Humanity to Others


A couple days before Christmas Carina received a Blue Screen of Death on her Windows 2000 workstation. I diagnosed it a little bit, but then our power went out. Then Mike and Jessica lost power, so we invited them over, and troubleshooting Carina’s computer further didn’t seem the right thing to do.

She’s been using KNOPPIX to access webmail and her bloglines feeds, and that’s worked well enough. KNOPPIX let me mount her NTFS partition read-only and access her data. I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to launch K3B and burn CDs full of her important data. Huge chunks of data, like her digital photo archive, I scp’ed to my workstation and burned to DVD.

Last night I installed a spare 60 GB hard drive into her computer as the primary disk, and installed Ubuntu, a Debian-based user-friendly GNU/Linux distribution.

“Ubuntu” is an ancient African word, meaning “humanity to others”. Ubuntu also means “I am what I am because of who we all are”. The Ubuntu Linux distribution brings the spirit of Ubuntu to the software world.
As someone who mostly knows their way around a GNU/Linux system, my initial reaction to Ubuntu was less than positive. The installer creates one gigantic ext3 partition, it uses GNOME instead of KDE; it doesn’t have a lot of administrative settings to configure, and it uses Mozilla Firefox 0.93. Worse, the base system depends on their bundled version of Firefox, which means you can’t uninstall it cleanly.

I kept my opinions to myself, though, remembering that this would be Carina’s first real experience with a GNU/Linux desktop. As such, I think it’s probably a pretty good starter system. She’s already been impressed with the Nautilus file manager, which lets her rotate her image files without opening an image editing application (nice integration of the ImageMagick utilities, that!). She’s also excited that inserting a blank recordable CD will automatically prepare the disk for use, much like MacOSX does this.

She has an NVidia Geforce 2 MX video card in her system, so I wanted to install the binary drivers for GNU/Linux. I was stymied to learn the Ubuntu does not install gcc, or any other development components, with the default system. So I installed that, and the appropriate kernel source, but the NVidia installer kept complaining. So a quick Google search led me to Markus Amersdorfer’s Ubuntu page, which introduced me to the ubuntu-restricted package, which contains non-free versions of the ATI and NVidia drivers. I also had to install the nvidia-glx package. /usr/share/doc/nvidia-glx/README.Debian contained all the info I needed to get Carina’s system working with the accelerated drivers. This portion was decidedly not easy for a new user.

Our first educational task will be for me to walk her through installing Mozilla Firefox 1.0 into /usr/local, and creating a symlink from /usr/local/firefox/firefox to /usr/bin/firefox. Next will be to investigate why Ubuntu won’t sync with her new Palm Zire Z31. I’m not yet certain whether the problem is with Ubuntu (or the pilot-sync tools) or the Palm.

Well, we just got Firefox installed. That was easy!

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