Early adventures with Ubuntu

I’ve been thinking about switching from Fedora to Ubuntu. I downloaded the latest Ubuntu version a few weeks ago. Today I took the plunge and booted it up.

First thing I noticed, no wireless networks. It detected my card and it seemed to work, but no networks were listed by NetworkManager. I unplugged the power and went through to the living room to plug in with a good old fashioned ethernet cable. Fairly quickly I found a solution. So back to my desk on wireless.

Appearance

At first glance, Ubuntu is just not as pretty as Fedora. The graphics seemed a bit too Windows 3.1 for me. I switched to one of the other included themes. It was a bit better. I think I’d have to hunt around for a nicer Ubuntu theme. Personally, I think this is a big failure for Ubuntu. In aiming to bring free software to everyone, appearance matters.

For a Windows user, comparing Windows Vista with Ubuntu 8.04, I think Vista wins on appearance. For many users, that’s an important factor. Personally, it’s not a deal breaker, but I will do something about it.

Installing software

The package manager in Ubuntu is streets ahead of Fedora. Straight away it just works. It feels nice and clean. It tells you the expected download time until all your packages have downloaded. It strikes a great balance between the fine grained control I get with yumex and the simple interface of the default Fedora package manager. Thumbs up for Ubuntu.

Proprietary formats

Playing MP3 files, avi files, or any other non-free format is a little tricky on Linux. You need to install software which can be “questionable” in terms of it’s copyright position. Fedora gets round this problem by not shipping any of that software. Instead you grab that stuff from livna. However, livna is not installed by default. You have to manually add it yourself.

In Ubuntu, I tried to play an MP3 file. It asked if I’d like to search for the codecs. Then it warned me that I was installing software from the Ubuntu community. A minute or so later, the song started playing. Whatever magic happens behind the scenes in Ubuntu happens automatically. A big plus for Ubuntu, particularly for new users.

Installation

By default, Ubuntu boots in Live CD mode. So no changes are made to your hard drive. It’s a great option for new users. You can test the operating system. Check all your hardware works. Then choose to install if you want to. It was at this point that Ubuntu crashed. I’m not sure what went wrong. I could move the mouse, and the clock was ticking, but nothing else. I tried a ctrl-alt-backspace to restart X, no luck.

Ironically, I was proceeding with the install when it crashed. Now I’ve booted back to Fedora. I’m still swaying on whether to try Fedora 9 or not. If I do go with Fedora 9, I almost certainly won’t switch to Ubuntu. In Ubuntu’s favour, I already have the CD. I’ll have to go to the local library to download Fedora 9. That might end up being the deciding factor! πŸ™‚

Conclusion

I recommend Ubuntu to anyone interested in trying Linux. I think they work really hard to make it easy to use, and largely succeed. Personally, being fairly experienced with Linux, I don’t think there will be much difference. Package managing is better in Ubuntu. TrueCrypt ships .debs and not .rpms, so that’s a bonus. I’m just not sure if it will be worth the effort of switching.

For new users, Ubuntu is great. Personally, time will tell.

Evolution Attachments

The latest version of Evolution (the email / calendar / contact application for Linux) has introduced an absolutely awesome feature. I just clicked “Send” on a message that I had forgotten to attach a file to. It popped up a little window saying I had used the word attachment in the message but there was no file attached. Genius. I’m always sending emails and forgetting to add the attachments.

Linux Evolution Attachment Reminder

Linux Audio Volume at Boot

Every time I restarted Fedora the volume would reset to 50% and the mic would be de-selected as the recording source, so VoIP wouldn’t work. I’d have to manually reset these every time I rebooted. Turns out, as with everything Linux, there’s a simple solution! πŸ˜‰

You set your desired volume, login as root, then run `alsactl store`. Or line by line (set your desired volume first)…

$ su -
# alsactl store

I should also say, I haven’t actually rebooted yet, so I’m just hoping this will work, it’s as-yet-untested!

Circular Scrolling

While playing with my xorg.conf file I accidentally turned off the scrolling area of my trackpad. Normally, if you put your finger at the right hand side of the trackpad, you can scroll up and down. If you put your finger at the bottom of the pad, you can scroll left or right.

In figuring out how to resolve the issue I discovered something deeply awesome. Circular scrolling. Now, starting from any side of the pad, I can move my finger clockwise round the trackpad to scroll down, anti-clockwise to scroll up. Just like the iPod. It’s outstanding on long documents where even a scroll wheel becomes tiring.

Gotta love linux baby!

For the techies, here’s the relevant section of my xorg.conf (see man synaptics for more info):

Section "InputDevice"
Identifier "Synaptics Touchpad"
Driver "synaptics"
Option "SendCoreEvents" "true"
Option "Device" "/dev/input/mice"
Option "Protocol" "auto-dev"
Option "CircularScrolling" "1"
Option "Emulate3Buttons" "true"
Option "SHMConfig" "true"
EndSection

I also discovered another great application synclient which allows you to change the touchpad settings on the fly. It also allows you to monitor touchpad input with the -m flag. It’s great to test your settings and figure out what works before committing the changes to xorg.conf.

Update at 4 May 2010: On Ubuntu 9.04 and later this is no longer relevant. Instead enable SHMConfig through hal, see this for more info, and then install gsynaptic.

Fedora 7 and Skype 1.4

I upgraded my laptop to Fedora 7 yesterday. As usual, upgrading my OS involves a bunch of new programs, copying some data, restoring my settings, etc, etc. This has been the easiest update yet though, I’m getting the hang of it. Fedora release a new version every 6 months, so I get regular practice!

The most exciting development is Skype 1.4 Alpha. It’s still in Alpha, which means it’s very early stage code, but it’s a HUGE improvement over Skype 1.3 on Linux. I found these instructions whch made the install a cinch. Check out the new interface (I’ve cut out the contact list).

Skype 1.4.alpha

Default Language in OpenOffice on Fedora

It took me a while to figure this out, but I couldn’t change the default language for documents in OpenOffice. There are various options, but none of them would stick. I did a little searching on the wonderful FedoraForum.org and I found this thread.

Although the thread mentions FC4, the long and the short of it is this, the  default system language is set in /etc/sysconfig/i18n and that is probably set to US. I switched to en_GB, rebooted, and bingo, it works. Beautiful!