I stole the title from an Army slogan. It’s state-speak demanding you turn off your conscience. My mission now is a direct reflection of my conscience, and the very title of my blog reflects an interest here in practical applications of that conscience. The last thing you’ll get from me is pontification, since I presume here only to entertain myself by exercising one of my few passions — writing — about things I’ve experienced in pursuit of that mission.
If you have to ask, that mission is serving the God of the Bible. I’m hardly orthodox by most established standards, but I am exceedingly comfortable, at peace with my conscience and what I can perceive regarding God. I strive to improve, expand and deepen that sense of peace, and my posts here reflect that struggle. You can apply such a concept to just about anything in your life, as I do mine. It won’t matter how minor or insignificant the issue; I hold a mystical regard that every element in my earthly existence is subject to divine veto. My loyalty and burden of responsibility allows nothing to escape.
That’s not a pedantic assumption every choice is between holy and profane in itself. But I always seek to know. Sometimes I perceive God doesn’t care to guide some choices discretely, and leaves it to me. For example, today’s issue is one which has cropped up often: using computers. There are no particular moral choices simply because a significant element of the development and production of all computer OSes includes a rejection of the God I serve. Thus, any claims to moral high ground are spurious, since God is the sole source of morality. Any counter-claims this or that one is immoral is equally bogus. The whole debate becomes silly and immoral itself. My point in announcing my break from Linux fandom was not a rejection of Linux, but a rejection of the common Linux-hobbyist mentality. In my service to God, the attachment itself was a serious hindrance.
That said, I note I am typing this from a machine running Linux. I left the Dell Inspiron 545 running Vista and gave it to my wife. It was a compromise between the hassles of XP and the all-too-new differences in her eyes in running Win7. The machine was designed for Vista and it works just fine. Whatever the rest of humanity disliked about it does not apply in this case, so it won’t matter what the reputation is for Vista. It works; it serves the purpose and the mission of God for her is advanced. In exchange, I took back from her a machine I had built a couple of years ago (motherboard), but kept the Dell LCD monitor.
I’ll skip most of the details, but we found the nVidia drivers for Win7 are broken (GeForce 6100), have been for quite some months, and aren’t likely to be fixed. Lots of complaints online indicated it was something about the drivers themselves, as it seemed consistent across a wide range of nVidia chipsets. From what I understand, the GPU itself enters a race condition, and the system display bogs down and becomes unusable, even while the system reports everything is fine. So I tried different Linux distros with my monitor. Each had it’s own failures and I was not in the mood to try resolving the issues. Knowing Win7 did not like the GPU, I bought a Radeon HD4350, simply because it was the most affordable card I could find. I used it for several weeks that way with Win7.
While I found the hardware profile verification annoying, I didn’t feel threatened by it. I found quite a few favorite applications worked fine: Opera, Cream/Vim, Notepad++, PDF Xchange Viewer, etc. There is something wonky with the odd way Microsoft elected to create for 64-bit a default installation target in “Program Files (x86)” while keeping the backward compatible “Program Files” folder next to it. Most of the time, I found it was necessary to install 32-bit apps in the latter — which meant just about everything I installed (the same applies for 64-bit Vista), but it worked well enough. Still, I never quite got comfortable.
Part of my mission includes having a laptop. I had considered ditching my Inspiron 4100 for a netbook, but decided I just could not come up with the money for it. Given how I expected to use it, it was a purely pragmatic decision to switch the laptop to CentOS 5. It’s too wimpy for XP plus defensive software, and Win2K lacks things like a built-in WPA supplicant capability, nor was anything available for free to fix that. Plus, some of my cards had no drivers for Win2K. That’s just a sampling of reasons, but CentOS had all that, plus ran usably fast. Using it reminded me of those subtle differences which I missed when using Win7, so on a lark, I checked on how other folks were coping with the Radeon card under Linux.
