A Windows Veteran’s Views On Ubuntu

I have been toying with the idea of using Ubuntu or another variant of Linux for some time. My experience with Windows goes back to the original Windows. Hell, I even have extensive experience with the original MSDOS. I’ve dabbled with Unix on a very small scale years ago with SCO Unix and later Red Hat Linux. Most recently, my Unix experience was installing OpenFiler to build a NAS. Basically, my Unix experience is very limited and my Mac OS experience is almost non existent.

I have been toying with the idea of using Ubuntu or another variant of Linux for  some time. My experience with Windows goes back to the original Windows. Hell, I even have extensive experience with the original MSDOS. I’ve dabbled with Unix on a very small scale years ago with SCO Unix and later Red Hat Linux. Most recently, my Unix experience was installing OpenFiler to build a NAS. Basically, my Unix experience is very limited and my Mac OS experience is almost non existent.

About a year and a half ago, I tried to install Ubuntu on my HP Pavilion DV9009NR but was unsuccessful due to lack of support for the video card and the Broadcom wireless adapter. With the popularity of netbooks and the fact that more and more applications are now web based, I decided to give Ubuntu another shot in anticipation of using it for a new netbook. I decided to test it with my current HP notebook.

My current configuration

Ubuntu 9.04 Desktop 32 bit edition (Jaunty Jackalope) installed onto a Sandisk 8 GB Extreme III compact flash card.

Hardware
Product Name dv9009nr
US Product Number EZ468UA#ABA
Microprocessor 1.6 GHz AMD Turion™ 64 X2 Dual-Core Mobile Technology TL-52
Microprocessor Cache 2 X 512KB L2 Cache
Memory 2048MB DDR2 System Memory (2 Dimm)
Memory Max 2048MB
Video Graphics NVIDIA GeForce Go 6150 (UMA)
Video Memory up to 128MB (shared)
Hard Drive 160GB 5400RPM (80GB x 2) (SATA)
Multimedia Drive LightScribe SuperMulti 8X DVD±RW with Double Layer Support
Display 17.0” WXGA+ High-Definition BrightView Widescreen Display (1440 x 900)
Fax/Modem High speed 56k modem
Network Card Integrated 10/100BASE-T Ethernet LAN (RJ-45 connector)
Wireless Connectivity 802.11b/g WLAN
Multimedia Features HP Imprint finish & HP Pavilion Integrated Microphone
Sound Altec Lansing
Keyboard Notebook keyboard with scroll bar and integrated numeric keypad

2 Quick Launch Buttons (HP Quick Play Menu and DVD buttons)

Pointing Device Touch Pad with On/Off button and dedicated vertical Scroll Up/Down pad
PC Card Slots
  • 1 ExpressCard/54 Slot (also supports ExpressCard/34)
External Ports
  • 5-in-1 integrated Digital Media Reader for Secure Digital cards, MultiMedia cards, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, or xD Picture cards
  • 4 Universal Serial Bus (USB) 2.0
  • 2 Headphone out – 1 w/SPDIF Digital Audio & 1 stereo
  • 1 microphone-in
  • 1 VGA (15-pin)
  • 1 TV-Out (S-video)
  • 1 RJ-11 (modem)
  • 1 RJ -45 (LAN)
  • 1 notebook expansion port 3
  • 1 IEEE 1394 Firewire (4-pin)
  • 1 Consumer IR
Dimensions 15.16 (L) x 11.65″ (W) x 1.57″ (H)
Weight 7.8lbs
Security
  • Kensington® MicroSaver lock slot
  • Power-on password
  • Accepts 3rd party security lock devices
Power
  • 90W AC adapter
  • 8-cell Lithium-Ion

The first failed attempt

My first attempt was a failure. My existing notebook is running a dual boot of Windows XP Professional and Vista Home. The default boot OS is Vista although I rarely use it. After backing up my files, I proceeded to install Ubuntu onto a 160 GB external USB 2.0 drive. Everything seemed to work well. It recognized the 160 GB partition and installed it there. After the installation which only took a few minutes, I rebooted the computer only to have it report a GRUB error 21. Regardless of which partition I chose to boot from, it refused to boot into Ubuntu, Windows XP or Vista. After digging around the net and finding out that this was a fairly common problem, I was pointed to Super GRUB to fix the problem. Well that was whole day wasted.

