Archive for the 'Ubuntu' Category

Why dual screens are still fail in Linux

Dual screen support is made of fail on Linux. In this post, you will learn why. I reference Ubuntu 9.04, but it applies to other distributions also. It is my hope that by documenting some of the problems, I will add intangible weight to the issue and make whoever fixes it feel good about their work.

Let’s walk through setup, shall we? First, you are required to log out after initially adding a second monitor to the system. I understand why this is, but it’s lame. I hoped that Ubuntu 9.04 would have had some magic way of fixing this. Apparently not.

Now, suppose the user is actually using the secondary monitor which has a smaller vertical resolution . One very nice feature of many window managers is edge resistance — when a window is close to the edge of the screen, it will sort of cling to the edge a little. This is usually what the user wants. As it currently stands, this is broken. The screen is treated as a big rectangle with smaller rectangular views overlayed on top of it — the monitors. The edges windows resist are on the big rectangle, not the smaller ones. This means that an edge on the smaller secondary monitor will not have resistance. This is inconsistent with the larger monitor, which is bad.

Finally, let us think about laptops. A large number of dual screen users are also laptop users, because laptops don’t usually have very big screens, and because pretty much all laptops (even low end ones) support dual screens. Laptops, being as portable as they are, have a tendency to be used in multiple locations. Some of these locations might have dual screens; some might not. When you leave a location which has dual screens, your first inclination is to unplug the second screen. Unfortunately, any windows which were visible on the second screen are now not visible at all. They now exist in a magic imaginary space off to the side of your primary screen. If you put the laptop into a power-saving mode like sleep or hibernate before pulling the second monitor out, you will have the same problem. The only solution is to end your session by shutting down the computer or restarting X11.

Advanced users will overcome this quirk by either moving all their windows off the secondary screen before unplugging it, or holding down a meta key and making blind grabs into the void in hopes of fishing out a desired window. Meanwhile, Microsoft Windows handles this issue easily. It simply moves all the windows that were on the secondary screen onto the primary screen. Why can’t X, xrandr, or the window manager do that?

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The “Ubuntu Upgrade Process” Compared Unfavorably Against “A Pile of Trash”

Dear Ubuntu,

I am mad and ranting. This is flamebait because it’s been a major problem every single Ubuntu release since I got involved four versions ago. Four freaking versions! That’s two years.

A little over one year ago, I was using Ubuntu 6.06. It was a good release, and it served me well. Then I tried to upgrade to version 6.10, and it was the worst upgrade I have ever done in my entire life. The IRC channels were flooded with people who said their systems were broken, mine included. Based on what I was told, the fact I had once used an early version of Automatix to install the fglrx 3D acceleration drivers had somehow made significant changes to my machine that lurked deep within the system, waiting to resurface and bite my head off when I upgrade. In retrospect, this was BS. There were a lot of things gone wrong with the upgrade that Automatix had absolutely nothing to do with.
I ended up reverting to 6.06 until 7.04 came out, when I backed everything up and did a clean install. This is what was have been using up until about noon today.

At noon, I made the decision that I had waited long enough, and the time had come to check out 7.10. After all, two months after release, the upgrade should be a smooth process, right? This was a horrible, horrible mistake. First, I needed to download 1.1 gigs of packages. This took three hours. Then, they were installed. This ran until 9pm.
Yes, I repeat, this was a nine hour upgrade. During this period, I was instructed not to use any programs because of “data loss.”

Oh, but it’s not an unattended upgrade either. Periodically, a dialog box would appear asking if I wanted to replace X configuration file I didn’t know existed with Y configuration file provided by the new package. While this box was on the screen, the entire upgrade would grind to a halt. There were like six of these things, spaced about 45 minutes apart. What the heck? In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this is bad design. This is disrespectful to the user. This is stupid.

Right, so the install finally completes. I reboot, to be greeted with a blank black screen. This blank screen stayed for a very long time (blinking occasionally) until the login box appeared. I decided to chalk up the long boot time to first boot and the blank screen to… a bug or whatever.

I logged into Gnome. There was an absurdly long login period, which I also attributed to first run. My processor indicator instantly shoots up to 100%. The system becomes sluggish and unresponsive. Apparently that nifty new “Tracker Desktop Search” tool is preset to begin indexing aggressively the first time an existing user logs in. I kill the process.

My mouse and windows are still sluggish. Running glxinfo reveals that my previously working fglrx drivers no longer are providing 3D acceleration. A popup message randomly appears in the center of the desktop telling me that non-free drivers are available for my hardware. It appears that it has clipped off the edge of the taskbar and taken it with it. I click it and it vanishes. Nothing happens. I eventually locate the icon in the tray that the bubble was supposed to be attached to. I double click it and it vanishes. Nothing happens. I go to the restricted drivers control panel and discover that the alert was for my unused dial-up modem; fglrx is indeed enabled. Great.

I try unchecking and rechecking it my double clicking. The desktop disappears and I am presented with the login screen. I log in again. Very long wait again. I decide to get online to find out how to fix the graphics drivers. The upgrade has uninstalled my wifi program of choice, Wicd, so I try to use the network control panel manually. Nothing happens. I try to change the essid of the network to a nonexistant network. Whoops, didn’t like that. Now I can’t get the control panel to come up at all.

Before Wicd, I used NetworkManager. It used to be buggy and not able to connect to hidden WEP networks. I’ve updated the network since than to a hidden WAP network. It connects! Yay! I’m connected to the internet! Suddenly, almost all the plugins on my taskbar all crash at the same time. Then my mouse freezes. Then the screen goes black. I wait for three minutes. Nothing happens. I’ve had better experiences with Windows ME.

At this point, I’ve wasted like thirty minutes messing with the stupid thing, in addition to the nine hour upgrade where I was hovering nearby checking every 15 minutes for “Replace configuration file?” dialogs.

This is completely unacceptable. You know what, I’m not even gonna bother anymore. I’ll just back up my recent data, wipe the entire thing, and start from scratch. It’ll take two hours, tops. Am I overreacting? No. You just wasted my day.

The Ubuntu upgrade process is junk. I’ve never had a Debian or Windows upgrade that ended as horribly as either of the times I’ve used the Ubuntu major version updater. Windows is trash. QED: The Ubuntu upgrade process performs worse than a pile of trash.

Linux CPU Frequency Scaling

I finally got CPU frequency scaling working in Ubuntu on my laptop. I’d given it up for lost a while back, but this tutorial I happened to stumble onto worked. Huzzah.

…This is really something that could be set up by default.  A bit of Python to parse the output of cat /proc/cpuinfo and modprobe the appropriate modules seems like a fairly trivial task. If not at initial installation, then as a wizard in a control panel or something.

XFCE Usability

Just a quick shoutout for people using Xubuntu and having trouble consolidating everything onto one taskbar/panel…

Xubuntu has an invisible spacer on the top panel to keep the system tray and clock plugins all the way on the right. If you want to have the tasklist take up all avalible space on the panel, you will need to locate and kill this spacer, otherwise it pushes everything on the right side of the panel off-screen.

The great thing about this spacer is that you have no idea that it’s there, you only find it by observing the wacky behavior of the panel when you re-arrange plugins. I would suggest that the XFCE developers mimic Firefox, and show a white box or the text “spacer” or something in edit mode to let the user know that there is, in fact, something on the taskbar that they can’t see. I only found the spacer by moving everything on the panel to the extreme left and right clicking on a whim.

Huzzah for usability! Tune in next week, when uncle Frem shows you how to make a complete desktop environment using only forty-eight thousand dollars and your teeth.

Condescending Attitude Toward Mac Users

Alright, I’m getting really tired of the general condescending attitude toward Mac users. This post was brought on by Ben’s thing here, (“We won’t dwell on the Mac users; they’re pretty much hopeless and demented anyway.”), but I’ve seen the attitude elsewhere also.

(a) OS X is UNIX
(b) Better UNIX then Windows.
(c) OS X *is* easier to get started with *and* maintain then Linux, even Ubuntu. More expensive, certainly, but much easier by an order of magnitude.

I would recommend OS X over Linux (even Ubuntu) for the average Joe who can afford it. More mainstream software is compatible, things “just work”, and it’s less hassle in general.

Don’t believe me? ‘Ight. Let’s play a word game.

  • MP3/DVD compatibility
  • 3D acceleration
  • Games
  • Microsoft Office
  • Photo manipulation
  • Power management

You can, of course, do all of these things on Linux. However, it is much easier to do them on a Mac. It’s stupid to expect your average Joe to search through a bunch of documentation to get 3D games working. Heck, even Ben hasn’t gotten 3D acceleration working on his laptop. MP3 and DVDs can’t be played by default on Ubuntu and require installation of an illegal (in the US) codec pack. That sort of thing is unheard of on a mainstream desktop PC. I understand this stuff is getting ironed out as we speak, but as of right now, they aren’t.

