All About Linux 2008: How CrunchGear's Linux Week made me hate Linux


My feature for this week was to be “Linux rocks your Windows box” or something of the sort. Great, I thought. I’ll take Wubi for a spin, see how it stacks up against a partitioned install of Ubuntu, and search around for other ways of making Linux apps work in a Windows environment. Fun and informative!

But it’s just my luck that things wouldn’t go my way. Or rather, luck had nothing to do with it. Because Linux was out to get me.

Now, I’m no slouch in XP, but I’m like a newborn babe with Linux aside from a little toying around with Ubuntu 6 on my MacBook Pro some time ago. I did my best to make these things work, and to be honest if I couldn’t do it then most of the people I know and certainly nobody in my family could even get close. To be sure, these problems will not occur for everyone, but the fact that my every attempt to make this happen was thwarted on a healthy, normally-configured machine is pretty discouraging to me.

I started with Wubi, because I heard it was the simplest and easiest way to get Linux on your box. If it worked for me, that would have been absolutely true. First, I managed to download an old version of Wubi. It does not differ visually from the new version and unless you know what version you should have, it would be very easy to stick with this one. My mom doesn’t prefer herons over gibbons, in fact living in the Northwest makes her a fawn fan.

In any case, the installer started right up, was configured in a matter of seconds (though the helpful tooltips permanently disappeared for some reason – what if I don’t know what Kubuntu and Edubuntu, etc. are?), and an ISO started downloading immediately at a high speed. I made coffee and when I came back it was ready to restart. So far, so good. And when I restarted (after setting my mobo BIOS to take over USB functionality, lucky I knew how), I got the setup screen, which hung at the first step, recognizing the drives. It tried again and again, but died the true death when I didn’t feel like waiting another hundred seconds for a retry. I looked up the problem online, apparently there is a motherboard problem with P35s or something. The only workarounds involve physically disconnecting your DVD drive, or adding something to the startup config that slows certain activities to a crawl.

During one of probably five reinstalls, I noticed that the ISO it had downloaded was labeled “AMD64” and I have a Core Duo. Cursing, I downloaded the latest i386 version and replaced the ISO and reinstalled. Upon restart, it had renamed the ISO to AMD64, raising a number of questions about compatibility, accessibility, and just how they expect anybody but the most dedicated to try to make this thing work. Threw Wubi out the window.

Next up, Ubuntu LiveCD. Less performance, but guaranteed compatibility, right? Nope – aside from having no autorun function on the CD to prompt unknowing users to start up and boot from the CD, the LiveCD also failed to work on my system. A similar problem appeared to stop it from communicating with my SATA drives. Apparently the issue has something to do with the motherboard’s ordering of the drives – the solution was as simple as reorganizing the drives and reassigning IRQ numbers. So simple! So easy! Ubuntu LiveCD out the window.

A little googling revealed the interesting andLinux, an actual in-windows Linux system that, instead of emulating, actually runs a ported full Linux kernel inside of Windows and runs stuff semi-natively. The CD-sized download includes a full office suite and other useful programs, and there’s a minimal option too if you only want to get some basic stuff through Synaptic. Here, then, was a solution that could not fail.

I installed it on my office computer. Firstly, it slowed things to a crawl, I know not why. Second, it would not run any of its programs due to being unable to connect to the virtual network device it had created. I decided to try it at home, where I implemented yet another forum-suggested workaround: disabling the network device, manually stopping the kernel service, then re-enabling the device and restarting the service. And I’d only have to do this every time I started the computer.

Still, I thought, why not if I have access to all these great Linux apps? So once I got the thing connected, I opened up Synaptic and selected a few cool things – Amarok, KMplayer, and a few more, and confirmed their download. And it wouldn’t connect. And when I googled it, my internet was dead. Because it had reconfigured my real NIC somewhere along the line. Not okay. andLinux out the window.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s three strikes. I don’t mean to say that these programs suck – quite the opposite, they seem excellently done, but the fact is that I ran into system-crippling problems immediately with every one. If that happens to one out of a hundred people who want to try it out, that kind of negative word-of-mouth info will start to fester.

I recommend trying all the tools I just mentioned. They’re free, they’re powerful, and they are easy – in theory. But the gates are closed for me, which is too bad because I really wanted to try this stuff out! When I spend hours reinstalling, rebooting, and dredging forums for unofficial fixes and still can’t get it to work, I think I’m justified in harboring a little bitterness. It doesn’t have to be that way for you, though. Maybe you will succeed where I failed. Only one way to find out.