Sunday, June 18, 2006

Linux death march (no one else was complaining!)

[edited comments about Kanotix and German]

Background: I've heard some linux developers gripe that PC manufacturers completely thumb their noses at any iso standards for hardware, they simply ship their product if it works with the current version of Windows. Oh boo hoo, how unfair life is, I say. I'm imagining some developers then taking one box which meets the standards. They make a distro that works fine on a few "perfect" boxes-- getting internet through an ethernet cable, of course-- and in effect thumb their nose at the rest of us with non-standard boxes.

That's one possible interpretation of my frustrations below. Another is that I do in fact have a hopelessly buggy box that is in need of repair, or maybe there's something seriously wrong with my burning process. I'm also a non-CS major, over 35, who's only been tinkering with linux for 18 months. You're free to take or leave this advice.

I call this round of testing for linux disros a "death march" because I am getting fed up with nonfunctionality. I am tempted to chalk this nonfunctionality up to indifferent incompetence. There's that Dilbert cartoon where an I-beam has fallen on one guy's head. That employee complains and Catbert informs him, "No one else is complaining." Well, I am.

Here's a description of the test.

THE DISTROS: A dozen live CD or DVD distros. I chose live distros because it's easy to compare and I've seen too many cases of nonfunctionality that I'm not committing a few hours to so many more distros. But as it is I have tested half the Distrowatch top twenty.

THE BOX: A NetVista with 512 MB memory and 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 processor. It's probably 2-3 years old.


USB: I booted up the box with a Lexmark SECURE II 1GB USB pen drive sitting in a USB port. I counted it a success if I were able to read one particular text file on the stick, even if I had to go to the trouble of typing a mount command to do it.

MPEG-I. I had an MPEG-1 animation stored on a hard drive on a pre-existing partition, in the /home/knoppix folder, as part of a Knoppix 5.01 HDD install. I attempted to access the file using icons for this hard drive partition that pop up on the desktop. I would then doubleclick on the icon for this animation and then see what happens. So playing the animation successfully is both a file-access test and a sound and video playing test.

WIFI: I don't do ndiswrapper. This box has an Atheros-based wifi card in it and I have been able to get it to connect to my home encrypted wifi network with many distros. Usually I use the "iwconfig" command.

The candidates:

Damn Small Linux 3.0 RC1

Failed to boot. "Unable to connect to X server."

Damn Small Linux- Not 0.1

Failed to boot. "Unable to connect to X server."

dyne:bolic 2.0

MPEG-1: Accessed the file. Worked flawlessly, including sound.
USB PEN DRIVE: worked fine.
WIFI: Probably not working. I couldn't fogure it out. I'd love to be proven wrong here.

Gentoo RR4

MPEG-1: Accessed the file. Saw the video and sound. (I had to change some settings in Kmix to get it to work).
USB PEN DRIVE: worked fine.
WIFI: KWifiManager worked for me.

Kanotix 2005-04

MPEG-1: Accessed the file. Worked flawlessly, including sound.
USB PEN DRIVE: worked fine.
WIFI: Worked flawlessly with the "iwconfig" command
CAVEAT: I once became frustrated with the language interfaces on the kanotix web site, but they have made dramatic improvements in the past six months.

Knoppix 4.02-DVD

MPEG-1. Accessed the file, but playback sound was plagued by an odd echo.
USB PEN DRIVE: Couldn't see it, even in USB view.
WIFI: worked flawlessly with the "iwconfig" command.

Knoppix 5.01-DVD

MPEG-1: Accessed the file. Worked flawlessly, including sound.
USB PEN DRIVE: worked flawlelessly.
WIFI: worked flawlessly with the "iwconfig" command.
CAVEAT: Sound and USB devices work flawlessly with a live boot, but gave me trouble with a HDD install. I published a bug fix I got from "AgenteFBI" at the fora.

