Living With Linux, Day 2

Because I know you are all passionately interested.

First, what I like: It’s nice to look at a screen and see it completely uncluttered. I’m actually less tense looking at my computer now. This was the desired result, so well done, me. Also, I like the idea of the multiple workspaces.

Now, some of what I don’t like:

1. Had to reinstall the Linux after something went screwy with my first install and Firefox wouldn’t work anymore. Went with Xubuntu this time; it worked perfectly (In case you’re wondering, I’m using the Wubi installer, because it does all the heavy lifting on the installation — I didn’t even have to make a drive partition. It was dead simple to do and I recommend it for everyone isn’t so steeped in open source geekery that they could roll their own distro).

2. The word processing programs (AbiWord, KWord, OpenOffice) are dead ugly. Say what you will about Microsoft, Word 2007 is actually pretty. I wish open source had a better sense of aesthetics, basically.

3. Along the same line: Dude, Linux fonts suck. There are apparently ways to get TrueType fonts to work under Linux, but it also apparently involves opening up a terminal window and etc; sorry, it’s not going to happen.

4. My install can’t find my sound card. Actually, I don’t know if I should count this as a negative, since the whole point is to give me a distraction free environment, so this may actually be a feature rather than a bug. Still, a strike against a completely error-free install.

Fortunately most of these qualify as annoyances rather than real problems.

We’ll see what I think about all of this starting Monday, when I actually get back to work.

61 Comments on “Living With Linux, Day 2”

  1. You don’t need to open a terminal to install TrueType fonts. In the “Applications” menu, choose “Add/Remove” and type “truetype” in the search box. Select “Microsoft Core Fonts” and install. Voila!

  2. The trick to writing in linux is to use emacs (or some other text editor) and LaTeX. Then again, this is probably WAY more hard-core than you have any need of…

    Who needs word processors when you have the True Church of Emacs?

  3. Abiword is nice for distraction-free writing. It’s what I use in Linux, because if you press F11, it goes fullscreen so you have nothing else to do but write. :)

  4. Usually soundcards work without any problem. The only exception as far as I can remember are the Creative Xi-Fi series, for which there aren’t driver because Creative neither released them nor published or made the specifics available to open source developers.

  5. I’ve found through experience that it actually is helpful to create a separate home partition when you do an install: it basically allows you to reinstall the OS as many times as you need without touching your user data. One of the other things with Linux (geek alert) is that you can have so much fun tweaking things that you sometimes break them. Windows doesn’t have this flaw because you pretty much can’t customize it.

    As someone else already pointed out, installing True Type fonts is pretty simple. I’ve got a ton of them on my Kububtu machine. Not sure how things are different in Xubuntu, but I’ve never had to use a command line.

    Not sure how to help with the sound card. Or the aesthetics.

  6. I have to agree with Brian. Take the time to learn LaTeX. It’s an investment that’s well worth the time. Having said that after close to seven years of using various opensource desktops I finally ditched them all for OS X about two years ago and have never looked back. Mostly because I finally wanted something pretty that would just work.

  7. Say, why did you try Linux out anyway? I mean, what did your Windows box not do that you are looking for now?

    I am a Mac user but I am not religious. I use a PC at home as well. I haven’t tried Linux but there’s nothing I don’t get with Office 2008 for Mac and my gaming rig on PC.

  8. @ Patrick M: In my experience, any change of OS makes you wish you had a few knowledgeable geek at hand, round the clock… I’ve been the helper and the helpee, but after helping a Mac user switch to Windows *and* a Windows user acclimate to Mac, let’s say Linux helds no terrors for me.

    BTW, the english-language Ubuntu forums are here:
    See “absolute beginners” ;)

  9. All the assorted flavors of linux sound cool but it seems like a step backward as far as ease of use. I don’t miss hunting for drivers and all the other things that used to go into getting a computer to work.
    Microsoft did simplify computer use while allowing others to play and make money. I just wish they would tighten up the code instead of coming up with new features that I will never use.
    As for Linux being free, didn’t Heinlein say “anything you get for free costs more than it’s worth, you just don’t find out till later”

  10. Oh, well. If you have a Sound Blaster X-Fi the good news is that there’re rumors that Creative’s going to work with the open source developers so a driver could be released soon (read: before the end of the year).
    If your motherboard has integrated audio (ac ’97, hda) that’ll certainly work.

