Adventures in desktop linux

I’ve had such a good experience using Fedora on several of bdg’s enterprise systems (SugarCRM, Subversion, Bugzilla, Vetrics, Connotea, etc.) that I thought I would give desktop linux a shot.

What a mistake.

Actually, it was a good learning experience. But still, a mistake.

First I download Fedora Core 5 (Bordeaux) using BitTorrent. My first problem was mastering the ISO files to CD. Windows has no native support for this (surprise) and for the life of me I couldn’t find a free product without filesize restrictions or other issues. Finally I remembered that I had a purchased a license for Sateira DropToCD some time ago, so I attempted to use that miserable excuse for a program. I tried to burn the five CDs at 24x (~10 minutes each) and my computer would not recognize them. The CD-Rs, once burned, were useless, yet Windows did not show any data on them nor a volume label.

I did a little Googling and then remembered that I needed to burn at 4x in order to get Fedora Core 4 (and Solaris x86 — another mistake) to work. So I tried that (at ~30 minutes per CD) and again, total failure. Finally I used a real operating system, OS X, running on my wife’s Mac laptop, to create the ISOs. (Of course OS X has built in support for ISO burning that works like a charm.)

After all this nonsense, I was finally ready to install FC5. So I backed up all my company files, music, photos and other stuff to my Western Digital 250 Gb external firewire drive and off I went.

I must say, there are some nice things about FC5. Unfortunately, it’s a short list:

  1. The installer, Anaconda, is awesome.
  2. The graphic design is beautiful.
  3. Wireless networking just works.
  4. Firewire just works.

So I was off to a running start. But here is where my problems began. At the top of my shit list is CodeWeavers‘ CrossOver Office. What a complete piece of garbage. From all their press releases, I was led to believe that they actually supported some useful Windows programs such as Office and, more recently, iTunes on various flavors of Linux. Don’t believe what you read. It’s all lies. Damn lies.

I started with Office 2003. That just failed utterly and completely. I wasn’t about to go back to Office XP, so I gave up on running M$ Office. FC5 comes with OpenOffice, which claims to support Word, Excel, etc. so I figured I would just use that.

Next I moved to iTunes. First off, installing it is a series of hacks and kludges. Upon following these ridiculous instructions, iTunes actually launched! But:

  1. All my playlists were gone, even though I repeatedly pointed iTunes to my backed up iTunes Music folder.
  2. The best feature in iTunes, search, didn’t work — the search box was grayed out.
  3. A basic feature — scrolling — was inconsistent and buggy.
  4. It crashed about 10 times before I completely gave up on it.

So now I had limited options. I decided that I would give up on purchasing DRM music through the iTunes store (and save about $500/yr in the process) and switch to Banshee, which claimed to be everything that iTunes was minus the music store.

Okay, so music is just music. But what about e-mail? I’m totally addicted to Outlook — the proof is my 1.5+ Gb .pst saved mail file. Without CrossOver Office running Outlook, I had to fall back on Evolution or Thunderbird. Access to saved mail, however, was a showstopper. To use my gi-normous .pst file in a non-M$ program, I needed to convert it to MBOX format. That proved impossible. Or at least not possible within my own personal constraints of time, patience and most importantly, sanity.

First I tried Thunderbird, because I remembered using its Outlook .pst conversion program. After struggling for a long time with compilation issues, linking issues/missing dependencies (including the wrong version of libstdc++) and segfaults, I finally got the ol’ T-bird working on FC5. But to my disbelief, the option to import a .pst was missing. After some Googling, I found out that Mozilla’s hairbrained implementation actually relies on MAPI, so you need to have Outlook installed and configured on the machine with Thunderbird in order to convert from .pst to MBOX.

I tried various other programs, including a useless dungheap called MailNavigator. I also tried hand-compiling a C program called libpst that was supposed to work and didn’t. I was beginning to think that my .pst file had been corrupted, but that was impossible because it was running fine in Outlook.

After all this nonsense, I used my wife’s laptop to download a DOS book disk with fdisk, deleted all my partition info, and now here I am back on Windows XP.

Lessons learned:

  1. Linux is not ready for the desktop, even if you’re a hardcore developer.
  2. Don’t believe anything CodeWeavers say about CrossOver Office. It just doesn’t work. Period.
  3. Windows, for all its faults, is actually not that bad. I can’t believe I just said that, but it’s true. 😉

3 Replies to “Adventures in desktop linux”

  1. Hi Jason,

    Mac = good idea. Maybe when I get a raise, I’ll splurge and buy a Mac. Or I’ll just wait for Apple to wizen up and opensource OSX so that someone can get it running on X86. News flash: that someone is definitely not going to be me.

    Hi Milan,

    Thanks for the suggestion — next time I try linux (if there is a next time), I’ll try your mail conversion utility first. Do you think it can handle a 2 Gb PST? My massive PST just reached its totally arbitrary size limit a few minutes ago, which makes me loathe M$ again, so my switch to linux may be coming sooner rather than later.

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