, Adobe Flash support was a PITA. Flash is behind just about every animated bit of stuff on the 'net today and not having it makes you feel like a damn caveman. The odd thing is that Flash just seems to be the video of a particular movie. The audio is processed separately from what I can see. The reason I say that is when I installed the Adobe Flash software, videos from You Tube still indicated I had no Flash installed. I had to get an audio codec in order to see the Flash video. Strange, but I needed this codec anyway, for MP3's (also not supported out-of-the-box due to proprietary licensing of the codec) so not really a big deal. I did expect it to be easier.

Network access locally has been problematic as well. I have a domain set up at home and an old box with a bunch of disk space which acts as a repository for MP3's, movies and other large-file data. Connecting to this box from Linux has always required a little bit of monkey business, but generally not too difficult. That's no different today; in fact it was even easier!

However, we added a Yellow Box NAS device in the last year. This thing has a terabyte of space (that's 1,000 GB) and we've half-filled it already!! This device has only a web page for an interface so most configuration of it is pretty simple. It's no Windows box, but it will connect to the domain like a workstation share. It doesn't connect like one though. In fact, I can't connect to it at all from Ubuntu. I am completely stopped on any kind of tweaks I make to connect. Unfortunately there is no configuration on the Yellow Box to support more than one network protocol, so to maintain connectivity to the Windows machines, I have to leave it as-is. BAH! So my workaround for now is to remote console into a Windows machine from my Linux box, put the content I want on that machine and access it that way.

All in all this experience highlights how much non-free, proprietary, and exclusive technology is out there, and how little we really 'own' the computers and software we use today. It's a shame really, and it's rather foreboding to have had this experience on the heels of the Microsoft-Yahoo news. More corporate mergers mean more propriety and exclusive content & products, IMO.

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