Monthly Archives: December 2007

The world’s most useless “recovery” CD

At first sight you might think that the Windows XP installation CD might contain an operating system, but more importantly, some sort of tool that could prove useful if your computer should ever run into trouble. The CD has a nice, blue, cloudy watermark on it and the interior rim has a shiny hologram. Clearly, there must be some goodness locked inside – it just oozes quality.

Wrong! Today, I backed up everything and erased my hard drive (including Kubuntu which I installed a few days ago) so that I could reduce the number of primary partitions and install PCLinuxOS in a logical drive. I also put the swap partition at the beginning of the disk (for speed of access) and restored my Acronis image of C: drive into the second partition which meant that it couldn’t find “\WINDOWS\system32\hal.dll”. No problem, I’ll just boot off the Windows CD, enter the recovery console, and change “partition(1)” to “partition(2)” in “C:\boot.ini”. A simple task.

When the recovery console finally loads, I change to the root of the C: drive and type “edit boot.ini”. Error: “Command not found, type HELP for a list of commands”. So I do that and see a very paltry list of options, none of which includes a basic text editor. So I navigate to “C:\WINDOWS\system32” and see a file called “edit.com”, so I try to run edit in there. No luck. Not even if I type “C:\WINDOWS\system32\edit.com C:\boot.ini” will it let me edit the file!

I boot into Linux and try to change it there, but PCLinuxOS seems to think the file system is read-only, even though it says “rw” next to that partition when I type “mount” (even as root). So I copy “boot.ini” to my Linux desktop, make the changes, and copy it back to my FAT32 recovery partition (full of Acronis images), boot back into XP’s so-called “recovery console” and copy it from the FAT32 partition into the root of C: drive. Lo and behold, Windows XP now boots fine! Hallelujah!

After I had it working it occured to me that I could try booting off the Kubuntu live CD since I was able to read and write to NTFS partitions under Kubuntu (one of the things it does well in comparison to PCLinuxOS, I guess) but that’s beside the point. The point is that the XP recovery console doesn’t even include a simple DOS editor. You know, the kind we used to get with rescue floppies? Just another reason to ditch Windows altogether and switch to an operating system that isn’t wholly retarded from its very foundation.

The migration of a fussy Windows user to Linux

(edit: see comment #60, below; I’m going to switch to PCLinuxOS because it’s far better than Kubuntu, which I chose mainly because of name recognition. Sadly, Kubuntu doesn’t live up to the reputation deserved by Ubuntu (which, even though it uses GNOME, which I can’t stand, is a well put-together distro).

(edit: I have tried Vista at work for over a month and didn’t like it. Apart from the ruined explorer, the print spooler crashes on a daily basis, it forgets my multi-monitor configuration almost as often, and it’s more sluggish than XP on my Dell Latitude D830.)

I’m a very fussy user when it comes to my operating systems and I have managed to get by with Windows XP for a long time, but its days are numbered. Vista is looming and I refuse to install that rubbish, so I have chosen Kubuntu 7.10. Normal Ubuntu users might be wondering why I chose Kubuntu…

To demonstrate just how fussy I am, I installed Kubuntu because it uses Konqueror as the file manager which means I can draw selection rectangles when highlighting files in detailed list view. Ubuntu’s file manager, on the other hand, treats me like an idiot by denying me this basic user right and forcing me to highlight files with the mouse AND keyboard instead of just the mouse. As somebody who does a lot of file management, GNOME just isn’t an option (Mac users might like it since the Finder and Nautilus have a lot in common insofar as the stripped-out configurables are concerned :-).

Having declared myself a part of the KDE crowd in the long-running desktop environment flame war, allow me to describe how this fussy and long time Windows user upgraded from XP to Linux to avoid the impending doom of XP’s old age and the otherwise inevitability of Vista…

Configuration Changes

  • /etc/X11/xorg.conf – modified to support back/forward mouse buttons as per this Ubuntu forum post.
  • kcontrol (which lets you configure KDE more than the System Settings icon on Kubuntu’s menu) – Appearance & Themes, Launch Feedback, disable Taskbar Notification – unless you like seeing audio player taskbar entries for 30 seconds every time you click on an MP3 file!
  • Konqueror – Settings, Configure Konqueror, Behaviour, Show the ‘Delete’ context menu entries which bypass the trashcan (or else it’ll take forever to delete things off USB drives because they’re really copied to your hard drive first).
  • nuoveXT icon theme – I installed this icon theme because the default uses far too much blue for my liking, making it hard to differentiate quickly between icons (and I’m just used to yellow folders).
  • Set Konqueror as the default file manager – Kubuntu uses Dolphin but you can change it to use Konqueror by going to kcontrol, KDE Components, File Associations, inode, directory and then moving Konqueror up in the pecking order. If Dolphin supported tabbed browsing and had a bookmark toolbar, it would make a nice file manager.

