Part 2 – Installation and Initial Setup – My Descent into Linux

Before the Storm

It is always daunting when you reinstall an operating system. It doesn’t matter that I have performed thousands of OS installations or re-installations over the years – when you reach the prompt that tells you that all existing data on the drive will be lost, a wave of dread and fear washes over me. Did I back everything up? What about that application configuration that I spent hours on? What about that game save with hours of progress? Can I trust the backup tools I have installed to have performed their job properly?

Contrary to these feelings of doubt there is a real feeling of excitement and refreshment on the horizon. A proper clean slate. I would say its similar to that feeling you get when you step out of a hot and stuffy car into the cool summer breeze. I guess you get this feeling with any new start – be it moving house, or getting a new car or in this case installing a new operating system.

I always do my best to back up what I need. I don’t see the point in doing a full backup as I feel that I know what I will need in the future life, and I am happy to let go of everything else. Sure I guess you could label me as being a bit of a data hoarder – that would seem fitting considering the amount of archiving I perform; but I don’t like to get silly with it. Somethings truly are best suited to be lost.

With the backups completed and my USB ready, I wait for Adobe’s Creative Cloud to complete the last few uploads and ready myself for this Operating Systems last turn off. While I wait for the Adobe Sync tool to complete its job, watching it erratically go from hours remaining to just a few minutes, I sit here feeling pretty confident and excited for what is going to happen next. Sure the OS installation will likely be a walk in the park, most of them these days are. I don’t have any crazy configuration here and I’m not trying to force a modern Linux distro to run on say my Windows 98 era HP Vectra PC. I’m truly curious to see if this move will work, will I be able to find alternatives to all the applications I have come to love under Windows? Will all my peripherals work as intended? What games will I still be able to play and how well will they run? Last night I was awoken at an ungodly 5AM by this Windows 10 build deciding to perform an update of some kind. I won’t miss that behaviour. Well the Adobe sync is completed. I will do one last check and then say adios to Windows 10 – just for now at least.

A Fresh New World

So I am writing this from my snazzy new Xubuntu installation. OK I admit, not that surprising that it went so well.

The setup process was pretty standard. I chose the option to set the partition up using LVM which will allow me to take snapshots of the SSD which could prove useful. I also opted for the installation process to download any and all additional drivers that I might need for graphics, WiFi and sound.

The process took just under 30 minutes to complete, of which after I had performed all of the interactive bits I went and got some lunch for myself.

The desktop has booted and I am now being prompted to install some updates for both the operating system and various bits of software. I can confirm that the keyboard works, mouse works and both displays are working.

I am now going to perform these update tasks and then I will be back and we can get to performing some basic tests and refining the configuration.

1 Hour Later

Well it has been about an hour getting things how I like it. This means playing around with the Xfce panel options, getting my screens in the right orientation and removing some bundled software that I don’t wish to use.

I’ve managed to get the following installed with absolutely 0 issues:

For these applications I won’t really make any extended comments about them. Simply because these are mostly popular applications and they act and operate pretty much how they acted and operated when I was using Windows.

I have also found some good alternatives:

  • Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection and VNC Viewer have been replaced by Remmina which supports a variety of remote control protocols
  • Imgburn has been replaced by Xfburn which was included with the system
  • f.lux has been replaced by Redshift
  • WhatsApp has been replaced by WhatsDesk
  • Revo Uninstaller has been replaced by Synaptic Package Manager (sort of)
  • MP3Tag has been replaced by EasyTAG

In the coming posts I will talk about these alternatives after using them and express my opinion – are they better than the Windows counter parts that I so dearly love?

Day 2 – Happy Days or Doom and Gloom?

This is now day 2 of running Linux. I am getting quite nicely settled in, a bit like on the third night at a hotel it no longer feels strange and you stop waking up at 3AM in the morning where the heck you are (or maybe that is just me).

Things have been surprisingly uneventful. The biggest gripes have been a few little issues, annoyances really with settings either not holding following reboots or just little patches of my already limited knowledge of Linux failing me.

I’ll go over some of these issues.

Windows Shares

So as I had explained in my previous post my main server runs, of all things, Windows 7. I am trying to adopt the mindset of having pretty much most of my data stored here, and then from this server the data is backed up and parts of it synced up to cloud services that I can then access on my mobile phone wherever I am in the world. I have since with my casual bedtime reading of Linux forums and blog posts have found that HP did release a driver for RHEL for the B120i RAID controller that sits in my Microserver – which I am going to assume may compile and work with CentOS, something to investigate later for sure.

So I failed the first test of Linux 101 which is expecting it to do as Windows does. I was a little disappointed that when I opened up the Thunar File Manager and clicked on the Network icon that it could not see my Windows server at all. I began to search around online and found a few posts of people suggesting how to do it. This is something I would begin to quickly learn when it comes to Linux – that there are many “solutions” on the internet but not all of them will apply to my setup. Some spoke about using different tools, some about completing the task using a different file manager, or a different desktop environment or sometimes even a completely different operating system.

I found one and managed to get it mapped, but alas it did not hold on reboot and although that first solution only took me to open a terminal and sudo mount -a I kind of wanted the drives to just be there.

I followed this guide, which is admittedly for Ubuntu but as Xubuntu is simply a twist on Ubuntu I could pretty much guarantee it would work. And it did work, its not 100% the same as how it worked in Windows. If anything it is slightly better. The drives appear on my desktop or in the file manager initially unmounted, then when I click on them (or right click and choose Mount) and the contents appears in front of me.

