A walk on the wild side
As some of you already know, recently my good friend and Felton LUG co-founder Bob Lewis graced me with an old Sony Vaio laptop of circa 2004 vintage. As I wrote in another blog, getting it to run Linux did not go smoothly.
In fact, the laptop has rightfully earned its current nickname: The Vaio of Doom.
[An aside: Apparently this machine sat in its box on a shelf somewhere possibly for the duration of its life, because when I unboxed it, it was good as new, with Windows disks and warranty paperwork. My first reaction was to contact Ken Starks at Reglue to see if this was a machine he could use. He responded fairly promptly: “No!” And after last week’s trials and tribulations, I can see why.]
So I got three Linux distros — Korora 20 Xfce, CrunchBang Waldorf and AntiX Luddite — to work well enough to make this a useable laptop.
But did I stop there? Perish the thought.
One of the benefits of living so close to a state park full of redwoods is that walks through the forest allow me to think about things; some thoughts are profound, and some aren’t. I’ll let you decide where this one falls on that spectrum: “Hmmm, I wonder if the Vaio of Doom would fare any better with BSD . . . .”
As I may have mentioned in past blogs, FreeBSD founder and current iXsystems CTO Jordan Hubbard lives just down the street from me. It should be noted that I live on Highway 9 in the Santa Cruz Mountains and that my “street” runs from Santa Cruz to Saratoga, and Jordan is just up the road about six miles in Boulder Creek. So it’s not like I can just go up the street to his house and borrow a cup of sugar. However, a few years ago I met his wife, who is the accountant for a commercial neighbor. She came into the shop drawn by the Linux signs and said she was glad to see Tux in the window. “Do you know Jordan Hubbard?” she asked. (“Not personally”) “He’s my husband . . . goodness, you fell out of your chair. Are you all right?”
But I digress.
A short trip to Distrowatch.com to see what’s shaking on the BSD front (and, of course, find the link to download the iso files), and I ended up with the top BSD distro on the list: FreeBSD.
Because one of the more, um, charming facets of the Vaio of Doom is that I can’t boot from a USB stick, so DVD burning was the order of the day. So on another machine, I burned a FreeBSD DVD, stuck it in the VoD and off we went.
Install. Reboot. And . . . command line prompt. Hmmm. Let’s try startx. Nope.
The takeaway from this attempt is this: The most endearing facet of FreeBSD is its documentation. That’s not a snarky put-down — the documentation was easily navigated and the process to put a desktop on it and add software was unequivocally clear; perhaps the best documentation I’ve seen ever. Ever. But it was a lot of work, but clearly an education on several levels, for one afternoon. I was told by a few astute folks that FreeBSD is not the most ideal BSD to run on a laptop. A server? Yeah. But a laptop? Not quite.
Try PC-BSD, they said.
Back to Distrowatch. Download iso, burn DVD, insert DVD, reboot. Wait. Install.
Much better. PC-BSD provided me with what I needed to just reboot and be on my way — the KDE desktop along with a lot of extra software like VLC so I could do “The West Wing” test (pop in a DVD of the Aaron Sorkin classic and see how the computer handles it). The Vaio of Doom passed that test with flying colors, and I got to watch “The Stackhouse Filibuster” (Season 2, Episode 17, I think) without interruption. I’ll probably spend part of today doing things like changing the wallpaper and adding software, since the software manager is a bit of a mystery.
Having spent a few days with BSD, I have to say that it is a lot friendlier than I expected — I don’t know if it is just a lack of experience or just believing various horror stories, all untrue, about Unix. It’s not the wild and crazy jungle I had thought it was. The Vaio of Doom and PC-BSD seem to be as good a fit as the other three Linux distros mentioned earlier.
We’ll continue to experiment on this machine until we find the ultimate distro to work on it. Meanwhile, LibreOffice needs to be installed.
This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.
(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)