XP logoWhen 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.

Ubuntu logoBack 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.

Categories: Technology


Phill · 24 February 2007 at 12:19 pm

Hey, Linux can run on Power PC architecture. Try getting OS X to run on your PC, then tell me that you have driver difficulties :p When you only have build an operating system with a very limited supported hardware range of course it’s going to work beautifully… trying to get an OS working with a diverse range of hardware is much more of a challenge.

I would also like to point out that my wireless PCI card was picked up first time by Ubuntu with no driver installation needed (suck on that, Windows!). And if you’d had a standard network cable rather than a wireless card, again, it would have been fine (there have been occasions where Windoze won’t recognise even a simple 10/100 network card without drivers, whereas Linux has got it working first time round).

Ultimately I think it depends on what you want from your computer. I think Linux is well worth any installation trouble you may have. Compared to Windows, you’ve got so much more flexibility built-in, it’s more secure, and in general you can do whatever you like with it.

Mac OS X is probably the best commercial OS there is at the moment, but then that’s because it’s built on BSD Unix and, again, doesn’t have to run on a huge range of hardware.


Matthew · 24 February 2007 at 4:44 pm

Hi Phill. Yes, I agree. Don’t suppose you fancy coming round at some point and helping me sort out my wireless dongle on Ubuntu do you? It won’t be immediately, we’ve had some pretty terminal issues with Ellie’s laptop, in that the hard disk has all but failed completely, so she’s borrowing my PC for the moment, but once we’re back to normal I’d be glad of the help in getting Linux to find the internet.

To be honest, I quite like the fact that Macs only have a relatively limited hardware set. It may be slightly more expensive, but at least your guaranteed to have components that you know are going to like each other. I suppose the same could be said of any other computer, though you’d have to do a lot more research in order to ensure everything was going to work seamlessly.

Of course, I also like that Mac OS X is a friendly GUI for Unix. Lots of power, lots of security, lots of flexibility should you want it.

Phill · 24 February 2007 at 5:10 pm

Yeah, I can see what you mean about Macs – they’re well designed pieces of kit all over, hardware and software included.

I just like the flexibility of PCs / Linux though, I guess I’m geeky like that! 😀

And yes, it would be cool to come round and give you a hand with your Linux problems, I can’t promise I’ll be able to get it to work though, although I’ve been using Linux for about 18 months I still feel like a bit of a newbie sometimes! Heh. I’ll talk to you and I can pop over sometime, when your computer is back with you!

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