Wiping Linux off my hard drive

If there’s anyone who wasn’t quite sure if I’m a computer geek, this is the post to prove it…

Ever since I went to the Digital Arts and Culture conference at RMIT in 2003, where I presented “this paper”:http://www.fineartforum.org/Backissues/Vol_17/faf_v17_n08/reviews/hourigan.html, (many of the political arguments of which I now thoroughly disagree with), and where every second attendee was toting some kind of Apple notebook, I’ve been “a Mac person,” as some people I know would put it. I’ve also managed to bring my entire family to the Apple fold; even Mum and Dad are about to buy a new G4 iBook.

Now, OS X 10.3 came with my Powerbook G4, and it’s a great operating system, the best I’ve ever used, in fact. But I also really love the idea of Linux, and also some of the software that is unique to the free-*nix world, like “GNOME”:http://www.gnome.org. I have, however, struggled in vain to make it my sole operating system on both my Powerbook and my x86 PC. I’m currently removing it from my Powerbook, where it’s sat, unused, eating 10 gigs of my hard drive, and it may well vanish from my PC, as well.

I came to this conclusion last night after having a go at installing the latest preview release of “Ubuntu Linux”:http://www.ubuntulinux.org, dubbed the “Hoary Hedgehog.” Ubuntu is my favourite distro to date, despite being relatively new. It uses Debian’s APT for package management, so installing new software from online repositories is a snap, and it always comes with the latest version of GNOME. The last release had been sitting on my harddrive unused because it neither supported Airport Expresss (Broadcom’s fault), nor had a working PPPOE utility, and without internet access, a computer isn’t very useful to me.

Hoary’s networking worked fine. Still no wireless, but PPPOE was easy, so I could get online to download some codecs to, in theory, watch some _Rurouni Kenshin_ (in .ogm). But when I finally got them working in gxine, the sound was way too quiet (even with everything at full volume), and trying to use Totem to play the files made my mouse-pointer freeze (needing not just an X-server restart, but a complete reboot to fix). Mounting my HFS+ drive in Ubuntu, I later discovered with Disk Utility.app in OS X, also created some minor, fixable errors.

On top of that, there’s no Exposé, no hardware acceleration for the GUI (and once Tiger comes out, I’ll be saying: “no integrated widget system, no system-wide instant search,” and so on). When compared to Windows, the GNOME GUI is brilliant: multiple desktops, fast drawing of image thumbnails, great usability; but when compared to OS X, GNOME seems like ancient history. KDE is awful, I don’t use it at all.

There’s also very few commercial games for Linux, and sorry, open-source developers, but the only real AAA titles are commercial. Even OS X doesn’t do so poorly in this area, in comparison. Things like _Nethack_ and interactive fiction are great, but they aren’t pushing any technical boundaries.

Other than commercial games, I use free software almost exclusively on my Mac: LyX, OpenOffice, AbiWord, Firefox, Adium, Instiki, MPlayerOSX, VLC, FFView, and more. The list is similar on my PC, where I’m running all this stuff _under Windows_. All this stuff was born of the same, free software movement that created Linux, and which desperately wants Linux to be the world’s operating system of choice. But I’m sorry to say that despite these applications having delivered technically advanced ways to do my work and to share it across my computers and with others using open file formats, Linux just isn’t the OS to run them on. It isn’t the best. It still won’t “just work,” “out of the box,” or off the bootable CD if you will.

I want the best OS I can have, and I’ll even pay money for it. I paid nearly $150 for Panther the year before last, and I consider it one of the most worthwhile purchases I’ve ever made. When Linux is the best there is, maybe I’ll come back to the fold. But for now, I’m looking forward to having an extra 10 gigs free on my hard drive.

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Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.
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  • Sean

    So far as GNOME being “ancient history,” it does do one thing that I very much dislike my OS X box not being able to do – access WebDAV over SSL.

    I spent a couple hours just last night trying to get a clean, sensible “hack” (does that phrase even make sense?) in place to support it on my iBook, with no success.

  • http://benhourigan.com Ben Hourigan

    I’m not surprised: I’ve generally found that any kind of network operation is easier to manage on Linux, and particuarly under GNOME, than on OS X (or Windows). I don’t know much about such things, though, really, so I can’t suggest what might solve your problem.

  • http://www.mrao.cam.ac.uk/~cjb/ Chris

    I want the best OS I can have, and I’ll even pay money for it. I paid nearly $150 for Panther the year before last, and I consider it one of the most worthwhile purchases I’ve ever made. When Linux is the best there is, maybe I’ll come back to the fold.

    This is a reasonable decision, but it’s sad that people make it, since I think it harms the growth of Linux and free software. The *reason* everything “just works” on your Mac, and under Windows, is that there’s very little mindshare associated with Linux — few users means few vendors willing to publish their specs, means that X is non-trivial to set up, means that there are few commercial games. The situation isn’t going to change just by virtue of better programming, it’s going to change when vendors take note and help us out.

