2012-06-27

Long-Term Review: Because Now I Can

I am doing a UROP on campus this summer (as opposed to last summer, when I interned at NIST), and it is a continuation of my UROP from the last two semesters concerning photonic crystals. This summer, my ultimate goal is to be able to use MEEP finite-difference method simulations to recreate the spontaneous emission spectrum of a particular photonic crystal structure of great interest to the research group in which I am working.

To do that, I create the simulations as programs written in the Scheme programming language (a derivative of Lisp) and executed through MEEP. These actual steps are done on a cluster of computers, so the laptop computer that I have been using at my office is merely a terminal for the cluster. Because that laptop runs Microsoft Windows XP, there is no built-in way to SSH into the cluster, so I have to use a UNIX-like terminal emulator for Microsoft Windows; in my case, I use SecureCRT combined with XWin32 for graphical programs like Gedit and Geeqie. Unfortunately, that laptop is at least 7 years old (judging from its hardware specifications and thickness), and with Microsoft Windows XP, it is certainly showing its age; last semester it worked just fine, but a few days ago, it started choking trying to run Mozilla Firefox/Adobe Reader, LibreOffice Calc, and SecureCRT simultaneously. I asked my UROP faculty advisor if I could use a much newer desktop in the office that I use that no one else seems to be using, and he was fine with that; I even asked him if I could run Linux on it, and given that my previous UROP postdoc advisor (in the same research group) ran Ubuntu and helped other people set up Linux for work computers, he was fine with that too.

This presents a unique opportunity for me this summer with regard to this blog, and that's where the title comes in. One of the most common complaints about the reviews I do here is that they use the live session without trying the installation on real hardware at all. Also, because I usually only test the live session, the actual amount of time I spend is not more than a few hours spread over two days or so. Now, I have finally secured the official go-ahead to do with the computer whatever I feel is useful, so I will attempt to take more time to test some distributions (now as an installed session on real hardware) that I have said before that I would have no problem installing, because I want to see just how true of a statement that is. The computer in question is probably not more than 3 years old; it is a Dell desktop with a 64-bit Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 320 GB hard drive, and an ATI graphics card (though I am not sure if the graphics card is integrated or dedicated).

Given the amount of time I have left this summer to work, I intend to test each distribution for between 7-10 days of work, though that may change depending on my schedule and if a given distribution really does not work out. I have already installed Chakra 2012.05 "Archimedes", so that will be the subject of the first real "Long-Term Review" post. Each of these posts will be updated with a daily label detailing any changes, bugs, or other things that I notice. Each post will also have a "Day 0" label at the top sort of revisiting the live session like I normally do to set up my ideal desktop once more. At the end of the testing session (again, 7-10 days), I will publish the full post. While the "Day 0" section will basically be like a full review all over again, the following days' sections will be shorter. It doesn't take a long time to see if my favorite applications work or not, but it does take longer to really feel comfortable with the desktop, look for bugs and quirks, and make sure that upgrades go smoothly. So in these posts, I will really be looking out for details like how well the file manager and panel do stuff that I want them to do on a daily basis, how stable the system is, et cetera, as opposed to simply seeing once if something like Skype works; at my UROP, I only really need a web browser to see some web pages and check email, a PDF viewer to read papers, and a terminal emulator to SSH into the cluster, so I could theoretically settle for something like Ubuntu, but I don't want to waste this opportunity.

Again, I have already started with Chakra. I've always been fond of #!, so I might give that a go too. I'll also give Sabayon a run given that version 9 seemed to work so incredibly well. All of these will be the 64-bit editions because the computer has a 64-bit processor and 4 GB of RAM, so I want to make use of that. That leaves room for a fourth distribution (but probably not more than that); I will have to think about what I want to save for last, and I certainly welcome any comments and suggestions on the matter. Do look out for these posts along with my usual reviews and other random posts.

(UPDATE: Duh. I just realized I could do a long-term test of a prerelease version of SolusOS at the end of summer, and that would be the fourth distribution to test. Hopefully by then a 64-bit beta edition will have been released. I haven't written about it formally, but I have checked out SolusOS 2 Alpha 4, and I'm quite pleased with what I see, especially for an alpha release. Now, I will be able to see if that is really true over a longer period of use on an installed system instead of just a shorter period of use on a live system.)

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