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by Tony Chang
tony@ponderer.org

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.

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 http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ 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.

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