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Living with Linux (Ubuntu 14.04 and Variants)

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#1
If you're at all interested in Linux, you were interested in the new Long Term Support (LTS; you can read this as "best supported version") release of Ubuntu this month. I was pretty eager to try it because I wanted to see if my three/four monitor setup would work properly. Well, as far as getting three or four monitors working properly, the answer is, "No." However, I'm really rather liking this new release. I'm actually using Kubuntu and I'm planning on switching to the Ubuntu-based Linux Mint distribution when their update is available at the end of this month.

* It's more stable than the the last LTS version, 12.10. The most obvious way I see this is that I can restart my computer and ... it works. In 12.10, it was very possible for me to log in, play with Firefox for awhile, restart and get a funky error message or get a black screen. Hey, I didn't do anything and all the sudden I get errors? Ubuntu's not a Microsoft product, so it shouldn't do that!

* Peripherals work. It was extremely challenging to get my wireless Epson all-in-one printer/scanner/fax to work at all in 12.10 and I was never able to get the scanner part working. 14.04? Well, while Epson does have an overly difficult method to install the drivers, it works. It makes me think that I could actually connect a USB printer and the driver would automagically install.

* Chrome works better. It's not perfect, but it's better. I can actually open up a Chrome window on one monitor and move it to another without the need to refresh the screen. That's nice. (One of the reasons to use Chrome in Linux is because it has Adobe Flash built-in. Linux "natively" uses an old version of Flash and Adobe doesn't have an upgrade.) The one problem I've seen is that fonts still occasionally look a little ... off.

* I found one known-issue bug about a week after I installed Ubuntu 14.04: an error about language support not being completely installed. I found a post that said that this would be fixed, soon. It was.

* I mentioned that my biggest challenge was to get my three monitors and 37" TV to work in anything other than Kubuntu 12.10. So, after I installed 14.10, this was the first thing I tested. It still didn't work. I put way too much time in trying to make it work, so I went with a solution that does work: I got a new video card that supports three monitors. The card I got is an Nvidia GTX 750 Ti, but a GTX 6xx-series would have also worked. I sold my old video card. The driver install was relatively pain-free, too.

* I do need Windows for one thing: I've got a very old version of Macromedia Dreamweaver. There isn't any Linux equivalent. Or even an "OK" substitute, even though the version I have is 10 years old. So, I installed VirtualBox and put XP on that. Works great ... and I think VirtualBox is a bit faster than in Windows 8.1, too.

The one thing I really, really like in Windows 8.1 is the Mail application. I've got a half-dozen mail accounts and I can pop them all into the MS Mail app without a problem. I could have everything set up in Linux and use Thunderbird, but it's not as pretty.

Here's one really stupid Linux thing: I tend to adjust my sound balance a little more toward the left. I've got nice speakers, but the left channel's a bit quiet. Windows? Couple clicks and it's done. Kubuntu? You have to install a separate application for that. According to my research, this is built into Ubuntu 14.04. I dunno why they didn't bother with this in Kubuntu.

So, especially if you have a budget and some free time, I think we're getting a lot closer to saying that Ubuntu is an actual challenger and alternative to the MacOS or Windows.
 
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pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#3
If there is anything, and I mean ANYTHING that you want to, need to, care to know about Ubuntu, ask here: http://community.ubuntu.com/contribute/support/ubuntu-forums/
They are really nice people and are very, very knowledgeable and they can't wait to spread the word about Linux in general and Ubuntu in particular.
They've gotten better on the "nice people" part more recently. That's good. The bad is that they don't know answers to more "arcane" stuff. In my instance, I wanted to use three or four monitors on two video cards. Microsoft did a survey before Windows 8 came out and determined that 13% (or so; off the top of my head) of users have a 2 monitor set-up. It's some single-digit number of folks with three or more monitors. Microsoft operating systems are on 90% or so of the machines out there. Mac OS is 8% to 9%. Linux is on ... 1%. So, it's possible that there are only a couple folks out there that have even run across the question of setting up 4 monitors on 2 video cards in Linux. Heck, it took a looooooong time for me to find out that no, this kind of setup doesn't work in newer versions of Linux because of driver issues (i.e. Nvidia no longer supports this). And I found that out on an ArchLinux forum.

Anyhow, I've installed Linux Mint 17 Cinnamon RC ("RC" stands for "Release Candidate." You can read that as, "Almost ready to ship, but there are a few rough edges"). I like it. A lot. I had only two issues: first, according to the Mint documentation, the RC doesn't support Nvidia Optimus cards out-of-the-box. While this should mean, "New laptop video cards," you can extend it to, "Really new Nvidia video cards." I had to install Mint with a different video card (no problems, there!), then download the new Nvidia drivers, swap the video cards, and install in "Safe" mode. The other was a confirmed bug: I couldn't install the drivers for my Epson WF-3530 all-in-one printer unless I used a utility called "Gdebi." The really good thing was that I just Googled, "Mint 17 and Epson," and I immediately got to that bug page and got the work-around. Chrome also looks perfect. The sound balance thing is already installed. Happy camper.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#4
I think I could call this thread, "Living with Linux," now.

One really nice thing about Mint is that I was able to upgrade from the RC to the actual release version without having to reinstall the operating system. That's never been the case with pre-release versions of any of the Macintosh or Windows operating systems, as far as I'm aware, and for a lot of Linux distributions. Kudos for that.

I've noticed one downside, though. I mention it because it's annoying:

Almost every day there is an update available for something in Mint. I don't generally mind that. However, there was an update to something that caused a major error at startup ("Cinnamon has crashed ...") and caused Google Chrome to come up with a completely black screen. I had to do a couple easy steps and one hard step to fix this. The next day, another update, same problem and same steps to fix. The main cause of the problem was my video card, which . I therefore applied another work-around that Linux newbies wouldn't know to do: I installed a different window manager just in case this happened again. I assume it will with the next update.

