May 20, 2012

Ubuntu 12.04 on an Acer Aspire AM1100-B1410A

I did something else this weekend which I swore I'd never do. No, I didn't watch "Puss in Boots" because I've already done that and thoroughly enjoyed it. I downloaded and installed the latest version of Ubuntu.

Called "Precise Pangolin" for those who care about the stupid animal codenames (I have no idea what a pangolin is, by the way), Ubuntu 12.04 is the latest LTS (Long Term Support) version of Canonical's Linux operating system. This means that it will continue to get upgrades and security patches for the next three years (which is more than the life expectancy of my already four year old desktop computer).

Of course, all did not go completely smoothly for me. The installation itself only took half an hour and was fine, but it was all the tweaking that I had to do afterwards which was annoying.

As you can see from the picture above, I'm using Unity 2D because, although I can use the normal version of Unity, the "3D" version was too bloated, used too many resources and, most importantly for me, caused DVD playback to skip frames. I used my "American Psycho" DVD to test the playback using VLC player. It was too jerky to watch on Unity but perfect again on Unity 2D so I've stuck with that for now.

I also had to use Unity 2D to install my email account on Thunderbird. For some reason, it just would not automatically configure the settings for Gmail under the normal Unity but it worked fine in 2D. I think Unity is still pretty buggy so I've also installed the various Gnome desktops and Xubuntu/Xfce although I probably won't use them unless I start having major problems and can't log in.

Gnome 3 is horrible to use but there's a "fallback" version which looks and works a lot like Gnome 2. I'm glad that the developers had the sense to include it as this was one of the things which drove me to Linux Mint 11. The recycle bin on the bottom panel was bizarrely missing but I've used a program called MyUnity to put it back on the Unity desktop.

I couldn't switch the positions of the icons on the "Dash" dock thing on the left either without doing it under normal Unity and then returning to Unity 2D (but it won't leave them resized). Canonical really need to fix this with Unity 2D.

Other bugs I found were that the Thunar file manager took ages to start on Xubuntu (which was something to do with gfvs not mounting properly, and there was a cosmetic "Could not write bytes: Broken pipe" message when logging out which is some bug in the Plymouth system). I solved the former by Googling for a solution and the latter by running a disk check on startup (which opened the GRUB bootloader at one point before restarting). Both problems have now disappeared.

Rhythmbox has replaced Banshee as the music player. It crashed on me when I first imported my music library but appears to be working properly now. Again, I think it was a Unity problem and I probably should have used Unity 2D when I first set it up. I prefer to use Audacious to play back music anyway.

One thing which is still annoying me after trying out the Guest Session is that occasionally I will get asked to re-enter my keychain password if I log out or shut down as soon as I've logged in. This must be something to do with the speed at which the keychain information is loaded. It didn't do it before I tried out the Guest Session (which froze the computer the first time and caused me to have to shut down incorrectly by holding in the power button) but I'll just have to live with it until someone else posts a solution. The Guest Session works now but it's unnecessary on my or any other home user's computer anyway.

Anyway, I suppose this is sort of a review of Ubuntu 12.04 so I'll just wrap it up by saying that Unity isn't as bad as a lot of people would have you believe. With 12.04, Canonical have really polished the turd and actually made it usable.

Aesthetically, Unity really only replaces the "Quick Launch" icons and the "Open Windows" applet from the bottom panel of Gnome 2. There's a lot more behind the scenes, of course, including an Apple-like way of finding files and applications which is still slower to me than the previous three-part menu but it's all very smooth, it's free, and it works.

For most people, Ubuntu 12.04 will be the best version of Linux until Mint 13 gets an official release.

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