Linux Ubuntu

My response to Rory Cellan-Jones

Rory Cellan-Jones recently spent 24 hours with Ubuntu:

I installed a few applications – including Skype, and a social networking application called Gwibber.

But when I tried to install a free open-source audio editing program, Audacity, it appeared more complex to get hold of an Ubuntu version than the one I’ve used on a Mac.

So it was simpler than this on Mac?

What was tripping you up? Not knowing a sound recording and editing program would be in the Sound & Video category? Or not realizing how silly it is to have to open a web browser to install a program? Do you find the iTunes App Store difficult to use? Because that’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?

I very much look forward to reading your next article, “24 hours learning to ride a bicycle.” The wheels must just not be worth the effort.

Further Reading
Know why software installation is difficult on Linux? It’s a secret. I can’t tell you.


Impressed with Karmic Koala beta

Ubuntu Linux gets released twice a year—once in the spring, once in the fall. The releases are numbered to indicate the month of release. Most spring releases (with the exception of Ubuntu 6.06, also known as Dapper) were released in April (5.04, 7.04, 8.04, 9.04), and all fall releases so far were released in October (4.10, 5.10, 6.10, 7.10, 8.10).

I’ve always been a bigger fan of the April releases than of the October ones. That’s changed with this next release (9.10) nicknamed Karmic Koala. I just installed the beta release (it had gone through six alpha releases previously), and all the standard disclaimers apply, of course (if you install beta, you do so at your own risk, don’t use it on a production machine, you may lose data, blah blah blah. There is no warranty, real or implied.) Nevertheless, I’ve generally found (with few exceptions) that Ubuntu beta releases are more or less stable. I haven’t had anything catastrophic happen with a beta Ubuntu release (your mileage may vary).

And I like this October one. I think Ubuntu is finally heading in the direction Mark Shuttleworth has said for years that it should head in. It’s focusing on usability. It’s focusing on looking better. It’s focusing on hardware compatibility and working out a lot of the little bugs that make a big difference.

With the last release (Jaunty, 9.04), boot time was a little over a minute from the moment I pressed the power button to being actually able to use the system (that’s what I consider boot time, not when you see your desktop). With Karmic (9.10), boot time is only 37 seconds. It’s not the 10 seconds some people have been touting (and, yes, I have a solid state drive, too). Still very impressive.

More importantly, the interface is more responsive. I don’t know how to do actual timing benchmarks. I’m sure the difference is just a matter of milliseconds, but it feels much snappier. There is no lag switching windows or clicking on a button. In Jaunty, there would be a barely noticeable delay in rendering when simply closing a tab in Firefox and having the next tab appear in focus. In Karmic, no delay at all. It’s nearly instantaneous (not as fast as Chromium, but for all intents and purposes fast enough). I’m using a crappy Intel Atom processor, by the way.

Aesthetics is, to a large degree, subjective. Nevertheless, there are certain visual implementations in interfaces that are in vogue in the corporate and consumer computing worlds, and I think Ubuntu is moving in a good direction here. The boot-up is so fast that there isn’t even a loading boot screen (there is in the live CD session, though, and it looks nice). The icons are much cooler-looking. It’s pretty clear, though, that much has been copied from Mac OS X, including the applets for wireless and power management, which now have a simple light-gray iconization instead of pixelated blue bars and complicated graphics that don’t always render well.

One gripe I have is that there is still text displayed during bootup. Granted, if you want text displayed during bootup (some kind of verbose mode), that’s good. The default should have only graphics, though. The Grub boot menu is all text (white text on black background), and then there are little boot messages that scroll by very quickly (visible for only a couple of seconds). I’m hoping that’ll be fixed in Ubuntu 10.04.

Along with the Macification of icons, there is also the simplification/Macification of the interface. System > Administration > Login Window no longer brings up a multi-tabbed preferences window with lots of options. It now has basically two options (autologin or not, show the screen to log in or not). System > Preferences > Sound shows a sound dialogue that looks an almost exact carbon copy of the Mac sound preferences dialogue.

