2002: Linux revisited

I mostly stopped using Linux sometime in the second half of the year 2000. I had tried Red Hat, Debian, Mandrake and Susie, and in Susie's case even paid for the boxed set. I got tired of software and hardware that didn't work quite right, and I seemed to be forever going into configuration files, something I should not have to do in a modern GUI operating system.

I did have a brief look at Mandrake 8.1 in 2001, but still disappointing. However, I can't keep away, and in early May 2002 I downloaded and installed the "amethyst" build (build 44) of Lycoris Linux, formerly known as Redmond Linux.

Ah, now we are getting somewhere!

Lycoris is designed to behave just like Windows, and they have sure done a nice job. Installation was easy, although not entirely painless. I set my BIOS to boot off the CDROM, and installation proceeded very smoothly, except that the PC hung when I clicked on the button to test my chosen video mode (I chose 800x600, 16-bit color). Linux's video server, XFree86, has always been troublesome, and continues to be.

I rebooted and proceeded successfully with the installation, by ignoring the "Test your video mode" button.  The problem is, Linux runs fine, except XFree86 crashes if I try to change video modes or run certain games. I looked around on the Internet and found that this is a recognised problem with version 4.x of XFree86. I looked on the VIA website (the manufacturers of the video chip) and they do have an alternative driver, but I haven't tried it.
It looks like I can change video mode, but will need to reboot, which I guess I can live with. 

Problem #2 is that after installation, I went into Control Panel and changed the video settings, then after rebooting my mouse didn't work. Back on the Internet again, I found that this is a bug in Lycoris -- it doesn't like serial mice. Lycoris successfully detected a serial mouse during install, but later changed it to a PS/2 mouse entirely without me telling it to -- the Lycoris people have known about this bug for sometime but haven't bothered to fix it.
I unplugged my serial mouse, which I was using because I didn't have a PS/2 mouse at the time, and plugged in a new PS/2 mouse. 

Apart from those two gripes, setting up of Lycoris was smooth, real smooth, and yes, is just like Windows. Installation is very straighforward, and should be painless if you have compatible hardware. You end up in a graphical environment that has the Windows look-and-feel. I'm actually finding it a pleasure to use.

Though, a point about KDE here -- KDE really does prefer a higher resolution than 800x600, as some of the apps have windows that cannot be made to fit in the 800x600 format, and you may not be able to access the "OK" button at the bottom of the window -- I think this is really shitty of the KDE developers who won't consider those of us who use cheap monitors that don't like running over 800x600. I do have a nice 19 inch monitor on my "first PC", but my "second PC" is the one I have Linux installed on.
I found that by hiding the task-bar and by dragging the window as far up as possible, I was able to click on the "OK" button of the KDE-X-configuration window. This problem has been around for a long time, and I'm peeved that they haven't bothered to do anything about it.

Another point about KDE is that it and the XFree86 server are slow. Slower than windows. Don't believe if you read on the Internet that Linux is fast -- running KDE it isn't. However, my Celeron 1GHz, with 128M RAM gives ok performance.

I got onto the Internet at work via the Ethernet LAN, no problems at all, and again at home via dial-up modem. Sound worked first off, fully auto-detected. Realplayer, CD music players worked.
Except, when I started the CD-player application then inserted the CD, nothing happened. I wonder, is the Linux auto-mount still giving trouble? So, I exited the application, ejected the CD. Then, I inserted the CD and the player app automatically started and it worked.
I really should not be confined to follow that particular sequence to get it to work -- another niggle -- the KDE people should have worked this one out by now. 

Of course, Linux does have a problem with modems. Just about all new internal PCI modems (and some USB modems) are what is known as "software modems", which mean that some of the processing work is farmed out to the main CPU. This makes the modem cheaper, but slows down your CPU -- even if you run Windows, why throw away some of the CPU performance for the sake of a cheap-and-nasty modem?
Most software modems don't work with Linux. I've got a Plug-and-Play 33.6K ISA-bus hardware modem, and if you have one of those (or any 33.6 - 56K hardware modem), hold onto it. Actually, 33.6K modems are ok for most telephone lines -- in my case, I live out of town and when I dial-up from Windows, connection is usually at only 19,200 bps.

Oh yeah, my PC already had Win98 installed, and Lycoris installed dual-booting flawlessly. I have a 40G hard drive, and only 20G was partitioned for DOS/Win98, and Lycoris used the remaining 20G.

Ok, lots of annoyances vented above, but Windows has them too -- some of them we have just got accustomed to. Like, would you believe, I can't view WMF or EMF graphics in Word documents, though I own Word2000 -- all that appears is an empty box where the graphic should be. The other components of office2000, including Publisher, work fine. I installed the service-releases and service-packs to try and fix it, and I did find a vague reference to this problem being in the first release of Word2000, but nothing concrete on how to fix it. I never fixed it, and it's too late now to send it back to Microsoft. I paid lots of money for it, so I'm real cheesed off.

Also, my Win98 system freezes up every now and again, and I have to reboot. And, it doesn't shutdown properly. And, it keeps filling up my C:\windows folder with ".tmp" files.

Think also, that Linux has to work without drivers provided by manufacturers for the various hardware components -- really, Linux is a miracle of innovation.

The bottom line here is that I'm using Lycoris very happily, with far less hassles than I had with previous incarnations of Linux. So far, I'm very pleased. I'll add to this page as I discover more -- for example, I want to share folders with my "first PC" over a crossover Ethernet cable -- at the moment can't see how to do it.

Lycoris was supplied with KDE 2.2.2, however I see on the kde.org site that v3.0 is released. I'm very keen to try it. I've got KOffice 1.1 -- when 1.2 is released it will have inbuilt SVG support, that I'm very keen to see.

You can find out more about Lycoris here:


After writing this page, I embarked on a new project, to build a tiny PC (well, smallish), dual-booting Windows 95 and Linux. Go to "Build a fantastic low-cost tiny PC".

Barry Kauler

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