Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ubuntu replaces Suse, but not very well

I finally pulled the trigger and replaced Suse 10.2 on europa with Ubuntu 7.04. How I got to this point was long and involved. The results of the change were less than I anticipated. If you're curious about the long strange trip it's been then read on. Otherwise you can bail at this point. It's your choice.

In The Beginning

Europa is my workhorse home system. It's a DIY system I built in January 2003 from components ordered from Newegg. Every component, with the notable exception of one hard disk, continues to function on the machine (and I attribute that to the fact that nothing has ever been overclocked). The motherboard is a Chaintech 7NJS Zenith (Socket A, nVidia nForce 2 400 ATX). It should be noted that Chaintech is now Walton Chaintech and they don't make motherboards any more. When it was released the 7NJS was considered a high-end motherboard, and it came stocked with just about every feature you'd ever want or need on a Socket A system board. One item I paid dearly for at the time was an ATI 9700 Pro. I wanted a high-end graphics card, and the ATI seemed to be sweeping up the floor with nVidia in contrast to nVidia's motherboard chips. Strange, that.

The first OS I installed on europa was Windows XP, followed immediately by service pack 2 (which gives some idea how old XP and SP2 really are). I'd installed a pair of Western Digitial 120GB PATA drives on europa. Windows was installed on the primary drive. The secondary drive got SuSE Linux 8.2 Professional, purchased for $79.99 from Best Buy here in Orlando. I started using Suse as my primary Linux distribution starting with Professional 7.3. I might "stray" to other distributions (most notably Redhat up to version 9, before they dropped their desktop subscription service), but I always came back to Suse. In fact rhea's primary goal in life was (and still is) the sandbox for all those other distributions. Europa stayed a dual-boot Windows XP/Suse machine from its inception for over four years.

Seeds of Discontent

I didn't realize it at the time, but my disenchantment with Suse took root with Novell's purchase of SuSE back in November 2003, the same year I built europa. It wasn't a hit-over-the-head moment; I continued to purchase and use Suse up until openSUSE 10.2, which I had to order over the web from Novell itself because no one was selling it here in Orlando (no big-box stores sell any Linux distribution on their shelves any more in Orlando the way they did back in 2003). The greatest transition took place between 9.1 and 10.0. The term 'Professional' was dropped from the name, and for all intents and purposes, from the distribution in general.

The single most annoying change that took place from 9.3 to the 10 series in general is the updater. I don't know what happened, nor do I care for the arcane details, but the change was for the worse and updating the system became, in a word, horrible. How horrible? Horrible enough that any problems with any of the repositories, especially with
third party repositories such as with packman.unixheads.com would cause the updater to hang for very, very long periods of time before a timeout would occur, and it would do this for each and every problem. I'm sure there's some tunable timeout constant buried somewhere in some file, but I don't have the time nor the patience to go hunt it down and slay it. But in spite of such update woes, I kept with it. I actually liked the KDE apps that shipped with 10.2, in spite of Novell's desire to standardize on Gnome. I wrote a lot of good reviews of KDE under Suse 10.2, and stand by those reviews. And I probably would still be there if I hadn't decided to upgrade openSuse 10.2 to support Beryl to the same level it is currently supported in Ubuntu 7.04.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

I went googling for trouble, and I found it in spades. I found a page that led me merrily down a path to despair under the guise of helping me upgrade my Suse 10.2 installation to use Beryl. With KDE. And the ATI 9700 Pro. After faithfully following the directions I found it didn't work. As I read down the instructions to the end, what do I find but these thoughtful words:


"Go fly a kite." I've got all this code installed, including the latest ATI video driver, and Beryl as well as Compiz won't work as described. And all I get for my troubles are those four motivational words "Go fly a kite." Yeah.

Revenge is a Dish Best Served Barbecued

Now suitably motivated, I reach over and grab the Ubuntu 7.04 final release CD, and stuff it in europa's drive. Then I reboot, and begin the task of replacing Suse 10.2. I figure what have I got to loose? It's either install Ubuntu or re-install Suse, and hell is going to freeze over before I re-install Suse. Oh. A few things that will add spice to this particular stew.
  • My /home area is on a separate partition. I'm going to take my login area and re-use it under Ubuntu.
  • I have installed a 250GB PATA drive controlled by a Promise PDC20375 SATA controller with RAID support. The Chaintech motherboard has the PDC20375 configured with one drive true SATA and the other PATA. So I purchased another Western Digital 250GB hard drive on sale at my local Circuit City for a mere $65 and plugged 'er in. I was going to ignore the RAID features and use it as a regular drive. Such a deal!
  • And I've still got that lovely ATI 9700 Pro.
It was my original plan to be merciful to my long-serving Suse installation and actually install Ubuntu on the new 250GB drive, leaving the Suse partition alone. And Ubuntu was so helpful in this regard. With its new and shiny 2.6.20 kernel, it found and mounted that 250GB drive, and formated it for me, and then proceeded to do a full installation. And in the process of performing this full installation it changed grub on the main hard drive (hda) to point to this new and shiny hard disk. Then I rebooted. And disaster struck.

