Sunday, February 04, 2007

Colour Me Brown (and Unimpressed), Part 2

What a kerfuffle, so far.

OK, so I eventually got booted into Ubuntu. Having determined that no amount of fiddling around with the GNOME theme manager was going to make me happier, I set my mind to the task of installing kubuntu-desktop, which installs a full KDE desktop environment. This brought me oh-so-close to the point of having no free space on the partition, - but when I attempted to deinstall ubuntu-desktop to free up space, Synaptic informed me that some critical functions depend on it! (I don't remember the exact wording.) So, not wanting to spend YET another god-knows-how-long on fixing something that shouldn't be broken in the first place, I left ubuntu-desktop alone.

On booting into (what for all intents and purposes was now) Kubuntu, I found that there were quite a lot of things I didn't like - and some I couldn't change, such as the horrid layout of the control panel that Kubuntu-desktop installs by default. I then realized that my desktop resolution was paltry, so I attempted to rectify the situation but couldn't get the distribution to display above 800x600 in 16-bit colour (even after using, contrary to Ubuntu's settings, both the fglrx driver, and the same X driver (r128) as my Gentoo box uses, which gives me 24-bit colour at a resolution of 1400x1050).

I eventually decided to try running X without having an /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, and see how that worked out. X's hardware detection must be pretty good these days, because it finally gave me a working X display at a decent resolution (albeit that the KDE Monitor Control Panel now complains that "something" is missing. No matter, as I doubt I want to spend any time trying to change it again.)

As you may know, Ubuntu is based on Debian GNU/Linux. A few years ago, when I tried Debian, one of the things I disliked about it was that although it gave me a decent resolution with my ATI graphics card, the display was lined - that is, it looks as if you have put some fine mesh on top of the screen. Naturally, this makes it difficult to read text on the screen, and I'm none too sure that given prolonged use it won't damage my monitor. Imagine my surprise when, after deleting /etc/X11/xorg.conf, I came up with a display which, as I said, was at a decent resolution, but still displayed those annoying lines! Why is a distribution which purports, to all intents and purposes, to be "Debian for desktops", and which uses a mixture of stable and unstable packages still plagued with this annoying problem, years later? More importantly, why is the r128 driver which works so well for me in Gentoo not worth my time in Ubuntu?

OK, so anyway. The next thing I decided to do was play a stream in Amarok. I've had trouble with Amarok in Gentoo before, but at this point that is ancient history. It's my favourite music player on any platform and it works like an absolute charm. As in Gentoo, so in Ubuntu? Oh, no. No sound came out of any stream I could get my hands on, and since the version of lvm that I had installed didn't seem to want to play along (of which perhaps more later) I couldn't access my logical volume of music to see if any of that played. Attempting to play music from a CD in KsCD, too, produced a sound that was more like that of an old vinyl that had been abused on a 40-year old cheapo Decca than the "perfect" sound you're supposed to get from a CD. Sigh.

Although Ubuntu is by no means the only distro I have had problems like this with, nor is this by any means the first time I have had run-ins with it (though I have to admit that this attempt was far more successful than the rest), what befuddles me is this: Ubuntu is supposed to be perfect for beginners. I've yet to sample Ubuntu's various (free) support channels, so I may well get sorted with a little bit of help - but I wonder who, on being told that there's-this-new-operating-system-out-that's-out-called-Linux-and-yes-it's-supposed-to-be-scary-but-it-isn't really-isn't-and-anyway-there's-this-new-distro-out-called-Ubuntu-that's-Linux-for-human-beings is going to want to fiddle about with getting his X server (if he even knows what that is) and will know where to start getting music working? I could probably do this all on my own given the time and inclination - but I have eight years' Linux experience and I don't mind learning how to do these computery things. If Ubuntu is "for human beings" and has these problems, is the Linux beginner supposed to conclude that any other Linux distro is going to be even MORE of a pain? Because trust me, dear reader, most of them aren't.

I understand what Mark Shuttleworth is trying to do and I applaud it. I'm also grateful that the publicity seems to be bringing more and more people to Linux; I just worry that it is being massively oversold. And "being massively oversold" is what drove me crazy about Windows, after all.

That may seem a bit of a cheek coming from a Gentoo fan but consider: Not only does Gentoo warn you all over that it's hard, it also has by far and away the best manuals, documentation, and user community I have ever seen for a Linux distro (with the possible exception of old versions of SUSE, whose manuals I haven't had the pleasure of reading). Some people may wonder about the wisdom of compiling all your software, but Gentoo doesn't hide this aspect of itself from you: it does what it says on the tin.

I'm not going to abandon Ubuntu just yet and I want to see how easily these problems can be resolved. But I think my points about how this is just too much for a beginner still stand.


Kirrus said...

Ok.. where to start... I use ubuntu as my main O.S, and I've never had any of these sorts of problems with it.

If you want to use kde as your main interface, I would reccomend burning abd installing "kubuntu" instead of "ubuntu". Kubuntu is designed so that the KDE interface is installed as standard, so you shouldn't get any trouble with gnome not wanting to come off.

You may well, now, be able to remove gnome, if you launch "aptitude" from the command line (its a command line program) and open up tasks. Select "ubuntu-desktop", and hit the "-" key on your computer. It will take a while to work out the dependencies, and then let you get on with it. (It will allow you to override it's choices, should you so wish.)

Also, if you've had trouble with the graphical install, then use the "Alternate" install disks. They're not as "nice" but, even for a linux noob (me, installing Ubuntu Breezy, when I first started looking at linux) it's simple enough.

If you have any more questions, feel free to mail me, You can also ask on, I or someone else will respond there. (if you want, I'll give you my IM's via email...)

Malte (ta<) Cornils (tod<) (ten<) said...

The bug with the lines is probably a problem with your display having problems adjusting to the exact frequency settings used by Ubuntu. Since this is display-specific, this cannot really be fixed on the Ubuntu side. The only hope will always be to use different frequency settings (like 80 Hz instead of 85 Hz). For that, you'd need an xorg.conf, though :-( BTW, kubuntu is always a bit behind ubuntu stability- and feature-wise, so try one of the more recent releases (the media player silence should be "fixed" in Ubuntu feisty). Good luck! (but if you're happy with Gentoo, no need to change that :-))