More Winter Projects

Nearly three years ago, I put together a small form factor PC based on the Intel BLKD201GLYL motherboard for use as a download box.  It worked out pretty well – there were some hassles with the initial Windows XP load, but since sorting those out it hasn’t caused any real drama.  At the time, I named it “Vanity” because I really didn’t have a NEED for it, I just wanted something small that didn’t use a lot of power.

In the time since, it’s gone from vanity project to an essential part of the way I get things done.

On the other hand, it was still running Windows XP, and I’ve become more and more nervous about the security risks associated therein.  I had a machine get infected here about a month and a half ago via an infected banner ad, and while MSE was kind enough to throw a pop-up message about the worm, it did so AFTER the infection instead of blocking it and then letting me know.

To be fair, it was a box I’d been pretty lazy about setting stuff up on, so I was actually browsing the web from Internet Explorer.  I honestly should have known better, but I figured IE8.0 was safer these days.

Anyway, so, Windows XP was something I was starting to consider an unacceptable risk, and I wasn’t going to put a newer version of Windows on a 1.33GHz Celeron, and one thing and another colluded to get me to give Ubuntu a swing.

So, for the first time ever, I used a Bittorrent client to download a linux distribution.

This is my third time giving Linux a try.  The first time was in 1993 or so when my computer was a 33Mhz 386 thrown together out of scavenged parts, the second time was in 1997 when I actually built a 90 MHz Pentium for the sole purpose of running Linux.  Neither of those lasted very long, because while the operating system itself was quite sound, there was a shortage of applications you could run on it, and of course gaming was out of the question.

Still, 13 years is a long time and I’d heard a lot of good things about Ubuntu.

I’m going to come right out and say it: Ubuntu represents a huge step forwards.  It’s reasonably user-friendly, recognized most of my hardware without prompting, and having it on my download box makes me feel much more secure about things.

That said, I did have some headaches setting it up, mostly because it really wanted to try to make my life easier.

See, the Intel motherboard I’m using has a SiS video chipset, which is pretty much an abomination before the eyes of Man And God, and Ubuntu picked this up and tried to use SiS specific video drivers, which are terrible and which meant that if I tried to set the resolution above 800×600 I got these scrolling staticy vertical lines all over the leftmost quarter of the screen.

The workaround I found for this online is to use the generic “VESA” drivers, which don’t allow for hardware accelerated video but are otherwise a better choice.

Of course, one little flaw with Ubuntu is that there’s no way to force the video driver via the graphical interface; you need to do it by manually editing xorg.conf, and modern versions of Ubuntu don’t WRITE an xorg.conf because they have an awful lot of faith in their automatic hardware lookup and driver selection.

So, I had to find out how to get the video subsystem to create an xorg.conf, and then I had to figure out how to get Ubuntu to boot into terminal mode because I couldn’t do it with X Windows running, and blah blah blah tearing my hair out but eventually it came together and I had a working Ubuntu box.

So life is reasonably good, and I’m finding that there are quite passable Linux alternatives to Windows or OSX applications, so I can understand how people can use this on a day-to-day basis.

I even got a little sticker for the front of it to display my new uh commitment to open source software and, y’know, FREEDOM.

You can’t read it, but it says “Powered by Ubuntu” underneath the little logo.

Time to go get myself some suspenders.




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