Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Linux rants

Linux is fun. Lots of fun. Except when you install it on bleeding edge hardware. Then, its a solid pain in the neck. Not often you hear me complain about Linux, but this has been a real tough nut to crack.

So I got hyper excited when I was given charge of a brand-new dual-core Dell machine. What I didn't forsee was sitting in front of it with me head in my hands for hours.

First major problem - video card. The box as an ATI X600 PCI express card. And the moment the Linux installer tries to load X, it hangs. Doesn't crash and give me an error and ask me to continue without X. Nope, simply brings up a white screen and a mouse pointer and hangs. Tried Fedora, tried SUSE. Doesn't work. While both correctly probe the card and recognize it as an ATI X600, neither can successfully start X. Have to stick with text mode installs, and in the case of Live DVDs, runlevel 3.

Second major problem - the SATA RAID array. Apparently there are no drivers for that particular RAID chipset on any Linux so far. And since I'm required to keep the RAID array, it appears the only choice I have (which still hasn't worked for anyone indexed by Google) is to try and insert a temporary third hard drive, install linux, patch and compile a new kernel with experimental RAID support. Even I don't have enough time to do that. Before that, I'll try and set up a software RAID through Fedora instead of the hardware RAID. I'm desperately hoping though that FC5, due in March, will solve the RAID support issue... FC5-test2 is being downloaded for testing.

And this is the story of how the fastest computer I've ever installed an OS on is currently of little more use than a brick. Makes me real happy I bought myself a previous generation AMD Sempron with a nVidia FX5600 at home which runs Fedora like a dream.

I wish hardware manufacturers would provide more drivers for Linux. Novell recently ran a survey on what software people wanted to see ported to Linux, with the idea of lobbying those companies to port their software - but seriously, whats the point of porting Photoshop on Linux if you can't run it on the latest hardware? How about lobbying Intel, ATI and nVidia for producing better drivers for Linux? And while they're at it, how about being a little less snotty about driver code being open source? Although ATI and nVidia drivers exist, they're binaries only and therefore cannot be included with the Linux distro. An attitude like this is exactly what'll make it far more difficult for Linux to become accepted as a desktop OS. Yes, there are people like me, who are happy to install linux in text mode, know how to boot into runlevel 3, run lynx and wget to install the latest binary drivers and then load X, but they are few and far between.