  11. @Rembrandt: There’s no “hunting for drivers” with Linux. There’s a limited numbers of devices for which there aren’t drivers at all (not so many: the X-Fi, some wireless cards, some scanners and printers), all the rest works out of the box or with a couple clicks.

  12. Irene – I qualify in the geek realm. Not a geek purist, but I can hold my own with most geek-speak and crush people when they wander into my realm of geek(It’s obscure, so that usually only happens at work).

    I certainly don’t fear any OS, but Scalzi pretty much summed up my experience with Linux. -Sure free is good, but I’ll pay for usability in most cases.

    Honestly, I’m a little behind in my Linux – when did RedHat and Suse stop being cool? I think I have VM images of those around on a hard drive somewhere.

    I’ve thought for some time that it would be hysterical for Apple or MS to develop and sell a GUI interface for a base Linux kernel. I mean, OSX is practically there already, why not.

    I fall in with Derek @ 12. I’m not religious. I’ll use whatever is easiest and most convenient for the purpose I have within a reasonable price range. I never buy an OS that doesn’t come with hardware. I usually see enough reason to upgrade to a whole new computer. They’re like toasters these days. Run them for a few years then buy a whole new shiny package.

  13. Try, at least, Kubuntu. KDE is much more familiar to Windows users than either GNOME (the default Ubuntu install) or Xubuntu (even more arcane window manager – xfce). For my money (hey, let’s get into a distro war!), I settled on openSUSE rather that the Ubuntu clan.

  14. Gianluca, how is no driver available better than having to hunt for a driver? And we’re not talking some obsure brand of hardware.
    I learned a lot on my 486 running DOS. Having to hunt down the latest drivers when I got a new game. Making boot disc’s for each game and all the other fun. I am glad to have that foundation knowledge but I am not interested in messing with that sort of thing anymore.

  15. Not sure why you’re having trouble with TrueType fonts – they should “just work” – including the Microsoft fonts, which are working fine on this Ubuntu machine. (not that I use them much, because there really are some very nice Open Source/Free fonts out there)

    Welcome to Linux, anyway!

  16. Beware of OpenOffice. It works all right for most stuff, but if people are sending you documents in word with which you’ll be sharing edits, it’s a PITA. It doesn’t display editor comments very well (sometimes at all), and it doesn’t make note of changes very well (sometimes at all). This was a problem for me, as you might imagine.

    I was forced to resort to a 100% legal copy of MS WORD which I most certainly did not inherit from an uncle who absolutely did not burn it for me. Now I’m back on the Word Pony, and much happier that way.

  17. Rembrant, I tweaked to death my 286 (autoexec.bat, config.sys, TSR programs, how can I save that 40k of base RAM, himem.sys/emm386.exe, what’s the parameter to pass to so it autodetect the serial port I’m using), and I don’t have to do anything like this with linux: all the drivers are included in the kernel (or, if they’re closed source, they are available via the distro repository with literally three clicks of the mouse). If you have compatible hardware, everything just works.
    Then, unfortunately, there’s some specific hardware for which there’s no available driver, because there’re no specs and nobody reverse-engineered it, yet, and you have to wait, or to change it. The X-Fi cards are the only common sound cards without a driver, AFAIK, but it seems that Creative released the specs, and the work on a driver will start soon ( So in a few months that problem will go away. Personally, I don’t buy anything without checking reviews and tests, and looking for compatibility with linux takes just a minute.

    The problematic hardware however is a minimal part and there’ve been huge improvements in the last two years. We’re not yet there but now almost everything “just works”: last week a friend of mine gave me an old Mustek usb scanner, I plugged it and I started working immediately; the same for my new Ralink USB Wireless card, my old HP and new Canon printers, etc. etc.
    Every mass storage devices now is auto-mounted and appears on the Desktop, and when I plug in my Canon PowerShot camera a nice popup asks me to import the photos and launches the proper software. Everything a Windows machine can do I can do it too, and then there’re the advantages.

