August 6th, 2009
It’s been a while since I’ve distro-hopped. When I first starting using Linux back in spring 2005, I used Mepis, then Ubuntu. Then I tried about 15 or so other Linux distros and finally settled on Ubuntu again. I’ve been using Ubuntu ever since.
Recently, though, I’ve been getting that itch again, so I’ve tried installing various distros on the 4 GB SD card in my HP Mini.
Arch Linux gets a lot of hype on the Ubuntu Forums, so I thought I’d give that a shot. It isn’t as intimidating as some people make it sound. Yes, the installer doesn’t look pretty, and you have to do some stuff at the command-line, but the defaults in the configuration files are pretty good for most situations. Unfortunately, there was some weird error message when I tried to reboot. When I did some Google searches on the error message, I was told to add various parameters to the kernel line of the Grub entry, but nothing worked. So, Arch didn’t work on the SD card.
Then I tried Simply Mepis. I have to say I was quite surprised that after four years, Mepis is pretty much the same way it was back when I used it in 2005. It even still uses KDE 3 instead of some version of KDE 4. The existence of a wireless setup tool is handy, but it’s a little confusing to actually use. Eventually I did get it working with my Broadcom 4312 card. Unfortunately, once I installed all the pending updates, not only did the wireless card no longer work but all the suspend options disappeared from the power management applet. Nice try, Mepis.
Then I thought I’d give PCLinuxOS a try again. Wouldn’t even boot. I got some kind of BusyBox error message after “burning” it to USB with UNetBootIn and rebooting. Maybe another time, PCLinuxOS.
What about plain old Debian stable (nicknamed Lenny)? Well, when I tried to use the regular .iso through a UNetBootIn’ed USB, I got some error message about the CD-ROM not being detected. I did some considerable searching on this error message, and only a couple of “solutions” showed up in the search results (something about switching to another console and manually mounting the USB drive at /cdrom or /dev/cdroms/cdrom0), but nothing worked. So I went with a minimal net install of Debian, which took forever to install (I’d say something like four hours)—kind of reminded me of a Windows XP installation.
In the middle of trying to configure things, Debian randomly froze up on me. Control-Alt-Delete didn’t work. Control-Alt-Backspace didn’t work. Nothing worked to get out of the freeze. I had to force a shutdown. Once I got it up and running again, I followed the instructions at the Debian wiki for getting Broadcom 4312 working, and it did work… but when I logged in again, it didn’t remember to connect to my preferred network. I had to manually connect and re-enter my password, even though it was listed as a network in the Network Manager connections, and the password was listed in the Gnome Keyring stored passwords.
I experienced random CPU spikes every few minutes and did not always have USB devices automount.
The worst part, though, is that the Debian installer didn’t ask me where to install Grub. It just asked me if I wanted Grub installed, and it overwrote the Ubuntu Grub boot loader, so I couldn’t boot into Ubuntu, and I had to use a Ubuntu live USB to restore Ubuntu’s Grub to the MBR.
And, I also had to UNetBootIn the Ubuntu .iso at work (using Windows), because UNetBootIn won’t install for Debian Lenny, and the old-fashioned method of simply copying the files over and renaming a couple of files left me with a BusyBox error. And I couldn’t just add Ubuntu manually to the Debian Grub menu, because Debian Lenny cannot mount an Ext4 partition, so I wouldn’t have even known what to put in the Grub entry.
So, yeah, I may play around with Debian some more, just because it took so much just to get it installed, but I think I’ll probably be sticking with Ubuntu for another four years. Ubuntu isn’t perfect, but it also doesn’t give me headaches, even when I tried installing it to the SD card instead of the main drive.