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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Thu, 13 Sep 2012

You know your Linux installation is getting a bit old and crusty when ...

While there's always a pack of geeks telling me how they've been running the same Debian system since Potato, I've found that most desktop systems under any kind of heavy use by those of us who do a lot of experimenting and install a lot of software don't last forever.

Or they won't last a long time without a great deal of maintenance and fixing mistakes made along the way.

My current, main Debian desktop system -- running on the Lenovo G555 laptop I bought in early 2010 -- has been in place since late 2010, after Fedora 13/14 died a quick yet painful death and I had a brief flirtation with Ubuntu 10.04. I started with Debian Squeeze while it was still the Testing distribution but well after the freeze that would lead it to becoming Stable the following February.

I upgraded to Wheezy -- the current Testing release that is now frozen -- with very little pain at all and am pretty happy with GNOME 3/Shell. I've installed Xfce for comparison's sake. I'm not using it much, preferring GNOME Shell even though it seems like I'm in some kind of silent minority and in threat of using my geek credibility because I not only don't hate the Shell but actually like it and find that it boosts my productivity on the desktop.

So here's the old and crusty part: You (really I) never know how much disk space you'll need when you set up a system. And since I chose to use Logical Volume Management with a couple of encrypted volumes, I really can't mess with them. Go ahead and send me links about how you shrink and expand LVM partitions. With encryption. It's just too hard. There's not enough real information out there. And for the non-super-geeks out there, attempts to modify encrypted LVM partitions are likely to go pear-shaped damn quickly.

Given the number of packages I've been installing lately, all the video I'm either editing or watching, and the general increase in data coming onto any desktop machine in heavy, all-day-and-night use, I'm running out of space. My 9.2 GB root partition -- which holds everything except for swap and /home -- had about 800 MB of free space yesterday. I went into Synaptic and removed a bunch of stuff. I now have 1.1 GB free in root. That's enough to keep breathing. For the moment.

I didn't get rid of any major apps, and I kept Xfce. I did get rid of the Google-built and -distributed Chrome Web browser, keeping Debian's build of Chromium. I really didn't need two browsers that are virtually the same.

My 183 GB /home partition (which is encrypted, as is my swap) had under 20 GB free. I managed to dump enough video and old production files I didn't need (I keep dated folders that I delete periodically) to now have 26 GB free.

Meanwhile I have 200 GB set aside for Windows 7 on this machine. I clearly don't need more than 50 GB. All I use Windows for is occasionally hacking at crap in Windows. And not very often. And watching Netflix. So I'm rarely in Win 7 at all. And I could use that 150 GB for my Linux system.

Again, it's way too hard to mess with encrypted LVM. If it were easier, there would be dozens of GREAT, UP-TO-DATE tutorials instead of a handful of incomplete, aging ones.

I thought LVM would somehow help me. Debian and Fedora push it pretty hard in their installers. But for my particular use case, I'm turning toward traditional partitioning with encrypted partitions when I need them. Fedora (and RHEL) make doing this much, much, much easier.

On another machine, I just did an install of the desktop-focused CentOS respin Stella -- the latter of which I like for its many extra desktop packages, codecs and other useful bits.

The way Fedora/Red Hat's Anaconda installer -- present, of course, in RHEL-derived CentOS -- lets you create any number of encrypted partitions with a single passphrase entered a single time is extremely helpful and refreshing.

The Debian installer makes any kind of encryption except for fully encrypted LVM (where you can't dual-boot) much, much, much more difficult.

Enough complaining, you think?

So I'm OK with the amount of disk space I have left on this Debian installation right now. But what I'd really like to do is have a system with 20 GB for the root partition and about 130 GB more for /home. As a temporary solution, I could use gParted to shrink Windows 7 where it stands, create a new partition outside of my LVM and use it as a place to dump video. I'm starting to like that option for the short term.

I'm coming up on two full years with this Debian system, and it's past time for me to reinstall it. I could return to Fedora, stick with Debian (and a fresh Wheezy), spend some time with Ubuntu (maybe the upcoming GNOME spin, maybe Xubuntu or even the Unity-based mainline distro) or even run Stella here. If I was in complete and total love with GNOME 2, Stella would be quite the port in a storm. But since I like GNOME 3, that's not so compelling.

I could and probably will let things ride. Especially with my "shrink Windows now" idea. I can do any number of test installs on my other machines, but my main laptop is something that needs to work, and the fact is that setting up all the little things on my daily machine takes a long time, and I'm avoiding it.

Since everything is working as well as I can expect in this particular Debian Wheezy system, it's hard to muster up the desire to actually mess with it. Know the feeling?