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Adventures In Operating Systems
by Eric Vaughan, Dec. 2004
This article is about my experience testing Fedora Core 3, Mandrake10.1, Suse 9.2, and Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 for personal use. Seems like an odd group I know but there it is. This will not be a blow-by-blow account but rather an overview of my impressions and opinions. I won't waste your time dragging it out over several pages and handing out TMI. I've provided a link in each section to more in depth reviews done by others for those interested. The end of this article will have several links that may be of interest. OS zealots and fan-boys (windows, linux, mac, whatever) can just pass this article by. You won't like it...
This started off as an odyssey to find which operating system I would use for my main OS as well as an OS for my multimedia machine. Some of you may know that I've been using Linux on the side for a while but never as my main OS. Let me make clear from the start that I can't and won't stop using XP Pro. There are many reasons but the most important one is that I do tech support type work and I need to know XP inside an out. So why do I want to replace XP as my main OS? The reasons are many and are beyond the scope of this article. I'll just say that they range from practical to philosophical. I'm not here to espouse or force these views on anyone. In the end, for me, it's "whatever works".
I did many installs the aforementioned OS's. The hardware specifics you can find here. The OS's ability to deal with my hardware was key to the final decisions I made...
Fedora Core 3, pfft! (DVD download)
(review at LinuxPlanet)
I tried this on my centrino laptop and my main computer. Excellent, easy installation. All hardware was correctly installed with the exception of wifi and LCD monitor. I tried everything and couldn't get the card to work. Ditto on correctly configuring my LCD monitor.
On the software side, hmm, how can I put this...
It is obvious that Red Hat (and thus Fedora to an extent) is destined for office use only (I mean aside from the silly comments of RH's CEO). It's default features and extra software, both under GNOME and KDE are sparse when compared to the next Linux distros I'll talk about. The only way to really get it to be full featured is to use outside resources. Not exactly what I and many others would consider an ideal way to set up your own box. Anywho, enough of this. I'm spending so little time on this section because I was completely unimpressed with Fedora for home use. So, let's move on.
Mandrake Linux 10.1, a tale of 3 installs. (Power Pack DVD download via Mandrake Club)
(review at Linux Tips For Free, good review and lots of screenshots)
On my main computer:
Excellent, easy installation. All hardware was correctly installed with the exception of my LCD monitor. I was able to get the monitor close to being right but in the end was still left with 1 centimeter gap at the left edge of the screen (as in it was 1cm short). Nothing I did could make it any better. Also, of the two printers I have (on a Windows Server 2003 machine) I could not get Mandrake to print correctly to the HP 4100. It worked fine with the Lexmark Z53.
On my laptop:
Pure disaster. First Konqueror wouldn't start. For my Windows friends, that is the equivalent of My Computer and Internet Explorer not working. It worked under root but not as a user. After updating everything and creating a new user and deleting the original user account that problem was solved. I don't exactly what the problem was (permissions?) but IMHO it should have never shipped this way. The next problem was wifi didn't work. Nothing I did could get it to work either.
On my multimedia machine:
The install was perfect, the configuration was perfect, networking in a Windows environment is perfect (see smb4k), the apps work perfect. I prefer Mandrake here over Suse because, well, lets just say some of the multimedia options are more easily/readily available under Mandrake (cough*dvd*cough). Having said that, with a little help (and a file or 2) from a friend, dvd stuff was fine under Suse. You'll see later that this machine dual-boots with MCE 2005. Why do I use both? First and foremost I still say music sounds better under Linux. Second, there are tools for every job, Linux has free and excellent tools for multimedia that I don't have under Windows.
Software wise, well, Mandrake is Mandrake. Still IMHO the king as far as ease of use and features. For installing, configuring, and maintaining desktop Linux, Mandrake more than any other distro seems to just "get it". My only gripe on the software side of things is they seem to be at a snails pace updating packages. For instance, my browser/email client of choice (Firefox 1.0/Thunderbird 1.0) was still not available on the official servers as of this writing. Even in the Mandrake Club Firefox 1.0 took weeks to get hit the servers.
Hardware wise, if I could have gotten the monitor to work correctly I would have stuck with Mandrake on my main rig. To the guys at Mandrake, please come up with something like Sax2 (more on this in the Suse section).
