cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (Default)
Unlike the majority of the Ubuntu user population, I preferred the Gnome 3 desktop from the beginning. I'm really attached to it and have gone through a bunch of different distros trying to find one that works correctly in all the ways I care about. I couldn't get everything I needed to work with Debian.

Now [personal profile] waxjism is running Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and I'm running Ubuntu Gnome 16.04 LTS, and the differences are more apparent:

+ Ubuntu Gnome:
  • Panel indicators show up in a single integrated menu for the most part in Gnome.

  • The Calendar widget displays events from my Google calendar.

  • There's a new, native calendar app that does the same, and is more convenient than the web interface or the previous Linux apps. (The new native world clock/clock/timer is useful too, if a bit rough around the edges, and there's a new to-do app which could display google tasks and provide an indicator applet, but is neat.)

  • The top panel is easily themed with CSS and a variety of extensions let you add applications and places menus and a number of useful toggles and indicators. You can't do anything about it in Unity but adjust the opacity, where you also can't do much about how hideously ugly and unthemeable the application launcher has always been and remains.

  • The application menus display seamlessly in the top panel and native gnome programs integrate title and menubar. The corresponding function under Unity looks stupid and takes extra screen real estate.

  • Gedit is my favorite editor and it's streamlined but just as functional now, which I love (an older version is packaged with Ubuntu Unity).

  • [personal profile] waxjism is having some kind of driver issue with Unity that makes some flash videos, depending on what the site is running (eg HBO Nordic and Viaplay - so: hockey - but not Netflix), crash the entire computer so it suddenly and without warning shuts down. I had this for a while about a year ago under Gnome 3 on Debian, but apparently not anymore. Wouldn't want to switch and suddenly have this problem start back up again, though.

+ Ubuntu Unity:
  • The standard Ubuntu & Gnome file manager - Nautilus - packaged in Ubuntu Gnome is so slow it's basically unusable. A lot of changes have happened under the hood with the new versions of Nautilus apparently? Whatever, it doesn't matter how much better it would work if it never finishes doing it. Alternative file manager Nemo, forked by and for Linux Mint, mostly works in Ubuntu Gnome, but for example, it doesn't handle symlinks to folders correctly under Ubuntu Gnome (a functionality that's been perfectly fine in every Linux I've tried since like 2007), it set up Samba but not without giving me some trouble, and it doesn't look right because it's designed for another distro that has its own themes (it works flawlessly in Mint, as far as I've ever noticed). - Meanwhile Nautilus is fine under Unity, although complaints about functionality that's been removed are still germane.

  • The greeter/login/lockscreen (LightDM) is better in Unity.

  • The quicklists, which add extra indicators and right click functionalities to running apps in the launcher under Unity, can be legitimately useful. There's nothing like that in the Gnome shell dock.

  • Terminal refuses to remember my preference to not display the menu bar under Ubuntu Gnome, another thing I've never had a problem with before.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (workout)
We've been having trouble with the networked printer, so I put the laptop next to the printer and plugged it directly in to print.

Then I booted Windows...

...and a few minutes later at 4:30 my phone alarm went off with a check email reminder...

and 10 minutes after that it was 4:40 and Windows was still thinking. Chrome was blank, informing me that Gmail failed to load on the first try, and notification bubbles were informing me that the antivirus software had updated itself, that Windows had updated itself, and that to complete further 'critical' updates it wanted to restart. I reloaded Gmail, went to Google Drive, grabbed the top document in the list and clicked 'print'.

At 4:43, it still hadn't printed.

In contrast, when I wake up in the morning I hit the power button on my computer, go in the kitchen and put the kettle on and go to the bathroom, then pour the water in the teapot and put it by my computer to brew. In the time it takes the kettle to boil my computer has produced its login screen. I sign in and go back to the kitchen to make a bowl of oatmeal, and when I return in under 2 minutes, my desktop is all loaded and glowing peacefully. I click on Twitter and Firefox and they both open immediately, the latter with all 15ish of my saved tabs ready and waiting.

If I were using the Windows 7 laptop for my primary computer, I could hit the power button first thing and still not be past the "Welcome" screen when I got back with my oatmeal. And once I logged in, I'd have time to eat the whole bowl before I got to see my tabs.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (um excuse me)
I thought I might try something Debian-based, instead of Ubuntu-based, so I downloaded an iso of Crunchbang. The livecd looked workable, but then it wouldn't install. I mean, I haven't given up on it yet, but if it consistently says it can't install Grub I am going to have to.

Anyone else have extra trouble with Debian systems?