    Since 2003 I changed three primary hard disks and two motherboards, (not to mention video cards, new ram, new secondary hard disks, etc. etc.) and I’m still using the same installation:

    $ last|tail -n 1
    wtmp begins Fri Aug 1 22:35:22 2003

    I’ve been upgrading every single software package installed on my system thanks to my distro infrastructure; I’m running the most recent stable software, with the more advanced available features, free of any cost, and in 4 year, 6 months and 9 days my longest time without a working machine has been 3 hours. You can’t do this with any other operating systems, and I do it literally typing a single command in a terminal (or with three clicks).

    Then, besides the great and usable GUI (I don’t know how Windows and Mac users can live without multiple workspaces) there’re the desktop effects. Some of them are just for show, but many can definitely improve the user experience ;)

    I’m sorry for the quality, the interaction between the 30fps canon camera and my 85Hz crt monitor is not so good :)

    P.S. Scalzi, GNOME is way nicer than KDE, don’t trust the heathens who say the contrary :D

  18. Enjoy the reports. I’m a Fedora user myself – but I try and stay away from telling others what to do – burned out on the whole debate. But I love to hear from those giving linux, in whatever flavor, a spin. It seems a good place to find areas where one might pitch in to help things improve.

  19. You like the Ribbon? I mean, I knew _someone_ had to like it, but I thought it was mostly the lunatics at Redmond.

    TrueType fonts can be problematic, because the fonts themselves are often copyrighted and not licensed in ways so they can be distributed with free operating systems, and because parts of TrueType are patented. Say what you will about software patents, I think there should at least be a blanket free license for interoperability purposes.

  20. Why would you use Latex to write – as in, you know, produce – novels? Plain text is quite enough – I mean, people were using typewriters not 50 years past, and some of them still do. The only reason to typeset your material is to help out the poor guy back at the publishing house who’s got to actually do it before the book is published.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am a Latex user, thank you very much. Latex is good for science writing, especially where math is involved. But novels? That’s overkill.

    As far as the whole Linux experience is concerned, the only real question is: does it do the job you want it too? An operating system is a tool. If you spend more time polishing and adjusting it than, you know, actually getting things done with it, then you might hold the wrong tool. Ditto for word processors, programming languages etc.

  21. Gianluca, got a laugh at the start of your #22 post. Flash back. Has it really been 20+ years?
    Glad you like linux. Good to see a user helping a fellow user just like the bbs days. Enjoy.

  22. See, this is why there’s no go*#$()@m cake. You get chasing all the little things that don’t work, and before you know it, no cake.

  23. I do a lot of writing in LaTeX. It sucks. For composing and really thinking about the writing, nothing beats WYSIWYG with good fonts.

    I also do a lot of composing prose in vim. It also sucks.

    I also do a lot of programming in vim. It’s adequate.

    LaTeX does have some advantages, like producing multiple documents with a common format. Of course, math is also much better in LaTeX than Word.

  24. Re: fonts, I actually just looked for the folder where fonts were being installed and dropped some True Type fonts in there. Open Office immediately recognized them, at least. Then again, I’m running Xandros Linux on my ASUS Eee PC and I really don’t know what I’m doing, though I have used the terminal to install applications and tweak the interface and it wasn’t as hard as it might seem. From my slight interactions with Linux I’m becoming a fan, and I like the multiple workspaces, but as Cherie pointed out, I’m becoming annoyed with using the same documents in Open Office and MS Word–mostly the problem seems to be the number of pages is reported differently between the two.

  25. The word processing programs (AbiWord, KWord, OpenOffice) are dead ugly. Say what you will about Microsoft, Word 2007 is actually pretty. I wish open source had a better sense of aesthetics, basically.

    Yeah, you can make them semi-transparent or metallic in nearly every window manager, but you can never make them actually pleasant to use no matter how much you tweak the eye candy…

    Having Office is one big reason I still dual boot. Too bad we’ll never see Office for Linux, which is weird because they are willing to make it for the Apple market.

  26. Somebody above put it well: expect to take a fair amount of time at the beginning to get up to speed when you change operating systems. Even moving from one version of Windows to the next can be a pain. In fact, Windows Vista is still getting a lot of bad press!

    I think similar things happened with the latest version of the Mac OS. There were a number of not very enthusiastic reviews in the computer magazines.

