Adventures with Ubuntu

This page documents my experiences with my new Ubuntu laptop. My previous efforts at installing Linux have proved to be as hair-pullingly frustrating as they have enlightening, so maybe this page will help others out...

Monday 9th November 2009:
After recovering from the demise of my main PC with a complete format and a fresh Windows XP Pro install, I decided to trim down the partition and do a dual boot install of Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala. I'm pretty impressed so far. So much so that I haven't booted into Windows once since I set it up. And I'm writing this update using gedit in Ubuntu. Over the last two or three weeks while this PC has been down I've had to do everything from my laptop, so there is now very little I can't do under Ubuntu. In fact the only major thing stopping me from ditching Windows completely is the lack of support for Access databases.

Thursday 4th June 2009:
The display adaptor issue is fixed. Apparently, according to someone on the Ubuntu forums anyway, my Intel display adapter is now off the black list. I couldn't get the driver to update though. Instead, I found a terminal bodge and once I'd figured out that all it does is place a file in the Compiz config folder containing the text "skipckecks=yes" or something similar, I went ahead and did it. I figured I could just remove that file if it went wrong. Everything works though, so no porblems there. I've even fixed the conflict with Google Earth by using a script that runs GE (or any other application) and checks to see if the window manager is Compiz. If it is, it switches to Metacity. It also switches back to Compiz when the application closes. Sweet!

Thursday 30th April 2009:
I threw caution to the wind and decided to go ahead and upgrade to 9.04 anyway. It was dead simple, although it took ages this time.

I only had a few problems. Sound volume was extremely low to start with, but that was just a strange initial setting in the mixer. More troubling was a error dialog box related to a new indexing service that would not disappear, no matter which of three buttons I clicked. There was a fix for that on the Ubuntu Forums though. Wi-Fi is slow to connect on start up sometimes, but hasn't failed yet. I haven't found a fix for that yet. Also, my display adaptor is now "Black-listed" meaning I can no longer use Compiz and all the fancy visual effects it enabled. I'm actually not too bothered about that though. It kept crashing and leaving me with no window title bar, and it conflicted horribly with Google Earth.

Pretty happy all in all.

Tuesday 28th April 2009:
Upgrade time again, this time prompted by the release of Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackelope. Only Ubuntu won't let you upgrade more than one release at a time, so I first had upgrade to 8.10 Intrepid Ibex:

I will be keeping an eye on the Ubuntu forums over the next week and if there are no horror stories, I'll go ahead and upgrade to 9.04 then.

Thursday 9th September 2008:
As you'll see below, I got remote desktop working on the laptop very quickly, but getting it to work the other way around wasn't so simple. Windows' own remote desktop won't connect to Ubuntu, so I had to install TightVNC instead. That does the job, but it's not perfect...

Friday 5th September 2008:
I finally bit the bullet and upgraded Ubuntu from 7.10 to 8.04 tonight. I had been really worried that the wireless access would stop working, but it didn't. Actually everything went very well except that there was no sound when I rebooted. I had read about this issue beforehand though, and the fix is documented on Dell's website, which means my volume control is working again!

Actually, a few hours later I realise that my Wi-Fi LED is no longer working. Not a big deal really, and I only noticed because I read on the Dell Wiki that it may be an issue. They provide a fix (one line of code to enter into a terminal), but until it bothers me enough I'll just leave it. I think there are three other minor issues that they provide fixes for, but nothing really worth getting up tight about.

Ubuntu Upgrade

Also, I'm writing this update using the laptop on the dining room table, which is another breakthrough. Only thing is, I can't add the above image to my database from this PC - I have to use my Windows machine for that.

Tuesday 12th August 2008:
Don't get me wrong...
...It's an excellent laptop that does nearly everything I want it to do. The one thing I'd really like to be able to do with it though is update this site. However, it offers no method of manipulating MS Access databases. That's for sure, I've tried and failed to find anything that will work. Also, the HTML editor doesn't seem to support network links. Saying that, I'm pretty sure that's because I haven't figured out how to mount a Samba share yet (I think), but as usual, Linux information on the net consists of just enough to hang yourself with. I'll get that one sorted I'm sure, but the database admin might mean porting the whole site from Access to SQL or SQLite or something like that. That's probably out of the question really.

