Transitioning to Xubuntu 12.04 – Updated!

Introduction I’ve used Ubuntu Linux on my computers since 2007.  While no OS is perfect, Ubuntu has been a good fit for what I do and I can...

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Introduction

I’ve used Ubuntu Linux on my computers since 2007.  While no OS is perfect, Ubuntu has been a good fit for what I do and I can generally live with its shortcomings. After five years, I can say that switching to Ubuntu was a good deal for me and my business. I have better security and spend less time and money dealing with software issues than I did before.

As most of you know, last month Canonical, Inc. released the latest update of Ubuntu known as Precise Pangolin or 12.04 LTS (Long Term Service). This release is controversial as a result of the move from the now defunct Gnome 2 desktop. Debate about the new Unity and Gnome 3 versus the Gnome 2 environment has taken up considerable bandwidth in the last year. I won’t add much to that discussion except to say that I haven’t yet found either of the new desktop options to suit my style. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to jump ship from Ubuntu however. Ubuntu still offers a good mix of support and compatibility along with a lot of options that are hard to beat.

That said, I still considered other options before opting to stay in the Ubuntu camp. I looked hard at Debian Squeeze but I wanted newer kernels and the latest Firefox and Thunderbird. Linux Mint and it’s related Debian Edition also looked like a very compelling option until I discovered that they don’t yet offer Full Disk Encryption as part of the standard setup. Without easy encryption Mint is a non-starter. My issue was not Ubuntu as a whole but the new desktops. As an experiment, I loaded an early beta release of Xubuntu 12.04 on one of my netbooks so that I could check both the desktop and compatibility with certain software packages that are key to my operation. There were definitely a few bugs but most of those have been resolved in the final release.

The big surprise was the Xfce based desktop. Xfce was originally based on what is known as CDE (Common Desktop Environment) that was used on Unix workstations in the 1990’s. I was very familiar with CDE through my use of Sun and HP workstations of that era. Even though Xfce is substantially newer it still has a familiar feel. Out of the box, the Xubuntu desktop looks a bit different from the Gnome 2 based Ubuntu desktop, but it is very easy to configure and you can easily make it look and act like your old desktop whether you’re coming from an older Ubuntu release or even Windows XP! Even though some things aren’t as smooth as Gnome 2, I liked it enough that I have since adopted Xubuntu across all of my machines.

In the next part of this article, I’m going to document some of the minor workarounds I found for various bugs and paper cuts in the Xubuntu 12.04 release in the hopes that they save others time and fuss chasing them down.

Black Screen on First Startup

I use the alternate CD installer and fully encrypt all my machines. I noticed that I would sometimes get a black screen on first reboot after a fresh install. This was disturbing, but I blindly entered the pass-phrase anyway and the system starts and brings you to a normal login. After running the post install updates the problem seems to resolve and you can see the prompt for the pass-phrase on subsequent boots.

VMWare Patch

VMWare Workstation 8.02 and Player 4.02 won’t install properly due to a problem compiling the vmnet kernel module. Fortunately, there is a patch that resolves the problem. You can get it here:

http://askubuntu.com/questions/116565/unable-to-install-vmware-workstation-v8

Hopefully the next release from VMWare will resolve the issue permanently.

Right Click with eGalaxTouch Screen

I have an Asus 901 netbook with an eGalaxTouch Touch Screen. The touch screen operates out of the box except that it doesn’t offer a right-click simulation when holding down the stylus. To add this function and the ability to calibrate the touch screen you first install xinput-calibrator package:

sudo apt-get install xinput-calibrator

Next calibrate the screen by running:

sudo xinput-calibrator

Copy the output snippet to the file /usr/share/X11/xorg-conf.d/99-calibration.conf .

Edit the file to add Option lines as shown below for EmulateThirdButton. Your file should look something like this:

Section “InputClass”
Identifier “calibration”
MatchProduct “eGalax INC. USB TouchController”
Option “Calibration” “6 4067 27 4070”
Option “EmulateThirdButton” “1”
Option “EmulateThirdButtonTimeout” “750”
Option “EmulateThirdButtonThreshold” “30”
EndSection

You may have to restart the desktop to have the changes take effect.

Missing Hibernate Settings

Hibernate is disabled by default. See this link for instructions on enabling it:

https://help.ubuntu.com/12.04/ubuntu-help/power-hibernate.html

If you want a secure notebook be sure to configure power settings to hibernate when you close the lid.

Disable Guest Account

By default, the Xubuntu login screen has the guest account enabled. You can disable it by adding “allow-guest=false” to the “SetDefaults” section of the file /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf .

Samba and Backuppc Bug

I noticed that I couldn’t get reliable backups using Samba shares and Backuppc. I am not 100% certain, but I believe that the problem is related to this bug in Samba:

https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=753531

I only backup Linux machines so my work around was to reconfigure backuppc to use rsync instead of the Samba shares. If you rely on backuppc to backup Windows machines you may want to explore this issue further before jumping to newer Linux distributions of any kind as I don’t think this bug is limited to just Ubuntu.

DVD’s Won’t Play

Do the following:

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-restricted-extras

and then this to install the codecs: (I have no idea why this isn’t done automatically?)

sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/install-css.sh

Floppy Drives not Detected

See my notes here. They still work for 12.04.

