Monday, 15 December 2014

GNU Territory! Part 2: Considerations

Switching operating systems is a scary task; there are so many variables which can result in frustrating, rage inducing, keyboard slamming situations. Drivers, hardware, software, interfaces, applications, and file systems must be considered to avoid disappointment and problems. This post details the plans and research I have done to make my transition to GNU/Linux go smoothly. It is important that you examine your own system and make a list of the basic software and hardware functionality you currently use and desire to carry over to GNU/Linux. Below I will outline my build and the desired functionality I wish to maintain/add as I migrate to GNU/Linux.

MY SYSTEM

• Windows 8.1 Enterprise Evaluation
• AMD Athlon II x4 620
• BFG Nvidia GTX 260 Core 216
• 8 GB DDR3 (4x2 GB) @ 1066 MHz
• Gigabyte GA-770T-USB3
• OCZ Agility 3 256 GB SSD
• (120 GB + 250 GB + 500 GB) JBOD as a 809 GB drive
• A 1 TB drive that is in Windows Software RAID 1 (Storage Spaces) with the JBOD drive mentioned above.

My extremely generous friend has mentioned that he may donate his old i5 2500K and a GTX 570 to me. If that is the case, very little will change about this build but it will receive a much needed boost in processing power.

DRIVERS

Possibly the most important thing to consider when switching to GNU/Linux. If there are no drivers for your devices, you will not be able to use them. This results in wasted money or additional expenses to purchase new hardware that is compatible. In my opinion, Linux has been doing an incredible job in this respect. I have plugged in old and new hardware into my experimental systems and run into very few problems. Your mileage may vary of course. I highly recommend installing your chosen distribution on a test system and adding each piece of hardware to ensure it works correctly will survive the migration.

Video Driver

The first and {possibly} most important driver I need to consider is the Nvidia driver for my GTX 260. This will be an essential component to maintaining my hobby of gaming as I migrate to Linux. There is a fairly recent driver available; however I have always run into problems when installing Nvidia drivers. This occurred on Ubuntu; when I would update the kernel, the video drivers would break and I would have to re-install them. Ultimately, this isn't the end of the world but I guess I will have to wait until the migration to see if this is an annoyance I will have to adapt to.

Audio Driver

I want to ensure I have acceptable audio quality/options on Linux. I have a pair of AKG Q701's and a FIIO E07K DAC. On Windows 8.1, this DAC has not been functioning well consistently, specifically when using Chrome and YouTube. I have tested this USB DAC on my Kali Linux installation with PulseAudio and it appeared to work though my test was not thorough in the slightest.

✔ USB 3.0 Driver

My motherboard utilizes the NEC D720200F1 chip; this appears to be placed under the umbrella "Renesas USB 3.0" driver. According to the Renesas website, this driver is included in the Linux kernel and my devices should be supported.

Logitech Dual Action Controller Driver

Although I'm positive this controller will work for generic input on most games; I am concerned about how this controller will function as an "Xbox 360" controller. On Windows, I simply used x360ce to emulate an Xbox 360 controller. On Linux it appears that the xboxdrv driver should be able to mimic this behaviour.

? Mouse and Keyboard Drivers

Not technically a driver, but I need a utility to configure my Cooler Master Sentinel Advance mouse macros and programs. This is Windows software and I will likely have to try and Wine it and hope for the best. My keyboard, the Microsoft Reclusa is similar in this regard.

DISTRIBUTION

With drivers out of the way, it's time to get to a serious consideration; I must decide on a distribution to use. There are so many different options, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. I am very familiar with Fedora but I found that things would break easily with updates as Fedora is a "bleeding edge" distro. I have had experience with Ubuntu as well but I didn't really like Unity much at all. Lubuntu and Xubuntu are options as well but I'm not sure I want to use them.

I've been enjoying using Kali Linux on my laptop. Mostly everything I've wanted to install has worked on it. It has a lot of bloat though in the form of pentesting packages that I will be very unlikely to use on my main desktop. Since Kali is based on Debian I could use that; Debian seems like a very stable, expandable option and is definitely one of my top choices.

