Friday, November 16, 2007

The Complete Ubuntu Desktop Setup

DISCLAIMER: This is not a review of Ubuntu. Just my experiences in making Ubuntu work for me.

The latest release of the very famous desktop oriented Linux distribution, Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon, was released last month and has earned high accolades from a very wide range of users. Almost every professional reviewer has applauded and appreciated this release, I can quote Ars Technica , PC World, Ditrowatch and Seopher.
Soepher actually goes to the extent of claiming that

"Show me one Vista user who isn't in awe of Gutsy Gibbon and I'll show you a liar".

These all present a very rosy picture of Ubuntu Gutsy and made me try Ubuntu. My experiences, however, were not as good.
Ubuntu is a great distribution and is one of the major causes of increase in Linux on Desktop. It definitely is an easy to use distribution and has a great community. Most of the hardware is self detected and auto configured; still I found it lacking in some small areas. This article represents the measures I took to make Ubuntu truly workable for me.

The Live CD:
I have a Nvidia 6200 256 MB card, which Ubuntu does not seem to like. If I select normal boot option on the Live CD, then the boot "hangs" after some time. Its like the screen goes black and the indicator on the monitor goes from Green to Amber. I simply took out the Nvidia card and used the motherboard in-built Via KM400 card and Ubuntu booted without any problem.
What happened to the so called Bulletproof-X ??

Then I again re-inserted the 6200 card and booted to Ubuntu in "Safe Graphics" or something like that mode. This time again the monitor light turned Amber, but all it took was a single click of mouse to bring back the Green Light and a beautiful looking Ubuntu Desktop.
After this I tried playing some videos from youtube, so that I can while away my time during the Ubuntu install. As expected the plugins were not found and Firefox gave me an option to install it. However, the install resulted in a failure as the required software were not found in the repository. I believe that I got this error as the correct repositories were not setup. Then I tried playing some avi videos from my Fat32 partition. Totem again gave me the option to install some gstreamer plugins, I was not sure but again tried the install. This time the installer added some repositories and the install went fine.
NOTE: The Ubuntu installer claims to install to hard disk any software that has been installed in Live CD. Hence I hope that it will also install the Totem gstreamer plugins.

Having fixed that, I tried the hard disk install. Ubuntu has made it very easy to install the distribution to hard disk. They also claim to copy the Firefox/IE settings etc from Windows partition. I was a fool to have believed it. The install got stuck when it tried to read my windows NTFS partition. I think I got frustrated and instead of Killing the install and retrying, I quickly rebooted in "Safe graphics" mode and started the install without copying anything from NTFS. The install went smoothly and soon I was able to boot from my newly installed Ubuntu.
This time I had not installed the Totem gstreamer plugins, so could not check if Ubuntu disk installer actually copies them.

Intial Impressions on hard disk boot:
Now I knew that Ubuntu does not come with many plugins and Non-OSS software pre-installed, hence, I simply went ahead and installed the package "Ubuntu Restricted Extras". In the meanwhile, I saw a pop-up on the top menu bar indicating me that Ubuntu thinks that I have a hardware for which Ubuntu Restricted driver exists. I just clicked the pop-up and it guided me in easily installing the drivers for Nvidia 6200. Immediately after the driver install, I felt like I am in the blissful world of Windows -- The Ubuntu driver installer asked me to reboot. Wow !!
I don't think that a display driver requires a reboot, most distributions would be OK with a XServer restart.
Maybe this is another way Ubuntu is luring Windows customer -- by offering them Windows like experience. :)

Now I had most of my video and mp3 playing, added to it I have my Firefox capable of playing flash video.
Ubuntu has done many customizations to Firefox. If there is no flash plugin then Firefox offers to install flash using Ubuntu package manager and offers a choice between open source Gnash plugins and Adobe Flash, though Adobe flash plugins are selected by default.
Similarly many Firefox add-ons can be installed/updated using Ubuntu package manager. This gives a more integrated look and feel to Firefox and is a very useful feature. Its like when I upgrade my system using Synaptic, then Firefox add-ons also get updated. I went ahead and installed some of my favourites add-ons like scribeFire, Gmail Manager, PDF Download and Answers.

Search: Ubuntu come pre-installed with Tracker as a tool for desktop search. Its good enough, though I have not tested it throughly.

