Totally into Pokémon!

If you don’t get the reference in the title, go read XKCD for a while. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I finally got around to finishing the switch from Gentoo to Xubuntu (which is really just Ubuntu with XFCE on it). Yes, I realize I’ve been meaning to do this for months, but I’m lazy. The hard drive repartitioning, on top of a slightly counterintuitive interface, had some problems (or perhaps it didn’t and I just got impatient), but it worked perfectly on the third try (I don’t think the first two tries broke anything, I just don’t think they did anything at all). After playing with the system for a few hours, I have a list of some pros and cons to each distro:

  • The OS installation itself was amazingly simple: Gentoo took, like, 2 days to set up (though during the process I learned all about bootstrapping and fstab and cron jobs and ifconfig and other good stuff). Xubuntu took 15 minutes on my part and then about half an hour of waiting for it to do its thing (though I didn’t learn anything). Granted, I had to edit fstab after it was done, but that was for a fairly nonstandard thing (I didn’t want my /boot partition mounted by default, and it wanted to mount everything it could find).
  • Not only is installation of Ubuntu amazingly easy, installation of new programs (assuming they’re in the package manager) is wonderful, too: I could even install sshd without needing to use modprobe to turn it on.
  • The Ubuntu packages, because they’re all built by the Ubuntu team and distributed as binaries, work correctly. Yes, all of them. It’s amazing. The following have never worked as well as they currently do:
    • Graphics: I never got the NVIDIA drivers to work with my AGP Geforce2 card in Gentoo, and ended up having a lot of problems with fancy graphics on my secondary monitor. With Ubuntu, it practically took less time to set up the NVIDIA drivers correctly than it took to set up Xinerama (which takes 5 minutes of copying and pasting in xorg.conf).
    • Sound mixing, even across different programs, worked perfectly the first time with no configuration. On Gentoo, there was a period of about a month where I went with no sound because I couldn’t figure out how to get mixing to work.
    • Installing packages goes really, really quickly because they’re all precompiled. Granted, this makes the availability of packages differ for different architectures, but since I’m in the mainstream on my x86 machine I can get most of them. On Gentoo, any package was available on any machine because you compiled them all yourself from source code, with any customized optimizations you want. However, this required you to wait for it to compile (which could be over a day for things like OpenOffice) and be able to figure out what went wrong if a compile failed. I think I’m willing to trade a little optimization for this nice, simple, integrated system.
  • There are different packages available on the two distros. Dungeon Crawl is a package in Ubuntu but not in Gentoo, while Gaim-LaTeX is the other way around. It’s a little disorienting to find these differences.
  • Ubuntu really likes to use its default programs. I haven’t yet figured out how to make XMMS the default music player, nor do I think it’s worth it to try to revert Firefox back to version 1.5.
  • The CD-ROMs, my iPod, and presumably other peripherals automount! I looked and looked for ways to do this in Gentoo but never figured it out. in Ubuntu, this is the default behaviour.
  • CUPS (for printing) is installed and configured correctly by default. I find the CUPS interface confusing, so it’s nice to know that I don’t need to do much there to get the printer to work.
  • DHCP works by default. I didn’t need to play around with the eth0 settings to get internet access; it just worked. I don’t know how hard it would be to use a static IP address, but the vast majority of users seem to use DHCP, so I think this is a pretty good feature.
  • My mouse is apparently atypical, and middle clicking doesn’t work by default. Then again, the mouse as a whole didn’t work by default in Gentoo, so I guess this is a step up. It’s annoying because I had it correctly configured in Gentoo, and now I have to figure it out all over again.
  • I’ve heard that upgrading to new versions of Ubuntu can be a hassle, and the easiest way to do it is to just write the new system directly over the old one. Consequently, people recommend making a separate hard drive partition for your /home directory (so it doesn’t get deleted when you upgrade). I now have 4 partitions: /boot (unmounted by default), swap, / (root), and /home. Ubuntu had a very user-friendly interface to set all of that up, except that it wanted to mount /boot no matter what. I changed that by hand in fstab.
  • There’s no root user; the only way to do administrative things is with sudo. I think this is a fantastic innovation; it keeps ignorant people from running as root all the time.
  • I still don’t have a fuzzy clock. This is no fault of Ubuntu; it still just hasn’t been implemented in XFCE (and I had the same problem in Gentoo). On the other hand, my clock has been on a vertical panel for several years, and I’d need to change this to accomodate the width of the fuzzy clock.

Xubuntu is a very friendly, easy-to-use system. I’m not sure it’s as customizable as I would like, but I like it more than Gentoo so far. If you’re interested in trying it out for a day, go download the liveCD and burn a copy. Restart your computer, and it will boot up Xubuntu. Take the CD out of the drive, and your old OS will come back.

On a totally unrelated note, it looks like live-action video games aren’t limited to just Zelda.

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