All my geeky stuff ends up here. Mostly Unix-related

Goodbye Ubuntu, Hello Debian

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I bought a MicroClient Senior for my son to use as a desktop machine.  Nothing really fancy: just enough to read his e-mail, browse the web, play some games, edit files with OpenOffice, listen to music or watch movies.  The best part of it is that he can leave the machine on forever as it uses even less energy than the light on his desk.

In order to make things easy for him to use, I initially chose to go with Ubuntu (Intrepid) and go straight to the default Gnome desktop to avoid as many hassles as possible. Took me a while to put things together as it initially came without network, sound or video. Welcome back to 1995!

Wi-Fi: the dongle is claimed by a driver (rtl8187) that handles things great (with WPA encryption) for about 5 minutes and then crashes without warning. ndiswrapper does a fine job but you need to install the very latest version and locate the correct Windows drivers. Total: a couple of evenings spent trying to get the native driver to work, then another hour to locate a decent Windows driver.

Sound: Not correctly handled by ALSA, you need to download OSS directly from the 4-Front web site and then perform a global re-configuration of all sound-needing apps. Total: one evening spent tweaking ALSA in vain, followed by OSS download/install.

Video: the OpenChrome driver is not activated by default and the screen resolution is set to something weird. You need to hunt for a correct xorg.conf and tweak it to your needs. Total: one evening spent trying various openchrome drivers (including manually compiling stuff) and xorg.conf files.

Once I had everything stabilized and running, I still had to do some maintenance every now and then, in general whenever a newer kernel version is installed.

Last week I decided to upgrade the OS to Ubuntu Jaunty and it turned out to be a disaster. After the upgrade reported having performed successfully, the machine woke up again with no sound, no video and no network. No matter how I tweaked the options and configuration files, it remained in an unstable state, unable to even get to an ‘apt-get update’ because of the lack of network support. I finally gave up after spending two more evenings trying to get the situation back in control, and finished by installing a new Debian (Lenny) from scratch.

Now the machine is back on its feet. It showed the same symptoms as usual (no network, sound or video) but this time I applied the usual fixes and everything was back to normal in no time. Funnily enough, the rtl8187 driver worked perfectly fine until the first kernel update, after which it went back to an Ubuntu-like behaviour: 5 mins of network then crash.  ndiswrapper saves the day again. Not saying Ubuntu is bad but every time they break something and I have to find new ways of bringing it back to life. Debian is also buggy but at least it is easily corrected.

It is now the third machine from which I had to delete Ubuntu because it just did not work. The other ones were a Dell laptop (almost no hardware worked) and an AMD-64 desktop.

Written by nicolas314

Friday 19 June 2009 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Debian, junior, Ubuntu

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