Experiences with Xubuntu 14.04 – Updated

Update October 1, 2014 I detailed the results of my first tests of Xubuntu 14.04 back in April. There were quite a few rough edges at that time...

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Update October 1, 2014

I detailed the results of my first tests of Xubuntu 14.04 back in April. There were quite a few rough edges at that time and in my original post I recommended that people stick with Xbuntu 12.04 until the situation improved.  Things have changed for the better. The point release – Xubuntu 14.04.1 – arrived sometime in August and over the course of several weeks work in September I managed to successfully upgrade all of my workstations to the latest LTS release.  To date, I have done fresh installations on 5 workstations and I have upgraded two others in place from the previous LTS version 12.04.5. The in place upgrades went just as smoothly as the fresh installs and if I had it to do over again, I would have done the upgrade on all of them. Amazingly, I even managed to upgrade my mother’s computer from 2000 miles away via Teamviewer. The only thing Mom had to do was enter the disk pass phrase after I rebooted the system! Very nice!

At this point, I am pleased with the Trusty Tahr, and with but a few minor issues, it seems to be running as good or better than anything I experienced with the previous release. If you are still on Ubuntu 12.04 you should seriously consider making the jump to 14.04. Just make sure you back up your data before you start!

I have annotated the original article in color text so that you can see which issues have been fixed and what remains to be done. There are also some additional notes at the bottom on some issues which were not apparent the first time around.

JR

Original Article with Annotations

Last month Canonical released version 14.04 of it’s well-known Ubuntu Linux distribution. The Trusty Tahr is a Long Term Service (LTS) release and carries 3 to 5 years of upgrades and support depending on which flavor (e.g. Unity, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu Gnome) you choose.

I’ve used Ubuntu almost exclusively in my small businesses since 2007, so I know many of its advantages and limitations. In my experience, the new releases of Ubuntu always have some substantial improvements over earlier versions, but they also include a number of bugs and changes that must addressed to make things run smoothly. As  a general rule, the LTS versions of Ubuntu are more reliable and have fewer problems than the regular releases the occur on 6 month intervals. With but a few exceptions, I have tried to stick with the LTS releases so that I can avoid the frequent upgrade cycle and some of the bugs that tend to creep into the regular releases. I’ve lived comfortably with Xubuntu 12.04 (AKA Precise Pangolin) for nearly two years now. In that time it has proven itself very robust and reliable for all my needs. Nonetheless, I was very interested to try the 14.04 release, so last month I upgraded several of my computers to the newer OS. I also performed a fresh install on my laptop computer.

For those considering an upgrade, I have provided some notes that I made while experimenting with Trusty on my systems.

Installer Bug with Manual Disk Partitioning and Encryption Setup

I use full disk encryption on all my systems, and over the years I have developed a very particular way that I like to set up the encrypted LVM. I am sorry to report that there is a bug in the Xubuntu installer (and presumably other Ubuntu installers) that prevents one from configuring a system from scratch using a manually configured encrypted LVM setup. While the automated encrypted LVM setup works it may not give you the setup you want. I’m hopeful that the developers will be pushing to fix this bug soon!

I have filed a bug report on Launchpad here, but this bug is still present in the 14.04.1 installer media. It is NOT a show stopper however.  I used the default encrypted LVM setup for my fresh installs and it worked fine, and made choices similar to what I would have made had I done it manually. If you need the control of a manual encrypted LVM installation you should download the Lubuntu 14.04.1 alternate installer. I have confirmed that it works properly. After installing Lubuntu you can add whatever desktop (e.g. Unity, Xubuntu, K-desktop, gnome, etc.) .