I have Elementary OS installed on another older laptop and don't mind using it, but I am not a fan of the GUI and I would likely change too many things to make it worthwhile. Mint seems like it might be nice as well and might make my transition easier.

To be honest, I have been reading around on /g/ and other technology boards and have really been liking the look of Arch Linux. I am a little intimidated by the barebones nature of the system and the manual install process but I think I am up for the challenge. The Arch Wiki is a great resource; during the summer I was using it to learn about SELinux. Also, I want to rice.

I'm going to try a mock install of Arch in a virtual machine and after that I will make my decision between Debian and Arch.

APPLICATIONS

For an office suite, I will just use Libre Office; I could also run Microsoft Office in Wine but I won't. The problem with Libre Office is compatibility; given that I am still in university, I will have to collaborate with other students on projects. This adds a layer of complexity as I must make sure that my Libre Office documents are formatted correctly and presentable in Microsoft Office. This may add extra time to my assignments.

Another piece of software I use for school is Blackboard Collaborate; this Java software never functioned correctly on Windows 8.1 so I'm hoping it works better under Wine. Speaking of Wine, I have very little experience with it, so that should be an afternoon or more of learning and tinkering.

I use Sony Vegas to edit my movies for my YouTube channel. I don't do very fancy things in post-production anymore so I'm sure there is an open source alternative that will do what I need; Kdenlive and avidemux look decent enough. I could also use Sony Vegas in Wine but I think switching to something free and simple would be better.

I use MSI Afterburner and RivaTuner to overclock my GPU and monitor FPS. These applications may have problems being emulated in Wine. It appears that there are ways to overclock GPU's in Linux; I'm not too worried about this but I will make a post about this when I discover how it is accomplished.

I use Windows Storage Spaces to provide software RAID to my PC. I need to find and learn how to use the Linux equivalent of software RAID. It seems that mdadm will accomplish this and even has a web based GUI via webmin (but I won't use it to set up my RAID 1 array).

I have a password safe in the form of a KeePass database; there will be no problems with this as KeePass has been ported to Linux.

GAMES

Gaming is an important hobby of mine; I want to continue my hobby as I switch to Linux. Gaming has always been a large point of contention between Windows and Linux users. Between drivers, performance, and game selection, gaming on Linux is more restrictive when compared to Windows. This is ironic as the whole system is freer and open to options. Luckily, there has been a surge of interest in Linux gaming due to many factors including Steam machines, SteamOS, and the disappointment of Windows 8+.

First and foremost, I have some Windows games to finish; I am very close to finishing Dark Souls 1 and aim to complete it within the next 20 days (EDIT: Done). By switching to GNU/Linux I will be losing access to the Battlefield series. This kind of stinks but I was barely playing these games as it were.

I will continue playing DotA2 and begin to focus more heavily on CS:GO. My next single player experience will be the Witcher 2 as it is Linux compatible. I have also bought The Cat Lady. I believe I can use Wine to continue my second play through of Fallout New Vegas. It seems that Dark Souls 2 will also work in Wine so I look forward to that!

Overall, I believe I should be set and well-entertained for my coming year on GNU/Linux.

OPTIMIZATION, WORKFLOW, AND CLEAN UP

Before I had an SSD, I would organize all of my personal files under an "Everything" folder in the root of my C: drive. This made reformatting a breeze as all I had to do was collect random save/configuration files from my OS, place them in the "Everything" folder, then back that up over the network and restore it after the reformat. However, after getting an SSD, I fragmented this Everything folder across my SSD and former primary drive. This hasn't been working too well and my workflow feels broken.

I am going to reorganize my files and make use of the /home directory. I will likely have my personal files and non-critical games (games that don't greatly benefit from an SSD) on my mirrored 1 TB drive and mount that to the /home directory. Finally, I need to go through all my folders and clean out unnecessary and large files.


And that's all! With this article to help guide my decisions, I can proceed with the migration and not a moment too soon; my Windows license is set to expire in 16 days.

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