Suse 9.2 Pro, just getting it right (DVD set from Amazon.com)
(review at Mad Penguin)
On my main computer:
Installation and networking (see smb4k) was every bit as perfect as Mandrake. There seemed to be some issues with Suse on mounting my Fat32 partitions (to write info to share with XP) on this computer. On one install it would take, on the next it wouldn't. In the end it was all good. With a little work and the help of Sax2 (Suse's graphical configuration tool) I was able to get my LCD screen settings perfect. Sax2 is very, very impressive. I popped in the LCD driver installation CD and Sax2 read the monitor specs from the Windows drivers. I then changed the default resolution to a specific single rate and all was fine. I'm using Suse as my main OS on this computer. I use the Vantec EZ-SWAP MRK-200ST-BK (purchased from Newegg) to swap out my SATA drives, one for XP, 1 for Suse 9.2. You can see a review with lots of pics at Overclockers.com.
On my laptop:
Installation, configuration, and networking were, once again, perfect. My wifi worked perfect out of the box! A little tip here...if you have ethernet and wifi configure the one you use most to start at boot. On my machine the wifi is eth0 and ethernet is eth1 with eth1 to start at boot and eth0 set to manual. To use wifi I simply open the terminal window, su to root and type "ifdown eth1" (hit enter) then type "ifup eth0". Suse does the rest.
I didn't install Suse on my multimedia machine because I wanted to keep Mandrake on something and as previously mentioned some of the multimedia proggies I wanted were easier to obtain (and therefore keep track of) than under Suse.
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, what XP Home should have been
(from MS Action Pack Program) (excellent review with lots of screenies at Winsupersite)
MCE 2005 is not intended for retail distribution. It is very picky about exactly what hardware will work with the Media Center portion. As you might guess this was only installed on my multimedia machine. Through research I knew that my ATI AIW card wouldn't work with MCE so I got a Hauppage 250 TV card and swapped in a 9800 Pro as a video card. AIW cards don't do TV under Linux either so either way I was ditching the AIW card. Installation was a PITA. First you put MCE disk 1 in, then it asks for a XP Pro SP2 disk, then MCE disk 2...ahhhhhhhhhhh! Next of course I installed about 10 different drivers...
Setup was painless and everything worked fine...except DVD playback! I already knew this and had purchased the Nvidia DVD Decoder for $20 (U.S.).
MCE 2005 is impressive. Built on XP Pro it strips out the ability to log on to a domain which makes things faster for us home users. All the rest of the power of XP Pro is there. After using MCE 2005 I can't help but wonder why XP Home doesn't have all these features and if we aren't seeing the forerunner of the next home version of Windows. There are folks running MCE 2005 as their main OS and using the centralized media functions when needed. Some of them insist that MCE 2005 is faster than it's older brothers Home and Pro. I use the standard interface mostly but having the Media Center portion ( have a shortcut on the desktop) is an excellent feature I take advantage of when needed.
I was very impressed with Mandrake 10.1, Suse 9.2, and MCE 2005. Any one of these would be excellent choices for personal use.
MCE 2005 is Microsoft's best piece of work. The combination of speed and functionality make it an excellent choice. It's flaw lies in the lack on multimedia hardware options.
Desktop Linux never ceases to amaze me. The functionality, freedom of choice, and value for the dollar just can't be beat. Having said that (warning, tiny rant ahead)...
I'm curious why it seems to be OK that Linux gets to bundle every type of program under the sun yet whole governments seem dedicated to making Microsoft strip everything away? The only reason I can come up with is that it is purely political (read what you want to into this statement). Being the capitalist pig I am, I resent these kinds of actions. At the end of the day the better mouse trap will win. Tech consumers are getting weary of some of Microsoft's actions/flaws and are learning about better/different solutions. The growing popularity of Linux (GNU/Linux, there, happy???), and alternative programs such as Firefox are but 2 examples. Desktop Linux gets better, faster, easier to use, and more popular with every passing day. It doesn't need to be artificially propped up. IMHO the biggest factor hurting Linux is the anti-Microsoft zealotry by a small but vocal minority in the non-Microsoft using community. When most people see "M$", "winblows", "microsuck", etc... they are put off. XP, with all it's flaws is a good OS. Bashing Microsoft/XP isn't the answer. If your product is truly superior, explaining why your product is a better option is all that is needed. (rant off)
As I stated before, there is a tool for every job. Linux does some things better, Windows does some things better. Those who've tried previous versions of Linux in the past may be pleasantly surprised by the newest versions of the various Linux distros. My one hope from this article is that some non-geeks take a look at Linux. They may not like it, they may do as I do and use both Linux and Windows, they may leave Windows behind forever. "Whatever works"!
Questions? Comments? email me at " etc " at this domain.
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