Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Multi-booting with Linux

Windows 8 uses a GPT-formatted hard drive and an EFI boot partition. This is so new that Linux does not yet play well with it. While a few distributions handle it, I came to the conclusion that the state of EFI support in Linux right now is so poor that it's just too much hassle. So I decided to change the partition table on my drive from GPT to MBR. Then I turned on "legacy" boot support in my BIOS.

Of course that means I will lose the ability to boot into Windows 8. But it also means that I can now boot Linux using the normal GRUB boot loader the way it has been accustomed to. As you can see above, I have SIX different Linuxes installed. And when I boot the machine I'm presented with a GRUB screen where I can choose which one I want. I have one swap partition and one partition for my data that I share between them all. I am NOT however sharing my /home directories between each one. That will prevent conflicts with user configuration files between the different distros.

I initially read that I should not install GRUB with the installation of each version of Linux that I set up. But many of those installations did not give me an option. Luckily each one recognized the other operating systems installed and added them to the new GRUB configuration being installed.

This is way better than messing around in virtual machines. I'd commented earlier that VMs take no guts to set up... because they can be nuked in a second and they're not really running on the hardware. Booting directly into 6 different Linuxes becomes more real. Support for the actual hardware needs to be configured.

One of my goals is to test out which distribution will support my scanner out of the box. I already know that several of these are having trouble with my ethernet adapter. Though luckily they seem to support my wireless adapter with no problem.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

System restore

In playing with my Dell desktop machine's partitions I ended up deleting the various reserved system recovery partitions. I don't really understand how they are organized or what pieces are required. But there seemed to be 3 or 4 of these reserved partitions when I decided to clean them up.

The only symptom I have now... is that the Dell Backup and Recovery app won't run (or even install) without the "Windows Recovery Environment" which resided in one of these partitions.

I probably wouldn't care about not having this except that this system came with some software that I would like to be able to reinstall if necessary (namely Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop Elements).

The answer, is to restore the system to “factory” using restore discs that I’ve already made. That should put back all those special partitions. Then I’ll use Acronis True Image to replace my OS and Data partitions. At that point I’ll be back to where I am now with the system partitions restored. In theory.

The main motivation for attempting a full restore of the entire system is to give my new version of Acronis True Image a good workout. I want to see how it works. And even the worst-case scenario isn’t that bad. If it fails I could always do it the hard way by building from a fresh install. But I don’t expect that will happen.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 was released for download last Thursday. Of course I installed it on all of my computers. No real issues.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't provide any kind of install image or ISO for 8.1. So if I ever need to reinstall (which of course I will), I will need to install 8.0 again and then download the 8.1 all over again. That doesn't sit well with me and probably a million other people who have a strong preference for a fresh virgin install.

There are some nice new features. I had a hack in the form of a shortcut that would take me directly to the all-app screen in Windows 8. No longer needed. Windows 8.1 has a setting that will give you the all-app screen in place of the regular start screen by default. And there is a setting that lets you shove all those useless "modern" apps to the end of the list. Yay!

I would have preferred a configuration option that would eliminate any possibility of seeing a "modern" app anywhere for any reason. But I guess that is too much to ask. Although I do hear that the modern apps have been enhanced to the point where one might actually consider using them for real things. I still don't know why I'd want to. I like my desktop apps. That might possibly be why I run a desktop operating system! Ya think?

My wife is going out of town. And since I wanted to install Windows 8.1 on my laptop SSD, I pulled my Linux hard drive out of my laptop and put my Windows SSD back in. Then I upgraded it to 8.1. I did end up having an issue where I had to reformat. Only because of my lack of patience. I had a ghost printer that I could not delete. And problems with several versions of the same printer. They were grayed out, but would not let me delete them. After googling and trying some different things I decided a fresh install was in order. No problem.

In my playing around with Linux I recently came to a bit of a conclusion. Windows is a far more capable operating system. Not because it's actually better, but because it has all the third-party support. Things just work. And while that's true when comparing it to Linux, it's also somewhat true when comparing it to Mac OS X. Although you'll have a hard time getting Mac folks to admit that.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Linux as a primary OS

I'm totally loving Fedora Linux since I put it on my two machines last week. I have my desktop machine dual-booting with Windows 8... UEFI no less. And my laptop is running Fedora as well. And I have a Windows 7 VM in both primarily for running Quicken.

The whole UEFI secure boot thing is pretty new. Most distributions still don't handle it. It came onto the scene with Windows 8-ready machines. But luckily Fedora does handle it without too much trouble.

I'm pretty sure I couldn't run Linux as my daily-driver operating system except that anymore my PC's are primarily "general use" machines. I don't run any special-use software that I can't live without. The only program I really don't want to give up is Quicken. All the other stuff I depend on is pretty generic.

Dropbox is one program I deem essential. Other than that there are a couple of browser plugins that I use... like Lastpass and Xmarks. Of course Linux has Firefox and Chrome.

It's weird. The longer I use computers the less software I seem to need. I'm becoming an "average" computer user. Other than enjoying the setup and configuration of operating systems and software, my needs are pretty basic. Of course there are a lot of people in the same boat. That's one reason why Chromebooks are pretty strong sellers now. It might not be that long before all one really needs is a good browser with a few good plugins. (that's essentially what a Chromebook is)

I guess one could argue that the lack of need for a real computer is partly to blame for dropping PC sales in conjuction with the popularity of smart phones and tablets. I personally can't imagine that. I don't think I could ever do without a computer. I don't even like being confined to a laptop.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dual boot

Ok... not long ago I decided to setup a virtual machine on my Windows box for every different version of Linux that I had. There were nine of them! And I had Linux installed and working on just about every one.

But then I decided to get some guts, and try setting up my Windows 8 to dual boot with Fedora 19. Of course when setting up dual boot you run a fairly serious risk of rendering your machine unbootable. But rumor had it that Fedora 19 played well with UEFI secure boot.

Before I did this I partitioned my Windows into four different partitions, mainly to aid in backups. I recently updated my copy of Acronis True Image so that I could take a snapshot of all the partitions on my machine so that if the whole dual boot thing went awry, I could put things back. The advantage to having multiple partitions was that I could put my huge stuff (movies, TV shows and music) in a separate partition that I could omit from the partition snap shot. That stuff is easy enough to put back that there is no snapshot needed. It's just a lot of data.

One of my partitions was about 220GB that I was using strictly for above said virtual machines. So I backed that stuff off to an external hard drive, nuked the partition and set up Fedora for real on an EXT4 partition. Yay!

So it's all working nicely. And I just now setup my Windows 7 virtual machine as a guest in my Fedora host! So I can boot Windows in Fedora and run Quicken.

I have a bit of a soft spot for Fedora. Back in the days when I was working for my brother, we administered a bunch of Red Hat servers. Big fun. Lots of memories.

And Fedora is pretty cutting edge when compared to many other Linuxes. Although I'm pretty sure it's not as cutting edge as Arch Linux. Which is fine with me. I got tired of hanging out in the #archlinux IRC channel and seeing a steady stream of people coming in who had something break as a result of some update. I think that's what you get with a rolling release that always has the latest of everything. Probably not bad if you like being a beta tester. Certainly it's own kind of fun.