So this of course led me to consider Linux.
I used to use Linux quite a long time ago now. I tried various distros back them just to experiment with them but ultimately settled on SUSE Linux. I ran with it for a year but eventually returned to Windows because gaming with WINE, WINEX and the very rare native port just didn't cut it for me. I also felt at the time, running a KDE desktop who's old version I now forget was a pile of software in various stages of beta and even alpha. While I was certainly a Microsoft hater then (still am) I couldn't take it anymore and went back to Windows where gaming and basic office and Web tasks just worked without a lot of hassle generally speaking.
I should add that I have background in software development and did development in a cross platform environment of UNIX and NT at the time. So I am comfortable with making a switch to Linux for the backup system I'd like to setup even if I am extremely rusty and behind the times on all things Linux.
I should tell you just what I'd like to be able to use this laptop for, which is several years old and sports an AMD dual core and some sort of Nvidia onboard graphics chip. I haven't been able to examine the system more closely for lack of a stable environment to do so in just yet. Anyway, I would really like for this machine which will live on its own little desk in my bedroom here to function as a backup if my primary desktop PC is down for some reason and I would like on rare occasions to take it with me on trips.
I do not need much for software really. I doubt I'll need productivity apps but LibreOffice will be nice to have around just in case. I'd mostly want Web browsing and my email (Gmail) is browser based so that is simple enough. Firefox or Chrome would do nicely, whichever is more stable in Linux. I do lean towards Chrome having used it in Windows. The bookmark sync feature would be very handy with more than one machine too although I guess Firefox now sports this feature as well. Any opinions on which browser I'd be best served by?
I don't care about the bazillion other apps for Linux. Other than Web browsing and email I would like to set this PC up for some gaming. I believe DOSBox is available for Linux so it would be sweet to get that and setup some GOGs with it such as Heroes of Might and Magic, Ultima VII, Ultima Underworld, etc. For Windows games I'm willing to give WINE a shot again and see how that goes with games reported on WINEDB to run well out of the box. I don't feel like screwing around and tinkering constantly just to try and beat stuff into submission. It looks like there is plenty that runs well and I already have them, such as StarCraft, Warcraft III and various others. All told, if I can get the stuff mentioned here running that is a great assortment of gaming for this PC which is purely a secondary machine anyway.
Please forgive the wall of text but I wanted to explain what I am doing and why with Linux. I can't see blowing over 100 bucks to put Win7 on this machine when Linux should do just fine but and here is what prompted this thread to begin with, this depends on Linux being one hell of a lot better than I remember it and so far Ubuntu has not exactly impressed me. Read on for my Ubuntu tale of woe.
I go to the Ubuntu site, do some reading, download and burn the ISO for the latest stable release with Unity, etc. choosing the Live CD option so I can test it out before installing. I boot this up on the laptop and all goes well. It recognizes all my devices and I am impressed by the fact that they include and offer to install a proprietary driver for my broadcom wireless card so I can connect to the net. Very nice.
Too bad my good first impression was so short lived thanks to the abortion that is Unity. I've never seen Linux crash before but Ubuntu has managed via Unity to make this a frequent problem. Of course, underneath this ugliness Linux isn't crashing at all but the damned Unity UI is and once it does it is impossible to even access a terminal window or any hotkeys to kill the sob and start over. I could not figure out how to get control of this system and had to shut it off and try again. Not cool at all.
First run I am just poking around trying to familiarize myself with the ugliness that is the Unity UI and in particular it's left sided toolbar, applauncher, whatever. So I start some apps. I open a sample data folder and double click a media file. The song begins playing, skipping as it goes along. I click the "X" in the upper left corner of the window to close it but this does not bring the expected and desired result. The program disappears from view but the music keeps skipping along annoying the hell out of me. I eventually figure out how to find and close this malfunctioning program and try it again being a glutton for punishment. This time it hangs, well Unity hangs actually and I am unable to get control of the system. On the desktop PC I research Ubuntu Unity hotkeys and try a number of them but no joy, no terminal, no nothing. I shut the machine off to try again.
Second boot, I am treated to an error message about some gconf something or other program crashing and asking if I would like to try again, etc. I opt to terminate and move on. I am not impressed by this obviously. The system quickly comes up otherwise and I continue poking around in Unity, just having a look at what apps are setup by default and running some of them. I find the Solitaire game and decide to take a little break and play a round or two. This is really great. Whilst moving a stack of cards by clicking and dragging as you might expect, to another stack - Unity hangs completely again. I can click all over the screen including on Unity's top menus, etc. but no joy. No hotkeys work of course. I shut off the PC to try yet again. I really should have stopped wasting time here but I was curious about how the leading Linux distro in its default presentation could be this bad.
Boot numero 3 goes well without errors. I open six or seven random apps along with the Ubuntu help system, just to do it. I was actually interested in reading the help to find out if there was some way I could configure that ugly launcher on the left to look a little better and hopefully live at the bottom of the screen but no! While I was trying to find this info in the help system, Unity hung again.
I'm done! Ubuntu's default install fails. Wow. I am very, very surprised by this. No wonder people hate Unity. I can see why. Not only is it poorly designed in terms of its potential to confuse the user who wants to accomplish simple tasks but it is so unstable it is being generous to call it beta software. There is nothing particularly exotic about a relatively recent HP laptop PC that it should have been failing as I saw it fail.
So the question is guys, where to from here? I am going to blame Unity for all this badness and not rule out Ubuntu which was probably fine until they grafted this shit on top of it. Maybe I should give Kunbuntu a spin? Hell, maybe I should check out how SUSE is these days! lol
I personally think Gnome is and has always been ugly. So I think I'd rather use KDE anyway. The other option I am thinking about is giving Mint's KDE flavor a shot. I had a Live CD I'd burned a while back, maybe a year ago of Mint. I think the version was 10.x. I forget now but I did try that on this machine just for the hell of it and it booted up fine but when it came time to offer me a driver for the broadcom wireless adapter, it stupidly attempted to fetch it from a repository on the net. Not exactly a smart solution for what is of course going to be an install issue. I need the driver to get the driver? This is the kind of shit that has always held Linux back.
I know I just wrote a book here and if you actually got this far I really thank you for taking the time to read it and offer any sage advice or suggestions you might have for me keeping in mind how I want to use the PC. This reminds me a lot of driving a car. I know how to fix cars but I don't want to do that anymore. I just want to get in, turn the key and drive somewhere. This is how I feel about using Linux on this box. I don't want it to become some nerd project of experimentation and discovery. I want a turnkey solution so I just use the thing for my simple purposes.
TL:DR - I don't blame you! Ubuntu Linux with the Unity UI royally sucked on my HP laptop PC. It crashed constantly and I consider it shit and ugly to boot. That said, I am seeking and open to suggestions for a SIMPLE Linux solution for this PC which is to be used for Web surfing and older games, such as GOG DOSBox games, Starcraft and Warcraft III with WINE, etc. Thanks!