2011-02-18

Not All is Fair in Linux

There are a couple experiences I had yesterday computer-wise that I'd like to share.
The first has to do with printing. Yesterday, I needed to print out a paper I had written for my history class; I don't have my own printer in my dormitory room, so I usually print on-campus. I went to one of the quick-workstations with Ubuntu-based MIT Athena computers, and I tried printing my document there. Of course OpenOffice.org recognized the document just fine, as it was an ODT file made in OpenOffice.org on my computer. However, I wasn't able to print, because my account didn't have the printer in that room as a recognized device. I didn't have very much time at all to fiddle with the printer settings, so I headed to a Microsoft Windows-based Athena cluster of computers in the library. Unfortunately, Microsoft Windows XP didn't have the Droid Sans font enabled, and of course I couldn't download it as I don't have administrative rights, so the document got printed in Times New Roman. That's not a big deal, although I would have preferred that it be printed in the font I originally used.
These are not meant to be knocks against either OS; I'm just a little surprised with some of the administrative decisions made here with regard to the network. I thought that to help keep the applications and interfaces uniform, the same fonts would be present in Microsoft Windows as in Ubuntu and the same printers would be enabled by default for all accounts in Ubuntu as in Microsoft Windows.
Last night, however, I experienced some slightly more serious trouble with my Linux Mint installation on my computer. After the boot process, I got the error message of "Ubuntu is running in low-graphics mode". I tried reconfiguring X.Org and restarting, but to no avail; the error message came up again. I then entered in low-graphics mode just once, but of course, this meant using the generic graphics driver and having no desktop effects at all. Using the proprietary NVidia drivers didn't help either, so I disabled those as well. I looked in the forums for solutions, and I found one: I logged out, logged into failsafe GNOME, removed the Compiz Fusion extra plugins, logged out again, and logged back in again. Now, [essentially] everything works again.
I read in some forum posts that the issue could be a bad update, but I looked at the Linux Mint Update Manager's update log and found no updates for Compiz in the last few days. It seems like the Compiz issue was just a random breakage; this is the first time I'm seeing something like that happen on Linux Mint, and I had hoped that it was the last, but today when logging in, all my windows' titlebars went missing, so I needed to use the Compiz Fusion icon to reload Compiz. I hope I don't have to do this again.
I feel like this is a symptom of a problem many people online have talked about with regard to Linux distributions becoming more newbie-friendly; as they start to appeal more to migrants from Microsoft Windows, a lot of the same problems start appearing. It doesn't matter that things like package managers require a password to start; hopefully the user knows the password, so once that password is typed, there is nothing to stop the user from totally messing up the system, even unintentionally. Knowing that it wasn't a bad update (though it might have been a bad update of a dependency), I have no idea what I could have done to cause this problem. Unlike in Microsoft Windows, I expect that in Linux problems do not spontaneously appear; they should have some traceable cause.
Well, all I can do is hope that these problems don't recur, and that they'll be fixed in future versions of Linux Mint.

9 comments:

  1. I had the problem with Linux Mint that I did an Opera update from the normal method. The update went fine and all seemed to be well. I logged off. Next morning I was unable to log back in. I can't get back in with fail safe Linux Mint or any of the older versions either. Just totally blocks me out. I don't want to replace this if I can help it because I have some old photos of my grandfather, grandmother, and baby photos of my mother that I got from a distant relative who has since died and they are irreplaceable and since my grandfather was born in 1838 and grandmother 1878 and mother in 1902 they are missing from my immediate family as well. Any ideas on how to log in when you can't get there from here?

    Is there any way to easily get the home files from a different distro and put there some where safe? I realize I should have backed up before the update but have never had a problem with Linux Mint before. This is Linux Mint 8. Shame because this is essentially the first real problem I have had with Linux Mint and I had grown to depend on it just working without problems.

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  2. @dick: Have you tried entering via a terminal? Maybe you can update your graphics configuration and try again. If all else fails and you just want to back up your data, pop in a live medium (any distribution) and you should be able to retrieve those photos from your hard drive; one thing to note is that you may need root access in the live session to access your hard drive data because that drive is external to the medium, so you may need to first mount the hard drive in the session and then type "gksu nautilus" (assuming you are using a GNOME distribution with Nautilus as the default that has sudo for root access) in the terminal. I hope that helps. Plus, maybe if you upgrade to Linux Mint 9 LTS or 10, you may be able to migrate your data over. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. If you have a problem with Ubuntu or Mint you can't say you have a problem with Linux (as a whole).

    Please, change the title of your post.

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  4. @Anonymous: No, I don't have a problem with Linux as a whole, and I'm not trying to extrapolate this experience to all Linux distributions either. I'm highlighting the fact that many commentators online talk about how certain distributions like Ubuntu and Linux Mint, by making the user experience easier, are introducing a lot of issues regarding security and possible system breakages. This is an ongoing debate in the wider Linux community as well, so given all this, I'm letting the title remain as-is. (That said, I do understand and respect your opinion, and you are entirely entitled to it.) Thanks for the comment!

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  5. I have LinuxMint 10 64bit, running on my LinuxCertified brand laptop with GM45 Intel video, and running compiz on advanced setting. I haven't experienced any of the issues you or the other commenter are mentioning.

    @dick, I do hope you have your /home directory setup on a different partition, as any re-install (failing a fix for your vid) can be done without changing anything on your /home, keeping those valuable pics safe. (Oh, and you do have a backup, right? My year old Western Digital hdd began exhibiting bad sector growth. While WD's warranty replaced the hdd, I had sufficient backup of all my important docs, including pics of my grandfather, too!)
    God Bless
    revdjenk

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  6. @revdJenk: Please do note that these issues started happening just yesterday. Prior to that, my laptop was running Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" without any big issues at all. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. Missing font issue you run into all the time. These days I just do PDF if I have to print else where.

    compiz has had issues for years. The closed source nvidia driver is not really compatible with it. But due to the type of incompadible you could go many months to years before its shows itself.

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  8. For printing - i'd recommend creating a pdf file locally and then taking that to another machine if you have to print on it. No matter what environment, missing fonts, software version differences and so on are always an issue. This is basically what PDF was invented for.

    On the other issue and the first reply from dick. Well I guess you just learnt something - don't always upgrade just because the upgrade is available.

    (assuming it was just a package upgrade the files and indeed the system should be recoverable, not being able to log into X just means the window manager is crashing.)

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  9. @Anonymous: It's funny you mention that. I did create a PDF, but then when I was about to print it I saw a couple mistakes and I wanted to correct them, so I just downloaded the ODT file instead. Also, I've stayed away from the closed-source NVidia graphics driver all this time (my laptop also has a power-saving Intel GMA 4500 which actually works really well in terms of 3D rendering), but I'm still surprised that this is a problem that doesn't show itself from the start.
    @NotZed: Well, in defense of the reader "dick" (and yes, I realize this can be misconstrued as a horrible pun), it isn't always clear which updates might break the system. I would assume an Opera update wouldn't fall under that category, in any case, but maybe that's just me.
    Thanks for the comments!

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