In The Armchair

Ubuntu 8.10: Love and Hate

Posted in Computers by Armchair Guy on December 10, 2008

ubuntu-logo-810I decided to quit being obsolete and upgraded from Ubuntu 7.10 to 8.10.  8.10, aka Intrepid Ibex, is not a long term support version and most reviews I read said it didn’t really make waves over 8.04, but then I was upgrading from 7.10, Gutsy Gibbon.  I expected it to make waves for me!  Indeed there were a lot of extremely useful things Intrepid does better than Gutsy.  Frustratingly, it also breaks a lot of things that were already good in Gutsy.  Here’s a kind of review with some details under various headings.  My installation is on a Lenovo T61 with an nvidia 140m card.

Things I’ve Dealt With So Far

Installation. The first thing I tried was to upgrade from Gutsy to Hardy (i.e. 8.04), planning a further upgrade to Intrepid.  BIG MISTAKE.  The upgrade took 3 hours (I do have a lot of packages), did a hotch-potch job, didn’t update the boot manager GRUB, and broke X completely (nvidia 140m wasn’t recognized after reboot, installing proprietary drivers didn’t help either).  At this point I gave up on upgrading since I was only interested in Intrepid Ibex anyway.  I installed Intrepid from a CD, the install was trivially simple but with a couple of scary moments:

  1. Selecting manual partitioning, the install GUI makes it look like everything will be wiped from the disk (based on the before and after pictures).  It doesn’t actually do this, but I was very nervous clicking “Forward”.
  2. In the partitioner, while editing a partition the dialog should tell you which partition you are actually editing.
  3. As usual, it doesn’t mention that the first user has a special status (Administrator but not root) on the install.  I’d rather not have sudo privileges for my usual login; I call this user “admin”.  The installer should warn about this.
  4. It asked me whether I wanted to import previous accounts, but didn’t display any information on what it would actually do!  I was planning to use a home directory with a lot of info already in it and didn’t want to take any risks, so I had to skip this and set up other accounts manually (even though maybe Intrepid could’ve done this automatically).

GRUB. Intrepid seemed to recognize all the other operating systems on my computer properly and put them into GRUB.

Bootup. Bootup is fast.  One common problem before was routine disk checking (fdisk).  This can really slow down bootup at times when you are in a hurry, you want to postpone and move on.  Intrepid does two nice things: first, it shows the disk check progress in the splash screen rather than the console, and it allows you to press Esc to postpone it to next time.

Network Manager. This program always gives me trouble, and this time was no different.  It doesn’t always come up on the non-admin accounts; sometimes I have to manually invoke nm-applet.

Nvidia Proprietary Driver. As soon as you login you get the option of installing the proprietary Nvidia graphics driver which provides 3D acceleration.  This is a pretty useful driver.  But the driver installer had an annoying glitch: I kept clicking on “activate” and it would bring up a dialog of some sort that disappeared immediately, and do nothing.  On the 5th or 6th try it suddenly worked and activated the proprietary driver.  No more trouble after that.

Fonts. Operating system fonts look even more awesome than before all round.  UNTIL you install the Nvidia proprietary driver, after which they’re ok but not that awesome.  Firefox fonts, on the other hand, are a different story.

Firefox. Intrepid installed Firefox 3.0.4. Works as expected, nothing new here, except a couple of weird things:

  1. Fonts in Firefox are awfully ugly.  (The rendered fonts, not the ones on the menubar etc.)  Maybe this is because all the websites want to use Microsoft fonts, I don’t know.  I fixed it by going to Edit -> Preferences -> Content -> Advanced and unchecking “Allow web pages to choose their own fonts…”.
  2. While trying to get fonts in Firefox to work, I moved my .mozilla folder to .mozilla.old and then back.  Somehow Firefox went and deleted everything in those folders, including bookmarks, customizations and history for 4 profiles.  I have to start with a blank slate now.  I’m probably to blame as well, but Firefox shouldn’t just delete everything without asking.
  3. Firefox hangs occasionally while exiting.  When it does this, it forgets all tabs that were open.  This is really problematic.

X.org. Intrepid has X.Org 7.4.

  1. The big deal with X.Org 7.4 is its hotplug support, of which I am already an extremely grateful beneficiary: I can now dock and undock my computer from the Lenovo mini-dock.  AWESOME!  Before, the only solution was to restart the X server after docking or undocking (using Ctrl-Alt-Backspace).  The freedom to move about with my laptop is so liberating I feel like I lost 5 lbs and have improved lung capacity.
  2. But on the downside, the new server is glitchy. Once I’ve logged in to any account, I can’t log out.  Logging out simply blanks the screen.  Even Ctrl-Alt-Backspace doesn’t seem to restart the X server.  Sometimes I get a weird message saying my video card isn’t recognized.  Sometimes I’m just dropped to the console, without a shell.  All I can do at that stage is Ctrl-Alt-Del to reboot.  If I try to switch users instead of logging out, I sometimes don’t get a taskbar or panel after switching.
  3. Intrepid changes the keycodes for X, creating a whole host of problems for software relying on the keycodes.  One of the affected programs is DosBox, which no longer recognizes the arrow keys correctly.  (Fortunately the fix for DosBox is simple: insert the lines
    [sdl]
    usescancodes=false

    into a file called .dosboxrc in the home directory and restart dosbox.)

xmodmap. I used xmodmap to switch Caps Lock and Ctrl to help avoid RSI.  Previously Ubuntu recognized this switch as soon as I put a .Xmodmap file in my home directory.  It’s stopped doing this, but it’s fairly simply to get Ubuntu to do this every time my session starts up.  Supposedly the X keycode reassignment also creates problems with xmodmap, but I don’t use keycodes so I’m ok so far.

User Management. Some glitches in the GUI tool:

  1. Say you’re trying to add a new user whose home directory already exists, from a previous installation.  It won’t let you do it!  The error message is that the home directory already exists.  There should be a follow up action: create user anyway, or no, thanks.
  2. Say you’re trying to add someone to a group.  The user manager gives you a list of users you can add to the group but only displays the full name of the users (not their usernames).  So if two people have the same name, it’s impossible to tell who you’re adding to the group!

Konqueror. This was the most unkindest cut of all.  I loved Konqueror 3. Even though I don’t use Kubuntu, I still used Konqueror as my main file browser; I think it’s much more functional than Nautilus. But Intrepid has Konqueror 4.1.2, a horrifically amputated version of the heroic Konqueror 3 which could do almost anything.  Now:

  1. There is no Create Folder item in the right-click menu.
  2. There is no folder tree view (I think).  Folders can’t be expanded by default (the little (+/-) beside the icon is missing) — although after some digging I could enable it via Settings -> Configure Konqueror -> Views and checking Expandable Folders.  But I have to do this every time I start Konqueror.  There doesn’t seem to be a way to save this setting.
  3. When viewing an image, it doesn’t show icons for the next and previous picture in the folder.  Clicking the “Previous” button after viewing an image takes you back, but it forgets where in the directory hierarchy you were — so you have to click a series of (+) symbols to re-open your directory.  So Konqueror can no longer be used as an image viewer.

Why did they do this to Konqueror?  They should rename it Konquered.  Update: after some intensive google searching, I found out how to install KDE 3 under Intrepid.  It seems a little quirky, but it does have a version of Konqueror I can live with.

Hibernate. This is one of the two changes I’m excited about, one of the reasons why I wouldn’t consider going back to an earlier version of Ubuntu.  It appears as if Hibernate actually works out of the box on the Lenovo T61.  I’m not sure whether it worked on Ubuntu 8.04, but this is a feature I’ve been craving for at least 3 years.  There are problems with hibernate:

  1. It is extremely slow (takes much longer than rebooting)
  2. When it comes back, it first garbles the screen and beeps loudly (twice), which means I better not bring the laptop out of hibernation during a meeting.
  3. It doesn’t feel like real hibernate — I get the feeling it’s loading a bunch of libraries which it wouldn’t have to do if restoring the computer state.  It feels like it hibernates individual running applications.
  4. When it comes back it forgets about my multiple desktop placement and dumps all my apps onto one desktop (another reason I say this isn’t real hibernate).  This is related to problematic interactions between Compiz’s workspace switcher configuration and Metacity’s.

I also haven’t played with it enough to know whether it’s otherwise stable, but no problems so far.

Update-manager. Can’t run update-manager from a root console anymore.

Skype. This very important application is barely usable anymore.  It may have something to do with the use of the new Pulseaudio audio server.  The person at the other side hears me barely or not at all, often with an echo.  Skype used to work fine with 7.10.  OTOH, I can now video-conference with Skype!

Printing. I can’t seem to print in landscape mode any more.  I’ve encountered this problem so far with evince and Adobe Acrobat Reader 8.  The application’s “landscape” option shows up properly in the print preview.  But when I actually try to print it prints wide without rotating, with the result that only the leftmost 2/3 or so of the page is visible on paper.  This is almost a dealbreaker; there were no such problems with 7.10.

Sound. This is one of the more troublesome parts of Intrepid.  I think it has something to do with the introduction of PulseAudio as a sound… server?  I know very little about how sound works under Ubuntu,  but whatever it is, it keeps crashing repeatedly.  At least once a day.  There is no sound after the crash, with various applications complaining that they can’t initialize sound.  The only way to fix it if I do need sound seems to be to reboot.  Skype sound quality also seems affected, though I’m not yet sure Ubuntu’s sound is to blame.

Untested Features I’m Excited About

USB Boot Disk. Nifty new feature; you can write your installation to a USB drive and boot off it on any other computer, thus taking your entire setup with you whereever you go.

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2 Responses

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  1. Lawerence said, on February 2, 2013 at 8:22 am

    I’m curious to find out what blog system you’re using?
    I’m experiencing some minor security issues with my latest blog and I would like to find something more secure. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Armchair Guy said, on February 8, 2013 at 4:31 am

      Lawrence:

      I’m using the free wordpress website. I chose one of the themes they have available (I think it’s called Journalist or something similar). I’m not very familiar with blogging software, so I’m afraid I can’t offer much advice on the secureness of blogging platforms. Good luck!


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