Trying Out Ubuntu

So I thought I’d try out Ubuntu 12.10.

I’ve heard mostly good things, but I’m weary of any GNOME 3 silliness when it comes to the desktop.

The Ubuntu installer worked well enough, even though I wanted to awkwardly install it to the blank space at the end of drive, it did this quite well. I was getting prepared to have to re-do my boot partition, but Ubuntu uses the up-to-date GRUB2 which is a wonder to get going. Unlike GRUB or LILO, GRUB2 is largely automatic and picks up the installed OS’s on my system perfectly.

Anyway, first boot into Ubuntu was a little strange, mostly because the resolution was horrid and small. I couldn’t get the right sort of resolutions working, nor could I get the displays connected set to not mirrored, so I gave up and installed the NVIDIA drivers through the Software Sources button in the system settings. This is a very odd place to put it, but there you go. Later on, I realised that by installing ARandr you can set up the displays way better, including the resolution I like that NVIDIA locks out by only allowing EDID displays now. You can do it command line as well, but of course, both miss the point. It should have been in the display menu in the first place – ARandr doesn’t even appear in the settings menu after installation. Besides, Randr gave me blurry screen fonts whereas the NVIDIA driver didn’t (getting it working that way did involve me having to create a Xorg.conf file and then adding the allownonedid stuff to it though).

The downside to that is every time I log in the desktop has a text file telling me it couldn’t set a bunch of modes. The fun part is that it has no obvious way of shutting it. There’s no close button in the top bar like with other windows. I eventually Alt-dragged the main window which revealed a close button. I could probably look it up, common Ubuntu problems are really easy to fix by searching for the problem I’ve found.

The other irritation for me was the inclusion of just Firefox. The second was the lack of Google Chrome anywhere in the Ubuntu Software Centre. Sure I could get Chromium, but I much prefer the real thing, thanks. Still, getting it wasn’t difficult, but its baffling why this wouldn’t be in Software Centre. The difference is admittedly subtle, they’re almost the same thing, but Chrome has some extra proprietary add-ons, like the internal flash and PDF rendering, and the bundled AAC and MP3 decoding. And a more colourful icon.

Anyway, after logging out and back in, and ending up with no window decorations I had to go to a Ctrl-Alt-F1 to a terminal to restart the computer. This shouldn’t happen, either use the new drivers after update, or if (as I suspect) you can’t because of GNOME 3 then restart the computer, don’t just fail and then give me no way to log out or restart!

Finally, NVIDIA was up and runni … sorry, Ubuntu 12 has experienced an internal problem, gnome-control-center. Well, that’s GNOME 3 for you. (Starting to notice a pattern?). Okay, so let’s ditch the attempt at having two seperate X sessions running like I prefer. Let’s just stick to one basic screen for now. Oh, now nautilus has crashed and my screen is stretched and I have to click things to the left of where they are. Right anyway, after some more configuration, I finally got just the screen in front of me activated and working. Now to change the fonts. And you can’t. Hm.

One thing I have been thankful to Ubuntu for is keeping Compiz alive, Ubuntu’s Unity uses Compiz to drive its desktop effects. Unfortunately, the compiz plugins that are not enabled in Unity are not in the shop either, so I had to install those with a command. Once I did, I tried the usual two tweaks I make, enabling wobbly windows, and opacity. One is just a cool visual effect that makes sitting at your desktop a little more pleasant. The other is a little more utilitarian; allowing me to see behind windows by altering their opacity. Very useful if you’ve ever placed a window next to another one so you can still see both, why not just place them near each other and make the top layer semi-visible?

Unfortunately, this crashed most of GNOME 3. So they had to go again. Maybe that’s why they aren’t in the shop :/

Goodbye Wobbly Windows, hello sadly static window edges.

But most of that was me being picky, and some problems you probably won’t have by default, or can be fixed on installation of something like Arandr. The actual defaults and bundled applications that Ubuntu provide are pretty awesome, and really, that’s why distributions like Ubuntu exist. Even if I’m not going to be suddenly swayed over to Ubuntu, I am going to try out all of the programs it installs by default to see if they’re any good. I’ve been looking for a backup program that’s good and doesn’t pull in too much gnome stuff for a while now.

Another annoyance was that during install, I said, sure, update the packages, and sure install all the proprietary stuff. Neither of which it did in ways I expected, after installing I still have forty gazillion updates to install and the ‘Ubuntu restricted extras’ package wasn’t installed despite the option on install mentioning by name some of the software it contains.

Once all the proprietary stuff was installed, I could watch youtube again. The thing that bugged me is that whilst Unity was very usable and didn’t do stupid stuff because I hit a screen edge with the cursor it wasn’t actually very swift at bringing things up. For example, the settings menu comes up quite swiftly, but clicking Software Sources within it only brings up that application after quite a large pause. Is it loading things from the internet before popping up or something? After all, it didn’t apply to everything. One thing I really dig about the Dash Home button is the ability to search for a program by typing, which can be faster than searching through a menu provided you know the likely name of the thing you want to run. This feature is however, not a replacement for a menu with everything in it. I would like the see a Linux Desktop do both like Windows 7 does – which quite frankly has the best implementation I’ve seen so far. A little annoying that typing randr wouldn’t find ARandr for some reason. So I think you have to know the beginning of the name too. XCFE’s Application Finder in Expanded mode is pretty close, but not quite as nice.

At first I was very sceptical of the side-bar menu. I’m a fan of persistent menus that don’t disappear when you move your mouse away, I prefer having it there and losing a smidge of screen-estate rather than having to wait a bit before popping up the basic menu, but it is just that; a preference. Generally though, I prefer my menu at the top, case in point is the design of the browser (in general, I mean) which has bars at the top and sometimes bottom of the Windows, so the colour of a web-page background isn’t broken up, on the side it does. On the other hand I can see the logic of having a side bar because on widescreen monitors especially the text is often in a narrow portion of the screen anyhow. I did like the way it compressed the icons of the menu too and the coloured background of the icons make recognising a loaded application easy to identify to replace that large window bar we’re used to.

Ubuntu has essentially applied a usability filter for people who aren’t using touchscreens over the top of GNOME 3 for a sensible alternative to GNOME Shell. That’s no mean feat, GNOME 3 is a usability disaster.

This makes sense considering what they say about Ubuntu for Android.

“Android is a mobile solution, designed for a touch interface on a handheld device. On the desktop, where users expect a pointer-driven experience, a PC operating system is essential. Several vendors have tried to bring Android-based desktops or laptops to market, with no success; Android was designed for touch only, and has its hands full winning the tablet wars.”

Finally, someone who understands!