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What I learn from trying to install Ubuntu eee

12 Dec

If you’re following me via tweeter, you already know the pain involved in this process.

XP runs fine on an eeePC. However, XP’s UI is clearly not optimized for eeePC’s shorter screen resolution. I’ve been looking for alternatives, and Ubuntu eee looks very good. This is a place where the open source community has the clear advantage to develop a netbook-optimized UI. Another great thing about Ubuntu eee is the super easy instruction to make a bootable USB flash drive as the install source.

So, for starter, obviously I want to backup the XP install on my eeePC first. I already have a backup on my Windows Home Server, but I thought making a ghost image would mean faster restore when things got awry. In searching for a free ghosting app, I found Clonezilla. Hey, it’s free! πŸ™‚ Also, the site shows a clear step-by-step process and super easy step in creating a bootable USB flash drive containing Clonezilla live. Another prop for the open source community. Microsoft and most paid ghosting programs are still stuck in the 90s, only supporting bootable CD. Guess what, more and more PCs (especially netbooks) don’t even come with optical drives anymore. Besides, installing from a USB flash drive is much faster than a CD/DVD.

Anyway, I managed to create an image of my XP install to an external hard-drive using Clonezilla. The process was painless. Next, installing Ubuntu eee. Another quick and painless process. Then it went downhill.

First of all, the UI on Ubuntu eee is very nice. Obviously it is optimized for the low res nature of netbooks. Very easy to interact, and definitely has a lot of potential. However, couple minutes later, Update Manager showed a gazillion of updates for Ubuntu. This was the tipping point. Ubuntu eee is a modified Ubuntu, and the updates will yell at you that it needs to uninstall some eeePC related apps. I would’ve refused, but I want the latest security patches/updates (Ubuntu eee by default only comes with Firefox 3.01). So I bite, and let some of the updates install.

Things seemed okay, but then I was wondering how do I turn on the wifi on the eeePC? Obviously there’s a switch in the BIOS, but having to restart the OS everytime just to turn-on/off wifi is not ideal. Pressing Fn+F2, as documented, will crash Ubuntu. So WTF? Not having a basic functionality like this is not good. The wiki site suggested to install eee control, an app that looks like the eee tray app in Windows. I tried installing, it doesn’t like a conflicting item called eee-config. I uninstalled eee-config, now it wanted some python related stuff. The problem is I couldn’t find it in the Package Manager at all! WTF? Oh, to add insult to the injury, I plugged in a USB flash drive to the eeePC, Ubuntu eee said I need a super user privilege to mount it. Huh? Plenty of users posted these problems online, and typical Linux community, all of them are spewing sudo command lines. Yet another reason why Linux won’t become a mainstream OS soon. I didn’t even bother to see if my USB EVDO modem work or not, I decided to scrap Ubuntu eee and go back to XP.

I ran Clonezilla again, restoring the previously made image. Seems okay at first, but then it froze at about 40 something %. Uh oh. I reset the PC, and XP seemed to start fine, then it started yelling about some file errors, and to run chkdsk. Oh great. Rebooted XP, ran chkdsk, and it found tons of errors. I saw some of them are Firefox files. Not good. After it finished, XP booted normally, but Firefox is crapped out. It ran, but none of my extensions are usable, even after uninstalling and reinstalling.

Last resort, the backup I have on Windows Home Server. First of all, how do I use the WHS restore CD? Google to the rescue, I found this link. It basically walked you through on how to make a bootable flash USB drive using Vista, and it mentioned making a WHS restore “CD” on a USB flash drive. Easy, but required Vista. Luckily I do have a Vista machine.

After creating a bootable USB flash drive containing the WHS restore software, time to go to work. It booted just fine on the eeePC, but then it asked for drivers since it needs a network driver to access the WHS unit. Luckily, Microsoft must have thought about this, and in the WHS backup, the software automatically saves the needed drivers. All I need to do is copy them to another USB flash drive, and have the WHS restore software read it. Awesome! Restore process was painless, fairly quick (the eeePC’s partition has only about 9GB used space anyway), and the most important part, it was a successful restore! Whew!

Okay, let’s recap.
Ubuntu eee:
+ Great netbook-optimized UI
+ Easy install and creation of bootable USB flash drive source
– Basic hardware functions are not complete (wifi, unable to mount USB drive). I mean c’mon, mounting a USB flash drive is supposed to be simple.
– Questionable ability to update the OS from official Ubuntu source
Another great potential from the open source community, but hampered by the geek mentality of the community itself.

Clonezilla:
+ Free disk cloning utility
+ Easy to setup as a bootable Clonezilla Live on a USB flash drive
+ Backup process is successful
– Text only UI, can be confusing for some due to some confusing menu options/explanations
– Restore process is screwy (not much useful for backup if you cannot restore it)
Might be a great utility for cloning Linux systems, but I won’t let it touch my Windows systems anymore.

Windows Home Server:
+ A must have for those wanting easy backup solutions for their XP/Vista PCs.
+ Restore process is quite straight forward and painless
– MS only gives an ISO for a bootable CD. MS needs to provide a utility to create a bootable WHS restore USB flash drive. Sure, it’s easy to make your own, but why can’t MS provide a built-in utility to create one?
– Costs money
I thought I would never use the backup function of my WHS. I’m glad that it worked fine. πŸ™‚

If you want a netbook with Ubuntu/Linux, get one that is already preinstalled with those OS, thus providing full function out of the box. Dell Inspiron Mini has the option for Ubuntu. Oh well, hopefully MS will provide a netbook-optimized UI in Windows 7.

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