So, I got my laptop at work upgraded to XP. When they did this I was stuck without a workstation and mucked around installing gnome and blastwave.org packages to my Solaris box.
No that I had my laptop back I noticed something. They gave me a d:\ drive. They marked it storage. It sat there on my desktop taunting me. It was like an invitation to install linux. It was an opportunity I could not pass up.
Now, I like gnome. Why is another journal entry all together btw. I already run the big gnome based distro Fedora Core 3 on my home box. I tried the Ubuntu live CD and was impressed. I knew exactly what I was installing on my other partition the nice IT folks were nice enough to bless me with. Ubuntu means "humanity to others" and is a community gnome focused Debian based distro. It had gotten a ton of press and even more fans. I usually despise distro hopping but I have never tried any Debian based distro so my curiosity got a hold of me and I even decided to try and live off the bleeding edge preview version of the Hoary Hedgehog release of the distro.
I was curious about the Hoary Hedgehog version of Ubuntu and gnome 2.10. So I grabbed the latest iso and burnt it to disk. I was on the edge. I was off.
The install is plain and simple. There is no gui anaconda grace to it. It is straight forward and one curses step above a straight text based install. And it worked. The only major issue I had was I was not impressed with the partition tool and felt most of its defaults were off to start with. Still, I was able to tool my way around the interface and make it through that. The other striking thing for someone who has come from a RedHat/Fedora or Suse or Mandrake background is there are not any real package installation choices. Its just one damn CD people and Ubuntu installs it all.
No cute grub splash screen. (I added my own from gnome-look.org later) No cute little graphical boot process. There is talk of adding one but I am not put off by this anyway. The hotplug process kind of pauses the system but booting is very fast in comparison to Suse or Redhat in my experience. The only slow down is if you have multiple network profiles and you go from home to work and boot up without switching profiles before you shut down. The starting network part of the boot will sit and hang for awhile as it figures out what to do.
But here is the kicker. It does honestly always figure out what to do. Which is nice.
I say this all the time to people. Anyone can install linux. Its dead simple. Its the postinstall or the setup that can be a bitch, especially for a newbie. For a Fedora user, its the Fedora FAQ that helps makes this process easier for the new folks. It seems like every other post on the Fedora forums about postinstall could feasibly be answered by pointing the person to this faq. Ubuntu has an even more extensive and extremely friendly ubuntuguide. Considering its sheer freakin' size I have to say I found it very easy to grok and make my way around.
Sure, it took a bit of translation from its Warty origins for my Hoary bleeding edge install but for the most part it consisted of replacing the word warty with hoary in most of the instructions.
At the end of the process I had all the usual browser plugins like Realplayer, flash, java and even the mplayer plugin which I prefer over other choices for playing quicktime from the web.
This is perfect as a transition point into the next section.
This is the one thing about Fedora that I truly completely and totally despise. Install/Remove config app only works with CD installed rpms so that sucks. The up2date uses yum but ignores the yum.conf and the neato nifty install druid does not handle dependencies. It checks but does nothing to fix.
Now, even with the gnome-install app now standard in Hoary as part of ubuntu desktop, the one and only real source of packages for hoary is apt-get and its graphical brother Synaptic.
There are a ton of sources and applications. Now I had used apt4rpm before mind you. But the combination of dpkg, debs and apt-get just really rocks. It just seems so much faster and safer. I mixed sources like mad, like a guy looking to break his Hoary in half. Debian sources sit beside Hoary sources that sit beside Warty sources alongside one off sources. Oh yeah and it just did not seem to care. Synaptic and apt-get just chugged along with no problem.
Now even if you install a real one off deb from the command line, you will notice that dpkg might be the key because it just seems right off the bat faster than rpm. The time it takes the deb tools to figure out dependencies and to install packages on the whole seems faster. It also feels a lot more bulletproof.
What about availability? This is unfair right? After all Fedora Core 3 has been out a loong time and Hoary is still beta right? It is not that simple. It seems by the time I snagged Hoary a lot of work had already gone into the backports plus if you can't find the Hoary version the Warty deb will probably work and you might even get away with mixing in a straight deb source to get the package.
It was really nice that the w32 codecs were included as a deb package. But then again RealPlayer and Java were manual installs from their respective sites. Still the ubuntuguide instructions were dead simple and running nice neat installers of any sort is still easier than the copy fest of the usual /usr/lib/win32 stuff where the poor n00b sits at the mplayer website wondering which codecs tarball he needs.
