Have you ever heard the sound of a hard drive before it dies? If you haven’t, you will know it the next time even if it happens years later. Hard drives don’t usually fail for a few years depending on their use. Never-the-less, they can randomly fail for no apparent reason.
A Western Digital WD800 chose to start a rapid descent recently at an inopportune time. That’s the normal way these things happen: Early in the morning when you can hear an air conditioner running two blocks away with your doors and windows closed. Naturally, you have a deadline or a deliverable you cannot miss.
I quickly discovered a 4.2 Gigabyte IDE drive purchased some years ago and never used in a closet. I quickly swapped it out and hoped I would have enough space to install Linux quickly and hit the floor running again.
The desktop on the WD800, an 80 Gigabyte internal drive ran Fedora Core 4. I had the data files backed up and I felt even my little drive could get me through the night.
But Fedora in its most stripped down version filled the entire drive. I removed everything I could from the distribution including wallpapers and themes. That hungry little hatted Linux distribution wanted 3.5 Gigabytes of diskspace and insisted that’s all the drive could hold.
I had just finished testing and installing SUSE 10 but it didn’t like my disk either. Even when I minimized the installation it missed those X-org libraries and wouldn’t give me a desktop.
Two hours had passed and we were getting little done. I had cranked up my ThinkPad which I only use for making presentations and even though I was still about 50 % productive, I needed a complete desktop with my productivity tools.
I remember Ubuntu
I downloaded the most recent Ubuntu 5.10 distribution on one of my servers. Lucky, I have a lot of bandwidth. That single CD installation disk makes getting started easy. Fedora required four disks and SUSE needed five.
As I continued pecking on my laptop, I noticed that the Ubuntu web site had its pipes wide open. It’s nice to download an iso image in less than 30 minutes.
I burnt a CD-R and booted my storage-challenged PC from that disk. Ubuntu didn’t complain at all. It pulled down the entire distribution in only 1.4 Gigabytes. That’s correct. I installed the entire Ubuntu desktop on a 4.2 Gigabyte Western Digital hard drive and had plenty of space to maintain a home directory and put data files in my document directories. Not bad.
Finished and Curious
I finished my article and emailed it while the morning remained young. Did I call it a work day and fall asleep? Of course, I didn’t have the nerve to wait until I was rested to check out Ubuntu.
I learned several things as I rummaged through the installation. Most importantly, Ubuntu installed everything I usually get with Fedora or SUSE. I thought I could squeeze it down some but using Synaptic to remove some unwanted packages would have meant losing the Ubuntu desktop.
At least the developers warned me when I tried to remove things. With Fedora and SUSE I could remove packages and I would get a warning. But, those warnings didn’t prevent me from removing things. At some later time, I would discover something had stopped working and I would spend time finding libraries and other dependencies.
I also found that Ubuntu provided the same stock applications that came with SUSE and Fedora. So, the Ubuntu menus came filled up. In fact, a few more things came with Ubuntu than the others.
As much as I looked around, I could not readily tell why Ubuntu had such a small foot print. But I realized that the clever engineering made Ubuntu a nice fit for older equipment found at schools in developing nations.
A Better Ubuntu
I did a review of Ubuntu back in June 2005. You can read the article here. At the time of that article, the project released version 5.04. The current release I downloaded, 5.10 appeared as a drastically improved product.
I remember spending a significant amount of time fine tuning version 5.04. With the current distribution, the Ubuntu developers had already smoothed out the wrinkles. The current version ran faster, start-up times for applications were much faster and the look and feel improved dramatically.
I could see a noticeable difference between the current and previous releases. Fortunately, the project team didn’t make big changes in the user interface. The changes the made were subtle and gave the package an eloquent feel.
The big improvements in Ubuntu 5.10 had to do with the operating system itself. Better performance, the wheels didn’t fall off and the package didn’t seem to have a lot of bugs. The few patches I did download - six - downloaded rapidly and also installed in the same manner.
I appreciated the obvious work that the team put into Ubuntu. I elevate Ubuntu 5.10 from a hobbyist distribution to an enterprise desktop. I would be pleased to install it anywhere.
Normally, I would write a review of Novell’s SUSE 10 desktop with screen shots and recommendations. Then I would go to the next distribution and do a methodical review of it. I refer to that work as “covering the seasonal releases”.
I may not do that this time. The unusual circumstances I faced when needing to install Linux in a crunch made me really appreciate the carefully planned and engineered Ubuntu desktop. You guys helped me out and here’s a tip of the Stetson to ya.