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May 6, 2008

Filed under: tech»os

Check the Content

I downloaded four or five Linux CDs and/or VM images this weekend, since I needed to use RealPlayer without installing it on my Thinkpad. Turns out that Real's software is also terrible on *nix. I know, I was surprised too.

Every time that I download a Linux installer for my old laptop, it's a herculean task to get it working right. Some of this may be due to the age of the laptop that gets used for these kinds of disposable projects--it's almost ten years old now, and I'm sure it has issues. But it's not like I've ever had any problems getting it to read a Windows install CD during those ten years, despite reinstalling the OS three or four times for various reasons. Advocates sometimes ask what Linux would have to do to impress me--"create a reliable boot disk" does not seem to be too much to ask.

What always cracks me up about this process is the information that the community does provide for reliability--the MD5 checksum, which validates the download file itself. Now, perhaps I simply live in a sheltered world of unmangled connections, but I honestly cannot remember the last time that the file I downloaded was corrupted or different from what I expected to get--this was, I was under the impression, the entire point of the HTTP protocol. Sure enough, when I bothered to check, the disks that didn't work were burned from an ISO with a valid checksum--and moreover, they eventually did work, sometimes with the same CD that had failed not an hour before.

Look, don't get me wrong--Ubuntu's come a long way even just since the last time I tried it, and clearly these things are working for someone. But the MD5 thing is still pretty funny. It's like someone shipping you a package and then insisting that what's inside will work because they've got a receipt from UPS.

Me, I've given up on the whole live CD/spare laptop thing, and I'm going to go with virtual machines instead. It's a lot tidier, a lot less frustrating, and with machines as powerful as they are nowadays, actually faster than trying to load even the most frugal modern OS onto my spare laptop.

Future - Present - Past