le_bebna_kamni: (Knight)
[personal profile] le_bebna_kamni
Recently I had the opportunity [nay, the *necessity*] to install new operating systems on my laptop and server. This has given me a chance to try new operating systems, new server schemes, new desktop applications...or revisit some old ones. Here are my reviews for Ubuntu Server (Karmic), Linux Mint (Helena), and Google Chrome for Linux:

Ubuntu Server: Kindergarten Dropout

I've been running a Jaunty server for quite some time. But when some of my server hardware crapped out and I had to get a new one, I decided to go for a new scheme that used LVM to make it easier to upload my growing media collection without knowing the amount of room I need in advance.

Unfortunately, Ubuntu Server has failed me miserably at some of the most important tasks -- ones I didn't care about the first time I installed, but now are vitally important.

Its first failure came at the recovery stage, when I was trying to retrieve information off the old hard drive. Unbeknownst to me, my home directory where I had installed all my web applications had been encrypted, and no amount of forum help could get me to the point where I could recover my home directory. Nothing suggested worked -- and I was even working with a user in the new system that had the same username/password from the old system. I even tried it in a chrooted environment (where I did manage to salvage the important config files and databases, but no home directory). But I did find copious links to pages about bugs regarding Ubuntu encryption.

In other words, I'm going to have to piece together my old webapp backups because Ubuntu was implementing a buggy encryption scheme that potentially causes entire file loss due to inaccessibility, but doesn't warn you on the install CD when you implement it -- and even encourages you to use it. *Good going, Ubuntu*

Its second failure came in something so trivial that I can't believe it's a problem at all: logging boot messages. I'm having a problem getting my external hard drive, which is a part of the LVM group, to load at boot time. I can see the error as it scrolls by, but I can't read it entirely to see what's going on. And there's no boot log to tell me what I missed. None.

I've searched *lots* of forums that all pretty much say the same thing: boot logging is disabled under Ubuntu because it slows down boot time...and there's a bug that hasn't been resolved since what looks to be 2006. Wait...2006? WTF?

Being able to read logs of errors that occur during boot time is one of the fundamentals of system administration. It's a basic necessity for any server, and the Ubuntu administrators are blowing the complaints off with priority settings of "low" or "medium"...for 4 years. This, after posts by sysadmins that they had to resort to photographing or filming the boot-up process with a hand-held camera so they could diagnose a system problem.

Apparently the problem still exists in Lucid, which is the current beta release. It's almost on par with Ubuntu administrators' attitudes toward users who ask for an automatic Windows-like GUI-based system restore (to handle all the times when Ubuntu updates, and the updates f**k up your system and you need a newbie-friendly way to roll back the system without reinstalling...this happens more often than they're willing to admit, and most newbies don't understand how to set up the complicated backup schemas needed to recover from such a problem).

So I'm going to officially award Ubuntu Server the dunce cap award for sysadmin stupidity:

I'm now in the process of downloading CentOS, but other server suggestions are welcome. My primary needs are LAMP, SSH, SAMBA, maybe an FTP server and mail, and of course I need to be able to compile my WoW server on it (although I've considered learning how to run WoW as a virtual appliance on JeOS or other virtual machine setup).

The Fresh Taste of Mint

One of Ubuntu's biggest problems is that it often doesn't work out of the box on certain kinds of hardware, and it has a tendency to break with already working hardware during updates or subsequent releases. Case in point: my Macbook Pro 3.1 has been working nicely on Intrepid for quite some time after extensive manual configuration by me. One day Intrepid does an update, and suddenly my sound and microphone no longer work; my wireless is sporadic; and I've lost the special configuration on my laptop touchpad...and I'm not sure how to get any of it back. :(

Ubuntu also has the additional annoyance that if you want to play DVDs, burn CDs to MP3, or surf the web, you have to do a lot of work to get the functionality, and if you reinstall you have to do it over again.

Enter Linux Mint, a derivative of Ubuntu that is geared toward out-of-the-box functionality. Immediately after install I have sound and microphone, I can pop in a DVD, and I can visit Flash pages on the web.

It has a few minor annoyances -- I highly recommend getting rid of the fortune messages, and either uninstall Mint's Google search (read bobsmith's post and ignore the rest) or install Firefox directly from Mozilla.

But all in all, I've been pretty happy with it. :D

Which now leads me to Chrome...

Kudos for Chrome, But Still Not There

Awhile back I reviewed Google Chrome for Linux, and I was desperately disappointed. Most notably it lacked the ability to sync bookmarks across multiple browsers, and it didn't have the various addon tools that I need when I'm doing everyday web development.

But there are two reasons why I've been pushing to move away from Firefox:

1) it lacks the nifty Opera-style home page, with the most used links as clickable thumbnails, and
2) Firefox leaks memory if you have it open for too long with too many tabs, and closing tabs doesn't free up memory.

The last one is a big deal, because I'm likely to have as many as 30 tabs open at any given time for certain projects -- perhaps going through 150 tabs or more in a day, and it's annoying to have to completely close out Firefox every so often just so my operating system doesn't lock up.

But Chrome doesn't do that, because each tab is its own process and memory is freed up when the tab goes away. As of the time I'm typing, I have 40 or so tabs currently open, and I've opened and closed almost 60 additional tabs prior without a noticeable change in performance. Way to go, Chrome!

So here's my evaluation of the current release installed on my computer, 5.0.342.9:

While Chrome hasn't caught up with Firefox in plugins, I'm pleased to say that it now has a good Javascript console and its own passable version of Firebug. Chrome finally has a version of Adblock Plus, and most of the other plugins (like POW) I can live without for now.

It's not quite as configurable as Firefox -- I haven't found the "clear personal data on exit" feature yet...but perhaps I should Google for it? ;P

Where I haven't been so impressed is in the browser sync. I installed Chrome just before I switched over to Mint, and the sync actually existed and was kind of working (albeit I had to remove, then re-enable sync every time I actually wanted it to synchronize, but at least I could transfer links between browsers). Now that I've reinstalled Linux, the sync feature is there, but no longer works at all. :(

Here, Chrome, you've earned a scratch-n-sniff sticker for your progress so far:


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