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by Tony Chang

All opinions on this site are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

Creative Commons Attribution License

my switch

Jan 19, 2006, 03:00am EST



I bought myself a new laptop during the holidays and I have a switch story to tell, but you’ve never heard this switch story before. I’ve switched from FreeBSD to linux.

My last laptop lasted me for over 3.5 years and I faithfully used FreeBSD starting with an early 4.x version and currently running FreeBSD 7.0-CURRENT. I really like FreeBSD; the ports tree is great for managing software and the kernel is rock solid. However, I always felt like I was a bit behind the bleeding edge open source world. Some software either isn’t available (e.g., flash) and some requires way too much effort to get running (java). All the action today is on linux.

What really sold me is Ubuntu. I’ve used gentoo in the past (because it borrowed the idea of portage from BSD), but it was frustrating. Compiling a linux kernel is more complicated than compiling a FreeBSD kernel and I wasn’t able to get all the hardware I wanted to work. Ubuntu changed all that. After a simple install process everything on this laptop was working. [1] Video, sound, special laptop keys, suspend to ram, circular touchpad scrolling, and wireless networking all worked out of the box.

So far, the only downside is that the pre-built software packages (via apt-get) sometimes lag behind the bleeding edge. Ports tend to be a bit more risky, but often have -devel versions that follow CVS head. For example, I wanted to use features in OpenSSH 4.2p1, but wasn’t able to find it using apt-get and ended up compiling my own version.

Actually, Having a current version of OpenSSH is important. I read email on one machine, have my mp3s on another[2], and often VPN in to my work desktop. Being able to ssh and mount remote drives (using sshfs) without a password makes the fact that I’m working remotely almost completely transparent.

Oh, so I didn’t get a Mac. I actually recommend Macs to everyone I know, but it’s not for me. OS X has a terminal and X11 which gives it a linux feel, but it’s not as smooth and seamless as a pure unix system. And even if it was better, the real reason I’ll likely never switch to OS X or Windows is the ion window manager. I often have 10+ terminals open at one time and don’t want to be bothered with positioning them on my screen. Exposé and alt-tab are terribly inefficient when it comes to managing lots of windows that all look the same as thumbnails. The combination of windows being in known locations (spatial memory?) and tabs makes ion work surprisingly well.

Is linux ready for the desktop? Of course not. My needs are those of a developer who spends more time writing python scripts than writing email.

Related Links:
I’m Joining the Majority by Putting the Mac Aside in 2005
Going Back Downstairs

[1] Well, almost. Suspend to disk didn’t work, but these instructions helped me fix that.

[2] Anyone know how to get autofs to work with sshfs? I found some instructions for using lufs instead, but lufs seems to be abandoned in favor of fuse. at Jan 19, 2006, 05:33am EST

Welcome to Linux, Tony!

Did you install Ubuntu easily? I gave it up because was unable to configure it :(

Kim at Jan 21, 2006, 03:42pm EST

Nice choice. Thanks for mentioning the suspend thing - I never got that working right on my averatec laptop and you reminded me to look it up again. Looks like a number of packages have been updated since the last time I tried, so I’ll have to try it again. Maybe next time I rehaul everything I’ll try ubuntu. I’ve got gentoo now.

Is linux ready for the desktop? Of course not. My needs are those of a developer who spends more time writing python scripts than writing email.
Hmm, I’m certainly no developer, and I’ve never seen Ion, but reading those two links made me think back to trying to work in a windows system. I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m reliant on multiple desktops, spatial memory, and major customizability. Of course, I know I’m also not a “typical end user”.

Dave at Jan 26, 2006, 03:10am EST

Spatial browsing is something of anathema to me; I have never got it to go what I wanted it to do, at least in linux. The first thing I used to go when I did my monthly rebuilds was to turn nautilus into explorer mode vs. spatial browsing. I’m not sure which behavior is default in Ubuntu; I imagine it is the latter. I read all the gnome developer threads on the usability basis behind it, etc. etc. etc. but I couldn’t personally work with spatial browsing. But then, you use konqueror to browse your files, no? It’s still defaulting to explorer mode, yes?

Kim at Jan 26, 2006, 12:20pm EST

Um, I don’t use spatial browsing either. I had to look up what that was. I use the command line to look at my file system, which must be about the exact opposite of spatial browsing. I was just talking about “spatial memory,” (“windows being in known locations”) and I meant that I remember where things are better if I have a spatial metaphor. That’s how my windows and desktops are organized - spatially. This is the idea behind Tony’s webnote, too, if I’m not much mistaken - the idea that spatial organization is a potent memory assist.

Joel at Jan 21, 2006, 06:41pm EST

A .deb for Openssh 4.2p1 is available in Debian sid/unstable.

In your /etc/apt/sources.list: deb unstable main

Probably will want to comment that back out after you install openssh-server and openssh-client to keep from accidentally updating other packages.

Sebastian at Jan 28, 2006, 05:06am EST

This actually is the first switch story i ever read. I pretty much liked it. It encouraged me to try ubuntu when i finally get to buy me a laptop. I already tryed their live cd, but it wasn’t as seamless compared with, say Knoppix. But these project have different aims. Apropos 10+ terminals open at one time… Did you try gnu screen?

tony at Jan 29, 2006, 02:47am EST

Yeah, I use screen inside most of my ssh sessions. It’s one of my favorite programs.

David Kelly at Feb 22, 2006, 01:22pm EST

Thought you should know that it’s trivial to arrange your terminal windows onscreen in OSX with Applescript.