Initial impression of Ubuntu 7.10

Thursday, 18 October 2007

It’s been quite a while since I last posted something on this blog, but two days ago I decided to install Ubuntu 7.10 (a.k.a. “Gutsy Gibbon”) on my laptop. And so I thought I might share my initial impressions.

The first thing I noticed is that the network manager (used for configuring wifi connections) no longer prompts the gnome-keyring-manager to ask me for a password every time I boot the computer. This is one of the biggest improvements, in my view.

Also when you surf to a flash site for the first time, you can now finally tell firefox to install the missing flash-plugin. You even get to choose between installing gnash or Adobe’s flash, which is very nice (but be sure to select Adobe’s flashplayer for now).

And I used the alternate installation CD for the installation, so I could configure the laptop hard drive to use encryption, which is yet another new feature in version 7.10. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to do. At least now I don’t have to worry about people being able to get to my passwords, GnuPG secret keys, e-mail and other private data, if my laptop gets stolen or lost.

This is also the first Ubuntu system to finally correctly set the resolution to 1024×768 on my laptop. But although the new X configuration utility looks nice and simple, users who desire fine-grained control will still have to manually edit the xorg.conf file. Perhaps this utility will be improved in future releases.

And regrettably I have also discovered something to complain about. I began hearing the CPU fan come on constantly, which is very annoying, and so I ran the top command to find out the cause. Thus I noticed a process called “scrollkeeper-up” (=scrollkeeper-update) using over 80% of the available cpu cycles. After a little searching on google, I found a silly, but effective, hack to disable the scollkeeper-update program (it is not needed to run Ubuntu). I have even posted a question about this on the Ubuntu forum, but after 24 hours there are no replies (thread is located here).

For the time being I can ignore the problem. But of course when the scollkeeper program is included in a future software update, then I don’t know what is going to go wrong because of the quick and dirty fix I’m using.

Nevertheless, on the whole I’d say Ubuntu 7.10 is definitely a big improvement. (Well, so far anyway ;-)


Using external drives: ext3

Sunday, 5 August 2007

It is quite often that people who use GNU/Linux together with Windows are confronted with the problem of cross platform file system portability.

Traditionally, many experienced GNU/Linux users have encouraged others facing this problem to dedicate a FAT32 partition to moving files from Windows to Linux, and vice versa. That’s because files stored in FAT32 can be read from and written to by Linux and Windows alike.

While this may be an adequate solution for small drives, it has been increasingly the case in the last few years, that the sizes of files typically used have grown beyond the effectiveness of a FAT32 solution.

This may be attributed to several factors: faster computers, larger data storage devices and faster internet connections. For example, many people download or rip DVD movies, games and music, which even with compression techniques still make rather large files. And video-capture and editing may also easily create file sizes in excess of 4GiB. Whatever the reason, storing and manipulating large files has become very commonplace.

But therein lies the problem: FAT32 is ill equipped for efficiently handling a great multitude of files, or extremely large files for that matter. Particularly when performing a lot of file deletions and writing. It greatly fragments the drive and furthermore it has a 4GiB file size limit, so it would be better to have an alternative.

And that is why I recommend using ext3 instead. It offers full journaling capabilities when working in GNU/Linux, and any system capable of reading and writing ext2 will also be able to have full read/write access as well, although journaling will not be available when the drive is accessed in this manner. Nevertheless, it’s main attraction is that you never need to resort to defragmenting the drive, and it supports file sizes up to 2TiB.

For Windows, there is the excellent ext2 IFS for Windows project. This is what I am using right now, and it works just fine. There are some minor problems (e.g. I’ve had to change the partition type of my USB drive, see also the release notes), but on the whole I’d say it performs quite satisfactory.

And for the Mac, there’s the Mac OS X Ext2 Filesystem project, but to tell the truth I don’t know how well it works, as I do not own a Mac to try it with.

Screenshot to illustrate fonts

Friday, 6 July 2007

In order to illustrate how good you can make Microsoft fonts look on a GNU/Linux distribution, such as Ubuntu in this case, I have uploaded a screenshot of my desktop. See also my recent post on configuring Ubuntu to use Microsoft fonts, for an example of how you can achieve similar results. I should have uploaded it when I submitted that previous blog entry, but I forgot. So here you have it.

A screenshot

How to get Microsoft Truetype fonts in Ubuntu 7.04 and make them look good

Sunday, 1 July 2007

When installing GNU/Linux, the first thing I need to do is install the Microsoft fonts. And things are no different with Ubuntu 7.04, so here I will explain the steps I take to achieve this.

Someone with username calande has posted a short and simple procedure on the Ubuntu forums to start with. Follow calande’s instructions exactly, and you will be well on your way to having those nice Microsoft fonts.

I personally prefer 8 point Tahoma fonts, and have accordingly adjusted the “Application font”, “Document font” and “Desktop font” settings in the GNOME font preferences application (System ==> Preferences ==> Font).

If at some time you’ve tried making the fonts look more like on Windows by opening the GNOME font preferences configuration tool and setting “Font Rendering” to “monochrome”, you should open it again now and quickly change it into something else, like “Best shapes” or “Subpixel smoothing”. Do not worry, the xml files you installed in the previous step override the settings here, for just the right font sizes. So only the large and bold fonts will get antialiased (fuzzy), whilst the small fonts remain nice and sharp and non-antialiased. Just like in Windows, or at least as near as possible.

While we have now come quite a long way, we are not yet quite finished. Because one thing I noticed with the way things are at this stage: the Microsoft Tahoma fonts have some seriously annoying artifacts. For example, the number “8” looks wrong, as it has an extra set of pixels activated in the top right side of the lower circle. Fortunately, there is a way to fix this.