Where Even Fools Fear to Tread

The folly of my first Ubuntu install was quickly revealed to me during first reboot. That wonderfully new and big drive, that was so easily formated and partitioned and had Ubuntu installed, was not visible during a reboot. Because I chose unwisely to fill the PATA slot on the SATA controller, the Chaintech BIOS, on reboot, did not see the SATA controller as being properly configured. So it did not load the driver to see the third hard drive. Thus, when grub went looking for Ubuntu, it wasn't there. And it just hung there with an error message.

So I grabbed the manual out of the OpenSuse 10.2 box along with the installation DVD and went into system rescue mode. Now, I'll give Novell credit for at least giving you a tool to clean up a mess such as this. But very little. The rescue system dumps you to a command line, and you get to sit at the keyboard with the manual in your lap opened to page 193, slowly reading and following the directions. At page 197 ("Modifying and Reinstalling the Boot Loader") things got more interesting, as it showed what commands to use to mount the root partitions (via a reference to page 196, "Accessing the Installed System"), and to then run 'grub --batch < /etc/grub.conf'. Such a nice and simple command. I guess it would be petty to suggest that something a little more GUI-ish and a little less CLI-ish would be useful. After all, I was able to follow directions here and get my system to properly dual boot once more.

A Day in the Life

You'd think at this point I would learn. And you'd be wrong. Rather than heed this divine warning and be grateful with the salvation of my system, I decided that only wiping out Suse would satisfy my animal rage. I was royally pissed and by damn I was going to succeed in installing Ubuntu, come hell or high water. So I shoved the Ubuntu disk back in and re-installed it, except this time over the Suse root partition I knew would be seen on reboot. And here's what I got to see yet again the second time, and captured for posterities sake.

If you'll note the fine text right in the middle of the big dialog, it says in part "This is a pre-release of the Ubuntu live DC installer." Pre-release? Excuse me, but I did download the final release, did I not? I went to another system in a state of panic and checked to make sure that the ISO I'd grabbed was the final version. This was the same CD I'd booted successfully on my notebook. Oh well. Another one that slipped through QA. I had booted Kubuntu earlier on this same machine, and checked the installer there, and it was correct in noting this was the final installer. Whatever.

I followed the directions and in no time I had Ubuntu installed a second time on the second drive (/dev/hdb1 to be precise). I mounted /home, and then logged in as myself. And that's when I discovered that a home created under Suse does not automagically migrate into a home under Ubuntu.

Install in Haste, Repent in Leisure

So there I am, finally up and running in Ubuntu, and the little update light goes on on the panel. Except it's not on the upper panel, it's on the lower panel. That's because when I was running Gnome under Suse there was only a lower panel. So I click on the update notification on the lower panel and I'm treated to 644 updated packages that need to be installed. Now.

By this time I didn't care. Fine. Download and install the updates. It does and when it's finished and rebooted (again) I finally sit down and attempt to do what I tried under Suse. Bring Beryl up with the lovely ATI card. So I find and install the ATI vendor drivers and the restricted kernel modules. After multiple reboots and tests, I finally perform the following tasks to get the hardware acceleration operational on the ATI card:
  • In /etc/default/linux-restricted-modules-common I comment out the line "DISABLED_MODULES="fglrx"". Failure to do this causes the fglrx.ko module to be deleted from /lib/modules/2.6.20-15-generic/volatile each and every time the system reboots. How do I know it needs to be there? Because when I try to do a modprobe with the module, it won't load from any other location.
  • In /etc/X11/xorg.conf's "Extensions" section, I disable the "Composite" option. That pretty much kills the ability to run Compiz and Beryl. But it's the only way to get full hardware acceleration with that damn ATI card and those damn ATI drivers.
When I'm finished I have only half of what I started out to get, and that's reasonable video performance and hardware acceleration. The compositing desktop won't work. I can now start and use Google Earth on this box, and it runs as fast and smooth as it does on rhea and under Windows XP (without all this aggravation.) In the mean time, for good measure, I've also uninstalled Beryl and the Restricted Drivers Manager applet.

It's Getting Better All The Time

So now I turn my attention to the new big drive. I start copying about 40GB of data off of my /home partition onto the new drive mounted at /work. As I'm sitting there in grim satisfaction waiting for the task to finish, the system locks up. Hard. Requiring the reset from the front of the case. So later in the week, on the way home, I go buy another Western Digital 250GB SATA drive and replace the PATA with it. And that opens up a new can of worms.

Adding and replacing drives under Ubuntu can be best described as rudimentary. There is nothing under the on-line "Help and Support" that I could find. I had to go googling for it before I finally found the answer(s).
  • Install gparted. Gparted is decent. It allows you to see all the devices, including my new unformatted and unmounted drive. Gparted allowed me to set the volume label, and to then partition and format the drive. Unfortunately it stopped at the last critical step, setting up automatic mounting under Ubuntu.
  • Ubuntu is now using a UUID to identify drives in /etc/fstab. Otherwise I'd have just used the device the kernel assigns to mount it. Rather than risk this now-old-fashioned way of doing it, I attempted to figure out the New Way. The New Way is to run (as root) 'vol_id -u /dev/sda1' (since the new drive is /dev/sda). This gave me the UUID for the partition. I then cut-and-pasted that into an entry in fstab. When finished the drive would automatically mount on every reboot.
  • Again I suppose it's petty of me to think that gparted could handle the insertion of the drive it finds and formats for you into /etc/fstab.
I tested the new SATA drive after the install as best I could. I performed multiple copies of the 40gig of data onto the new drive, then did comparisons of every file, then downloaded and built Trolltech's Qt version 4.2.3. No lockups. No errors. I think after about a week I can almost trust the drive not to cause any more problems. The older 250GB PATA is back in its box. I will probably use it to upgrade the oldest PATA (the one with Windows XP on it) later this summer. Joy, joy.

