Why I’m Not Using Ubuntu 6.10

Some people argue that upgrading Ubuntu is easy if you don’t install hacky scripts.

There is a very specific reason why I’m not using the latest version of my favorite Linux distribution, Ubuntu. The 6.10 “Edgy Eft” release was announced October 26, 2006. Rather than upgrading immediately, I chose to wait at least a day in hopes that the download servers wouldn’t be so busy.

So, when I went to upgrade, I first followed the official method:

update-manager -c

And then chose to upgrade to the new release. Okay, except it didn’t work. It said there were unrepairable errors, but it didn’t give any verbose output as to what those errors were. That’s fine, I’ll just use apt-get dist-upgrade. I followed the instructions precisely, making sure that all the appropriate metapackages were installed. It did require a bit of trickiness on my part to finally get the dist-upgrade command to NOT require uninstalling nearly half my system, especially including several crucial xserver and python packages. I finally did the dist-upgrade, and upon rebooting, xserver-xorg was broken. I figured that would happen. It took only about 2 minutes of additional package installations and manually editing xorg.conf to get it up. So I thought.

My first glance of the Edgy desktop was short-lived; my system hard-locked after only a few seconds. Grrr! I hopped over to rescue/single-user mode and changed the x driver to every possible failsafe option – radeon, vesa, vga. All produced the same result, so now I realized that although I was only freezing in the GUI, the xserver-xorg driver wasn’t the culprit.

I figured the upgrade must have borked something, so I ran the deadly

dpkg-reconfigure --all

which was long, pain-staking, and didn’t solve the problem. I knew that my motherboard (an ASUS P5VDC-X) has a VIA-PT880 chipset, which was incorrectly identified by the Dapper kernel. In Dapper, that made it so that AGP was only recognized as PCI, and so I had no 3D or direct rendering until I recompiled my own kernel with the correct identification of my chipset. Messages at kernel.org indicated that this was fixed in Linux 2.6.17, and Edgy was using 2.6.18, so I assumed I’d be fine.

I had an unusable Ubuntu installation, so I tried the Edgy LiveCD, planning on doing a fresh install of Edgy (what I should have done in the first place). But guess what – the LiveCD caused my system to hardlock once the desktop had loaded! Proof that Edgy is in someway incompatible with my hardware. Enough to the point that I can’t even install Edgy on my system to try and bugfix or resolve the problem.

I reinstalled trusty “Long Term Support” Dapper 6.06, and all is well that ends well. Well, after another kernel recompile to get my direct rendering back. And the reinstallation of about 450 universe and multiverse packages. Yes, all is well in Dapper.

And that is why I’m not using Ubuntu 6.10.

Ubuntu 6.06 LTS is released, I possibly have no life

https://lists.ubuntu.com/archives/ubuntu-announce/2006-June/000083.html

Considering it is 2:40am, I’m sitting in a Freenode chatroom (#Ubuntu) with over 1000 other geeks, and until just a few moments ago was eagerly anticipating the scheduled release of the next version of Ubuntu.

Not only did I feel the Internet noticeably slow (okay that’s hyperbole), I’m watching before my very eyes a real-time Internet. The release was announced on the lists, which was then copied to #Ubuntu, and then I saw a digg, DistroWatch, and Slashdot article appear. I’m still waiting for the BoingBoing article, and I’m waiting to see who will update the Wikipedia entry.

On MySpace Lameness

MySpace is a horrible excuse and attempt at a social networking site. I was playing the “social networking” game way back before the first “Dot Bomb,” and in the primitive vernacular, it was called “Six Degrees.” Now, MySpace is spreading like a viral disease, infecting innocent and formerly sane Millenials, while leaving a trail of non-Standards-compliant web mucas. Where Slashdot is a hive mind of individuals who think alike, but who each retain their own unique individuality, MySpace has become a hive mind of mindless zombies, ready to move on Rupert Murdoch’s every whim.

</soapbox>

IN OTHER NEWS, now that the SABDFL has announced plans for Dapper+1, I have the perfect opportunity to start mapping my visions for Ubuntu into specifications for the Edgy Eft release, which will be decidely more daring than previous Ubuntu releases. I also have enough time to brush up some coding skills and actually contribute something more than a lame little package menu.

From Blue to Brown

Warning! The following post uses a lot of techno-babble and less-than-well-known Linux terms. If you are not familiar with the GNU/Linux operating system, it would help to read this simple Wikipedia explanation first. I have also attempted to provide links for further clarification when using the names of specific Linux programs.

From Blue to Brown

It has been almost a year since I first booted into Kubuntu, the KDE-centric Ubuntu Linux operating system. What a wild ride. I familiarized myself with the applications and the Debian/Ubuntu way of doing Linux, and then I started to reconfigure. And then I reconfigured some more. And then I reconfigured some more. I was installing applications left and right, making DVD playback work here, getting 5.1 audio support there. I eventually let my Slackware background get the best of me, and I compiled drivers (WiFi), software (amaroK SVN, BibleTime CVS, GimpShop), and this all eventually lead to a major mental meltdown. Relating to computer tasks, anyway.

KDE (the Blue) is great for users new to Linux, because it is very similar to Microsoft Windows in many regards. It is also great for experienced Linux users, because it is highly configurable, and these configurations are easy to find, and they provide much needed relief from editing conf files all the time. But, KDE is very sloppy in several places. Mainly in presentation and appearance. This is of course is my humble opinion, but this is also, of course, my humble blog, wherewith I may opine to my heart’s content.

My biggest struggle with KDE was getting non-KDE applications to behave more like KDE applications. I understand that isn’t necessarily KDE’s fault, but much could be done in the standardization of dialog boxes and menu departments. I also started to feel very discontent with the styles and window decorations in KDE. They changed every day (probably more often than my desktop wallpaper), and I never could find something attractive. The default KDE icons, Crystal SVG, are a well-tuned professional icon set. But so much blue gets on my nerves. Literally! And there aren’t Crystal icons for every application in KDE yet, which causes graphic inconsistencies reminiscant of Windows XP still using certain older Windows 2000 icons. They don’t mix; I use computers for long periods at a time, which makes appearance a factor just as important as usability and function.

I knew where this discontent was guiding me, and you probably know by now as well: GNOME (the Brown). GNOME is the default desktop environment for Ubuntu, and thus by nature receives more love and attention in almost all departments (appearance, usability, function). For example: there was an update reminder app for Ubuntu/GNOME long before one came to Kubuntu/KDE. A fabulous icon set, a new-style Human, as well as the tango-fied Human, have been lovingly built especially for Ubuntu. They look great! Ubuntu as a complete product really looks sharp and polished. I recently upgraded my desktop to Dapper 6.06, and I’m enjoying the exploration experience.

One requirement of moving from KDE to GNOME is learning what all the dang-fangled applications do! I actually had to read the Ubuntu User Guide (great job, docteam!) to make sure I understood how to burn a CD (without K3B), and especially to make sure I could adjust system preferences and configurations. In all reality, many of the GNOME apps are ahead of their KDE cousins – Gaim has less AOL IM bugs than Kopete, Ekiga (formerly GnomeMeeting) doesn’t have an official KDE cousin yet, Firefox (default in Ubuntu) is most certainly my preferred browser over Konqueror.

There are troublesome areas, however, as goes any Linux situation in my experience. I’m sure I will appreciate the stability of the Totem movie player over the Kaffeine movie player. But the RhythmBox music player is not anywhere near amaroK’s feature set. There is an alternative called Banshee, which I may investigate soon. I haven’t actually spent that many hours in GNOME yet, so there will be a second part to this post.

What I hope to achieve from this switch is less frustration with the overall appearance of my computer, as well as less time spent configuring applications which should already be human usable.

To be continued, once I get the chance to actually sit down at my desk for a while…

Kubuntu Isn’t Making the Grade

I haven’t touched my Kubuntu desktop in about 2 weeks (about the time I ceased being an IT administrator), and it is taking some will power to try and convince myself to get back into it.

Here exist 3 MAJOR shortcomings of Linux in general, not just Kubuntu/Ubuntu/Debian.

  • No truly professional, responsive office suite. OpenOffice.org2 is sluggish on even fast machines, and it still isn’t quite where it needs to be. I disable Java, because I detest it, so I’m probably missing a few key features that depend on it. Hint to developers: just say NO to Java. KOffice, I hate to admit, is a joke. KWord is actually pretty cool and useful for people who’ve never used Microsoft Word. It is fast, and it does basic stuff. But it doesn’t support Microsoft fortmat files. Sorry, but that has been and will be a requirement for a long time. I can’t convince JoeWindows User at work to send me an OASIS format file, when he is using and always will use Microsoft Word. Oh yeah, and GNOME Office. Cute attempt. At this point I’m left with an unstable, nasty looking Microsoft Office running under Wine.
  • Cross-desktop look, feel and function. I understand this is the Linux Holy Grail Nirvana, but it hasn’t been acheived. Firefox is my favorite web browser. I use KDE. I should be able to have a Firefox in KDE that looks the same (I use Lipstik, so Plastikfox doesn’t work), feel the same (GTK-Qt Engine causes some instability in presentation, especially when drawing menus), and function the same (at least KDE Open/Save/Print dialogues, if not also KDE Bookmark/History/Wallet integration).
  • Drivers, drivers, drivers. I was so excited when I found out that my iPod Shuffle worked in Linux. A little too excited, because I couldn’t get amaroK to recognize it properly. I tried to compile the latest amaroK SVN, but it has damned too many dependencies. And good luck to those who’ve bought the latest iPod (with video). I am glad to see that there is usually always a start of a driver project whenever I buy a new toy (PODxt), but the projects are rarely complete, and you’ll often find that they’ve been abandoned for years. The beauty of open source is that someone can indeed come along and finish it, but I’m in the “It has to just work” department, not the “I can make it work” department.
  • In addition to those frustrations, Kubuntu Breezy 5.10 has a dash of salt for the open wounds. It crashes incessantly. Rather, the Konqueror binary does. I haven’t installed the latest System Setting update, but at least previously it liked to crash as well. I never had crash problems using Hoary 5.04. Although, I can’t say my computer isn’t entirely devoid of blame. It is quite the hunk of junk. My plan is to eventually build a really nice Intel-based desktop, slap on Kubuntu, use it for my casual computing, and then buy a PowerBook G4 for my audio, video and photo needs.

Diary of a Dead Computer

My primary desktop, an Athlon running Kubuntu, died last night. Specifically, I was in the middle of doing something, when all of sudden everything froze up. I could CTRL-ALT to other terminals, so I did. The password prompt took longer than usual. “Uh oh,” I thought to myself, “that looks like the kernel is having a difficult time accessing the disk.”

I spoke too soon. Mere seconds later, the terminal was flooded with disk IO errors, which is not a pretty sight to see. I tried to CTRL-ALT-F7 back to KDE and X, but it was ugly. I could work with running apps (albeit slowly), but they kept complaining about no write access. Hmm. I switched back to the terminal and decided it was time for a restart.

philip@philip~$ sudo shutdown -r now
IO Error
By the way, I hate YOU!

So I hit the reset button. Now, I was obviously expecting that fsck would have to do its thing because I did a dirty boot. Fsck complained, and hell began to break loose. I rebooted again, and this time GRUB wouldn’t load. All I got was an “error 17.” After trying several things in vain, I called my dad to get back the Ubuntu Live CD I had given him a few weeks before.

Booting into Ubuntu Live was interesting. I had never seen Gnome run on that computer. It was alright. I went to gparted, and “oh crap. Why does it say it doesn’t recognize /dev/hdb1?” (/dev/hdb1 is the problem disk). It couldn’t read the filesystem but could tell how large the volume was. I opened a terminal:

ubuntu@ubuntu~$ fsck -cy /dev/hdb1
Bad superblock on hdb1
Warning: ext3 journal is corrupt, clear (Y)? Y
ext3 journal cleared; filesystem is now ext2.

(I paraphrased this one because I couldn’t remember the exact wording.)

Basically, my disk was fsck’d. I tried mounting it to no avail, even after virtual mounts, forced mounts and wrongly declared filesystem mounts. So I decided to see if formatting would work (By this point I had accepted that my data was long gone). Using mkfs, I was able to format hdb1 back to ext3. I mounted it and… it worked.

So I had an empty drive and it was just hours away from the Ubuntu release announcement, which would surely entertain Slashdot media, meaning that the apt servers were going to be hurting. My only connection to this machine is a Linksys WUSB11 Wireless Adapter. Needless to say, things are going to be slow going.

Revival is approaching. I’m making this entry from Konqueror 3.4.2, because the release candidate CD missed the KDE 3.4.3 upgrade. The final release CD is finally in the drive, and Adept is working like a hog to install all my universe packages, plus the upgrades from the release CD.

See what packages I install from the apt repositories.

Oxygen vs. Tango, Round 1

Icons - Oxygen or Tango?
These are samples of two icon themes for Linux desktops with the same goal in mind: usability and breathtaking beauty. The problem is, Oxygen (the bottom two icons) is being created by David Vignoni for the KDE Appeal Project, which will appear in KDE 4 (and most likely Kubuntu and SuSE, since David has a SuSE contract). Not sure if Linspire will pick them up or continue to hire Everaldo to work on Crystal icons. Although, he might involve himself in Oxygen anyway.

Tango (the top two icons) on the other hand, is being created by Novell Developers and is in a very loose collaboration with the freedesktop.org folks. Their idea is to create a unified desktop across platforms that is both usable and breathtaking (BlueCurve, anyone?). They expect Gnome and KDE to just pick up these icons and sing the la-la-la-la-la happy desktop song.

Of course this is what RedHat tried way back in RedHat Linux 9, with the BlueCurve theme for KDE and Gnome. Didn’t work then, and won’t work now. Gnome wants to have its own unique, beautiful icons. KDE wants to have its own unique, beautiful icons. Distributions want unique icons (“ubuntify icons” was a priority goal for the Ubuntu Breezy 5.10 release).

Nice try Novell, but merging the Gnome and KDE projects would probably be easier than declaring a universal icon theme for all to use.

I think Oxygen looks better so far, in case you’re wondering.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out that Tango isn’t being forced on distributions. Of course I understand that. But I still interpret the goal of the project as attempting yet another Desktop Linux unification “strategery”. You can consider that good or bad. Opinions welcome.

Ubuntu Packages (or a web GUI for Ubuntu repos)

Ubuntu Packages Mockup

Here is the preview as promised. A web-based frontend for Ubuntu Repositories. Similar in function to packages.ubuntu.com, but similar in style to Download.com and Linspire’s CNR.

Whaddya think? Do we need something like this, or is Synaptic/Adept/apt-get/packages.ubuntu.com enough? I think it is a great to explore the endless software possibilities available to Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Edubuntu users.

Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger)

I didn’t have any time to make contributions to this Ubuntu release. Oh well, maybe next time. There have been some excellent improvements over 5.04, and I’ll just give a preview of what I know so far.

I ran the Ubuntu 5.10 Preview Release Live CD (which is a few weeks old) on my Sager 3760, and I almost cried at the fact that all of my hardware was recognized. My volume keys worked. My screen brightness keys worked. This being GNOME, I had to check out all the apps. Now included in Ubuntu: Gnome 2.12, Linux 2.6.12, Smeg (simple menu editor) and Bluetooth support. I’m not a GNOME fan, but I was very impressed. I hope that the default artwork is updated before the final release, because the initial desktop still looked exactly like a Hoary installation.

Next, I created a Qemu setup within Windows XP to which I installed Kubuntu 5.10 Daily Build 20050927, which was just snapped yesterday. Yay! Aside from KDE 3.4.2 (darn, wish 3.5 had made it in), it now includes amaroK 1.3.2, Kaffeine 0.7, and Gstreamer engines by default for both of those players. The artwork has had a makeover, with a matching bootsplash, KDM login screen, KSplash, and background. I do believe the default icon size for the KMenu is now 22 rather than 16, which makes it much more readable.

I’ll have more on this when I upgrade. I’m waiting till the final release.

Oh, and be ready for a sneak preview of what I’ve been cooking in Photoshop: a redesign of packages.ubuntu.com (or it could serve as a separate site), and it looks like Download.com infected with the Ubuntu Human theme. I got the idea from Linspire having their silly CNR store. Ubuntu/Debian has a repository of thousands of programs, so I wanted to somehow figure out how to advertise them better. Coming soon!

KDE4 On The Chopping Block

KDE developers are hacking away at 4, which is now in /trunk, because 3.5 was moved to a branch. There is a lot of talk about simplification, speed and eye-candy. KDE4 will hopefully blow Windows Vista out of the water (at least in my book, so that I don’t feel tempted at all to use Vista). Maybe perhaps KDE4 will hold its own against Mac OS X Leopard, which would mean that when all those MacIntel ports of applications will run just as well on Linux, and I won’t feel the temptation to switch Mac either.

Nine things KDE should learn from Mac OS X

Some basic thoughts about KDE4

Plasma Kollaboration Forum