Now I could monkey-bubble a game for my son that I could not in Fedora Core 3. Ditto for the gnome-photo-printer app. Now, the tools needed for burning audio CDs were really slight for Ubuntu. Graveman was available but I was not a huge fan of the interface. So, I got the Warty version of gnome-baker and it rocked. All in all it was a wash with the Debian based Ubuntu having a slight edge in package availability with one big exception.
The latest version of Abiword was not packaged for debs and I hit a nasty bug. There was a bug when I highlighted bold text in a table on a Word doc I use as an After Action Report Template for my server maintenances. Now one thing you can count with Fedora is that every single major project that bothers making binaries for linux boxes makes a Fedora rpm. Some smaller projects only release a deb like monkey-bubbles but usually Fedora has an edge. Then again Hoary comes with the restricted modules package so I do not have to hand compile the kernel modules for my madwifi card or my ltmodem or ... you get the picture.
What to do?
Compiling or using alternate packages:
Now I hit this Abiword bug that hosed my use of my favorite word processor since WordPerfect 8.0 for Unix. So, there are no recent debs newer than 2.2 the version with the bug I hit. Both versions of Abiword available for Ubuntu had this bug. So, I notice that Abiword includes a autopackage version so I uninstall Abiword and reinstall using the autopackage version. It worked flawlessly. I also on a lark tried gaim and Inkscape autopackages as well as the visual ldd tool and they all installed with no issues except for one. The gaim package is associated to the ubuntudesktop package but I wanted to uninstall it anyway along with gnome-install. The menu should show one option for package management by default even I do things "wrong" myself. That should be for a Debian distro - Synaptic.
Ok, what if I want to download and compile the latest tla arch version of Rhythmbox? Since Ubuntu is based off the latest gnome 2.10 this worked with no issues and now I could burn a audio CD straight from Rhythmbox and edit tags on my music files. w00t!
Ok, damn, that is really, really brown. No, I mean it. The background for my taste was just too dark and washed out the rest of the themes and desktops. I kind of liked the Industrial'ish flat Human gtk theme but they changed it to the ClearLooks which I love anyway.
The metacity theme is pretty standard and honestly just insanely sharp and pointy. I prefer the rounded edge feel and changed that pretty quick.
Factory-gtk and Human gtk work fine for me. The icon theme is nice enough and complete but I think that the old Gorilla icon theme is perfect for Ubuntu.
I like the earth colors. I don't mind the brown gtk theme, at least its not another freakin' blue theme. It just still needs tweaking in my opinion.
Otherwise, the clean desktop just begged me to go set my desktop to my home dir in gconf. I love this option since most users tend to clutter their damn desktop and use it as a home dir anyway. Unless you understand the difference between home and Desktop and use them correctly there is no point in the seperation at all especially in a *Nix environment. The network applet is turned on by default. The deal with the trashcan in my panel was sort of hard to get used to and I set it on my wife's desktop. But the Places menu and System in the top panel is nice.
The menus are very well laid out and logical and all that. It kind of reminds me of the Ximian menus especially right after install. But the thing is that unlike the old Ximian desktop on a full install Suse the menus are not hiding much. That is all you installed buddy. After all, its just one CD, like I said before. The only thing that drove me nuts was the fact the OpenOffice app icons were the old default stuff which is well ugly, fugly, and wrong on a philosophical level. Well, at the very least, they are very ugly. I copied some jimmac icons for the OpenOffice apps he has on his site and changed the desktop files.
This brings me to one of my main Gnome 2.10 gripes. There is no freakin' menu editing method at all except dropped down to the command line editing a bunch of desktop files.
Even in Fedora if you use it every day and install stuff on the fly long enough you are going to want to edit, delete or add a desktop file. Menu editing is available in freakin' Windows and KDE and even in WindowMaker or XFCE has one that is xdg complaint. It is just a very basic thing and the excuses I hear from people is just silly. I love gnome. I use gnome. I still know it sucks.
The other thing is that the fonts did not look as good as Suse or Fedora. Why? I had to add this fonts.conf I found on the Ubuntu forums that turned on auto-hinting or some such and suddenly my fonts looked great.
I really thought I would miss the wonderful intuitive Fedora tools which I think are perfect for desktop use.
But really it was nice to see gnome-system-tools like Users and Groups, Time admin and Network admin in use alongside with Ximian style Cups tools and such.
The additon of the shares tool especially with the activation of a right-click option for folders for Sharing just rocks but you better apt-get samba and smbfs or it ain't working.
