The Internet Times Supplement

Ubuntu 11.04 – Natty Narwhal

In Technology on June 22, 2011 at 8:28 am

UPDATE SIX: Installed Mint and I will be putting up a post re the way to do it and my experiences. Give me time as I have a lot of reconfiguration to do…

UPDATE FIVE: After a lot of deliberation (and frustration) I have decided to give up on Natty Narwhal. I have a basic configuration with no modifications and very basic software installed – mainly the standard stuff that comes with the NN installation and a couple of minor tools I use for blogging and managing photos. Of late I have had some really annoying cache problems which I have been unable to identify the cause of. I have 2Gb of memory of which I am typically only having 20-25% used but 65% (typical) cache usage. Perhaps someone could tell me if this is ‘normal’ or not but I keep getting ‘grey-outs’ on different applications. It is not the hardware and CPU usage is very low. As an end-user I simply have to draw the conclusion that there is ‘something’ wrong. What, I do not know. I simply need the system to work without weirdness along the way. Now? After checking out Kubuntu and Mint I am opting for Mint (see below re no possibility to use a USB stick with Kubuntu (boot error)… I will document this along the way via another machine. This will include a guide on the ‘best’ way to partition a hard drive when installing Mint… i.e. I am now taking a backup of important data (docs, pics, Firefox bookmarks etc). Goodbye Ubuntu, you used to be good but lost the plot with the rather annoying and silly Unity interface.

UPDATE FOUR: Apologies for the delay, I am quite busy currently but trying both Mint and Kubuntu before deciding which direction to go. As soon as I can, I will give you a further update. In the meantime just a couple of observations re Natty:

1. I have switched (temporarily) to the ‘classic’ desktop with Natty. When I right click the desktop to rearrange any documents/folders/pictures there (“Organize desktop by name”) the space between the first and second columns is uneven. The reason is (as far as I can determine) due to the space required for the Unity Application Launcher. Simple question: if this is ‘classic’ then why do I have this spacing?. One of several little niggles re the implementation of NN that have annoyed me. Messy.

 

To give you another example, on the Keyboard Layout screen note the bottom option is slightly off with a scroll required to move it up. Again, messy when there are no further options below that.

 

 

 

As an aside to this, am I the only person who finds the new implementation of the side scroll bar both irritating and fiddly? Note this is not only in NN but in a several other apps. It would appear to be ‘well this is pretty nifty’ with no real regard to usability…

2. If you have installed Natty and (like me) are not happy with the implementation of the Unity Launcher then you may want to switch to the Classic View like me. In order to do that you need to ensure you have your Ubuntu user ID set up with a password. When you have done that, log out and when you click on the user icon at log in, you will note the grey toolbar at the bottom gives you a number of options. Select Classic view from the options. Note the options ONLY appear when you select you user id…

 

 

 

Incidentally, if during installation you clicked the box ‘Encrypt my Home folder’ you may be facing the same issue I had i.e. setting up encryption with NN (or most Linux distros) requires a bit of foreknowledge and the result I had was a message indicating I had to open a terminal window and issue some commands. No problem were it not for the fact the message and instruction I got did not work… now on boot up I get a weird ‘trying to mount crypt…’ or similar. No harm re this but I will post some instructions on how (and why) to encrypt your PC properly. There is more to this than meets the eye…

UPDATE THREE: I downloaded the Kubuntu 11.04 distro and tried to create a bootable USB with zero effect. First attempt I got “Could not find kernel image: vesamenu.c32”. Second attempt, “Boot Error”. Third attempt? I thought that perhaps the USB stick was ‘iffy’ so used a new one… result? The same. So I burned the ISO image to CD (remember those?) using Linux.

As an aside, finding a suitable ISO burner to create a bootable CD/DVD that works without causing issues can be taxing. The worst one I found was ‘AcetoneISO’. Why? There are several ‘optional’ add-on packages that are pre-ticked… including the Thuran file browser AND Dolphin (why multiple ones I do not know). End result is that when you click ‘Places’ you get a confusing ‘No application associated …’ type of error until you remove Thuran. VERY bad and totally unwanted! Note that I SHOULD have been paying attention! My mistake for not doing so, but WHY were they pre-selected? Who knows. Anyway…

The new CD has a program ‘usb-creator.exe’ which is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard on a Linux machine. Note I need to try this out on a netbook which does not have CD/DVD drive. Equally I want to be able to do a fair comparison of the different versions AND I fail to understand why Kubuntu are unable to produce a distro that can be installed on USB. Clearly some work to be done there. Putting this MAJOR niggle to one side, I booted from the Live CD. An waited a looooong time before getting to the desktop. Two equally major issues: 1. I was unable to see or access (easily) my hard drive and any attached storage so I was unable to create some screen grabs. 2. While Firefox is there on the CD, the default web browser is “rekonq“. When you are assessing the capabilities of a different distro it would seem logical to have the option of using A.N. Other browser regardless of how ‘good’ or ‘integrated’ a browser is with the OS. This may seem minor but simply adds to the list of things to consider while looking at Kubuntu.