    So, while I hope you enjoy OS X, I worry that if everyone decides to come back when it’s all perfect and the (social, commercial, technical) hurdles have been overcome, perhaps there won’t be anything left to come back to. (Which is why, when I get frustrated at not having expose or fast transparency, I try to remember that using Linux isn’t just a technical decision for me; people have been going without technological luxury in exchange for a free operating system since the start of GNU in the early 80s, and it’s disrespectful to that effort to say “Oh, it doesn’t have transparency, it’s not as good.” when they’ve fought so hard and come so far.)

    Or something. Sorry for rambling; I’ve wanted to write something like this for a while, and only just felt the opportunity. :) Be interested in what you think; whether you just consider yourself a user making a technical decision, or whether there’s any politics involved for you.

    – Chris.

  • http://benhourigan.com Ben Hourigan

    Politics are absolutely involved for me. I have spent some time using Linux exclusively, and mostly for political reasons. Note, though, that political reasons aren’t *just* political. I’m assuming that one of the reasons you use Linux and I wish I could is that we want to ensure that we and others will have access to our data well into the future, and to be able to make our own decisions about what our computers will do, rather than having those decisions made by the developer of a proprietary OS.

    This politics, and these usability concerns, still affect me while I’m using OS X: they are why I use, with very few exceptions, free software to do my everyday work, to watch videos, to communicate and to use the web. And I still kind of feel, if I’m using Abiword on OS X, or Firefox, or Scribus, or LyX, or whatever, that I’m contributing to building the momentum of the free software movement. Those applications are an important part of GNU/Linux, and the fact that I use them means that, when I feel the time is ripe, I’ll be able to switch to Linux without trouble. I’m not necessarily demanding Exposé on X, but I do at least expect that working drivers for all my hardware will come with whatever distro I choose.

    But on my work machine (my Powerbook), I have had to make a pragmatic decision, to give precedence to my productivity over my politics. On Linux, I spend less time doing work and more time trying to make the system do what I want it to (editing configuration files, compiling software or even recompiling the kernel).

    On Windows the situation is a little different. I have quite a bit of spare space, and the machine mostly just sits downloading from Bittorrent all day (in Windows). Sometimes I use it for games, and sometimes I use it to watch TV (I haven’t been bothered to get my card, a Nebula DigiTV, to receive broadcasts under Linux). But I still feel like GNOME blows Windows XP away in terms of usability, and it doesn’t cost me anything to leave Ubuntu on my hard drive in case I feel like using it.

    Like I said, I desperately *want* to use Linux all the time. I just can’t see it being practically worthwhile to me right now.

  • Bob Jourgansin

    That’s a $150.00 per year to keep your system up to date with the latest version of OS X, not to mention if you are going to go completly Mac the $99 per year fee for .Mac, the $79 per year for updated versions of your iLife applications, and any additional applications that you might want including Remote Desktop, Keynote, etc. Apple is very expensive yearly investment. This is a no brainer if you work at Apple like I have, you get all these applications plus some third party apps for free but with the annual fees and each new version of OS X requiring more resources, you laptop will be out of date in a few years and the whole cycle will need to begin again. Not that there is anything wrong with this but users need to understand this expense up front.

    Linux on the other hand requires minimal resources and can still run comfortably on older iBooks and PowerBooks. If there is some feature or application missing from your favorite distro or desktop GUI, get up off your ass and work on it. There is always room in the FOSS community to get involved. Apple, Microsoft, and other closed and proprietary systems will be more than happy to take your money while they dictate the look, feel, and features that will be offered for you to consume without question or input. It’s always a shame to lose a user or developer to another OS but judging from your comments it doesn’t sound like you were contributing anything to the Linux community anyway. Perhaps Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X is right where you need to be.

  • http://benhourigan.com Ben Hourigan

    You’re right, Bob, using a Mac can be an expensive proposition, though I have to say that what enabled me to start using OS X in the first place was that my first one, an iBook, was at the time one of the best value items on the notebook market, and the current models still are. I’m lucky, though, to be in the position where I can afford the hardware I want. If I had to recommend an OS to anyone using a bare-bones system, it would be Linux.

    But once the hardware is bought, it’s not that expensive. Quite frankly, .mac seems like a pretty useless extra to me, and the only iLife app I use regularly is iTunes, which is free (not as in freedom, but as in beer). I would use iPhoto, but it chokes on the 50,000 or so screenshots of games I have taken for my research, so I prefer to use GQview, usually. OS X upgrades are expensive, but not as expensive as Windows, and since the OS actually works, it doesn’t feel so painful.

    Where I have to take exception to your comments is where you accuse me of contributing nothing to the Linux community. Where Chris allows that one can contribute something to the FOSS movement by just using the software, you demand that I get in and help write the apps! I haven’t programmed since I was in high school, and that was in PICK! I only started learning HTML last month. I’d like to be able to write apps, but I’ve decided that I’d rather master other skills, like writing, and teaching. Isn’t it necessary to the FOSS movement’s momentum that all sorts of people start using its software? If I tell everyone (and I do) that I write my thesis using LyX, and my blog using WordPress, that I browse the Web with Firefox, doesn’t that help even a little bit? (Oh, and sometimes I file bug reports, too).

