A series of unfortunate events Memorial Day weekend demonstrated some advantages Linux and open source software have over commecial software choices.
I learned one of the advantages of Linux over other operating systems. Don’t let the somewhat geeky story below turn you off, there is a lesson to be learned.
After testing Ubuntu on another computer, I decided I wanted to load it on my laptop.
I bought a new hard drive and my plan was to create a dual boot system with Windows XP. This way, I would still have XP available for some things if I decide I need it.
My first step was to clone my old disk to the new larger one.
While I was very interested in switching to Linux, I needed to keep my old data, email, and even my bookmarks. Let’s face it, after two years on a computer and a long time with Microsoft Windows, I am not going to switch overnight. Or, so I thought.
I used a Linux live CD to clone the drive.
There is a simple one line command in Linux that will clone a hard drive. That includes a hard drive with Windows on it. You could purchase something like Ghost to clone the hard drive. I think that is too expensive. Especially since a Linux live CD is free. After the clone, I was able to boot into Windows and everything was just the way it should be. Great tool.The clone worked perfectly. Too perfectly.
After cloning the drive, then next step is to reduce the size of the Windows partition to make space on the rest of the drive.
This is where I discovered I had a problem. I used a Linux CD called Parted Magic. Unfortunately, Parted Magic noticed a problem with the NTFS partition my Windows XP was installed on. A check showed that this same error was on the original drive. Parted Magic would not do anything till the error was fixed.
This is where Windows failed me in several ways all at once.
First, the possible cause of the error may actually be software that I legally purchased using the error as some kind of copy protection. Not really the fault of Windows itself, but still a bad mark. I will be paying close attention to any software I install from now on. If I should find software purposely has damaged my hard drive I will do my best to demonstrate that they are not a company that should be trusted for anyone’s software needs. Even if I decided not to run Linux, I had a disk with an error that needed to be fixed.
To correct the problem, I needed to run chdisk from a recovery prompt.
This is where Bill Gate’s company really failed me. I could not get my windows to boot into recovery mode. So, I tried the disks. Unfortunately, the computer is a laptop and I do not have a normal system disk. I have HP’s recovery disks which consists of the four DVD’s that I had to create so I could rebuild the machine if the drive should go bad. I had two choices when using these, quit or erase everything and reinstall everything. No recovery console.
OK, I have lots of computers and lots of Windows system disks, one should work.
I have several XP CD’s, several Windows 98 CD’s, and I even have a Windows Millennium CD. Didn’t work either. It seems there is some kind a bug in some versions of XP. You cannot log into recovery console, it will not recognize the password even if you know it.
Running the chdisk from inside Windows with a command prompt did not work either.
Neither did using the system tools to check the disk. Both needed to schedule at boot up. Neither worked anyways. After a moment of trying to run, both gave a short message that the disk check was cancelled and proceeded to load Windows. I sort of wonder now if this also was part of the same sabotage that caused the error in the partition in the first place. Kind of convenient that you cannot correct the disk error if you have a program that purposely creates it.
After several attempts I gave up.
I did not seem to be getting anywhere. I had spent more time on this than I did cloning with Linux. Also, by now, I could no longer get my original disk to boot to Windows although I could still access all the data in it using a USB drive enclosure.
I decided to just start over and reinstall everything.
This is where I made my own mistake. When you format and reinstall Windows, you cannot simply copy back your old programs, you have to reinstall each one again. Also, you cannot usually just copy the data over and expect the programs to be all back the way they were before. At least not with Microsoft. My mistake was not exporting my Outlook settings and other program settings before I reformated. While I had all my data, it was no longer connected with the programs.
This is where the Open Source software showed it’s superiority.
Thunderbird was easy to set up. I just copied and pasted the data to the right folder and everything was set up.The same for FireFox. All my bookmarks and all my extensions were copied over along with the million passwords and user names I need to log in everywhere (except for the del.icio.us buttons for some reason). Outlook was not so kind. While I could copy and paste emails and calendar, the email accounts needed to all be set up manually. Open source is so much easier.
So, I have spent a good part of Memorial Day weekend just getting my email working.
I now have my email and bookmarks all back in Windows. I also have installed Linux on the laptop. That only took about half an hour. I am not sure how long it took to load the four DVD’s of XP back. It was an hour and 45 minutes for the first 2 DVD’s and then I fell asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night and switched to the last DVD. No matter what, it was a lot longer reinstalling Windows Xp than it was installing Linux.
None of this would have happened with Linux.
You can copy and transfer an entire Linux OS, programs and data, to another drive or partition without problems. Even if you did have a problem, you would still be able to copy the programs and data and keep the settings.
I have really started to see where Linux is far superior to Windows as an operating system.
I still see a few rough edges in Linux. While there are still problems with drivers in Windows, Linux drivers do not get the attention the other OS drivers do. My ATi video cards cause the screen to flicker annoyingly in 3D mode. Codecs for audio and video are not open source and need to be downloaded (actually, the video drivers are not open source either). Still Linux has some real advantages and in this case, would have made my life easier.
Why don’t we all use Linux as a desktop operating system now?
Linux is great for someone that wants to learn and understand how their OS works. It is still a bit of a “hacker’s” OS. It works great, but sometime needs a bit of fiddling. Much of its great power is hidden away in text commands that must be learned.
However, many people need (or want) an operating system that they can just use and do not have learn or understand.
I admit I never got too far in using computers until Windows was available. I found DOS commands to cryptic for me to grasp. I like a graphical user interface. Linux now has one that eclipes even Mac OSX in functionality. It just needs a bit more polish and getting the bugs out. I think I may be ready to make the switch and I am testing it now for that purpose.
Another unfortunate even happened this weekend.
We suddenly noticed that Web pages were not downloading very fast. At first, I was doing some updates and I was wondering if the updates could be that big or the servers that busy. Then my wife complained that she could not get any of her Websites she visits to work. It was then I realized that it was our cable Internet that was slow. I did some speed tests. One test got me 32K for a download speed. That is bad for dialup!
I called RoadRunner.
The technician had me run several tests. It was funny because it took so long just to get the speedtest.net page to load, much less the test. And no, I was not talking to him using a VOIP phone. After we proved that, yes, my download speed was terrible, and that it was not my computer or modem or firewall or router, I was transferred to someone else.
I spent about 10 minutes on hold. That person did not know why I was transferred and was about to tell me to run the tests again before I gave her the case number. She then transferred me to someone else. Another 15 minutes on hold. Again, I need to explain why I am being transferred, apparently their computer system must have been on hold also, or is maybe they are also using their network and having speeds like mine. Anyway, after an hour an a half of holding a cell phone to my ear (only about 25 minutes of muzak though) I am told that the next opening for a service technician to come will be Wednesday afternoon. Before she can give a later appointment time (she was starting to) I say that will be just fine.
I wrote most of this post offline at night Memorial Day.
I did not expect to be online much till the technician came, however, this morning (Tuesday) the internet speeds were back to where they should be.
For the fun of it, I wrote this post in Linux.
I used gedit. It is a bit like the Linux version of Notepad. However, it has several features and plugins that can be added. Most are for programming, but the spellchecker is handy.
Open source software especially Linux will become more and more common place.
WordPress, MySQL, PHP, and Apache are some of the open souce software that you come in contact everyday you are on the Internet. They are used on a large portion of the internet sites that you problably use every day and have become standards that commercial software is measured by. Soon, I think Linux will have a same impact on the desktop environment as the OS of choice.