While Kubuntu 11.04 is a good distro, I am tending more towards Mint as my choice. I will install the Kubuntu on a netbook using an external DVD drive and run it side by side with Mint and come back to you.

For a ‘normal’ user, the basic issues highlighted above would likely make them back away from installing it – I nearly did not bother to burn the CD and knew what I was doing. The install/burning/Live trial SHOULD be idiot proof. With Kubuntu it is not. Ergo, I must be an idiot.

 

 

 

 

UPDATE TWO: Well, I have spent a hot Spanish day and evening looking at Linux Mint…

What can I say? As the saying goes amongst apiarists “Beauty is in the eye of the bee holder”… Currently I am running a Live USB of Mint 11.04. Tomorrow I will try Kubuntu to see if this lives up to its promise. In the meantime…

Note that I am an experienced long term users who has advanced through the days of DOS with a Hercules graphics card (I still have a pristine early IBM PC somewhere about), after discovering the joys of a computer with a Tandy Model 1, a Sinclair Spectrum, CPM, and a host of other hardware/software along the way. For a long time I was a MS fan but lost ‘the faith’ through various nightmares with the various versions that have been released (some should not have!). I am certainly NOT an advanced user, I am certainly not a ‘computer buff’, I simply like to use a computer as a tool. Call me an ‘advanced end-user’ if you will. Someone who knows a bit (but not enough) re how to partition a drive for Linux, is woefully ignorant of many command line tasks, but am able to tweak a registry as long as I have clear instructions.

Mint first impressions:

1. Visual:- On a big screen? Wow. Crisp, clean, nice UI, and it worked out my (Acer Aspire 7720) graphics to perfection. In fact, I did not even notice that it had determined the best resolution until I tried it with a couple of external LG flat screens and switched seamlessly between them. In comparison, Ubuntu 11.04 had a couple of tries before I had to force it to the resolution I needed.

2. Interface navigation:- compared to NN 11.04 it is totally intuitive with a few minor hiccups due to unfamiliarity. However, as someone who has had to switch between multiple OS’s (still do as the wife is an Apple fan who uses/d an XP machine for her work. (Microsoft, how did you go so wrong with Vista? Win7 is OK but nothing to write home about). I am confident I can make a few minor tweaks while STILL continuing to work. With Ubuntu 11.0 this was not possible. It got in the way and presented too many hurdles. As a comparison, when you buy a new car, the controls SHOULD be intuitive and (sort of) in the place where they normally are, if they are not then there should be a logical reason for them to be in a different place. If you ever hire a car you will know what I mean. Recently we hired a car where the controls for the radio/cd were not intuitive. A minor detail unless the radio suddenly starts blaring out for no apparent reason and you are searching desperately for the volume control at 120km an hour on a busy road (please note that Opel!)

3. Usage:- OK, I am running it from a USB with little to clutter it up. I did the same with NN but the two are poles apart in terms of ease of use, zippiness, and simple ability to get things done. My (6-7 month old with nothing extra installed) Windows 7 performed like a grandma with constipation in comparison when I first fired it up and (thanks HP/Compaq) I am still trying to work out why a 4Gb installation recovery partition requires 12.7Gb to back up. Perhaps more on my request for support another time – still waiting HP Board of Director!!! 2.5 months down the line from a basic support request…

The proof of course will be in the usage rather than in the (rather stale) stodgy pudding that is Ubuntu 11.04 with Unity.

Next task… go over to the netbook where the USB stick with Kubuntu 11.04 should now be ready. I will keep you informed…

UPDATE: After much effort, installation, re-installation, modifications etc. I have given up on using Ubuntu 11.04. I have tried this version on multiple machines and get the same problems. Now I am switching to either Kubunti or Mint… the decision process will prove interesting to any suggestions from people will be welcome. The Unity 3D interface is awful. Yes you CAN switch to ‘Classic View’ but the default install puts Unity there. It is totally apparent that this ‘update’ is incomplete and there are some significant issues with its stability. Add to that the increase in mouse travel/clicks required to perform the most basic of operations and you get the idea that there is still a long way to go before this should be considered stable. As I say below, “kludge’.