    I’m not trying to start a flame-war, here, incidentally…

  • Bob Jourgansin

    Sorry about the rant Ben. I was in the middle of recompiling a new kernel (always a favorite thing for me to do on the PowerPC processor). As I mentioned , I have worked for both NeXT and Apple Computer OS teams and although many of us have since left I wish them the best of luck. I do however take exception to their marketing/sales of the OS which creates as new version approx. once a year. $150 a year (yikes!). As for the other applications, many end users (moms, dads, kids, students, etc.) use these applications because they are part of the Macintosh experience. Unfortunately, as you may have noticed even with Apple’s free (not as in freedom, but as in beer) iTunes that you use, Apple will often require the latest version of OS X to use the latest version of iTunes (which is often required if you want to use the iTunes Music Store). Being very familiar with the OS this is driven purely by sales (forcing the user to upgrade to the latest OS) and not by software engineering contraints.

    Many of us work on Linux or on free and open source applications even in our spare time because we want to see all of those cool features and apps. that you mentioned in your blog available to everyone (regardless of platform or architecture). And we would also like the freedom to add the things that we would like to add to the OS or certain apps. without having to wait for Microsoft or Apple to charge us for them when their marketing/sales teams are ready to add them.

    By the way, YOU are the most valuable asset that a FOSS community can have. It has been my experience that software engineers are really good at writing code but that is the extent of our expertise. You are the best resource for figuring out what is best way to use the application or OS, what are the new features that you require for everyday use, the most natural UI design and layout that is both intuitive and productive for you (with the help of some really talented UI designers), and providing feedback to us on the changes that were made (this works great, this sucks, can you change this, can you add this, this generates a error, this is a bug, etc.). The software engineer IMHO plays a very small role in the success of a OS or application.

    There are lots of ways that you can get involved that do not require coding.

    Best of luck and if you have the time, I hope to see your name out there on the mailing lists, IRC, or bugzilla.

  • Ross

    Hello how are you? I have Redhat 8 installed on my laptop right now. I also have windows installed, but cannot get to the partitions because of I was creating partitions, and a system hang accured and had to reboot. After the reboot it destroyed to MBR, and could not get to it. After this happend I installed Linux in the available space. Now I want to reinstall windows, but cant because Grub will not allow the windows CD to load(I think), every time I load from CD, the screen is just blank, and it will not start any type of instalation process. Im no geek, but an artist, and I really need my computer back up and operating. If any could help I would really be thankfull.

  • http://www.benhourigan.com Ben H

    Hi, Ross,

    I doubt that GRUB is preventing your Windows CD from loading, since booting from CD is a function of BIOS and not of the bootloader.

    Beware:What I’m about to suggest will stop you from booting Linux until you reinstall GRUB…

    If you can get your Windows CD to boot to a command-line, try entering the following command:

    fdisk /mbr

    This should restore the standard Windows bootloader, and allow you to boot Windows if it is installed on your hard-drive. I don’t really know, though, what you mean by “destroyed to MBR.” It’s not usually the case that a reboot will destroy the MBR, although some old versions of Red Hat did have problems with dual-booting. I’d suggest using a more modern distro, such as the latest release of “Ubuntu”:http://www.ubuntulinux.org.

  • Ross

    Hello, hey thanks for the information. No, what happend is that I was using Partion Majic, and there was a system hang in the stage of batch prosses in patition majic, and I partition majic saved that partition under its default format(which offhand I dont know), and I was not able to use that partition any longer. The error message was’ sesion manager-something or another’, sorry, I have already fixed the problem by loging on to another partition and reinstalling windows. I think Im going to just reformat the entire drive eventually. I dont know, I dont have alot of time right now for problems of this nature. Anyway thanks so much for considering my question anyway.

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  • http://toy-story.org Bob

    Hi. I have two 40GB Maxtor 34098H4 hard drives, one of which died completely three months ago. The BIOs will not recognize it and it will not spin when my computer is powered up. The dead drive does not make any noise. After doing some research, I found two seemingly possible methods of getting a dead drive to spin which each have supporters and detractors. The two methods are possible alternatives (To those who cannot afford it) to paying thousands of dollars to a professional firm with a sealed clean room to recover data. The first method involves finding the same model hard drive as the dead one with the exact PCB (Printed Circuit Board) and then swapping the PCB from the good drive into the dead one to make it spin. The second method involves putting the dead drive into a Ziplock storage bag and putting it into the freezer overnight and then taking the drive out and pray that the hard drive will spin. I wanted to try the first method but after examining my good hard drive, which is of the same size and model as the dead one, I found that the PCBs are slightly different. So, the first method will not work for me (I don’t have the time and resources to try to find an exact PCB for the dead drive). I was wondering, would the second method work? Many people have claimed that the second method works and others have claimed that it would end up damaging the drive heads or platters even further. In your experience, have you tried the second method and what is the success rate for making the hard drive spin again so that data can be recovered? I just want to recover some old pictures and music from my dead drive. Any assistance you can offer is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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