Monday, March 27, 2006

Quitting Kanotix.

I originally chose the kanotix linux distribution on my two hobby PC's because, for a time in 2005, it was one of the few live-CD distros with built-in madwifi drivers. I found it unthinkable that in this day and age distibutions of linux would think it acceptable to tell the user either
  • to do without wireless,
  • to go through some insanity involving digging up the CD that came with the card (have you seen my office?-- and isn't that soooo Windows 3.1ish)
  • or, to download (HELLLOOO, we're talking about a PC which IS NOT yet hooked up to the internet!) some stuff to recompile the kernel (as was twice suggested by otherwise helpful & friendly folks at Debian).
In the face of this obstinateness or cluelessness or indifference, a distro that took care of the most tedious stuff for you was, well, like chicken dinner in a restaurant where the cook had plucked all the feathers off the bird before cooking it. Something you'd expect, and get angry with everyone else for not having taken the trouble to do it also.

So I was a big fan of the kanotix distribution, and pushing it on all my friends, including my local LUG, who had never heard of it.

Eventually I grew tired of the distribution and went on to choose kubuntu and SUSE. Most of the reasons revolve around the German language:
  • The distro, unlike knoppix, does not offer a separate "EN" version. So when it boots up live, you have to be on your toes to select the "EN" selection or it will by default go to a "DE" one. It's a nuisance. I'd note that even Paipix, which is made in Portugal IIRC, doesn't have trouble supplying an "EN" version.
  • The web page for the wiki was (if it still isn't) set up so that has to use a German interface to sign in. I had chosen a password and/or userid it didn't like, and was getting error messages in German.
  • Once, I earnestly needed help with a technical problem, and went to the #kanotix IRC. There was a conversation between the developers a-ragin' in German, and I didn't get an acknowledgement of my politely repeated question. I guess this has happened more than once in other IRC channels, but it's more aggravating when there's another language going on.
  • I once lost my installation and a lot of data when I did "dist-upgrade"; I thought I was doing it in response to one of the team leaders in the IRC, his response to a question I had asked. Turns out kanotix periodically sets up on the front page of their web site warnings when you're not supposed to do this. (Problem is, most of the times you access the site, this is in German itself).
  • The web site has a policy of making all its interfaces in German, unless you register and sign in. If you're in a hurry, after you log in, you don't often want to go back to the very front page to get important messages. (See item above). It's just goofy to make folks kiss your bun in this way.
  • Years ago one of these boxes originally had WinMe, then WinXP. My foggy memory is that I when I upgraded from WinME to WinXP, I didn't lose any data or apps. On the other hand, during kanotix's trickling out of new releases in 2005, their original design was for you to just do your own back up and have yours apps wiped. At first, the policy was to tell the user to go reload them yourself; later they came up with the idea of a script to re-get the apps from apt. It was still a major pain. It conked out on me when an item in its script listing wasn't available at apt anymore. This in turn caused me to lose apps whose names started with letters towards the end of the alphabet.

One could just as easily call me an Germanophobic bigot for all these items except the last one. I would also note that several other distros made in Europe, like knoppix, mediainlinux, angula, and paipix, don't have a problem catering to Anglophones in this way, and they DEFINITELY don't cause similar aggravations. When you go to knoppix's web sites, sometimes you have to click on a British/US flag, but after that, all aggravations related to language are OVER.

The moral of this story eventually became apparent to me. An association of a few highly intelligent and capable folks, no matter how hard they try, are not guaranteed to produce a product of the same caliber as that provided by a foundation or corporation of a few hundred. "Davids" can beat "Goliaths" but they are not statistically prone to do so. This last insight gives me pause as I dream about starting up some kind of business on the side from my day job.

The president of my local LUG, during my period of maximum aggravation, suggested trying one of the more popular distros at I am now a satisfied customer of kubuntu 5.10 and SUSE 10.0

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