    I really like Linux, but I don’t recommend it without reservations because it’s different from the mainstream commercial operating systems. However, for a lot of people, I have trouble recommending Windows too. Too many odd things happen with Windows that defy logic. Frankly, Macs still seem the most user-friendly, but they’re also still too dang expensive. :-(

    Oh well. It’s amazing what computers can do, just don’t forget that the learning curve looks a lot steep than it really is at the beginner, and a whole lot less steep than it really was after you’re through it.

  27. Darn, what I meant to type was:

    … just don’t forget that the learning curve looks a lot steeper than it really is at the beginning, and a whole lot less steep than it really was after you’re through it.

    I really should stay up past 1 AM anymore…

  28. Yeah I toyed with Ubuntu briefly (2 days) before I got on the WHS beta. I did like the relative functionality of the system. I’m much like Scalzi here in that I’m not a pure geek so opening a terminal window and doing manual config is something I’d rather not do. Heck that’s why I started using Win95 all those years ago. As the linux community starts working with hardware distributors more we’ll start seeing better hardware compatibility and I’m hoping for a more simplified install process for things not listed in the Install menu (DivX support anyone?).

  29. I’ve been using Ubuntu for nearly two years now, but not in a dual boot situation. I’d wanted to try a Linux distrib for a while, and an old laptop from work came into my posession. It was wiped, and I wasn’t about to screw around with buying Windows again, so I went with Ubuntu.

    And I’ve been really impressed with it. It’s become 99% my main machine now, doing everything I need it to in terms of web access, email, word processing (either Open Office or Google Docs) and most anything else. I’ve even been getting extensively into open source music programs (Ardour for multitrack recording), which is not something I expected to be able to do.

    Obviously I’m not going to play games on it (well, there are a few decent open source games, but you know what I mean), and my work is generally my own (though I do open docs at work on Word and home on OO), so it does everything I want it to without any significant trouble.

    I’m also using more online web apps for various things (Google Docs, GMail and more), so application software is becoming less relevant to me anyway. If you start working like this, OSs like Ubuntu become even more appealing.

    Don’t have any trouble with doing command line stuff from time to time though I must admit — keep it to a minimum sure, and mostly it’s just copying commands from various web forums or howtos, but it’s no great problem for me. But you can do the majority of things in the gui now anyway.

    Hope it works out well for you John!

  30. Pockypimp @37: Modern-day Ubuntu does that — there’s a app that manages the proprietary graphics card drivers for you, and there’s an easy-to-install (no command line) plugin for most of the big video codecs. (Not DVD that I could see, but it’s not too hard to get it working these days, and there are good tutorials on the web. It requires the command line, but that’s only so much Ubuntu can do about that before the MPAA sues their asses off for “enabling piracy”. The MPAA *believe* in security through obscurity.)

    Steve Turner @38: I’ve been playing Half-Life 2 and Portal under Wine and enjoying them a lot. Getting them set up was a bit of a trick, but having done so they work really well.

  31. If I may, there are two things you should do to improve the font situation. First, as others have mentioned, get the MS Core fonts via Automatix ( — no CLI required. Second, right click on the desktop, choose “Change desktop background,” then click the “Fonts” tab. Under Rendering, select “subpixel smoothing (LCDs).” This should not only give you access to most, if not all, the fonts you’re accustomed to with windows, but it will improve their overall appearance.

  32. Open Office is not all that ugly, though you DO have to select the .doc format when saving (using save as).

    You can just select Lucida Console for your font. It’s pretty unassuming and standard.

  33. Yeah, I would say the problem with TTF fonts is subpixel rendering and font smoothing are turned off by default because of patent issues, one method is patented by Microsoft, the other by Apple. At least in Xubuntu you can easily turn them on, so the fonts don’t look so butt-ugly. In Slackware and some others you have to recompile freetype to do so.

    A potential gotacha. OpenOffice does not support Postscript-style OpenType fonts under Linux and won’t before 3.0 . This can be a major hassle for some people. luckily just about every other modern Linux program _does_ support them.

    otherwise, good luck in your Linux aventures!

