Living with Ubuntu – Part 2

This is a follow up to the previous post which covered my initial reactions to Ubuntu. This time I will look at the additional software I installed.

One of the great things about Linux is the wide range of software available. It is often said Linux is about choice and one of the choices to be made is what software to use. Most of this software is FOSS (free and open source), indeed there is few reasons to consider non-FOSS solutions.

After installing Ubuntu I found there were some further programs I needed. Either they were specialised applications or I prefer some of the alternatives available.

Organisation of my photo collection is an important task for me. While I looked at other programs I have been using digiKam for some time and version 0.9 adds some great features such as the ability to edit metadata. Many of my photos are scanned from film and slides so I have wanted to add the appropriate metadata as part of my scanning process. Now I can. It also has a facility to add a geotag using Google maps. I do have some problems with transferring files from a digital camera. I can’t access the preference tab on the camera interface so I need to rename after transfer but that is such a small inconvenience I haven’t looked for a solution yet. The tagging and organisation functions suit me.

On an associated subject, scanning film and slides is an important job and I find Vuescan the best solution. It is the exception here as it is a commercial product but I have yet to find an open source program that produces scans of the same quality. When it comes to image quality that is the only real criteria.

Burning cds and dvds is an important form of backup and so k3b is a must. I can’t think of anything else to say about it. It compares well with software available at high prices on other operating systems. I’ve always preferred specialised programs rather than file manager based actions. It just works.

Music players are not an important matter for me. I have used Amarok and it would probably be my choice. However an unsolved problem with my usb audio card means only Rhythmnbox currently works. It didn’t default to search for new tracks and I had to add them manually until I found it in the preferences.

I have previously used iPodder to download podcasts. Rhythmnbox can do that too but it a less sophisticated option. It doesn’t include links to podcast directories for one thing. iPodder sorts the downloaded files better too.

I use Nautilus and find it an adequate file manager for simple jobs but I have always preferred Konquerer. However my file manager of choice is Krusader. A powerful classic style tool, I find its two pane interface the easiest to use. Especially the directory compare and similar features.

Thunderbird has been my email program of choice almost since it appeared. I just install it and copy the profiles and data over and it works. A simple tool that does well what it is designed for.

The other programs I use nearly every day are standard in most Linux distros, Firefox, the Gimp and OpenOffice. So really they fall outside the scope of this post.

One thing that stands out is that I generally prefer KDE programs to the Gnome alternatives. This is not a deliberate preference just the result of trying various alternatives and settling on the ones I find myself using. I have both desktops installed on this computer and switch between them as the mood takes me. I have edited the menus on both to include the applications I use all the time and I have removed the ones I never use. I find the programs are more important than the desktop so really it doesn’t matter which one I am running.

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Living with Ubuntu

I installed Ubuntu Feisty Fawn on my Thinkpad T20 laptop as part of its rebirth. I also installed it as another boot option on my desktop. So what has it been like using it every day. I should point out I am not completely new to Linux having used various distros over the last few years. Linux has been my default operating system for the last year or two.

Installation went well. It was very simple, after the live cd booted I clicked on the install icon. The laptop installation was straight forward as I used the entire disk. On the desktop I have a spare harddrive and decided to use all of it which also was simple. Maybe too simple. I would prefer the option to select what gets installed and what doesn’t. I know I can do this post installation but why not at install time? Other distros do it.

There were some display issues on the laptop which I covered in the previous post but I was surprised how well most things worked, especially wifi. On the desktop all my hardware was recognised and works. Even the film scanner I have had to set up manually in the past. The graphics tablet works better than it has under any OS.

I like to personalise the desktop on my systems and here I found one of the weaknesses of Gnome. It is less intuitive to change colours etc than KDE. Once I got used to it though I was able to make some changes. I found editing the menus easier under Gnome. The desktop effects don’t work on the Thinkpad (no surprise there) but I use the cube on the Desktop.

I like single click having used it since it first appeared back in the days of Windows 98SE. I found it needed to be set in some programs, eg. Nautlius, although I had previously set it a system preference.

Installing additional software is a breeze, Synaptic is possibly the best tool currently available. I installed KDE and can switch between it and Gnome with ease. I also installed many other applications but that is a subject for a different day. The installation of the codecs needed to access some files, eg. MP3s, is handled well.

System updates are generally handled well. One update which included a new kernal reintroduced the display problems on the laptop and I had to redo the manual set up.

Localisation is an issue for many users and is for me. All systems default to US for English speaking countries and required some attention. During installation I was asked for my location and the time zone etc. was correctly set but I had to alter the language settings manually. There are Australian dictionaries and the local Ubuntu site covers this well. (As an aside Australian English is English UK with local place names etc. added).

I have had problems on the desktop with the USB sound card. Initially only Rhythmnbox would work but after searching various forums I got some system sound working but Firefox and other programs are still silent.

I will probably update to Gutsy Gibbon in the future but am no hurry to do it as I’m happy with the way it is running at the moment.

Overall though it has been a positive experience, Ubuntu is working well for me. It does nearly everything I need to do although I had to install several other programs to get to that point. They will be the subject of a future post.

USB Keyboard

I recently updated my keyboard and for the first time have one that plugs into USB. It works fine, WindowsXP required driver installation but Linux just worked. However I had one problem.

As you may gather this is a multi-boot machine, it has Windows and a couple of versions of Linux. I have a Grub menu at boot up to select the OS to use. That was the problem, the keyboard wouldn’t work until an OS started up. I could only access my default OS. Checking a couple of forums I found a comment that some (most new) bios have an option to activate USB at boot. I checked mine (using an old ps2 keyboard) and the option was already set. Still no luck.

My computer has 2 set of USB ports (3 if you count the ones on the front panel). There are some directly on the motherboard and some on an expansion card. I had plugged the keyboard into the expansion card. As a test I rearranged some of my USB devices plugging the keyboard into one of the ports on the motherboard and rebooted. Problem solved, it worked fine.

As an aside both Linux systems handled the rearrangement without a problem however Windows went into a flap trying to set up all my “new” hardware and insisted on a reboot before it would work. That’s one reason why it isn’t my default OS!