Otherwise, wireless access seems to be pretty good now, connecting reliably whoever logs on. The master volume control is still broken, but application-level volume control works so it's not a problem really.

I haven't had much time to play with the fantastic looking GPS software I spent a whole evening trying to get working. It does now work perfectly and I can wander round my garden with my Garmin GPS 60 attached by USB, and the laptop will reflect accurately my position, height, speed etc... all just walking around my garden. I've yet to take it out in the car, but when I do, it should provide some excellent tracks to upload to Open Streetmap.

Oh yeah, it refuses to rip to mp3 format. I've ripped a few CDs with it, wirelessly and directly to my network music server, but they have been in flac format, which is incredibly disk-space hungry. I'm pretty sure I'll get that figured out too though.

Half an hour later...
As predicted, mp3 ripping is sorted. The information is easily Googled, but in short, you need to set the encoding profile string correctly in Sound Juicer. It took a bit of mental gymnastics to get it rip at 320kbps rather than the default VBR, but it's there now.

Sunday 13th July 2008:
SoundBridge Control...
Another goal accomplished... full control of both SoundBridges from the Laptop. For some reason I assumed that the excellent software I use on my main Windows PC wouldn't be available for Linux. As it happens, it's also available as a "generic" download, actually a jar archive, and if you run it from the terminal using java -jar SoundBridgeCommander.jar it works perfectly. I was a bit daunted by the task of making a link from the desktop, but that is pretty simple too. Right click the jar file and choose "Make Link". Copy that link to your desktop. Rick Click it and choose "Properties". On the "Open with" tab, click "Add New". Type "java -jar" without quotes. Easy:

Tuesday 1st July 2008:
A few gripes...
The master volume control seems to have stopped working properly. It turns up OK, but it won't go down. No idea how to fix it. It was working when I got it. Also, If Mel logs on before I do, the wireless connection refuses to connect. She has to log off, I have to log on, then she has to log on again. Not sure what that's all about, but it's a minor niggle (mainly because it always works for me, and she has her own laptop anyway). Also, Firefox 3 has been out for over two weeks now, but the Ubuntu branding in Firefox 2 prevents you from updating. Instead, I'm reliant on Canonical feeding the update to me through the repositories. That is, unless I want to dive in and install from the tarball. I don't really... but I might.

Friday 5th June 2008:
Getting used to my new Dell Inspiron 1525:
I've had a couple of breakthroughs today. The first was installing grdesktop which allows me to connect to my Weather PC and control it from the laptop. This is pretty cool because when running in full screen mode it looks just like a Windows PC. I know I'm trying to get away from Windows, but it's still pretty cool. The second was finding the filters that allow me to play mp3 and wma files in Rhythmbox. This means I can stream my entire music collection from my music server and play it over the laptop.

Thursday 5th June 2008:
My new Dell Inspiron 1525 with Ubuntu arrived this morning...
...and I'm doing this update on it.

The setup was pretty simple. It connected to my wireless network immediately. Setting up access to the rest of the networked PCs was a bit of a head-scratcher but I got there, and now I've installed ftp software, and this HTML editor, so I'm pretty much up and running. The laptop itself is really nice, and I'm really glad I upgraded the screen as that is fantastic.

Tuesday 3rd June 2008:
How to take an existing WinXP machine and have it dual boot Linux:
This is something I had been putting off for ages as everything I found online makes it seem ten times more complicated than it really is.

It's dead simple:

  1. In Windows, run disk defragmenter several times to get all your data in one contiguous bundle.

  2. Download the Rescue CD ISO from here and burn it to a CD.

  3. Boot from that CD

  4. Hit the Enter key at the "Boot:" prompt.

  5. When you get a command prompt, type gparted

  6. Use the self explanatory graphical interface to resize your Windows partition. Leave at least 10GB free space for your new Linux OS.

  7. Restart and boot into Windows. Windows will run chkdsk, but it should start up normally otherwise.

  8. Restart again but boot from your Linux CD/DVD. I used Mandriva 2007 as Ubuntu 8 wouldn't boot on my old laptop.

  9. Linux will install itself (make sure it goes in the free unpartitioned space you just created) and sort out the bootloader for you.

  10. Restart, and you will see a new boot menu with several Linux options and one Windows option.

I haven't figured out how to get into Windows Safe Mode yet. Otherwise, that's all it takes.

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