Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nothing Like A Fresh OS!

Well, I have been running this laptop PC with PCLinuxOS for quite a while now, and it has been a real solid workhorse. This particular machine seems to be quite picky about what it likes and doesn't like. So anyway, I was curious about the new 2009 release of PCLOS, and decided to give it a try. I downloaded the CD image and burned it to disk, then installed it (of course I backed up my /home directory first). While things seemed to work pretty good, the MSNBC web site was all garbled in Firefox. I am sure there is a fix, but I thought why not try out a few of the new distros to see what is out there, as I haven't done so for a long time.

I first tried Linux Mint 6.0 which is based on Ubuntu, but includes the multimedia codecs that Ubuntu requires you to download and add. I almost stayed with Mint, but then my sound suddenly stopped working. Okay, so lets try another. I installed OpenSUSE 11.1, and it too is very nice, but it seemed a bit bloated and slow. So then it was off to Fedora 10, the free distribution sponsored by Red Hat. It looked great, but I was dismayed to find that my system froze up after a few minutes and required a hard reboot. I really like Fedora, so I figured let's try to find the fix.

Off I go to the Fedora Forum, and a quick search yielded a solution which involved adding one word to a line in a configuration file. I made the change, and everything became stable. So it was now a matter of downloading the codecs (yes, Fedora also requires that), using Yum to install some additional programs I use from the repositories, and configuring the printer/scanner. I also downloaded CUPS-PDF, so I could print to PDF files.

So now, I am back up and running full steam ahead. The thing I noticed is that all of the new Linuxes support my wifi card on the laptop...something that a year ago didn't happen. I have been using a Windows XP driver with NDISWRAPPER to run wifi, but now that intermediary layer is no longer required.

I also noticed that the default Fedora install puts a lot of foreign fonts on your system, supporting languages like Thai, Arabic, Urdu, and many others, even though I selected US English as my language of choice. So I uninstalled those, and replaced them with others that I will use.

I also found out that the default version of the multitrack sound editor, Audacity, that comes from Fedora doesn't support MP3 files. I found a version that does in one of the extra repositories and replaced the original one with that, and all is well.

The bottom line here is this...Fedora is terrific once you get past the issues to tweak your system, but it is not a distribution for a Linux neophyte. I am very happy with my setup now, but it took too much manual intervention for a beginner. For them, I would suggest Linux Mint, or even Ubuntu. Probably PCLinusOS is a good choice as well, as long as their system isn't as particular as mine.

In all fairness though, most regular computer users never install Windows either, which has its own set of installation issues. They just buy a computer with it already installed and never reinstall the OS. In fact, I know of several people who have bought new PCs, when their perfectly good one flakes out because of Windows issues.

As I continue to work with this new Fedora installation, I will post about any new issues that arise. So far, so good.

For information, this is a Gateway MT3701 laptop with 1 GB of RAM, an Intel Pentium Dual Core processor, and an ATI Radeon Express 200M video card.

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