Mental Drizzle

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The Epic Voyage - a desktop environment saga

I was doing my taxes last weekend. I was using my Dell Inspirion E1505 with Vista Ultimate.  After entering a significant amount of information, the unthinkable happened - Blackscreen!

I was able to suffer through repeated blackscreens and submit my returns. I’ve had to reinstall Vista several times over the life of the machine for various errors.  Never Again.

What follows is a journey through several Linux distributions and several desktop environments.  This Odyssey includes happiness, tragedy and a happy ending.  This happened to occur right before MHVLUG’s desktop shootout.  So if you’re from the MHVLUG, the end of the story is Fedora 16 with Cinnamon on top.  But the story is entertaining, and I’ll throw down some of the pros and cons that I encountered along the way.

Chapter 1 - Ubuntu 11.10 and Unity

I put Vista out of its misery and installed Ubuntu 11.10 on the entire drive annihilating the Vista rescue partition (scary, as Ultimate cost a few $ when I ordered it back in the day).  Installation was easy.  The wireless networking was detected and the drivers were configured without any help from me.  Firefox and Libre Office were pre-installed and I was ready to go. 

The only snag I ran into was creating a launcher for the side panel in Unity.  I found these instructions and I was customized in short order.  The only other criticism was that the response of the Ubuntu button was laggy.  However, that could have been my hardware.

One major philosophical positive for the Unity interface is the location of the launcher bar.  With wide-screen displays being the norm, vertical screen space is at a premium.  Most windows don’t need the full horizontal space to function as the programmer designed.  I think the launcher placement was logical and it worked well while I was using it.

Chapter 2 - Debian based systems: marked for death

An unfortunate pattern has arisen at my house.  Every installation of a Debian based system has been disabled by an electrical fluctuation.  Two instances of Mint, and now two instances of Ubuntu are gone because of a power outage or surge.

While the other three instances were just file corruption, this time was bad.  CMOS was fried and there was no booting after that.  I suppose I could drop a new motherboard in, but the Dell case was terrible and broken.  Maybe someone will want it for parts…

Chapter 3 - PCBSD and Fedora 16

I was relegated to an old laptop that runs Fedora 16 pretty well, but it needs to fall back to Gnome 2 because the hardware won’t run Gnome 3.  Luckily, my brother had a laptop that was built less than 10 years ago. I took the opportunity to have fun with other Linux distributions.

First up was PCBSD.  It installed well and fairly quickly, but I was unimpressed by the LXDE environment.  My guess is that it is installed by default to save space on the install CD and it would be run smoothly in older hardware.

I decided to install KDE on top of PCBSD.  I could swear that the default mirror is connected to the internet through dial-up.  It took a couple hours to download and it looked pretty slick.

You might remember that I tried BSD on my old backup laptop - Joshiba.  After several hours of fiddling I got wireless networking up, but I couldn’t get WPA suplicant to load so I left.  Wireless networking worked “out-of-the-box” with PCBSD.  So I was relieved.

I was disappointed by a couple things with PCBSD.  I had to go get Libre Office.  If that was the only thing, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it.  The deal breaker was that touchpad support was broken.  I tried workarounds, scripts, changing .conf files all to no avail.  It took MANY swipes to move the cursor across the touchpad and edge scrolling was not supported.  I couldn’t even get the touchpad options to load into a manager after manually installing the drivers.  My guess is that the touchpad wasn’t identified as a “synaptics device.”  This led me to try Fedora 16.

I had a great Fedora 16 install.  Everything worked very well.  I’ll post later on the intricacies of getting everything up and running.  But here, I’d rather discuss why I moved from Gnome 3 to Cinnamon.

It was really just a picky thing.  Universal Access sat itself in the top panel.  I never use these options, so I usually just make it go away and I’m happy.  However, this was not possible in Gnome.  I tried JavaScripts, css tweaks, installing other panel editors - all to no avail.  I’ve enjoyed using Linux Mint in the past, so I left for Cinnamon happily.

Cinnamon installed nicely and I’m enjoying it.  It installs with a nice assortment of configuration and settings tools.  I moved my panel to the top; just a personal preference though.

More on Fedora specifics for installation later. 

Filed under Vista blackscreen MHVLUG desktop environment Fedora 16 Cinnamon Ubuntu 11.10 Unity PCBSD LXDE KDE Gnome 3