Monday, April 26, 2010

Linux Monday: Lucid Lynx Week

Linux Monday: Lucid Lynx Week

It's a big week in Linux Land as Lucid Lynx, the latest Ubuntu upgrade (number 10.04; the convention is year.month), is released on Thursday (4/29). I've been doing this long enough, and things went well enough on the test machine, I decided to jump the gun and upgrade to the final in all but name "release candidate" version. here's how).

The download and install took a couple of mostly unattended hours; might have been faster if I'd sat at the desk and clicked the occasional prompt. Most were automatic--but I made one mistake.

The new Ubuntu asks you which drives you want the bootload menu "GRUB" -Linux people: it's part of the startup sequence where you can choose which version you want to boot into, or you can choose some system tests. It's also what dual-booters use; every few months I need to use the GRUB menu to choose (shudder) Windows.

The Lucid Lynx installer recommends that you choose the defaults, but I was worried about horcking my Windows partition and made the wrong choice. A few minutes later I rebooted and stared at some text:
Grub_ Loading: Error 15
This is why I have emergency backup computers and a bootable CD on hand. I was able to fix my problem and get both Linux and Windows booted (it was the first time I'd booted Windows since I covered the President's visit last month. Which is really funny because Obama's a Mac and Blackberry guy.) I learned something technical, but the moral is: accept that default in the first place.

After that I was up and flying; no stopwatch handy but the boot seemed faster, more like it did in 9.04. (9.10 disappointed me in that department.) I booted from the default, generic kernel included in the upgrade. Since the last upgrade, I've started customizing the Linux kernel myself using KernelCheck; that's intermediate level stuff that I won't get into too much except to say: 1) smaller kernels generally mean faster boots 2) if you've had trouble with KernelCheck it's because the files it downloads from got moved again; here's a fix 3) my homebuild kernel didn't boot. I have it booting now but I'm still tweaking that. Again, that one's my fault not Ubuntu's.

I had a little trouble accessing my external hard drive but I think that was related to my previous mistake. No Googling needed; the internal help got me straightened out.

(While I was doing this, I was also grappling with some Windows hardware drivers on my son's machine so he could get a game up and flying. We got that problem solved, too, with a similar amount of effort. A similar amount of effort... to install a driver or to upgrade the entire operating system?!? OK, I'm Linux-biased.)

Then there were a couple minor cosmetic tweaks, both of which I knew about.

For all my Windows bashing, I really do use Linux like a Windows refugee (and I'm still in Windows both at work and in providing family tech support), and I have my desktop set up a lot like a Windows 98 interface (in XP you'd call this "Classic" start menu). The Ubuntu logo sits in the lower left just like a Start button, the quick launch icons are just where they would be in Windows, and so on. Pathetic, I know. Bet you thought I was flying along on a command line and a prayer.

But with Lucid Lynx Ubuntu is moving away from one of the old Windows classics, the "notification area" or what what Windows refugees call the "system tray." Matthew Paul Thomas of Canonical (the $ people behind Ubuntu) gives an interesting history of the system tray ("This story begins in 1990, when Microsoft released Windows 3.0 without an easy way to see what time it was...") and offers the rationale for some changes:
We’ve inherited the same problem as Windows: some items open a menu on left click, some open a menu on right click, some do both, some open a window, and at least one reliably disappears when you click it. It’s hopelessly inconsistent — and as long as we continue with the current protocol, it always will be inconsistent.

We can’t go on like this. Nuke the entire site from orbit — it’s the only way to be sure.
The nuking began a year ago with 9.04 and generally has moved items to menus. This cycle they removed instant message notifications - which, since I rarely if ever IM, doesn't matter to me - and the volume control, replacing it with a sound menu.

That one I use a lot. I don't want to navigate a whole structure when I need to kill the sound fast or when the song is so good I just need to turn it up. I want it easy to find and I want it where I've had it.

The good news is, this is an easy fix.

The other switch I mentioned a couple weeks back: the move of the maximize, minimize and close buttons from the Windows-style upper right to the Mac-like upper left. That, too, is is not hard to fix.

Some of the other early birds have bundled a script to do a whole bunch of the make it work like it used to features, as well as installing the restricted fonts and codes that don't come in a default install.

The best news, for me, is that the audio problems I've had on past upgrades didn't happen. I've been doing my usual stuff - browsing, writing, music and database management - without incident. My Windows programs that I run using Crossover are working fine, and the Rhythmbox music player I use seems to have grown a couple handy features.

This is a Long Term Support release, the first in two years, and if things go well I may stick with it. My machine will be three years old by the time 10.10 comes out and long term support may be the way to go.

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