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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.

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.

Fri, 12 Oct 2012

Developer not happy with direction of Ubuntu

Paul Tagliamonte writes a short post I found via Planet Debian titled Stuff that's bothering me about Ubuntu right now.

Many have complained about the Amazon results that pop up when you search even your local drive, but I haven't seen much reaction to Ubuntu's solicitation of donations in the boot screen for the live disc.

Paul is not in favor, and he frames it in an interesting way:

... begging for a handout when people Download Ubuntu — without an option to donate to Debian, which  composes over 70% of the Desktop, I get upset.

I feel cheated, and I’m not even involved on a day-to-day anymore.

I’m ashamed of what’s going on now, and I hope we find a better way to serve our users.
Sun, 16 Sep 2012

Advantage of Ubuntu's per-account /home encryption

I write a lot about encryption. I'm not trying so much to keep the government out of my business but to give myself peace of mind in the event my machine is lost or stolen.

I want to know that it would be way too much trouble for anybody to try to get any data out of the machine so I can confidently carry around a laptop and know that nobody else can get to that data if it leaves my possession.

But there's one problem with the kind of encryption provided by the installers for Debian and Fedora: The global (or individual) passphrase(s).

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Thu, 10 May 2012

How to get more (or fewer) than four virtual workspaces on Ubuntu's Unity desktop

I've been wondering how you adjust the number of virtual workspaces on the Unity desktop in Ubuntu 12.04.

Well, you can add more or take some away. This AskUbuntu.com article shows you how to do it.

Tue, 08 May 2012

Ubuntu 12.04 and Unity -- I'm ready

We users of Linux are a fickle lot. We flit here and there, from one distro to another, even to a BSD on occasion.

I've been "loyal" to Debian for a couple years now. It works. But it's time for a change.

Given the demise of GNOME 2 in favor of the radically reimagined GNOME 3, I've been "auditioning" everything from CrunchBang (Openbox with Xfce's Thunar file manager) and Bodhi (Enlightenment) to Fedora (GNOME 3 and Xfce), Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Lubuntu and Debian Wheezy.

I go back and forth on GNOME 3 and Unity. Sometimes I think I can be productive in these very different environments. Other times I wonder what's wrong with having a traditional application menu.

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Sun, 25 Mar 2012

Ubuntu 12.04 with Unity (in beta/daily build) NOT suited to Thinkpad R32

I know ... Ubuntu 12.04 is in beta right now, I installed a daily build, and my Thinkpad R32 is 10 years old and has only 512 MB of RAM backing up a single-core Pentium 4 CPU.

But this is not the hardware that can adequately run Ubuntu 12.04 with Unity.

Everything was slow, the laptop was swapping like mad, the Software Center crashed more than a few times, and I couldn't make HUD work (not sure what it's for, to be honest, if it works this poorly -- I couldn't make it actually do anything).

Trust me, Debian Wheezy with GNOME 3 (which could only run in Classic mode) wasn't this bad.

I'm downloading ISOs of a Debian Wheezy daily (or is it weekly?) build and Bodhi Linux 1.4.0 to try now.

Debian Wheezy with GNOME 3 is up next (again). I'll let you know how it compares to Ubuntu 12.04 with Unity.

Tue, 22 Nov 2011

Unity and GNOME Shell are more alike than different

I've been spending time each day working in Ubuntu 11.10's GNOME 3/Unity and Fedora 16's GNOME 3/GNOME Shell desktops.

They're more alike than you think. Rather than do things the GNOME way, Ubuntu/Canonical decided to take its own direction with Unity, which is now, like GNOME Shell, built on top of GNOME 3.

They look and work more alike than you'd think.

I find it puzzling. But in a way it makes sense.

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Fri, 18 Nov 2011

Ubuntu 11.10 live from USB -- first impressions

Since I spent some time running Fedora 16 with GNOME 3/GNOME Shell via a live image, and I judged it as working well but not as polished in the design department as Ubuntu 11.04/11.10 with Unity, I figured I should give Ubuntu 11.10 a try with its live image and see what I thought.

So I grabbed a 64-bit Ubuntu 11.10 ISO. Since I was already in Debian Squeeze, and Debian and Ubuntu ISO images these days are "hybrid" images that can be burned to CD the usual way, or easily (very easily!) dropped onto a USB thumb drive, I found the 4 GB drive I used for my Ubuntu 11.04 test and put 11.10 on it.

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Fri, 21 Oct 2011

Canonical upping desktop support for its next Ubuntu LTS to 5 years

Ever since Ubuntu shipped its first long-term-support release, the 6.06 Dapper Drake (one of my all-time favorites by the way), the distro's LTS editions have enjoyed three years of support on the desktop and five years on the server.

Now Canonical is extending desktop support for the upcoming 12.04 LTS (to be named Precise Pangolin) to a full five years on both the desktop and server, making the release that much more compelling for enterprise users and others (like myself) who might not necessarily stick with the release for the full five years but want the option of doing so.

It makes the quality and stability of this next release that much more important, as SABDFL Mark Shuttleworth enumerated in a blog post yesterday.

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