Mediainlinux 4 RC5

MPEG-1: Accessed the file. Worked flawlessly, including sound.
USB PEN DRIVE: Couldn't see it, even in USB view. The irony here is that for an old laptop, MiL was the only distro that let me see the data on the stick.
WIFI: Worked flawlessly with the "iwconfig" command.

Paipix 5.0

MPEG-1: Accessed the file. Attempts to play it with Kaffeine initiated a reboot of the system. (I tried it four times across two different reboots).
USB PEN DRIVE: worked with use of the mount /dev/sda1 command.
WIFI: worked flawlessly with the "iwconfig" command.

Quantian Scientific Computing Environment 0.7.92

MPEG-1: Not able to access the file. Problem with the desktop-- a bug upon loading.
USB PEN DRIVE: never got to the data, although I was able to see it on the list with "usbview".

Slax Kill Bill 5.03

MPEG-1: Couldn't see the file.
USB PEN DRIVE: icon shows up, inoperatble.
WIFI: might have had it, but I coulnd't get it to run.

Slax 5.05

MPEG-1: Accessed the file. No sound when playing it.
USB PEN DRIVE: Accessed the data.
WIFI: Use of the "iwconfig" command locked up the system, requiring a hard power off!

SUSE 10.0

MPEG-1: SUSE will not ship with software that enables the playing of MPEG-1 files.
USB PEN DRIVE: I quit this distro because it USB access was painfully slow and intermittent. My perception is that it got worse with time.

SUSE 10.1

WIFI: I quit this distro because the developers capriciously took out the wifi driver because it didn't meet OSS standards.

Ubuntu 6.06

MPEG-1: "unable to mount the selected volume" when trying to access the file.
WIFI: It's over my head, or it's non-functioning, or madwifi not present. It accepted my iwconfig command but didn't work over all.
CAVEAT: On this box, I frequenly found that when I had various flavors of ubuntu products installed, I had a slow-up problem. When I would leave the box alone for more than an hour, and come back to it, my system would act like it was running on a 2.8 MHz processor instead of a 2.8 GHz processor. Neither the ubuntu fora nor my local LUG email-list were able to help solve, let alone scarcely believe, my problem.


  1. Gentoo RR4 is the surprise winner. Ironically I didn't figure out either the wireless or the sound until I went back to it a second time. I guess I'm afraid to go Gentoo, but if these Debian-based systems don't get their act together, I'm bailing. It also ships with povray (and completely incidentally, comes with scene files I wrote for povray!). I would note that if one were going to the trouble of a live CD, then the software on it is a serious consideration, and live DVD's may often win out over live CD's.
  2. Knoppix is my old friend. The DVD has everything I could want, except povray. The HDD install is working okay on my box.
  3. kanotix 2005-04 used to have several problems with how it handled languages in its web site, and I'm proud to say the worst ones are fixed. (I tried out the 2006 "Easter" version and found its hardware detection not as robust as the older one). It is lacking a bit in software for the graphics fanatic, but Kanotix 2005-04 is still the first distro I would reach for as a rescue CD.
  4. dyne:bolic is another distro I'd like to get to know better. If it has wireless drivers, I might consider it based on its overall beauty


Anonymous said...

I used to be 100% debian guy, untill I found has driver support for my gfx-card out of the box, xgl desktop and everything a man can possibly ask in terms of software. Beats my dusty ol' knoppix dvd's hands down :)

Anonymous said...

The Germanic Kanotix Myth (by slam)

Well, I remember very well your ongoing complains about missing English support at our forums, while several native speakers tried again and again to assist you. And while you complained, others contributed a lot of editing, proof-reading and translations.

One thing is your personal decision to not use Kanotix any more - up to you. But another thing is writing a public "review" and advising English speakers not to use Kanotix.

We have a big and still very fast growing English speaking user base which is very happy with the fast, competent and friendly support it is receiving at our forums, the irc-channel #kanotix and our web site in general.

We welcome everybody - from beginners to pros.


Anonymous said...

