Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Linux Mint

What counts as hot news in the Linux world: Linux Mint has overtaken Ubuntu in the DistroWatch page hits chart.  Probably because Mint has retained a GUI (Gnome 2) which users find more familiar than Ubuntu's Unity or Gnome 3, both of which are controversial departures from the "launch bar plus programs menu" style.  Personally, I like Gnome 3 very much on a netbook, I'm not convinced that it's the best way of doing things on a larger screen (my feeling is that there is a false assumption in both GUIs that you will basically be doing one thing at a time, so it is not obvious what is running behind the currently active window, and switching between running applications is not as simple as a single mouse click - that may sound a trivial objection, but if you're used to these things being obvious and quick, even a trivial barrier is irritating).  So last night I put Linux Mint on my home netbook - which took about half an hour including freeing up some disk space, downloading the ISO file, plus maybe twenty minutes this morning to download and install updates (a similar process putting Windows 7 on the work netbook took several hours with half a dozen reboots and the usual scrabbling around to find the right network driver - this for a machine which came with Windows 7 installed in the first place).  One hiccup: booting from the live USB drive just gives the error message:

vesamenu.c32: Not a COM32R image

The answer, as usual, came within a couple of minutes by googling the first line.  Hit tab, and then enter "live" to boot as normal and install into the ten gigabyte partition (two thirds of which is still free - another contrast with Windows 7).

Irritation number one: when I start a terminal, I see this before the command prompt:
/ Steady movement is more important than \
| speed, much of the time. So long as    |
| there is a regular progression of      |
| stimuli to get your mental hooks into, |
| there is room for lateral movement.    |
| Once this begins, its rate is a matter |
| of discretion.                         |
|                                        |
\ -- Corwin, Prince of Amber             /
   \   \_\_    _/_/
    \      \__/
           (__)\       )\/\
               ||----w |
               ||     ||

This is the sort of thing that gets Linux a reputation as the operating system for people who think fantasy fiction is a guide to life.  I have nothing against fantasy fiction (it's not for me, but each to their own), but I don't see why I should be subjected to some geek's idea of profundity every time I want to use bash.  I do not care what "Corwin, Prince of Amber" thinks about any subject.  The way to remove it is here - but why on earth is it set up as the default in an operating system which presumably wants to attract at least a few users who don't feel the urge to dress up as hobbits at weekends?

Irritation number two: when restoring the boot loader so that Ubuntu was still the default, the Fedora wallpaper reappeared.  It looks like this:

Many years ago I went to a conference on using the web for university education (in the days when that was a new and slightly wacky idea).  "You can always tell a university website", we were told, "because the logo and the button graphics were designed by a physics professor rather than a graphic designer".  Universities are mostly over the stage of trusting design to academic staff, and Linux is getting better, but there are still plenty of graphic elements which were obviously "designed" by a programmer who fancied they had artistic talent, rather than someone with actual artistic talent.  The solution to this one was chmod -x /etc/grub.d/05_debian_theme and then update-grub; grub-install /dev/sda (both run as root, of course).  I think the wallpaper was installed when I installed Gnome 3 (why should installing a desktop GUI also mean I want to change the boot loader wallpaper?). I wouldn't have minded quite so much if it had been Ubuntu-branded wallpaper (I know Ubuntu is a derivative of Debian, but it is a different operating system).

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