Jeremy Smith's blog

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Why Ubuntu

With a zillion different Linux distributions out there (not to mention the BSDs and others), why did I go with Ubuntu to replace my Windows desktop? I had two general reasons.

The first reason harkens back to my days working at Weatherhead (before coming to ITS). Back then, I was fairly autonomous and could choose tools that met my levels of expectation. I went with Debian for my servers' operating system. It was the epitome of get-out-of-my-way-and-let-me-work. It followed FHS (which, at the time, was a bigger deal than it seems to be nowadays as far as I can tell — but back then, I used to hate distros who would scatter themselves irreverently over the filesystem). But the biggest reason was apt-get. There was nothing at the time (besides BSD's ports tree... but we'll ignore them) like it. Installing software no longer took half a day of discovering and resolving dependencies, downloading disk images off of Internet, putting them on a series of 8 floppies or making an installer CD from an ISO, wash, rinse, repeat, over and over and over again. With apt-get, you type:

apt-get install horribly-large-app-with-seven-levels-of-interrelated-depencies

And you go back to work while it downloads the software from the internet, downloads all of the dependencies, downloads all of the dependencies' dependencies, and installs and configures the entire deal.

It was a breakthrough.

At any rate, I eventually found myself at ITS. And within my first couple of episodes working here, I needed a server. But I wasn't autonomous anymore and wasn't the one to do that kind of thing; I needed to go talk to the server engineers. This actually elated me 'cause, "heck, I don't want to setup a server; I just want to do the dev work on it." So in I walk to the server engineering places, and I ask them, "can I get a Debian server setup?"

"We don't do Debian. We have Solaris."

I was crushed. I tried arguing with the person, but I was in such a state of shock, I couldn't muster much other than muttering "but... but... apt-get?" in between him saying something about vendor support, licensing, and contract issues1 2.

So back to the point of this blog post, I have a soft spot for Debian, which Ubuntu is based on.

Now I hear that all the cool kids use Gentoo these days. Gentoo has an emerge command which is functionally equivalent to apt-get -b source packagename, so I hear. And I'm not one to eschew what the Cool Kids® are doing.

So it came down to Ubuntu vs. Gentoo.

The reason Ubuntu got the nod? It has all the buzz, and I wanted to see what all the buzz was about. Mark Pilgrim switched which caused Cory Doctorow to switch which caused O'Reilly to lick his lips at the thoughts of the upcoming quarter profits of their Ubuntu Hacks book. Eventually, the entire Mac land (which is comprised of .0000000003% of computer users) was so divided over the issue that they were thrown into a nasty civil war as people chose sides and fought their brothers on the battlefields.

I wanted to see what all the hubbub was about, so I installed Ubuntu.

1 There are perfectly valid and numerous reasons for having a semi-homogenous standard environment in relation to operating system support. I wasn't trying to criticize that; I was just trying to pontificate the point about being disappointed in no Debian.

2 Yes, I've heard you can get Solaris (and RedHat) tools to behave just like apt-get; but I haven't found a reliable way to do so. Granted, I don't spend much time that close to the server anymore; so I haven't done a lot of experimenting.


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    Please eschew. I think the cool kids are off gentoo now, but let me get back to you.

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    I selected Gentoo when all the cool kids were doing it.

    Being impartial, I like Gentoo for its ability to do development work. The awesomeness of Gentoo isn't in the purity of the system because it is compiled from scratch, it is from the customizability you obtain from doing so. The USE flags allow you to select on a per-package or system level exactly what you want to support. Don't want to install any documentation? Don't want to install any Gnome packages? Simple, just turn off the USE flags. You also get the ability to specifiy your GCC flags when your system compiles. Theoretically, a binary made with --march=pentium4 will be smaller and faster than one without.

    So, the upside is it is more customizable than any other distro. The downside is it takes forever to reach that status due to all the compiling.

    Ubuntu definitely has all the rage these days. I've used it, and I liked it. I recently put OpenSUSE on a server. My first impressions are very good. Linux has definitely come a long way since I started playing with it 6 or 7 years ago.

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    Please eschew. I think the cool kids are off gentoo now, but let me get back to you.

    They are? Then what are the Cool Kids® using nowadays? They are so hard to keep up with.

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    On Gentoo if you have access to a couple of boxen, using distcc will greatly reduce compile time. Also if you have boxen with the same specs and general use cases, you can also build binaries off the first build and update the other boxen of the binary.

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    I like ubuntu too, running Edubuntu at home for wife and kids, and running 6.10 in a virtual desktop under Parallels.

    The bootable disk version would be ideal for labs @Case to avoid the attacks in this environment.