Most importantly, the new Ubuntu Software Center is even easier to use than Add/Remove or Synaptic. It just puts all the options in your face and filters things quickly. You don’t have to mark things for installation and then apply. You just click to install each item, and it does it right away. The progress bar is inline instead of a new pop-up window. It just seems fast.

Hardware Recognition
Jaunty was pretty good at recognizing hardware. There was a little regression, though, that made it so that certain Intel sound chips didn’t work and Alsa had to be recompiled from source… oh, and for my set-up anyway, PulseAudio (the default sound management system) always had to be uninstalled to get sound to work. There was also a bug that had wireless take “forever” (between 30 seconds and a minute) to come back after resume from suspend (or “sleep”).

In Karmic, sound worked with PulseAudio (I just had to change the input from Microphone 1 to Line-In), wireless worked after resume within seconds, and everything else worked, too (no regressions for screen resolution, power management, or hotkey recognition, etc.).

One little bug (which I filed) is that the hardware drivers for Broadcom 4312 install fine during the live CD session, but once you install Karmic, the drivers need to be uninstalled and reinstalled to work, and then only after a reboot. Hoping that gets fixed before final release.

Overall, this is a totally awesome Ubuntu release. If my friends would just stop using iPod Touches and iPhones (or if Apple would play nice with other systems or port iTunes to Linux), then I could actually recommend Linux to people.

Ubuntu Web Browsers

How to Install Chromium Daily Builds in Ubuntu

Add key for Chromium daily build repositories
Add Chromium daily build repositories
Install Chromium
Enable plugins
Use system GTK theme
First 4 steps with one terminal command


Chromium is still in testing. It has not been officially released, so please do not expect it to run well. In the minimal use I've made of it, it appears to run okay, but daily updates could just break it at any moment.

So please be prepared to have a backup browser ready to use (like Firefox) and do not do anything critical in Chromium at this time (e.g., something you'd be really sad about if you were in the middle of doing it and your browser randomly crashed).

Click on any of the screenshots below in order to see a larger image.

Add key for Chromium daily build repositories

First, add the GPG key for the Chromium daily build repos.

Visit the Chromium daily builds section of Launchpad.

Copy the line of code to add the key.

Open up a terminal.

Paste in the code.

Add Chromium daily build repositories

Now we need to add the actual repositories.

Go back to the PPA page, select your version of Ubuntu, and then copy the first line of text.

Go to System > Administration > Software Sources and enter your password when prompted.

Under Third-Party Software click Add. In APT line: paste in the line, and then click Add Source.

Do the same thing for the second line.

When prompted to reload the the repositories information, do so and wait.

Install Chromium

Now that we have the daily builds repositories enabled, we can actually install Chromium.

Go to System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager and search for chromium

Mark chromium-browser for installation and then confirm the Mark.

Click Apply and then confirm again by clicking the second Apply when prompted.

Wait for Chromium to finish installing.

Quit Synaptic and quit Firefox.

Enable plugins

Even though Chromium is installed and ready to use now, it doesn't come with the browser plugins enabled (no YouTube... no anything involving Flash).

If you want to enable plugins, go ahead and launch Chrome.

Copy the little phrase --enable-plugins

Right-click the Applications menu and select Edit Menus

Then, under Applications > Internet, double-click Chromium Web Browser and under Command, paste --enable-plugins right after chromium-browser and right before %U, so the whole command will read

chromium-browser --enable-plugins %U

Use system GTK theme

By default, Chromium will have the same blue border that Chrome has in Windows.

If you want to blend it in with your GTK theme, click on the wrench and select Options

Then, under Personal Stuff, select Set to GTK+ theme

That's it. You're ready to go now and use Chromium!

