Thursday 29 October 2009

Ubuntu 9.10: First Impressions - The Good, The Bad and the Ugly?

Ubuntu 9.10 (codenamed Karmic Koala) is now available to download, and I've installed it on a fresh hard drive in my HP6120 laptop. So, what's it like?

The Good

The new boot screens that use Xsplash instead of Usplash make the boot process quick (helped by the now default ext4 filesystem) and looks great, with a lot less messy text, it's very smooth. It also now uses Grub2 on fresh installations. The new Humanity theme on Gnome 2.28, is the most obvious improvement on previous releases. This time round I didn't immediately switch to Clearlooks or any of the other themes as the default theme actually looks much better. It has a lot less ugly brownness! The Disk Utility is neat new little feature, which shows hard drive info including SMART status which is rather handy. It's also good to have the (almost) latest version (3.5.3) of Firefox as default browser, hopefully it will be upgraded to 3.5.4 soon. Update: the latest Firefox has now been added to the Ubuntu repos.

The Bad

I think the new Ubuntu Software Centre which replaces Add and Remove Software is an interesting idea, especially for beginners but I felt it seemed more difficult to quickly find programs, or maybe it's because I much prefer Synaptic which is thankfully still in the Administration menu. The new GDM for 9.10 is now very limited, you cannot change it's theme without resorting to hacks, and although it has made boot-up seem faster, it seems to take longer to get from login to desktop than it used to.

Empathy is now the default messenger client, which I think needs more work. My main annoyance was I was unable to get the Facebook plugin to work properly, and there were lots of connection errors. I still prefer pidgin which i am glad you can still install from the repositories.

Another piece of software that is 'almost but not quite there' is Ubuntu one which is similar to other file sync services such as Dropbox, and is now installed by default. Unfortunately it is still unable to connect with the server at the moment, only coming up with an error message. Incidentally I do really like the new libnotify notifications, they look even better now, and are slightly lower on the screen than before. Another disappointment is I'm stuck with the latest feature-lacking version of Exaile. Update : Just received an Ubuntu-One client update and it is now connecting fine. (07:52 GMT) Update 2:

The Ugly?

Well there isn't much ugly in this version of Ubuntu, as it features a much more appealing look. The default theme is more orange than brown, and nautilus looks cleaner this time too. I'm not too keen on the new login theme either, it is dark yucky brown and you cannot easily change it's theme, plus it is more insecure to have your username shhow up at the login screen as it is one less thing for someone to guess.You should be able to change that behaviour by using gconf-editor and go through /apps/gdm/simple-greeter/ and select disable_user_list but I have not got it to work yet.


Well this release sees some interesting changes, and overall it feels like an improvement over 9.0.4. It boots quick and looks great, Ubuntu just keeps getting better and better. The next release, 10.04, will be a Long Term Service release. It will be interesting to see, as i will probably upgrade my servers then, which still run the last LTS - 8.0.4. You can upgrade from LTS to LTS but you can't upgrade from 8.0.4 straight to 9.10, you have to upgrade to 8.10 and 9.0.4 then 9.10.

*The Release notes to Karmic show that you can now more easily re-enable the CTRL ALT Backspace for restarting X action, also other bugs and solutions. I would also suggest using ext4 only for the root filesystem for the time being due to large-filesize bugs.

Friday 9 October 2009

Ubuntu 9.0.4 Reinstallation On HP 6120

I've just had to reinstall Ubuntu on my HP 6120 Laptop, due to the graphics messing up - I was using Intel beta graphics drivers, so I guess the latest ones don't like my 915 chipset much. Consequently I was left with unusable graphics. Thankfully, it doesn't take too long to get a fresh Ubuntu installation back to how I want it.


Firstly I logged in, in safe-graphics mode and backed up my photos, some downloads, documents and my settings, over ftp to my desktop. I backed up the hidden folders for Firefox, and Pidgin which are ".mozilla" and ".purple". After reinstallation I simply copied these back into the new home directory. I used Evolution's own backup/restore function to get my email sorted. I should also say that you could also use a seperate /home partition but this time I wanted as little detritus from the previous install as possible. Also If you upgrade to a new version of Ubuntu, you may get config problems. If you can't boot into the old install you can copy everything over using the Ubuntu livecd.

