When I was round at Ellie’s last night she was complaining that her computer was being silly and not working. I had a look at it in situe but couldn’t really do much with it. Unfortunately, as is the case with PCs, after several years of just sitting there minding its own business it had managed to get itself tied up in so many knots that everything was grinding to a halt. There had been the odd virus attack for it to deal with, the installation of random useless programs that did very little other than slow everything down, and generally it was in need of some TLC. So this morning she brought it round to my house and I reinstalled Windows. And while I was at it I decided to install Ubuntu Linux on my PC, just to make things even more interesting.
Of course, reinstalling Windows is never quite as straightforward as it ought to be. The main problem I had to overcome was that the installation process picked up on some fairly significant physical problems with the hard disk. Well, I say the installation process picked it up, what I really mean is that it took forever to format the hard disk and made some rather uninspiring noises while it was doing it, leading me to conclude for myself that something was wrong. Windows didn’t tell me there was a problem, it just took its time and got on with it. Which was fine until it crashed horribly with a fatal blue screen of death, at which point I intervened and did a surface scan of the hard disk, which seemed to solve the problem, at least for now.
Meanwhile I started uninstalling stuff from my computer, clearing stuff off my secondary hard disk so that I could install Ubuntu on it.
On Ellie’s computer, XP finally installed and settled down. The next challenge was getting it onto the internet so that we could start the arduous task of downloading all the updates we were in need of. Unfortunately, because we only had Service Pack 1 installed, the wireless dongle we had didn’t like my router because it was using WPA instead of WEP. So to satisfy this I had to change the settings on the router so that Ellie’s poor computer could access the internet.
Back on my PC, I put the Ubuntu CD in and installed Linux. While I was waiting we all sang along to various musical soundtracks Ellie had brought with her. When Ubuntu had finished installing I had a look round and played Tetris for a bit.
Ellie’s computer then needed to download lots of stuff. To start with it was the antivirus definitions to make it safe. Then came the updates to Windows. Of course, we couldn’t go straight to SP2, we had to install everything else up until that point as well, which included a couple of hours of sitting there waiting for it to sort itself out. As I write this I am still waiting for SP2 to install, and I expect after that there will still be updates to programs that need doing, besides all of that extra bumf that needs installing to make everything work, like Acrobat Reader, Flash, Quicktime, Real Player, etc….
Unfortunately, Ubuntu is now causing me headaches as well now. The operating system itself is running fine, no problems there, but now I need it to find the internet. More precisely, I need it to find the USB wireless adapter plugged into the back. Having read up on the process using my faithful Mac (which incidentally has been sitting here laughing quietly to itself at the other operating systems it’s sharing the room with) I have made some progress, but I’m still stumbling in the dark somewhat. I have no idea what ‘sudo’ is, nor what ‘modprobe’ is supposed to do. All I know at the moment is that they are supposed to make ‘ndiswrapper’ work, which I’ve figured out is some clever jobby that allows Linux to use Windows drivers by wrapping itself around them. Trouble is, although ndiswrapper seems to have made friends with the driver, the module isn’t integrating itself into the kernel, which means the hardware still isn’t accessible. All I want is a nice, simple “install” button… too much to ask?
It is quite fascinating looking at these three computers on my desk, each running a different operating system – XP Pro on a laptop to my left, Ubuntu Linux on my PC to my right, and Mac OS X Tiger on my G3 Blue&White in front of me. Ubuntu is by far the least pretty of the three, and also the most geeky. XP is quietly doing what it does best – waiting. And Tiger is merrily ticking over, running anything and everything without so much as a gasp for air. There is a certain irony here, in that the slowest computer of the lot, hardware-wise, is the one performing most effortlessly.