Linux for the Macbook?

           I have a Macbook Pro, which I enjoy using. Credit where credit is due, it is a good machine. I’m in two minds as to whether I’d get another, but this one ain’t broke so I don’t have to answer the question just yet! I also like OSX, mostly. There are some things I’m not keen on, but like my windows machine before, there are some things I cannot do on Linux, such as Logos Bible software.

On to the question of Linux for the Macbook. Which flavour to go for and why? I cut my teeth on Red Hat 7.1 (which I still have!) and moved to Debian via SimplyMepis. I have tried many others including Ubuntu. For those who are not sure about what I’m talking about there are some websites that go into more detail than I care to here, like Distrowatch.com. Fedora was first on the list so I tried that. It worked well and Fedora 20 is a great improvement over previous versions as this time it felt spritely and the update and package manger were also improved (compared with Fedora 17). But then came “systemd”. This is the new init (basically boot up) system developed by some Red Hat developers to replace the existing aging init system. The problem with systemd is its mission creep. Its slowly becoming the “start” system for everything, and there are some things becoming dependant on it which (in my opinion) shouldn’t be. The Unix philosophy is for lots of small bits to do things exceptionally well, so if one bit falls over or fails it doesn’t take everything else with it. If any part of systemd falls over, it’ll take the whole OS with it. Not good for mission critical systems.

          Unfortunately most of the Linux distros are moving this way, which is a real shame. So if not fedora then what? Of the main Linux flavours it would appear that Debian and Ubuntu offer long term support versions which don’t have systemd, so I’ve gone for Xubuntu LTS (14.04). This will use upstart init system for its lifetime and hopefully by then the mess of systemd will be sorted and Ubuntu might see sense and open source upstart! Even with this I noticed there were “systemd” patches installed to allow apps dependant on systemd to work with upstart. Sort of leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

          Ubuntu and therefore Xubuntu installs easily along side OSX. The only thing to remember is OSX likes to have space between partitions and without these OSX wont upgrade, but it appears the Xubuntu install takes this into account – a nice touch. Once installed it just remains to reconfigure “refit” so Xubuntu can boot. Proprietary drivers are required for the Broadcom wireless connection and Nvidia for the graphics which Xubuntu has you covered – just install and go! Easy.

         And as far as the work I do on the Macbook is concerned, I use mainly Linux and then only OSX when I have too. Its good to have it around. I would love to go fully open source but some of the stuff just isn’t ready yet. I don’t think its too far away now.
Next: to configure Xubuntu for developing Android roms for the Asus TF201.

My system crashed

My System Crashed!

I decided to install the Microsoft service pack 3 which went fine until I rebooted, then all mayhem broke loose. Windows XP booted to an unuseable system. I was not pleased. I was not ammused. My Linux partitions worked fine but were now under threat because the only way I could see to remedy this situation was to use the recovery disks I had made when I first bought this laptop. The recovery system reformats the whole disk, so everything goes, which is a real pain as all I needed to do was reinstall windows.

So after backing-up everytthing I went for the recovery disks. Doing this alowed me to re-think and re-organise the hard drive so as to have two large data partitions, an “everyday” partition, a “work” partition and a “ test partition”. So the hard drive would have XP (cos I have to have for my studies), SimplyMepis as the everyday system, Debian Lenny as the work system and Sidux as the test system. As you might of guessed, I like Debian. “And Ubuntu?” I hear you ask. No I don’t like Ubuntu as after each 6 months its like doing an install with a new system and you never know what you are going to get. Will it work fully or not? Enough of Ubuntu before I say too much and this becomes something its not meant to be!

So I did a recovery and reinstalled XP and all my favorite applications, which took the best part of 4 hours, and I’m still not finished. On the other side, installing Mepis, Sidux and Debian together took one and a half hours and an extra half hour to set-up java, flash and networking.

Sidux

Sidux was the first to go on. I decided to use Sidux bescause as I’m using debian as my main workspace Sidux will give me advace notice as to what is coming up and how well it works and do I need it. Sidux is also very fast and therefore should be good for working on batery, we’ll see. Sidux use kde, kde-lite or xfce desktops. Kde-lite was chosen so there is maximum choice as to what else is installed, almost like a minimum graffical install. I wish someone would do this for Gnome, a Gnome-lite. I live in hope!