Photo manipulation with The GIMP still lags behind Photoshop. *cough* CMYK *cough*

Power management is another area Linux lags behind on. My Ubuntu laptop can hibernate, but it stopped waking up after a kernel update several months ago. I’m not alone in this either. Yeah.

As for OpenOffice.org, have you compared it to Microsoft Office 2007? The interface is vastly inferior. Even Office 2003 for Mac scores better in my book. Office 2008 for Mac should pretty sweet, if they do even a fraction of what was accomplished in the Windows version. No, really. I haven’t drunk any Kool-ade, I’m speaking as someone who has studied HIG. Office is bloated and the DOCX format is pretty lame, but it still pwns all competition. OpenOffice.org can’t even display two pages of the same document side by side. Sad, but true.

Also, there isn’t anything that comes even close to OneNote available for Linux. BasKet 1.0 is a step in the right direction, but as a OneNote user, I cringed and put it down after a few attempts to get work done. Tomboy, while a good substitute for the OneNote mini-pad thing, can’t compare to the full program. Ok, yeah, I know, no OneNote for Mac either, but y’know. At least they have notebook view in Word, we don’t even have that.

Really, I love Linux and it’s my primary operating system, but there are many good reasons to use OS X instead.

Steve Jobs pwns the music industry

Earlier today, Steve Jobs released an open letter to the music industry. In it, he argued that digital rights management is both fundamentally flawed and unnecessary. Wow. Jobs has power, and he’s using it for good. If record companies pay heed, this would seriously be one of the best things to ever happen to music enthusiasts using computers, on any operating system.

It’s a rather interesting move. Perhaps Apple is seizing in on how Microsoft has been getting beat up lately for including extensive DRM support in Windows Vista.

Picking Through the Rubble that is Ubuntu 6.10

First off, I really like using Ubuntu. Here at the university, my time is in short supply, and it’s nice to have something that I don’t have to tweak at if I don’t want to. (Things that do require constant maintenance include Windows, Gentoo and Slackware.) Ubuntu just works. At least, it used to. Then I heard about the next release, a slightly less reliable testing version by the moniker of “Edgy Eft”. But it’s a major release, right? One new official release every six months and an extended support release once every two years. So, while it probably won’t be as good as the current LTS (long time support) version, it can’t be horrible, can it? Well, can it?

Ah, yes. It’s never a good sign when the upgrade program shipped on the cd is broken, is it? I was denied the task of upgrading off my shiny new CD-ROM by an ugly python error message and some text urging me to report this as a bug. I don’t recall seeing a URL displayed with the message, and I didn’t feel like googling to find the official Ubuntu bug station. So I proceeded manually.
Now, I only have 3 Gigabytes of bandwith a month, so I had to install directly off the CD-ROM. My general idea was to tell Ubuntu that the CD contained an abundance of happy new packages which are better then the old ones. Ubuntu would then process them and upgrade everything. Except, it didn’t work that way.

“Behold, ye of limited bandwidth,” proclaimed my computer. “The path of the CD is a lame one. Allow me to show you a better way.” I was then asked for permission to download 1.2 gigabytes of data. For the good of mankind, of course.

“Forget mankind!” I said. It was a long hard struggle. I’ve posted my fragmented upgrade notes here in the hope they might come in handy to someone.

I’ve got a Radeon Xpress 200M card in this Toshiba Satellite notebook, and after upgrading, I was greeted by both a broken boot screen and an X.org server crash. The boot sceeen was resolved with a quick “apt-get install ubuntu-desktop”, but X was a bit trickier to fix. You can get a quick fix by enabling the basic, no-3d-acceleration “ati” driver, but in the time it takes you to do that, you might as well go here and read up on the fix.

Even though Eft looked like an utter disaster the first time I booted it up, underneath it’s quite nice. Nothing exactly revolutionary, but updated versions of all your programs are always appreciated. They fixed a bunch of small annoyances as well, like the high pitched pips and squeaks my speakers used to make when I turned the volume up all the way.

But, yeah. It’s actually a pretty good upgrade, but only if you know what you doing and are prepared to be set up the bomb. Everyone else, just stick with Ubuntu 6.06 LTS – for great justice.


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