Installation Hell

I got a new PC and a new Netbook which quickly drove me into an installation hell, two-hit-combo for Windows and GNU/Linux

My Gawd, it’s not often that I can get annoyed at both a Windows and a GNU/Linux system at the same time but I managed to do it this weekend. You see, me and my girlfriend bought some new toys this Saturday: She got a new Netbook (Acer Eee 1001HA) and I got a new compaq PC (This time I didn’t build it myself). Both systems came with Windows (XP and 7 repsectivelly) which meant I had some tasks on my hands.

Specifically I needed to bring my Windows 7 system up to date to a gaming standard and then install my normal GNU/Linux workplace while I needed to wipe the XP from the Netbook and replace them with some netbook friendly GNU/Linux flavour.

I started with the Netbook and chose the Ubuntu Netbook Remix initially since I’ve lately been playing most with the Ubuntu distros. The installation went pretty smoothly to the point that the girlfriend could do it herself. However the problem appeared as soon as we tried to connect to the wireless. As always, the fucking wireless curse struck again and the card was not recognised. After some futile attempts, I ended up trying to the old favourite of searching around the nets for info on this. *Sigh*. I hate it that still not at the point where one ends up doing google searches to get a basic functionality from their PC. I knew what I was doing and I knew what to look for but by the Gawds, someone with less knowledge or patience than me would have given up far sooner.

Why is it so goddamn hard for the system to point out that a wireless card has been found but there’s some problem with it? Why do we still expect users to guess what the hell is going on or go to fora and ask. This is so fucking backwards! Can’t the system put a notice saying something like “A wi-fi card has been detected but we can’t get it to work: See Help (Insert link here)”. Something ffs! It’s better than pretending that nothing exists at all.

I recognise that this is mainly the fault of the hardware manufacturers die not giving any drivers but who do you think a user is going to blame? At least put some awareness out there!It’s even more annoying when looking at the Ubuntu Netbook Remix  Hardware compatibility page I saw my model as working perfectly out of the box. My Arse!

And of course, after I looked around for some solution, I did find a forum thread linking to another forum thread linking to a ppa-launchpad package for a new driver for this. Ok then, lets install this package and get this working. Repository Added. Trying to update my package lists…404. Repository not found. Aaaaaargh! Fuck that! Wipe Ubuntu, Lets try Mandriva (which I saw has a Moblin interface available)

Mandriva behaved a bit better. At least it recognised that I had a wireless card even though it was not able to use it but at least during the wireless setup wizard it asked me if I wanted to use the windows drivers (ndiswrapper) with it. Seeing at it wouldn’t work any other way I didn’t have an option. Unfortunately an online search returned crappy results (mostly the launchpad entry which didn’t work). Fortunately the Asus Eee came with a CD (which is weird because the Netbook has no CD drive) from which I copied the drivers to a USB disk and then loaded them up using the wizard for ndiswrapper. Score for Mandriva.

Unfortunately they’re very flaky. Wireless keeps dying at random (mostly if I try to logout or if it goes to sleep) and can’t be restored without a reboot. Then when you try to reboot, the system hangs just after halting and can only be restored with a manual power-off. Then I tried to create a new user for me in English, but I can’t install or activate the english language (it’s not even an option anymore). And finally the Moblin interface simply doesn’t work at all which is the most annoying part. At least my girlfriend is satisfied with a gnome interface so it’s not all bad.

Still though, the experience has left me a bit sour. But not as sour as the Win7 one did.

You see, my own PC came with Windows 7 Home Premium in German, which means I couldn’t navigate worth a shit and all programs insisted on installing themselves in a language foreign to me. There’s not way to switch the system language like you can in GNU/Linux, because MS expects you to pay 220$ for the privilege (You need to buy Win7 Ultimate). Fuck that!

Ok, I can live with crappy navigation. Maybe it will help me improve my German. But noooo, it couldn’t be that easy…

The first thing I tried to do was upgrade my Nvidia drivers. Seeing as the system was 64bit, I downloaded the appropriate package from Nvidia. However during the install progress, I noticed a weird warning about my new driver’s kernel (It was in Deutsch so I couldn’t parse it). Oh well, system seemed to work and I tried to play a game to check my new Power.

Queue Blue Screens of Death.

By one driver update, I ended up with around 4 BSOD. In desperation I tried to quickly replace it with the international version of the nvidia driver (just in case that was the problem). It wasn’t. After a few more BSOD, I tried to uninstall and reinstall. Only as soon as I tried to login and install the drivers that came with the PC, Microsoft tried to be helpful by automatically reinstalling the broken drivers without any prompts. Queue hair pulling.

Remember, during all this time I’m trying to nagivate a  German language system and can’t figure out almost anything.

In the end, the drivers were stable enough to play Half-Life 2 and I left it at that, as I started downloading an English version of Win7 Home Premium Super Awesome Aqua Force. Next day, I tried to install this using my current serial which fortunately worked. Unfortunately I didn’t notice it was a 32 bit one. I have no idea what the difference is between a 64 bit windows 7 and a 32 bit windows 7 running on a 64 bit processor. Most apps are 32 bit anyway so I have no idea if I’ll be missing anything. Nevertheless, I started a download for the 64 bit of Win7 home premium and still waiting. I fully expect that I will then have to pass through an activation hell.