To solve aforementioned problem, we turn once more to the wonderful Ubuntu forum, and in particular read the thread titled “Improved subpixel font rendering for Feisty”. I did things a little differently though, although the result is completely identical. Just follow the following instructions:

  1. First startup the software sources application (System ==> Aministration ==> Software Sources), you will be prompted for your password.
  2. Then select the “Third party software” tab, click on “Add …” and then add the following line

    deb feisty fonts

  3. Repeat step 2 if you wish to have access to the sources, only this time replace the “dep” part in the repository line with “deb-src”. However, I believe this is entirely optional for our needs.
  4. Next, start the update manager (System ==> Administration ==> Update Manager) and install the updates.
  5. Finally, restart X (or reboot if you wish). The fonts that looked bad earlier should look alright now.

And that’s it. Apart from small details, such as changing the fonts Firefox uses, the fonts should look much better.

Fedora 7: a short review

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Two days ago I decided it was time to try Fedora 7, the latest operating system released by the Fedora project. Previous versions of Fedora proved to be seriously inept at setting up wireless interfaces with anything better than WEP encryption, and one of the goals of Fedora 7 was to provide “rock solid” wireless support. So this time, when I tried the Live-cd with GNOME, I was very curious. Have they succeeded?

Well, yes and no. While the gnome network manager is now completely functional right after the installation, Fedora still offers no support out-of-the-box for some wireless devices, such as the one I own. Mine is a Netgear WG511T, which functions perfectly if you have the madwifi module. Fedora did not ship that particular module, as it contains closed source firmware. I think they should have taken a leaf out of Ubuntu’s book.

Because the solution Ubuntu provides is vastly superior to Fedora’s, as it offers the driver by having the user select it from a special menu interface and warning him of the dangers. Why can’t Fedora adopt a similar mechanism? And not just for the wireless driver, but for any closed source driver, such as the nVidia driver for example?

In any case, if you download the correct drivers from the livna or atrpms rpm repositories before installing Fedora, you can have the network up and running in no time flat. Just think ahead and not only download the drivers for the kernel on the live-cd, but also for the latest kernel, which is installed after pup completes the updates of your system.

I also installed the Microsoft fonts from my Windows XP installation. This required recompiling Freetype, since the bytecode interpreter and subpixel rendering are disabled by default due to patent issues. It also requires a custom local.conf file in /etc/fonts to disable anti-aliasing for certain fonts, so that only the right size and type of font get non-antialiased. I think you can find examples of such fontconfig files by searching and other fedora help sites.

On the whole, I am quite pleased with my Fedora system and the installation procedure. The only problem I had when installing from the live-cd was when forgetting to unplug the 256MB USB drive returned the following cryptic error:

Assertion (cyl_size <= 255 * 63) at dos.c:598 in function probe_partition_for_geom() failed

The size of the error message, coupled with displaying a big red “Do not enter!” road sign, is completely inappropriate for such a small and trivial matter as leaving a tiny usb drive in it’s slot. People who do not understand that kind of error message are only going to look at that error symbol. Although I understood the message enough to realize my mistake, the first thing that crossed my mind, when I continued anyway, was that I was committing a traffic violation ;)

I know it’s simply the GTK error item, but it still looks ridiculous. They should have used a different sign.

The package manager, called “yum”, works very well. Installing the nvidia module from the livna repo was easy, and it even adjusted xorg.conf for me. I did find, however, that I needed to add the following to the device section in xorg.conf, in order to have the right DPI setting for my monitor

Option “DPI” “96 x 96”

But users with different video drivers may not have this problem at all, and it’s a minor problem anyway.

Other than that everything seems to be working great. All my external drives mount and unmount without problems, all software I install works perfectly, etc, etc. In my humble view, this is without a doubt the best release of Fedora to date and definitely one of the best GNU/Linux distributions available right now.

Changed the language

Monday, 21 May 2007

I’ve been seeing a steady decline in readers of my blog entries, probably due to the fact that I don’t keep adding new material on a regular basis. Fair enough, perhaps it’s time for a change then.

I think part of the reason for my declining output is that English isn’t my native tongue. I like to think that my mastery of the English composition is such, that I do not easily get misunderstood by native speakers of the language. But beyond the technical GNU/Linux mumbo-jumbo, I still find that I am unable to express myself with the same eloquence as when writing in Dutch.

And now, after having given the problem some thought, I have decided to make Dutch the main language here. Posts that will contain Linux commands, such as a how-to for example, will still be in English. Anything else will be in Dutch. Since I intend the “anything else” part to dominate the entries, I have adjusted the language options of this blog accordingly.

Let’s see if that changes anything.

HOWTO: Ubuntu, Ogg Vorbis and the aoTuV patch

Saturday, 14 April 2007

NOTE: As I am trying to learn LaTeX, I have produced this how-to entirely with LaTeX and Kile. As a result, the document is compiled in the ubiquitous pdf format. Another reason is that WordPress doesn’t understand the meaning of verbatim: when I use code tags, I don’t expect anything in there to be interpreted by wordpress, but to displayed *literally as I have written it*! But this is not what happens. A good example is the less-than symbol “<“: you can’t just hit the less-than symbol on your keyboard and be done, instead you have to use a special code. It’s ridiculous!

Anyway, here is the pdf: Vorbis-aoTuVBeta5

Recently, I have been experiencing problems with the upload feature here on WordPress. But when I checked the pdf link this morning, it appeared to have fixed itself for some reason. Maybe it was a temporary problem? Only time will tell.