Like many acolytes in the Temple of the Mighty Penguin, I had my first successful Linux experience with Ubuntu. (It was 7.04. I still have the disk.) I was generally satisfied with Ubuntu, but had some trouble with WiFi, looked for alternatives, enjoyed the exploratory nature of distrohopping, and sometime in 2009 I made my way over to Arch Linux. I liked Arch Linux. I liked commencing a hardworking, creative day with startx. I liked trying to keep up with the new stuff that populated the repos daily, almost hourly. But one day, I ran the pacman -Syu command, which is something like the conary updateall command I waxed hysterical about in a previous post. After that, my Work Computer didn’t work.
It was a strange confluence of events, and I never quite figured it out. As best as I was able to deduce later on, Arch fed me a kernel with a regression in which support for some aging Intel video cards went lacking. This wasn’t something you could fix with a modprobe, either—well, maybe you could, because you’re smart, but I couldn’t, because the screen was totally blank, and I’m not that smart. (I did manage to use the MS-DOS copy command to get a bunch of files from an AT&T 6300—the one with an 8086 processor—onto 5-¼” floppy discs when the video card died, but that’s different from running a modprobe.) Complicating matters was the fact that X.org had just moved on to its 1.7 series, and at first I was inclined to blame the X server.
Anyway, that computer with the primitive Intel video card (it was made by Advanced Digital Logic) was important to my existence. My wife is disabled with a complicated form of nerve damage, and she is extremely sensitive to the noises that moving parts in computers make. The ADL computer didn’t have any moving parts; it was fanless and absolutely silent, and therefore I could camp out in the living room and work (I had a work-from-home job for an academic publisher, but my full-time job was and is looking after my wife). It was also low-powered, with a 1.4 GHz Pentium M chip and a whopping 512 MB of memory. In other words, it was an excellent Linux box.
I could have reinstalled Arch and figured out how to lock pacman into not updating the X server. But, really, I no longer trusted Arch. That might not have been rational, or fair to Arch, but it was the way I felt. (Arch’s documentation is second to none, but the Arch community doesn’t remind me of friendly puppies and teddy bears.) Yeah, I’m a hobbyist and a Linux adventurer, but I have responsibilities, too, capisce? I wasn’t going back to Arch, and I sure wasn’t going to reinstall Windows™, so I got a bunch of distros on CD and tried them, one after the next; some gave me an unacceptably low-resolution display, and more didn’t work at all.
Then, as I was running out of hope, I tried Mandriva. Mandriva 2010 was fairly new at the time (all this happened in November 2009, or maybe December), but it still had X.org 1.6. It also probably had some nice patches in the kernel, or a more proven kernel, or something; as I was to learn, Mandriva’s hardware support was remarkable. But at the time I understood less about Linux than I do now, especially things like kernel mods (which I’m still not exactly well-versed in) and I couldn’t make sense out of all the various information that was coming my way. Anyway, Mandriva worked perfectly on the Work Computer, and basically kept me in business.