My journey towards a more personal and open open source OSNov 19th, 2011 | By admin | Category: Linux / Freebsd
Ditching Ubuntu and switching to Debian
Well I finally made the switch this week, Ubuntu 11.10 was the straw that shattered the camels back and for many reasons. To be honest I can deal with the never ending troubleshooting that a linux power user has to deal with. The bottom line is that this isn’t an OS designed to handle anything and everything you want to do on it straight from the get go. If you want to do something outside the norm chances are shit’s going to break and you’re going to have to figure out why it broke and how to fix it. None of this bothers me, infact I kind of like having to fiddle around with my OS every week as each time you learn something new and get that rush from solving a problem. What does bother me though is when the OS distributors/manufacturer tell me how I should use their OS. This is the MO of windows and of Apple, they have it in their heads that they know best when it comes to using their OS and in all fairness to 98% of the world they probably do.
I do not fall in that 98% however.
I feel that my OS is the direct link, an extension of myself, with which I connect and interact with the digital world, the world in which I live the majority of my life. I feel that the distinct way which I work and exist digitally requires an equally distinct system of interaction. It doesn’t have to be radically different but it needs to be flexible in it’s nature to evolve with me as my philosophies and ideas on digital interactions evolve. Just as importantly it needs to be flexible enough for those truly dedicated and gifted hackers to really rip it apart and remake it in a new and unheard of way so that less sophisticated users, like myself, can see these new hacks and try them out. Liking some, discarding others, eventually constructing a truly unique combination of modifications from which a personal OS starts to emerge. One which no one else truly has because it is tailored(and created) specifically to my own digital persona and habits. Herein lies the true power of linux and of course lies the reason why 98%+ of users don’t use it because to get it to the point where it is purring at peak efficiency, or even just plain working right takes a lot work, a lot of patience and a lot of technical understanding. The trade off after all these months or years of agony is that you end up with an OS that is completely geared towards being the most efficient interface possible for you(at the time). Truly I feel that I am orders of magnitude more creative, more organized and more efficient in linux than I ever was in windows, I feel like I was shackled to a 100lbs weight and now I can fly, completely unhindered in what I can accomplish. The downside of course for the OS people is that only 2% of the population has the wherewithal to get to this point and this is a hurdle that Ubuntu plans on crossing – at the expense of the users that put them where they are.
With Ubuntu 11.10 came a new philosophy. The philosophy of Microsoft and Apple that I’ve just described above which states that they know best about how you should be using their interface.. They know best about how you should be interacting with your computer and the internet, and now Ubuntu knows best with 11.10 as they shoved their ideas down our throats. Ubuntu 11.10 came with something called Unity which is the main GUI engine powering all the pointing and clicking that you are doing.. It’s a wonderful front-end designed with PC’s and tablets in mind that is supposed to be a step forward in the way people interact with computers. Well it may be a step forward when compared to the defacto out-of-the-box Ubuntu setu but it’s a massive step backwards for those of us whose OS’s have evolved away from that all on their own with things like conky, awn/docky, compiz, emerald, screenlets, etc etc. With these tools we have completely revamped our interface. We have shed the clumsy panels, we have intergrated info tools into our desktop, our OS exists in 3D space to be rotated and spun around, hell we even have entire marine ecosystems living inside of our desktop cubes to keep our creativity and inspiration bubbling. Our OS’s have evolved incrementally with painstaking hours and days of research about how to enhance our user experience. Painstaking I say because of course nothing works the way it should out of the box, nor does anything stay static after an install. Hours and days have been spent overcoming conflicts with compiz, hell every one of those things mentioned above didn’t really work with a simple apt-get, they all required minute adjustments and troubleshooting just to function. On top of that they’ve all been tweaked and changed to no end after they finally started working. My awn docks have radically evolved and improved since I first installed them, my UI looks different, i’ve discovered the best locations and uses for screenlets after trying them all out for long periods of time. Huge swathes of my life have been spent tailoring my OS experience specifically to exactly what I needed to function at peak efficiency and to seamlessly integrate my physical life with my digital life. And this just touches on the front end portion of my OS, there are hundreds of scripts running throughout the day, dozens of other custom scripts that I access through keyboard shortcuts, a whole new command structure for doing daily tasks the way I find them most efficient.
And then here comes Ubuntu 11.10. What do they do? They bring in Unity which just royalty fucks over every single corner of what i just described above. Worse yet they give you this bullshit Unity 2D option which simply removes the fancy addons but still leaves all the conflicts inplace so now not only do you not have all the new stuff that Conical gave us in lieu of the old stuff but now you don’t even have the old stuff. So what do you do now? Well you’re not going to accept unity because while it may be a step forward when compared to the old factory standard default ubuntu install it is a huge step backwards when compared to a sophisticated, highly tuned, highly customized and frankly highly pimped out Ubuntu install. So what do you do? Well you research to high hell how to get this filth off your machine and lo and behold you find just enough material from similarly irate people on how to completely remove Unity all together and put Gnome back on there. So you do this and you get your OS kind of back to the way it was, but only after days of resolving all these new conflicts and even when it’s gotten to this duct taped half-functioning stage it still performs like shit. All sorts of system critical errors are now occuring like windows just not redrawing until you min/max them. The vast majority of compiz doesn’t work or doesn’t work properly at all. Your frame rate sits comfortably around 3-5 frames per second even when nothing is running. In short Duke, it’s a shitstorm. A clusterfuck of pieced together elements of Ubuntu 10.10 that don’t play well at all with 11.10. It’s an Frankenstein like abomination and you get to a point where you just have to throw in the towel because now you’re working less efficiently than ever and you’re spending the majority of your time fixing errors that you know wouldn’t be happening if it wasn’t for all the garbage that went into 11.10.