First 4 steps with one terminal command

If you've never added the daily builds repositories and if you're using Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope), you can do all the first four steps (sans getting Chromium to use your GTK theme) by just pasting this one command into the terminal:
sudo apt-key adv --recv-keys --keyserver 4E5E17B5 && echo "deb jaunty main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list && echo "deb-src jaunty main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list && sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install chromium-browser && mkdir -p ~/.local/share/applications && cp /usr/share/applications/chromium-browser.desktop ~/.local/share/applications && sed -i 's/Exec=chromium-browser/Exec=chromium-browser --enable-plugins/g' ~/.local/share/applications/chromium-browser.desktop
Linux Ubuntu

What’s the point of Ubuntu remixes?

I remember when Ubuntu Christian Edition first came on the scene (don’t look for it any more—the project has since been discontinued). There was an uproar in the Ubuntu Linux community. Why are people bringing religion into software? Free software should be bringing people together, not separating them. And, of course, the objection of Why even bother? Can’t you just create a metapackage? Aren’t all these things in the software repositories? Users can just install GnomeSword and DansGuardian themselves.

Religion aside, there seemed to be (and sometimes continues to be) an objection to the very notion that you might take a Linux distribution, change the default packages and artwork in it, and then re-release it as a modified distribution (or “remix” as the Ubuntu folks like to call it, as per their trademark policy). Even now I still see people on the forums asking “Why? Why would you bother? Why can’t you install those packages yourself?”

To answer this question, let’s imagine Ubuntu stopped distributing itself the way it does now. Right now, the default Ubuntu comes as a CD that has a live session that runs off RAM, and if you want to install it to your hard drive, you can do so. Both the live session and the fresh install give you a set of applications—a web browser, an email client, a bittorrent client, a word processor, an image editor, etc. What if Ubuntu stopped doing that? What if they said “Eh. People can just install applications themselves. Let’s just give them a command prompt after installation”?

Well, I actually know some Ubuntu users would be thrilled with that. There is a reason, though, why the mini.iso is less popular than the Desktop CD .iso, and it’s not just because the Desktop CD is the main download on the Ubuntu website.

Defaults matter.

I can’t tell you how many Windows users I see with the taskbar on the bottom and a green rolling hill with a blue sky for the desktop wallpaper. People use Internet Explorer because it is the default web browser in Windows. A lot of Ubuntu users like Gnome because it has two panels instead of one. Guess what, people—Gnome can easily have one panel. Just delete the bottom panel (or the top one).

Have you ever taken a default installation and tweaked it to be exactly the way you want it? For some people, that can be just a couple of minutes. For others, it can take hours. I’m not kidding.

What if you felt the default Ubuntu packages weren’t a good way to introduce Ubuntu to folks interested in trying Linux? Would you carry around a live CD with you and then say “Hold on. Hold on. I’m going to boot this up, but it’ll take me about forty-five minutes to make this interface presentable and install a bunch of packages… oh, which may not fit in your 512 MB of RAM”? Wouldn’t it be far more effective to have a live CD with Ubuntu exactly the way you want it?

I recently created my own Ubuntu remix called the Ubuntu HP Mini Remix. Yes, you can do all those things in Ubuntu after installation (fix sound, make sound settings stick, have wireless resume more quickly after suspend, consolidate panels to make room for more vertical real estate), but it involves editing configuration text files and doing a lot of annoying little tweaks.

And some folks with HP Minis haven’t been able to get those tweaks working. Maybe it’d be good if I just gave them an .iso they could use right away that had those tweaks in them?

More importantly, though, what’s the harm? You don’t have to use my remix. No one does. In fact, if I were the only person using my remix, I’d still consider it worth the effort. It doesn’t take anything away from Ubuntu. I’m not a developer or programmer. I’m not a graphics artist. The time and energy I put into my remix would not benefit vanilla Ubuntu, since the tweaks I’m making are specifically for the HP Mini 1120nr. Yes, there are some bugs that could be fixed, but I’m not fixing bugs. I’m employing workarounds for those bugs.

