I’ve played around with Linux in a few different forms on and off in my computing years. Recently, I’ve been pretty impressed with the Ubuntu and Mint offerings, since they are really starting to look like polished pieces of software, with friendly installers and GUI management tools. So, I happened across an older laptop and decided I would make it an Internet machine.
My biggest problem with Linux is that I am a Windows developer. That means I spend a lot of my time in Visual Studio and SQL Server, neither of which are suitable for Linux. I could probably get by with Wine emulation for most other applications, but developing is what I do, so I need Windows. But I figured I could have a laptop that is just for Internet, and with Linux, it would be a speedy little device.
I keep an Ubuntu USB stick handy for disk diagnostics, so I booted that up on the laptop with no problems. The laptop’s hard drive was dead and I was waiting for a new one. I figured I’d try something fun and try installing Ubuntu to a 16GB naildrive stuck in the laptop. Just so you know, it’s impossibly slow when running off a USB drive acting as a hard drive. No SSD speed here.
Last night, I got my new hard drive, installed it, and downloaded the newest Mint version onto a USB drive. I went to install and the system froze. Tried again under compatibility mode and Mint essentially said the machine was not compatible. So I tried with the newest Ubuntu. Same thing. I should have figured as much since Mint is built from Ubuntu. So I went and installed the older version of Ubuntu I had on my diagnostic USB drive.
Mind you, I went into this install with a pretty positive attitude. Maybe I was a little unrealistic in how lightweight and fast Linux is supposed to be, but lots of things started adding up. Downloading the ISO images was so slow. I thought Linux was huge in universities and they had lots of bandwidth. I guess that’s not as true anymore? I was surprised that newer versions were less compatible with older hardware. I thought things always got better with time. Then, the install itself took a surprisingly long time to finish – over an hour. Again, maybe I’m being unrealistic, but I think that my expectations have been molded by the enthusiastic Linux community.
Finally, after install, I have a desktop and everything’s working pretty well. I map a network drive and try out a few application. Then the Update Manager pops up. Yeah, I’m using an older version, so I have to update. Woah, 471 updates! That’s almost four times as many as Windows XP’s post-install updates (~120). Alright, go ahead and update me. Another hour passes and now I have to reboot. Linux needs a reboot? I restart and when I get back to my desktop, I’m prompted for my wireless network passphrase. That’s odd, I thought Ubuntu would save that. I re-enter the password again and Ubuntu prompts me again. Oh. The 471 updates broke my wireless network driver. Where do I go from here? Which update did it? Not knowing the details of Linux, how would I even begin to troubleshoot this? Can you even roll back updates in Linux?
So here’s where I picture myself at: I can reinstall fresh then either skip all updates or try to find (guess) which updates botched the wireless and exclude them. Looking through 471 updates is not high on my list. The other option is to install Windows XP, which I know will work.