Package Installations

  • Pidgin – instant messaging client with guifications (to get little popups just like Windows Live Messenger when people sign on and go offline, etc), the extended preferences plugin (to hide the Buddy List from the KDE taskbar), and the Message Notifications plugin which is part of the pidgin-plugin-pack (to flash new chat windows so that I’ll notice them in the taskbar).
  • Audacious (similar to Winamp) – Amarok seems to get a lot of publicity these days but I can’t stand it. I did give it a try but you have to keep searching for and dragging things to the right-hand pane to get them to play and this just won’t do. Whilst I preferred iTunes for music library management I often kept using Winamp in Windows so I’ll get by with Audacious for the time being. Songbird looks good but I haven’t installed it yet (it’s on my to-do list).
  • msttcorefonts – to make most web pages that use Microsoft’s fonts appear more readable (though, I still seem to find some pages in Firefox that use a pretty squashy and unreadable Roman font).
  • imwheel – to enable back/forward mouse button support (why this isn’t installed by default I’ll never know).
  • GKrellM – system monitor program to monitor bandwidth usage and to show my Internode ADSL usage per month (thanks to the WindowMaker Internode Usage Meter + Gkrellm2 plugin).
  • mbmon – used by GKrellM to display system temperatures and fan speeds (I’ve added “mbmon -r -P 61234” to my /etc/rc.local script so that the deamon is available to GKrellM after a reboot; thanks to “biovore” on #kubuntu for that tip).
  • Firefox – in Windows I’d say this is the best web browser ever, but the Linux version seems somewhat more flakier; web pages sometimes just won’t render even if the browser seems to go through the motions of downloading it (I have to close Firefox and start it again to get the page the draw). Firefox on Kubuntu also crashes a lot more than I remember it ever did in Windows; for example, every time I click on the zoom for the first icon preview here, it will crash every time. Still, I wouldn’t be without it.
  • Thunderbird – email client that I once used in Windows before biting the bullet and using Outlook 2003 (mainly for its integrated calendar but Thunderbird supports that now – see next item). I chose not to use Kontact because I’ve learned my lesson about using programs that require the use of a particular operating system for something as important as email.
  • Sunbird and Lightning – Mozilla’s calendar program and plugin to make Sunbird accessible through Thunderbird.
  • AllTray – to dock any application to the system tray that doesn’t support it (such as Thunderbird -e.g., by modifying the KDE shortcut command to “alltray thunderbird %u”). Very nifty but it’s not 100% reliable because programs sometimes close instead of minimising to the systray; clicking only on the systray icon when restoring and minimising is more reliable.
  • aMule – the closest thing you’re likely to find for eMule (I did try KMLDonkey but the less said about it the better; it was not a very straight forward or pleasant experience!)
  • LAME – so that I can rip CDs to MP3 instead of OGG (which is the default in K3b, an excellent replacement for both Nero and Exact Audio Copy).
  • VLC Media Player – what can I say? It’s just better.

Important File Association Changes

  • Set KWrite as the default text editor – Kate shows an annoyingly large list of currently opened files that takes up a quarter of the window’s area, and what’s worse is that you can’t disable it for good; not exactly what I’m looking for in a simple replacement for Notepad.exe
  • Associate picture files with Gwenview – by default Konqueror will preview the image itself and if I click the close button, I’m actually closing Konqueror and not some external image preview like I’m used to with Windows.

Outstanding Issues

  • The hack to get Thunderbird to return to the Inbox after deleting a message (found here) didn’t work for me. This behaviour bugs me no end and if I don’t find a fix for it soon, I may even consider Kontact!
  • I’d like to get my Vista media center PC to connect to the videos share on my Linux machine using Samba, but getting Samba to cooperate is about as painful as previous encounters with it that I can remember. I’ve tried all sorts of things, including configuring Vista to use LM and NTLM but to no avail. All the more reason to try MythTV, I suppose, but something tells me it will probably involve quite a lot of tinkering. (edit: see comment #54, below, for a solution that I tested whilst using a standard Ubuntu 7.10 live CD)
  • K3b complaining that the CD is in use – if I stick an audio CD in the drive, up pops a window allowing me to rip audio from CD, so I click it. I then specify where to save the files and get a long-winded error that starts out: “Device ‘PIONEER – DVD-RW DVR-111D’ is already in use by other applications (kio_audiocd)” giving me the options Check again, Quit the other applications, and Continue. If I can put on my ordinary user hat: “Hey, you’re running this show – don’t blame me for problems you created!” I have to close my existing Konqueror window, which isn’t even viewing the CD, and click Check again before it’ll rip the CD. Pretty stupid, really.
  • The back and forward buttons on my mouse actually scroll left and right in Konqueror a few centimetres at a time. I’ve yet to search for or find a fix for this very odd behaviour.
  • The spell checker in OpenOffice.org Writer doesn’t seem to work – it seemed to be set to Czech by default but after changing it to English (UK) (there’s no Australian but there is a New Zealand version? no fair!) it still won’t find any spelling mistakes. KWrite’s spell checker works but it doesn’t like contractions. Better than nothing, I guess. (edit: see comment #2, below, for a solution)
  • I downloaded and extracted the latest Firefox tarball to /usr/local/firefox but most things that shell out to a browser don’t seem to know about it anymore. Maybe this isn’t the right location? Whatever the case, there needs to be an easy way to update important things like Firefox through the usual repositories. The old version (2.0.0.6) that I was using was probably the reason it was flakey, but getting a proper installation of the latest version (2.0.0.11) is a non-trivial exercise. Firefox took care of all this for me in Windows.

Miscellaneous Observations

  • KTorrent is rather nice. It even has built-in support for PeerGuardian’s IP block list. The only thing that would make it better would be built-in previewing, but uTorrent doesn’t have it either, so I’m no worse off.
  • KDE’s Lock Session does what it says but it leaves a snapshot of your session as the backdrop to the locked screen instead of a wallpaper or something. Not that I care but it’s still not as nice-looking (I lock the session to prevent the cat from walking on the keyboard, messing things up).
  • It would be nice to have better integration with KDE for certain appliations, such as Thunderbird and eMule, for example. Maybe Linux needs some kind of system independent of your desktop environment for systray-like things and other notifications?
  • Unlike previous attempts at switching to Linux this time it seems far more viable. I don’t have to return to work until mid-January so I’ve got time to sort out any issues before then. When the bulk of my day is taken up with work I won’t tolerate computer problems as easily so I could still switch back to Windows if things go awry and wait for Kubuntu 8.04. Here’s hoping I can stick it out!