Monday, September 11, 2006

A Tale of Two Distros: edubuntu vs. knoppix

Please find enclosed two different youtube videos. They represent a problem with video drivers that I believe will create frustration with many new users of linux. I hope that this demonstration will inspire linux developers to change their development priorities, or perhaps their ideology regarding OSS. In the meantime, it will offer a path forward for new users of linux, in the form of advice of a good choice for a distribution of linux.

Both videos are a test with live CD's of linux-- a CD or DVD that contains an entire linux distribution, complete with software. The two distributions are Knoppix 4.0 and edubuntu 6.06.1 live. They are performed on a box with 2.8 GHz processor, 1.5 GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce 4 video card.

The test involves the modelling, rendering, and gaming application blender. Both of these distributions of linux "come with" blender. When blender first loads, after a flash of the blender logo, one sees a basic scene with a cube, a light, and a camera. Now one of the more interesting features of blender is that it gives one the ability to create and play games. Now you might not realize it, but this opening scene of a cube, a light, and a camera is also a game. It is of course an incredibly boring one, in that nothing is going to happen. You can design or download more interesting games than this stationary cube, but that is an exercise for a later time. The way to play the game is to hit the key "P" when you are in object mode (you're in object mode when blender first loads).

What I discovered in my recent tinkering is that blender requires the advanced features of your video card-- you need the drivers-- in order to do this "game playing" properly. It was not clear to me until about a week of banging my head on the wall and asking in various internet fora. In this demonstration, you will note that:
  • the knoppix 4.0 installation properly plays the game (i.e., shows you a stationary cube upon hitting the "P" key.
  • In edubuntu, the application crashes.
What brought this whole problem to my attention is that I had a kubuntu 6.06.1 installation on a box. I discovered that blender would crash when I would try to test a game I was designing. In asking around, it was pointed out that I probably needed the video drivers. I tried to install the drivers at 11:30 PM at night, after a long day, using instructions from an ubuntu web page on the topic. Upon rebooting, I found that the system was unusable-- when it got to the first big kubuntu logo, it was stuck. I don't know how to fix it. Now I guess that I'm at least of average innate intelligence, surely average understanding of computers. If I can wreck my system by means of a simple driver update, what does that mean for the typical person using Windows right now?

Shouldn't therefore any distro wanting to be usuable to the unwashed masses of humanity come with all the drivers you need for wireless and video display built-in?

Knoppix does and ubuntu doesn't.

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