Saturday, December 28, 2013

Linux Rant III

The story so far:

Desperate to find a linux distribution that runs well on ancient Pentium M chips, our hero has done some awful things with Ubuntu, installing 10.04, then upgrading to 12.04, but at that point the display driver stopped working, and he got sick of it. We pick up with the action there...

With the help of my friend Ben, I was lead to the magic of Ctrl-Alt-F2, which brings up a text login screen (aka a tty) so I could login to the running Ubuntu system, even as the GUI was running and completely unusable.

Some poking around - again aided by Ben - revealed that the laptop has an nvidia graphics chip, and that it was running an open source driver. That driver - I know from past experience - is bad news and doesn't support at least some older nvidia chips, including mine. So I googled around and figured out how to install the proprietary driver from nvidia, which does know how to work with my machine. Installed it. Rebooted.

Change 1: now the system comes up with a little tiny graphics window as it boots, instead of using the full screen. Odd, but I don't care because... I can login and the graphics work again. Well, sort of...

As with the boot side of things, I wound up operating in a little, tiny screen - 1024x768 out of a much larger monitor capable of supporting much higher resolutions. Odd, but at least I can login and work within Linux now without going over to a tty.

Dig into system settings and found the proprietary driver tool, in which I learn that the nvidia driver, while apparently installed, hasn't been activated yet. OK. Activate it. And wait while it downloads and installs the driver again. Huh? But never mind that because once it completes it tells me that the driver is now activated. All I have to do is reboot, which I do, and...

Success. Amazing. The login screen is still really tiny for unknown reasons, but after logging in I get a full sized, max resolution screen. Ubuntu 12.04 is actually running on my laptop.

But that isn't all I wanted to do, sadly. I want to get rid of Unity, a user interface that I continue to dislike. Back to Google and there are some simple steps I find to install Gnome. It will be a choice at login time, apparently, which UI runs. So off to the software center to get and install Gnome. Done. Reboot.
Aside: has anyone else noted that I am rebooting an awful lot? It's like working on bloody Windows. But I digress...
The system comes back up and I select Gnome. Actually, Gnome 3, I think, as it isn't obvious. The choices are "Gnome", "Gnome Classic", and "Gnome Classic (no effects)". You tell me.

And the screen clears... and there is a looooong pause. Minutes. Then a menu bar appears at the top of the screen. Is it done loading? I don't know. I have never used Gnome 3, and don't know how it is used. Move the mouse to one of the icons in the upper right and click. Nothing happens. Try right click. Nothing happens. Hmmm. Odd. Maybe this menu looking thing on the left? Again, nothing. Maybe it's stuck?

Force a reboot.

Login again, but this time to "Gnome Classic". And wait a loooooong time again. When it finally appears at least it looks something like the UI that Ubuntu was using before Unity. Good. But it's also unresponsive.

Force a reboot. Try "Gnome Classic" again. This time be more patient. Mouse to menu, click, and wait. Oh... look! Eventually the menu appears. Well... that indicates there is a real performance problem. Start the system monitor and wait for it to come up.
Aside: yes, I am an idiot. Should have done ctrl-alt-F2 again and used top. Instead I waited forever for the system monitor to come up.
In the end I learned the CUP was 100% busy, and eventually learned that something called compiz was the culprit.

Over to the other computer. Google something like "compiz using too much cpu". Lots of complaints, various proposed solutions. Try a couple of them, including installing magic software to muck with compiz internals and speed it up. (From the tty, of course, where things run reasonably quickly.)

Reboot, again. Login to Unity this time. The usual UI, quick and fine. OK. Logout, login to one of the Gnome choices. Still slow. Worse than molasses in January. Not good.

Give up. This sucks. Apparently Ubuntu has decided that my hardware isn't worth supporting, that Gnome is an afterthought on 12.04, that Unity rules all, and that anyone who feels differently deserves nothing.

Back to the other computer, back to Download the network installer CD ISO image for 7.3.0. Burn it to a CD.

Take the rest of the night off. This has been crazy, and I am far better off doing something fun than making my forehead bleed - more! - on this project.

Saturday morning. Try again. Insert Debian CD into laptop and boot. Select graphical install. Answer the questions. All but one is simple. (I have no clue what answer to give it for my domain name, so I left it blank. Life goes on.)

As I type this the system has already repartitioned and reformatted the disk, and has just finished downloading over 1300 package files to install them.

What happens next? I have no clue, but I do know that Debian booted on my ancient system just fine, so that seems good. Once the install finishes I will poke around and see where things are at. While that goes on, I think I will go have some lunch.