Tag Archives: Linux

Docking Station Support in Ubuntu 8.10

I am pleased to say that 8.10 supports my docking station and attached external monitor.  Kudos to the devs, this is the first time this has been supported in at least four versions by my count.  This is not unmitigated success however.  When I attach the computer to the dock I have to open the lid to use the function key to switch from the laptop display to the desktop display.  You can guess what happens next.  Because I have the system to set suspend when I close the lid, bingo, it suspends when I close the lid.  With the lid closed I can resume the system with the power button on the dock, but its a pain in the neck.

Other problems are surfacing as well, mostly regarding Thunderbird.  All-tray, an application in the Ubuntu repositories, will not work with Compiz turned on.  Rather it works when you set it up initially, but it forgets the settings for any apps you close.  There are posts and bug reports all over the place about this, but nothing has changed here since 8.04.

Another weird issue is the inability of AWN to display a simple launcher with a Thunderbird Icon on it.  Any other app works, just not Thunderbird.  Passing strange.

There is also some problem with  network manager and the Wi-Fi setup here at work.  At home I use a pass phrase to connect to my Wi-Fi router using WPA-PSK.  No problem.  At work, same setup, but we use a 256 bit Hex key represented by 63 ASCII characters to log on.  Every time I entered the Hex key network manager would change it.  I can’t log on.  Windows has no problem with this set up. 

In addition, ScribeFire really stinks compared to Windows Live Writer.  Not even close.  So this is being posted from Vista using Live Writer.

Ubuntu almost got me this time, but there are too many nagging issues to make me want to undergo the pain of a switch.  I’m still on Vista.

Living With Ubuntu 8.10

As I have said before, while I prefer to use Windows Vista for day to day tasks, I can’t seem to let Linux go.  It is certainly my OS of choice on servers (the more so after I tried Windows Home Server for several weeks, but that’s another story).  I just wish it were more user friendly and had more polished apps on the desktop.

Don’t mistake what I mean, there are polished applications for the Linux desktop; Open Office, Firefox, K3D and Amarok come to mind.  But there are a number of widely used Linux desktop applications that absolutely are not ready for prime time; Pidgin, The Gimp, and Evolution pop up in this category.

In addition, there are whole categories of things you can’t do in Linux in terms of interacting with gadgets you might have around the house that are simply impossible with Linux.  Sync with a cell phone?  Probably not.  View TV from your Sling Box?  Not.  Work with a multi-function printer or use all the functions of your fancy printer?  Maybe and getting better.  Use all the functions of your laptop?  Sometimes and getting better.

The most annoying problem with Linux is the whining.  “Device manufacturers won’t write drivers or good drivers or open drivers for Linux”.  “That codex, format, whatever is proprietary and we can’t support it (or worse its non-free anathema).”  “You’re not paying for it, what do you expect.”  “Fix it yourself.”  “Works for me.”  Quit whining, keep coding until it just works.

Many of these problems would be solved by the network effect.  The more people who use Linux the more device manufacturers will be willing to write drivers, the more people might use open formats (although that seems unlikely based on the non-uptake of ogg).  People want what they want and they want things that work without any futzing around.

So with all that in mind, on to Ubuntu 8.10.  I am running it on a Dell Latitude D820 with 4 gig of ram installed (not that it matters because the MB only recognizes 3.3 gig).  I did a clean install of Ubuntu 8.10 RC on its own disk (not dual boot) and then updated to the final version when released with apt-get dist-upgrade.  This review is being written using ScribeFire on Ubuntu 8.10.

And here’s what the desktop looks like:

It looks pretty much like the desktop I had in 8.04 (see picture in this article) with only a few minor changes brought on by laziness.  For my daily usage the major changes from Ubuntu 8.04 to 8.10 are as follows:

  • The big plus is that finally, after a long time waiting, suspend and resume seems to work.  Its a little early to tell for sure but I have been able to set my system to suspend when the lid is closed and, sure enough, thats what it does.  But it did that with 8.04.  Here’s the really amazing part.  When I open the lid again after an hour or so, the system resumes.  I’ll wait a few more days before declaring total victory on this point because I’ve spoken too soon before, but it looks really good so far.
  • OpenOffice opens like a rocket on Ubuntu 8.10, as fast as Office on Windows.  Who knew that if application makers could see the innards of the operating system they could make the app run faster?  But why did they not ship with OO 3.0.  To get the newer version add the following repository: deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/openoffice-pkgs/ubuntu intrepid main
  • Installing Flash was mindless.  It installed the first time I surfed to a web page that required it.
  • No more nag for a keyring password.  I think that happened in 8.04, but its still nice.
  • Despite many advances and the addition of the Medibuntu repository, the requirement to add a repository just to get mp3 support is still a negative.  No its not hard (probably non-trivial for a newbie), but its something we shouldn’t have to do.
  • Gnome still sucks generally and is hard to make look like I want it to look.  It goes pretty fast now because I have taken notes on the process and have all the files I need at hand.  But if you are new to Gnome on Ubuntu, trying to banish the horrid ugliness that is the Ubuntu default look is a daunting process because there are so many things you have to touch in so many place.
  • The lack of a launcher bar that works as easily and seamlessly as Rocket Dock on Windows remains a notable miss for me.  If you don’t like to use a launcher bar, then there is not a problem for you.  But for myself, I need to get the testing version of AWN to get launchers that are just launchers, no task bar type action.
  • Desktop widgets in gnome remain generally ugly since the last version.  Nowhere near as nice as Yahoo Desktop Gadgets or the Vista Gadgets.  I guess I could run Google desktop gadgets if they had anything remotely resembling what I want.  I just want a Dual Core CPU monitor and a network activity monitor in a nice matching theme, or better yet a combined gadget.  I couldn’t find a multi core gdesklet monitor and the Screenlet monitors I found (ugly though they are) are the best things going.
  • Exaile is a reasonably nice music player, although I have to say I prefer both the look and the way WMP works to Exaile.  Maybe I’ll try a few Exaile themes to at least improve its looks.  Oh, wait, there are only three and none of them do anything but rearrange the tabs and 2 out of three don’t work on the version of Exaile in the Ubuntu repository.  

Now lets talk aesthetics for a moment.  I know I said Ubuntu’s default scheme was ugly, but the problems really go farther than that.  Mark Shuttleworth says that Ubuntu needs to become more beautiful than Apple if it is to gain significant market share.  I have got news for Mark, Ubuntu needs to first get as beautiful as Windows.  There is no sense of any sort of wholeness to the system.  Things like the login screens and relogin screen from suspend don’t match the others.  There is no coherency between the applications, not even as close as Windows.

So my initial conclusions reamain about the same as for 8.04.  Its ok, but there are not enough benefits make me want to rip out Windows and its huge number of supported programs, especially when Ubuntu is downright not as attractive or easy to configure as windows.  And remember all my business applications run on Windows.  I’m not talking about Office, I’m talking about real core business applications, like the ones that run my phone system, print labels on my shipping line, run my accounting system, run my point of sale system etc. 

But I still might consider switching if it can pass one test:  will it work with my docking station.  We’ll see tomorrow and I’ll report on the results.

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 http://ppa.launchpad.net/awn-testing/ubuntu 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
http://www.medibuntu.org/sources.list.d/hardy.list -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.

Fedora 9

Yesterday I thought I would see what was going on in the Fedora world. It has been a long time since I used Red Hat with any regularity on the desktop but it would be good to be able to since all my servers run CentOS — more time spent with common commands and structures would improve my knowledge.

The install went smoothly, although I must say the live CD is a bit flaky. At least on my system it produced several screens full of IO errors before trying some alternate method of loading the system. Eventually the OS came up, looked beautiful and let me easily connect to a wireless network. So far so good.

Installing from the Live CD desktop was no problem either. Red Hat’s installation system has long been one of the best and easiest to use. I had Fedora running on my laptop without a hitch in about 15 minutes, including setting up a custom partition scheme.

Updating packages went well, although the layout/setup was initially confusing. The package manager does not let you do updates (or I couldn’t figure out how to to it), you do that from the update utility which, in my opinion, provides too little feedback on its progress. I think in future I will leave the updater turned off and use yum. If what I have been using is the new PackageKit, it is confusing.

Installation of Flash player was harder than it should be. I had to install an adobe respoitory in yum then install the packages. Then I still had to manually install the plugin in ~home/.firefox/plugins. All of this should be handled automagically.

Then I hit the wall. Nvidia drivers are not supported at this time under FC9 because FC9 released with a beta/testing version of xorg that is incompatible with all of the Nvidia drivers. Nvidia is not saying when it will release compatible drivers. Bad move guys. Isn’t this the sort of thing (driver problems) MS was roundly criticized for with Vista. I guess I’ll wait and see what Open Suse 11 is like when it releases in a few weeks. Until then, back to Vista.

Ubuntu 8.04 and Laptop External Monitors

Today I conducted several additional tests to determine if I could get Ubuntu to work with the combination of my Latitude D820, docking station, and Dell flat panel connected through the docking station with a DVI-D cable.

First I tried all of the video settings in the BIOS one at time and in various combinations. No joy nothing worked. Then I tried connecting via VGA cable and with various BIOS settings, again, nothing worked. Then I tried connecting the VGA cable directly to the back of the laptop with negative results. The GUI utility for using multiple screens did not detect the external screen and neither did xrandr -q when run from a terminal.

My conclusion is that there is no meaningful support provided by Ubuntu for running an externally connected monitor with my hardware configuration.

Unbuntu 8.04

I installed the latest version of Ubuntu several days ago with great hope and anticipation. If you have read any of my posts you know that I have had three gripes with Ubuntu and Linux in general. They are:

  1. Bad support for suspend to RAM/disk.
  2. Little to no support for syncing to smart phones/PDA’s
  3. Inability to auto detect and use external monitors.

My hope was based on some things I had learned and read during the last few months. I felt I had solved the sync issue by changing the way I thought about sync and making Google Calendar and Mail the central focus of syncing instead of my PC. There are programs available to sync my ATT Tilt to Google and Thunderbird/Lightning can also sync to Google. Everything could be synced just as before but with Google as the hub.

It also appeared that better support for xrandr and other advances in Ubuntu would enable better support for external monitors. All over the web there were reports of people having 8.04 beta versions provide support for suspend/resume out of the box. My hopes for being able to return to Linux were therefore high.

So what did I find?

Suspend to RAM works, without any adjustments, with the non-free NVIDIA drivers enabled on my Latitude D820. It was a long wait, but it really works. Now you can’t set the system to suspend to Disk after it has been suspended to RAM for a set period of time, but suspend to RAM works like a charm when you close the lid. Very cool.

There appears to be absolutely no way Ubuntu will support automatically using an external monitor attached to your laptop or docking station, in fact, after a couple of hours fooling around with settings in xorg.conf and in the the Display preferences I couldn’t make an externally attached monitor come on at all, although there is plenty of evidence online that it can be done. I posted a request for information about how to configure the behavior I wanted and got one answer that suggested I write a script to make things work (and gave me the exact script to write).

And by the way, thanks to the kind soul who tried to help me. The Ubuntu community, like most of the OSS world, is full of great people.

I wrote the script, put it in /etc/init.d/, made it executable and set it to run at startup using update-rc.d. The result? Nothing, bupkis, no external monitor. Do the Ubnuntu crew not expect that users will want to connect external monitors to a laptop and have it automatically detected and used? Please.

I never got around to testing syncing with Google as the centerpiece. But I feel sure it would work because syncing to and from Google from Thunderbird works on Windows like a charm and the plugins required are not OS specific.

There is a bunch of other stuff to like (or not). I got Avant Window Manager up and working. I installed the trunk testing version which permits launcher’s only and does not mandate that the dock be a taskbar as well. I could not find any desktop widget system that really works with Gnome. Gdesklets was a bust as was screenlets, so I resorted to the tried and true Gkrellm for my monitoring needs. Works fine as always, but its just so 1999.

Thunderbird/Lightning work as well as expected and sync with Google calendar and my IMAP accounts just fine. The only problem there was that AllTray won’t work with Compiz turned on so there is no way to minimize T-bird to the tray. Bummer.

But with two out of three problems solved, I was faced with a larger question: if I solved all of the problems I have with Linux, would I have a system with greater utility than the Windows system I am currently running? About the best I could hope for is that it has the same utility and I fear it does not have that. Why less? Because it still will not run my business applications. Are these applications out of date from a programming standpoint? Yes. But do they still work as intended? Yes. Its cheaper to buy Windows than replace infrastructure programs.

So, while I would like to move back to Linux (in fact I can’t stop trying), I’m still a Windows user.

Playing With Linux Again

Despite my vows to myself to leave Linux alone for a while and just be happy with Vista (happy, happy, joy, joy), like the addict I know myself to be, I’m playing with Linux again.

This time its Kubuntu.  I actually installed Mepis 7, but in what seems like a strange regression to me, never could get it to see my wireless network card.  Kubuntu 7.10 sees the card and, at least in the abstract works pretty well.  I have installed the nvidia drivers and all the good (but naughty) codecs provided by Automatix. 

Over the next few weeks I will see if I can get it to resume from sleep (the system seems to sleep fine, but won’t resume) and get it to work with my Dell docking station and flat panel montior.  The lack of these feature are the source of my major pains with Linux.

State of My Linux Gripes

When I moved back to Windows from Linux late last year I had four major gripes so I thought I’d report back on what progress, if any, I’ve seen in the Linux community in addressing these problems.

  1. Lack of WPA support. This has mostly been addressed in the Ubuntu distro flavors that I favor. The Intel based wireless card in my Dell just works with Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Mepis and Linux Mint.
  2. Lack of support for suspend to ram and disk. No progress. I have a question on the hardware section of the Linux Mint forum that has stayed at or near the top of the list for a week, but nobody can tell me how to make my laptop hibernate or sleep.
  3. nVidia drivers won’t work with a flat panel when the laptop is in its docking station. No progress. Not a clue or the hint of a clue. The same question on the Linux Mint forum includes this issue as well and to date, no takers.
  4. Spotty support for Palm synchronization. I haven’t tested this one yet. If I could get the flat panel to work I might get brave enough to risk the data on my palm to a sync with Evolution, but not just yet.

So the score is 1 solved mostly, 2 no progress and one unknown.