Monday, 17 December 2007

Adventures in Ubuntu

Every 12 months or so, I attempt to install a Linux distro on my corporate desktop to see how compatible it is with our environment.

Every time I fail.

Before any Linux fanboys jump all over me, keep in mind I've been playing with Linux since Slackware shipped on floppies, a 386 was bleeding edge and hard drives were a luxury. In short, chances are I played with Linux while you played with your Hot Wheels and giggled over the lingerie section in the Sears catalogue.

I will agree that Linux has come a long way, and the open source community deserves a lot of credit for the end functionality it delivers.

But....

Linux is still not flexible enough for our corporate environment.

Most recently I tried replacing my Windows XP Desktop with Ubuntu 7.10. Here's some of my thoughts on that experience.

Hardware specs:
Intel Dual Core HP xw4400 Workstation
3 X 200 GB SATA Drives
1st drive, Windows XP install
2nd drive, data and downloads
3rd drive, Test
NVidia Quadro NVS 440 4-Head Video Card
3X LG Flatron 17" Monitors

The installation is straight forward, simple and fast. Also very minimalist, especially compared to OpenSuse, Fedora Core etc. The first time I installed, I attempted to setup dual boot with GRUB, Windows XP on drive 0 and Ubuntu on drive 2. Tried it twice, and Grub successfully killed the boot sector on drive 0 each time, with a cryptice error 7. I couldn't boot XP or Ubuntu, so thank god for fdisk /mbr which restored my XP configuration. Its probably an incompatibility with my HP system BIOS that caused this failure. Every Linux failure I have is due to an incompatibility with something, somewhere.

Next I tried removing the XP System and Data drives, leaving my test drive as drive 0. That install worked.

Then I tried installing some corporate applications critical to my function as an administrator. Downloaded and tried to install the Citrix ICA Client for Linux. Installation went smooth, tried to run it. Couldn't load libXm.so3. No problem, search Ubuntu Synaptic Package Manager for that library. Couldn't find it. Resort to Google, learn that libXm part of Motif package. Search Synaptic Package Manager for Motif. Not found. Back to Google, Ubuntu includes a package called libmotif. Ahh! Install that and Citrix client works. I'm lost as to why searching for Motif didn't find libmotif, but whatever, I got to where I needed to be. But its this kind of crap that keeps me from putting Linux on my fathers computer. It seems every issue on Linux involves detective work and puzzle solving.

At this pont, I'm still suitably impressed. This is the cleanest, most usable iteration of the Citrix ICA client for Linux I have found yet. Normally, this is one of the hang-ups that causes me to revert to Windows, not this time.

Tested Remote Desktop to manage our Windows Servers. Again, it works flawlessly. But that pretty much always has.

Now for VMWare. Is there a Virtual Center install for Linux? Nope. Now, this isn't the fault of the Linux community, but it does illustrate corporate acceptance of Linux by application vendors is not there yet. Even for us tech-heads that would love an alternative to Windows, the systems we manage can only be managed from Windows installs. The irony is these systems often are running Linux, but they can only be managed with Microsoft clients. Examples? Checkpoint NG can only be web managed from Internet Explorer, ISS IPS requires Windows and VMWare ESX Server can only be managed from Windows. *SIGH*

Normally I use the Citrix client to run Outlook to connect to our Exchange servers. This time I tried the Evolution e-mail client bundled with Ubuntu. Wow! Exchange support out of the box, and as far as I can tell it was damn near 100% compatible. That is a first.

What really surprised me was the overall performance. Opening documents with OpenOffice took several seconds. Doing any two tasks concurrently was much slower than on my XP install. If I didn't know better, I would swear I was using a single-threaded CPU. I did notice that the hard drive was thrashing madly any time I did anything. It was running well enough for setup purposes, so I didn't investigate this further.

What finally killed it was my video card. No matter what I tried, I couldn't get more than one display to work. NVidia drivers, open source drives, refreshed config, nothing would work. After 5 hours of trying (and lots and lots of forum reading) I gave up. So I'm back to my fast, flexible, compatible, and easy to mange XP install.

I'm not 100% satisfied with my tests. The promise shown means Ubuntu deserves another chance. I'm going to try Ubuntu 7.1 on my laptop, as I only use one display on it, so that issue won't crop up. I'll see how far I can get there.

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