Living with Ubuntu 10.04

In my last post, I documented the upgrade of my laptop from 9.10 to 10.04. That was almost three weeks ago. In the meantime, I’ve been living with my new system and using it daily to do my work on, so here’s my thoughts and post-upgrade modifications of the clean system.
First I must apologize for not being completely throughout in my last post. The installation of the rotation support required a bit more work than documented.

Specifically, the daemon failed to start automatically, and instead of fixing it, I simply added the daemon to my startup programs in Gnome. This meant that I had to grant my own user sudo access to setkeycodes instead of the video group, as the daemon was now running with my user information. Other than that, no problems.

The modifications

I’m in a constant war with the small (12.1 inch) monitor on my laptop, and the fact that its maximum resolution is a mighty 1024 x 768 doesn’t make things any better, so I’m always on the lookout for new ways to get most out of my screen. Especially vertical space.

Given that we finally got a magic combination of X, compiz and Gnome that seems to handle a rotating screen without any major problems, combined with the fact that my computer can actually run compiz without any major lagging, means that I want a dock. Sure, they hail from the evil depths of Apple, but just because they were used somewhere else first, doesn’t make them bad.

Docking

I tried several docks, and consulted Google a lot on the matter (it seems to be a hot topic on several blogs), but finally settled on Avant Window Navigator, or awn for short. For reference, I also tried Gnome-Do in dock mode (Docky) and Cairo dock.

Docky was actually quite nice, especially the fact that it was still gnome-do, just with dock features, but the lack of configuration options bugged me. I’m still using gnome-do, but with the classic skin. More about that later. Cairo dock was also really nice, but paradoxically, it had too many configuration options. Not that I don’t like those, but I seemed to get stuck trying to get what I wanted. Finally, it seems like awn is a bit more stable than Cairo-dock, or at least handles crashes better. Also, awn is the only dock who has a good “stack” plugin for showing the contents of a folder directly in the dock.

So, when I had the dock configured as I wanted it, placed at the bottom of my screen, and containing both the main application menu, desktop switcher, a list of running programs, a clock and a systray, I realized that the gnome panel at the top of my screen was just sitting there, taking up 24 precious pixels of my vertical screen estate, without any function.

Getting rid of gnome-panel

It turns out that the panel has grown more tenacious over the years. Just a few versions of Gnome ago, it was possible to get rid of the panels by just right-clicking and selecting the “remove this panel” option, but that function has  been slightly capped. It is now impossible to get rid of the last panel.

Or, not impossible, but absolutely not easy. In order to get rid of it, you need to open

gconf-editor

navigate to /desktop/gnome/session/required_components and clear the value for “panel”. Then you need to log out and in again for the change to take effect, but you should be greeted by a nice, panel-free, desktop.

The only caveat with disabling gnome-panel this way, is that with it goes the run dialog that was previously available at Alt+F2, which can be seen as a loss if you use it much.

Finishing touches

Even though my dock has a main menu, which is the same as the gnome-panel had, I really like other ways of getting applications to run. First of, there is the now-disabled Alt+F2 run dialog. This has been completely replaced by Gnome-do. There is a slight problem with infrequent crashes, which makes me thankful for the previously mentioned menu, but other than that, it just works! Running applications, opening files, taking quick notes, looking up word definitions, connecting to ssh hosts and controlling Virtualbox VM’s are just some of the things that Gnome-do makes easier.

But when you want fine-grained control, there really isn’t anything like a command line. In that department it doesn’t hurt to have a terminal hotkeyed, but the best thing is really an always-active terminal that can be summoned and dismissed at the press of a key. I give you Tilda!

It is most often described as a Gnome version of YaKuake, which itself is just a ripoff of the terminal in Quake. It is a terminal emulator that is always running, and slides down from the top of your screen at the press of a key (F12 in my case, can be customized). And when you don’t need it anymore, the same key will make it disappear (but not close) again, meaning that you can start a program in the terminal, dismiss the terminal, and the program will continue to run. And just like Gnome-terminal (or just about any other terminal emulator out there),  tilda has tabs, which means that you can have as many terminals as you want hidden away at the top of your screen.

