Saturday, December 21, 2013

Windows to Ubuntu to Debian

I've been a Windows user for most of my life. I got to use Unix when I was graduate student and was really attracted to the command line. That was 10 years ago though. A few months back I wanted to make the switch to Ubuntu, a Unix-like system, because I didn't like the idea of upgrading to Windows 8. I don't want to be told that the new way of interacting with computers is to type and touch. And I don't want to be told a lot of other things that Windows tells people, or rather, forces people to accept. And Ubuntu is free of course (but "free" is a loaded word in software circles and I don't want to get into that now).

In June I borrowed my wife's four-year old Compaq 610 laptop which she no longer needed, got her permission to wipe out Windows Vista after telling her there's no going back, and proceeded to install Ubuntu 12.04. I used it for a few weeks and had to switch to my Windows computer to do some intensive documentation work for which I had to use MS Word. The switch lasted a couple of months largely because the laptop running Ubuntu had a dead battery and no webcam. I had to keep it charged at all times and couldn't do any video calls. This I remedied by purchasing a new battery and external web cam.

I moved back to Ubuntu and soon began to see problems during shutdown. Now any computer running GNU/Linux (which by the way is the right way to call 'Linux') needs to be customized to an extent that might appall Windows and Mac users who expect everything to be ready for them the first time the computer is booted. By the way, Ubuntu is one of the many distributions of GNU/Linux, although they don't make this very obvious on their website.

So the problem was that during shutdown the computer screen would flicker intensely and I could discern some error message about problems shutting down some program. First it was a program called 'speech-dispatcher', and after I tried to do something about this another program called 'acpid' started acting up. I couldn't find much help regarding this on the extensive Ubuntu forums, and I was upset that my laptop wasn't being very stable. Who wants to see their screen flickering or deal with shutdown problems? Shutting down is really one of the simplest things you can do with a computer. I had to do a hard shutdown by pressing the power button when the laptop froze during shutdown, which didn't happen every time but often enough to make me want to ditch Ubuntu.

I began to think of Debian, the GNU/Linux distribution that is behind Ubuntu. Debian is serious stuff. Installing it is not as easy as installing Ubuntu, and after installation a lot of things need to be done to make it actually usable. Also, Debian community forums speak to people with experience using GNU/Linux, unlike Ubuntu forums which are more accessible.

I installed Debian on my laptop yesterday and spent most of this morning doing a number of things to make it ready for use. I'll write about the installation and configuration in my next post...

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