* Sigh *

In Windows, the easiest way to recover from system updates that kill your computer is to use System Restore. Linux does not have this functionality built in. I can restore from a full backup, but that would have been more time-intensive that the fixes I did employ. I did some Googling. There are a couple ways to get similar functionality: http://www.maketecheasier.com/restore-linux-system-to-earlier-date. I'm going to try a couple out and see what happens.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#5
I've officially switched back to Kubuntu 14.04.

The main reason to like KDE (the "K" part of "Kubuntu") is that it has a great feature called "Activities." An Activity is essentially a completely configured desktop that comes up the same way whenever you click on the Activity. I could have, for instance, Google Chrome open up with my gallery, the WF, and YouTube, plus have GIMP open, plus have Filezilla launch, AND have all those programs open on the correct monitor in window sizes of my choosing. You can't do that in any other operating system without using a macro recorder program. So, I had been waiting to get the KDE version of Linux Mint.

Mint KDE came out a few days ago, so I immediately downloaded and tried it. It's got problems; the main one being that the Activities only work if you use "Widgets" (they're like the Sidebar in Windows and, well, Widgets on the MacOS). That's a major deal-breaker. I also checked to see if I could add the Activity to Linux Mint Cinnamon or one of the other Mint derivatives. Nope. *Sigh*.

On the plus side, Kubuntu installed my wireless all-in-one printer much easier and, while I still have to reload my graphics driver after "major" updates, Kubuntu doesn't die completely: it's still usable on one of my three monitors. Also, oddly enough, some of the keystroke commands that would kill Linux Mint -- like ALT+F1 to bring up a no-graphics login prompt, which results in a black screen with a blinking cursor in Mint -- work just fine in Kubuntu. The other thing about KDE is that virtually everything is tweakable, if you want to spend the time to tweak stuff. I don't, except for the Activities, but the functionality is there if I need it.

The one problem I've seen, so far, with KDE (in general), is that I can't get wallpaper to span all three of my monitors. In Mint Cinnamon, I had been using a program called Nitrogen and that worked great. I had hoped it'd work with KDE, even though it's not designed for KDE. It doesn't. Well, I can use animated wallpapers, at least.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#7
Provided you don't mind paying a bit of a premium for the hardware, Macintosh is the way to go. We finally got one of the new Mac Pros in at work. It's an impressive bit of hardware. I have an almost two year old 27" iMac. It's both an impressive and a beautiful piece of hardware. I hope I never have to remove the hard drive, though: sealed case.

There are lots of ways of looking at the various operating systems that are out there. I wouldn't necessarily go with Linux if I didn't have a good reason -- get certified, be more employable -- because it is difficult to set up properly. If I was thinking about a "new" computer, I might look at an eBay'd iMac with Thunderbolt (it's a kind of connector, like USB, but lots faster) and an adapter or two for some of my peripherals. Maybe. I have some qualms about Mac Blu-Ray support. I know my label printer won't work on the Mac, but probably could through VirtualBox or something.
 
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pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
#8
The continuing saga.

As mentioned elsewhere, I am working on a major rewrite of the Yanagisawa article that Ed Svoboda wrote several years ago. For this project, I have to collect a bunch of pictures to get an accurate idea of the changes that Yanis had throughout the years. That means hitting various websites and downloading pictures and stuff, then uploading stuff to my webserver -- primarily to my picture gallery (Gallery 3 software) and my blogs (current WordPress software). Some things I noticed:

* Google Chrome for Linux does not download a page and its contents. It only downloads the HTML file. It doesn't have this behavior in Windows or on the Mac.
* Mozilla Firefox for Linux has this annoying habit (not always, but on most occasions) of opening the "Open" dialog box in the background when I click the "Upload" button in Gallery 3. It doesn't have this behavior in Windows or on the Mac.
* Most or all Linux apps "forget" where you've last saved to, so you have to hunt for your file. Windows and Macs remember.

So, if I'm working in Kubuntu, I have to have both browsers open. That's in invitation to a system crash.

If I was just working on a couple files, no big deal. A couple hundred? Big deal. Big time waste. Which is a wonderful segue....

I have a G13 gamepad I bought off eBay a few years back. I bought this not because I'm a gamer, but because it gives me 100 or so keys that I can use for macros. For my current purposes, I record repeated text, like, "Eb Alto - Lacquer - sn 123456 (1901)." I have a driver for the gamepad on the Linux side. It records macros just fine, but the playback looks screwy. Also, typing on the regular keyboard starts producing extra letters or incorrect letters you have to correct. That's a big time waste. I do know that this worked fine in the old version of Kubuntu, so it might just be a driver update thing ... if the programmer wants to update, that is. He's written that he doesn't actively maintain the website anymore. It could be a USB thing, but I don't really want to spend money to buy a decent PS/2 keyboard.

There are macro programs for Linux, of course, and the KDE part of Kubuntu is really customize-able, but pressing a single button on the G13 to type out text is a lot easier than trying to remember that shift-ctrl-alt-F3 is the keystroke for "Eb alto."

I can say that GIMP, LibreOffice (Microsoft Office replacement), and VirtualBoxes (virtual machines) work an awful lot faster in Kubuntu -- although VirtualBox needs a bit of tweaking to get it to perform right. Also, I use Kubuntu at work to recover data off "dead" hard drives with a high success rate. However, I don't use any of these that often and I have a dedicated hard drive recovery machine. It makes me wonder if there's any good reason to continue this experiment.
 
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