Mike’s Linux Desktop Experiences

March 13, 2008

Playing an AVI

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Mike @ 7:11 am

Okay. I did some flirting with the dark side again.

Somebody told me that I should see the film “Wickerman” but under no circumstances should I pay for it to contribute to the rottenness and depravity that is the film. It would be unethical, so I was directed to leech it through a torrent.

So, I leeched a nice 700MB AVI through a Torrent.

To play the AVI, I had a problem. There was a luminous multihued ghost image appearing on screen. I tried to manually adjust the video modes, but regardless of the app or the mode either it would show me nothing but a small rectangle of a letterbox in the middle of my screen, it would show me an image with a luminous multihued ghost image a few inches off to the left, or it would play back so slowly and unstable, that it was absurd. To top it all off, the audio would also play with that weird crackle or snap every minute or so.

I was frustrated. Very frustrated. I didn’t want to spend the night hacking with my machine, I just wanted to watch the fricking film so that I could see the horror which is a bad film.

So here’s how I watched the film. Something Linux just was utterly unable to do for me:

  1. I copied the film to a USB key
  2. I plugged the USB key into my circa 2002 X24 laptop
  3. I plugged the 24″ monitor into my circa 2002 X24 laptop
  4. I plugged my USB speakers into my circa 2002 X24 laptop
  5. I installed Virtualdub, by clicking, downloading and running it

The machine doesn’t do USB 2.0 (it’s too old!), so I didn’t want to wait for it to copy back to the little notebook.

To top it off, when Linux copied the film TO the USB key, it didn’t close the device. Yeah, I was frustrated, but even after the LED on the drive stopped flashing, I was surprised that it didn’t actively try to sync removable devices. Maybe Windows does it by eliminating or continuously flushing the write cache. A write cache on a device which wasn’t around at boot time like that is a bit silly. It didn’t warn me about “unsafe device removal” nor did it offer a method obvious to me to flush the cache. The closest I could find was to right-click the drive icon and unmount it. I had to wait a fair while after the copying “completed” to be able to unmount it without a nebulous “this is in use” error.

Anyway. No word of a lie. Windows automatically set the USB speakers to my default, automatically set up mixing, automatically detected and started using my external monitor, warned me that I was using a USB 1.1 port for a 4GB USB key, and allowed me to install and run Virtualdub, all without even thinking about asking me to reboot.

The video played flawlessly right from the key. Flawlessly. Simultaneously driving a pair of USB speakers and reading the video driectly from the flash key. This machine has 1/4 the computing power, 1/100th the video computing power, yet it completely floored my modern Linux box for ease of use and performance.

I won’t conclude that Linux itself is crap. None of this has anything to do with anything I use Linux for on a regular basis professionally. As a server OS, it is awesome. As a server OS, you don’t touch ATI drivers, you don’t touch USB speakers, plug and play is not an issue, audio mixing is not an issue. You want simple, stable and reproducable. While Package managemnt and stupid config scripts have challenged that, for the mostpart, Linux still kicks ass there.

However, for the desktop, I’m deeply disappointed.



  1. Interesting.

    All the desktop-distributions I know of (fedora, ubuntu, opensuse) automount usb sticks (especially vfat formatted ones)
    with the flush or sync options which makes sure that the device is as safe to remove as it is on windows.

    Which distro and version is this?

    Comment by killefiz — March 13, 2008 @ 9:55 am | Reply

  2. It’s Ubuntu 7.10, I’ll check out the mount options to see if something weird is going on. It might make for an interesting experiment.


    Comment by Mr. Mike — March 13, 2008 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

  3. Note you were using Virtualdub (which is open source) and torrent to download the file (open source + open std)

    Comment by Anthony — July 20, 2008 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

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