The Long and Winding Road

So what have I learned from all this?
  1. Changing or upgrading hardware (drives, video cards) is a royal pain in the ass under Linux. Under Windows it's fairly simple, but under Linux it's an adventure only a hard-core geek can appreciate. I can say this because I've experienced upgrading the video card on rhea from an ATI 9600 SE to an nVidia 7600 GS, and adding the new drive on europa. Oh. Make sure to remove the drive you want to physically remove from fstab. I removed the drive without modifying fstab, and got dumped to the command line so I could 'fix' the hard disk failure. Vi fstab, remove the entry, reboot, and I'm back in business. Simple, no?
  2. ATI support under Linux is atrocious. nVidia support, by contrast, is decent if not spectacular. I can say that with experience because I have nVidia and its vendor drivers running on rhea. And I can run Google Earth and other OpenGL applications and still have Beryl running just fine on rhea. But not on europa with ATI. Why this should be is open to interpretation, but part of the blame can be firmly lain at the feet of the kernel devs.
  3. If I want compositing along with everything else, then I'm going to have to replace the ATI card with an nVidia card, just like I did on rhea. I had thought my ATI problems with rhea were a fluke, but not any more.
  4. You can't easily migrate home directories between distributions, or at least from Suse to Ubuntu. That's highly annoying considering the history and configurations that build over time. I have yet to fully sort out all the minor but constantly irritating problems that continue to plague my login on europa.
  5. Ubuntu's package management system runs rings around Suse's package management system. I've read that OpenSuse is changing package managers, but I'm not waiting around to find out if it's any better.
  6. Suse, especially Open Suse, has a major quality issue. The polished professionalism is gone. I have no idea when (of even if) it will ever be as good as it was in Suse Professional.
I'll think I'll stick with Ubuntu on europa for the moment, if for no other reason than I've been beaten into submission by the entire process. I've got Java 6 installed, along with NetBeans 5.5, and I can install other packages without having to go and hunt down multiple locations. Well, with one notable exception. I tried to play back a DVD only to find out ONCE AGAIN I needed to find and install dvdcss. Under Synaptic's 'Settings | Repositories', on the 'Third-Party Software' tab, you need to add 'http://medibuntu.sos-sts.com' in order to pick up the non-free media bits. Simpler by far than YaST.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Final Boots Gateway M685 Notebook Successfully

Let me start this entry by showing a simple screen capture of Ubuntu 7.04 running on my Gateway M685.

All I had to do this time was drop the Ubuntu CDROM in the DVD drive, reboot the notebook, and wait for Ubuntu to start up. It was as smooth as proverbial silk. Here's a quick rundown of what I was able to initially check out about 7.04 running on the Gateway.
  • Screen: The good news is that it booted and used the screen. Every pre-release version of 7.04 before this final release had screen issues; the screen booted up black and disabled. But this time It Just Worked. The bad news is that its resolution is limited to 1024 by 768. This is No Big Deal. All I have to do to fix this is install 7.04 and then install the nVidia drivers to enable the built-in Go 7800's hardware capabilities (including 1680 x 1050 resolution). I've had to do this with every release of Suse. It's No Big Deal.
  • Network: 7.04 detected and allowed me to connect to my home wireless network without any other special manipulation of the distribution. Talk about load-and-go. Wireless networking works out-of-the-box with the built-in wireless hardware hardware using the included ipw3945 driver. Suse was only able to do this after installation. The Live Suse DVD does not do this.
  • Hard drive: Ubuntu out-of-the-box detects and accesses the notebook's SATA drive. Further, it mounts the NTFS partitions from the Windows XP side. In fact it sees all the existing partitions, Windows and Linux (Suse 10.1). The ability to at least mount and see NTFS is a feature that comes standard with Suse but must be added to Fedora Core all the way up to version 6. That hide-bound unwillingness of Fedora Core to support NTFS immediately after installation was one of the prime reasons for me to abandon it. Hate Windows all you want but co-existence with Windows is at times vital, and NTFS mounting is part of that.
  • USB: Works out-of-the-box. I plugged in one of my USB thumb drives in order to store the desktop images you see here. Suse equals Ubuntu in this area.
  • Sound: Works out-of-the-box. While I doubt I could play any DVDs without installing 7.04 and all the necessary codecs, the ability to hear the boot-up audio is sweet music to my ears. No version of Suse has ever been able to enable sound on this machine.
There is only one very minor quirk so far. The opening greeting page on Firefox says welcome to Ubuntu 6.10. While it has no impact on functionality it does not reflect well from a quality perspective. The help system is correct and identifies this release as Feisty Fawn, Ubuntu 7.04.

