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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Thu, 23 Oct 2014

Ars Technica looks back at 10 years of Ubuntu: The hopes, the dreams, the kerfuffles

As Ubuntu hits its 10th year as a Linux distribution, cause celebre and all-around topic of conversation among the free-software set, Ars Technica takes a look back at what started with release number 4.10, nicknamed Warty Warthog in 2004 and continues today with the version 14.10, named Utopic Unicorn.

Thu, 13 Mar 2014

Actor/geek icon Wil Wheaton less than happy with Ubuntu

Rumbling around the Internet the past few days is talk about actor/geek icon Wil Wheaton's Google+ post about not being terribly in love with Ubuntu.

At least he's running it with Xfce.

The post made its way to OMG Ubuntu! where it provoked much discussion.

Much of it was of the "How dare he!" variety, though there were plenty of people who pointed out that the opinions of non-Linux users sampling today's distros are extremely important.

My constant complaining about the lack of proper suspend/resume with the open-source drivers and the concurrent lack of a packaged closed-source AMD driver in Fedora is the longtime user's equivalent.

For me, the benefits of Linux on the desktop outweigh the trouble I've had over the last year with video and suspend/resume.

But a new user who's on the fence? It's just another deal-breaker.

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Fri, 14 Feb 2014

Linux init-system shocker: Mark Shuttleworth announces that Ubuntu will follow Debian and adopt systemd

You can knock me over with a feather right this very moment: Mark Shuttleworth announced in his blog that Ubuntu will follow Debian in adopting systemd as its init system, even though Ubuntu itself coded the alternative Upstart:

Upstart has served Ubuntu extremely well – it gave us a great competitive advantage at a time when things became very dynamic in the kernel, it’s been very stable (it is after all the init used in both Ubuntu and RHEL 6 ;) and has set a high standard for Canonical-lead software quality of which I am proud.

Nevertheless, the decision is for systemd, and given that Ubuntu is quite centrally a member of the Debian family, that’s a decision we support. I will ask members of the Ubuntu community to help to implement this decision efficiently, bringing systemd into both Debian and Ubuntu safely and expeditiously.

I thought Ubuntu would fight to the end, but the SABDFL appears happy to offload init-system development to Lennart Poettering and company. A wise move, I think. Canonical's resources are spread thinly enough that anything not directly related to getting their phone OS to market should be seen as ripe for offloading to other parts of the community.

I'm nowhere near qualified to opine on which init system is better, systemd, Upstart or even the old SysVinit, but it was clear in the debate coursing through the Debian mailing lists over the past month that the licensing of Upstart, which required contributors to sign a Canonical CLA (contributor licensing agreement) that allowed the company to make the code proprietary in the future, was a huge, huge nonstarter for many free software advocates.

So Upstart will ship in the Ubuntu 14.04 LTS release, and all derivatives like Kubuntu and Xubuntu, which are due in April. These long-term-support releases will be around for five years, so Upstart isn't exactly dead yet, though it's quite the lame duck.

Thu, 14 Nov 2013

Noted contributer Aaron Toponce says goodbye to Ubuntu, even gives up UBUNTU license plate

Aaron Toponce is one of those insightful writers about Linux that I like to follow.

Now he joins those publicly leaving the Ubuntu project after what he refers to as a long line of disappointments in the project and its parent company Canonical, the last of those being the "trademark aggression" exhibited over the Fix Ubuntu site, the heavy-handedness for which SABDFL Mark Shuttleworth has apologized.

SABDFL apology aside, Aaron states many reason for leaving Ubuntu as a contributor and user (he's running Debian on everything, if you want to know). Those reasons include swapping GNOME for Unity, the Unity Lenses and the Amazon shopping "app."

He ends (but please do read the entire post):

I can't be associated with a project like this any longer. Effective immediately, my blog will no longer on the Ubuntu Planet. My Ubuntu Membership will be cancelled. My "UBUNTU" license plates, which have been on my car since August 2006, will be removed, in favor of my Amateur Radio callsign.

I wish everyone in the Ubuntu community the best of wishes. I also hope you have the power to change Ubuntu back to what it used to be. I have no ill feelings towards any person in the Ubuntu community. I just wish to now distance myself from Ubuntu, and no longer be associated with the project. Canonical's goals and visions do not align with something I think should be a Unix. Don't worry though -- I'll keep blogging. You can't get that out of my blood. Ubuntu just isn't for me any longer.

Goodbye Ubuntu.

I found Aaron's post via Benjamin Kerensa's post on the need to establish a Ubuntu foundation. The idea is intriguing, but I doubt anything will come of it.

As I've been saying lately, there are a few hundred other Linux distributions out there, and even close to home there are a number of fine Ubuntu-affiliated/derived projects like Xubuntu, Ubuntu GNOME, Kubuntu and Lubuntu that offer compelling desktop systems and are run by engaged, growing and inclusive communities. And there's always Mint, Debian, CrunchBang, Slackware and many, many more.

More for technical than philosophical reasons, I'm running Fedora with Xfce. Until my hardware runs better (i.e. suspend/resume works), I need the latest kernels and video drivers, and Fedora offers (in my experience anyway) the easiest, least painful way of getting them. And while Fedora also has a strong corporate parent/overlord in Red Hat, the relationship between company and community is much less frought.

Wed, 30 Oct 2013

Ubuntu 13.10 review: It's better than billed (and not quite dead, despite rumors to the contrary)

Just to make sure that nothing suits my needs better than what I'm running right now (that being Fedora 19 with Xfce and GNOME), I did an Ubuntu 13.10 installation this week and have spent a bit of time putting the Unity-driven Linux distribution to the test.

The installation was easy. Ubuntu is very good about that. And from the standpoint of actually knowing what's going on during the install, Ubuntu beats Fedora handily.

While the installation process was easy and smooth, I was unable to boot the finished installation with UEFI Secure Boot on my HP Pavilion g6-2210us laptop, which has admittedly "difficult" UEFI. I had to turn off Secure Boot to successfully boot Ubuntu 13.10 in EFI mode. Since I'm now having trouble with Fedora 19 and Secure Boot on this same hardware, I'll chalk that up to an overall Linux kernel problem with secure boot as it stands today. Luckily you can just about always turn off Secure Boot in the computer setup/BIOS, so this shouldn't be a problem.

Ubuntu's Unity desktop environment is snappier than billed. But for me it's just a little bit "broken" compared to and Xfce 4.10 and GNOME 3. For instance, as far as I can tell, in Unity you can't drag windows from one workspace to another. It's also hard to tell when you've minimized a window, though this is also the case in GNOME 3.

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Sun, 25 Aug 2013

Must-read blog post: On Leaving Ubuntu by Benjamin Kerensa

Big-time Ubuntu contributer Benjamin Kerensa blogs on why he's leaving Ubuntu.

Canonical's next move after $32 million Ubuntu Edge crowfunding failure: Find a real phone, put your damn system on it AND JUST SHIP SOMETHING ALREADY

I'm not surprised about the failure of Canonical/Ubuntu's million "give us , we promise to give you a phone packed with unproven, yet-to-be-seen technology sometime next year" campaign.

And it's not success wrapped in failure. It's just failure.

First of all, is a lot of money.

Second, Canonical is a company that has done a lot -- Ubuntu has certainly (and sometimes even successfully) gone its own way in the Linux desktop, server and cloud spaces. Live CDs, more drivers, a dependable release cycle for a Debian-based distribution, a huge and helpful community. Those are all great. But that seems so ... 2010. For Canonical anyway.

Canonical has promised a whole lot and delivered almost none of it:

  • Ubuntu TV (I don't think anybody ever wanted it ...)
  • That dockable Ubuntu-running Android phone from a couple years or so ago (seems eerily like Ubuntu Edge)
  • Ubuntu Touch preloaded on a phone or tablet (they're promising this "early next year")
  • Meaningful numbers of preloaded Ubuntu desktops (despite the claim by SABDFL Mark Shuttleworth of high percentages of Ubuntu-running PCs, you can barely find them in the real world)
  • The multicore Ubuntu ARM server (Remember that thing at the last [or nearly last] "real" UDS? It wasn't a Ubuntu-made product, but they did feature it, and I don't see it)

All we do have is Unity -- a desktop environment optimized for touch and tablet with few to no devices to show for it unless you can geek out and install it yourself.

Unity is a big achievement. I don't blame Canonical for jumping off of GNOME. I knew they'd go their own way when they couldn't control the upstream.

But this Ubuntu Edge thing was over the top. Asking tens of thousands to part with today for a phone next year that promises cutting-"Edge" hardware unproven by any manufacturer -- and all this from a company that has NEVER SHIPPED A SINGLE HARDWARE PRODUCT?

(Unless I'm missing something, Canonical has never shipped hardware of any kind.)

No. No. No!

Canonical can fix this. Here's what they should do today:

  • Find an existing phone -- a Nexus something-or-other -- that they can get in quantity
  • Pound Ubuntu Touch into this device so everything runs as it should. Order up these devices by the thousands, flashed with Ubuntu Touch and ready for market
  • Repeat for the tablet form factor
  • And then sell the damn things

Once again if I'm not being clear:

  • Develop for -- and sell -- the hardware that's available today. Just do it. Do it. Stop asking for multi-millions in advance and START FOCUSING ON DEVICES YOU CAN SHIP TODAY

Just ship. Everything else is noise.

Sat, 01 Jun 2013

Mark Shuttleworth closes Ubuntu's Bug No. 1 now that Microsoft's hold on computing is declining

Ubuntu's SABDFL ("self-appointed benevolent dictator for life," as he's known) Mark Shuttleworth just added comment No. 1834 to Ubuntu's Bug No. 1 -- "Microsoft Has a Majority Market Share" -- and closed the bug.

Sure, Ubuntu might have played a small part in knocking off Microsoft Windows as the dominant operating system for computing devices, but as Shuttleworth admits -- and I give him a whole lot of credit for doing so, it's more the move (especially in the consumer space) away from desktop/laptops to mobile and tablet devices running iOS and Android that has pushed Microsoft to the sidelines.

Coincidentally, I've also been thinking about Ubuntu's Bug No. 1 myself lately, and like SABDFL figuring that it should be closed.

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Sat, 17 Nov 2012

Could I be happy in Ubuntu 12.04 with Unity?

Increasingly my litmus test on whether or not I can live with (and maybe embrace) a given Linux distribution on my Lenovo G555 comes down to one thing:

  • Does it keep the cursor from jumping around the window and randomly deleting things when tap-to-click is invoked for the touchpad?

It's a sad commentary on the lousy Alps touchpad in this laptop, the state of operating system software and drivers (Windows 7 is among the OSes that can't deal) and my obsession with a machine that doesn't eat my work.

If I could only figure out how Debian Wheezy with GNOME 3 (but not with Xfce 4.8, or Ubuntu 12.04 with Unity does it, I could take that information with me to make the touchpad work well in any damn Linux distro. I used the output of synclient -l in Debian Wheezy with GNOME 3 and Xfce 4.8, doing a diff and using a synclient script to compensate for those differences in Xfce. I still get a jumpy Alps touchpad on the Lenovo G555. So GNOME is doing something else that doesn't show up in synclient. But what?

I can tell you that the Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix does not possess this secret touchpad sauce. I have to check Xubuntu 12.04 and 12.10, Fedora 18 (GNOME and Xfce).

Just this moment Ubuntu 12.04 suddenly highlighted this whole post and deleted all the text in a single keystroke. I used ctrl-z to bring it back, but Ubuntu 12.04 exhibiting this same disturbing behavior would mean that Debian Wheezy with GNOME 3 stands alone in the "didn't eat my homework" department. More testing is in order.

Things in Ubuntu 12.04's favor are its LTS status -- it'll be around through 2017. I can't see myself using any release that long, but it could come to that, and the ecosystem around an Ubuntu LTS is formidable.

Sure I could turn off tap-to-click and make this whole problem go away. Since I use an external (generally wireless) mouse most of the time, this isn't as much of a deal-breaking problem as I'm making it out to be.

I'm in the Ubuntu 12.04/Unity live environment right now, and it looks pretty nice.

The menus appearing in the upper panel instead of in the application window is a "feature" of Unity that continues to disturb me. It doesn't help my productivity one little bit. I don't use Macs all that often, but Apple does this better.

The other design elements are less offensive. There's a refreshing attention to detail that for the most part helps more than it hurts.

The Dash is very responsive. In 12.04 it doesn't drill into application menus like it's supposed to do in 12.10 (I haven't tried it, hence the supposed reference) and basically re-implements what GNOME 3 does with it's desktop search for applications and files.

While the best outcome would be my figuring out the secret touchpad sauce and using it on any distribution in any desktop environment, I'd like the option of using GNOME, Xfce and even Unity without suffering from the cursor-jumping problem.

Right now I'm liking Ubuntu 12.04 with Unity. Given all the controversy over shopping lenses in 12.10, I expect that it'll have more users than it might have had otherwise.

A stable system with GNOME 3.6.x and/or Xfce 4.10 is also something I'd like to park on this laptop.

Thu, 15 Nov 2012

Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix: Looking at the live environment -- a work in progress

I decided to go in a different direction in my previously intended Linux testing regimen and sample the Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix.

I've been fairly happy with GNOME 3.4.2 in Debian Wheezy but eager to see what GNOME 3.6 has to offer.

I could've gone Fedora, but I'm looking for a smoother transition from Debian Wheezy to whatever I run next.

The new Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix seems perfect in that regard. I keep the Debian base and might even be able to install Ubuntu over Debian and keep the same partition layout.

In my Debian Wheezy GNOME 3.4 desktop, I used the Transmission bittorrent client to download the 64-bit ISO. After a few unsuccessful attempts to create a bootable USB flash drive with the image using dd and cat, I surmised that this wasn't a hybrid ISO image. So I installed unetbootin and used it to create a bootable USB drive with the Ubuntu GNOME remix. I was also able to create persistent storage on the flash drive.

Even though this is the live environment and not a proper installation. There are a few things I can say based on my brief experience with Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix:

  • The "jumping tap-to-click touchpad" problem that I have in Debian Wheezy with Xfce but NOT in Debian Wheezy with GNOME 3 is present in Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix.

That is a problem. And a reason to stick with Debian (or try Fedora). I haven't been able to figure out why Debian with GNOME handles this so well but everything else I've tried does not. This is a quirk peculiar to my hardware, the Lenovo G555 laptop and can be solved by turning off tap-to-click. I'd like to solve it while keeping tap-to-click, but a thorough analysis of the synclient output in Debian's GNOME 3 offers no clues.

  • GNOME 3 Shell seems faster in Ubuntu 12.10's 3.6.0 than it does in Debian Wheezy's 3.4.2.

Everything is just a little bit more responsive. Hitting the "super" key and typing in the first letters of an application are a bit smoother on the screen in Ubuntu 12.10 vs. Debian Wheezy. I don't think it's all that much faster, but it looks better. And it's a little faster. Update: I'm not sure if this is responsible for the "speed-up" in GNOME 3.6, but the GNOME Shell extension called Impatience makes things much faster and smoother on my Debian Wheezy GNOME 3 desktop. It's a great extension and works well in Wheezy's version of GNOME 3.

  • Though everything in the Ubuntu 12.10 GNOME Remix is pretty much GNOME 3.6, the Nautilus file manager remains at version 3.4.2, just like in the stock Unity edition of Ubuntu.

  • A big difference in GNOME 3.6 vs. 3.4 is the presence of an application-grid icon in the application panel on the left side of the screen.

It simplifies the look of the Activities screen that appears when you click the "super" key or mouse into the upper-left corner. This is one of the "big" changes in GNOME 3.6. I like it, but it's more evolutionary than revolutionary.