  34. Fonts should be simple. When I switched to Linux I copied all my fonts onto a CD, then when I install a new distribution I copy the CD into the fonts folder. If you’re using an Ubuntu distribution, that should be the end of things. X-Windows will find your fonts when you next log out or restart the computer, and make them available to all your applications. Or you can go font-hunting on the net and download whatever’s free.

    Comment number 42 about subpixel smoothing was excellent. I’d also suggest that you go (on vanilla Ubuntu) to “System,” “Preferences” and “Screen Resolution” and fiddle around with the resolutions available. If you own either very high-end or obscure hardware this helps sometimes.

    Lastly, make sure that you have the most recent version of Ubuntu (7.10) rather than the long-term support version (6.06.) The current version is infinitely better at hardware support, and if I understand correctly, the April release will be the new long-term support version, with upgrades from the current version available through the update tool on your taskbar.

    Please feel free to send me an e-mail (I assume you see my address even if nobody else does) and I’ll happily try to answer your questions.


  35. John, just one more thought. Ubuntu should be completely problem-free for stuff like fonts, and Firefox should just work on any current Ubuntu – Linux is, after all, Firefox’s native environment. I’d strongly suggest making sure that your memory is good, your computer is not overheating, and your hard drive doesn’t have any flaws. Use the memory tester on your install CD, do the “format with disk checking” option when you install, and make sure your CPU fan is dust-free. (I do warranty support and overheating caused by dusty fans causes more breakage to computers than all other forms of damage combined.)


  36. Linux IS user-friendly…. its just choosy about who its friends are ;)

    I’ve been using linux for some 10-15 year, and I don’t understand all the complaints. I think mostly people dislike change… linux is NOT windows.

    I’m currently running Ubuntu, w/ the kde. (so I guess technically, I’d be running Kubuntu…). I’ve had hardly ANY issues with it, other than untli recently there was NO support for the ATI video card… but thats working find now.

    Love it.

  37. @mensly: Rather than dual-booting to use MS Office, you could try running it under Crossover. I don’t need MS Office for anything I do, but I use Crossover for other apps under Linux and it works well for me.

  38. I’d advise against using Automatix to set things up. I used it on a previous install and eventually had problems that could be traced back to Automatix–this appears to be a common thing, tho’ there’s a lot of controversy and I’m not trying to start anything here. More importantly, Automatix doesn’t actually do much of anything (that I know of) that you can’t do through the current *buntu respositories. (Although you might have to pretend that you’re, you know, not American if you want to watch DVDs via Linux… not that I know anything about that. Keep moving, don’t look, don’t draw attention to yourself–I said don’t lookRUN!)

  39. One of the reasons I have not tried installing any form of Linux is I don’t know of any disk defraggers for Linux.

    I have tried Knoppix, Ubuntu and Kubuntu but only from live CDs.

  40. Linux doesn’t have any disk defraggers because the filesystems used by Linux don’t need them. From commenter “BWF89” over on

    “Heres something I just learned yesterday and it really surpised me. I was wondering why Linux doesn’t have and disk defraggers. The reason why it doesn’t is this. Lets pretend a program you want to open up is a file. And the program that open up that file is a secretary. The first secretary gets the file cabinet that the file is in the dumps everything allover the floor. She gets the file she wants and just stuffs the rest of the files into random cabinets. That is the Microsoft way. Now you have a second secretary trying out for the same job. She open up the cabinet the file is in. Takes the file out. And closes the drawer. She also notices a few files that are out of place while doing that and she puts them in the right cabinets. That is the UNIX and Linux way. UNIX has been doing that since 1984. That’s 20 years. Microsoft still thinks it’s better to dump everything on the floor and spend an hour or two running defragger…”

  41. This thing about defraggers is something I hadn’t thought of, so after I read David’s comment I went to Google. It looks like he’s partly right and partly wrong, with some difference of opinion among Linuxheads.

    As far as I can tell–and I’d love to see an even bigger geek than myself weigh in–Linux’s default filesystem needs less defragging than FAT-based filesystems, but will suffer slight fragging eventually as a disk fills. (I didn’t dig deeply enough to see how the Linux fs compares to NTFS, but my guess would be that they’re comparable, since NTFS is supposed to frag less; FAT is just frag-prone, that’s all there is to it.) But there are in fact Linux defragmenters out there, if you feel like you have to have one.

