I’ve been having a bit of frustration with my AspireOne laptop since my recent decision to stop using and endorsing Ubuntu. Unlike a lot of early adopters of Ubuntu, the switch to the Unity desktop didn’t bother me, since Unity worked quite well for the small screen of my AspireOne, and it seemed to improve consistently with each new version of Ubuntu. My disillusionment began with the UbuntuOne backup service, whose name breaks the Ubuntu Promise by implying all software involved in it is free code, and which has been bundled with the distro since version 9.10. Bradley Kuhn’s comments in 2010 simply added more reasons. However, it was the Amazon lens debacle which made it clear that Ubuntu was accelerating down a path I didn’t want to follow, or recommend as an alternative to Windows or MacOS.

After about 5 years of using Ubuntu as my main distro, picking a new one has been a struggle. I have managed to get Debian (Squeeze), Peppermint (2.0 and 3.0), and Antix running at different times, but none of them felt quite right. The other day, while tinkering around with Netbootin in an attempt to make a bootUSB for Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE), I managed to complete bork Grub, making my laptop inoperable. Epic fail. Never tinker with your production system without a working liveUSB for rescue purposes!

Today, using a friend’s computer (and his spare USB stick), I tried Unetbootin on Windows. Just for a change, I selected one of the distros Unetbootin can download for you, in this case, GNewSense. Managed to get part way into a boot, only to have it fail and deliver me into initramfs hell. This isn’t the first time one of the distros endorsed by the FSF has fallen short of expectations, although GNewSense will hopefully improve with version 3.0, which is being built on top of Debian instead of Ubuntu.

Much Later…

I downloaded LMDE, to see if I can make a working liveUSB from that. No joy with LMDE, either with Unetbootin nor the ‘Universal USB Installer’ from PenDrive LinuxSo then I tried Trisquel. The .iso for the mini version (LXDE desktop) didn’t work with PenDrive, but I finally managed to boot into a live system of standard Trisquel (GNOME?) with a liveUSB made in Unetbootin. The GUI seemed a little unstable in the live system, so I proceeded with a text install just in case.

After a number of standard questions about keyboard, locale etc, the only curly one that came up was which kernel to install from a list of about 30. ‘Linux-generic-pae’ was highlighted, and sounded ok, so I went ahead. I also chose the ‘mini’ desktop instead of the full version, in case it made things quicker. The major downside of the text install is that it seems to download everything again, as if I only had a network install, not a full .iso. It took ages!

Then success! I can see Grub! I can boot both Trisquel and my pre-existing Debian partition. But only with the liveUSB inserted. Seems like the Grub bootloader has been written to there instead of to the hard disk (update: apparently this is a common problem with creating a Trisquel boot USB using UNetbootin. If you can’t install using a CD or DVD, try using ‘restore image’ from the Disks utility in the control panel to make your boot USB). Doh! Installed Boot-Repair on Trisquel and after a bit of tinkering, everything seems to be working as it should. My Windows XP (original OS that came with the laptop) and Debian partitions are booting from Grub without the liveUSB, and Trisquel seems to be detecting and using all my hardware, including the wireless networking. Nearly 3am! What a mission! 

Trisquel looks good so far. Keen to see if it’s less of a mission to install with the graphical installer, and how it performs on a range of hardware, but I may have finally found a 100% free code, FSF-endorsed distro I can actually recommend. Watch this space. 

A Bit Later

Finally got the USB stick I’d been unsuccessfully using prior to borking my Grub to boot as far as a menu, using the USB Creator on Trisquel and a Mint 13 .iso. Selected “Integrity Check” and it turns out there are 4 errors, and it won’t boot. Cheap crappy USB sticks. Tried a slow format on it using Windows. Tried Peppermint3 .iso this time, again in the Trisquel Startup Disc Creator. Success! Integrity Check shows up a whole lot of missing files, but it boots into Peppermint fine, and connects to the net (writing this on it now), so maybe that check is looking for a CD-ROM drive or something?

A breakthrough day. Time for sleep. 

 

Filed March 28th, 2013 under free software

From the Makertorium website:

“Makers, creators, tinkerers and inventors large and small are cordially invited to Makertorium on April 27th 2013, hosted by Te Papa,  a free interactive event containing spectacles, hands-on workshops, and a showcase of kiwi maker culture by innovators, enthusiasts and Makerspaces from across New Zealand.

See robots, flying machines and 3D printers in action, with outdoor spectacles that will amaze and delight. Come to the 3D Printing Petting Zoo, play with LEDs, Microcontrollers, Wires and Widgets, meet Crafty Folk or get hands-on with workshops for Mini-Makers. Make your own rocket or enter the Eggs Prize, a competition for school teams to move a free-range egg through challenges using ingenuity, engineering and design. Free entry!”

The Maker movement is opening up some fascinating possibilities. I envision communities in Aotearoa making their own digital age technologies, using open designs and free code software. If the Japanese taught themselves to do this after being defeated in a world war, why can’t we do it too?

Filed March 28th, 2013 under Makers, free software
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