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Xubuntu Intrepid: first impressions

November 07, 2008 — BarryK
A few days ago I installed Xubuntu, and my very first impression was less than satisfactory...

I booted from the CD, up came a menu which asked whether I wanted to run from the CD or install to hard drive -- I selected the latter, the optical drive activity light flickered briefly then nothing happened. After awhile a message popped up "error reading boot cd". I selected to run from CD, same thing.
Hmmm, that PC has been a workhorse, I've booted many Linux distros on it, installed many, no problem before. That initial experience set my mood from then on.

The optical drive on that PC is a plain-vanilla IDE drive, never any problem with it being recognised before. Anyway, I attached a USB optical drive and this time it worked, and was able to install Xubuntu.

Before installing however, I did a test boot as live-CD. Got a Xfce desktop without any problem. I thought that most likely the CD is mounted, but I tested that by pressing the eject button on the optical drive... Is this what we have come to, after all the advances to make Linux easier to use -- a message popped up with this in it "cannot open /media/.hal-mtab". I mean, what an obscure message!

Booting Puppy with Ubuntu kernel
I ported the Ubuntu kernel to Puppy Unleashed. The objective was to boot Puppy using the stock-standard Ubuntu kernel. I have been working on it most of this morning, not so simple. What I found is that the Ubuntu developers have made every tiny little thing into a module, even stuff that you know is always going to be needed -- yet they have somehow ended up with a much bigger kernel than that in all our Puppy releases.

The kernel 'vmlinuz' in Puppy 4.1.1 is 1590KB (bzip2 compressed), whereas the Ubuntu kernel is 2192KB (bzip2 compressed). The initial ramdisk 'initrd.gz' in 4.1.1 is 1239KB, but using the Ubuntu kernel I had to put in so many extra modules that the initrd.gz file became 2135KB.
The main reason for the bulge in the size of initrd.gz is that I had to put in the PATA and SATA modules (whereas these are builtin to the kernel in 4.1.1).

So, the Ubuntu developers have configured the kernel for everything, even all the lowest functionality like 'loop.ko', 'sd_mod.ko', 'cdrom.ko' (well, the list goes on) as modules yet they have created an enormous kernel. How have they achieved that incredible feat?


.. and Ubuntu runs slow..
Username: dreamstogo
Barry, would your findings explain why Ubuntu (in any flavour) runs ever more slowly as the version increases? My findings are that Ubuntu is running more and more slowly, slower to boot and programs take longer to load and are less 'snappy'. The latest version is painful on my test machine. I have done a comparison against Debian Sid (remember Ubuntu is based on Debian) and Debian runs very much faster. Plus Debian provide a mini boot cd, which allows you to install only what you want to. Remember also that the first thing Ubuntu does in a new six month cycle is to merge the lastest Debian Sid repos with their own. Have you considered using Debian as the base for your new work?

Username: Sage
"I told you Xbuntu was rubbish! I may not be a coder, but..... It's a 'community edition' - like the elephant, designed by a committee! If you consider the suggestion above, Sidux is well thought of and might benefit from your expertise?

Kernel size
Username: Dougal
"It's not just Ubuntu that modularize everything, it's normal with the big distros (Debian does the same). I guess the idea is to be as flexible as possible and let users use a kernel that only has what they need... My kernel is about the same size as the Ubuntu one, so I have a feeling what adds to it is not some little module as much as more fundamental stuff that affects the entire kernel code: SMP, debug enabling, etc.

Username: MU
"[i]"cannot open /media/.hal-mtab". I mean, what an obscure message![/i] New desktops no longer mount removable devices to /mnt/, but to /media. This is managed by hal. /media/.hal-mtab is a mtab, that is used by hal to list the mounted devices. The problem is, that the names of the mounted devices are not reproducable. They get names like /media/disk1 or disk2, the next time you boot, other names. I recently found a very long article in the german print magazine "cīt", how fixed names can be forced setting up udev-rules. These rules allow to assign names to inbuilt hardware IDs of drives. Looks complicated, so I cannot summarize it. We need to find tutorials in english explaining this new system. I just added basic support in Muppy to hotpup/muppyquickmount so that Gnome can be used, but I am not happy with the result. It works, but all the different names make it hard, to find my drives. So the old Puppy behaviour still is the default, the mess just begins, if you run Gnome as full desktop, and not just single applications. See: Mark

Unique Drive Names
Username: Dougal
"Mark, it's no problem to assign unique drive names: udev tends to create them automatically in /dev/by-name and it's just a matter of using those instead of the normal device nodes (I think that's what big distros use, as I've seen screenshots of file-managers with the drive name looking the same: the manufacturer and model, plus the size of the drive.). The udev documentation also tells how to set up drive names of your choice, but that is obviously something you do for your own machine, not something a distro can automate. And using /media is not related to HAL, it's just something distros do nowadays... Puppy could do the same.

kernel config comparison tool
Username: Aitch
"Hi Barry quote, "So, the Ubuntu developers have configured the kernel for everything, even all the lowest functionality like 'loop.ko', 'sd_mod.ko', 'cdrom.ko' (well, the list goes on) as modules yet they have created an enormous kernel. How have they achieved that incredible feat?" Maybe you've answered this, if not, maybe this will help? Aitch :)

Tags: woof