Improved support for nVidia Optimus

Many modern notebooks have dual Intel/nVidia graphics cards. These “Optimus” setups have been famously problematic in Linux. Trusty implements software known as nVidia Prime that seeks to improve performance and cut power consumption as documented here. While I believe nVidia Prime is definitely a step in the right direction, I did not find it much faster or, more importantly, easier to control, than the Bumblebee setup I have used on 12.04. My tests were done with Windows 7 running in Virtual Box and with my principal engineering application: Remcom X-FDTD. Even though nVidia Prime is newer, it does not allow the user to decide on the fly which applications run with the power-hungry nVidia GPU as does the older Bumblebee software. nVidia Prime also forces a reboot or restart of the x-server anytime you want to switch between the nVidia and Intel GPUs. Even though nVidia prime is an improvement of sorts, I didn’t find it a compelling one – yet!

nVidia Prime still has the same limitations as discussed above but it seems to be more stable than it was before. The only issue I have noted is that the touchpad on my notebook seems to randomly freeze every now and then. This is a but it is an annoyance and a known issue with some touch pads under nVidia prime. The good news is that you can easily unfreeze it by switching to a different virtual terminal (CTRL-ALT-F1) and then back (CTRL-ALT-F7) . Alternatively, you can use a USB mouse and avoid the problem entirely. With the current nVidia prime setup I have been able to run the Remcom solver and do 3D work in a Windows 7 virtual machine under VMware without any problems or any special settings.

Improved support for Android phones

I have a Samsung Rugby Pro smart phone and it’s never played well with Xubuntu 12.04. I know there are people out there that claim that it can work, but my experience is that the hacks and work-arounds are neither smooth nor reliable. With Xubuntu 14.04 however it was simply plug and play! The phone connected first time and without a fuss. It actually worked better than the setup I had used with Windows 7 in VMWare!

This is still the case. My phone connected and worked just fine on all machines.

Faster kernel?

I didn’t do any quantitative tests, but my user experience with Trusty seemed to be smoother and faster than what I experience with Precise. It’s not a night and day difference, but it’s definitely there. I noticed this on both upgraded and fresh installs so I believe it  is a result of improvements in the kernel, but there are likely other factors involved as well.

VMWare Kernel Module Issue

I attempted to use VMWare Player 5.02 on Trusty but ran into a kernel module issue. This might be resolved by later versions of VMWare. I did not investigate further since I have used Virtual Box lately. If you’re a VMWare user you probably should confirm that the issue is resolved before upgrading to Trusty.

The kernel module issue is resolved with the latest VMWare Workstation 10.03 and VMWare Player 6.0.3. I have VMs with Windows 7, XP, 2000, and even Win 98SE and they all work fine.

Virtual Box now supports USB webcams!

I have grown frustrated with VMWare and last year I spent several days attempting to switch from VMWare to Virtual Box, only to discover that Virtual Box would NOT work with my Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 USB webcams. This was a deal killer and I went back to VMWare until I began testing Trusty last month. I’m now pleased to report that the latest versions of Virtual Box have solved the USB webcam issue! I am now able to use Oovoo and Skype with the Logitech USB webcam within a Virtual Box VM. With Trusty you will automatically get access to the latest Virtual Box software that solved the webcam problems. If you want to hold off upgrading to Trusty, you can still download and install the latest Virtual Box from Oracle and use it in 12.04.5.

Despite the improved USB webcam I found 3D performance under Virtual Box to be lacking, so I switched back to VMWare. I’d prefer an open source solution, but VMWare just works and works better than Virtual Box for my needs. If you don’t need 3D support Virtual Box is a still a solid solution however.

Latest LibreOffice

Trusty has a much never version of LibreOffice. I have not done extensive testing on this but I would expect much improved support for the Microsoft .docx formats. This is a serious consideration if you regularly exchange files with Windows users.

Yes, the latest LibreOffice is better with the MS .docx files but it’s not perfect. I’m sure Redmond will continue to do what it can to keep that statement true.

Support for TRIM feature on SSDs

Supposedly, TRIM is enabled by default for Intel and Samsung SSDs in the new Trusty kernel. This is likely a very good thing if you’re using SSDs. I did not notice any difference in performance in my non-quantitative testing using Intel SSDs.

At this point in time, I am using SSDs on all but one of my workstations. If you don’t have an SSD yet, I highly recommend buying one and then doing a fresh install of Xubuntu 14.04.1. You will like it!

