Memorial Day Weekend Finale: Ubuntu Netbook Remix on AA1

My little Memorial Day Weekend Linux Fest continues with a look at Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR), which I probably would never have tried had I not tried Gnome in Fedora.

Here’s my quick summary of UNR: FAIL.

Screenshot-4

Let’s start backwards so I can complain about one aspect of Ubuntu’s philosophy that makes it less than ideal as far as I’m concerned. I seriously considered installing UNR despite the issues I had with the menu/desktop thing repeatedly crashing (see below). I also hate trying to understand their goofy installer which makes it convoluted to do a “custom” installation. I realize Ubuntu tries to make things more “approachable” for unsophisticated users, but the over-simplification and “recommended” settings make me wonder if their installer really understands what I want to do. Maybe it’s the paranoia from trusting the PCLOS installer to automatically decide what’s best for the space I set aside. But part of it’s also due to a (IIRC) 6.04-era Xubuntu install that ignored everything I tried to do.

My concerns this time with the dumbed-down (retarded even) techniques of Ubuntu began when I read on the UNR wiki that the “preferred” way to get the image to USB was to download and use their bloated software in Windows or Linux rather than dd it via Linux or BSD. I don’t think more steps is necessarily preferable to fewer. But Team Ubuntu is so hung up on doing every damn thing via graphical interface that it’s part of the deal.

Screenshot-dd-unr-002

Anyway, I ignored their preferred way and just used dd if=/path/to/theirnearlyoneGBimage.img of=/dev/myusb from my Fedora installation. La ti da. I rebooted from the USB stick and watched the Ubuntu splash screen hide all the boot processes. That’s another reason I hate Ubuntu. I want to see what process(es) start and might need to be turned off, to see what hardware is or isn’t detected. Ubuntu’s motto may as well be “ignorance is bliss.” Maybe the less noobs know, the less they’ll fuck things up and flood the forums with the same old questions.

When I got the UNR desktop, it wasn’t the standard Gnome desktop but it was a shade of that shit-brown color Ubuntu has always used but really shouldn’t. How the fuck do  they get away with such a boring earthtone when so many noobs insist on bright, shiny eye-candy? Come on, we’re in the 21st century already.

Let me digress and confess that I briefly ran PudX or XPud or whatever the hell it’s called — sorry, but I find it hard to keep a straight face with anything that includes “pud” as part of its name — a couple weeks ago. It has one of these tabbed menu interfaces which I think belongs on devices like phones and PDAs rather than on netbooks. It was more intuitive and cleaner and clearer than the crappy attempt by Moblin. I think I could live with the XPud/PudX (whatever, heh) interface. The one with Moblin deserves a hot corner of Hell for giving me such a headache the other night because it didn’t seem as coherent.

The UNR desktop/menu interface is kind of like the offspring you’d expect if the Moblin interface defiled mated with the PudX/XPud (sorry, told y’all a couple entries ago that these distro names are getting to be too screwy to care anyway and here’s one with PUD in it). It’s a bit clearer but it also has some strange ideas that I think might work on a phone but make me long for a standard desktop instead.

Screenshot-2

Worse, the thing kept fucking crashing on me! The first time was when I looked to see if I could change the shit-brown to something a little more normal for a white Aspire One. I went with ClearLooks and changed the light blue to a richer cobalt-like shade. Then the desktop menu thing disappeared and a few seconds later I was asked if I wanted to see more of these messages and if I cared to send a bug report to the developers. No to both, and restart the desktop menu thing. Opened Firefox, tried to get some streaming (PLS) audio. Had to find the codecs, install them, then it started. Went back to get a screenshot, found it in the menu, then the menu thing crashed again. And again. And again. And again.

Screenshot-1

I realize some people think they need to reinvent wheels to differentiate themselves from an upstream distro, but you really shouldn’t fix what’s not broken. I don’t find a tabbed desktop menu any more useful than a traditional one, and one that crashes every 90 seconds is not an improvement — it’s a fucking annoyance. Look at the above screenshot and note that there’s only an icon tray for open windows: two Firefox icons (one for the Firefox browser and the other for the download manager), another for Totem (which I manually selected to play the stream instead of the default Rhythmbox), and the Ubuntu logo which doesn’t pop down a traditional menu but takes you back to the crummy desktop/menu thing.