I know almost nothing about Grub. Grub is complicated and the task of learning more about it looks pretty intimidating from here.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (bored now)
Every now and then I think, "Surely all the major Ubuntu-based distributions will have a default music player stable enough to not constantly crash by now, right? I mean, the overall user experience in all the main flavors is so smooth and mostly crash-free in other areas, so maybe I can switch away from Quod Libet now, since everyone is always so slow to include widget and menu integration for it and it lacks a good compact display mode. Some of the other ones have really sweet-looking widgets and stuff."

So then I try one.

And okay, to be fair, Amarok under the newest KDE is no longer crashing constantly on my system, but the browser's complete lack of multi-pane sorting and the inconvenient playlist management was enough to drive me away anyway.

But Rhythmbox! STILL crashing more than once per day... on the system it came pre-installed in!

I've been using Quod Libet for at least 4 years under Unity, Gnome Shell, KDE, Xfce, and LXDE, and it's never crashed or sucked up all the memory.

cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (um excuse me)
My mom is a 56-year-old public school art teacher. She has numerous volunteer commitments and home projects, as well as a young lab-mix dog (and two cats!). She has her own computer at home (not shared with anyone except occasional houseguests) for casual use and basic tasks:
  • scanner and digital camera management with online Picasa integration

  • checking her Gmail once a month or so, without, however, ever clearing her inbox

  • Pinterest

  • Appearing on Twitter to reblog 2-4 social justice links and then leave again every few weeks

  • Occasional word processing, like simple letters

  • Reading my blog and my photoblog

  • Occasionally watching Youtube videos, at my or my sister's instigation

  • Frequent transfer of image and document files via USB to/from Windows computers she is required to use at work

So, unlike us, she doesn't need:
  • Any but the most basic video and music playback, for very infrequent use (e.g. no codecs or converters needed)

  • Gimp or any other drawing/image manipulation (although they are default components of modern Mint)

  • Twitter, chat, BitTorrent, or email clients

  • Google calendar integration or Samba filesharing

Several years ago I built her a simple system and installed Linux Mint on it, which I judged the most friendly Linux OS for her needs. Mint 10, based on Ubuntu Jaunty, was a long-term support release supported until April 2012. When I set up the system for her, I created a separate partition for her files and set it to auto-mount on system boot, creating a link. I explained that she should save her personal files that she wanted to keep on it so that they could be kept separate from the OS files for upgrading.

Well, I've been trying to encourage her to upgrade with increasing urgency for a year and a half now, but it didn't happen until yesterday, week 2 of her having her new tablet at home so we could use it for skyping through the process. We also installed Team Viewer, a desktop sharing program, and Wax (because I couldn't install it as quickly on my newer system) used it to create the install disk.

But when we got Team Viewer up, we found her desktop covered with files and folders. Wax dug into the computer and found out that:

  • The data partition I set up was empty and unused

  • All the files had been saved to her home directory and many to her desktop, with no organization. Folders with names like "New hair March 2012" (containing 3 files) were mixed with empty folders and folders like "architecture" and "[music album]".

  • At some point someone had installed Windows on the computer. She did not know about this, or didn't remember, and had no idea who could have done it. The partition was still there.

Fortunately I had made her home 20 GB, because she'd used 17 of it (contrast this to the empty data partition's 400 GB).

Ultimately, Wax simply preserved the home partition untouched, formatted the 400 GB partition, and then, after install, copied the old folders to the larger partition, providing numerous links to them from the desktop and file manager.

She can't touch-type and is confused by right-click menus, but she isn't a novice at computers: my parents have owned a computer since they were in college, first a Commodore 64 and later a Windows 3.0 machine. They used a dot-matrix printer for years and my mom was competent at DOS and an expert at the pre-desktop-OS word processor WordStar, which she used while working as a managing editor in a scientific journal for several years when I was a kid. Unfortunately, she's got a distractable personality and finds it difficult to follow computer-related directions exactly, so Team Viewer was a real life saver here. Trying to direct her what to do over Skype was difficult. Fortunately being yelled at didn't make her mad.

All in all, via Team Viewer on both systems and verbally on Skype in between, Wax and I were occupied ~ 5 hours last night with this. This system set up involved several restarts after boot, all but the first few of which Wax controlled via Team Viewer. But when I got up at noon (4 am their time), there were messages waiting for me from both parents via email, as well as by Twitter and Facebook, that my mom's computer "won't boot Linux". Apparently she "was editing" (what?) when it froze and she restarted via the power button, after which it they claim it froze in a black screen and wouldn't boot. I suspect it was just checking the disks, which can be time-consuming and modern Ubuntu-based systems use quiet boot by default, which means you can't see any sign that it's doing things. That can cause anxiety. But by then they'd gone to bed, so now I have another tech support session to look forward to. Hopefully it won't involve reinstalling.

