Friday, February 05, 2010

Desktop dictators

Although I don't use Linux on my shack computer - mainly because Windows has all the best apps - Olga and I both use it on the computers we use for business, both for its stability and its freedom from malware hassles. However, the version we were using (Xandros Desktop) was very old and does not appear to be receiving any updates. This was causing us a few problems, mainly due to being stuck on Firefox 2.0 with similarly outdated versions of Flash. So it was time for an update.

I decided to go for Linux Mint. It is a distribution based on the very popular Ubuntu, but it comes with the multimedia plug-ins (such as Flash for the web browser) already installed. This is an important benefit for those of us who want to be Linux users rather than Linux hackers, because installing plug-ins such as Flash under isn't the one-click job it usually is under Windows (at least, it wasn't under Xandros.)

Installation was pretty straightforward, if still not quite as trouble-free as installing Windows usually is. On Olga's laptop a bit of jiggery pokery was required to get the wireless network drivers installed. And on mine the "live" installation CD had to be run in compatibility mode which presumably resulted in a VESA display driver being used, restricting the screen size to 800 x 600. Fixing that involved deleting one line from an obscure configuration file, a solution I found after some time spent Googling. On Windows it could have been done through the graphical interface.

Having got the new version up and running, I find that I can't store files, or at least see them, on the desktop. Because Xandros Linux was based on KDE, I chose the KDE community edition of Linux Mint which I thought would involve fewer changes than the standard version which like Ubuntu uses the Gnome graphical environment. KDE has now reached version 4.1 and apparently one of the "features" of this version is that you can no longer have icons on the desktop. I started searching for a way to enable desktop icons and came across this post, apparently from the Linux hacker who removed the support. You can still put files and icons on the desktop, but you can only see them using a little pop-up folder view applet.

Because someone has a bee in his bonnet about desktop icons, they get removed - tough if you don't like it. I often gripe about Microsoft changing things in new versions of Windows for no good reason. Clearly Linux is no different.
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