I decided I didn’t want this on my hard drive even though stuff that hasn’t worked in other distros — like the internal mic, though I didn’t try the card readers, ear phones, etc.  — worked to some extent. That doesn’t mean things worked flawlessly. I mentioned the microphone worked but I could only record clear sounds at the lowest possible settings (for spx, IIRC). Other settings resulted in popping sounds. I didn’t capture any video successfully via Cheese, either, but it did take some clear pictures.

Even though I didn’t want to commit to installing it, I did go through the installer to see if I had reason to be concerned it would override how I’d want to install it. When I got to the partitioner, the whole thing ran off the screen so I had to move the window back and forth to see what was happening. Why? Too many partitions? That’s messed up regardless of why because this is geared towards machines which tend to have 1024×600 resolution. Why can’t you get that set up so it scales to the width of the screen instead of to infinity regardless of how many partitions are set up?!

To Ubuntu’s credit, their installer recognized the other partitions and the distros used on the / for each. I have two Windows partitions (one recovery and one for XP installation), one Linux swap, and five Linux partitions (one entirely unused ~20GB I could use to test another distro), and a big chunk of free space which will most likely be used for an encrypted Windows partition whether I merge or unify my Linux partitions whenever Fedora 11 (coming first week in June, maybe), or a better option, comes along.

Anyway, I stopped everything when the installer looked like it switched from my chosen partition to the “use whole disk” setting — not sure if that happened when I was alt-mouse moving the window so I could see WTF was happening or if it did that itself. I didn’t care because I think I’d just as soon use standard Ubuntu as this remix and its buggy desktop menu. Which means screw Ubuntu, I’ll stick with Fedora.

Just as I was getting ready to shut it down, the desktop/menu thing crashed for the final time. I tried every fucking keystroke combination I could to get a menu to no avail. This was the straw that broke UNR’s back as far as I’m concerned. I couldn’t see what the Ubuntu splash screen was hiding during boot but I decided to see if it disabled the AA1’s on-off button. As soon as I clicked it, I got Ubuntu’s shutdown menu. Yea! I rebooted and will likely wipe the USB stick very soon.

Like Moblin, UNR seems a great idea — on paper. Only problem is, it sucks on the computer. I’ll give Moblin and UNR each an A for effort but have to give both an F for flawed/failed execution. I really think a standard distro will suit my needs better than a machine- or netbook-specific one at this point. I don’t want my netbook to run or look like a cellphone or PDA. It’s a computer and I use it like one (which is why XP models have far outsold the Linux-based cloud versions of  these things — people use them as computers rather than as net appliances). I don’t want some quirky interface (no, ratpoison isn’t quirky and it doesn’t have cascading walls of “m-zones” and other bizzarre novelties getting in the way if the mouse moves too far).

This turned out to be a bad way to spend the weekend, though it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Nothing I tried this weekend (Linux-wise) was much of an improvement over anything else I’ve already installed. XP remains flawless on the Aspire One and will remain my primary OS on this thing. I converted PCLOS from KDE to Xfce/JWM/ratpoison (from slim login manager) and it’s actually okay despite how pissed off I am about its automatic installation and some of the unresolved hardware issues remain unresolved. Fedora has also been surprisingly good on this even though I don’t consider myself a Gnome fan, and Fedora is the direction I’m leaning if I ever settle on a binary-based distro. Maybe PCLOS will get stronger now that Tex has resumed control and in spite of all the defections.

I still may yet give Tiny Core another run because I’m finding myself doing so much tweaking regardless of which distro I use that I may as well go back to the modular concept I wanted. I keep saying that but I never have time to mess with anything anymore. But who knows. I saw someone whining about the aesthetics of FLWM, the new default TC 2.0 window manager, at Distrowatch last week. That sounds very promising after the glitzy do-nothing shite of Moblin.

Substance trumps style. Sometimes less is more, especially when it’s not crashing incessantly and getting in the way of the user. I’ll take stability over fancy every damn time.

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