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Why I decided to stop using Ubuntu desktop

I’ve again returned to Windows 7 after having used Ubuntu for about 3 months on the desktop. For some reason Linux on the desktop always breaks down after about 3 months, give or take. My main reason for trying out Linux again was so I could develop in a *nix environment. I’m comfortable with a terminal and lots of cool and useful libraries compile without any hassle. And most of the programming I do ends up running on a Linux server anyway. On Windows 7 you can get quite far with MinGW and MSYS, but it usually takes quite some effort to get something to compile. MSYS is also very slow on my machine(s). And although with Strawberry Perl it has gotten a lot better, from time to time you run into modules that won’t compile and are almost impossible to fix.

This wasn’t the first time I ran Linux on my desktop PC. About 7 years ago I started out with Gentoo. It actually ran fine on my laptop, aside from WiFi issues. The compile hell that came with it was terrible though. I’ve ran Ubuntu 7.10 on my desktop without much issues, until I upgraded to 8.04, which broke everything. After that I used Windows Vista for a while and eventually Windows 7. Somewhere late December ’11, early January ’12 I decided to try Linux again. At first I wanted to use CrunchBang because it was so lightweight, but couldn’t get my system to boot into it. Then I tried Fedora 16, which featured Gnome 3 out of the box. I really liked how Gnome 3 looked, but Fedora 16 was way too unstable for me. After that I gave Ubuntu 11.10 a chance, installed Gnome 3 on it and simply enjoyed it a lot.

For 3 whole months I was able to run Ubuntu 11.10 without issues. Some software didn’t work out of the box, but I was able to fix that and I don’t consider that Ubuntu’s fault. Before I tossed the towel into the ring my NVIDIA 9800GT got too hot and the system would just freeze. I was using the open-source drivers (nouveau). I found out that this driver always runs the GPU at 100% and it simply wasn’t able to not do this. After replacing these with the official NVIDIA drivers the problem was solved. But shortly after an update for this driver made my system freeze at startup. I rolled back to an older version and again, the problem was solved, though the rollback was pretty hard to execute. The real misery started after I did a normal package update, which sometimes happened daily, and everything I needed malfunctioned. The VPN software I used wasn’t able to setup a tunnel, which I need to connect to the company’s network. I also run a virtual server in VirtualBox for several things, but I no longer could fire it up anymore. It had something to do with VirtualBox drivers that couldn’t load anymore.

When all that happened I had enough of it and waved Ubuntu, or Linux for desktop in general, goodbye forever. I’ve had enough of it and in all these years it hasn’t gotten any better. It’s my expectation that Linux on the desktop will never get big. I’ve still got Xubuntu installed on my netbook, but haven’t booted to it in ages and will probably uninstall it soon as well.

I don’t want to be too negative though. Ubuntu 11.10 did have a number of pros as well (though most are software you can run on other platforms as well):

  • Gnome 3 – after a couple of tweaks I found myself to be very proficient with Gnome Shell. Lots of people hate its guts, but I really liked it
  • Remmina – a great remote desktop client for RDP
  • ShrewSoft VPN (ike) – easy to use VPN client, but you have to compile it yourself since the supplied package doesn’t work.
  • Vim/GVim – yes, it’s multi-platform, but seemed a bit more responsive in Linux
  • Terminal (Bash) – some tasks are faster done on the terminal and Git for example is a lot faster than on Windows
  • Compiler toolchain – you pretty much install build-essential and you’ve got almost all the compilers and other related things you need
  • Nautilus – a much better file manager than Explorer will ever be
  • Skype + Bluetooth headset – I’ve had no issues using my Bluetooth headset under Ubuntu and Bluetooth in general just works. Can’t say that for Windows 7.

Currently I’m back to Windows 7. It works, but could be more responsive (I’m looking at you Explorer). I know that for my terminal needs I could use Cygwin, but I don’t see that as a proper solution and the last time I tried it installation took forever and it just didn’t work. Since my desktop PC is already 4.5 years old I’ll be replacing it sometime this year. I’ve decided to try out a Mac, either an iMac or Mini. All I want is a fast system, with a stable OS that doesn’t require much attention to stay running and a *nix environment. At the moment I think OSX will be able to give me that. The wait is now till Apple renews their models.

Enable line-in playback in Ubuntu

If you want to enable line-in playback in Ubuntu 11.10 (and previous versions as well) you’ve got to change a setting in alsamixer. By default line-in playback is muted so you won’t hear whatever device is connected on it. In my case it’s my Xbox 360.

Luckily this setting can be changed very easily. Open up a terminal and enter the command alsamixer. Navigate to the line bar with the cursor keys and press m to toggle mute. If it’s muted the box above it will say MM, if it’s not it’ll say 00. You can change the volume of each individual bar with the arrow keys. When finished, press ESC to save your changes

Getting Shrew Soft VPN Client (ike) for Ubuntu to work

A nice and free open source VPN Client for Linux (and Windows) is Shrew Soft VPN Client. It supports IPSec which is just what I needed. With Ubuntu you can easily install it with sudo apt-get install ike. But with Ubuntu 11.10 (Xubuntu as well, same packages of course) installing ike this way won’t give you a working VPN client. It simply won’t open up a tunnel. On Fedora 16 this worked fine for me, but Fedora 16 is too unstable for my liking.

So to get ike working on Ubuntu you should download the source code from their website. I downloaded the 2.2.0-beta2 version, compiled and installed it and am running it without any issues.

To compile ike yourself execute the following commands from a terminal in the directory with the contents of the archive.

$ cmake -DCMAKE_INSTALL_PREFIX=/usr/local -DQTGUI=YES -DETCDIR=/etc -DNATT=YES
$ cmake .
$ make
$ sudo make install

After you’ve installed ike all you need to do is a sudo iked (or create a startup/init.d script for it so it starts at boot time). To launch the client simply execute qikea (GUI).

Use an alternative browser to open links in Thunderbird 7 (Xubuntu 11.10)

I’ve been using the latest Xubuntu (11.10) for a couple of weeks now on my netbook and must say I’m very pleased with it. I’ve only got a couple of issues with it, one of them Thunderbird not using my default browser (Chromium), but Firefox, to open external links. But no more! After searching a bit on the internet I got the suggestion for setting network.protocol-handler.app.http and network.protocol-handler.app.https to x-www-browser. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to work anymore.

The right way to do it now is open your about:config (from the menu: Edit > Preferences > Advanced). Open the Configuration Editor and search for both network.protocol-handler.warn-external.http and network.protocol-handler.warn-external.https. These two are most likely to have a value of false. Change it to true and the next time you’ll try to open a link from some e-mail it’ll ask you which browser to use. Chromium isn’t likely to be shown in the list of choices, so use the navigate button. You can find Chromium at /usr/bin/chromium-browser.

Now to find a fix for my other two problems: netbook won’t recover from sleep mode and somehow it won’t let me use a 1080p resolution through HDMI on a external screen.