Hibernate and suspend issues

Historically, hibernate and suspend functions have been notoriously problematic in Linux. With Xubuntu 12.04 however I have been able to use both functions reliably on a variety of notebook and desktop computers. With 14.04 it seems that the good days are over and I was left with systems that had troubles with hibernate or suspend. This was the case whether I performed an upgrade or a fresh install.

Suspend and hibernate seem to be working fine now. See here for instructions on enabling hibernate in 14.04:

http://ubuntuhandbook.org/index.php/2014/04/enable-hibernate-ubuntu-14-04/

Network manager can’t import OpenVPN config file

If you depend on OpenVPN, you will find that Trusty disappoints in a big way. After upgrading, I was not able to import OpenVPN configuration files into network manager. I was forced to manually configure OpenVPN using my old 12.04 setup as a guide. This bug has been resolved, but the changes are still residing in Trusty Proposed.

This bug is resolved and I was able to import my OpenVPN configuration files without any problems!

Random desktop freezes

One of the most frustrating parts of my experience with the Trusty Tahr was the frequent and random desktop freezes. I noticed this on both my desktop and notebook systems. These freezes were the last straw and lead me to backtrack to 12.04. I’m not going to make excuses for Canonical, but I will note that I use nVidia graphics cards and their proprietary drivers on all my machines so it is conceivable that the x-server problems are rooted with nVidia and not Canonical.

Except for the touch pad issue on the notebook, I am no longer seeing any random x-server issues with the nVidia drivers. Systems are rock solid now!

Summary

After spending about two weeks attempting to work through and around some of its issues, I determined that Trusty Tahr wasn’t yet ready to run my critical business systems. I have since reverted to 12.04 until such time as the bugs have been fixed. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up on Ubuntu though. Canonical has as done some fine work over the years and I’m sure most of these issues will be fixed by the time of the point release 14.04.1 in a few months.

In the meanwhile, if you’re looking to try Linux as an alternative to Windows XP, I recommend that you avoid 14.04 and go with the older and reliable 12.04 release instead.

Thanks for reading!

JR

Additional Notes

Disable Guest Account

By default a guest account is enabled. This is a potential security risk. See here for instructions on disabling it:

http://askubuntu.com/questions/62564/how-do-i-disable-the-guest-session

Grub Time Out Warning

This is only an issue if you do an upgrade in place. At boot up you may see a message about GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT  option being invalid. If you do and the message bothers you, it’s an easy fix:

sudo mousepad /etc/default/grub

find and comment out the lines using the # as follows:

#GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT=0
#GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT_QUIET=true

save the file and then run:

sudo update-grub

Teamviewer Bugs

I have found several problems with Teamviewer.

1. I found that I couldn’t send any non-numeric keyboard characters to a remote Xubuntu 14.04 session. This problem was resolved by upgrading to the very latest Teamviewer software on both ends of the link. I am currently using version 9.0.32150 and it is not an issue.

2. Teamviewer 9.x has troubles with the default screen saver in Xubuntu 14.04 known as light locker. You will experience frozen teamviewer sessions and other problems whenever the screen saver is running. To fix this issue, uninstall the lightlocker software and install the old xscreensaver program and everything will work fine. This is NOT an issue with Xubuntu or light locker. Teamviewer just needs to catch up to the new norm.

3. Be sure to use the i386/multi-arch version of Teamviewer 9 on both i386 and AMD64 systems.

Google Earth Bugs

Even if you are using 64 bit Xubuntu, you will want to use the i386 version of Google Earth. You will also need to add some additional  i386 libraries as detailed here:

http://www.webupd8.org/2014/04/install-google-earth-in-ubuntu-1404.html

With that, Google Earth mostly works, but the Panoramio photos won’t display properly. This seems to be a problem with google versus ubuntu libraries and I don’t know of a good fix for it yet.

Root Access

By default Trusty won’t allow root connections via ssh. You can re-enable it by following instructions here:

http://www.ehowstuff.com/how-to-allow-root-to-use-ssh-on-ubuntu-14-04/

 

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