Friday, April 25, 2008

Ubuntu Essentials

In this space I will outline several essential tweaks, installs, and configurations that FOR ME have improved my experience with Ubuntu. I am writing this on the day that Hardy Heron has been released. My productivity has improved with Ubuntu. I don't have to spend so much time tweaking and configuring, as I did with Gentoo. [Gentoo is still probably better, but some things I never could get to work w/ Gentoo work perfectly with Ubuntu out of the box].


Rule # 1. Learn to use the VC, which means virtual terminal, and the command line. For a plunge off the deep end do "Ctrl-ALt-F1" simultaneously.

Rule # 2. Set a root password.

Rule # 3. Make a separate /home partition if you use your machine for valuable work (writing, programming, correspondence, artwork, you name it). You WILL have to reinstall the system at some point---in days, or in years. Avoid being a victim of the "it's time to reformat your hard drive" people at the local windows shop.

Rule # 4. Immediately set your repos. System -> Administration -> Software Sources.

Rule # 5. Don't believe all the rules you hear.

Issues with Ubuntu

I am crazy about Ubuntu, but I do have some issues. For starters I will do a "mind sweep" off the top of my head:

Emacs is not installed by default.

Tracker, the search tool, is a pig: it took me several days to figure out where my CPU cycles were going, and how to turn Tracker off (the Daemon and the Client).

Slocate is crippled out of the gate, and needs to be opened up.

/etc/fstab in the new Ubuntu is a thorny knot with hidden pitfalls for the unwary, and, yes, for the wary as well.

Even though I have taken pains that VLC would be the default DVD player and *avi player, etc., the gnome default keeps popping up.

Gnome does not allow me to tweak enough. Some of the nags I have cannot be solved (at least easily).

The installer makes it all too easy to make partitioning mistakes. Most importantly, it is too easy to overwrite a /home partition, and too easy to wrongly partition a favorite directory. Another issue: I have often had to start up sfdisk in a partition to recall which partition I wanted to call / or /home.

About /etc/fstab again---there is a serious bug that shuffles the identities of paritions. It moved an ide drive into /dev/sda and the former /dev/sda (for years) became /dev/sdb . Major bork. It is so confusing, I am never sure when /dev/sda means what. I am very afraid.

It's pretty hard to get to the point of compiling packages. This is a long standing Debian issue with me.

XEphem is not installed by default.

I'm a bit intimidated by Ubuntu's online docs. Gentoos docs are thousands of times better. Well, with Ubuntu you can find what you want, but it's more confusing, and you will find some advice that is best not followed, from well-meaning users who don't know better. Keep this in mind. That being said, I have found some really excellent HOWTOs on line for Ubuntu. Skepticism is well rewarded.

Coolness of Ubuntu

Gnome is working really well. Feels right.

Wireless access is as simple as pie.

Printers (at least HP) are installed before installing them.

Thunderbird "just works" for Gmail.

Even complicated applications, for example for video editing, are working for me out of the box. This was not the case 2 or 3 years ago. I was afraid of this, but I have been pleasantly surprized.

Important Steps on a new Install

$ sudo su

# passwd

(Add a password for root). Now I can run su in a terminal when I want to. This works for me. I am actually becoming more friendly with sudo anymore, though.

Get rid of Tracker.

Edit slocate configuration and enable indexing of more directories.

Install Emacs.

Put a terminal launcher on the panel.

Add repos and update. Can take "forever".

Install a number of programs that I use commonly. In fact, this is where I'm planning to develop a script of other means of my own to get my important utilities installed. It took me a full 24 hours to get the current install up to minimal usefulness, and I had to remember each step, one at a time. Examples: enscript, gthumbs, texlive, ghostview or gv, for starters. Dillo, filelight, vlc, k3b, numerous codecs, amarok, alsamixergui. Some things few would want. These can be taken care of with an edited list made from "dpkg --get-selections"

Turn off unneeded services. (System -> Administration -> Services).

Edit the "Applications" menu and add a submenu for ME. Drop favorites into it.

Add numerous high end Directories to the Places "Bookmarks".

Install dict and many dictionaries.

Install build-essentials, and compile xephem from source.

Recovery problems I have known

I have to admit, the recovery problems have been getting fewer and farther between. That being said, they haven't gone away.

Borked desktop. It always takes me by surprize, the desktop won't work anymore. I have had to delete .gconfd .gconf and .gnome2, perhaps other dot directories, to recover a borked desktop. This is easier if you can log in as root form a VC.

Notable Packages

I am starting to like GNOME Commander. Hope it's not all show and no go.

Nautilus is worth learning to use properly. You can drag a directory onto the sidepanel. This has saved me hours and hours.

Synaptic is better than it used to be. A shopping trip is worth your time.

Things I'd Like to See

Filesystem / Partition icons on the desktop should show device names, not sizes. I tried to fix this, but go lost in /dev/fstab, almost losing the whole install.

Kudos to the Ubuntu team.

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