Tag Archives: Linux

Why Ubuntu / Linux isn’t Really Ready for Consumers… Yet.

Update: Hey Reddit! This post has much nastier things to say about Ubuntu than the one below, so I think you’ll like it more. No, I’m not a Microsoft astroturfer. Wish I was though, I wouldn’t mind the money. Honestly, I want to like Ubuntu / Linux in general. This is why I tried Ubuntu again after it sucking the first time, and why I bought an Eee PC running a Xandros variant without even considering putting XP on it. But you guys don’t make it easy.

As anyone who follows my Twitter feed will know, I’ve recently been trying to install Ubuntu on my desktop.

On the whole it’s not that painful, the LiveCD lets you get a feel for the system, the installation is mostly painless even if you want to dual-boot etc, the interface is clean and easy to use, almost everything you’d ever want is already installed and almost anything else is available from the package manager. It’s great when it works. Really great.

The trouble is, often it doesn’t. For example the wireless card on this machine seems to have issues. Sometimes it won’t connect to a wireless network, sometimes it totally hangs the machine. The solution to this seems to be to dive in head-first into config files and the command-line, rip out the provided open source driver, and whack in a layer that will let me use a Windows driver.

My first attempt to do this just disabled wireless on the machine entirely, which wasn’t a forward step. I was honestly quite lucky to get it back to where I started from.

Software support can also sometimes be iffy. Stuff that should be simple like Adobe Air seemingly requires a trip through the terminal to convince to work. Another rather significant downside is that a lot of applications you’re used to using don’t have versions for Linux. You can use WINE to get Windows applications working, mostly, but it’s not an ideal state of affairs. And you can forget about playing games; support is even more dire than Mac gaming. That is unless you once again want to press WINE into service; frankly though it feels slightly iffy running Spotify, let alone TF2.

So my point here is three-fold:

  1. Hardware support is patchy.
  2. Proprietary software can be hard to get working / unavailable.
  3. If something goes wrong, it requires a lot of scary stuff (command-line, etc.) to fix.

See, I’m sure that if I had a working machine and a few months I’d start to learn the Linux-fu necessary to deal with this, but it’s just a pain if something as essential as Wi-Fi doesn’t just work, or if you can’t play your favourite games.

They’ve got a long way to go with hardware support, and it’s going to be an uphill battle every step of the way. There’s a lot of hardware manufacturers who aren’t going to provide Linux drivers, and there’s a dogmatic craziness in the Linux world that THOU SHALT NOT distribute non-free drivers with your distribution, which means that nobody just provides Windows drivers, or makes it easy to get Windows drivers. It’s totally daft, and it’s not helped by nutjobs like Richard Stallman. I guess you can put me into the camp who doesn’t like the GPL. Give me the BSD license any day.

The software difficulties are as equally hard to overcome; you’d have to deal with the horrible Balkanisation of the Linux distros for one thing so that people would have something simple to compile binaries against. Idealism isn’t going to get people to give away the source code to everything.

However, there’s certainly a market for Ubuntu / Linux systems where you can be sure of the hardware configuration and fix all the problems in advance. This means that something like eeebuntu works really rather well, and is supported rather better than Asus managed to support the Eee themselves. It’s a pleasure to use, and makes me see myself using my Eee a lot more in the future.

Similarly, if all the software you could ever want, literally, is encompassed by the repositories of your chosen distro, then it’s also a very comfortable experience where you can be reasonably sure that everything will just work, which is literally the ideal consumer experience.

So, if you lie within some narrow definition of “consumer” then Ubuntu is going to be perfect for you. If you lie just a little to the edges, it’s going to suck. There’s really no middle ground between “idealised consumer” and “pretty hardcore techie”. I guess that’s why they’re going to carry on working with it. If they can expand that consumer window, this could be heading somewhere.

Distributed Version Control: A Review

This post is all about stuff that’s only interesting if you’re into programming. Read at your own risk!

