Improbable All The Way

This is getting on my nerves.

I’m starting to lose my patience.

I first used Linux way back in late 2001 (SuSE + KDE 2); it was rock-solid stable, a complete breeze to use, and everything except my stupid winmodem worked out of the box.  Stop and think about that: thirteen years ago, it was already possible to hand a college English major Linux CDs and know she’d be able to easily install & have a ball using it without a lick of assistance.

I returned to Linux in spring 2008 with very similar results; my borderline-computer-illiterate mother not only could use it out of the box, at one point she borrowed a live CD and installed it on her own.  With the exception of Ubuntu 9.10 being an unstable nightmare on my old laptop, that’s basically how things have been since then, regardless of which (non-buntu) distro I used.  I was even able to comfortably use a 12-year-old Celeron desktop for several months in Fedora using the MATE desktop this year!

That is, until recently.  I bought my nifty little Thinkpad T400 off eBay in early summer, and as usual, everything worked out of the box.  I installed MX-14 Linux, the new SimplyMepis/AntiX community distro, and was having fun messing with it when I decided to upgrade to the latest KDE using Debian’s (fully-compatible) Jessie repos.  I ran into so many truly bizarre problems that I re-installed…only to see the same result.  I tried a clean-install of Debian Jessie itself, but nothing changed.  Argh!  I decided to fix things myself by substituting tried-and-true programs for handling things like disk & network management, maybe editing some config files… What the — where the hell did Plasma go?!  I stared at the collection of stranded windows for a minute, then hit ctrl-alt-F6 to enter a virtual console.  The computer instantly went into a suspended state.  I opened the lid to wake it up, waited a moment, then closed it to keep the cats from walking on the keyboard…and it suspended again.
What the everloving fucklehelldamnbunniesarrrrgh!  I opened it again with a grumble and left it that way.  Obviously I must have just forgotten to set the root account’s power management preferences again.  Tap tap tap, log into KDE as root, open the system settings dialog…and saw that as usual, I’d set root to “do nothing” when the lid closed.  That setting had always carried over into the virtual console for me in the past, but evidently now it doesn’t.  Surprise!  Change is fun! New is always better!  Where’s a brick so I can shove it up the rear-end of whatever brainac thought this was a good idea?I decided to try MX-14, the new Mepis/AntiX community distro, so I installed it without problems, then added KDE using the Jessie repos.  (Xfce doesn’t allow enough customization of interface colors for me to be happy.)  Logged into KDE, and promptly discovered that my mouse wouldn’t work; went back to Xfce and found the mouse working just fine.  Exasperated, I decided to start a new session with the same account so I could switch back-and-forth while experimenting — and voilá, the mouse worked in KDE again…but only as long as I was also logged into Xfce.I threw my hands into the air and switched to OpenSUSE, only to find some of the same problems, then tried Fedora only to see the same issues as well.  At one point, I booted without my external USB drive plugged in, and got a single-user mode prompt that reacted to every keystroke with “login incorrect.”  I grumbled, booted from a USB key, and followed instructions to edit a file to force Linux into single-user mode without a password.  That worked, though it turned out to only detect every other keystroke due to some odd buffer issue.
To compound the fun as I distro-hopped, I soon rediscovered that distros & KDE versions store their preferences in slightly different locations, so I had to set preferences, move config files and relocate my color tray icons for every install. Bah.  I eventually settled on OpenSUSE out of tired apathy, but not with the enthusiasm it deserves.
So my burner can’t detect discs unless I boot into an old distro like Simply Mepis 12, periodically Plasma-Desktop or SeaMonkey will start maxing out the CPU (in Plasma’s case) or the hard drive (SeaMonkey) for seemingly  no reason until it’s killed, and I often come back after a few hours away to find the system totally unresponsive so that I have to forcibly shut the power off.  Worse, a few days ago it spontaneously stopped recognizing several USB devices I normally use regularly, and inexplicably overheated my much-loved Logitech MX620 mouse’s receiver enough to deform the plastic and seemingly fry the circuitry (given it’s no longer detected, either).There’s no way that Linux should be less user-friendly and more unstable than it was 13 years ago — it should be even more pleasurable to use, not more frustrating!  The only common element I can find is that all of the problems appear only when I’m in a systemd-based distro.  SimplyMepis 12, MX-14, and Debian Wheezy are fine as long as I don’t upgrade KDE beyond the point where plasma-desktop requires udisks2, which effectively converts a boatload of other packages to the systemd ‘version.’  Slackware also behaved itself perfectly, but that would require a lot more time/energy than I have.

I’ve seen systemd fans claim that we need it in order to attract “desktop users,” which seems like a rather empty claim.  Why would those new desktop users be more desirable than the existing horde?  If the assumption is that these non-technical desktop users aren’t enticed by the cool effects & stability like we were, why would systemd attract them?  For that matter, if relatively experienced desktop users like me are unable to handle the problems we run into with systemd, then how are a bunch of newbies going to?  How does it help Linux if users like me abandon it for Windows, BSD, or other alternatives because there are no user-friendly distros left that aren’t using systemd?

Unfortunately, a lot of people in the tech community seem to have a real problem with others criticizing or disliking anything that they happen to appreciate…but that’s really a topic for another blog post, especially as I need to get some sleep and post this before my computer has another meltdown.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *