Living With Ubuntu

I still can’t stop fooling with Linux, its like having a loose tooth as a child, it must be wiggled until it falls out. This weekend I’ve been living with Ubuntu. I determined I would not give up until I had everything working, more or less, as I liked.

My impression is this. While it works mostly very well, there are many rough edges. But first the good stuff. As I have noted before, its a solid distro that installs easily and quickly. In less than 15 minutes from booting the CD, you can have a functional (if orange and ugly) desktop.

As people have said, changing the appearance is trivial. Well not exactly trivial but not exactly hard either. Here’s what my desktop looks like.

Very nice. What you see was some work. Its not that hard if you know exactly what to do, its figuring out what to do that’s the challenge. So what’s on the desktop? Well first there are screenlets. But don’t bother to use the version that’s comes in the Ubuntu repositories. Add the Ubuntu repository on the Screenlets Download Page to get the most current version. The widgets that are running are called AllCoreCPUUsage and Netmon, both are available at Gnome-Look. Why not gDesklets? Because it does not work with Ubuntu 8.04. Don’t know why. That’s one of the rough edges mentioned. Another is that the Desklet widgets aren’t that pretty, they’re just better than gKrellm.

Obviously the closed nVidia drivers are running along with Compiz and Emerald. Both were easy to install and configure using synaptic and the standard Ubuntu repositories. Installing compiz fusion icon lets you easily configure Emerald as the default window decorator. The Emerald theme that’s running is LuminoX, again available at Gnome-Look.

But, you say, you still haven’t banished the ugly orange. Wait no longer, download Greenman from the ubiquitous Gnome-Look. It provides Metacity themes, icon themes, gdm themes and a usplash theme all in soothing green instead of ugly orange. If you feel more blue, try Bluman instead.

On of the bigger pains of this setup was getting Avant Window Navigator right for me. If you enjoy having AWN act as your task manager, like the Apple dock, then you can just install the AWN packages supplied by Ubuntu and be done with things. If however, like me, you want AWN to be “just a launcher” you have some work to do. First install the awn-testing repository, here is the line to put in sources.list:

deb hardy main

Then use synaptic (or apt) to install the AWN packages that include “trunk” in the name. What does this get you? Access to a new AWN applet called Simple Launcher. Install one instance of simple launcher for each application you wish to “just launch” and disable the main applet and you will have “just a launcher” with all the other AWN eye candy. My version of AWN is running the Lucidity theme available at, you guessed it Gnome-Look.

Of course you know you need to install all the stuff like mp3 support and various other codecs like Quicktime. Try this single command in a terminal:

sudo wget -O
/etc/apt/sources.list.d/medibuntu.list && sudo apt-get update
&& sudo apt-get install medibuntu-keyring && sudo
apt-get update && sudo apt-get install libdvdcss2 w32codecs

That should get it for you.

Mostly there. The most tedious thing to do was install the icons. The package is

glass-icons version 0.2, available you know where. Be sure to read the installation instructions in the reader comments. The directory structure is screwed up in the package for Ubuntu 8.04 and needs some adjustments.

Now you should have a great looking desktop. But what were the rough edges I mentioned? Well its mostly little things, but they add up after a while. For example, suspend and resume works on my setup, but only if I use the function button. If I have the system set to suspend when I close the lid, resume works but X gives me a blank screen and I have to crtl-alt-backspace to restart X and log in.

The fit and finish is also off. The login screen when coming out of screen saver or resuming from stand by does not look like it belongs. Synaptic does not have the same buttons as the rest of the system or same look and feel, and lots of little things don’t match. Another annoyance is the gnome screensaver system. You can’t make any adjustments to individual screensavers. Instead, the good folks at Gnome (the same people who brought you default spatial browsing) simplified screensavers by requiring that each minor change in the way a screen saver works requires a new theme file. To adjust things by hand you will need to look at the man page for each screensaver (man Euphoria for example), find out how the command line for that screensaver works and adjust the file found in /usr/share/applications/screensavers. Some simplification.

At the end of the day, compared to Vista, there are just as many annoyances with Ubuntu. UAC is no more intrusive than sudo and things must still be tweaked a lot to make them meet my preferences. The main differences are that Ubuntu can be tweaked more than Vista, and Vista runs more business applications than Ubuntu. Both are stable systems. Call me crazy, but I have never experienced a Vista crash, even one caused by a misbehaving driver. Vista suspends and resumes perfectly on my hardware, Ubuntu does not. Most of all Vista supports external monitors and my docking station, Ubuntu, as noted in an earlier post, provides no meaningful support for external monitors with my hardware.

For now I’ll stick with Vista and keep playing with Ubuntu.