Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Venting about Linux

Time for a "Linux is not ready for the desktop" rant.

Some time ago, I picked up a Slackware 10.1 4-disc set. I've been trying to use it on a Dell Precision 610 MT workstation, Xeon Pentium III. (That's what you can read on the label.) Through some struggling through the initial start up screens, I was able to determine the box has two SCSI internal drives. I also have a Dell 2007FP monitor (pretty nice).

Getting X to come up in something other than 1024x768 was an ordeal. Perhaps I should have realized that no amount of so-called "handholding" was going to help me, and gone to the xorg.conf man page directly. Silly me, I thought this would be like a normal desktop environment, where I would open something called something like a "control panel" and find a sub-thingy labelled "Display" (KDE buries this under Peripheral) and select the 1600x1200 resolution my display claims to support. No. Only 1024x768 or worse.

So I go to; the FAQ is skeletally brief. It talks about xorgsetup (must run as root, not just using "su" but "su -"), which dumps a uselessly generic xorg.conf file in /etc/X11. xorgconfig asks me to answer vague questions about my mouse and keyboard EVERY time, and scroll through long lists of video cards, none of which is a close match to what the Dell startup screeen says: "Diamond Viper V770D 32MB" It asks me for refresh rates, but doesn't allow me to specify that "at 1600x1200, this monitor only allows 60 Hz vertical refresh". The slackware page config/x.php says something vague about "run X -probeonly" but "startx" seems only to feed its arguments to xterm, then puke when xterm does not accept it. I cycle through various efforts, copying the result to /etc/X11/xorg.conf, and get a blank screen with the monitor complaining "frequency out of range: use 1600x1200@60Hz."

A search through the the Video HOWTO for Diamond Viper 770 shows me RIVATNT2 XF86_SVGA and nv.

Finally, I break down and edit xorg.conf by hand. It takes a while but I start to realize that various identifiers (described just as "free form" by xorgconf, actually are used to refer to various entities in later descriptions. I hand edit my xorg.conf to indicate my "Monitor" can HorizSync at 30-82, only VertRefresh at 60 Hz, my "Device" has driver "nv", and my "Screen" is that Mointor, Device, with Modes "1600x1200" "1280x1024", etc.

Finally. It seems to work.

Next up, try to get USB flash memory key to be recognized, without following directions which tell me to use the SCSI /dev/sda files that are, ahem, being used for my SCSI hard disks.

[UPDATE: Fixed the link to the Linux Hardware-HOWTO video section.]


  1. Well, first off using Slackware may have been part of the problem. I use Fedora Core for a home and business desktop, with dual DVI Viewsonic monitors (and I just added a Dell 2007FP).

    My USB flash drives mount and load automatically, all configurations can be configured with 'system-config-SOMETHING' usually.

    I did have to tweak the xorg.conf settings a bit for the Viewsonics and add a custom driver, but I am loving life here at work with this config. Just my $0.02 9and a thanks for the xorg.conf for the Dell)

    Linux has a ways to go but its definitely getting there.

  2. I suppose Binford is right; Slackware does aspire to be a distribution for UNIX purists, and not necessarily the ready-for-the-desktop distribution. Perhaps I need to get around to downloading an Ubuntu ISO and installing that instead. Or, follow your example of Fedora Core.