Although looking at it in retrospect, given how little mom requires of her system, I think perhaps we should have gone with an Xfce desktop. It's more lightweight and I think more easily tweakable, and it's not like she needs widgets, applets, web apps, or any of the other things that make me reluctant to use the lightweight desktops. My personal biggest quibbles in Xfce are things like lack of built-in Samba support (unnecessary, in her case) and fewer file browser features (but she isn't aware of those anyway). On the other hand, generally you're more on your own if you have a problem in a lightweight desktop. The main edition of Mint has the most built-in support and direction, I think.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (Default)
The great thing about Linux is that you can pick and choose and customize anything you want to, as long as you're willing to work at it. The problem is, sometimes the cost-benefit analysis doesn't work out once you know enough to understand how much work would be required. Another problem is that once you get attached to (and adapted to) a feature, it's sometimes a really big deal when it's taken away.

This has led, at least for me, to a kind of Goldilocks experience in the world of Linux, trying out different desktops, giving them time to start to sink in, and each time there's something wrong - sometimes an actual bug, sometimes just a feature from another desktop environment that I can't duplicate.

When Gnome 3 was first introduced I was fascinated by a lot of things about it. There were a lot of things that I liked, but at the end of the 11.04 cycle my install was crashing way too frequently, even after a clean install, so I decided to give Unity another go as the blogs were saying it had become much more stable since Natty, when Compiz was essentially non-functional on my machine.

I installed Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin. It was still ugly, the top bar was still black, but it was possible to render the top panel transparent and the launcher now respected the system icon theme, which, yes, was non-negotiable for me. As far as I remember, it contained no major bugs, but I wanted to upgrade when Quantal came out because the new features sounded cool.

And then the problems began.

Ubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzel: VLC was broken by an update shortly after install and it never worked again. The bug was reported at various spots online, so it was a common one, but it was never fixed. I tried several other media players and all were way less convient for screencapping. I got tired of it and had been increasingly fed up with Ubuntu's ongoing campaign to remove features from the install in order to 'streamline' everything so it can be identical to the eventual user experience on the future phone OS.

At this point 13.04 was not yet out, so to get a working VLC I had to go backwards. I installed Kubuntu 12.04. I was happy with the new KDE for the most part, but when I installed Caffeine - a popular applet that automatically keeps the monitor from going to sleep whenever a media player is open or a flash video is playing - it failed to work. It installed all right; it just wouldn't launch. I crawled all over the internet, but there was no replacement app for KDE. Various users more leet than me had put various hacks in place to replace Caffeine, but this was a disappointing lack.

I upgraded to Kubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail thinking it might fix that problem, but it didn't. I was quite happy with KDE otherwise - its customizability suited what I wanted almost exactly.1 There's also an icon-only task manager - another of my OS requirements - similar to Dockbar X that can be installed to the main panel straight from the repositories. The functionality, though, is less robust than in Dockbar X, Unity launcher, or Cairo/AWN.

The main problem with 13.04, though, was Peer Guardian Linux. It had started crashing every time I booted the computer, requiring a manual restart. This only took thirty seconds or so, but it was quite irritating, especially since Google seemed to indicate it was a years-old bug that had been gotten rid of several cycles ago. I even reinstalled the same OS from scratch just in case, but the problem remained.

So I downloaded an image of PCLinuxOS on a whim, on the basis of a really positive review. Now, the reviewer was right, it DID work right out of the box. The problem was that I had completely failed to notice in my airheaded rush that it was not an Ubuntu-based system, and when I decided to install it to a smaller partition to play around with in the long-term, I didn't know that that would be a problem. Not knowing what the hell I was doing, or that there was anything I needed to check out first, I accidentally destroyed my previous grub entries in the install process and was unable to boot to my previous KDE install. I wasn't even able to back up my bookmarks and I wasn't able to recover them from the other OS or the liveCD I then tried. My need to have my bookmarks back was growing urgent and I didn't have the time to teach myself to install Opera manually in PCLinuxOS just to get at them, but the native format can't be read by other browsers. I tried to install Opera, then open it for the purpose of exporting the files, on the liveCD, but that didn't work either, so I had to install a new OS to the harddrive anyway to get my bookmarks. Therefore I decided to make it one that did not so far as I know suffer from any major problems, hence my choosing Ubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail.

I did that on... Tuesday I think. Yesterday afternoon I finally had (almost) everything set up to my liking.

