Friday, February 25, 2011

Ubuntu Fixes for tiny problems

[As always, scroll to bottom for cheats and links, to avoid commentary.]

Ubuntu is amazing, and I can't back away from that statement I made several years ago. It continues to be the easiest user experience and best operating system on the market in 2011. I stripped the HP boot partition and windows partitions off my Pavillion years ago, and have it solely booting to Ubuntu. Since I dumped Vista, I haven't had any software issues whatsoever.

But, nothing is perfect, and Ubuntu 10.04 has its share of quirks. First, realize that every hardware system is different, and Ubuntu like any other OS has to load specific drivers for your machines hardware, which leads to variances in the user experience. Windows handles this by requiring hardware to be "windows certified," which means that they've paid MSFT for a badge. As far as I can tell, no actual "tuning" for that hardware is happening. The only difference is the vendor gets better access to the distribution channels, but still no access to code.

Ubuntu simply does its best to ensure that there's a work-around for every piece of hardware in use today. Ubuntu probably won't try to release a patch that works on a 286, but any computer made in the last few years is certain to have been examined by several coders. The bug management in Linux is astonishing, although somewhat jerky, and often populated with trite or even venomous comments. I've seen some bugs go unanswered for 4+ years, still open. Even so, these issues are in the minority, as tens of thousands of bugs get patched every year.

I'm not talking blue-screen bugs either, I mean little things like the mouse pointer going away when a window switches focus, and you have to alt-f4, wiggle mouse, or alt-tab to get it back. Ubuntu NEVER crashes. I've loaded it intentionally on a heat-damaged server in my garage that tends to shut down randomly and generate interesting garbage characters in the command line. It's pretty messed up. Ubuntu 9.10 loaded on it flawlessly, and I saw all the heat problems vanish within 24 hours. It still just shuts off once in a while, on its own, but the machine is now usable again!

I would not suggest that the new user, casual user, or business user go to Ubuntu Forums. That's a great place to get a really bad impression of Linux. These are close-to-the-machine folks who do not have great social skills, obviously from the text that they post, many of them could use a couple of classes in both grammar and professional conduct. It's also not easy to navigate, and I've had fun attempting to find solutions there even though I am also a programmer.

Blogs like my own and other gear-heads, geeks, and nerds have taken it upon themselves to post walk-throughs on how to fix common issues with Ubuntu, such as the lack of MP3 players in the default software. Trust me, going to a forum and asking where the mp3 player is will not result in happy answers.

Sometimes, they just don't even seem to understand the question. Here's one that has been plaguing me for some time, a random problem that appears when I plug a USB mouse into my laptop. The click keys of the mouse, and my entire keyboard, go dead. I have to unplug the mouse and reboot, run config again, and toggle settings in the gnome configuration to reset the mouse. Then it works fine, for a while, apparently. This is not a fix, it's a kludge, and it irritates me to need to reboot. I like touchpads when I'm on the road, but when I sit down in Starbucks I'd like to pull out my portable mouse and use it. [No, not while I'm literally driving.]

- - USB Mouse

- Description:
When plugged into an HP Pavillion, the keyboard and mouse buttons and touchpad become nonresponsive, requiring reboot to fix. Symptoms are immediately reproduced after reboot if USB mouse is plugged in again, to any USB port.
- Severity:
Computer is useless/nonresponsive. Severe.
- Previous Work Around:
Toggle gnome mouse touchpad settings off then on again.
Does not resolve issue.
- Open System, Preferences, Keyboard - Layouts tab.
* choose the correct keyboard model. Was set to default, changed to HP PV5
- Open System, Preferences, Mouse - General tab.
* DESELECT show pointer when control key is pressed.
* Touchpad tab, SELECT disable touchpad while typing.
- Open Terminal. Type 'gconf-editor' and press enter.
* Open Desktop, Gnome, Accessibility, and select mouse. DESELECT animate cursor.
Try to use ALT F2 if the problem recurs.

- - Synaptic

- Description:
Ubuntu has its own "update" software, but will not monitor or maintain your system beyond purely security measures. You need "Synaptic."
* Open 'gnome-terminal' with ALT-F2.
* Type 'sudo apt-get synaptic' and press Enter. You'll be asked for your password.

- - Wireless

- Description:
Broadcom is the Wifi card in my HP. It does not work without special drivers.

- Ubuntu recognizes the proprietary hardware and will automatically offer a download to allow you to configure your hardware if you plug into an Ethernet Jack.
- No other steps needed.

- - NVidia

- Description:
NVidia is my GPU, and it works in default mode at a lower resolution than the LCD is capable of.

- Ubuntu recognizes the proprietary hardware and will automatically offer a download to allow you to configure your hardware.
- in Synaptic, add Compiz, Compiz Config Settings Manager.
- This is one of few situations in which reboot is required for Ubuntu.

- - MP3, DVD, media

- Description:
Ubuntu and Debian do not come with software that require licenses. They also do not support license-restricted software. It is recommended to use alternatives which ARE in Ubuntu. However, sometimes you need to hear an MP3, or play a DVD.

- Open Synaptic. Click the Settings tab. Select Repositories.
* General Settings tab, SELECT "multiverse" or restricted software option.
* Select Close, and then the Reload tab.
* Search MP3, select mpg123, click mark for install.
* Search dvd, select libdvd4, click mark for install.
* Select APPLY.

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