Experimenting with Linux distributions on a removable drive at work lately, just to see how the desktop scene has changed in recent years (birdhouse admin is all command-line and web-based, and I haven’t tried running a desktop Linux since 2001). Over the past week, installed Gentoo, Knoppix (Debian), and Fedora Core 3. Notes below.
Started with Gentoo, which takes a starkly minimal, compile everything approach. Very pure, if that’s what you’re looking for. Beautiful setup process – the nicest I’ve seen, graphically speaking. But the “compile everything” approach means a very long installation and configuration process, and lots of docs. All went well with basic install and KDE, but became problematic when I started compiling Firefox and other apps. gcc would crunch along for half an hour or so, then hang. Reboot, try again, freeze. Not my scene.
Had read about the miracle of the Knoppix CD – a more or less complete Linux distro on a single bootable CD, useful as a Debian-based Linux desktop you can take to any computer, or as a rescue disk for other installations. Download the ISO, burn, boot. Doesn’t get any easier than that. Decide you like it well enough, run knoppix-install to mirror the installation to a hard disk. Again, this went flawlessly. Very impressed, but I really dislike KDE, and couldn’t seem to get around a problem where links in Thunderbird emails were unclickable.
Nothing to lose in the spirit of discovery, so decided to give Red Hat another try. Been burned by RH several times in the past (one famous episode in the late 90s when an install blew away every partition on every attached drive in a system without warning – lost four operating systems and all data in half a second; a year later a friend experienced filesystem corruption on a Red Hat install and lost everything; more recently I’ve dealt with bugs in RH’s New Posix Threading Library affecting CommuniGate Pro). But had heard good things about Fedora Core, and downloaded the four ISOs that make up Fedora Core 3. Installation was elegant, and Gnome was up and running an hour later. Think I’ll stick with Fedora for a while. Very slick.
Gnome has really advanced in recent years. The UI is genuinely beautiful, and things are arranged far more intuitively than in KDE. It doesn’t trump Aqua, and I’m not about to give up all the commercial-quality apps I have in OS X, but it’s more than suitable as a general-purpose office/internet machine. Now starting to fiddle with integration into campus network, printing, etc. Some rough spots getting it to see Windows shares, but looking promising.