Very nice but not as complete as Fedora Core 3 or god help us that monster known as YaSt2. The network tool and its use of profiles is very neat but sometimes it saves stuff and sometimes it refuses and the dhcp scripts can still screw you up no matter what you put in the profiles. Otherwise, the level of work and completeness of these tools are really appreciated with the Time and Date tool really exceeding Fedora's tools in my opinions and being better laid out that the Yast tools.
In this category I really feel like Ubuntu is on that cusp that sharp edge of greatness. All they need to make their admin tools feel more complete for a desktop user is to include the Firestarter tool by default, gtk2 based grcontab style tool is needed, add the Boot administration tool for grub and the Runlevel admin for maintaining services.
Let me say the boot-admin addition is just gravy. Firestarter is easy enough to add but ....
Runlevel-admin from the gnome-systems-tools is just vital and what most folks would consider basic. Also, I am amazed that a cron editing tool is not considered a basic tool that all distros should have. Cron was the original scheduling service and it is still great. But that is more of a general fussing point on the state of linux as opposed to a Ubuntu complaint.
God bless the folks who create the ubuntuguide. After going through that thing I had all the tasty bits of support for all the codecs that would get commercial companies sued if they tried to include them by default.
The mplayer plugin worked as well as I have ever seen it. The support for mp3s was great and my custom compiled I am a bleeding edge asshole version of Rhythmbox picked up all of the dev headers I snagged through apt-get and worked without an issue.
Having the win32codecs available in a deb package is really nice and a bonus or plus for Ubuntu. The only problem I had with Multimedia support goes against ever single thing I have ever seen on the net about the package. My totem-xine actually seemed slower than the gstream version for dvd playback. I notice a starting pause as the dvd starts and begins to load the starting bits for the movie or the previews. But this firmly goes against what I hear other people say. Actually I am very impressed with the bleeding edge of gstreamer development and the support for most media outside of some Sorrenson Quicktime movies.
For the first time, I felt bad in a way about installing the xine based version because I really like gstreamer as a concept.
Living with it:
The damn thing just feels well snappier than Fedora. Not sure if it is the faster boot up or the fact the it starts gnome quicker because its not loading all the redhat network stuff or well what but it just feels quicker overall.
It also feels like I have had to do more minor tweaking on this box than my Fedora box. I added a splash image to grub and the icons for OpenOffice, or the auto-hinting for the fonts and other little things and it adds up.
But once again, I did not have to hand compile my madwifi and ltmodem every single time I had a kernel update. That was nice.
I got tired of booting into XP to do stuff for work. Getting Cisco VPN working with the 2.6.10 kernels is a pain but that is the case for any distro and I got this prompt that it asks me for whether or not I want to continue onto the private network that did not come up with vpnc. It just would not let me log on. But Cisco VPN worked right off. The yes or no prompt came up and I got on just fine.
Getting Outlook going with Exchange was straight forward. No real problem.
I use gnumeric for my spreadsheet work. The damn app is near perfect for my needs in this regard.
The Abiword bug bite me but I took care of that with a new version and it has worked well since.
All I need now is a group of gnome developers to get criawips the presentation application going full burner and for passepartout to get on the level of Scribus.
Those are really imho the only big missing gnome pieces in terms of application functionality.
Now, if I could into Remedy the ticketing tool we use from the web consistently or if our configuration management ftp server was a complete mirror of my company's VSS then I could wax XP but then again IT would probably trip.
Browsing into a samba server is still not very good in Nautilus but the Connect to Server works very well.
Setting up CUPS to print to the area HP printer was easy business but I had been there before. The Ximian CUPs tools works very well. Going from the 1400x1050 to the 1280x1024 monitor at work is kind of a pain even with the resolution tool but I got that going.
That is the toughest part for me. Ubuntu like most forms of linux that are highly regarded seem right on that edge of greatness. I still have to compile the Cisco VPN client by hand with a patch, deal with no menu editing tools, change ugly ass icons around and mess with auto-hinting and such.
Too much postinstall even with the great work by the ubuntuguide folks. I would have to do most of the same steps except for changing icons and the auto-hinting.
But at the same time, this reminds me a great deal of what I thought of when I imagined a perfect gnome desktop about the time I saw the Ximian desktop and the RedHat 8.0 desktops.
It still has some rough edges and what I consider missing pieces but overall there is a nice feel and with the nicer package management tools it could easily gain the edge over Dropline and Fedora as the very premium gnome desktop distro.