I don't have time right now to do a full installation, but I will this weekend. Considering all the experience I've gained on my test machine (rhea) with 7.04, it should take little time for me to install and configure Ubuntu on my notebook. Over OpenSuse 10.1. I've also been downloading the Kubuntu version for testing on my Suse 10.2 system. That should also prove interesting as that's the machine with the older ATI 9700 Pro.

My lowly Gateway may not match what Micheal Dell has for running Ubuntu, but it's still not too shabby. Thanks Ubuntu team.

Ubuntu 7.04 Has Officially Arrived

Well, today is the day that Ubuntu 7.04 is officially released. I got two more updates this morning for K3B; it can now rip DVDs to MPEG-4 movies, suitable for playing on my computer or on the latest generation of portable devices. So far I've ripped about 30 of my DVD collection on my Suse 10.2 system. Right now I'm performing a test rip on "Batman Begins".

I'm still debating whether I want to download and re-install from scratch, just to see if any little quirks I ran during the testing phases clear up. But considering that everything Just Works the way I expected is a strong incentive not to screw around with it. Regardless of the OS, it takes time to install, update, and configure it to my liking. This occurs with any Linux distribution or Windows.

Micheal Dell Uses Ubuntu

Yep. Found this item via /. Looks like Micheal Dell uses Ubuntu 7.04 on his Dell Precision M90, a souped up laptop with a 2.33 GHz Intel T7600, 4GB of DRAM, 17" screen, and nVidia Quadro FX3500 with 512 MB of video ram. Not too shabby. And with Ubuntu 7.04 he's also using OpenOffice 2.2. Oops! Better not let Microsoft hear! Although it doesn't say, I wonder if he's been using 7.04 since the early testing releases. If that's the case then that's a damning indictment against Windows, specifically Vista.

That's right. Where's Vista? What I read on that page is that every other machine is running Windows. Windows XP. Not Vista. You'd think that Micheal, the ultimate insider and one of the world's richest geeks, would have had Vista on at least one machine, if not installed on every machine he owns (or have machines capable of running it). But that's not how it's documented. The best example of damning with faint praise I've seen in a long time is to see his three systems tagged as "Vista Ready", but still running Windows XP SP2. I guess Micheal missed the memo on the "Wow".

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 + Beryl 0.2.1 = Fun

There was an entry on Shuttleworth's blog about Beryl in universe. So I followed his advice and installed it, then fired it up. Boy, has Beryl come a long way since I installed it on my notebook under Suse 10.1. You can see a screen shot of the whole setup running below.


I've got the Beryl defaults for Ubuntu installed and enabled. And with all the effects running it looks and runs sweet. The screen shot above shows one of the new Beryl effects (new to me, anyway); a preview of any of the applications on the panel if the mouse pointer hovers over any given application. The screen shot shows the movie running in the middle of the desktop, and a thumbnail is also running in the lower right corner. And I mean running in the lower right corner. This is the exact same effect as what you'd find running Vista.

That AVI movie was ripped (transcoded) from a DVD to a 1GB MPEG-4 file. I performed the transcoding using K3B under Suse 10.2. I tried K3B under Ubuntu, but K3B's transcoding capabilities are broken under Ubuntu. Whatever.

With Beryl installed, all the little annoyances of running base Compiz seem to be swept away. Everything works. I can't wait for future Beryl releases. It's going to help every distribution that uses it, including Ubuntu. And to echo Mark, a super huge thank-you to everyone who worked so hard to get this to work under Feisty.

Real Linux Growth

Linux continues to show strong growth across the entire industry from small devices up to the enterprise level. The following are just a few examples of this from the week of April 9th.

  • Sumitomo Electric buys into Novell - This was a major deal with a very conservative, established business that didn't rely on the Microsoft/Novell deal that so many hold in disdain. Novell knows how to sell solutions, and Novell knows how to create excellent software, open or closed. Here's to Novell's continuing success.
  • Red Hat Signs Master Marketing Agreement with SAIC - I'm no fan of SAIC, but I have to appreciate what this deal means for Red Hat. Basically, SAIC will use Red Hat system software solutions (OS, JBoss, etc) as part of their overall engineering solutions that they pitch to the federal government. From personal experience the military side of the government is truly split about the use of closed (Windows, etc) vs. open (Linux, etc) software underpinning their systems. With this fragmented mind set it's difficult to make headway with open source. I know that SAIC has used Red Hat internal to a number of programs, but this formalizes the arrangement and allows Red Hat to use SAIC's formidable muscle to openly accelerate sales of even more Red Hat open source solutions into the overall federal market.
  • Palm fesses up to Linux Treo plans - Palm, not one of the better success stories of late, has announced that they are finally migrating to a Linux-based phone to be delivered sometime later in 2007. Reasons cited for the migration include reliability, stability, performance, and flexibility. Whether this is in contrast to their Palm OS or to Windows Mobile is not too clear. I also believe you can include lower costs in that list as well, especially compared to Windows Mobile. I'm curious to see if this will help Palm regain ground and expand into new markets and customers. I'd like to see them take off and wildly succeed again.
Linux isn't going anywhere, and Microsoft can't stop it. Too many major companies around the world now use it, and the world also recognizes the issues with moving to Vista, especially major businesses. It will be interesting to see how Linux use evolves through the rest of 2007. This will be, in my humble opinion, a pivotal year for Linux.