Dropbox

I experienced issues installing Dropbox on 64-bit systems. I think this is resolved now, but if you have trouble be sure to use the latest Dropbox installer.

Summary

It’s still early, but so far I’m very pleased with this Xubuntu release. If you’re not sure about Unity or Gnome 3 but otherwise like the Ubuntu model, I suggest you try Xubuntu. It has support and security updates until April 2015 so you won’t be forced into another upgrade for a while.

Update September 8, 2012

So far so good. Xubuntu 12.04 has been working as well as can be expected on all my machines. I moved my wife to Xubuntu and she seems to get along just fine too after I configured the desktop to look more like the old Gnome 2 desktop. I occasionally miss some of the old Gnome 2 features but for the most part I’m happy.

The issues with VMware vanished with the release of VMWare Workstation 9.0 and VMWare Player 5.0. You won’t have any issues upgrading from the earlier patched versions so definitely take the upgrade when it’s offered. Note that the Workstation 9 upgrade will cost you but if you depend on VMWare for your business I think it’s wise to be on the latest version.

I find that the oxygen theme works best for me. If you want it to look really nice be sure to install all of the oxygen related stuff in synaptic and make sure you’ve set the icons to oxygen too.

I”m not sure what’s going on with Samba but I am now able to backup a Windows XP machine using windows shares and backuppc. I’ve checked and all the files are definitely there with no errors. I haven’t investigated this further so I can’t say for sure if you’ll see similar results. Feed back on this appreciated if you have time. Thanks!

 

 

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7 comments

  1. MikeSiz

    Thanks so much, this article was real help. I had had the same problems with Unity, and have just moved to xubuntu. I am still turning and adjusting it, but my overall impression – it looks great, and again – thanks for useful notes.

  2. Larry Johnson

    After nearly 50 years working with computers and being an early Linux adopter, I would be considered an “advanced” (or senior) user.

    I am definitely going to look at xubuntu for my hard working 64bit workstation, deprecating its Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. Thanks for this great piece.

    Unity is extremely counterproductive to the way I work.

    I’m not against Unity, I believe in the world of computing being all-inclusive, and Unity provides an interface helpful to the casual user.
    I am definitely against however, the suppression of the existing, working and widely used interfaces. For example, Ubuntu has quietly deprecated advanced features of Gnome/Compiz, probably because they cannot get Unity to work with them.

    Unfortunately, in three of my systems I stuck with Ubuntu, and with make them work with Gnome fallback which Canonical calls “Classic”.

    1. JR

      Larry,

      Xubuntu is good – not perfect – and has kept me in the Ubuntu camp for now. I’d suggest imaging your 10.04 setup and then installing from scratch. This will give you the opportunity to encrypt your system if you’ve not already done so. Good luck!

      JR

  3. Gilles Arfeuille

    Hi there,

    Thansk for the very interesting article.

    I am used to ubuntu 10.04 and earlier versions.

    I just switched to unbuntu 12.04 on a new fieldwork rugged computer (GD8000 from General dynamics) which has a touchscreen.

    Everything is running more smoothly than I expeted, the only detail is that I have no idea what I need to install and set up to imulate and use properly the touchscreen. It is not undispensable but it would be great to be able to use this tool too,

    Any advice?

    cheers,

    gilles

    1. JR

      It is my understanding that some touch screens work by default in Ubuntu. Others require you to install driver software. Some can work either way but you have to be careful not to enable both open source and proprietary drivers at the same time or else it won’t work at all. I’m not familiar with the GD8000 so my best advice is to execute the “lsusb” (and maybe “lspci” too) command see if the system is at least enumerating the touch screen on the USB bus (or PCI bus). You may then be able to determine something of the make of the controller and perhaps do some work with Google to track down drivers and work around type instructions.

      Sorry I can’t be of more help. If you find a solution I’d appreciate it if you’d post the info (or a link to it) back here. Many thanks! JR

      BTW: The internal USB hub included with my eGalaxTouch screen recently failed. This prevented my Asus 901 from booting so I had no choice but to remove the whole thing. Even though I didn’t use that machine a lot, the touch screen was something that definitely made certain programs a lot easier to use so I can appreciate your desire to get yours working properly.

  4. matt LC

    Great article,

    Xubuntu 12.04 has revitalised my netbook which was struggling to perform basic tasks with ubuntu 12.04. I am new to Linux and just so impressed by the community, the diversity of desktops etc. I’m now trying to recruit other students from buying expensive Apple/Microsoft money traps.

    Xubuntu modified with shimmer, Docky, Chromium and libreoffice is just perfection. snappy, highly functional computing that looks great all on a $200 netbook.

  5. MoD

    I believe the EmulateThirdButtonThreshold does not exist. If it’s intended to use the evdev X11 input driver’s 3rd-button emulation, then the correct setting name is EmulateThirdButtonMoveThreshold, as evidenced in the current source, the man page, and the patch that introduced the feature: .

    If your configuration is intended for a driver other than evdev, please be clear about that since it is not the common case and the other options are recognized by the evdev driver. Thanks.