As most of you probably know Ubuntu is basically built entirely on the back of Debian. From what I understand the majority of all the nice wonderful things yuo see in Ubunty come from the blood, sweat and tears of the Debian crew. I’ve known this for years but Ubuntu was just the OS I picked up first after the fall of M$ and I just stuck with it. So I knew that switching to Debian would give me almost an identical experience to Ubuntu which appealed to me however seeing as i was moving away from the mainstream of linux distro’s and was no doubt going to have to spend a good week getting whatever distro(even debian) to work properly I wanted to keep my mind open to whatever the best Distro out there was, and switch to that no matter what it was or how different it was. So I googled around and read as many reviews as possible of the major players in the linux world before making my decision. In the end it was actually this article: http://tuxradar.com/content/best-distro-2011 that caught my eye, mainly because it was the most up to date one that I could find and much to my delight and surprise Debian was on the top of that list. The review coming frmo tuxradar.com carried a lot of weight.
My mind was made up, I went out to grab the ISO of the latest Debian release only to find out that it isn’t contained in 1 ISO file but 5 or 6. I mean we’re talking over 25GB for an OS install here… I started getting cold feet. But there was no way this could be true, I knew linux better to believe my first reaction so after some googling I discovered that the OS only needs the first DVD to install, hell you can just grab the first CD iso and it will install, the rest are just all of the additional modules and applications to install incase you don’t have a net connection. Back on the bandwagon I downloaded it and when the mood was right, when my workload was just light enough that it could do without me for a full day or two I booted off that DVD and created a new partition just for Debian. A minimalist install later, with glee and excitement I booted into Debian for the first time, so far so good.
Issue #1: Shitty framerates
After installing compiz and rotating my beloved desktop cube for the first time my framerate dropped to 5fps or less, it was crushing. I played and played enough to realize that even though Debian was telling me that it was, it actually wasn’t doing any hardware acceleration. The fglrx drivers, while they said they were loaded, weren’t loaded or weren’t doing a damned thing. This took a lot of work to figure out, resulting in black blank screens and the like. Now with every Ubuntu upgrade I did up until 10.10 I had this same problem and that was that I had to recompile my ATI proprietary drivers with the new kernel. I did that with Debian but still no go. In the end it seemed like I just needed to hack away at it’s resolve long enough to get it to cave. I honestly wish I could tell you what I did but I just kept on uninstalling absolutely all ATI Debian drivers and then downloading the proprietary drivers from www.ati.com and installing those from the CLI. Eventually that worked and I was blown away by the result.
Debian was running faster than Ubuntu had EVER run. My cube was rotating so smoothly it felt like it was on ice. Hell I even installed a new compiz plugin which I NEVER saw in Ubuntu(probably because it was experimental and ubuntu didn’t want me taking a chance with it) that’s called ‘Cube Atlantis’. It’s crude but man is it badass, sooo badass. What it does is it fills your desktop cube up with water and creates and ecosystem, which you can customize in there. coral, fish, whales, dolphins whatever you want, they live in your cube all the time. Anyways, my point is is that even with this being rendered and tracked all the time I was still getting better performance than with Ubuntu. At this point I was completely sold!
Issue #2: No sound in any internet browser
I could talk about this here, but it is worth of it’s own blog post: http://blog.netflowdevelopments.com/2011/11/19/no-sound-in-any-browser-with-debian-squeeze-64bit/
Issue #3: Jacksense doesn’t work
Same as #2: http://blog.netflowdevelopments.com/2011/11/19/switch-from-ubuntu-to-debian-and-now-jacksense-doesnt-work/
So where am I now?
Well as of writing this blog post Debian is now working as bug free as Ubuntu 10.04 was working, and is working about 30-40% more efficiently in terms of performance. In short this is a complete dream come true and while I took me a couple of weeks to get it here, mainly because I was too busy with work to tackle the sound issues, I am so so SO happy to have made the switch. Debian is very clearly a superior distro for the linux power user, it out performs Ubuntu hands down and most importantly the people at Debian have no intention of telling me how to use my OS, how to interact with my digital world. They are giving me the freedom, which also comes with some headache as mentioned above, to use Debian as I see fit. Without the shackles on my OS it is free to evolve with me for hopefully years to come and when I’m sitting down to write another OS related article 1 year from now the chances are that my OS will once again have evolved with me to the next level, increasing the fluidity and effortlessness with which I interact with the internet and my machine.
This is something that you can’t say with Windows, with Mac OSX and now unfortunately to some degree with Ubuntu. Those OS’s are in the hands of their authors to evolve as they see fit and to trap you in a box of their choosing. Fuck that, in the words of the great Kara Thrace:
“Outside the box is where I live”