By default Nautilus, the filebrowser, has lost tons of functionality. Not only is the split pane button missing, a pretty trivial feature but one I use a lot, several way more important things are missing, like ANY ACCESS WHATSOEVER TO THE TOOLBAR OR MENU ITEMS, or the ability to in any way alter the display in the sidebar. Like, I couldn't bookmark my own folders. There's a fix for that, though. I installed a patch found on Webupd8. There were a bunch of other things I did and some of them are not all a fog... )
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (i'm an ancient! i love chiffon!)
My current Finnish course will end in March, but my Finnish isn't good enough to take any sort of further professional training courses, like the practical part of my school assistant classes, in Finnish. (It would probably be good enough to work in a shop or something.) And in general, although I feel good about my progress, I'm not satisfied (I mean, confident) with my skills yet. I need way more vocabulary and practice. When I had the work practice interview at a local daycare, I got the gist and the keywords but I had to completely give up on big swathes of phrases where I couldn't pick out enough recognizable bits to start parsing the grammar and guess at the meaning: people who are talking about real life things and not just smalltalk or shoptalk don't use the same sorts of simple, bite-sized sentences.

So I'll probably be applying to the next level Finnish class, which will mean a significant reduction in support from social services down to, I think, 300-something €/month. Right now I'm getting full unemployment with all the extra options 700-something €/month, as one does when engaged full-time in professional development mandated by the employment bureau; for the second level course you only get the regular government allowance of student support, but it's still 35 school hours a week which makes working at the same time difficult.

Wax is still going to secretarial school. After learning the Microsoft Office suite at the basic level - like she hasn't learned macros, which I can't help feeling would have been quite useful - they moved on to torturing them with Business Swedish, and the school made her study it even though Swedish is her native language. It went something like this:

WAX: But I already know Swedish because it's my native language.
TEACHER WHO IS NOT EVEN A NATIVE SWEDISH SPEAKER: Ah, but this isn't just ordinary Swedish, it's BUSINESS Swedish.

She was still made to take the exams, and in order to not have to take lengthy weekly vocabulary tests and sit through hours of painful instruction, she was ordered to write "an essay" on a topic of her choice, with no further guidelines. Obviously this should be easy, but it isn't because she's too angry about the whole thing.

So after finishing Business Swedish, they moved on to...

... Business English. Only, right, everyone in her class is competent to the basic Finnish high-school-graduate level.. except for one, so they actually started with conjugating "TO BE" and "TO DO".

Her unemployment/winter/this sucks depression has consequently spiraled to the level where she is almost entirely nocturnal and can't always force herself to suffer through her horribly painful homework assignments. Instead she is reading a lot of hockey fic and has even started reblogging things about hockey on Tumblr. I'm mostly worried about this because of fear that she might actually get further into sports. As long as it's just the players it's fine, but if she watches any actual sports on purpose, we will of course have to get a divorce.

But on the plus side, we have a lot of yarn around the house and Canonical has just announced they're releasing Ubuntu for phones next year, which is exciting because we were previously worried that Nokia's N9 might be the last Linux phone in existence, but neither of us could bear to use Apple, Windows, or Android. Sometime next month you should be able to install Ubuntu yourself on the Nexus Galaxy, though, which means by the time one of our phones breaks (they're currently 2 years old I think), the early adopter bugs should be ironed out. They say they hope to release the first manufacturer-partnered shipping-with-Ubuntu phones in 2014.
cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (descartes)
Ever since Ubuntu 11.04, the lack of the ability to configure many aspects of the new Unity interface has been pointed out and questioned widely.

Today, at the “Meet Ubuntu Desktop Designers” session in the Ubuntu Developer Summit being held in Orlando, Florida, members of the Canonical design team clarified that they never intended Unity to not be configurable; instead, it is very much on their radar.

According to them, the only reason why it didn’t make it to Ubuntu 11.04 or 11.10 was simply because “there were other, more important tasks to complete for those releases” and that they “never wanted to alienate power users or fans of customization from Unity”.

[OMG!Ubuntu: Ubuntu Desktop Designers: ‘Unity Should Be Configurable’]

I don't care what your intent was. You released it unconfigurable, and if you meant it to be configurable then you released it unfinished. That. was. stupid.

Don't release things that aren't finished (I won't even go into 'things that crash all the fucking time' which is what Compiz did in 11.4). It's not exactly rocket science!

If you're launching your operating system with a big party and a slideshow, I don't expect it to crash several times a day. Or for windows to randomly turn blank white half of the time when I maximize them. Or for everything to stop working as soon as I enable a new Compiz plugin. What are you, Microsoft?


cimorene: A black-and-white vintage photograph of 1920s singer Helen Kane in profile, with a dubious, side-eye expression (Default)


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