I can copy, move, delete, create folders, create files all with expected results. It’s not completely without fault however, a few minor issues that I need to either keep an eye on or work out a solution to:

  • Network drives are not available in Open dialogs in Chromium (for example to upload files to websites), meaning at the moment I have to copy the file from the network share to an area on the local disk and then upload
  • Sometimes when copying/moving small files (in this case it was a couple of Handbrake presets with .JSON extensions) the copy dialog stays open even after the copy has completed
  • This has only happened once, but I created a folder under my Software share called “Linux” (just in case for those .tar.gz packages that aren’t available through either the Software Centre or a repository) it completely locked up Thunar requiring a task kill to restore access

Once I get these little bits sorted I hope to make a guide on how to map Windows shares with all parts explained, as some of the first few guides simply assumed the share would be completely open without any authentication.

Getting to Grips with PulseAudio

Something I recall from my days simply messing around with Linux was how difficult it can be to get audio working properly. Luckily for me my system uses a pretty normal audio chipset (at least from what I can gather) and didn’t require me to download any odd drivers from a dusty public FTP in Germany or anything.

I still find it a little unusual that I have to go into the “Multimedia” folder in the Application Launcher to get to the audio settings, but I digress – opening it up and it had identified all of my devices that are constantly connected to my PC (the onboard audio and my Logitech USB headset). I opened up Chromium and found a YouTube video to test audio and could tell the audio was coming out of my headset. No worries, I have always dealt with this even back to Windows 7. With each device having its own “sound card” a simple video driver upgrade would often set the HDMI audio output as default. I set the on-board audio as default and turned on my external amplifier and everything sounded fine – no stuttering or any other audible weirdness. And then I did a reboot.

As is often the case when you’re setting up a new PC, you’re gonna have to reboot your system to allow for certain settings to take effect – although in this modern age of never really having to restart anything I kind of hate it? I totally see the benefit in rebooting devices, and I am of the mantra that you should never have systems that have been up for multiple months or years (for various reasons) – but I just wanna get settled. It’s almost like just getting comfortable under the blanket in front of Netflix and someone knocks on the door and you have to start getting comfortable all over. Well after each reboot PulseAudio would simply choose the USB headset as its device of choice, helpful.

Again I went through a few guides that either simply didn’t answer my question, were extremely out of date or required me to perform a set of tasks each time I logged in. Finally I found a way to set the default “sink” on boot without me having to fuss. If anything I quite like this as I would often under Windows set my default audio device to my headset while gaming/chatting on Discord and then forget the next day when I woke up that I needed to change it back to the onboard audio. It’s the little things.

DVD Playback

Really simple one. Again wasn’t expecting this but apparently due to certain legal restrictions for some territories they can’t ship the DVD decoder with the distro.

All it took was for me to download and compile the libdvdcss library which then allowed for direct DVD playback in applications such as VLC and also direct access for Handbrake.

Boot Times

This one boggles the mind slightly. I have Xubuntu, considered to be one of the lighter distros out there, installed to my Cosair Force SSD. OK the SSD is soon to celebrate its 5th birthday but it used to boot Windows 10 up in record time.

What I really like about Linux is instead of me simply making guesses as to what might be causing a slow load (which is what I have to do with Windows), I can simply run a few commands and it will tell me:

  1. How long it took the system to boot
  2. What processes were running and how long they took to complete

I found these commands via this reddit post and they are systemd-analyze time and systemd-blame respectively. My current session that I am using to write this post took 4 minutes and 5.837 seconds to boot. Running the blame utility I can then break this down and see that 2 minutes and 33 seconds of that time was taken up by a fstrim.service. Just by running these two services I have 100% found the reason for my slow boot time and can begin to research a solution to my problem. How have I lived without this? Why isn’t this function in Windows?

Boot times certainly is an area for work that I will monitor, tweak and test. However once the system is booted access times are snappy as you’d expect.

Everything Else and Conclusion for Now

I have to admit I am really loving it. I am also kind of excited to use it, that sounds a bit sad doesn’t it?

But I’m not alone it appears. Many people are trying Linux every day and more and more are staying around. There seems to be a little bit of animosity towards some distros which I am used to as it exists within many parts of the computer world but the general consensus seems to be that any Linux is better than Windows or MacOS. I honestly feel quite comfortable with the Ubuntu family, some people regard it as a bit of a fisher price distro but I’m not wanting to spend hours trying to compile drivers or getting neck deep into the components of the OS.

I’m getting along quite well, I am actually surprised with how many of my common use applications I have found are already on Linux or alternatives exist for them. While I’ve been writing this post I have been reencoding some MKV Blu-ray rips with Handbrake, chatting to friends with WhatsDesk, using Chromium (which still has the issue I had on Win10 where it loses my sync session every time it closes) and RDP’d into my home server using Remmina (as today marks a special day for my server as it was treated to a RAM upgrade and 10TB disk upgrade).

Nothing feels that different yet. I even managed to get a couple of hours of gaming in over the weekend and it seems to all run OK (more on gaming in a future post I promise). I also did a little bit of Wine, and by a little I mean just general setup and ran a basic executable – Wine is something I am rather looking forward to poking around in.

The next post will be along in due course. I want to talk about some of my alternative software finds firstly, along with a general update with my progress.

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