I started a new project at a client's office a month or so ago. On the first day I turned up, and managed to work for about an hour, before my laptop died. Somewhat embarassing. I tried for about an hour to resuscitate it, but couldn't get it to boot at all: it just died and froze before the KDE login screen. It seemed to be some sort of graphical mishap, and no amount of fiddling with xorg.conf from rescue mode would fix it.
I excused myself, went back home and after some more fiddling, decided to backup and re-install. Having made this decision I was looking through my pile of install CDs, and I came across PCLinuxOS 2008, which I'd downloaded a few weeks previously, and I'd been meaning to try out. "So why not try it out on this laptop?" said the evil part of my brain — the same part which forces me to spend time on Facebook instead of working.
I decided to go ahead with this monstrous plan, partly due to the inexplicable freezing above, and partly because there were a couple of issues I'd never managed to resolve with Ubuntu 7.10, namely:
- Truecrypt wouldn't work
- Wireless didn't work very well. It had taken me a couple of days to get it working initially, and it still doesn't fully work – sometimes dropping the connection.
- One part of my filesystem was mounted twice. I forget which part now, and it was not causing any problems, but it was irritating me.
- Probably some more things as well …
OK, so time to try something new then. I'm not going to dwell on the details, but here's the shortened version of the process.
- Backup existing partitions to an external USB hard disk, using Gparted Live CD. These were a two ext3 partitions, mounted on / and /home, and a VFAT32 partition containing some bits of data, and storage.
- Run the PCLinuxOS installer. What I was trying to do was to leave the /home and VFAT partitions intact, and replace the / partition. However the installer was somewhat clumsy in this respect, and actually reformatted the whole disk. I wasn't sure whether or not this was due to me misunderstanding the installer or due to a bug. Anyway, good job I backed up.
- Restore the /home and VFAT partitions from the backup using Gparted CD again. Awesome tool.
- Replace the existing /home directory with the newly restored partition. eg.
- Booting in single mode, rename /home to /oldhome.
- edit fstab to mount the new partition as /home
- Check permissions. Need to change ownership of files within my user directory.
- Some applications don't work. Remove preference directories from /home/user directory and replace them a few at a time. Replace the .gnome directory with the corresponding one from /oldhome.
/dev/hda6 /home ext3 user,exec,rw,auto 0 0
That was actually pretty easy. Now the good stuff.
- Wireless worked immediately with WPA2, something I'd never been able to get running on Ubuntu.
- The fonts on the screen were a good size. I'd always found Ubuntu fonts a bit large, but the ones on PClinux OS were much better suited to my 1024×768 display.
- Sound and video worked fine out of the box. I'd had to fiddle with Ubuntu to get them going. I still needed to use the noapic boot trick though, which I was anticipating anyway.
Now to install some software. PClinuxOS doesn't come with as much pre-installed as Ubuntu, so I added the following applications. Oddly, PClinuxOS is an rpm based distro, but it still uses apt-get.
- su -l (N.B. PClinuxOS uses a root login rather than sudo)
- apt-get install nano, openoffice, filezilla, keepass, wine, skype, kopete, k3b, bind-utils
- apt-get remove ephiphany, gnumeric, abiword
Then I installed my favourite windows apps under wine: treepad and notepad++
I wasn't able to install vmware server from apt-get, so I installed it by downloading from the vmware site, which entailed also getting a new serial number.
Truecrypt wasn't in the original list of available applications in Synaptic. However I updated the repositories to a different one, and it appeared. Great! I installed it, and it worked perfectly immediately. This was a major coup, as it wouldn't work under Ubuntu 7.10.
That was pretty much it. The initial setup had taken me around 4 hours, which I could have easily spent tinkering with config files, trying to get the old, troubled install of Ubuntu to work. I installed more applications as I needed them over the next few weeks, but the initial install was good enough to get me up and running again.
After having used it for a month or so, one frustrating element of PClinuxOS is that there is a limited selection of software available for it. There are dire warnings and threats in the user forum about compiling your own software, for which you forego any chance of support. They have a point of course, but the're definitely a bit less friendly than Ubuntu.
By the time I got around to writing this, of course Ubuntu 8.10 is out. I may switch back to it next time I have to re-install, but the point that this exercise has demonstrated to me, is that switching OSes, linux to linux is a lot easier than going cross platform, and can easily be done inside a day. Food for thought.