The Linux Desktop…

…And Other Ramblings.

Yes, yes, I know. It’s been a long time since I posted anything. Probably three weeks or so. But I have excuses. Lots of them…

First; I think I had Post-Buriram Blues.

I always get great pleasure from a long trip, and the Buriram adventure was no exception.

Auntie Climax, earlier today.
Anti Climax, earlier today.

I really enjoy jumping in the car each day, and whether going 80kms or 800, there’s always something new to be discovered. So, getting home is a bit of an anti-climax. There was a lot of appdev work to catch up on, but I found myself staring at the screen, or the wall, reminiscing on the past trip, and plotting the next.

Then; I was hit with some kind of poisoning. I was completely out of action for three whole days, and it’s taken me about another ten to get back up to speed. I have my theories, but they are only that, so I can’t accuse anyone. But, you see, whenever I buy a bottle of liquor, the contents never taste quite right. I once poured most of a bottle of Bacardi down the drain. I have no idea what was in it, but it sure wasn’t Bacardi.

My theory is that somewhere, there’s a factory pumping out fake liquor. Why not? You can buy fake everything else in this part of the world, so why not liquor? Just what this stuff is, I dread to think. Antifreeze? Methyl alcohol? Who knows.

7570_mount_gay_rum_logo

When I was in Buriram, I had an unfortunate moment of stupidity. I was in a large supermarket, and noticed two bottles of Mount Gay rum. I fell in love with this stuff on my first visit to the Caribbean island of Barbados, which is where it’s made, and that was a very very long time ago. Somewhere around 1975 I think. And I thought to myself, this stuff is so rare, no one is going to try to produce fake Mount Gay. So, at great expense, I bought both bottles.

Luckily, I didn’t try it while on the road, but as soon as I was home, I drank a little each night as a nightcap. It didn’t taste like Mount Gay, which of course was a clear indication it wasn’t genuine, but my mind was focused on how much it had cost, and told me I really needed to keep drinking it.

The first night I had a headache. The third morning I woke feeling like cr*p, and the fourth morning I thought I was dying. “Maybe it’s the rum” the brain said. Smart! There really was no doubt, and a bottle and a half went into the kitchen sink. But by this point, the stuff had done something seriously nasty to my innards, which is why it took me so long to bounce back.

So, from now on, I have a strict no liquor policy, whatever the origin.

Sometimes, outside bars, I see signs that say “Get drunk for 100 Baht … Guaranteed.” That about US$3 or a little more than two Brexits. Now I know how they do it. Pour in some antifreeze, mix with sugar and fruit juice, and you have an ultra-cheap, potent, but quite deadly cocktail.

7570_mr_toon

So, about the same time I was dying, my PC died. It took me a week before I gave a damn, but eventually I figured I had to do something. I diagnozed a failed motherboard and/or CPU, but couldn’t face a three hour roundtrip to one of the cities in the hunt for spares. In a flash of genius I Googled “PC Repair Khanom” and up popped “Mr. TooN IT.” Yes, that’s how he spells it.

I saw that he was on the main road that runs through Khanom, and only about three kilometers from home, so I dragged myself and the faulty parts into the car and went looking for “Mr. TooN.”

When I arrived at the address, it was a pharmacy. But on the sidewalk there was a sign that said “Fix Computer” so I went into the pharmacy to enquire. For some reason, all pharmacists seem to speak perfect English, and the lady behind the counter was no exception. When I asked about “Fix Computer” she said “Ahhh, that’s my husband.” A good team, I thought. He fixes computers, while she fixes people.

Anyhoo, if you are in the Khanom area, and you need to “fix computer” I can recommend the fella. Rather than assuming I was a dumb farang who knew nothing (I guess walking in with a motherboard under my arm was a giveaway) we carefully discussed all the options, even the really cheap ones which were “not guaranteed to work” and I finally settled on a new motherboard, CPU and RAM chips. This gave my PC brand new parts at about half the price I’d predicted. And of course, Mr. TooN was the one who had to go to a city to source the bits. Which he did, within 24 hours.

Then the fun started…

I confess, I hate upgrading operating systems. You can guarantee that a good chunk of your software will have incompatibilities with the new OS. So; you probably guessed it, my PC was still running the now un-supported Windows XP. But, but, but, as I quickly discovered, new motherboards don’t support XP. Quelle horreur!



Booking.com

Now what? Well, that’s obvious. Procrastinate.

I was still semi-happily using my Mac for all essential computing, which, given my health, was limited to checking e-mail and browsing Facebook. Come to think of it, that about sums-up some fully-healthy days too.