Remixes are a good way to make easily available to a niche population a set of default packages that its members can install on multiple systems or demonstrate as live sessions on multiple systems without them having to make an hour’s worth of tweaks to get going.

Defaults matter. That’s why remixes matter.

Computers hp mini Linux Ubuntu

Vanilla Ubuntu on the HP Mini 1120nr

Anyone who read my last post knows I am not a fan at all of the HP Mobile Internet Experience. It was a huge disappointment that made me almost regret buying the HP Mini 1120nr.

Good thing I didn’t give up on it, though, just because of the bad MIE interface. I installed vanilla Ubuntu on it, and it’s great now!

First I had to consider whether to install Ubuntu lpia (lower-powered Intel architecture) or the regular i386 version. Presumably the lpia version is optimized for the Intel Atom processor in my HP Mini, but…

…not to mention the fact that almost all third-party .deb files (TrueCrypt, DropBox, Opera) are compiled for i386. Since the battery life on the HP Mini appears to be between 2 and 2.5 hours (less than the 3 hours I got on my Eee PC 701), an added 12 to 15 minutes of battery life wouldn’t really help anyway. In any case, I don’t travel much, so battery life would be just something to brag about, not necessarily something I would need.

Instead of the hours I spent trying to make the MIE interface usable (to no avail, by the way, and it wasn’t any more responsive even after I switched from 1 GB to 2 GB of RAM), the Ubuntu installation and configuration took me only about 40 minutes and was extremely painless.

I took a vanilla Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope), booted it from USB, clicked the Install button on the desktop, answered the easy questions quickly, resized my MIE partition to make way for regular Ubuntu, took 20 minutes to install, then rebooted.

Almost everything worked straight away—Compiz, screen resolution, function keys, resume from suspend. Even wireless worked (and it’s a Broadcom card, which is notoriously Linux-unfriendly). The only thing broken was sound. So I did a quick Google search and came across this fix. I pasted those few commands into the terminal, rebooted, checked a couple of boxes in the sound preferences (check to enable speakers, uncheck to disable PC beep), and everything was running quite smoothly—and with no lag at all.

It’s a shame HP didn’t put more usability testing into their preinstalled version of Ubuntu… or just put more thought into sticking with regular Ubuntu.

Edit (26 May, 2009): Actually, the sound settings would reset after each reboot. Usually, I just suspend to RAM, but every now and then I reboot, and it’s annoying to have to mute the PC Beep and unmute the PC Speaker every time.

The fix is:

  1. Get the volume settings exactly the way you want them.
  2. Paste the command sudo alsactl store into the terminal.
  3. Edit the /etc/rc.local file as root (sudo nano -B /etc/rc.local) and then add in the line alsactl restore before exit 0

Now if you reboot, your sound settings should stay the same.

hp mini Linux Ubuntu

My HP Mini Mobile Internet… Experience

My Linux netbook search
The first (relatively) popular netbook was the Asus Eee PC 700, which came out in late 2007. I waited until mid-2008 to get my Asus Eee PC 701, because I thought the second-generation would be better and worth waiting for.

Turns out I should have waited just another few months until a 1.6 GHz Atom processor with 1 GB of RAM, an 8.9″ screen, and a 16 GB SSD became the standard. I love the size of my Eee PC, and I did adjust to the keyboard. But the dealbreaker for me is the screen size. And I don’t even mind looking at the screen. The real problem is that web designers have abandoned the notion that 800 pixels wide is the limit. And side-scrolling is not fun.

So for months and months, I’ve been searching for a new netbook to replace my old Eee PC. Netbook reviews now are funny to me, because people still complain about the small screens and small keyboards, even when the screen is 10″ and the keyboard is 92% the size of a normal keyboard. Clearly they haven’t used an Eee PC 701 before!

The best netbook I could find was the Asus Eee 1000HE. It’s only US$389 and comes with a 10″ screen, 160 GB hard drive, multi-touch touchpad, 1 GB of RAM, and 9 hours of battery life. But I didn’t end up getting it, because it also came with Windows XP, and I’m not buying another computer with Windows preinstalled.

Unfortunately, the Linux preinstalled options in the US for netbooks are getting slimmer and slimmer (maybe this will change with the new ARM processors, but a decent ARM netbook probably won’t be out for at least another year). On NewEgg, I saw the Linux options go from 8 to 6 to 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 and then back to 2 again. But the 2 left were older models that were hardly worth the money (or that offered a keyboard the same size as my 701).

The HP Mini Mie: What I was expecting
Eventually, I settled on the HP Mini 1120nr (“Mobile Internet Experience”). I did a fair bit of research and, based on the reviews I read and videos I saw, these were the general pros and cons I thought I would encounter:

On the positive side, it uses a customized version of Ubuntu (my distro of choice) with a beautiful interface, it has a very large (compared to my 701) keyboard, and is relatively affordable (the model I bought was under US$350). Even with a large keyboard, the exterior design of the netbook is gorgeous. It’s slim and sleek.

On the negative side, the Ubuntu interface has its flaws (clicking a Thunderbird message in the preview screen takes you only to Thunderbird and not to the message you clicked on), there are only two USB slots, there’s no VGA, there’s no multi-touch, the trackpad has buttons on the sides instead of the bottom, the battery life isn’t much better than my 701 (unless I buy a 6-cell battery, which costs a lot more and physically juts out the bottom).

Turns out the hardware was more beautiful than I thought it would be, and the software was a lot less usable than I thought it would be.

Major Criticisms
The worst part of the HP Mini MIE as it’s sold is the lack of proper usability testing. Why do major OEMs screw up Linux so badly? Why can’t they just use vanilla Ubuntu or Ubuntu Netbook Remix? Why do they have to create convoluted interfaces that are difficult to use? Yes, on the surface, the MIE interface is pretty and slick, and it looks very simple. You have emails on the left, web stuff in the middle, and music and pictures on the right. One button always takes you back to that screen. The other button helps you cycle through the open applications or launch a new application. Sounds good, right? It’s actually terrible, and not for any reason I found in reviews I read of MIE.

I bought the 10″ screen version with a 16 GB SSD and 1 GB of RAM. You would think (especially with a 1.6 GHz processor, as opposed to the 900 MHz processor on my Eee PC) the performance would be decent. It’s not. It’s barely usable. Seriously. Boot time is rather quick. I didn’t time it with a clock, but it seemed to be about 40 seconds… less than a minute, in any case. Launching applications doesn’t take too long (the requisite few seconds). It’s actually using and switching between applications that is slow and often inelegant.

There is a lag. You still see the last bit of the other application’s window fading out as you begin focusing on the new application, and you often have to wait a second or two in order to start typing in that new application. There’s just a general sluggishness. In fact, when I installed updates with the update manager, Firefox was pretty much unusable because dpkg was CPU spiking.

The Mobile Internet Experience
Not helping in the performance area, the MIE designers replaced the regular Alt-Tab behavior with a custom Alt-Tab command. In a regular Linux (or even Windows) installation, Alt-Tab will allow you to switch applications quickly. Pressing it once automatically switches to the other most recently used application. Hold down Alt while Tabbing will cycle through to the other open applications. In MIE, the first time you press Alt-Tab, the available applications appear but the focus is on the window you already have open. Why would I want to switch to what I already have open? So switching between the current window and the last-used window requires two Alt-Tabs instead of one.

The MIE interface is generally inflexible. The tweaks on the simple interface for the Eee PC were pretty simple and straightforward—edit this text file, paste in this command. Not so with the MIE interface. I’ve looked up tweaks, and I can’t find a way to completely free up the Gnome panel or to make search (and not URL) the default on the web search dialogue. I even tried just installing IceWM and using that instead of the MIE version of Gnome. No go there. If I used IceWM, the Network Manager applet would launch but not work, and resume from suspend-to-RAM did not work either in IceWM. There are some hidden scripts or something in MIE that make things work, and it’s a little annoying.

The startup questions asked if I didn’t want to be prompted for my password, and I thought they were talking about an autologin. But apparently, that just took the password completely off sudo, and I don’t see any simple way to get it back. Maybe I’ll have to dig into the /etc/sudoers file. For any setting you have to change something, you should have another setting to change it back.

Hardware Problems
A couple of other general annoyances: granted, I’ve had this for less than one day, but I’m finding it extremely difficult to adjust to the touchpad buttons being on the sides instead of the bottom of the touchpad. And the touchpad is just too sensitive, even after I installed gsynaptics and tried tweaking the settings. Yes, there is a dedicated button to turn off the touchpad, and that button would be handy if you’re typing a long novel, I guess, but most of the time you want to constantly switch back and forth between typing and mousing on a netbook!

Another annoying thing about it is the display is extremely bright. Even at its lowest setting, it is bright. When you plug in the power cord, the brightness resets to the highest brightness, and even if you unplug the power cord, the brightness resets to the highest brightness. I don’t want my netbook on the highest brightness… ever. I can’t find a setting to change this, though, and I think it’s one of the reasons the battery life is so poor.

The power button is oddly placed on the underside of the front of the HP Mini, and it’s one of those ones you have to pull to a side instead of push. I guess in one sense that’s good because you’ll never accidentally press it. But, really, it’s annoying to pull a button.

Even though WEP is far less secure than WPA, my wife’s Macbook Pro cannot work with WPA reliably, so we use WEP because I still think it’s better than no encryption at all (won’t stop the serious packet sniffers, but it will stop the casual leecher). Unfortunately, the MIE would simply not connect to the type of WEP encryption we were using, so I had to change to another type. Then it connected just fine. But that’s a bit odd.

Other thoughts
Not really a problem, but I did notice the HP Mini came with no carrying case or bag. It didn’t have to. It was a nice touch that Asus included a bag with my Eee PC, though.

Ordinarily in a review I would put the criticisms last, but the MIE interface and the Mini defaults are such a bad implementation of Ubuntu that these defaults seriously hamper the Mini experience so that I cannot overlook them in any moment I’m using the Mini.

The Good Stuff
There are good things about the Mini, though, and that’s why I’m going to stick with it.

As I said before, the physical construction of the netbook is genius. When closed, it looks tiny. When open, the keyboard looks impressively large. The screen is a bit too shiny, but it’s a very nice, large screen. I read one review that complained about the plug not going in all the way, but I didn’t have that problem at all. I like how the SD card slot is a bit recessed, so when I put my SD card in, it’s a bit hidden and doesn’t jut out (as it did on my Eee PC).

The speaker is cleverly placed on the hinge of the netbook so that it doesn’t take up extra space, but it isn’t hidden behind anything either. The sound comes out very strongly.

Even though it’d have been nice to have another USB slot and a proper VGA-out, the slimness of the netbook simply does not allow for it—there’s a lot of machine to cram into such a small package.

Not a big deal to Windows and Mac users, I know, but suspend-to-RAM works perfectly (as long as you use MIE’s custom Gnome and not IceWM). I haven’t tried hibernate yet.

More importantly, there seems to be a relatively rich set of packages available in the HP Mini repositories (which live on Canonical servers). Even though the regular Add/Remove has a pittance of applications, Synaptic is also installed and can be easily reached with an Alt-F2 and gksudo synaptic. Some reviews I read said applications installed this way wouldn’t show up in the regular application menus, but I installed both GIMP and gsynaptics and both made their way into the menus. (Of course, when I tried to do a –force-architecture installation of DropBox that didn’t quite work out.)

I bag on MIE’s usability, but the visual design of it is quite slick, from the USplash theme to the GDM theme, right down to the buttons and window decorations. Everything looks really nice, even though MIE does inherit some of the transitional flaws of Ubuntu (a quick view of terminal text before USplash loads up).

Despite the touchpad’s configuration being a bit annoying, its physical surface has a nice textural feel, and the buttons are not loud when pressed (unlike the serious clicking sound from my Eee PC’s buttons). The keys on the keyboard, likewise, are fairly quiet and easy to press.

I have to say I’m disappointed. All the reviews I’d read of the HP Mini MIE made it sound a little limiting but not a total disaster. Even a few hours of use has made me frustrated, so I would say MIE is a total disaster, definitely.

Since most of the flaws seem to have to do with the MIE interface configuration and general sluggishness, though, I want to give a proper vanilla Ubuntu installation a try on this (especially since I do have a 2 GB RAM stick on the way). The best thing is that with 16 GB of space on my SSD, I can do a proper dual-boot (unlike on my 4 GB SSD Eee PC). More later…

Computers Linux Ubuntu

Inspiron 15n: Dell finally properly prices its Ubuntu option

Every now and then, Linux users get outraged because Dell prices the base model of Ubuntu cheaper than the base model of Windows, but when you match the specs of the two computers, Windows ends up being cheaper. This happened for the Dell Mini 9s when they first came out, for example.

What I’ve noticed is a cycle of Dell pricing Ubuntu cheaper and then offering some kind of promotional discount that makes Windows cheaper. The Linux community complains, and then Dell adjusts the pricing. I created an IdeaStorm idea called Implement a system by which Ubuntu systems automatically get promotional discounts their Windows counterparts get, but it got only 19 votes. No word from Dell on that.

The only official word from Dell on pricing is another IdeaStorm idea (Implemented: Ubuntu Dell is Le$$ Than Windows Dell) that was marked as implemented back in 2007 and that obviously has gone from implemented to unimplemented and back again. A Dell representative wrote on March 24, 2007:

Changed status to **IMPLEMENTED**.

On average, comparably configured Ubuntu systems will be about $50 less than Windows systems.

Well, I’m not sure if they’re going to make this suddenly in favor of Windows again, but I did a price comparison on the Dell Inspiron 15 (Windows Vista) and the Dell Inspiron 15n (Ubuntu Intrepid) today, and Ubuntu is more than US$200 cheaper.

See screenshots for more details:
dell-inspiron-15-with-windows dell-inspiron-15n-with-ubuntu
(American? I haven’t checked the other Dell sites yet) Linux users complaining about pricing? Get them while they’re still hot!

Linux Ubuntu

What I’d love to see in Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala)

I have to say I’m very impressed with Ubuntu’s latest 9.04 release (Jaunty Jackalope). I’ve used every single release of Ubuntu since 5.04 (Hoary Hedgehog), and Jaunty is by far the best and most polished release. And a couple of the usability bugs I pointed out two years ago have since been fixed (restore from trash, image previews in upload dialogue). Even one of the top ten brainstorm ideas I supported was implemented (giving the proper instructions to repair an interrupted software installation).

We definitely need to go a step further, though, in the next release. I know right now Mark Shuttleworth is thinking about polishing notifications (and hopefully PulseAudio, too) and working a bit more on Ubuntu Netbook Remix and the Ayatana Project. Some of us end users just want a few things fixed, though.

Here’s my current list of top things I’d love to see in the next Ubuntu release (with links to the appropriate Brainstorm idea):

Idea #136: Add a tutorial slideshow to the installation process
I proposed this idea almost immediately after Brainstorm launched. It has none of the drawbacks of a pop-up “Welcome” video when you log in but has all of the benefits. The developers seemed to approve it at the time but deferred it until 8.10. Then when 8.10 came around, they deferred it until 9.04. Now that 9.04 has passed… well, let’s hope the tutorial slideshow makes it into 9.10.