Ubuntu 7.04 - Steady updates, fixes, work-around for Compiz

The updates keep coming in at a steady rate every day. They range anywhere from 20 to 40 packages/update on a given day. It will be interesting to see what is finally touched up and cleaned up for the April 19th official release of 7.04.

Some good news: The display problem with the NetworkManager was fixed with today's updates. It now displays the state of the underlying networking system.

Some peculiar news: I ran into an interesting problem during yesterday's batch of updates that included an attempted update to the kernel.

Two items to point out in the screen capture above. First, the update manager has failed to download kernel 2.6.20-14-generic with a 403 HTTP error. Second, kernel 2.6.20-14-generic was already installed and running on rhea. The 403 error is usually the 'forbidden' error. If somebody realized that it was a mistake to leave this package on the update server, why not remove it? They I'd have seen the ubiquitous 404 (not found) error. My greater worry again concerns process. Not what I saw via update, but how a duplicate package could have been created and dropped on the update server in the first place. It looks like someone had the presence of mind to notice the problem and block access, but it should have never gotten that far in the first place. If Canonical wants to grow beyond being just a repackager of Debian they're going to have to make their update process air tight. That means more attention to detail and better internal testing. This isn't the first time I've seen update glitches, and I'm afraid it won't be the last. Companies can mitigate the risk of upgrade glitches by first installing them on test machines and checking for regressions or problems. Individuals don't have the luxury.

This problem was fixed with today's update. Kernel 2.6.20-15-general was delivered and installed and everything is running absolutely fine and stable.

Compiz

It should be noted up front before I get started that Compiz stability issues are known to be a problem even by Mark Shuttleworth. But I still like to tinker with it anyway, if for no other reason that it works well under Suse. In any event I found a work-around for getting the cube effect to work again, and it involves these steps:
  1. Bring up Desktop Effects and enable it if it isn't enabled already.
  2. Disable the 'Workspaces on a Cube' check box.
  3. The workspace switcher has shrunken down to one desktop. Right-click on it and configure it to have four workspaces again.
  4. Re-enable the 'Workspaces on a Cube' check box.
  5. Enjoy the cube effect.
I tried this on both my regular login and with a test login that I created fresh for just this purpose.

Compiz still has problems, the worst (for me) being the maximize window bug. Maximize any window under Compiz and it won't restore back to it's regular size. You can't kill it either with the close window button. You have to right-click on it's button in the panel and select close from there to remove it. Sometimes, when you re-open it, it will open normally. I just simply leave Compiz disabled. The Gnome desktop looks good without it.

Overall

Ubuntu 7.04 shows good progress towards a final release. It feels like system performance has picked up for day-to-day work, which for me includes the following:
  • Web work (browsing, blogging, AJAX-supported e-commerce such as banking)
  • Documentation and general engineering supported by OpenOffice 2.2
  • Software development using Java 6/NetBeans 6, C++ w/emacs, Ruby, and Python
  • General relaxation such as playing back DVDs and other streaming content.
Compiz notwithstanding this is the best Gnome desktop I've ever used. It even manages to edge out Open Suse's Gnome desktop in a number of areas.

Note that there's no gaming support on here. I've pretty much given up on games in general due to their content, lack of originality, high expense, and generally closed nature. Games have become the ultimate resource black hole, sucking time, money, and creativity out of nearly everyone who calls themselves a hard-core gamer. With these negative qualities it's no wonder a company like Microsoft wants a major piece of that action.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 - 20 new updates and networking mystery clarrified

I commented yesterday that after the marathon upgrade networking wasn't enabled after a re-boot. Turns out I was wrong about that. It's actually working, it's that the network applet icon incorrectly shows state and when you hover the mouse over the icon it says "No network connection". But if you right click on the icon and then select connection information from the menu you discover that it is fully connected. I tested that connection out by firing up NetBeans and seeing that the welcome screen goes out and gathers articles and news to display. And of course it did. I then fired up Firefox and wrote up this entry. And of course the network applet still shows my network connection disabled.

When 7.04 is finally and officially released I'll do a complete re-install and see if any of these issues (network and Compiz) clear up. We are, after all, still in development mode. And part of the final testing should be a new installation just to make sure the old bad testing bits are truly flushed out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 - 108 new updates, Gnome 2.18.1 upgrade, network regression

Got a big block of upgrades today, including Gnome. Gnome itself was upgraded to 2.18.1 and Ubuntu followed right along. Quick testing indicates that Compiz is still regressed from the last upgrade, which is no big deal to me. Regular old 'flat' mode still works just fine, and I can live with that.

No, there's a bigger problem. When the system reboots networking does not automatically start. The workaround is to right-click on the wired network connection icon on the upper tool bar and click the 'Enable Networking' check box. This disables it. Then re-enable it. When it comes back up the network connection is back. Another regression. I sincerely hope this one gets fixed before the Big Release.

