Desktop Linux Is a Pain For All The Wrong Reasons

For no reason other than curious boredom, I decided to install Linux on my desktop PC today. I don’t think my PC is anything too remarkable, it has a Ryzen 5 CPU, some RAM, an NVMe SSD and a GPU made by NVIDIA. To make the task as simple as possible, I have put a SATA 500GB hard disk in the machine, Linux is going on that.

This also isn’t my first time installing Linux, I have it on a server downstairs and have been using an installation of linux on various computers since somewhere in the mid 90s. It’s not my first day on the job, as the saying goes.

Normally I put Ubuntu Server on machines, but after remembering the horrors of the Ubuntu desktop and its pretty nasty user interface, I had a look around at alternatives. Here’s what happened…

Distro 1 MX Linux

This looked promising, being based off Debian and having a bit of an interesting XFCE based desktop.

It wouldn’t install the bootloader. I’m not overwriting my Windows 10 installation, which lives on the NVMe drive, I just want to install Linux on its own 500 gig hard drive. The installer didn’t like this concept, refusing to partition the drive.

Distro 2 - Xubuntu

This was more promising, the installer worked and I could boot between Windows 10 and Linux with no issues.

There was some annoying DNS cache thing installed though, which wanted to set the PC’s DNS server to 127.0.0.53, but then not actually run anything there to handle DNS requests. Yep, my freshly installed machine couldn’t do DNS lookups… Fresh out the installer… I’d not even got around to poking at it or anything.

I bodged this by hand to continue with the setup, maybe there’s a thing I can google to fix it (there might be, but it’s all confusing and more effort than I can be bothered putting in. I don’t want to be fixing DNS resolvers, I want to be using the machine).

Then I noticed moving windows had a pretty awful looking tearing happening when scrolling or moving. I found some instructions on how to install the NVIDIA drivers, then some more that told me to force using something called a compositor to happen. That fixed it. But not permanently, the NVIDIA config tool wouldn’t save any settings, and needed loading up every time I logged in. Sure, there’s a command line switch you can pass to the NVIDIA settings program to do this on a login script, but it didn’t work for me. Also X kept forgetting what screens I had, and where they were. Even Windows has stopped doing that, finally.

So yeah, can’t reliably resolve DNS and forgets monitor settings. Nice!

Distro 3 - Debian

Just plain old Debian. Plain old Debian is currently telling me “Executing ‘grub-install dummy’ failed” and that this is a fatal error. Lovely. This one doesn’t want to install the bootloader either.

Why is this stuff so hard? I’m not doing anything exotic here. I write the ISO to a USB stick, I boot the USB stick, the installer fails or basic parts of system functionality don’t work. And why can I not find any help that makes sense? There’s a lot of non-useful “help” out there that’s outdated or plain wrong. Of course you don’t find that out until editing config files, rebooting and going “well that didn’t fix it”.

Not that anything should need fixing.

Well, I’m off to try and fix this Debian install then. If it doesn’t work I might be researching how to remove Grub from a UEFI bootloader so I can undo all this mess. It’s probably something obscure that’s wrong with my PC.

(future me here… it is, I fixed it, I’ll tell you how next time)

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