Adventures with Ubuntu and XP and the family computer
Gentoo, Life, Linux, Ubuntu, Windows
So my folks Windows XP box started having difficulty booting. Most of the time it would go to boot and suddenly you’d be back at the BIOS, then the “Windows didn’t shutdown properly last time” menu and then once you selected “boot normally” the cycle would begin again. Usually eventually you’d get lucky and Windows would boot (but sometimes they gave up first). Not good. This started a while ago and seemed to get worse (I think, I never use the box so I don’t know). Anyways, eventually they figured (hoped actually because otherwise it was hardware failure) that their XP install was corrupted and asked me to reinstall Windows for them.
They gave me the CD that came with the box and I loaded it up and first things first, no harddrive detected. Yep, that’s right, no harddrive. To be fair, XP is old, it’s from 2001, and pretty much all computers come with SATA harddrives now, which didn’t even exist in 2001, so it’s not entirely fair to expect XP to support them. This is one of the downsides of only doing releases every 6 years. Being not terribly invested in this “install XP” project I tossed my hands up and said it’s a no go and offered Linux as an alternative. My Dad was definitely interested in Linux but wasn’t sure it would be all there for his business software, so I said, “no fear, let’s just do a trial run, and if it doesn’t work, no worries, you can, you know, always buy Vista”. The thought of having to spend money to make a computer that did work, work again, for no good reason vs. the low commitment of a trail run sold him on the project.
So I burned a copy of Hardy Heron, the newest Version of Ubuntu, released just last month. It loaded up and recognized all the hardware and installed, no trouble. I’m old fashioned so I opted for a separate root and home partition, but other than that, a vanilla install. Then we booted up and everything just worked out of the box. Even the printer. So I loaded all their data on from one of my boxs from whence it had been backuped to and let them at it (after a few tweaks, like my mom’s desktop).
Mom loved it. For her, it turns out the killer feature was desktop icon stretching. She really liked the larger icons. And of course, no difficulty using it for her normal uses which are nearly entirely Internet look ups. The other big hit was Eye of Gnome, the photo viewer. Last year we had about 1600 of my mom’s parents family slides turned into digital photos (at no small cost) and the stock Gnome photo viewer is perfect and intuitive enough for her to use and enjoy (the newly added left right buttons to scroll a directory are crucial here, so good work guys).
My moved out sister dropped by and gave it a try, and she too was sold. For her, the large stock puzzle/games selection was the seller. It worked just fine for her net usage, but the large selection of games got her attention and kept it just on introduction for over half an hour and she only explored a few of the games in that time. She’ll be back. She also was amused by compiz eye candy.
As for my Dad? Sadly neither of his business apps worked under Wine. Maximizer 8 failed to install (a little sad since it’s reasonably popular and not so new) and D——–, which is from what I can gather an in house piece of software from his company, also failed to install. A few tales from his trials installing it under Windows were horrific thought, like for the first time install you are required to turn off the firewall. 0_o In house software can be scary and shoddy stuff.
So Linux failed to satisfy everyone of my family’s needs, so back to Windows. I was disappointed but resigned. And then came mom to the rescue. She chimed in she didn’t want to go back. She liked her new Ubuntu desktop! So that was all I needed to float the idea of dual-boot. And thankfully we had two partitions already. Dad was sold too. He does want to learn more about Linux and so looked forward to the opportunity, but also needs his business software.
So I popped in a Gentoo LiveCD, because there really is no better system recovery and maintenance CD than a Gentoo LiveCD. I copied the Ubuntu root over to the second partition, moved /home and edited fstab and grub/menu.lst and reinstalled grub (from within the Ubuntu chroot because the one thing that particular LiveCD was ‘missing’ was Grub) and then changed the partition type of the first partition from Linux to NTFS and volia, we were ready to go.
Then back to Ubuntu because the Gnome Device Manager is actually full of awesome and gave me all the hardware information I needed so that I could get the appropriate drivers for Windows (remember when it was the reverse and it was crucial to go into Windows System Manager to get all the hardware info so Linux could install?). Then off to the net to find the Sata drivers, and then I tossed those onto a floppy disk and tried the XP install again. Sure enough, after loading the drivers from the disk, XP install found the harddrive and was happy enough to install onto the partition I had marked for it.
Then it booted into Windows XP SP1 glory. Which was surprisingly not glorious because it had no drivers so we had a 640×480 low colour screen with no sound. And no programs. Dad and I spent the rest of that day and the next few after that running Windows Update and downloading and installing drivers and programs manually from the net. The Windows Update website actually pretty much continually stalled out and failed when it came time to get service pack 2 which was disconcerting but by then the update manager had been installed and it was able to get and install SP2 for us. Shortly after which my dad horrifyingly noticed the Windows booting bug was back! We were horrified. All this work and no fix? Was it hardware failure? But Ubuntu was still booting fine. So we kept at it and apparently now with SP3 installed it’s gone back to booting normally.
So yes, that means Microsoft in one of their post SP2 updates introduced some bug that rendered our computer nearly unbootable, which drove us to Linux which was brain dead easy to install. And then when we discovered Linux didn’t quite fulfill all our needs, they made the migration back to XP as painful and full of near hopeless despair as possible.
So thank you Microsoft for driving my family to try Linux because they’ve found they like it, and thank you after that for highlighting exactly why we don’t want to be hooked on Windows. It’s been educational for my family, and now ever computer in my house has Linux installed on it and my family is interested in learning about it! And I owe it all to Microsoft.
(It should be pointed out that my dad’s work still has a ban on IE7 and Vista because it doesn’t work with their software yet which is a mark against both Microsoft and Vista, and my dad’s company’s computer department because, lets face it, it is the future and it has been out for over a year. But this did mean Vista really wasn’t a viable option on the fact that it would have cost us more money and it wouldn’t have accomplished the one goal we needed it for, which was running my dad’s business software. XP was our only option.)