I haven’t had a lot of time to play with much lately, but while I processed some OGRE patches (ie during the times I was waiting for builds) this morning I finally got around to installing the latest Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) on my new test box. It already has XP and Vista on it, so it’s getting quite cosy in there, but since the box is only for testing I can afford to burn a fair amount of space on OS overhead.
Firstly the positive points:
- I like the fact that it’s a combined Live CD and installer, that’s a nice touch. You can have a play with Ubuntu (albeit rather slowly) before you choose to install
- The install was very easy. Not very many steps, and I could just let it use the remaining spare space on the drive since it’s the last one to the party. The default bootloader setup chains nicely back to the Vista bootloader, which in turn chains back to XP, no issues there.
- The default desktop is attractive and runs decently even without any specific acceleration
- The online update options are prominent and simple as soon as you start up
- There’s finally an ‘install proprietary graphics drivers’ option when you first boot up
So first impressions were good. I still don’t find the Gnome desktop as professional looking as either Windows or OS X, it still has a slightly unpolished feel to it; nothing major but the feeling is definitely there. It wouldn’t stop me using it, but my visceral impression is that it feels a little cheap.
More importantly though, the quick ‘install graphics driver’ feature, the presence of which had the potential to mollify one of my primary gripes with previous desktop Linux experiences, totally failed to deliver. It correctly detected that I had an ATI Radeon in the machine (specifically a HD 2600), and went on to download and install the driver, prompting me for a reboot. All well I thought. Unfortunately after said reboot I was confronted with a sequence of video mode changes that were clearly trying to configure the X server, followed by a fallback to ‘low res’ mode which is even worse than the VESA mode it started up in. I experimented a little with telling it specifically some details about the hardware, but that didn’t work either. Once again I’m confronted with the situation that X server / video driver configuration on desktop Linux completely sucks.
I didn’t have any more time to fart about with it today so it’s been shelved for now. Afterwards I found a thread about Envy which is supposed to make the process slicker than the default Ubuntu version, so I’ll try that next time I have chance. However, I still can’t get away from the fact that some variation of this X server nonsense happens to me every single time I try to install a desktop Linux, no matter what distro I use, and continues to be the primary reason why I find it hard to take it seriously. I know drivers are not easy, but the fact is that Windows and OS X never make this process as awkward as Linux continuously does. Is it something fundamentally overcomplicated in the design of the X server perhaps?
Here’s what I want to do: 1) install OS, 2) install graphics driver, 3) get on with stuff. With desktop Linux, for me at least, it’s always been: 1) install OS, 2) install graphics driver, 3) spend the next few hours arseing about trying to get the graphics driver and X server to work properly together. That’s not time well spent. I love Linux on the server, I really do, but I really can’t see why in 2008 setting up a graphics card is still a hard problem.