Monday, September 18, 2006

Is it Ubuntu or OpenSuse or PCLinuxOS time?

Not yet tired of windows? Well, read on to find out the next gen O/S out there with easy in-place upgrades...
* New capabilities - create a custom remastered Live CD/DVD/USB/SD and boot from a USB storage device (flash, SD, hard drive, etc). And, with Ubuntu 9.10, OpenSuse 11.2 and Fedora 10 - create a custom Live 64 bit linux CD/DVD/USB using remastersys or makeSusedvd or revisor .

Let’s see where do I start...
Well, my machine crashed - it’s a new Acer - -4152 NLCI (4150 or 4650 series) laptop- and the problem was maybe some virus, because the ntoskrnl.exe was corrupted, and the drivers just stopped loading after a few seconds of boot time, bringing the hard disc to a halt and the screen to a frozen white screen (talk about the old blue screen being upgraded by MS!!!).
Time to look around for a boot-able and repair kit right! I tried - got an XP cd and installed XP onto a different partition - but the next day - that too went into the same loop like the above.
Then, I found out that maybe the hard disc may have got some permanent damage - thanks to all the travel lately.
I look around for a solution other than DOS obviously and I find the best free O/S ever!
Knoppix -- the free open source Linux O/S that boots and runs from a CD/DVD (like Ubuntu 9.10 64 bit, PCLinuxOS), with automatic hardware detection, hibernate and suspend support, recognizing all the devices - SCSI, Graphics Card, Sound Card, USB, CD, DVD, RAID, Modem, Lan Card, printer-scanner(hp all-in-one), pcmcia cards, sd, bluetooth, wireless, modem, bluetooth, phone, PDA, iPod, external camera, webcam - you name it and its a solid system that detects, installs and boots fast (Ubuntu boots in 12 seconds, PCLinuxOS boots in 30 seconds), and runs quickly on ordinary hardware! It can even mount my NTFS hard disc in read-write mode (ntfs-3g driver supports read and write of NTFS files) to copy files to my USB so my critical files are saved in no time. Of course, part of the recovery process is being able to write CD and DVD's which Knoppix (Ubuntu, OpenSuse and PCLinuxOS) supports with a right click menu.
Knoppix - a flavor of Debian Linux - or - is a 640MB bootable Live CD with a collection of GNU/Linux s/w, which brings up a Windows like user interface, connects to the internet (after a minor config) through a DSL or Cable modem and voila - I'm online via Mozilla, Opera or Konqueror. Knoppix 6.0.1+ is a debian flavour of the Linux O/s with the Linux kernel 2.6.28 + , KDE 3.5.5+/GNOME 2.16+, ntfs-3g and it has all the flavours of a true windows system with OpenOffice3+ - (Word-documents-docx also,Excel-spreadsheets,PPT-presentations) , PDF reader, kaffeine (media player) and GIMP (like mspaint), picasa from google, a host of ntfs data recovery tools and good basic games!
PCLinuxOS - is a free open source Linux O/S (flavor of Mandrake/Mandriva Linux with Linux kernel, KDE 4.3.2+/GNOME 2.28+, Open Office 3+, 3D windows support), has all the above software modules, and it is much better than the Knoppix version as of PCLinuxOS 2007 TR4 versus Knoppix 5.1.1 - and PCLOS can be remastered and installed on a usb flash drive very easily like Ubuntu.
Live CD Knoppix (like Live CD Ubuntu and Live CD PCLinuxOS) uses on-the-fly decompression to load the required modules into memory, from a bootable CD/DVD - the CD/DVD is locked by knoppix and you can't use it for writing or DVD viewing - although you have the CD/DVD writer software and the movie viewer software and you can use an external DVD/CD writer/reader to perform CD/DVD burns/reads. You can install the PCLinuxOS and the above flavors to a bootable USB flash drive
The other pluses to these Live CDs are: There is already an available messenger - thanks to secure GAIM (now Pidgin) [ and the newest flavor is Empathy IM with support for voice and video other than skype for linux ] - which can connect to Yahoo, Google Chat, AOL, etc. among others. skype supports voice over ip calls and also video calls,  Kopete also has WebCam support, but Empathy is fast catching up with a much better UI. You can also create custom bootable CDs/DVDs/USB flash/USB drives, since the default live CDs are built for a read-only O/s (from the CD) with default options.
Want to listen to quality music? - using StreamTuner on Linux you can listen to live internet streamed (128 to 256kbps) quality radio on amarok/audacious/xmms2, from around the World for free!!!
Security - you can install the necessary Mozilla addon's and firestarter or shorewall or a custom firewall to boost your internet experience.
VLC, amarok, audacity, mplayer, realplayer and xmms2 are very good multimedia programs covering all the needed experience.
Acrobat 9+ is available for Linux for the pdf community.
Open Office or Star Office are not perfect but are decent Linux office solutions.
If you are wondering about install time - there is none - since the OS just boots of a CD/USB, you can use all the features of a full fledged O/S, and if you need, you may install the O/S to hard disc in 10 minutes.

