Friday, February 23, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Alpha 3/4 - Trying out the controls

I finally got some more time this evening to try out various applications with Ubuntu 7.04. But before I get started, I need to clarify a statement I made earlier. Not only are the Ubuntu developers deserving of praise, but so are the Debian developers as well. I meant no disrespect to the Debian developers or their hard work.

Firefox and Flash

One of the first and biggest surprises centers around Firefox and the Flash plugin. I went to Distrowatch to tracking down a few leads, and was presented with Firefox's "You need a plugin" banner and button at the top of the page. What the heck. I pressed the button to see what would happen. What happened next was absolutely profound. It worked. By that I mean the Flash plugin was downloaded and installed by Firefox without me being directed to Adobe's Flash download site. After it was downloaded, it was installed, and the Distrowatch front page refreshed so that the Flash content started to work. I was amazed, and just sat there in wonder. The last time it had worked this smoothly was Windows. It certainly doesn't work this well on Open Suse 10.2. Just to make sure it really worked I went over to Comedy Central and John Stewart. It works flawlessly. Oh, if all the other plugins and codecs would work so effortlessly. Unfortunately, they don't.

Package Management

I had one reader of my first Ubuntu entry write about Automatix2. That's a nice suggestion, but it doesn't work with Ubuntu 7.04. The most current version it works with is 6.10. I refused to be fooled (in case they were wrong) so I downloaded the DEB file and installed it. Sure enough, when I tried to run it the first time a dialog popped up and informed me it would not work on version 7.04. When that happened I turned to Synaptic Package Manager on the Control Center, found where I'd installed the package, and had Synaptic remove it completely. And you know what? It did.

While I was in Synaptic I installed the ATI drivers for X.org in a attempt to use the ATI 9600's hardware acceleration. The drivers didn't work, and they even caused the desktop to lock up when I tried to run some OpenGL applications. So I turned to Synaptic again, removed them completely, and found I had corrected the lockup problem.

I can live with issues of things not working in an alpha release. This is, after all, an alpha release. Did I mention this is an alpha release? What leaves me spinning faster than a turbine is the inability to easily and cleanly correct a screwup such as this. This version of Ubuntu (and I suspect, quite a few earlier versions as well) allows for this ability to correct installation mistakes. Every Linux distribution, especially final releases, and most particularly enterprise releases, need to have this ability, and it needs to be the same (or damn near close to it) so that skills learned on one distribution are transferable to another if needed.

What's with this "Alpha 3/4"?

Turns out that Alpha 4 was released last Friday, and I didn't know that little fact when I downloaded and installed Alpha 3. So I thought I was going to have to download Alpha 4 and do another re-installation. But after looking at the release notes and checking the release versions of a few sample applications, it looks like that massive 412 package upgrade right after I installed Alpha 3 migrated me automatically from Alpha 3 to Alpha 4. Will wonders never cease?

Looking for OpenOffice 2.1

I was mistaken about needing to install OO 2.1. When you look at the splash screen or about dialog, it says OpenOffice 2.0. But if you look at the fine print on the about dialog, it actually says 2.1. Looks like I had it all along.

Huston, I have a problem

I was cruising along so smoothly for so long that I went on ahead and tempted fate by trying to play my Serenity DVD. That's when fate bit back. Sure enough, as soon as I stuck the DVD in the drive, Totem popped up and immediately said it had a problem. OK. Let's see if I can find the right support with the tools supplied with Ubuntu. That's when I turned to Applications | Add/Remove...

Add/Remove Applications is probably one of the best package management tools I've used under Linux. The other is Yast. There was one instance where I couldn't use this tool and it told me so, recommending I use Synaptic instead. And here's where I have a problem. If Add/Remove "knows" I need to use Synaptic, then it should offer to launch it for me rather than just suggest I use it and then force me to hunt it down and launch it from Control Center.

In any event, I used Add/Remove to install Movie Player Totem, VLC, and Xine extra plugins. None of those choices helped provide libdvdcss, the decoder required to view DVD movies. I had to eventually hunt down a solution via Google, and then drop into a shell and work some command line magic with wget and apt before I could find the right version of libdvdcss and play back movies on Totem and VLC.

The final trick to this was to execute the following:

wget -c http://medibuntu.sos-sts.com/repo/pool/edgy/free/i386/libdvdcss2_1.2.9-2medibuntu2_i386.deb
sudo dpkg -i libdvdcss2_1.2.9-2medibuntu2_i386.deb


When I did that everything started to work.

Final Thoughts

While I was busy installing packages from Add/Remove and Synaptic, I installed Java 6. It replaced the version I downloaded and installed by hand, and it worked flawlessly. I have NetBeans 6 Milestone 7 working on this machine because of it. Again, it took little effort and no surprised to just get it to work.

I've made more progress getting this machine set up in two days than I did in a week with Suse, and I thought I knew Suse pretty well. While I'm not going to say that Ubuntu 7.04 is better than Suse 10.2, it's certainly as good as. Except in one key area. Logistically, support-wise, Ubuntu is far better than any distribution, including Suse 10.2 and Yast. The tools just seem a lot more approachable, and the system seems more rugged and more forgiving of screwups.

The two failures I've had (easily installing DVD playback and video acceleration) are no different than what I've experienced with other distributions. I'll revisit the video acceleration later when 7.04 hits beta.

Easy DVD playback. What can I say? That we've had the ability essentially since 2002 and the work of DVD-Jon? That after five long years you'd think it would be made better available? Everything else works out of the box with Ubuntu. Why not this feature as well? Yes, I got it to work, but not easily. It's time to make this a part of Ubuntu and move on.

I'm still quite happy with Ubuntu. Happier, even.