I don’t know if I mentioned it or not, but one of the other things I picked up as a result of some PC side work lately is an old donated IBM Thinkpad 600E. Damn thing is ancient (Pentium II 366 Mhz), but I was able to bump the RAM in it up to 512MB and slap a 20GB HD in it so I’ve at least got a working laptop once more. So I figured I’d see if I could get Ubuntu to install on it to try out and quickly discovered why Linux has a long way to go before it’s going to replace Windows Vista or any other Microsoft OS.
Everything I read about Ubuntu claims it’s the easiest of the Linux distros to work with. So far that has not been my experience. I started off with downloading the Live CD/Install CD image that was recommended on the Ubuntu website. That was a mistake as it apparently doesn’t give you a choice on whether to launch the Live CD (which essentially runs Ubuntu from the CD-ROM) or just do an install. It turns out that starting a Live CD takes some time, no, make that a lot of time. So much so that I thought it wasn’t doing anything at all and maybe got a bad image. After talking with some coworkers one of them mentioned that it took upwards of an hour for his to startup on some hardware that wasn’t quite as old as what I was running on, but he put that down to only having had 256MB of RAM. So I tried again that night and let it sit for two and a half hours with no apparent signs of life coming from the system.
Returning to the Ubuntu website I don’t find any suggestions that would be helpful in speeding this process up any or bypassing the launch of the Live CD, but I do find a link to downloading an “alternate text-only install CD” which I proceed to grab. This drops the whole Live CD bit and gets straight to doing the install, but this still took an inordinate amount of time to complete. By my estimates it took at least an hour and a half to finish the install and it wasn’t an entirely smooth process. The laptop itself has a Linksys PCMCIA wireless card in it and Ubuntu did manage to see the card, but wasn’t able to actually get it to work for some reason. I tossed in a 3COM 10/100 card I had and that didn’t fare any better despite the fact that it’s listed as being compatible on the Ubuntu website.
But it did finally install and I found some help pages on the Ubuntu site that offered some suggestions on how to get the networking cards working. To say that the process of installing alternate drivers and enabling them was a convoluted and involved process would be an understatement. Hell, just finding where to configure the damned things was a lesson in trial and error. To top it all off it still didn’t work even after trying everything suggested on the website. Not having a working network interface pretty much negates the whole point of having the laptop for me as I wanted it specifically for accessing the Internet away from my desktop.
So I wiped the hard drive and tossed my Windows XP CD-ROM. Total install time was an hour and four minutes. Both network cards were detected and while I did have to download drivers for the Linksys wireless card, I was able to do so using the 3COM card without issue. Considering the age of the laptop XP seemed to run pretty well probably thanks to the half-gig of RAM I had in it. The difference in the two experiences was amazing. Despite being a pretty crappy OS in many ways, getting Windows up and running was a no-brainer.
While I’m certainly nowhere near as knowledgeable about Linux as I am Windows, I have been working with it for years with my webhosts so it’s not like I’m clueless. If the difference in setting up the two OSes is that profound for me then I can only imagine what it’d be like for your average I-just-want-the-damned-thing-to-work Joe User and it drives home the point of why Linux won’t be replacing Windows anytime soon no matter how much safer, faster, better it happens to be.
I’ve not completely given up on getting Ubuntu to work as I’ve had some more suggestions from coworkers that use it on how to possibly get it up and running. Might even try reinstalling it tonight, though I’m debating downloading the Kbuntu variant as I like the KDE desktop a bit better than Gnome. Depends on whether I feel like tearing out what little is left of my hair.