Saturday, September 22, 2012

Kicking the tyres on Ubuntu ZorinOS 6

A friend of mine asked me to install Linux for him. Now, I get that request a lot but this friend of mine isn't your typical PC user. In fact, he had 'graduated' from Windows XP to the Macintosh recently and was facing some other problems on that platform. It wasn't too hard for him, it just required for him to think in a different way.
He wanted me to convert a low-end laptop he bought so that he could try Linux out and eventually send the laptop to his parents. He understood the problems Windows can be but wasn't sure how his parents would deal with a Macintosh. He chose Linux because he has seen me lock down a PC using Linux and was keen on reducing the support calls from his parents. Why not a tablet, which seem more appropriate given their design is to limit the user to one app at a time? His parents understood the PC and would find this slab of glass too futuristic to deal with. Like my parents.
Since my friend was going to do the support himself, I had to choose something that was easy to support and support would be available easily to him. Plus it had to look cool. My go-to distro is Mageia. It's is extremely easy to support but Mageia2 with Gnome3's spectacular dive into utilitarianism, the looking-cool factor is gone. KDE was tempting but I've been down too many rabbit-hole support calls with KDE when the user tries poking around with the settings. I'm sorry but while I love KDE's customability, it's not for the newbie who may be overwhelmed with choice.
I looked around and finally, settled on ZorinOS. On paper, it was perfect. Powered by Ubuntu means that a lot of resources are out there (people and webpages). But it also has the cool factor down to a pat. So I downloaded the ISO, loaded it on a USB disk with unetbootin and loaded it up on the MSI CR650 laptop.
Which disto had the first graphical installation tool? I'm not sure but I was using OpenLinux in 1998/9 (before Caldera was bitten and became evil) and it had an graphical installation tool. This means it has been around a long time and that by now, all the major kinks should have been worked out and all we have to look out for are the small stuff, the details. Well, I'm not sure why, but after installing all the files, ZorinOS wanted to install Grub on the USB disk. "No matter," I thought, "I'll just change it so that it'll install it in the right disk." Well, the place where to set that setting was the same screen as setting up a custom partition scheme, way back in the beginning. So I had to set up the custom partition scheme in order for it to install Grub in the right place. I deemed this the lesser evil than dealing with which version of Grub was I looking at and the non-standard device numbering it has.
By now, I had one foot out the door but since I rarely install Ubuntu and the Debian-based distros, I decided to use it as a learning opportunity. I changed the location of the Grub install, defined the partitions and re-installed ZorinOS 6. After restarting, it certainly lived up to it's reputation. Boy is it slick. Standard operation procedure was to run updates so that it would get all the latest patches and software. But there was no sound.
I dived straight into /etc/modprobe.d/ and added the intel-snd driver. I rebooted and it still wouldn't work. Which was frustrating because when I tested the Live version of ZorinOS, it did found the sound card and was able to play videos and stuff. It was then I realized that it was my fault. The methodology of installing any distro is to install it, updated it and reboot it at least 3 times to trigger all the scripts that are supposed to set up your hardware. So my next step was to update the OS.
For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to do it with a GUI. Which was important as my friend would have to show his parents how to do that. The software center was my first stop but that was wrong. I even tried to add an application but that too failed. What made it worse was the Windows 7 style menus that was hard to see whether you had drilled down a level or still on the same one. Finally, I found the ZorinOS UI changer and changed it into an XP-like menu-tree-structure-display style. It was after that, I was able to see the Software Update item undel Tools. I later found out that if I clicked on the power icon on the bottom right, one of the options was to update the Software. Weird.
After it updated everything, it found that sound card. It seems that if the laptop has a HDMI output, the card that is driving the HDMI audio seems to be set as default. Let me take a step back. If your have a HDMI output on your laptop, Linux will see this as an additional sound card (and sound port). Since pulseaudio saves this setting by user, I'd have to teach my friend that for every new user added, the default sound hardware needed to be set. I was severely tempted to look for the option to change the priority of the card but realized that the HDMI video may not find it. Oh well, my friend can live with that.

By the way, I finally figured out how to remember to spell Mageia correctly. It's "Mage" and then "ia". Think about it.

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