No more Ubuntu desktop headaches

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After an ambitious nearly two-year project to work daily on an open-source desktop platform of Ubuntu with the standard assortment of apps such as OpenOffice, Evolution, GIMP, Virtualbox, and Brasero, am throwing in the towel after a botched upgrade of 8.04 Hardy LTS to Intrepid 8.10.

This was possibly the WORST upgrade experience imaginable, reminding me of XP -> Vista horror stories, and back to Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack 4. There is absolutely nothing that has improved following the upgrade, with the exception of slightly improved system responsiveness at the expense of strange delays such as attaching files in Firefox, in addition to the substantial time investment in researching new problems.

Following the standard recommended Ubuntu upgrade procedure, upon first reboot I got dreaded “read-only file system” messages that were only resolved by yet another strange Linux hack that modified the boot list.

Here are my Ubuntu desktop-related headaches which I about to leave for good:

  • A nagging Virtualbox error every time I launched my Windows XP VM. Many attempts to resolve the error were fruitless, meaning I have to enter a command manually after each reboot.
  • Non-functioning synchronization between Evolution and my BlackBerry. There’s too much hack-ery involved to get this to work. Plus, Evolution is plain Ugly, sorry kids-
  • Shaky dual-monitor support, mainly hesitance to mess up the dreaded “xorg.conf” file
  • Inconsistent support for Korean Hangul characters. Have to admit I underestimated the relative ease of East Asian language setup in Windows, which I’ve done for many family members. How is it that a document in OpenOffice displays Hangul, but the printer spits out nonsense??

But finally, I had managed to live with these drawbacks content in the labor of love participating in the open-source desktop world, but for these additional issues after the recent upgrade-

  • Brasero DVD/CD burner stops working
  • USB drives and SD cards no longer mount automatically
  • Ridiculous 1-2 minute delay in attaching files in Firefox
  • Multimedia file support broken (again!)

After gawking recently when my client bragged about his OSX Snow Leopard desktop (with a gazillion windows open), and realizing the majority of my projects have required Windows-only client software such as VMware VI Client or Internet Explorer…I’ve realized it’s time for this experiment to come to a close. In the short term, I’m humbly returning to the default install of Windows Vista on my Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop, to be followed by testing of Windows 7 and then, who knows? Maybe it’s time for another look at the Mac…

I certainly have developed a more nuanced appreciation for the pros and cons of open-source software, and admit that the outlook for Linux desktop continues to look bleak. On the other hand, the gravity of the computing world continues to shift away from a desktop-centric environment, and I’ve certainly benefited from deeper experience with Linux that has only helped my overall IT skill-set. Just a few years I certainly would not have been able to deploy a raw install of Ubuntu Linux to support a full-blown Nagios/Cacti deployment for a major corporate client, so it’s onward and forward!


Looking at netbooks

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Though I’m not sure if netbooks are indeed one of the three horsemen of the “Coming Networking Revolution,” I still think they’re pretty cool, useful and am planning to get one any day now.

In early 2008 I bought and tested a Fujitsu U810, a mini PC which arguably helped pave the way for the current wave of netbooks. I was quite satisfied with the usability and features which included a webcam and fingerprint-based biometrics, though annoyed that I was stuck with the Windows Vista version. However, the combination of Vista Home version which limited its utility in the corporate office (no Active Directory authentication), limited free WiFi where I was residing (Tysons Corner, Northern Virginia), and absence of mobile broadband definitely reduced the usefulness of this handy little machine. In the end I reverted to a standard light Dell laptop which I’ve used more as a desktop replacement with occasional mobile use.

In terms of technical requirements, having Ubuntu as the OS is an absolute must since it’s become my primary client OS. I’m satisfied with the standard netbook specs including Atom N270 CPU and 1 GB RAM. The main usage will be, not surprisingly, casual web browsing and email, though I also have needs relating to remote sys admin, assuming I set up a mobile broadband plan. Must-have apps include PuTTy, Terminal Server client, terminal, Firefox, and a PDF viewer.


So far I’m leaning heavily to the Dell Mini 10v, which fits the bill and has a comfortable keyboard. I also looked at the new Dell 2100-N but it’s a little too heavy in mind for a netbook and is designed primarily for the student market.

The HP Mini has a good sized keyboard too, though its a $100 premium over the Dell Mini. On the other hand, the keys on the Acer Aspire, which is being marketed through Verizon/Radio Shack for $49 lately, were just not usable based on my testing.

Now I need to finish research on the Mobile Broadband plans available, leaning towards Verizon but also want to check out AT&T and Sprint.