Well, I went to go send in a report via the 'Send A Bug' menu selection on System, but it's gone now. Isn't that spiffy?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 Beta+ - More updates, problems, regressions

Picked up more updates Thursday, one of which included a new kernel. I was in a hurry so I didn't bother to read the release notes. I do know this, however.
  • The Compiz cube broke/was removed/was disabled in the latest releases.
  • Any window that's maximized with Compiz enabled can't be un-maximized.
  • Compiz chews up CPU/GPU cycles at odd times, causing timing sensitive applications such as totem/VLC to drop frames during DVD playback, at least on this platform.
So I've turned Compiz off. Before I did that, however, I decided to see just how hard I could push Ubuntu on this platform, so I fired up VLC and Totem and had both playing Casino Royale, but at different times/locations on the DVD.

Totem is playing in the lower left corner, while VLC is playing in the upper right. This was with Compiz enabled before the update that disabled a lot of its functionality. Yes, frames were dropped. The exercise of pulling two streams off the DVD really worked the DVD drive. You could here the drive head really flying back and forth between the spots where it was reading the two different streams. It was an interesting exercise that showed me how capable this entire setup is running Ubuntu. The machine was always crisp and responsive, and I never lost control of the applications or the desktop due to lockups.

Part of the updates also touched Totem and Xine. The playback for Windows Media is now complete, with controls along the bottom edge that match Windows functionality.
Playback was smooth, and it seems to work with just about anything on the web with the notable exception of Apple Quicktime. You can go to the Apple trailers section and attempt to play them, but nothing happens. If I want to play back Quicktime clips, I go to Rotten Tomatoes and download them, then play them back.

For me, Ubuntu is a good, solid release. I just hope that the final release will run and install on my Gateway M685 notebook. If not, it's upgrade time to Suse 10.2, and (still) broken sound. Ubuntu Beta live enabled the sound, but broke the display.

Update

I found via Google a link to a Firefox add-on called MediaPlayerConnectivity. When installed, it found all my codecs. Now when I hit a site, such as Apple's movie trailer site, I can click on the icon where it should show and VLC will pop up and play the clip. It's not automatic, but it's reliable. And it's highly configurable. For content that plays automatically, such as WMV at CNN, I can configure MediaPlayerConnectivity to ignore it and let it go directly to the embedded VLC playback for WMV. Here's an example from Apple's movie trailer site.

You can see where MediaPlayerConnectivity displays a special log in the center of the area where the embedded media would normally play, identifying that it is in control. Clicking anywhere on the black rectangle pops up VLC, and it is the separate VLC that begins to play back the Quicktime content.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

With friends like these

It's been an interesting 24 hours. I started yesterday evening reading the following on the Yahoo! SCOX message board under the title "Beebe Still on PJ's Case".
Googled for "SCOX" in blogs for the last day, found this:

http://dv3b.ppoyl.com/First-Amendement-R...

Wherein Bill Beebe reiterates his unique take on the First Amendment in his quest to vilify PJ:

"[beebe] What applies to the court of law should apply to the court of public opinion. In a long fight such as this one, the desire to remain hidden while voicing strong editorial opinions, especially when they are at times inflammatory, is morally and ethically corrupt, and lessons the stature of the person making them as well as those who support that individual."

Nobody tell Bill that the Bill of Rights likely wouldn't exist but for anonymous pamphleteers. His "argument" was shredded to bits last time he floated it here, which might explain why he elects to post this stuff so far off of the beaten path.

This is the best rebuttal of Bill's lunacy from the last time, which I will quote in full:

http://messages.finance.yahoo.com/Stocks...

Excuse me, but the Supreme Court has said that it is right, not only right, but entirely what the first amendment embodies:

MCINTYRE v. OHIO ELECTIONS COMM'N [514 U.S. 334]
http://law s.findlaw.com/us/514/334.html

"Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind." Great works of literature have frequently been produced by authors writing under assumed names. Despite readers' curiosity and the public's interest in identifying the creator of a work of art, an author generally is free to decide whether or not to disclose her true identity. The decision in favor of anonymity may be motivated by fear of economic or official retaliation, by concern about social ostracism, or merely by a desire to preserve as much of one's privacy as possible. Whatever the motivation may be, at least in the field of literary endeavor, the interest in having anonymous works enter the marketplace of ideas unquestionably outweighs any public interest in requiring disclosure as a condition of entry. Accordingly, an author's decision to remain anonymous, like other decisions concerning omissions or additions to the content of a publication, is an aspect of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment."
[Internal citations omitted]

and also, in the same ruling:

"Under our Constitution, anonymous pamphleteering is not a pernicious, fraudulent practice, but an honorable tradition of advocacy and of dissent. Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation - and their ideas from suppression - at the hand of an intolerant society."
[Internal citations omitted]

It "exemplifies the *purpose* behind ... the First Amendment".

You can't get a much more powerful statement than that.

PJ may have her reasons for wanting to remain anonymous. Whatever they may be, they are hers, and it is her *constitutional right* to remain anonymous, if she so chooses.

The fact that she "has made herself a high-profile celebrity" does not strip her of her rights. Even in the case of the subpoena, I would guess that a lawyer could request that her personal information be protected from public disclosure. Much the same as the financial information of that one expert for SCOX was.