Oh, and while I’m on the topic of terminals, do yourself a favor and install the xfonts-terminus packages and use that as default font in your terminal. Your eyes will thank you later.

Conclusion

I’m one of those geeky persons that will probably never stop customizing my desktop environment, but for now, it seems like I’ve found something that I can actually just use without messing around with it all the time. It doesn’t get in the way of my work, doesn’t take up any screen space at all and I have easy access to everything. This one is a winner.

Ubuntu 10.4 on Lenovo X61t: Success

Despite my earlier misconceptions about the whole upgrade procedure, it seems that it went really well. I used the following procedure

  1. Make a full backup of my home dir. This includes all hidden (dotted) files
  2. Reinstall from live-cd (With new partitions, the old ones were ext-3)
  3. Copy back documents and other important files, like ssh keys
  4. Install a minimum of programs in order to feel comfortable
  5. Make the tablet work agan
  6. Make rotation work

Making the tablet and stylus work

This was a real pain, as the configuration method has been changed again. In order to configure the stylus, we now have to edit files in

/usr/lib/X11/xorg.conf.d/

specifically the  10-wacom.conf file. The good news is that the familiar syntax from xorg.conf is back, and even more so, it seems to be staying.

For more information about the configuration, look at thinkwiki.org. The page is about trackpoint configuration, something you would want to do anyway, but the section about xorg.conf.d is the one that gives a hint about the process.

My specific configuration needs were:

"TPCButton" "on"
"Button2" "3"
"Button3" "3"

in order to prevent the stylus from sending clicks when the tip isn’t touching the screen and map the single button to a left-click.

Rotation support

The tablet can be made to rotate automatically when the screen is swiveled. In order to do this, I needed to fetch the sources from the tablet-screen-rotation-support branch of the Tabuntu project.

In order to compile the source on my pristine system I had to install

build-essential
libxrandr-dev

And when compilation and installation was done (as per the INSTALL file), I had to manually create the acpi event listeners. The specific event strings for the swivel events can be found with

sudo acpi_listen

And for both events, you need to run

/etc/acpi/rotatescreen.sh

With that done, all that remains is to bind the rotate button to the

rotate-next

program that was also installed. Fortunately, this can be done with the gnome keyboard shortcuts manager.

…It even looks like compiz behaves well when rotating the screen 🙂

All in all the most satisfying clean upgrade I’ve done in years

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

It’s that time of the year again. Time to upgrade my Ubuntu installation to the
newest version.

In the past, this has been a mixed pleasure.
I’ve been running Ubuntu on my laptop since 6.04, and while
dist-upgrading has become a lot easier, I’m still not completely relaxed about it.

In the early days, I had to re-install my system when doing an upgrade, as the automatic upgrade scripts would always break something.
Now, however, those problems are mostly gone, and the last upgrade went without a hitch.

This time, though, I’m contemplating doing it the old-fashioned way, mostly to get rid of all the cruft that has gathered on my hard drive during the last year.
Old versions of programs that I no longer use, and stuff like that.
The real problem with that is to remember my system configuration in order to get my computer back the way it was.
Like most users, I like to personalize my system to fit my needs, which has resulted in a lot of small alterations, most of which I can no longer remember.
The modifications I’m most worried about is the ones for tablet support (I have a Lenovo x61t) which are a pain to get right, even with the help of google, but also smaller configurations, like the gnome theme I’m using and stuff like that.
Most of those settings are saved in my home directory, but I plan on cleaning that one out too, in order to get some fresh config-files in my system.


Another solution might be to just save myself the trouble and keep using my computer as it is… but who am I kidding. I want new! I want shiny!

I will try to document the process here, if I survive…