Monday, May 27, 2013

Linux Trip, Introduction

How I almost didn't try Linux again.

April was winding down, and Cinco de Mayo was right around the corner. In Kansas the weather can go from bitter cold to hot during the months of spring, and this year was no exception. I had been learning a Yang style Taijiquan form that is new to me, and was looking for another distraction. (Even in martial arts training there is procrastination). I looked through my long Someday list in my planner and decided that it was time to try Ubuntu Linux.

I rummaged through the closets and the attic looking for my previous MacBook Pro. It was an Intel dual core unit with the RAM maxed out, and I figured it would be a safe machine for a Linux install. Turns out my wife had the laptop at the office. Her laptop had died several months ago, and she had used this machine as a backup while her's was in the shop. By the end of the week she had brought it home, and when she left the house to spend some time with friends, I decided it was time for me to geek out. With the house and the SmartTV to myself, I settled in for a cold spring's night of hacking.

I figured that the Intel MacBook would be an easy target for a Linux install. I had plenty of experience with Linux in the late 90s, it is one of two reasons I am a Mac fan boy; the other is Windows. After suffering a Windows 98 meltdown I decided to try Linux at home. My hope was to find a system I could run at home that I didn't have to support. That was my day job, after all. I purchased a couple of Linux distributions and tried them on my home PC. After several months, of mucking with sound and video drivers that never fully supported my equipment, I threw in the towel and returned to Windows.

This pattern repeated itself over the next couple of years, until Apple announced their public Beta of OS X. I jumped at the chance to use a Unix based OS on my home computer, and purchased a candy colored iMac. The machine never crashed, I would leave it on for months at a time, and actually got nervous about all the free time I had. I even pulled my old PC out of the closet and tried to install the latest Linux distro on it. But after a few minutes staring at a graphic subsystem error, I realized that I didn't need Linux anymore, and tossed the PC in the trash.

Fast forward 10 or 11 years and a Linux distribution named Ubuntu manages to creep into my otherwise Mac only radar. It looks as though someone is finally making a Linux that works on the desktop, and they are even targeting other devices, like tablets, phones, and televisions. Sounds exciting, so I put it on my Someday list and on this cold May night in 2013 I am finally checking that item off.

First impression, I shouldn't of bothered; Linux still sucks.

Ubuntu Fails

I grabbed a torrent of the latest 64 bit Ubuntu and realized that I hadn't burnt anything to DVD in years. I Dug through an old desk in the house, found a whole stack of writable DVDs, we used to back up to them once a year, and burnt the ISO to disk.

I sat down in front of the SmartTV, plugged the laptop into a power outlet and began. You hold down the C key during boot to get the Mac to boot from DVD, done and done. A pretty Ubuntu screen comes up, the system starts to boot, then a funky screen, the DVD stops spinning, and nothing. Looks like a graphic card problem, I say to the dark and hit the web with my Nexus 10, looking for answers. (I mention the Nexus 10 because it is, at heart, a Linux computer that just works).

I search for MacBook Pro and Ubuntu and find several threads about needing to configure the EFI boot loader to handle Linux. Most of these are about dual booting, something I don't want to do, and never understood. Either an operating system works, or it doesn't. The only reason you would need two operating systems on a single machine is... Sorry, there isn't a reason.

I make a one martini assumption that I need this rEFI thing, and head down that path. I go through the EFI stuff for several hours and never get any further. Just a dead screen shortly after boot. After about three hours of this, and serval episodes of Family Guy, Highlander, and MacGyver on the SmartTV, I give up, fix another stiff drink, and go to bed.

The next day is a Saturday, and I wake up with fresh perspective. I decided to chase down my original conclusion that Linux still can't handle a standard graphic card, and found a step-by-step post on installing Linux Mint on my version of a MacBook Pro. The problem was indeed the Nvidia graphics card. Since Ubuntu had failed the previous night, I headed to the Linux Mint site where I found a variety of distributions. It says that if you are unsure which one to grab, to get MATE. So I did.
I followed the step-by-step, and an hour later had a functioning Linux laptop, with the proper Nvidia drivers.

Boy was I sorry, but that is a story for the next post.

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