(This is one of those posts written in anger and self-pity, so feel free to skip.)
The other day I got my grubby hands on a new netbook… an Asus 1018P. I have been planning (yet another) Secret Project for a while, and it requires a Linux that runs in text mode. It seemed like a good idea to have a small, dedicated machine for this.
It originally came with Windows 7 Starter, which is basically useless. But, since it has a 250 Gb hard drive, I optimistically figured, that I could run multiple operating systems on it. For example, keep Windows 7, then Ubuntu 11.04 desktop, Ubuntu 11.04 in text mode, and something experimental, e.g. Haiku.
Ubuntu 11.04 desktop edition installed and worked fine. Then the trouble began. Installing another Ubuntu in text mode did work as well, except it refused to boot up. So I could boot into Windows, or Ubuntu with GUI, but not the text mode Ubuntu. It would just sit there with a blinking cursor, doing nothing.
Haiku wasn’t a success either; it didn’t recognize the widescreen, so it looked silly, and after installation it didn’t show up in the boot menu. Apparently there are fixes for this, but since it wasn’t my #1 priority, I decided to skip it.
So, new plan: instead of Ubuntu I would install Linux Mint 11 for the desktop, and Gentoo for the text mode version. Ugh. Linux Mint wouldn’t even boot properly from the CD. It would show some text and then just stop. No installation at all. Gentoo did a better job, I worked through the manual step by step, until I somehow ran into a compilation error while building the kernel (something to do with firmware, I should have written it down). Trying it again, I got a different error, more cryptical. In any case, it refused to compile. I tried to do manual config instead of using genkernel; then it didn’t even boot.
At this point I was ready to just use the whole hard drive for one operating system instead of juggling several. Tried Debian next; that was even more fun, since its installer somehow didn’t recognize the CD-ROM (yes, the same CD-ROM that it was booting from). Ubuntu Server does the same thing, by the way.
OK, so four days later, I still don’t have a text-mode Linux installed. I really don’t understand why it’s giving me such a hard time. The machine itself seems fine. But I didn’t really expect to have so much trouble installing Linux in 2011.
At least I’m not running out of options; there’s still Arch Linux, Red Hat, Mandriva, Slackware, SUSE, … :-) And then there’s the BSDs… I’m not married to a specific OS, I just wanted to pick something that was actively developed and easy to install. Yeah, so much for that.
Maybe I’ll try Gentoo again sometime and report the error… or maybe I’ll get lucky and a new version will be out soon, that happens to fix the problem.
My Secret Project is not off to a good start, though. Step 1 would be, “install a Linux in text mode”… if it’s this hard, I will never get anybody else to use the project. :-/
Anyway, if you know of a Linux that does flourish in text mode, even on obscure netbooks, feel free to leave a comment.
Update #1: More failures from Haiku alpha 3 (gets past the intro screen, then does nothing) and Dragonfly BSD (is installed but some daemon is messed up, and I don’t know how to fix it, which admittedly isn’t Dragonfly’s fault, but still). I should probably take a break and then try what the comments below suggested; I can install e.g. Ubuntu with GUI, then play with the runlevel. I do wish Gentoo worked though… maybe I can do the same with its live CD?
Update #2 (more of a side note actually): As it turns out, in situations like this. it’s very useful to have a little stack of CD-RWs laying around. :) The OS doesn’t install or just plain sucks? No problem, wipe it off the CD and install a new ISO.
Update #3. I’m giving up. This should be the simplest thing to do… install a Linux and be greeted by a 80×25 text mode screen after booting. You know, like we did 20 years ago? And for some reason I just can’t get it done. Resolution is wrong, system won’t boot in runlevel 3… and that is just for the few Linux versions that can be properly installed at all on this thing. I’ve wasted a week on this, I think that’s enough.