Finally! A working install.

Having hosed my boot loader, I was not going to repeat that mistake. This time, I removed my two internal hard drives and installed Ubuntu onto a 8 GB Sandisk Extreme III compact flash card. The installation went smoothly and to my surprise, all my hardware seems to be working so far. The video was not a problem and it seems the current version of Ubuntu now supports the Broadcom wireless adapter out of the box with some quirky performance issues (see below). Surprisingly, it also supports the use of my Samsung A900 phone tethered as a modem with no modification at all. This was one of the key features I needed to work. Here are some thoughts on some key features after several days of use.

Pros

  • Built in Firefox which is my preferred browser.
  • Almost all Firefox add ons installed without problems. The one that did failed relies on a Windows program in addition to the Firefox add on.
  • XMARK add on works great and was able to sync all my bookmarks and passwords.
  • Built in Pidgin instant messenger client connects effortlessly to Yahoo Messenger and also supports all major messenger services like AIM, MSN, and Googletalk.
  • Built in Open Office suite. I don’t use Office much so this should be good enough for the casual user.
  • Built in PDF writer.
  • No problems seeing all my Windows XP partitions.
  • No need for virus programs, registry cleaners, or disk deframenters.
  • Less crashes but no OS is crash proof despite what Apple tries to tell you.
  • Little need to restart OS to install updates or applications although most Firefox add on install will require a browser restart.

Cons

  • Very poor performance. At least on my implementation. That is due to the fact that I’m running the OS on a CF card but everything lags. Definitely slower than Vista and a lot slower than Windows XP. I’m not even talking about drive performance. Even typing and scrolling is slow. (Performance improved when I later reinstalled onto a hard drive).
  • No support for the most popular media files due to copyright, trademark, and DRM restrictions. So avi, wmv, mp3, flash, swf files will not play without adding additional software. It’s a breeze to add support but know that it does not work out of the box.
  • Clunky interface reminds me of Windows 98. Very poor dialog boxes or just missing dialog boxes. After installing this OSX theme, it looks 100% better. It takes about 2 hours but it’s worth it.
  • Really poor font support. I’m sure it’s possible to download some more fonts but the included fonts are really sad looking so everything looks really dated. This is especially true of some web sites. There’s no support for popular fonts such as San Serif, Verdana, etc. The substitutions are a poor approximation.
  • Non intuitive folder navigation. The up one level button is missing in some folder navigation screens and some applications lack the ability to drill up and down folders that is so common with Windows implementations.
  • Top bar navigation gets some getting used to and waste valuable vertical screen space. I’m sure that can be moved with some tweeking.
  • At startup, it reports my battery at 43% full even though it’s 100% charged. It may need to be calibrated for this OS.
  • Like most OS, expect to spend several hours installing add ons like JAVA, Flash, and other updates and required software for rich content. It can’t even play videos from Youtube without adding a plugin.
  • In order to use Linux, you have to know Linux. It’s a ridiculous notion but those who write applications and documentation for Linux assume you already know Linux. Here’s a prime example. I had to install Java to upload photos to www.fotki.com. Under Windows, I would simply click install and a few minutes later it works. In the Linux world, this is what happens. It takes me to this screen and I’m somehow suppose to know the difference between the RPM version and the non RPM version. After some reading, I choose the non RPM version and it downloads a bin file to my desktop which cannot be executed. I have to go to the instructions and it tells me to open terminal and type su and enter the password. I find and open terminal and do exactly that only to have it tell me my password is no good. It’s the only password I used for this install. Why does it not work. It’s a dead end just to install Java. Now I have to Google “ubuntu terminal root password” and it takes me to this page which tells me I can’t use the su command but I actually have to use the sudo su command. It’s little things like this that cause Netbook purchasers to return Linux netbooks 4X more often than Windows XP netbooks. In the end, it came down to poor or outdated documentation. What it should have told me to do was to go to Add/Remove application, search for Java 6.0 plugin and install it. But how would a soccer mom with no little computer experience know to do this?
  • No advance mouse support for Logitech mice. Workarounds might be possible here.
  • Buggy wireless performance with Broadcom wireless adapter on HP DV90009NR. Performance is very poor. I have to turn off the wireless, suspend the computer, bring it back, and reactive the wireless to get it work properly.
  • Firefox 3 scales images poorly when set to any zoom level larger than normal. Unlike the Windows version, the Linux version creates jaggies on enlarged images.
  • When I tested the first time on the CF card, the sound worked fine. The sound died with a subsequent install on the hard drive and I had to spend 30 minutes looking for the solution. Finally got it back after going to System – Preference – Sounds and choosing the OSS (Open System Sound) driver instead of the hardware driver.
  • For some reason, the backspace key didn’t take me to the previous page in Firefox 3. I had to go into about:config in url, search for backspace and change the value of ‘browser.backspace.action’ from 2 to 0.
  • Some programs just fails to run. No error message. Run the program and nothing happens.
  • Some of the applications in the repository are outdated with an accompanying message saying Conical does not support updates. You can still add it but you may be installing an old version. I would prefer they just do a version check and point you to the url where you can get the latest version.
  • On notebooks with touchpads, the cursor jumps all over the place while typing. Under Windows, the touchpad is disabled while typing. Not so in Linux so any slight touch of the touchpad activates it. So of course I have to spend another 30 minutes hunting for and implementing a solution. There are thousands of these little quirks that will just drive the casual users crazy.
  • Cannot copy files over 5 gb from a usb external drives formatted under ntfs. Files copy fine under Windows XP but slows to a crawl as it gets over 5 gb.

