Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 30/1/2006 My life in Linux is a mixed pleasure. Over the weekend, I downloaded a CD image during a search for some obscure files.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor

Monday 30/1/2006

My life in Linux is a mixed pleasure. Over the weekend, I downloaded a CD image during a search for some obscure files. What do you do with an ISO on Ubuntu? I know what to do with it in Windows — either burn it or mount it on a virtual drive. On Linux, though, I'm at sea.

Now, of course, it's obvious. Linux, like all grown-up operating systems, has very strong ideas about treating all things equally. Everything's a device or a file or however you want to look at it, so you just use the Mount command to make the file you downloaded a device with a CD format and off you go. I once knew that, twenty years ago, when I last tangled with Unix. Now, I'm poisoned with Windows — which doesn't really know much about anything, but usually likes to pretend otherwise.

So I go online and check what to do. "It's easy," says one forum poster. "Just use Daemon Tools to create a virtual CD." Oh, I know Daemontools — slightly naughty stuff that warez doodz use to get at ripped-off software, but with plenty of legit uses as well. Strangely, the Web site for the Linux version might as well have all its documentation written in Linear B — what on earth do these people have against vowels? — but I'm sure it'll Just Work.

My computer and I then go through the joys of recompilation, which is a bit like going to Halfords for a spare filler cap only to be pointed at a pile of sheet steel and a hydraulic press. There are then some truly masterfully oblique messages saying that I have to install something called "runit". If I must. And then, rather unusually, it suggests a reboot.

The next couple of hours are too painful to relate. Gone, the desktop. Gone, the login prompt. Gone, any hint about recovery. Towards the end of this my darkest period, I use my Windows machine to find a Spanish website that seems to mention Alt+F2 in conjunction with runit — which to my immense joy, provokes the machine to spit out a terse request to Login. It is then the work of no time at all, in geological terms, to work out how to get my desktop back and — if I don't mind a small sprinkling of peculiar errors — some kind of normal.

It turns out that the original poster who recommended Daemon Tools was talking out of his system dump. As mentioned, there is no need for virtual device software on Linux, thus no version of the famed Windows utility. There is a Daemontools, though, a wildly obscure piece of hackery that gives real wizards real wizardry control over system daemons, housekeeping processes that hover in the half-light between applications and operating system. To one such as I, that's about as useful — and dangerous — as a screwdriver made from weapons-grade plutonium.

Furthermore, it is obvious that anyone who has the knowledge to install such things (and completely mess up their system start-up in the process) is going to know how to remove them without the need for anything as plebeian as instructions. As they say in the Haynes manuals — replacement is the reversal of removal.

But I got my files, and I got to write a sermon on the Mount command. Life's nay so bad.

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