Of course that doesn’t mean that the system is currently stable. I just had a BSOD when simply trying to open Computer Management…

There was also the sharing hell I had with Win7 which steadfastly refused access to my GNU/Linux boxes, forcing me to pull stuff instead of push as I wanted. The byzantine sharing settings did not help at all. And not to mention other annoying things like Electric Sheep not working, endless security confirmation dialogues and the like.

So here I am at the moment. With a Netbook which has a flaky wireless connection because RaLink can’t write drivers worth a shit and a WiP new PC because fucking MS wants to milk money for a simple language change. Hopefully soon enough things will settle down and I’ll at least get to enjoy my old PC as an XBMC.

But as always, things just couldn’t stay simple could they?

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5 thoughts on “Installation Hell”

  1. "but who do you think a user is going to blame?"

    Linux and its promoters, of course. And they are quite right to do so.

    The majority of the blame — let's say 60% — rests with the Linux Kernel team, who refuse to stabilize the kernel ABI. It's a deliberate move on the kernel team's part, not a necessary requirement of building a kernel — they have said as much. (And don't claim that Linux couldn't maintain a stable ABI if that were considered a goal instead of a drawback — the open-source BSD OSes manage to do it, to say nothing of both the Mac OS and Windows.) This requires that driver writers constantly have to make changes to keep up to date, since even minor releases of the kernel break driver compatibility. This would require that device manufacturers keep a full-time developer around just for Linux — these breaking changes happen something like six times per year. The big ones can afford to do that. The small ones can't, and as a result you get crappy 3rd-party-designed drivers which lack functionality and are largely untested. Remember: the hardware manufacturers did not claim that their stuff would work with Linux; they owe you nothing on that front.

    Then there's the promoters of Linux, who keep saying (more or less) that Linux is the most compatible OS in the world, with the most software. I'd say they get about 25% of the blame. They never mention that although Linux comes with many drivers built in, many of them are for extremely old hardware which you can no longer buy, that newer devices frequently have no driver yet or have extremely limited functionality, that many drivers are largely untested, that most drivers are not maintained by people who have access to the hardware in question, and that most of the software available for Linux is either of abysmal quality or would be completely unnecessary on other OSes.

    The rest of the blame lies with the users. You installed Linux knowing that it had no direct support from most hardware manufacturers, and that support is the responsibility of "the community" — i.e. you. In bicycle terms, you have made a pledge not just to be willing to put up with square wheels and chains which don't mesh with gears, but to build your own replacement parts if necessary to make ludicrously badly-designed bicycles work anyway, and even to send the blueprints back to the manufacturer, and maintain your own bicycle shop if the manufacturer refuses to adopt your improvements. (And, I might add, you personally have been telling everyone else that they should do so too.) So if you don't like the drivers, or the way that they interact with the desktop environment, download the code, learn any necessary new languages, and fix them. And if you can't get your changes accepted upstream, fork the necessary projects and maintain the new ones. Yeah, it's a lot of work with no reward, but that's what people like you have been telling everyone they should do if they don't like Linux as it is, so if you don't follow through now that you have found a problem which bothers you, you're a hypocrite.

    Or you could swallow your pride, follow the example of Linus Torvalds himself and admit that Linux isn't appropriate to all computers (Torvalds now uses a Macbook — running Mac OS X, not Linux — to do his kernel coding), and put Windows XP back on the Netbook, which would make everything work properly right away, and probably be a lot faster than Linux on that crummy hardware.

    1. Point 1 about the Kernel: Bullshit. If this was the case, all older drivers of hardware would be broken by now. No, it is the 3rd line developers who can't be arsed to write code for anything other than windows and it's the OEM designers who keep changing the specs without noting it (swapping one wi-fi chipset for another) for those who look for compatibility.

      Your apologetics for the small developers fall on deaf ears. If I knew they had crappy support I wouldn't buy their shit. It's when this stuff if hidden in a package that I have to fix their lazines..

      Point 2: Yes. GNU/Linux IS the most compatible OS in the world and only breaks in the newest stuff when their developers try to keep their specs hidden purposefully. It's the goddamn fault of the provider, not the system.

      Point 3: Bullshit. Users are not to blame for exercising their choise. I'm certain you'd prefer if we all just bought the apple kool-aid but no everyone is as big a tool as you are.

      Now GTFO troll.

    2. Also Interesting that you didn't comment on the Windows experience which was far far worse than the GNU/Linux one. At least I managed to fix the Netbook and it seems the NEW PC I bought will be to install GNU/Linux on it as well since Win7 doesn't seem to be able to avoid having one BSOD after the other.

      This only shows perfectly the obvious axe you have grind.

  2. I wish you could blame the capitalist system on this one, but I think plain laziness and greed are more appropriate here. Any open source projects that you WOULD recommend for a newbie starting out?

    1. Depends on how newbie you are. I wouldn't recommend a full installation of any OS for any newbie but if you're willing to give it a go, you can't go wrong with a within-windows installation of Ubuntu via Wubi

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