Fresh Desktop

After the reinstall i was welcomed by a clean, very brown, Ubuntu desktop. This I just have to change! I reinstalled Clear-Blue theme and Human-Azul icons. I also installed wallpaper-tray, a utility that switches wallpapers at preset times, from Synaptic. I then installed Dropbox and pointed wallpaper-tray to my wallpaper folder in the Dropbox folder. For extra eye-candy I installed the Compiz advanced settings tool, I need my wobbly windows and spinning cube!

Essential Programs and Multimedia

For playing all the usual codecs and for some other stuff not included in the default repositories, the easiest solution is Medibuntu. I added the repository (link is to the howto) and installed 'non-free-codecs', 'libdvdcss2' (for encrypted DVD playing), Skype and Google Earth. Make sure to agree to the Google license agreement, otherwise installation will fail.

I installed Avidemux For video editing and to transcode downloaded youtube FLV videos, and Deluge for torrents (Linux distros mostly). I prefer Deluge to Transmission, the default client in Ubuntu as I find it easier to use. For playing videos and streaming video/audio I use VLC media player, it is one of the best players around. All three are cross-platform, running on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Hardware Monitoring

For keeping an eye on my laptops temperature and performance I always install smartmontools, lm-sensors, xsensors, and xsysinfo and they're corresponding applets which can all be found in the Ubuntu repos. For extra configuration I install Webmin, which is good for remote admin too. Do 'sudo sensors-detect' in a terminal (and press return a few times to answer the questions) to configure lm-sensors then reboot to get it working. Another good admin tool is phpsysinfo which gives a nice run down of your hardware in a webpage, a good alternative to Belarc Advisor on Windows. Of course, not for the command-line-phobic, ssh is the daddy of remote access - 'sudo aptitude install ssh'. I also installed the old Gnome network manager, 'gnome-network-admin' as i prefer it to the new one, especially for static connections.

Also of course, I installed the Facebook Pidgin plugin and Swiftfox, both of which I've blogged about before. And that's about it for the moment, last thing I installed was the Sun java plugin 'sun-java-jre', everything else I'll probably install as I need them.

Update 19/03/11

I have since replaced this laptop with another HP6120, (this time a slight upgrade 1.8Ghz, from 1.6Ghz) and I have been running Ubuntu 10.0.4 for quite awhile and is my favourite of my laptops due to it's nice 15 inch screen and keyboard.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Powered by Ubuntu

My "Powered by Ubuntu" stickers arrived today!

A few weeks back, I sent off for them from the System76 website. You can download them from the Free Software Stickers book and print them yourself, but of course you need the right self-adhesive paper and reasonable printer, so it's easier to get these guys to do it for you for free! They are ideal for replacing those Designed for Windows stickers most PCs/laptops come with. I have put the first sticker on my home-built desktop machine.


Friday 2 October 2009

How Dropbox Works (video)

I find Dropbox very useful for syncing config files, wallpapers and sharing files with friends. You get 2GB of free storage and can get more through referals. I've found I don't use my memory sticks as much for smaller files. I like that it's cross-platform (Linux/Mac/Windows). There are other similar programs like Syncplicity (Windows only) and Foldershare (Windows/Mac, now owned by Microsoft) that aren't completely cross-platform. For Linux, there's also Ubuntu One which I have yet to try, but it is limited to Ubuntu 9.0.4 and above at the moment only. Anyway this video explains how Dropbox works in a nice simple way, ideal for encouraging friends to join up. :D

Update: Having tried Ubuntu One, it's similar to Dropbox, though it would be nice if it had similar icons to show what files are updating etc, and a distinctive Ubuntu One folder icon. Although you can of course add your own emblems (Edit --> Backgrounds and Emblems in Nautilus) I'll let you know how I get on with it, when I've tested it thoroughly. Also of course it would be great if it was not restricted to Ubuntu, though you can upload/download files through the web interface, but it is not as intuitive as Dropbox's.

Update 2: I've been tryomg out Ubuntu One a bit more, it's ok when it works but at the moment all i get is an icon with an ominous 'X' on it, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't, maybe it will improve for upcoming Karmic koala, which is not long now.