I finally got around to reinstalling Linux on my desktop PC, and wound up taking both Ubuntu and its KDE-driven sibling Kubuntu for test drives.
My DVD drive didn’t like the Ubuntu CD for some reason; the disk worked fine in other boxes, and Kubuntu and even Xubuntu CD’s worked just fine. Put Ubuntu back in and it would crap out while booting. Oh well, I’m used to KDE, so I went ahead and installed Kubuntu.
I wasn’t quite as impressed with it as I was with Xubuntu. If the look and feel of Windows XP is Fisher-Price, then the default KDE setup of Kubuntu is Little Tikes. I felt more like I was staring at a Nintendo game rather than a workhorse desktop and I quickly started tweaking out the desktop settings to make things a little less soft and pretty. I’m not necessarily looking for sparse, but kindergarten isn’t the right direction.
But hey, functionality is more important, so I restored my personal files using KDE’s Dolphin file manager (think Windows Explorer only much more functional). I did like this, and it had a convenient button to switch to superuser mode and get full access to the system. Very nice.
Next I started installing necessary apps. Kubuntu forgoes the tried-and-true Synaptic in favor of its own front end for APT called Adept. Given the name, one would think the software would be good at what it does. To the extent of browsing packages, it was.
Actually installing packages was another matter. I tried installing the Java browser plug-ins, and the license agreements popped up on the screen. I clicked next, but then the license prompts disappeared and Adept spat out an error and ceased installation, claiming the other packages I selected were not installed.
Yet when I looked in the menu, there were Thunderbird and Firefox (Kubuntu tries to get you to stick with Kmail and Konqueror instead — they’re not bad, but there’s something to be said about standardizing across all my desktops, and in my opinion the Mozilla products are the best at what they do). I filed that particular quirk for future reference and went back in to select a few more packages.
Same error, same result. Deselecting some packages and resetting some other selections didn’t help, and after several tries I got the same error over half the time. Not to mention I was no closer to having a Java-enabled web experience.
I thought about having it suck down the GNOME side of things from the Ubuntu repositories, but why? I had just wiped my Linux partitions clean to change the file system format and resize my partitions, so why not just start fresh again? I hooked an old CD drive to the computer, booted the Ubuntu CD, and this time it worked.
I decided to see what would happen if I just formatted the new root partition and left /home alone so I wouldn’t have to restore my personal files a second time. Then I was prompted with a new question: did I want to import files and personal settings? The installer had not only found my Windows partition, but it had ferreted out the profiles for myself and my wife. I only use Windows for gaming and my wife has never logged on to this Windows install so I didn’t need any of that, but I was impressed that it was presented as an option. A few more clicks and I set the installer loose.
On reboot, GRUB appeared and asked me to select an operating system. Where Kubuntu only gave me a Linux option, Ubuntu automagically configured GRUB to give me Ubuntu, a safe mode install, and a Windows boot option. Also slick, especially since I needed the Windows partition for game night with the guys shortly.
Once inside, I actually found GNOME comforting. Sure, with some tweaking I can easily make one look like the other and vice versa, but I was much more comfortable just sitting down to start working rather than spend another hour or so tweaking things out. A minor victory for Ubuntu to be sure, but at least Canonical seems to understand there aren’t just nine-year-old girls in their install base.
I found my /home partition intact, so I moved on to software. Canonical provides OpenOffice.org by default rather than KOffice, and Firefox is the default browser, so I was already halfway there. I added the Medibuntu package repositories and fired up trusty Synaptic.
Bliss. Not a single error, and in minutes I had Thunderbird and several other packages and plug-ins installed and running. Firefox spat out a Flash error at first, which I thought was odd since I’d installed it from Synaptic. Fortunately just clicking the “get plug-in” options within Firefox had Flash 9 up and running in seconds. Not too shabby.
Ubuntu and Kubuntu may share the same guts, but the presentation is vastly different. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll bother downloading KDE at all, but the Kubuntu guys have some work to do if they want to compete with Canonical, especially in package management.
In the end it’s Ubuntu for the win.
It’s also worth noting that I did all of this in about the same span as it would have taken me to get Windows XP installed and up and running just once. Downloading the various software packages alone, not to mention extra drivers and vendor-specific software, would have taken the better part of a day, and I was up and running with Ubuntu in about half an hour. Not too shabby.
In other tech news, the purchase order for the MacBook for work goes in today. I look forward to comparing the apples and oranges of the two, and getting into the guts of its command line. This should be fun.
About Mike Oliveri
Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.