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hOme.beardedDonkey - Things that went right and wrong when I ran Linux
Things that went right and wrong when I ran Linux 
This is a post detailing my latest experience using a Linux distribution. I have for a long time wished Linux could really compete in the user-friendliness area. I installed it on a USB drive for a younger friend of mine as he is saving up to get Windows 7 for a new PC of his so thought he could try Linux while he waited. He is as end user as they come so I thought it would be interesting to see what he thinks of Linux.
First, I chose Linux Mint 13 for us to use. I had heard good reviews about how it is user friendly etc. and figured why not. The installation onto USB drive is really easy. After a quick Google and little YouTube watch it's as easy as downloading the USB Installing program and the ISO image and telling it to do it's thing to install it. So there's 5 stars for the installation process.
Getting it to boot up was easy. Just go to BIOS and set the PC to boot from USB before the HDD. Again, really good and easy for probably most users.
Once booted, the desktop appeared, no logins, password setting or configuration to deal with so it's really good (easy - not so much secure) up to this point.
Now I was trying Linux Mint because these days I only use my PC for the following:

1. Doing business stuff (email, documents, job prices etc)
2. Browsing
3. Serving media on the local network
4. Playing Minecraft

I have given up mostly on games on the PC since I am getting older and the PC is mainly left on to serve media to the network. I also write up job prices and check emails and a little browsing so I figure Linux Mint might be a usable system for me. Other nice features would be a voice or video chat option, so either Google Talk or Mumble are my preferred choices.

What It Didn't Do So Well


Once I started using the PC I found it auto configured for the existing plugged in network cable and I was online. But then as I used it I ran into these problems:

1. Couldn't set a file to executable from the file manager.

I think this could be a UI problem more than general "Linux" because I know we could do this on the Linux Mint 13 "MATE" I installed on my friend's USB drive but not on the XFCE version of Linux Mint 13 I decided to use. So you could argue, "that's XFCE's fault not Linux's" but let's face it, shouldn't all GUIs let you alter a file's permissions if you own the file? Not just some of them?

To fix the problem I opened a terminal and used chmod, but any other 'general user' would power off and reboot back to Windows. Also on my friend's MATE desktop, he couldn't alter the executable permission because the file wasn't on an EXT3 (or is it EXT4 these days?) partition. It required extra knowledge from me that if a file isn't on the correct file system then you can't alter the execute permission. So as far as I'm concerned, that's a failure in the offered UIs. It should a.) let us alter all permissions if we own the file and b.) offer some help or explanation if the file exists on a partition that won't allow the user to alter its permissions.

2. Couldn't find a Google Talk client in software manager.

It's almost 2013. There should be at least one Google Talk client in the repository that appears as a search result when you search for "google talk".

3. Couldn't install Evernote add-on in Firefox (said the script was "corrupt" and there was no native client for Linux available)

Don't know why it wouldn't install the add-on it just said the script was corrupt. Again, not really Linux but from an end user point of view, this is a failure.

4. Couldn't install rygel (DLNA/uPNP media server) through the Software Manager. No error given, no indication of failure except that the program can't be found or ran from the Menu and that when you reload the rygel page in Software Manager it shows as not installed.

One of the main reasons of running Linux like this was to test the available DLNA servers with my smart TV. rygel seems to fit the description but ... nothing in software manager would install. Yes I did assign extra user space when I made the USB drive. It was only 183Mb or so, but this program is only 1Mb installed. The software manager offered no errors, error codes, logs or any indication the install went wrong.

5. Same thing happens for other programs.

I tried installing World of Goo and it wouldn't install. No error or help given.

6. The clock was set wrong.

Minor fault. Still was wrong. It was set 2 hours ahead of local time.

7. Usable free space was not available.

When I installed the Mint file onto the USB drive, the installer program asked if I wanted to make usable free space and I did. Like I said above, I made about 180Mb (the maximum available). Since programs were not installing I figured that it has no where to put them. So I looked and found a device called "casper-rw" on the desktop. Accessing this through the file manager says it is inaccessible, so probably not formatted or something. Going to Menu -> Accessories -> Disk Utility shows me casper-rw is indeed the free space partition I wanted, being 191Mb. It says it is an EXT2 filesystem but is not partitioned. I am able to mount the volume from the Disk Utility but it is still inaccessible. I then unmount and try to format the partition. Formatting fails and says,
Error creating file system: helper exited with exit code 1: helper failed with:
mke2fs 1.42 (29-Nov-2011)
/dev/loop1 is apparently in use by the system; will not make a filesystem here!
For a regular end user, they are rebooting back to Windows about now.

So I guess some of these problems could be occurring from not having any free space available, so I rebooted to Windows and repartitioned and reformatted the USB drive and reinstalled and did it again. The second time I gave 550Mb of usable space and I was able to install programs using Software Manager, but for some reason the free space filled up really quickly. Minecraft used about 60Mb, Firefox used about 122Mb although I could only see about 66Mb when I investigated so I don't know where the other half was. This was a bummer because I couldn't install other programs like Chrome to see how it went, I would have to dedicate some hard drive space to try that.

My main problem though is not that it wouldn't install stuff, it's that it leaves the user hanging when something fails. Sometimes it wouldn't even give an error. It would just not do anything, or act like it worked but really it didn't.

What It Did Really Well


So not to be complaining about it all the time, Linux Mint did do some things really well:

1. Installed easily.

Any user should be able to Google/YouTube and download the stuff to install this.

2. Booted easily.

Gone are the days of installing boot loaders etc. Install it in Windows, reboot, make sure it boots from USB and it works.

3. Runs fast.

I chose XFCE and it is lightweight, but even the MATE version ran fast on my friend's PC. Although his CPU was running at 4.something gHz so...

4. Auto configures.

When I used to use Linux years ago, I had to configure everything. At least now it will choose a good resolution and find the network for you. Good for end users.

5. Comes with almost everything you need.

You don't need to use Internet Explorer to go and download Firefox. It just comes with it. It comes with Email client, multimedia players, IRC client, image editors, archive manager (ZIP etc), a file search called "Catfish" which had me confused for a while (because my nickname is Catfish) and Office software.

6. DLNA Serving.

I ended up ditching rygel and installed minidlna. It is a lightweight, simple to configure DLNA server and it worked really well. The only downside I found was that I had to rearrange my media so it all could be found from one folder, which kind of makes sense anyway so I restructured my media for this. Once I had this done minidlna was serving my files flawlessly to the smart TV. It also automatically updates when new files are added to the DLNA folder or its sub-folders. This was a feature lacking in Samsung's AllShare and it annoyed me to no end so I'm glad some developers have their heads screwed on straight.

7. Ran Minecraft better and at higher settings.

I installed Minecraft because it's about the only game I play on PC these days and it worked fine once I made the JAR file executable. It actually ran better than it does under Windows and also had the settings up higher than in Windows. So Steam for Linux might be ok, and let's hope they can keep up with the modern releases then Linux may become a viable game platform?

The Last Word



Ok, so some people might say things like, "if you don't want to use a terminal then don't use Linux". This is fairly true still. But I think most Linux distributions are not far off from being a usable end user system out of the box. It's been 14 years since I first dropped the Red Hat 5.1 CD into my PC and compared to what it was then today's versions are polished and "easy" - that is, easy to someone like me, who spent many months of my life stuffing around and reading HOWTOs etc. to learn how Linux works underneath all the graphical interface.

It will be interesting to see if my friend uses his PC before he gets Windows 7 on it and what he thinks of it as you can't get much more end user than him (he didn't understand that you couldn't run a Windows EXE in Linux, even though I stood next to him telling him "it won't work").


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