Friday, 4 April 2008

Horny Hamster

I know this post will fail to interest most readers, but in the interest of objectivity and transparency I feel I have to go ahead with it.
What I want to say is that I’m finding Linux to be somewhat inferior to the image of perfection portrayed by its admirers. Sure, it has significant advantages and I still think it beats Windows hands down, but it wins by points rather than a knockout and the main weapon in its arsenal is its free and open ideology rather than a feature by feature victory.

All seemed very well after first installing Ubuntu’s Feisty Fawn release as a dual boot with Windows XP on my desktop. Everything was faster, things were stable, and most of the stuff I used to do on Windows worked better. That is, internet surfing was faster and the bit torrent client, Ubuntu’s bundled KTorrent software, provided me with bit torrent services at a much higher efficiency than what XP delivered.
Things started going wrong when I’ve upgraded Ubuntu from Feisty Fawn to its current version, Gutsy Gibbon. I quickly noticed extra loud noise coming in from my desktop, and a simple examination revealed the CPU was stuck on 100% - not exactly the best recipe for computer longevity, and very odd given that my desktop was busy doing nothing special.
Some research revealed two problems. First, it seems like Flash technology, used on many websites, doesn’t really work well on Linux and causes some extra CPU action. It’s not the world’s most efficient CPU killer, but it’s bad, and it means that I cannot even leave my own blog open without fearing the consequences as the Flickr chequers panel on its right hand side uses Flash. Now, Flash is an Adobe product and its faults cannot be blamed on Linux or Ubuntu, but that doesn’t really matter to me – what matters is the end result, which is bad.
Next I found out that KTorrent is the main villain in my desktop’s midst. A few minutes after starting it, the CPU just sky rockets to 100%, and doesn’t go down until well after shutting KTorrent off. I looked at forums everywhere for solutions to the problem, but while I could find many people reporting similar issues I was not able to find a solution. I tried solving the problem on my own, but my obvious ignorance in the field of Linux became very obvious: When I uninstalled and then reinstalled KTorrent, I found it had continued from the exact same spot it left off when I uninstalled it. Ubuntu, it seems, behaved in a very Windows like manner when it gave me the illusion of uninstalling the program (but illusion alone).
My next avenue of exploration would be to delete my currently running torrents and start adding new ones gradually, in order to test whether the fault is with the torrents rather than the software. I doubt that is the case, but it’s worth a try.
The other option is to wait until the next release of Ubuntu comes out at the end of April. Given the progress from Feisty Fawn to Gutsy Gibbon, Jo & I are expecting the new release to be called Horny Hamster. I have already read that the new Hamster is expected to have a really smart firewall, and I’m sure it’s all very nice – it definitely does seem like Ubuntu is the reference as far as operating system security is concerned – but I also doubt whether Hamster would sort out the KTorrent issues.
There is always the fallback option of reinstalling Feisty Fawn again and starting Ubuntu from scratch. It shouldn’t be too hard to reinstall, especially as I did not manage to build up lots of stuff in the Ubuntu environment anyway so I don’t need to do much backing up. Still, going back through versions is not what one would like to do, especially in a world where security threats keep getting meaner and darker.

At least I always have the Windows option available for me to fall back on.
As you may know, Jo’s work laptop was recently upgraded to a Windows Vista one, and as you may also know I have already complained how Vista can take a powerful machine and make it slower than a Melbourne Connex train. Not to mention software and hardware compatibility issues.
One thing I do have to credit Vista for is the improvement in its handling of wireless networks over Windows XP. XP used to (and still does) disconnect its wireless connection every couple of minutes or so for security reasons. It’s just for a couple of seconds, but it’s enough to disconnect you from a Skype call, as Jo’s parents keep finding out whenever we try using Skype’s video conferencing facilities.
Vista, just like Linux, does not disconnect your wireless, enabling nice and long wireless calls, and preventing me from saying that the path from XP to Vista is all downhill.

The one computing thing that never fails to amaze me with how well it works is our Asus Eee PC. Sure, it’s not the platform you would want to do serious work with, and it wasn’t designed with bit torrent in mind. But for quick and dirty stuff, with emphasis on the quick, it just works like a charm. It also works on batteries, in case you happen to live in Melbourne where power comes and goes more often than Connex trains leaving on time.
In short, as the E in Eee PC says, it is so stupidly easy. And quick.
The new development on the Eee PC arena is the recent acquisition of a 16gb SDHC card ($80 on eBay) which I stuck in the Eee PC’s card reader slot and which now acts as its hard drive. It’s fast, it’s mobile, it’s light, and it now means I am able to install additional software on my Eee PC without worrying too much about space. Picasa and VLC will do nicely, thank you very much!
A note on SDHC cards: These things look exactly like your average SD card, the things you probably use in your digital camera. However, while the SD standard is limited to 2gb of storage space, the SDHC format isn’t; on the other hand, while SDHC hardware is compatible with SD, SD rated hardware is not compatible with SDHC. This means, for example, that the superduper Sandisk ultra fast card reader I got a couple of years ago for my desktop won’t read the new SDHC card, which is terribly frustrating and forces me to pile even more peripheral hardware in the vicinity of my already very cluttered desktop environment. Mind you, the problem is not exclusive to SD cards: I had to buy a new Compact Flash card reader as my old one supported up to 1gb of capacity and by now I’m using a 4gb card on my SLR. The short lifespan of computer hardware is nothing short of amazing, especially as things die on you not due to faults but rather because of compatibility issues.

Indeed, the world of computing can be terribly frustrating.

2 comments:

Uri E. said...

Wht's next?

Impish Iguana? Jocular Jackal?

Moshe Reuveni said...

After Hungry Halibut (or is it Hairy Halibut?), we were expecting Impaled Impala and Jocular Jackal (great minds think alike).
The reality, however, is somewhat different. Wikipedia reports the following: Hardy Heron is to be followed by Intrepid Ibex. Boring!