It is extremely hypocritical to claim that she has First Amendment rights, and then proclaim that using those rights is "not right".

Mr. Beebe, before you go spouting off about rights, I suggest you educate yourself first.
Now, anybody can post on the web, and they can pretty much post anything they want (within reason). The issue wasn't being flamed over the post, the issue was the fact that somebody (who I have very good reason to assume was the poster, timransom@rogers.com) had lifted the entire contents of the original post and placed it on another site, without attribution, and without a poster's name.

The implication was that I posted it anonymously, a fact that quickly became a topic of discussion in the developing thread. Not only was I being accused of not understanding the First Amendment, but it was made to look like I was being hypocritical posting anonymously. Over a period of an hour (from 8:30pm to 9:30 pm) I posted four responses, one of them a thank-you to diogenese19348 for his lone message of support.

And of course, he was taken to task over that by poster drone_ckx:
Re: It's Dio's Fault!

"[dio] Much as I hate to get in the middle of a pissing contest (you get no satisfaction from it, and end up covered in piss), Since Bill SIGNS all his work, there is absolutaly no reason to believe he placed his own article anonimously on another blog. Hence, I think Tim is wrong on that part, and should have known it."

Read Tim's post. Show us where he said Beebe posted "anonimously on another blog". I'll save you the time. He didn't. Not anywhere.

"[dio] Second, unless you relegiously read Bill's blog (I don't), there isn't anything in that copy that points back to him, which must mean Tim follows Bill's blog pretty closely."

Tim posted about Bill's previous writings on the topic, so chances are he would remember them. I did. Without religion.

"[dio] Just observations. It does not mean Tim had anything to do with an anonimous posting of Bill's work on a different blog, I just don't believe Bill did it either."

And NOBODY else has said he did either. Except you. And Wally. And Frehely. Curiously, despite what you say, Tim *didn't*.

"[dio] It is quite possible everybody and their pet chipmunk is jumping to conclusions on this one."

Well you and Bill certainly did. Based on your post here, Bill called Tim a "lying, conniving SOB".

"[dio] Lastly, anonymous character assassination on the Internet is starting to be quite a problem. Free speech does not override libel laws, and we are getting close to the time congress may decide to do something about it (shudder)."

Okay. What does this have to do with anything, except possibly Bill calling Tim a "lying, conniving SOB"?

"[dio] As far as Grokwars, I see no reason not to continue staying out of them, they are sort of the Grand Wookie at this point."

A discussion about the First Amendment and the right to anonymity isn't actually a "Grokwar", yet you didn't "stay out of it". Instead, you accused Tim of something he didn't do, prompting Beebe to call him a "lying, conniving SOB". Congratulations!
I'll make a confession. I did call timransom a "lying, conniving SOB." He might be lying and conniving, but I shouldn't have called him an SOB. And I called him that before dio posted, but without the thread to back this up, it's now my word against drone_ckx. Thus do the SCOX forum posters turn on their own when it looks to the group like any individual strays from their fanatical straight and narrow.

In the end I took the advice of the firebrands who post on the SCOX board. I clicked the abuse link on the messages and filed a complaint with Yahoo. Not only was the first thread completely removed, but when timransom re-posted the same message (with a link to my original post), I complained again about harassment and had that removed. I then complained about timransom himself. The last message I got back from Yahoo about tim was that Yahoo had "taken appropriate action." Unfortunately, he's back at his old tricks.

As for the bogus site, I have no idea what happened to it. Before I could complain to its hosting service, it had already been taken down, I suspect by timransom. That's why I have a screen capture of the site, made before it disappeared. I also saved a copy of the front page as html.

Update

This from the mouth of timransom himself:
Beebe Has Another Thread Deleted

What was that about the First Amendment?

*snort*

You're a liar and a coward. Not to mention that you aren't willing to defend your opinion. Can't say I blame you.

Think I'll put the old blog back up. You will be my first topic.

Good luck.
So we can now say that he did indeed put up the original site and then took it down. Welcome to the blogosphere, tim. Just a few words of advice. Free speech is not a license to libel or abuse.

A Waste of Time and Effort

If tim had published his rebuttal with a link back to the original article without the fancy attempt at obfuscation, then there wouldn't have been a thing I could do or say. Nor would I have. But tim, in his attempt to make a point, went way over the top. The link to he had to MCINTYRE v. OHIO was an excellent counter point to my argument. I'm no fan of Pamela Jones, and I don't believe it applies to her particular case. It's a shame his message got lost in the noise and fury of his own making.

Oh. The reason I don't go back to "defend" my opinion is that there's no winning with that group. The strident fanaticism that permeates that forum is so intense as to destroy any chance for civil discorse, especially on highly-charged subjects you don't agree on. For me winning in discussions is not a zero-sum game the way it is with the SCOX forum crowd. I'll wait and see what tim has to write. Maybe I'll respond here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ubuntu 7.04 - The pace quickens towards final release

The number and frequency of updates for Ubuntu 7.04 has picked up a bit over the last five days. Two updates I've noticed is the final OpenOffice 2.2 release (which coincided with OpenOffice stand-alone release), and updates to Compiz that finally enable the cube (see below).

