Saturday, February 10, 2007

Every look as a provocation

Choosing a distro to use brings on a nasty frame of mind. Each installation is done with hope, and a sincere desire to find good. When the results are unsatisfactory, the mood worsens until resolve is built to try another. And another.

I have been a happy Gentoo users since I migrated from a moribund Debian a few years ago. The time requirements of Gentoo have moved me to look for alternatives. Like a smoker trying to quit, I usually ended up back due the limitations of other distros. The last few months have been particularly trying. It seems that the Gentoo packaging arrangements are unable to keep up with the rapid changes, the obvious result being things not working right. So time to seriously look for an alternative.

First attempt was Kubuntu. I have developed a metric called MTBS, or Mean Time Before Shell. Initial setup went very well. Hardware setup worked, everything looked good. Then came time to install the stuff I use. After a couple of packages, I had to close Adept and open a shell to sort out some apt problems. Then I attempted to install the libaries for my music player, and Amarok to access it. I know this works fine since I had it working in Gentoo. Lo and behold I was expected to build, not a deb, but a source tarball since the deb package wasn't configured for what I wanted. Hell. If I'm forced to compile from source, outside of the packaging system, I might as well use Gentoo. Somehow KUbuntu people don't use their machine the same way as I do. And there seems to be a strange obsession with 'function follows form', ie. removing useful solutions to problems to make things look good. End of first attempt.

I heard some good things about opensuse. Installation went well, very easy. Installation of the various packages I needed went equally well. I truly like the Suse KDE menu. I really wanted to like this. Everything seemed to work well. Yast sucks, but it seemed to be stable, and the MTBS was getting suitably long. Then strange things started happening. I'd set up Konqueror as I like it, and it would crash. I'd log out and log in, things would be changed. My poor wife found a bug with the powersave daemon, having her session starting and aborting a suspend every 30 seconds. Suse likes it's own .kde setup, and if I logged in with another distro, it was borked. My nicely endowed machine seemed sluggish. End of second attempt.

What now? I have three system partitions that I can use for distro installs. I booted back into my gentoo setup, figured I'd do a complete rebuild. Two days later I got things working. Everything seemed fine. Back to square one? No. I didn't want to stay here. End of third attempt.

Someone mentioned Arch. I downloaded an iso. Stuck it into my drive. Rebooted. The installation went very well. I wouldn't say it is for new users, but I found it easy and flexible for my purposes. It was done very quickly. The packaging system seems very simple and fast. I had to learn how pacman works, how to find packages and install them. I installed kde, got the permissions right, and rebooted. I feel like I have my machine back. It is fast. The community seems active, and there are modular kde packages available, including one with the Suse kmenu. In a surprisingly short time everything was configured and working.

We will see how it goes over a few upgrade cycles. Right now I can't think of any reason why I would want to try anything else.

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