That HD4350 chipset has been out for two years, but X.org is just now getting some preliminary 3D support. This, when the card as a half-GB of VRAM. Then I stumbled across references to something called “Catalyst” — and I remembered that was the driver package name for the Radeon card in Win7. So I examined references to it under Linux. All this time I had thought ATI was no longer making the old flgrx proprietary driver. Seems to me I recall part of the reason for the X.org fork from XFree86 was the painfully slow adoption of Radeon code donated by ATI. So I had this picture of X.org working with ATI and no need for a separate package, as had been in the past. Wrong. Instead, I find ATI still has it, and it’s a whale of a lot better than ever.
Now, I had tried several distros of Linux on this particular machine. Several releases of Ubuntu couldn’t even identify the optical drive from which it was running and froze — the old SATA DVD-RW issue I ran into on the Inspiron 545, but with a different chipset (ICH9 versus MCP61). SUSE had no clue how to handle the video, reflecting the current state of X.org. But CentOS didn’t choke at all. While it offered only 2D acceleration with the old glxgears test giving me 300FPS, it at least allowed the monitor to run the native resolution (1920×1080). So I installed the Catalyst driver package from ATI and it worked just fine, with the glxgears running at over 3000FPS — a 10x improvement. Leaving Win7 on the one hard drive, still attached, I am running CentOS 5.4 from another drive.
On a purely experiential basis, I have found CentOS superior by far to other distros. I can’t pretend to know all the technical details. What I do know is CentOS is a clone of RedHat Enterprise Linux, and RHEL is the result of catering to the corporate user. Much as I despise the corporate culture, it isn’t uniformly evil. What makes Windows usable at all is the necessity of responding to the customer to some degree. What makes Linux so useless most of the time is the utter lack of customers, simply because developers as a whole have zero interest in any user who isn’t a hobbyist and fanboy. There is a sense in which there is never a finished product. No, not in the absolutist sense, because Windows is always being fixed, too. Rather, in the sense of a relatively stable API, a predictable experience for the user, something which doesn’t change dramatically every few months. When MS fixes something, they fix what is currently supported, and that goes back several years. Projects like GNOME and KDE can’t be bothered to fix something from last week. It’s always “fixed in the next release.” The mass of ordinary computer users, most particularly corporate customers, can’t tolerate that. The headlong rush forward, requiring frequent rebuilds and the attendant breakage is a hostile environment for most users. RH understands that, and tames the rolling-release beast by offering a Linux product which meets their needs, while the rest of the Linux/Open Source community belittles and dismisses such users.
By no means is the CentOS default desktop as pretty as Win7 or recent Linux products. I don’t care about that, nor do most ordinary computer users. CentOS uses a rather old X.org release which is pretty quick and light, and the “ancient” GNOME 2.16, which they have fixed and fixed and it’s now actually usable. No, I can’t get things like Xiphos (complications with the use of the EPEL repository) or Cheese ported back to it, but that’s because the developers are hostile to supporting older versions, taking their cues from the GNOME Project itself. But accepting those limitations with CentOS still leaves me with a very good, stable and trustworthy OS, and it’s more comfortable than Windows of any flavor. No, not inherently superior — all operating systems stink, but CentOS stinks less. If my needs change, it may become once again worthwhile to reboot into Win7.
Then there’s always RHEL 6 coming soon. When it comes out, I’m sure there will be a few issues arise and some immediate fixes. The point is, that won’t be the last fixes. RH shows consistently a careful maintenance of things the rest of the community has long forgotten. They do that simply because that’s what the customer demands. The rest of the Linux world can’t comprehend that sort of respect and care for the customers. It’s not morality; it’s entirely mercenary — that’s where the money is. Linux as a whole isn’t about money, but about the
game science of fooling with computers themselves. Mac is about the cool-geewhiz factor, BSD is about performance measures, and so it goes.
You choose what you need for your emphasis. To the degree I haven’t addressed your favorite Linux distro, it’s because I find it too much work for too little return, or there really is something morally repugnant in it. Linux is not all one thing, as Linux itself goes, but the variations reduce in significance when scaled against the broader needs of humans. A computer is just a tool, not the mission. For today, the best way for me to meet that mission is running CentOS on this box. While I do admit to some sentimental attachment, watch how quickly that fades to insignificance if the situation changes.