So what are the minimum requirements of this new O/s (Vista beware!)
· Intel-compatible CPU (i486 or later),
· 32 MB of RAM for text mode, at least 96 MB for graphics mode with KDE (at least 128 MB of RAM is recommended to use the various office products),
· boot-able CD-ROM drive, or a boot floppy and standard CD-ROM (IDE/ATAPI or SCSI),
· standard SVGA-compatible graphics card,
· serial or PS/2 standard mouse or IMPS/2-compatible USB-mouse.

Before you comment, please note:

  • I know I could have called Acer - support - since my laptop is within warranty - well, I didn't call because I needed internet connectivity - not further delays and postal issues & mailing my hard disc.
  • Ubuntu, OpenSuse, Knoppix and PCLinuxOS have very good multi-session KDE4.3+/GNOME 2.16+ windows environment which I wanted compared to a lite-r environment like DSL Linux ( - that's another topic - 50MB linux - usb/mini-cd boot) - another reason not to go for a usb boot was the acer laptop bios didn't support usb boot and also the BIOS was not upgraded and the only way to upgrade the acer laptop bios was through a working Windows XP !! Latest: I finally got a usb floppy drive and got my Acer BIOS upgraded, also I created a custom Live CD of PCLinuxOS and copied it to a USB flash (don't forget to write the MBR using ms-sys) - now a Gateway MX 6124 or Toshiba or HP or Dell laptop boots perfectly through a usb 2.0 flash drive to Live PCLinuxOS 2007/2009. Now, you are even able to remaster Ubuntu 64 bit  9.10 (Karmic) and OpenSuse 11.2 64 bit using remastersys.
  • I downloaded Knoppix 3.6 Live CD from a friends cable connection and burnt the CD in 10 minutes and was online on my Acer 4152 NLCI laptop in 15 minutes: Latest: I downloaded Knoppix 6.0.1 Live CD and PCLinuxOS 2009.2 Live CD - Knoppix has 64bit support and we are still awaiting PCLinuxOS in a 64 bit avataar. Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) and OpenSuse 11.2 both support 64 bit live editions which work very fast straight out of the box with all the necessary apps for your new laptop.
  • All of the needed drivers and software including Gaim, Office(Word,Excel,PPT), PDF viewer, printer-scanner drivers, rss reader - were on the CD so nothing to install - unlike ms windows, where a plain o/s is useless!!!
  • For a new 64 bit system - the best Linux LiveCD/Desktop O/S is Fedora 10 (Fedora 11 has kernel/video issues) as it is now easily customizable (unlike Ubuntu) into a new LiveCD using revisor.
  • With a little customization PCLinux 2009.2 with kernel and the NVIDIA 190.42 Linux (32/64 bit) driver, runs great on Dell XPS 1530 with NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT. The fingerprint scanner has a few problems with Linux, but its the upek driver and the same issue is on windows vista too!!!
  • The laptop CD/DVD drive will be used/locked and you can't eject the live CD/DVD - when you log into the Live O/s. This is by design, since the modules are dynamically loaded from compressed O/s on the CD/DVD. You can burn custom CD's by downloading the necessary softwares by apt-get after installing it to the hard disc. Then you can create a remastered custom Live CD or a Live USB Flash bootable (using a 512MB+ usb flash).
  • I downloaded PCLinuxOS 0.93 and later upgraded to PCLinuxOS 2009.2 and they install to hard disc easily with a single click, also they have a neat way to create a custom Live CD/DVD, which can be created in 1.5 hours (2.6 GB+ Live DVD) using mklivecd/remasterme/remastersys/k3b(brasero).
  • Webcam with messenger is an issue with gaim, fixed this problem with a new version of Kopete and many more web camera tools like cheese.
  • With Broadcom 4318 driver, WPA Wireless security is not supported with default ndiswrapper driver install, you may still have to follow instructions here(ignore default and download the 4318 Broadcom driver and 'build' the linux broadcom wireless card drivers  with support for secured 128 bit WEP and WPA2-PSK (BCM43*- cards).