Next year as part of my degree I’m working with a partner to create some software that’ll simulate cold, dense plasmas (the physics kind, not the blood-is-made-from kind) and the thought of working on this by emailing files to each other and the like just seems utterly beyond tedious, so I’ve started investigating various types of source control, which will make it a lot easier to work together and keep in sync without getting rapidly into a horrible mess.

Continue reading Distributed Version Control: A Review


The second probably being more recognisable than the first, so I’ll just start with that.

So my major gripe with it so far is getting it to connect to Imperial’s wireless, otherwise I’ve got a laptop I can only ever use when it’s tethered to a network cable. Somehow, this feels slightly like missing the point to my mind. The problem is that the EEE only supports the kind of wireless security used by home connections, WEP (which is dreadful, and nobody should ever use ever. It is less security, and more like a deterrent. Think of it as a waist-high fence) and WPA-Personal (or WPA-PSK, for the TLA minded) and the Imperial network uses WPA-Enterprise.

There were two real solutions before me, blow away the default Xandros install and go with Xubuntu (which would work) or try and hack WPA-Enterprise support into Xandros through the agency of bizarre text commands (none of which, sadly, were sudo make me a sandwich, although I did a lot of sudo nano) and a bucket-load of patience.

The first option I discarded because Xubuntu looked even harder to use than Xandros, and I was getting quite attached to the cute default tabs interface. And the second required more patience than even I possess.

As luck would have it, Imperial have an insecure network, through which one can use something called VPN (or Virtual Private Networking) to create a tunnel through to the real network. To start with, I though this would have been even more horrific than getting WPA to work so I didn’t even consider it, but as it turns out, it actually works out of the box using the default installed software. So it works! Hooray!

PLRW is Professor Lord Robert Winston, who today did a talk at Imperial to help launch the annual RCSU Science Challenge. The top prize is £2500, a MacBook (which I would immediately sell or install Windows on. Probably both.) and A TRIP TO CERN. Honestly, there was an actual audible gasp at that one. The guy organising the event is a physicist, so he took the opportunity to ask any medics to let him have the tickets if they happened to win. It’s one hell of a prize, never mind the free trip to the French-Swiss border, the chance to have a look around CERN is pretty much once in a lifetime for anyone who isn’t a high-energy physicist by trade.

My thoughts about the lecture itself will probably have to wait until sometime tomorrow.

Until we meet again.

The Asus Eee, a few days on

So the Asus Eee is a pretty wonderful machine, all in all. In fact, I’m using it right now to type this, and apart from the occasional mistype it works pretty damn well.  The interface is easy and intuitive, it comes installed with more or less everything you need, and it plays well out of the box. It’s great.

So the other day (Friday) I took it to college as a shakedown run, I guess you could call it.

This threw up one rather major difficulty – WPA-Enterprise isn’t supported by default, and that’s what the Imperial wireless network uses. Bugger.

So support for WPA-E has to be rather hackily hacked back in. One ham-handed attempt by me has already cost me the use of the network monitor in the tray. No great loss, but kinda irritating.

Anyways, I’m right now running a specially customised version of Ubuntu Linux, which should fix the network issue, but the list of post-install tweaks on the wiki is frankly just frightening, and some of it is pretty important stuff, like fixing SD cards not mounting.

I’m starting to get the impression that Linux is an operating system designed for people who, a priori, know what the fuck they’re doing, and in the hands of these people it is an incredibly powerful tool. You can do anything you like, assuming you know how to do it.

In some ways it feels like the direct manifestation of the principle that the last 10% of the work takes 90% of the time, so they’ve only done 5% of that last 10%. Most everything works, and you can fix or disable anything that doesn’t, right? Because worst case scenario, you have to delve in to the command prompt, type in some arcane commands and poof, it works.

Thing is, I really don’t want to install Windows on here. I want to get to a point where I can use Linux, but not being able to get onto the Imperial Wireless network might really be a dealbreaker.

We’ll see.