    From a five-minute Google session:

    Defrag? Linux don’t need no steenking defrag:

    Ha! It totally frags, and it’s the kernel developers’ fault:

    The first Linux defrag program in the search results (so don’t blame me if it turns your computer into SKYNET and destroys the world):

    As for myself–I don’t see any need to use a defragger in Linux myself at the present time, so I won’t bother unless someone tells me I ought to and which program to use….

  42. There is a defragger for XFS filesystem, even though it’s not strictly needed to run it regularly.
    It’s xfs_fsr, part of the package xfsdump. Usage: xfs_fsr [mountpoint] (with the filesystem mounted).
    To check the fragmentation status, xfs_db, same package. Usage: xfs_db [device] (with the filesystem unmounted), then “frag” and “quit” to exit.

  43. As far as I can tell–and I’d love to see an even bigger geek than myself weigh in–Linux’s default filesystem needs less defragging than FAT-based filesystems, but will suffer slight fragging eventually as a disk fills.

    ext3 will fragment, yes. If you don’t have enough space after a file to write more data, you either have to (1) write the extra data elsewhere, or (2) move the data in the way out of the way. (2) will cost performance, and I’m not aware of any filesystem that will do this as part of normal operations. But I doubt that internal file fragmentation is an issue on today’s large hard drives in any halfway modern filesystem.
    However, seeks between files are very much an issue; and ext3 is better at locating related files in close proximity than FAT. There’s no fundamental reason I know of that FAT couldn’t be similarly intelligent, but FAT drivers have historically been pretty primitive. Even with good drivers, the location of the File Allocation Table will hurt performance.
    But be that as it may, neither FAT nor NTFS nor Ext3 can know what future access patterns will be. Disk optimizers do have their place, just not for defragging.

  44. If you go into Synaptic Package Manager, you can find just about anything you want if you search for it, including fonts. (And you can find even more stuff by going into settings -> repositories and enabling more repositories.)

    Also, whenever I hear a guy (like my SO) complain about the command line, I’m reminded of the classic User Friendly “Men are from Macs, women are from VMS.”

  45. Just a couple of comments..
    My wife has been running Mandrake on an old 800 mhz athlon for her desktop. First on a 433 Celeron and then the AMD. Did it so she would not have to worry about viruses and crap ware, and she really has had no problems, until recently that is. The hardware has started getting flaky, and eventually it would take several attempts to get the machine to boot. I set up an account under kubuntu gutsy for her on my machine, ftp’ed over her files and settings, and had her up and running in about 30 minutes with all her old stuff.

    My only issue with ubuntu/linux is crappy video drivers. I can’t get open gl to work, and some things like full screen video decoding ,like on you-tube,have crappy performance. I have a radeon 9800xt.

    I have Mandriva 2008 running on my desktop at work and it runs great. All the Compiz eye-candy, video decoding, the works. But it runs Intel mobo graphics, and the new Mandriva won’t even give me a screen to try to fix the video modes.

    Linux has a LONG way to go for driver support.

  46. Andrew Wade: thanks!

    Sporkinum: yeah, Linux does have a long way to go with drivers, but it’s not all Linux’s fault–it’s that whole “proprietary driver-versus-open source” can of worms combined with Linux’s relatively-marginal user base. If Linux continues to pick up users, I suspect we’ll see a few more drivers hit the repositories. (Although that won’t solve the proprietary software issues.)

    Aiden: I wish there was a Scrivener for Linux. Although I probably would still find ways not to write. Because I suck.

  47. Linux has really come far from it’s early days (ug don’t get me started). With most desktops, Ubuntu works right out of the box. And it can be pretty too! As the years go by, the geeks will continue to make it better and more accessible to everyone else. :) So if you don’t like it now, or don’t want to try it now, try it in a year or two. This, I think, is one of the biggest plusses for Linux. Almost like reverse entropy.

  48. But I doubt that internal file fragmentation is an issue on today’s large hard drives in any halfway modern filesystem.

    I’ve just learned by painful experience that I’m badly wrong on this point. At least if one counts NTFS on Win2003 as “halfway modern”.