  • Latest: DELL XPS 1530 , 4GB RAM , NVIDIA 8600GT GeForce video card, 1280x800 resultion, HD sound, 2M Pixel integrated WebCam - quad boots Windows Vista 32bit Premium and PCLinuxOS 2009.2 (kernel, with "i8042.nomux=1" boot parameter (for trackpad) and nvidia-current video drivers, and ndiswrapper (sky2) drivers for 10/100 ethernet and DELL Wireless a/b/g/n (Broadcom 4328/wl) with WPA2-PSK security, "cheese" for webcam, Ubuntu 9.10 64 bit (Karmic) and OpenSuse 11.2 64 bit. Secure wireless (WPA) works flawlessly with modprobe ieee80211_crypt_tkip.
  • The apt-get feature (combined with Synaptic of PCLinuxOS) of most Linux flavors (yast in OpenSuse) is great to keep your specific O/S features upto-date and remove broken packages. The control you have over your custom machine software is simply great.
  • I can't access the SD Card inserted in the proprietary Acer Laptop Texas Instruments SD/MMC Card Reader - but I can connect the Kodak digital camera via USB and the photos can be uploaded. Latest: PCLinuxOS has a fix for many Gateway laptop SD card reader issues in their support forums for most SD cards and multi card readers except Sony memory stick. Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) and OpenSuse 11.2 both support 32bit and 64 bit live editions which work very fast straight out of the box with all the necessary apps for your old laptops too. 
  • Ubuntu Installation with custom apps is made easy with a wiki
  • I can't read MS Visio or MS Project documents (but this in development and I will use visio or project docs converted to jpegs till then). There are lighter versions in K Office.
  • Open Office or K Office are not yet very mature software and cannot reasonably compare to MS Office 2007 in either features or printing of Excel documents. KOffice is nice enough, and much 'lighter' but it isn't quite as powerful as Open Office. Abiword is a good word document software.
  • PCLinuxOS has Beryl which is a decent 3D windows manager with nice 3D windows effects - but 3D windows is still not a very refined concept and I would suggest uninstalling the compiz 3D and beryl 3D software.
  • I have recovered 3 machines so far from fatal non-bootable windows with PCLinuxOS and its forums.
  • For safety with the MBR (master boot record), I'd suggest installing grub, because recovery is very easy and grub supports Vista perfectly (make sure you shrink the windows volume in Vista itself before installing linux to hard disc). Latest: grub2 is available for Ubuntu 9.10 with better features. You can also shrink disks using linux gparted (after defragmenting using PerfectDisk - which works better than Windows Defrag). For simplified grub2 recovery - please keep a custom Live CD ready with chroot and grub installed.
  • Support Forum for Sound Card Troubleshooting 
  • Flashplugin for 64bit Linux is still in pre-release 
  • Mplayer and plugins for video (Mandriva-PCLinux)
  • NVIDIA has latest (190.42) 64 bit display drivers for Linux
  • Latest: Install Virtualbox on your existing linux system, and virtual run your 32-bit/64-bit live-iso of your favorite linux flavor to try it out. qemu is also a good virtualization software.
Well, that's it from me, see ya... Keep your  Ubuntu or OpenSuse or  PCLinuxOS or Knoppix or  Fedora CD/DVD/USB/SD ready.... as we say in Linux there is true consumer choice even though I personally vote for  Ubuntu or OpenSuse or  PCLinuxOS (in that order :-) )

Oh ya.. Knoppix supports clusters and a multi-computer version is out called "ParallelKnoppix" which converts a host of windows machines into a Linux Cluster Farm. Descriptions are here -

Ubuntu/OpenSuse/Knoppix 64bit natively supports 64-bit processors and 4GB + memory.
Howto? - Another useful site to learn to use Linux -
Some more flavors that receive good desktop Linux reviews are
Other good sites with helpful linux links: