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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
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.