Adventures in Linuxland

I love Linux but my god can it be a pain in the ass sometimes. I’ve been using Red Hat 7.2 at work pretty much since it was released some time in 2001. I’m not a big RH fan, but my department has kinda unofficially standardized on it, so whatever. This week I decided to go ahead and update it to something a bit better.

I decided to install Gentoo, which I’ve been hearing all kinds of really great things about. The installation looks like a lot of work, but they’ve got pretty good documentation on their web site. I started it Wednesday afternoon. I got through most of the installation without incident until it came time to choose and compile a kernel. A co-worker advised me to do this manually, as he had some bad luck using Gentoo’s genkernel utility. I figured that was probably an isolated incident, as they wouldn’t supply a tool that didn’t work, right? A reboot and a kernel panic later I knew better. Looks like I should have done it manually. Time to re-install.

The second installation attempt went flawlessly, including kernel configuration, until I realized I couldn’t use my mouse or network connection. This particularly sucked because X started automatically at boot-up and was restarting when I killed it so I had to figure out the keyboard shortcuts to get a terminal window so I could load the drivers (and stop X from starting automatically). I finally got it and went to install the drivers only to find that /lib/modules/2.4.x/kernel/drivers/ is empty. This is because, as I eventually figured out, support for all your hardware has to be compiled into the kernel. Come on guys, loadable kernel modules were invented just so we don’t have to do this (in all fairness, there might be a way to load the needed modules, but they sure don’t go out of their way to help you do it by, say, providing the usual drivers or even mentioning it in the docs). So I recompile the kernel once with support for my network card and again trying to get all the relevant USB stuff installed so my mouse works. Except that it still doesn’t. So I have no mouse. Thursday is half over at this point and I haven’t been able to do any real work yet, so I decide to just go with something I’m more familiar with.

Debian it is then. It’s not as up-to-date as Gentoo but it’s still better than Red Hat. I run Debian at home and I know I can get a useable system set up in under an hour. Did I mention this is all taking place at work? I was sure my boss would agree that the quickest installation is also the best one (even though installing Gentoo was her idea in the first place). Anyway, as expected, I quickly had the system up and running, some X configuration headaches notwithstanding. This was late Thursday afternoon. I was starting to set up everything I need for work Friday morning when I decided the system fonts were a little too big (queue ominous-sounding thunder). I pop open the KDE Control Center and change the default font size for the menus and such. Hmm, nothing changed. Skip it for now. A bit later I open a terminal window and WOW! Both the window and the font are about five times the size they should be, plus it’s the wrong font entirely. I check my font settings again and everything is as it should be. X is well known for being a strange and mysterious thing, so I figure it’s just a weird quirk, nothing restarting X won’t fix. Queue torrential downpour as X comes back up with all the fonts fucked up. Checking my font settings again shows that I currently have around eight of the I-don’t-know-how-many fonts I should have had available. I do a bunch of X server and font related stuff at this point that doesn’t help any.

Debian 3.0 (aka “Woody”) installs some older software: X11 4.1 and KDE 2, so I think maybe upgrading to a newer version of X might be the answer. The easiest way to do this is to upgrade Debian to their upcoming 3.1 release, “Sarge”. I add the Sarge sources to /etc/apt/sources.list and run dselect to upgrade. I don’t know how long that took exactly, but I’m thankful I have another computer (Win2k) at work I can get some work done on while I’m waiting. Once the upgrade has finished, I reboot and turn around to continue what I was doing on the other computer. A couple minutes later I turn back around to log in and see my computer is endlessly rebooting itself. How nice. It looks like LILO was hosed in the upgrade and, since I didn’t make a boot floppy (yeah yeah, like we have floppy disks just lying around), I had no way to fix it.

So at 4:50pm today I conceded defeat. I’m going to install Red Hat 9 first thing in the morning. Also, someone apparently stole our RH9 CDs so, to add insult to injury, I have to download and burn the three CD images myself tonight.

So yeah, Release the Bats tonight. I could use a drink.


kscaldef says:

Sounds familiar. One of my coworkers also started installing Gentoo on his new laptop on Weds. Because it would be “fun”. Three days later, with the install still going, he’s decided it’s no longer fun.

I’m using RH9 at work these days, and it’s mostly good. Of course, the fact that we have all the binaries we need already compiled for Red Hat on a shared drive helps. My major pain is that unicode support still seems a little wanting. Most problematically, running with a UTF-8 locale seems to have screwed up nroff, so man pages don’t display quite right. I’m not sure if any Linux distro would fix that, though.

I have Redhat 9. I can burn it and bring them to Bats. I also have a dist called Knoppix. It runs completely off of a bootable CD.

penance_ says:

Mista Stone is just trying to get even with you for last Halloween when you gave him an OfficeXP disc that really contained Debian Linux. He’s probably gonna give you disc MARKED RH9 but it’s really going to be Microsoft Money or something equally insipid.

kchrist says:

I think Gentoo still sounds interesting, but at work I just can’t take the time to deal with it. And I’m certainly not going to reinstall my perfectly functional Debian machine here at home. That leaves my x86 laptop, which is is for sale. I suppose I could try it out on that but I’d probably find a buyer mid-build.

I did a stage 3 installation at work, which installs mostly pre-compiled binaries. Reading about stage 1 I saw a mention of a 36 hour compile time for just the extras (OpenOffice, KDE, etc) and jumped at stage 3.

kchrist says:

Not necessary, but thanks anyway. I’ve already downloaded about two and a half of the three RH9 ISOs. I’ll burn them before work in the morning.

I love Knoppix. I use their Live CD for hardware troubleshooting occasionally. I don’t think you can install a normal system off that CD though.

kchrist says:

Hahaha!! If I remember correctly, Erik actually dug through that bag and took three or four different (labeled differently, anyway) CDs. I didn’t hear from him about them though. You’re one of maybe two or three people who got back to me about those.