Tuesday 30 July 2002

Thanks but no thanks

Far too frequently, as I’m settling down to work on my Japan at war project, I feel the need to reach into my Bottomless Bag of Distractions and draw out at random one of many folded pieces of paper (about the size of a fortune cookie or a Christmas bonbon joke) upon which the distractions are crudely printed.

Tonight’s distraction read:

You really should install Linux on that old Toshiba Tecra laptop.

There are thousands of distractions in the bag yet this Linux one comes up with disturbing frequency. And, now that the World Cup is over and I don’t need to check email while I’m watching TV in the living room, the Toshiba laptop is just sitting there, waiting to have Linux installed. Even though there is no earthly reason for me to have Linux—there is no Linux software I need to use, no client has ever demanded that I have Linux expertise, I have two perfectly adequate Win2K systems plus an old PowerPC Macintosh…

Luckily Mark Pilgrim came to the rescue and saved me from myself:

Mandrake Linux has friendly, well-written wizards for everything and retails for $70; Gentoo Linux has 17-step installation instructions that include compiling your own compiler. And I failed to install Gentoo, despite repeated attempts and several IRC chats. I did, however, manage to install Debian GNU/Linux 3.0 on Sunday, in only four tries. The first time, the wireless network driver failed to install properly and I had no network connectivity. The second time, I accidentally installed KDE and couldn’t figure out how to cleanly uninstall it. The third time, I forgot to install some of the kernel modules I need and didn’t feel like recompiling the kernel. The fourth time worked, mostly, although I still have no sound in Enlightenment. I’m quite sure it’s my own fault; obviously, if I only knew a little more…

Thanks Mark. Sincerely. I know nothing about Linux but I know this much… wizards or no wizards, I won’t be installing it any time soon. (And I’m pretty sure I can find my brand of Enlightenment in Japan, circa 1936.)



If I could find anything to say other than "me too," I would say it.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo on 31 July 2002 at 10:36 AM

I installed Mandrake recently on a new sony laptop in about 1/2 an hour, works fine.

Posted by: Michael Webb on 31 July 2002 at 11:00 AM

I installed Mandrake recently on a new sony laptop in about 1/2 an hour, works fine.

Posted by: Michael Webb on 31 July 2002 at 11:00 AM

Don't do it! These old laptops are time sinks that lurk there waiting to trap you. Sure as shooting after you get the project underway you will discover that the driver for the particular display your Toshiba was assembled with in 1998 is not distributed with the flavor of Linux you have chosen to install. Or tiny dwarves will leap from the disk slot and pound your toes with ball peen hammers. Or something. There will be no escape once you start down the road. (Anyone want an old Compaq Pentium 133 complete with docking station?)

Posted by: fp on 31 July 2002 at 02:17 PM

Dorothea, you did say something else -- just last week, as it happens. I think you're right in thinking about moving to the Macintosh. My problem is that I have tons of Windows software that I actually use, some of which is not available for the Mac (and I've already been through the pain of moving from the Mac to the PC so I hardly want to do it again in reverse).

Michael, though I'm sure you had no problems installing Linux on a new Sony laptop, I doubt I'd have the same experience with a six year old Toshiba. A "time sink" indeed, as Frank so neatly describes it. BTW Frank, how much RAM is there in that Compaq?

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 31 July 2002 at 04:07 PM

You want a home for that machine, Frank, you got one... though I do not promise to install Linux on it.

So I did say something, Jonathon. My software situation isn't so dire as yours; most of what I do is pretty cross-platform. (Though rescuing my email from Outlook the Unspeakably Vile is going to be an adventure.)

Posted by: Dorothea Salo on 1 August 2002 at 12:05 AM

If Mark Pilgrim's comments are what's keeping you from installing Linux on your computer, then that is very sad indeed.

Debian is not an easy install and that's the system he's talking about. Mandrake 8.1 installed in half an hour on my Satallite Pro, it's an absolute no brainer. Contrast with Win98 install on the same machine (it's a dual boot) which required 6 reboots and best part of an hour and a half.

Finally it is a fallacy to judge an operating system on what should be a one time process, installing the OS. But then with Windows you're probably used to re-installling the OS every 6 months or so.

Posted by: Euan on 8 September 2002 at 07:13 AM

Euan, this story has a happy ending. Firstly, I managed to install Red Hat Linux on a four year old ThinkPad. Secondly, I got my Linux career up and running.

Posted by: Jonathon Delacour on 8 September 2002 at 12:47 PM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour