Ubuntu 6.06 LTS is released, I possibly have no life


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.

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.

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!

California dreaming, racks, WikiTeam

I’m going to be in San Diego for the next few days. I hope my guitars (I’m taking 3) survive the Yuma desert on the way out there. The Priority band (website’s down, so no link) is playing for a camp at Point Loma. I should be excited, but I’ve done this before, and last time I was large and in charge. This time I’m not only playing guitar, but I’ll also be helping run the behind-the-music show.

As in, racks. Or rather, rack – a very large 20 space rack! We just put this together, and it has everything we could ever need (minus recording equipment). Not to mention it is so pretty, it deserves a unique name and recognition as a work of art. In this case, a picture would speak much better than I, but since the rack is stuffed away in a trailer, you’ll have to wait (I promise I’ll post a pic). This new outboard rack consists of (from top to bottom):

  • Furman Pro Power Conditioner
  • 2 Behringer Multicom Compressor / Limiters (8 channels of compression)
  • 2 Behringer Virtualizer Pro Effects units (4 channels of effects)
  • Numark professional dual-deck CD player (with separate controller space)
  • 3 Behringer Ultragraph dual-channel 31-band graphic equalizers (6 channels of eq)
  • 4U rack drawer with lots of toys (microphones, etc.)
  • Furman Pro Power Conditioner (yes, that means 2!!)

On this trip, we also have the privilege of borrowing 8 Sennheiser Wireless units (with Countryman headsets if needed) and 4 Intelligent sound-sensitive stagelights.

At this point you’re wondering about “WikiTeam” in the title. Well, after some discussion on #ubuntu-doc, the next Ubuntu Documentation Team meeting will decide whether or not to form a new subteam (or possibly a separate team entirely) whose sole responsibility would be Wiki janitorial work. Now, that may not sound very elegant, but I’m really good at it, and it can be hacked on from any computer / platform (read: my Windows laptop). The Ubuntu Wiki needs a lot of help, especially now that it has been converted from Plone to MoinMoin. I see the Wiki as being the centrifuge of knowledge, information and documentation between the forums, the DocTeam, and unofficial documentation. I’m working on debugging various Python scripts that can convert HTML to MoinMoin (and back again) and DocBook to MoinMoin (and back again).

mdke (a DocTeam member) and I are interested in creating the WikiTeam. I hope that the rest of the DocTeam will see the need. Of course, once it passes our internal vote, it may then have to go to the Community Council meeting to be approved officially. Perhaps then I’ll nominate myself for Ubuntu membership. :)

Kubuntu Package Menu

I felt the need for a GUI way of installing local packages on Kubuntu. Part of my plan to GUI-ize the “last mile” of CLI (command line interface) functions in Kubuntu. I found one for Debian packages, but it was debianized and wasn’t particularly descriptive. Great GPL’d code, though, so I made my own.

See it at http://kde-apps.org/content/show.php?content=23981

Next on the list: a good way to edit options in all the /etc/*.conf files from a Control Center module. Also, someone needs to add a verbose feature to Kynaptic Package Manager, and a sources.list editor dialogue.

More Fun with Kubuntu

This is a continuation of my original Kubuntu usability post. I’ve dived much deeper into Kubuntu juice now. Here are some fun things I have working:

  • DVD Video playback, with full 5.1 audio, in Kaffeine
  • Media playback on the Internet, such as Apple’s Trailers and NPR Radio. However, media only plays embedded in Konqueror. Firefox opens Kaffeine (and then crashes – don’t worry, I filed a bug). I think to solve this we need a working generic xine plugin for Firefox. That way Ubuntu users don’t have to wait for a totem-mozilla plugin, and Kubuntu users can stop worrying about Firefox crashes.
  • Full 3D acceleration, using an ATI 9700 Pro. Some people in the forums have said that I won’t be able to use compositing with 3D acceleration enabled, especially on an ATI. But we shall see.
  • digiKam – a great photo organizer for my wife. It accesses all her photos on a FAT32 partition shared with Windows.
  • DOSBox – I can now play all my favorite abandonware, such as King’s Quest, Space Quest, Duke Nukem, and Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure.
  • ZSnes – I can play all my old ROM images. Hurray! Although now I really need to find good NES/Genesis/TurboGrafx emulators.
  • BibleTime – Bible study software
  • Asaph – A Java-based worship database
  • Scribus – Desktop publishing software

However, here are some areas that need a lot of work:

  • Kynaptic needs a serious overhaul so that it more closely matches Synaptic. I want to be able to see what repository a package is from, and I also want to be able to see the packages sorted by how they are laid out on the KMenu. There also needs to be an update notifier that can sit in the system tray.
  • The package makers need to remove all the unnecessary GNOME requirements from the Firefox package.
  • Can we get Gecko into Konqueror? If so, maybe we can forget this Firefox business.
  • gtk-engines-gtk-qt needs to be on the default installation, possibly with the Clearlooks Crystal theme applied, so that when an unsuspecting user installs a GNOME app, he doesn’t know the difference.
  • There are a few KDE Improvements (kio-locate, kio-ipod, etc.) that have made it high on the list at kde-apps.org and should be considered for default inclusion.
  • OpenOffice.org looks awful. Please, please, please recompile it using the KDE OpenOffice project’s build. That one uses KDE widgets, themes, and dialogs. We’re a KDE distro, right?
  • amaroK needs to add iPod shuffle support.
  • Is Krita in universe? If not, it makes a decent KDE Gimp replacement.
  • That’s all for now, folks. Tootles!

Ubuntu Review

DistroWatch just announced this Ubuntu review on a weblog: “Ubuntu is the latest and greatest operating system built on the Linux kernel, Gnome, the GNU utilities, and the Debian packaging system. Ubuntu 5.04, otherwise known as “Hoary Hedgehog”, was released a little over 48 hours ago. It is the first Linux-based system I have encountered that is tolerable enough for me to use for everyday work. That is a great achievement. But Ubuntu is still rife with design flaws, some of them severe.” Read the full article “My first 48 hours enduring Ubuntu 5.04″.

“This one is pretty realistic, and shows standard bugs inherent in most mainstream Linux distros today.”

It also has a surprise ending. Enjoy.