To make the screen shot I ran the 'Take Screenshot' applet with a five second delay, then grabbed the corner facing you with the mouse while holding before the delay timed out and the screen shot was taken. I've got Google Earth on the left and Firefox (with Help and Support on top) on the right.

Up to this point the cube was disabled, and hitting the arrow keys simply moved from desktop to desktop by fading from one to the next. But I like the way this version under Ubuntu has been tuned. The sides of the cube simply flip without the annoying bounce prevalent in the versions running on SLED 10 and Suse 10.1.

The only problem is that Google Earth runs less smoothly with Compiz enabled than with Compiz disabled. It's still far faster than when I had the ATI 9600 card with the Xorg driver. The nVidia video card makes all the difference in the world. But I can tell I'm pushing this older Athlon XP with 512MB of memory with everything turned on and multiple heavy applications running. I knew I'd run into this when I first installed Ubuntu on this machine. This has been a personal experiment to see just how far I could push this kind of hardware with an up-to-date Linux distribution. And I am impressed. If I want smoother operation I can turn off compositing and live with "plain" desktop effects. Maybe I will. And maybe I won't.

It's my choice. All the features I could ever want are right here with one distribution. Not scattered across seven arbitrary versions. Linux gives me full opportunity to pick what I want when I want it. And for that I'm very grateful.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

I Am Not A Lawyer

You've seen it all over the forums. Folks type IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer) and then proceed to give their own legal interpretation of an event anyway. It appears a lot around folks arguing over what the GPL means. I'm not hear to argue the merits of the GLP 3 (not right yet, anyway). I am here to ask that if lawyers want us non-lawyers to not practice law, then they should return the favor and not practice software engineering. I offer as an example Lewis A. Mettler and his website lamlaw.

Never Assume Malice When Stupidity Will Suffice*

Mr. Mettler has commented on another posting by one Thomas R. Nicely. Mr. Nicely posts that Microsoft's "Vista arbitrarily restricts the memory space for the GCC executable to 32 MB (33,554,432 bytes)." Mr. Nicely's development environment is composed of the following:
  • GCC 3.0.4, which was first released in February 2002.
  • DJGPP, which was likely updated April 2001.
  • Vista Home Basic
So. Based on two very old development tools (GCC and DJGPP) and a known limited version of Vista, Nicely spins yet another massive conspiracy in which Microsoft is deliberately limiting applications not built with "any compiler and linker not employing Microsoft's proprietary Win32 API." Nicely says it works just fine for him on every release of Windows up through Windows XP, but fails on this known limited version of Vista.

The age of Nicely's tools is limiting. GCC is currently at version 4.1.2 for example. I can work with the latest releases of gcc only on Solaris (if I bootstrap build it) or current distributions, such as Ubuntu 7.04. Even less leading-edge releases (such as Suse 10.1 and 10.2 for example) use gcc 4 and 4.1. Yet, when I try to use up-to-date development tools on Windows, I find they're a major generation back (some release of 3). This is true for MinGW and Cigwin. There's a reason why new versions of any complex tool are released, and if you choose to not step up to those releases, then you should be willing to accept the consequences of that choice and not whine about it when something breaks.

And as for Vista itself, there are already innumerable stories about incompatibilities with existing applications running perfectly fine on Windows XP, but failing to install or run on Windows Vista. We've been hearing about this for over a year. And now Nicely pops up with his grand conspiracy because he can't use his very old tools on the cheapest version of the latest OS.

Before Nicely continues down this path he needs to perform more testing. Run those same tools on a more capable version of Windows (he only documents Basic Home). If the tools continue to fail in the same way, then update those tools and run the same tests again. If there is a real memory (malloc) limitation, then somebody needs to make very sure that it's not a bug with either GCC or DJGPP, especially DJGPP. I find it peculiar that the maximum is $1FFFFFF (33,554,432 bytes). It looks more like a masking problem than a deliberate test (although I don't have access to the code so I can't speak with any authority). The APIs changed a bit between XP and Vista. When somebody can actually look at the Windows interfaces in DJGPP and can say that they are correctly used with regards to Vista, then and only then can you can move on to stage two of this sorry story: point the finger of blame at Microsoft.

You Are Not An Engineer

Mr. Mettler would have us believe that Nicely's problem is yet another example of "using [artificial] restrictions to frustrate developers who do not support only the Microsoft platform." Mr. Mettler would be well advised to find good technical council with regards to Nicely's problems. Nicely's complaint is sloppy at best, and Mr. Mettler's comment that he smells "a law suit against Microsoft for unfair competition" smacks a bit of ambulance chasing. I've followed Mr. Mettler for a long time, starting back when he was following and commenting on the Microsoft antitrust trial, and I've never had a problem with any of this posts before now. But right now, on this post, he needs to back off and make sure his technical facts are straight before charging ahead. Comments and charges like Mr. Mettler's are a good way to loose credibility. And Nicely would do the community a whole lot of good if he dug down into DJCPP and traced what was happening. Nicely needs to get his facts straight as well. Especially if he's a developer.

*Hanlon's Razor

Update 25 Sept 2011

On 31 May 2007 I wrote another post in which I proved my assertion that the age of the tools were the root of the problem, not Microsoft or Vista.