A simple search for “problems with Unity Natty Narwhal returns about half a million hits… therefore, you are not alone if you are having problems. What a mess? Back to the drawing board Canonical!

Here is a common phrase I have found re Unity / NN:

“The real problem is that Unity can’t do half of what GNOME can do.”

Enough said. Now, where are my Windows installation CD’s?

=======================
Are Canonical committing hari-kiri?

For those of you who may be considering switching to the latest release of Ubuntu my personal recommendation is do NOT until you have spent some time (quite a bit actually!) with a Live CD/USB version which can be used without installation on your computer.

Over the past couple of years, Linux, and in particular Ubuntu has been steadily making inroads to the installed Windows user base. It has proven to be consistently more stable and user friendly than the implementations of Windows. Add to that the fact that the majority of applications a Windows user has are also available in some form or other under Linux for FREE or the user is able to use Wine to run applications which are Windows based.

Now? There are clearly some significant bugs with the interface causing complete lock ups or freezes. I have tried this on three different computers (PC, laptop and netbook) and ALL have experienced this. You are in the middle of typing something and ‘kaboom’. The ONLY option is to either wait to see if the OS unfreezes or to hit the power button. This is NOT good. Equally, there is an issue with the top of the screen where the ‘control bar’ is simply going black for no apparent reason. Messy, messy, messy.

Well I for one will be switching to another implementation of Linux (probably Kubuntu or Mint). I am fairly certain, based upon my experiences to date, that many others will follow. Why? The implementation of the interface appears to be a kludge that is both incomplete and not properly tested across different hardware. A simple scan of the support forums will reveal that there are many people going “WTF?” regarding some fairly basic interface issues and niggling little oddities that make you wonder what some developers were doing when they implemented changes to aspects of the interface that worked perfectly fine previously. The single most annoying aspect that people notice is the extra mouse travel required. I am in the process of running a side-by-side check of fairly standard operations using a mouse odometer to demonstrate my point and will hopefully come back with some meaningful information re this. Anyone else who has input on this I would be pleased to hear about. The choice of Banshee as the music player is actually quite sensible BUT the volume control is illogical compared with many other implementations of a volume control. A horizontal slide bar for what is vertical in most other software? Why can this not be changed?

Then of course there is the ‘menus outside of the window’ (MOTW – see below) implementation. Great if you are using just one application but this alone is causing many people endless issues. If you switch between different OS’s on a regular basis, this alone is VERY confusing. Add to that the overlaying of the window title when the menu appears and you quickly arrive at the simple questions: “Why does this have to be this way? Why not have the menu there all the time?” I think this is a classic ‘Well this is cool. Let’s do this because we can.’ approach rather than ‘Does this actually make sense?’. It goes against many of the logical approaches to UI design and user interaction.

I recently had some minor connectivity problems with Lucid Lynx and decided that the new release would/should resolve them. I had searched for solutions and determined that my existing installation was getting a bit flaky. This was either through a rogue piece of software or just as a result of one ‘fix’ as part of the normal updates creating problems for me. So I went ahead (after taking some backups first of course!) and installed the latest release via a USB installation.

While the new version IS (in most cases) slightly zippier, the new interface has many very bad aspects to it. The design is clearly (someone correct me if you think I am wrong) intended for the Pad / smart-phone market where tapping a (very) large icon is the order of the day and placing the selected application into full screen mode is the commonest way of working. For a PC user this is not normally the way people work. Equally, any software developer or person who edits multiple files will find the interface a veritable pain.

The Unity 3D interface pops out at the left-hand side of the screen and there are very few options for editing its appearance. Lots of black and large icons. With a large screen this is not really much of a problem but if you use your Desktop a lot then it becomes a real irritant. I will give some updates regarding my experiences soon, but in the meantime I have switched back to Classic View. Far better and much more consistent with the ‘standard’ way of using an OS (regardless of Windows, Mac, Linux etc) with drop down menus and the ability to . The WIMP layout did not develop by accident.

