Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Things are getting a little silly, but variety is nice.

This machine now has 4 different bootable operating systems available across 3 HDDs:

openSUSE 12.3
Pear Linux 7 (may well go back to 8 shortly)
Windows XP
Ubuntu 13.10

In addition there is an 810Gb FAT32 partition on one drive for sharing images between Windows and Linux, since Linux can read windows partitions but not t'other way round under normal conditions.

Sure, it's a little bit nuts, but variety is good. I also wanted the FAT partition so I could duplicate image files on 2 separate drives for backup purposes (and I'm shortly going to have to configure software to look after that for me too).

Regarding Ubuntu, I wrote a followup post after installation and trying it for a few hours but somehow it didn't make it to publication. It only seems fair to review it a little more.

After several hours use, it seems to me that they've put a lot of development into most making things work - as well as they ever do in any Linux distro and better than some - but failed to polish and finish well; pretty much confirming my initial impressions. The software centre IS unstable and frequently only works for a short period before hanging and needing restarting, fonts are still kludgy-looking but nothing like the smeary mess they used to be (how ever did they get any kind of user-base in the old days?). It still looks like Linux from >5 years ago. In fairness, there may be a particular segment of Linux developers that like this, and you see similar dull interfaces from Mageia and PCLOS too, though both running KDE, though with better fonts.

Performance-wise it's a mixed bag.

On the negative side, apart from the software centre not being so good (a problem for new Linux users that Ubuntu is supposed to serve) it's distinctly slower than openSUSE (with a heavier desktop environment) and Pear (actually built on Ubuntu). DigiKam 3.4 is noticeably laggy, and while I can't install 3.2 to compare, there's no reason it should be so different. Linux Lite that I've mentioned before is also built on Ubuntu, and absolutely flies, suggesting that Unity is resource hungry. Without adding a package manager updates come by default once per week and there's no way to control repos apart from through the command line. That aside, nothing has obviously broken since installation.

The good side - there's lots of recent(ish) versions of packages, though not all are that up to date (like RAW Therapee and darktable). Another positive, and this may seem a curious one to include, is that DVD playback seems good - clear images, no glitching, no trouble detecting & running the disc. Out of idle curiosity I tried the Avengers Assemble DVD which refuses to play on any other linux build and got a 'Ubuntu internal error' message dialogue pop up after it failed to play. It plays without trouble on the Mac, so I presume there's some proprietary protection going on to block Linux.

I confess the interface has grown on me, and if I were stuck with this for the rest of my life then it wouldn't be tragic, but it just feels so much.... less than it could be.

Later on tonight I'll be downloading a trial copy of Adobe Lightroom 5. It seems daft to spend money on decent cameras and lenses, then skimp on software. If it's significantly better than what I currently use then I'll buy it.

A quick update on Ubuntu - I've been using it more now for general stuff, and I'm wondering if it's not that stable. Various things have fallen over, DigiKam doesn't seem stable and has real problems with folders in a different partition from home. Oddly too, things keep greying out, going very slow before speeding up to normal again. It's OK sometimes for surfing etc, but otherwise unimpressive.

I've also spent time in Darktable and Raw Therapee. For free software they are good, but from a users POV they are not intuitive to use, even when you have a fair degree of experience of the kind of things you want to do. There are some neat tools in there too (like a colour temperature dropper bottle selector for making bross changes) but they are frequently buried or difficult to use.

This laptop has now completed it's 5th year of service, and I'm debating whether it would be better value to, once again, spend about £150 on updating hardware (8Gb RAM and a 1Tb HDD in the DVD bay, plus external DVD drive, battery also needs replacing but that's real money) or take a bigger hit & replace completely. It doesn't really owe me much now, and the Dell XPS a friend bought at the same time (for a little less) has been retired after high mileage. I did have a look at the new 13" MBP in the Apple shop at MK on Monday, and it felt almost too skinny. The retina screen was OK, but not obviously stunning.

Something to consider.

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