Deal breakers – if these down work, it’s a no go for me.

  • Tethering my mobile phone as a modem. (works)
  • Instant messenger (works)
  • iMacro support (work but no scripting support)
  • Monitor calibration – somewhat important (works. Use Xcalib)

Some of the apps I installed

  • SMPLAYER for playing movies
  • Wine for running Windows programs
  • SWFDEC to play swf files
  • XCalib to add icc profile created under Windows XP using EyeOne LT
  • To enable the ability to play rich media content such as DVDs, follow the instructions here.
  • A OSX theme

My Desktop
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Other notes

  • You’re going to use terminal a lot and it does not suport Ctrl C and Ctrl V for copy and paste. Enter these two commands in terminal to enable Ctrl C and Ctrl V.
    • gconftool-2 -t str -s /apps/gnome-terminal/keybindings/copy "<Control>c"
      gconftool-2 -t str -s /apps/gnome-terminal/keybindings/paste "<Control>v"
  • By default, Windows volumes are not mounted. To automount them at startup, install this application by following these steps. Make sure all NTFS drives are NOT mounted currently.Search synaptic or add/remove for “ntfs-config” (without quotes) or type/paste the following into a terminal.
    • sudo aptitude install ntfs-config
    • Both will prompt for a password.Once installed – click System-Adminstration and choose NTFS-Configuration Tool. Check mark the volumes you want to auto mount and check enable write support for internal devices.
  • Undefined Video Mode Number On Startup. If you happen to have “Undefined Video Mode Number” error message when you login into your Ubuntu, here is the solution.
    1. Open Terminal and type:
    sudo gedit /boot/grub/menu.lst
    2. Look for and change statement that says vga=xxx (xxx is some numbers) with vga=normal. Ignore any lines that begin with #.
  • To apply a monitor profile you have created in Windows using a monitor calibration device, you need to first find and copy the icc file. It’s usually saved to C:/Windows/System32/spool/drivers/color. Copy it to your Ubuntu home directory. Open terminal and install Xcalib by typing sudo apt-get install xcalib. After it installs, type xcalib monitor.icc where monitor.icc is the name of your pre-calibrated monitor profile. Everytime you recalibrate your monitor, make sure you copy and overwrite the file.
  • Lost sound. One possible fix is to type the following commands in terminal:
    • sudo killall pulseaudio
    • sudo alsa force-reload

and then go to System>Preferences>Sound and change everything to ALSA