Debian

Debian was next, even with the old text driven installer, there was a strange sence of comfort that I was installing an old friend. All went smoothly. The only thing I had to do was to connect to the internet through a wire the retreive the wireless drivers. After that all is sweet. I’ve added the Mepis repos and Mepis Community repos too and installed some of the latest applications that the Mepis community have put there.

I’ve also installed openbox window manager to replace the standard metacity window manager. This speeds up an already speedy laptop. The lastest wine and the free Crosover is also installed, with which I now have Dreamweaver MX and Flash MX running fine. All I need now is a way of getting Photoshop CS3 working… (these applications are needed for my sstudies, although I am also using Gimp, inkscape, and Quanta).

SimplyMepis

I must say to start with, I like Mepis. It isn’t prefect (it uses kde as its desktop) but underneath it is good and I quite like Warren’s views as to what a distro should be. I also like the way that a communty has gathered round and started using their skills and enthusiasm to help ans improve the(ir) distro. I first used SimplyMepis a few years ago when the Gnome desktop was supported along with Kde, this choice I liked as after trying a few desktops I prefer Gnome and fvwm. Mepis was installed last. All went smoothly and it found all the network cards automatically. I’ve setup gnome with openbox and fvwm-crystal as main deskops.

Ubuntu

In recent days I swapped Sidux for Ubuntu because I’d read that some people think its the best thing since sliced bread and as I hadn’t tried it for a while, I thought I’d give it a go. My conclusions are that some apps are old or out of date for what I need, think wine, and there was something about it that just didn’t feel right. At the moment I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something about it that makes me uncomfortable using it.

I have re-installed Sidux.

Grub

I have configured Grub to run from the Mepis partition and also from each partition so when booting up I have a choice of either the relevant kernel for the different systems or a link to a more specific menu for that partition. This alows me to update and upgrade the kernel and not have to manually update grub each time..

Desktop

I am using Gnome with openbox as the main desktop except for Sidux where it’ll run kde-lite. On all there is FVWM and FVWM-crystal. I have found that these two desktops with rox-filer rather intriging. I will be working on these as a side line just to see what they can do. One of the reasons I moved to Linux was that I felt that windows was becoming bloated and therefore slow, and I feel kde and gnome have been following this trait. I have a Toshiba laptop with 192meg ram, which runs linux very nicely, but I can’t run suse or fedora for the memory is too small for them. It can however run debian. FVWM (and crytal) are very light-weight. Just because more memory is available and becoming cheaper doesn’t mean you should use it. Just because a car can do 150 miles per hour doesn’t mean you should. I am using openoffice to write this and was thinking about how many of the tools and facilities availble to use I use. Very few. If openoffice made it modular so you only installed what was needed, then its “memory footprint” would be reduced.

I have also started looking at windowmaker. Amother lightweight desktop window manager. This is easier to configure than FVWM and the eye-candy is interesting.

Conclusions

I think the reason I’m not sure about Ubuntu si that it apears to be more of a fork of Debian rather than based upon. With other Debian based distros you can install various packages from either onto either, Mepis to Debian and Debian to Mepis, and it will not break, but with Ubuntu it is different. If you install an Ubuntu package onto a Debian system, you are likely to break it (personal experence), and from Debian to Ubuntu it might not work, even though Ubuntu uses the .deb package. A little bit like eing locked into the ubuntu system (reminds me of someone from Redmond). Shame. I will state here that I do understand that Ubuntu does contrbute back to Debian upstream.

Mepis is good and stable. The community continues to develop around it, although I have noticed some growing pains, but I think these are healthy. If the community continues to grow strongly and Warren continues to head it, I think Mepis could become better and easier than Ubuntu because it is made by users for users rather than developers.

Debian is the old trustworthy. Solid and dependable.

Sidux is fast and challanging.

I have been writing this over the last few weeks and keep adding to it on an almost daily basis, so I will publish now and post updates as to how I get on with the different desktops an which one I stick with.

Update: I’ve just installed Fedora 10 and I’m impressed…