As an English speaker and a n00b to Linux I disagree strongly with your CAVEAT. I installed 2005-04 in December 05, dist-upgrade most days and still have a robust working system with no need for reinstalls; any (debian) problems are 'fixed' within hours by the 'team'; English speaking support by non-natives has never been a problem. The forum is friendly, helpful and informative; irc# responses are always relevant, helpful and have always got me out of trouble (even from command line during d-u).

I have installed Kanotix 2005-04 and Easter-RC4 on a number of desktops and laptops without any problems and would recommend it to any one - English speakers or not.


Anonymous said...

>> If you speak German or don't think you'll ever need an upgrade or support, kanotix 2005-04 is the distro for you. The language barrier [...]|<<

Well, the forum on the Kanotix website is bilingual since a long long time (long before version 2005-04). And the default language of the main page is english too.

Don't complain, help translating :)


Anonymous said...

I've been using Kanotix for a while now, and a lot of the questions I've asked (in english) in the forum or irc were answered by Kano, the developer himself, in English better than mine (and I'm from the US). I don't know where you had problems. Maybe you missed the english section in the forum? Did you try the language selector? Did you try english in irc, or did you log on, see german, and assume that your questions wouldn't be understood and answered? I speak english (only), and I'm kinda partial to it, but I don't expect every one, regardless of nationality or language ability to accomadate me. If there is something in another language that I need and can't get answered in english, i have it translated. I guess, if you want to get technical about it, Chinese IS the most spoken first language in the world. Maybe all the internet should be in it??

Anonymous said...

>>It also ships with povray (and completely incidentally, comes with scene files I wrote for povray!).<<

Well, seems to be your only reason for promoting gentoo - stay honest!

Mark said...

Death march ... jeeze.

Check that for education, kid:

Anonymous said...

Gentoo, you can't even use Kanotix (one of the easiest distro's to use) and you recommend Gentoo LOL. Kanotix
is one of, if not the best hardware recognition that a distro can have. Your so called blog on Kanotix is nothing more than FUD. You may also delete this (you have cut parts out of others) so you can try on this, it WILL like the other's be posted somewhere else in FULL

jesseman said...

Kanotix is an excellent distro to use as far as hardware recognition and the scripts that Kano includes. If you cannot get english support, then you aren't trying at all. Period. Perhaps you should rename your blog to "half-almost-useful-attempts-at-linux-installs."

Anonymous said...

I have used Kanotix for a while now and can't speak a word of German.
Are you serious? This is a joke surely.

Kanotix Rocks.

Anonymous said...

Well, if you want to know what pterandon asked on the kanotix forum, go to

and type "pterandon2" into the author line.

There you can get your own impression on what answers pterandon got and is complaining about now. :-)

See yourself, if you can get a better support anywhere on the net...

Anonymous said...

This is a link to a post where this guy was asking for help on for completely different distro....and got help from Kano....

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Really - is there a language barrier?

Must be typed all in one row, no blanks.

Anonymous said...

Been using Kanotix since 2005-02 and had no problem getting English help, I don't even speak german. Kanotix has always had english support. If you were in to big of a hurry to notice the obvious, then you shouldn't have made a post about it.


Anonymous said...

I think the guy should STOP doing reviews PERIOD, till he knows what the hell he is talking about or better yet doing

pterandon said...

I've got a box. Some distros that get praise elsewhere for hardware recognition just happened to work well on the box, some other distros didn't. Go figure. My belief is that we need more ignorant noobs to tell us which distros won't work on their boxes. I was fascinated that distrowatch reported that 3 of 4 BSD distros wouldn't work on one guys' hardware.

As far as Gentoo, can someone tell me why it is so bad as a live CD? I'm still too chicken to HDD install it, but can you tell me why Gentoo with tons of graphic software is worse for a graphics afficiando than is a Debian derivative with a sparse offering, as a live CD?

In 2005 I got disgusted with the approach to English at kanotix's web site, even as I was praising the team as "dedicated, brilliant, genuinely humanitarian folks." In response, the problem I was complaining about were praised as features. Six months later, those problems are fixed. Go figure.