For want of a better term, I too have experienced the ´menu outside of the window’ problem (MOTW). Let me say that my own opinion is that it sucks BIG TIME. From a UI perspective you have a menu that appears on the top bar in a relative position and obscures, or partially obscures, the window title. Take the ¨Firefox Web Browser” title as an example while I explain the ´Import Bookmarks´ issue.

The title of the current window is clear and there is no visual confusion while using this. As soon as you mouse over this bar to get to the MOTW, this and any other title are either fully or partially obscured with the menu overlay. Depending upon the menu of the currently active window, this will vary. i.e. zero consistency in expected behaviour. Kludge! I will not even mention the inability to switch the FF 4 close/min/max buttons you see there on the left of the title and the fact that this is completely different from the FF implementation across other platforms. As far as I can see, there is no way to switch these to the right hand side where (if you switch themes) the rest of your apps buttons are. Perhaps someone can correct me on this one…

To import your bookmarks there are a couple of ways.

1. IF you have the latest FF and have common bookmarks on A.N. Other machine and you have not used the ´Sync´ option then you can use this to synchronize the bookmarks FROM the old machine TO the new one. It is REALLY easy…

2. For the ´missing import´ problem, this too is easy (but truly nonsensical). Other implementations for k/b shortcuts have Shft+Ctrl+B… HOWEVER, the k/b shortcut is now Shft+Ctrl+O…. thanks for that… NOT. Regardless of this quirk you can open the Bookmarks from the top menu.

3. Use your mouse and move it to the top bar and the FF menu will appear. Select Bookmarks.

4. Select Show All Bookmarks.

5. Now move your cursor back up to the top bar (Control Bar for want of a better term).

6. There you will find the Import and Backup option. Notice how the title changes from the web page title to “Firefox Web Browser” and, when you move the pointer to the Control Bar the menu partially obscures the title so you get “Firefox V” showing. On other windows this is particularly annoying/distracting/not good UI design… this is REALLY annoying.

 

Add to this the fact that the FF bookmark implementation is now different between 11.04 and (say) Windows 7 (not sure on the Mac). Great consistency.

 

A pigs ear as far as I am concerned…

 

My main complaints re 11.04 are the increased mouse movement required on a screen, despite my switching the close/min/max buttons to the commonly placed top right for all of my window, FF has its buttons on the left and I can find no way to change this, the stupid side bar which pops up (or not) at the most inopportune moments (e.g. dragging and dropping), the stupid side bar that does not consistently appear when you move the mouse pointer to the hot zone, the stupid side bar taking up desk space (overlaying), the stupid side bar ‘Apps available for download’, the stupid side bar with no Back option so you have to either select the DDmenu or click outside of the window THEN go back to the side bar to select something else, the stupid sidebar in BLACK, and of course, not forgetting… the stupid side bar.

Incidentally, the ONLY way I know to change the auto-hide behaviour is to do this:

1. Open “Software Center” (minor whinge: some of us spell ‘center’ as “centre”).

2. Search for ‘CCSM’ (CompizConfig Settings Manager).

3. Two results are returned ‘Advanced Desktop Effects Settings’. Choose this and install (the other one does NOT work!!!).

4. The installed program can be found under Applications/All Applications/Themes and Tweaks/See more results (notice the extra mouse clicks to get there BTW).

5. When the Compiz program loads, select ‘Desktop’ and then click on the BUTTON (bad interface!) underneath the words “Ubuntu Unity Plug-in”.

 

6. Select the ddlb next to ‘Hide Launcher’ and choose ‘Never’. That’s it…

 

Incidentally, many people have suggested installing and using ‘Unity 2D’ which is available for download. I tried it but soon found that this impacted significantly on the stability of my mouse pointer. Jittering or freezing was common place and I quickly removed it. In fact, to avoid the possible corruption of the basic installation, I completely reinstalled 11.04 and implemented the available ‘Classic View’ to revert to a more sensible WIMP interface.

 

On a slightly related topic. One oddity I have experienced which I am not sure whether it is a FF4 bug or that of 11.04 is the failure of FF4 to restart when changes are made to its installation and you are requested to do so. On Windows, the restart actually DOES restart FF4. Under 11.04 NN (Call it what you will ‘Nasty Narwhal’ or even ‘Naff Narwhal’) the restart simply closes FF4 and you have to restart it by clicking the FF icon. Messy, messy, messy…

 

Overall I am seriously disappointed with the new release. During the upgrade from Lucid Lynx ALL of my previously installed apps were lost and it was as if I had performed a new installation rather than an upgrade. No problem for me though as I made good backup copies before the update.

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