No one seems to have anything nice to say about Windows 10. Windows 8 seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye, so I had to think about Windows 7. And how long is that going to be supported?

And then I thought “Why not Linux?”

Well, I admit, I have a love-hate relationship with Linux. I’ve been using it, and Unix before it, off-and-on for more than thirty years. If you need to run a server for any reason, there’s really no alternative. But how many people need to do that? I have done in the past, but now, anything that needs a server, like this blog, I let other people worry about. They and the servers, I’m lead to believe, live on a cloud somewhere.

I need a normal desktop PC, and I have a few programs that are Windows only. But, Linux has something called “Wine” which claims to run Windows software in an emulator. There’s no Windows. It just looks like there is.

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So, after a few days of mulling, I downloaded a copy of Ubuntu Linux. And that’s where you quickly discover Linux is a strange animal. There’s probably more than twenty distributions, or “distros” as we’re supposed to call them, all of which are “same-same, but different” as they say around here. Imagine being asked “Which distro of Windows 10 would you like?” Or, “Do you want Apple OSX, Symantec OSX, Intel OSX…?” Huh?

But that’s the way it is. Everyone thinks they can take the same product, i.e. core Linux, and package it better. Mostly they’re wrong. They take a strong, robust operating system and f*** it up!

So, why Ubuntu? For the rather weak reasons that I have a little experience with this distro, plus it’s quite highly recommended. But then, they all are. Everyone seems to have favorites, and all their reasons are different.

Initial impressions were very favorable. It installed easily and quickly from a thumb drive. It didn’t take up much disk space, and it didn’t overwrite anything on my drives. The user interface is attractive, and Windows-like. It comes with a lot of software built-in, like Firefox, Office Automation, etc., so you can get started quickly.

An Ubuntu Linux Desktop, sometime last week.
An Ubuntu Linux Desktop, sometime last week.

Even Wine works, sort-of, sometimes. I think it depends on the wind direction, or phase of the moon. I only cared about one program, Pegasus Mail for Windows. And, lucky me, after a bit of tweaking, that works all the time. Other Windows programs may or may not work, but I don’t care too much.

So, after a couple of days, I was quite happy, and decided Linux was a keeper. Then things started going downhill.

Inevitably a distro doesn’t contain all the software you need, and so you have to start downloading things. I needed software like a video-format converter, Photoshop equivalent, and more. But there never seems to be any direct equivalent, so you end-up downloading and trying ten products before finding one that’s close enough to what you need.

And the whole download process can be super-simple, or downright arcane. Ubuntu has an app that will go search for what you need. If it finds something, you click once, et voilà, there’s the product. There’s an icon on the desktop, you click it, and away you go.

But with far too many products, you have to find a website that has a download button – or rather a whole jenson of buttons, one for each distro – or in many cases two for each distro, depending on whether you have a 32-bit or 64-bit processor. Do you know?

Along with the buttons there’s usually a whole page of gibberish installation instructions, and several commands you need to type into a terminal window. And, let’s pause right there. What’s a “terminal window?”

Well, essentially it’s the same as what we used to call a “DOS Window” or a “Command Prompt Window.” Basically it’s where you type a command or string of commands, that if you type correctly, won’t overwrite all or part of your newly-installed operating system.

To my mind, if a Linux distro is a solid product, you should never have to use a terminal window. If you’re a geek, okay, it’s there and you can use it at your peril. But if you are a PC user, and want to do something useful, opening a terminal window should be a big no-no. But, sadly, you have no choice.

For a number of products I tried to download, there were several gibberish commands that needed to be typed, and each of them produced screensful of more gibberish. Luckily, I’m semi-fluent in gibberish, so I could kind-of understand what was happening. But I contend, this should never be necessary. Many products failed to install, without any kind of explanation, so frankly, after the first couple of days of using Ubuntu Linux, the next few were frustrating.

Some gibberish, yesterday.
Some gibberish, yesterday.

It’s a real shame. Linux is good. The user interface looks nice. But geeks all over the world have been trying to make Linux a mainstream operating system for more than twenty years. I suspect they’ll try for twenty more, and still fail.

So now, with a working PC, a working body, and some improved weather, it’s time for tootling.

Paul

...has been travelling the world for more than fifty years; having lived and worked in five countries and travelled to many many more. He likes to write about his travels - present and past - along with his other main interests of Information Technology and Motorsport, and he adds a few general twitterings along the way. More info than you could possibly need is available by clicking the ABOUT tab in the top menu line.

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