Media & Internet : I am not fussy about any particular software unless I get too much benefit out of it. Hence, the Ubuntu defaults like F-Spot, Rythembox and Totem are OK with me; though I must say that Digikam, Amarox and Kaffeine are much easier to use and are more feature rich. One Ubuntu default software that I had to replace was Pidgin, I replaced it with Kopete; reason being that Pidgin does not support webcam on Yahoo messenger, while kopete does.

Ubuntu has NTFS write support by default and the best part is the Ubuntu auto-mounts all the windows partitions. This is a very nice feature allowing me to keep common data between Windows and Linux on my Fat32 Data Partition. All my photos, mp3 and Videos reside in this partition.

Some Additional Softwares:
Ubuntu comes preloaded with a huge list of usable software, however, many still remain. Here is a list of the necessary softwares that are essential for normal usage of my desktop.
  1. Adobe Reader with Firefox plugins
  2. Microsoft Fonts
  3. Windows Codecs
  4. Sun Java 6.0 with Firefox plugins
  5. VLC; Totem does not play some file formats while vlc is at ease with them.
  6. Auto-fsck. This is a killer modification to Ubuntu and removes the nagging 30 boot scans
  7. K3B. Gnome does not have a dedicated application for Writing to CD/DVD, though Nautilus performs the job. K3B is becoming Linux standard as a CD/DVD ripping application and is a must.
  8. Skype 2 ( Beta). With the addition of Video in Skype 2 for Linux, even a Beta should not deter most of us from installing this exceptional application.
  9. Realplayer and Firefox plugins
  10. GTKPod. I want to manage my iPod from Ubuntu itself. I could not figure out how can I do it with RythemBox, though with Amarox it is very easy and a separate application could be avoided.
Having installed all this, I had a fully functional Desktop. However, I wanted eyecandy too. Luckily Ubuntu comes with Compiz-Fusion by default. As I had the correct Nvidia Drivers, so I could use compiz-Fusion without any modifications. I found it a little strange that Ubuntu does not install Compiz Settings Manager or the Emerald Manager by default. These two are very essential for configuring Compiz-Fusion to my taste, so here goes Synaptic at work and I had both installed.

After this I added some of my favorites like skype, kopete, katapult and Compiz-Fusion to the session manager so that they start every time I log in.

I would say that Ubuntu is a desktop oriented distribution and makes life simple for its users. It detected all my hardware by default and suggested correct drivers for them. The screen resolution was also set accordingly. The default applications are good and the system appears responsive. Having said that it does require too many additional applications to make it truly useful. Thankfully I was able to do that.

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kotaru said...

Have a try mint, it has all missing Ubuntu features.

Anonymous said...

You said "Gnome does not have a dedicated application for Writing to CD/DVD" - this is an incorrect statement, GnomeBaker is perfectly fine for CD/DVD writing and thus does not need to load KDE based files into your gnome based installation.

Abhay said...

I checked that GnomeBaker is a decent CD/DVD ripping application. Its strange that Ubuntu does not include it by default.

Rebenga said...

The reason for rebooting after installing the proprietary (i.e. closed-source) vendor-supplied driver for Nvidia-adapters is due to it using a kernel module. The list of kernel modules is created at boot, and thus the module can't just be inserted until after the list has been refreshed.

After that you can load/unload the module to your hearts content, as well as restarting X until you turn blue.

Anonymous said...

To have work with your iPod, do the following:

- Open up Rhythmbox (duh).
- Go to the Edit>>Plugins menu item.
- Enable Portable Players-iPod by clicking the checkbox to the left of it.
- Plugin your iPod. If Ubuntu is set up for automounting media players (by default), it will open and load into Rhythmbox.
- Drag your songs to the iPod's entry on the left bar.
- Right-click your iPod in Rhythmbox and hit Eject.
- Unplug your iPod.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if it's installed by default or not, but Brasero is quickly overtaking GnomeBaker as the GNOME burner of choice, and for good reason.

That said, I use K3B and amaroK even in GNOME, as well as XChat even in KDE. There is no reason not to use the best tool for the job, just because it uses a different toolkit. And especially from the KDE side (i.e.: GNOME apps in KDE), integration is splendid and it doesn't even really look weird.

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