Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Linux for Robotics Hobbyists

A year ago I decided to migrate to Linux Mint. The first few weeks were frustrating but I finally overcame. I've made Linux my primary OS for robotics.

It's very fast, it can virtually everything I need it to do. And it's free. Here's how you can make Linux a great platform for robotics design and development.

Here's what I'm using for programming, design, blogging, etc.
  • Eagle for circuit design (no change)
  • gerbv to view Gerbers (review here)
  • Geany as a lite, syntax-aware editor (like Notepad++)
  • Eclipse with AVR and ARM plug-ins; no debugging yet
  • LPCXpresso (Eclipse) Code Red environment runs on Linux, too
  • Meld is a nice replacement for Winmerge
  • Back In Time for Time Machine style backups
  • Sketchup within Wine. I had refresh problems, but found a workaround
  • LibreOffice (I had been using OpenOffice, so no major change)
  • I now use git and svn from the command line (was: RabbitVCS)
  • I gave in and use minicom for terminal emulation and party like it's 1989
  • I have TeraTerm but still mostly use minicom.
  • Thunderbird for mail: love/hate relationship but it mostly works
  • I download photos from the camera with Shotwell
  • I organize/share photos with digiKam
  • Gimp image editing (no change)
  • Screenshots for screenshots 
  • LTSpice IV runs in Wine beautifully
  • Arduino IDE both custom install and APT package install
  • Google Earth (no change)
  • Banshee for music though mostly Pandora
  • Brasero to burn discs
  • Chrome (no change), requires a hack to work on eBay
  • I had to write a script called from .xprofile to slow down my generic mouse
I can't run everything but Windows 7 runs beautifully in Oracle VirtualBox:
  • Prop Tool
  • stamps.com client
  • AVR/Atmel Studio
  • Visual Studio for .NETMF (GHI's FEZ Cerb 40)
Linux is significantly faster than the 32-bit Vista copy I had available (duh). On this mild quad core AMD64 it is so blazing fast I can barely stand to use my fairly new work computer let alone my elderly MacBook.

Speaking of which, trying to emulate an Apple TimeCapsule for my Mac systems is unreliable and leads to grief and sorrow. Just don't.

One thing I'm not so crazy about is that Mint's approach for system upgrades is to do a wipe and clean install. In place upgrades aren't really supported or recommended. I'm still looking for an easy way to somehow restore packages to the new version. Thoughts?

While Linux has some unpolished edges, mostly it's downright pleasurable to use. I actually look forward to using it. I haven't said that about an OS in ages.
 Picking a popular, established distro is a good idea since you can easily find support for almost all the problems you're likely to encounter.

About the only things I really miss from Windows are Picasa and iTunes. But digiKam is pretty good and I'll likely migrate my tunes to Banshee.

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