Idea #400: Prevent applications from stealing focus
I can’t tell you how frustrating this is. I never want to be typing in one application and then have a background application start up and have some of my typing appear in one application and some in the other, especially if I’m typing a password. Focus stealing should be off by default and be able to be turned on for only those who want it.

Idea #2298: Automatic reparation of interrupted dpkg
They finally got it so that when your package manager is interrupted during software installation that you’ll correctly be instructed to use

sudo dpkg –configure -a

to correct it instead of

dpkg –configure -a

How about ditching the commands altogether and just having a button that fixes the installation? Or just automatically fixing it the next time you launch the package manager?

Idea #4347: gksudo if I try to do an action I don’t have access to
If I’m an admin user who is able to sudo and gksudo, why would you say access is denied instead of allowing me to authenticate?

This isn’t a security issue, as I am already in the admin group, and I already have the sudo password.

Idea #7792: Use BitTorrent as primary protocol for apt-get
No reason not to do this. Puts less load on the servers. Faster downloads. Everyone’s happy.

Idea #8008: Provide a simple interface for labeling partitions and external drives
If I want to rename my thumb drive, why can’t I just F2 it? Do I have to install mtools and look up cryptic commands off the Wiki?

Idea #11107: Users and Groups should always make sure at least one user is in the admin group
By Users and Groups I mean the graphical menu item System > Administration > Users and Groups. If someone is the last admin, she shouldn’t be able to remove herself from the admin group via the GUI. If she knows what she’s doing and wants to do it from the command-line, that’s fine.

No one should have to reference this sudo fix because of an unchecked box.

Idea #15067: Publish and publicize a developers’ hardware list
The Ubuntu releases inevitably have bugs for certain users with certain hardware configurations. And there’s no way for the developers to test all hardware configurations. Well, what are the developers using? If they have no bugs when Ubuntu is released, I’d love to get the same hardware configurations they have.

Well, I won’t hold my breath on these. It took the Gnome devs about eight years to implement a restore from trash. Let’s see what happens.


Jaunty released today, Psychocats tutorials will be updated… soon

The new release of Ubuntu Linux, which is 9.04, nicknamed Jaunty Jackalope came out today officially.

I am slowly working on updating my tutorials to reflect any changes. Please be patient. It may take me a few weeks to catch up. I don’t think there are too many major changes from 8.10 or 8.04, though. I want to double-check, though, so give me time.

Thanks for your patience!

Asus Eee PC Linux Ubuntu

Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) Beta First Impressions

As far as I can tell, jackalopes aren’t even real animals. I still remember the first time I got a jackalope postcard over ten years ago. Well, the Ubuntu folks have decided to name the next Ubuntu Linux release Jaunty Jackalope. I’ve used every single Ubuntu release since its second one (Hoary Hedgehog). That would be 5.04, 5.10, 6.06, 6.10, 7.04, 7.10, 8.04, and 8.10. Eight releases. And I can honestly say that Ubuntu 9.04 is the smoothest, most polished release I have ever seen from Ubuntu.

I installed Ubuntu 9.04 beta (yes, it is beta, so it not guaranteed to be bug-free) on my Eee PC 701 (which, only a year after I’ve purchased it, already feels like a netbook dinosaur), and I have only one complaint (which I’ve filed a bug report on).

At first glance, it looks pretty much like any of the recent releases, but some nice little touches are in there:

  • Boot up time and general responsiveness are significantly increased, even with still the Ext3 filesystem (I don’t want to risk Ext4 at this point).
  • When the package manager is interrupted, you’re told to use the command sudo dpkg –configure -a to fix it (instead of the incorrect previously given command dpkg –configure -a
  • Hotkeys, sound, touchpad tapping, and wireless all work out of the box with the Eee PC. No tweaking or special kernels necessary.
  • Time zone selection during installation actually is by time zone and not by city.
  • More themes are included.

I can’t think of anything else off the top of my head, but it just feels good. I wanted to file as many bugs as I could before final release. I could find only one bug to file so far, though.

Good job, Ubuntu folks!