Irrational Desire II & Other Matters

So today I had a tutorial, in which I kinda had to admit that I didn’t actually know anything because I hadn’t done the problem sheet. So the tutor kept asking me if I understood what was going on. Rather luckily I did, he asked me to do a question up on the board and it actually went alright, all in all.

Then I took a bus up to Piccadilly Circus (because walking to South Ken tube is extremely tedious), somehow managing smack my little finger on something I was getting on, causing the tip of my nail to kinda crack in the middle and start bleeding. Which was kinda icky.

Anyways, got there and had a bit of a stroll. A purposeful stroll. I wandered over Leicester Square, up to the Seven Dials in Covent Garden. On a side note, the Seven Dials is rapidly becoming my favorite area of Central London. It’s just cool.

Got to Forbidden Planet and bought the new Buffy comic, then headed up past the Intrepid Fox (heavy metal pub. Interesting clientele) to  Tottenham Court Road, with the intention of buying a white Asus EEE 4g. First place said they hadn’t had stock in about two weeks, and that he wasn’t expecting any again ever.

Next place I tried was Micro Anvika, a sign outside said they were in stock, which is usually a good sign. I wandered over to the guy standing by the display model, pointed, and said “I want one of those, please”. Really. He then proceeded to sell me one. The weirdest part was the whole paying by card part. You do start to realise how easy it is to blow vast amounts of cash really, really fast.

Anyways, I took it home, and it’s now what I’m using to type this blog post. The keyboard takes some getting used to, but it’s really not that bad at all!

On other matters, on Tuesday, me, Sarah^2, Niro, Daisy, Rowan & Craig gathered at Sarah & Daisy’s place and made pancakes, which was awesome, and then went to the Temperance pub, which was really nice, and all in all it was a good night.

Irrational Desire

So I really want an Asus Eee. It’s roughly £200, although one place I’ve seen is selling at £189, and it’s possibly the teeny-tinest machine I have ever seen!

It’s about the size of a hardback book when closed, and doesn’t have a CD drive or a hard disk, but does have onboard flash memory to save stuff on, and wi-fi for getting on the Interweb. It runs Linux, because Windows is too expensive, but I’m cool with that, especially because I’ve been wanting to get my hands dirty (as it were) with Linux for a while now.

So the only difficulty I can see is that spending £189 would leave me uncomfortably close to being utterly broke. Which isn’t good, for very obvious reasons. Like my powerful need to continue being able to eat, but even so… I wants one.

Do you have an nVidia graphics card?

If so, you can get Portal: First Slice, composing:

  • Portal: First Slice (being the first third of Portal, the Game of the Year)
  • Half-Life 2: Deathmatch (being a game where you can kill people with ballistic toilets)
  • Half-Life 2: Lost Coast (short tech demo fun)
  • Peggle Extreme (addictive promotional puzzle game)

Seeing as how this bundle is free, it’s well worth getting!

Head over to the Steam website to get it.

If this is what Linux has to offer…

So I’m trying to install Ubuntu, because heck, it’s time I tried it. So I head to the Ubuntu site, read some fairly encouraging spiel about how Ubuntu is easy to install, will be full of fun & joy, be packed full of helpful apps to get me going, and all will be well and good when I’m dancing in hippie-land with all those people who have thrown off the shackles of the evil empire.

One download and burn to CD later and I pop the thing in my CD drive, restart my computer, and boot from the CD. I go to the installation option, it starts to load and… bang, it drops to a text shell and starts spewing errors.

Fantastic. Tells me that I can type “help” to look at the availiable commands. Apart from the ones named the same as DOS commands I have no idea what they do. Am I being required to prove my worth before I am allowed to install the damn thing? No, it’s just shit. Either that or my computer’s hardware is somehow completely buggered in some way that only affects free software.

To cut a long story short, Ubuntu blows chunks. At least Windows fucking well installs. At this point I’m fairly happy to have paid a premium for a product that ACTUALLY DOES SOMETHING.

Fuck. This. Shit.