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8 August 2005 - 14:47Conversion to Ubuntu Linux

My Windows XP desktop computer died last Monday (warning: rant coming up) – I woke up to find that rather than dutifully doing what it had been doing all week (sitting there mostly, with some email), it had instead entered an infinite reboot/crash cycle. One evening playing with it (and I’m no slouch at fixing these things) was enough for me to know that XP was dead. Again.

Annoyed with this, I decided it was time to have another go with Linux and see if the situation had improved from my last dabble a year or so back. I plugged for Ubuntu, backed by Mark Shuttleworth (the millionaire who bought a ticket with the Russian space agency to fly to the International Space Station in 2002) to the tune of $10 million US and marketed as a ‘linux for the people’ (rather than the geeks).

So far, so good, one week in I’m still happy enough and I don’t intend to switch back to Microsoft XP. Be warned, the following is pretty geeky:

Installed version: Hoary Hedgehog, version 5.04
Installed machine: Athlon 64, Asus K8VSE Deluxe motherboard, SATA, ATI Radeon 9800Pro, Creative Audigy 2 ZS, 3Com USB WIFI

Installation: easy and painless, there were few questions and mostly I just let the machine churn.

What worked: after installation I had a user account with the defaults for Evolution email (which I don’t like), Firebird for browsing (good, but a pre-bugfix version), OpenOffice and utilities. My mouse, keyboard and basic graphics were ok and I could mount the old XP drive and access my lost data.

What didn’t work: My 3Com wireless card wasn’t picked up, it looks like I need to play with ndiswrapper to get support – this is a failing on 3Com’s part for not providing drivers. My ATI card has basic support (no 3D), but that looks like ATI’s problem for not providing open-source driver support (though they have provided allegedly-hard-to-install binaries). No printer drivers yet, but in fairness I’ve not tried plugged my HP in – however it looks like I have to install more drivers there too.

I burned some backup CDs, but these were all bad burns – I had to install proftpd and send files to my Windows laptop and burn from there to get a good backup. No sound support – there’s a weird hack which seems to have worked, but annoying that it didn’t work out of the box. No fan support – the machine enters a low-power mode for the CPU but still runs the fan at high (and noisy) speed.

It looks as though I can solve all the problems I’ve seen, so I’ll keep plugging ahead for now. There’s an active support community over at UbuntuGuide and the UbuntuForums and the next release is scheduled for October which includes a lot of improvements. I think I might be able to get along with this distribution (here’s hoping), then maybe I can leave my desktop turned on for more than a week without having to reboot.

Update: By default the fan-control isn’t enabled, so the CPU fan runs at full speed (which is loud). I used these instructions to install the fancontrol module (via the Ubuntu forums). I have to do fancontrol at every reboot, I’m not sure which script to add this too yet.
Update: To enable sound on my Creative Labs Audigy 2 ZS under Ubuntu I followed these instructions, essentially you have to use the alsamixer and switch an output from digital to analog. I followed the 2nd entry by Daniel49. Using sudo alsactl store stored the setting between reboots.
Update: Still no wifi on my 3Com 3CRWE254G72 USB stick, even though I’m using the latest ndiswrapper compiled locally with several versions of the 3Com Windows drivers. Will keep trying, the 20 metre network cable is all well and good but is somewhat ugly. If you can offer any help on this one, please drop me a line (2005-08-28).
Update: Woot! 3D graphics now working – I’ve installed my ATI Radeon 9800 Pro under Ubuntu Hoary following these instructions. No problems, I just installed the stock drivers (steps 1 and 3). Actually I messed with Step 3 and had to revert to my saved xorg.conf, but after following the instructions properly it went fine. Now my video is less choppy and the UI feels a bit more responsive.

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