Category Archives: linux

Make Ubuntu Unity usable in five simple steps

Out of frustration with Unity, I’ve used several window managers/desktops recently. They are excellent at what they do, but I missed how everything (volume control, display brightness, keyboard switcher, sleep on laptop lid close, sound mixer, wifi applet, gnome keyring manager, automounting, etc.) just works out of the box in the default Ubuntu installation. All these things need to be taken care of separately when using a minimalistic window manager, most of them are painful, some impossible.

Unity is a strange beast. Some of its features are amazing (merged topbar with window bar, semi-maximizing windows with ctrl+windows_key+left/right), while some are awful (the unholy left menu with its terrible launcher and all the other tentacles). I figured long as I can avoid the few bad parts, I’ll be happy.

You’ll need to install compizconfig-settings-manager for most of the tweaks to work. People who say ccsm breaks things are noobs.

Get the unity sidebar out of the way:
Appearance: Behavior: Auto-hide: ON
Optionally also, Reveal location: Top Left Corner, and set sensitivity to something ridiculous so the cthulhu never pops out.

Sensible Alt+F2:
First, install gmrun, a quick and small program launcher with tab completion.
Second, unbind Alt+F2 from Unity:

gconftool-2 \
-s "/apps/compiz-1/plugins/unityshell/screen0/options/execute_command" \
-t string ""

Third, bind Alt+F2 to gmrun:
ccsm: Commands: add command “gmrun”, key bindings bind to Alt+F2

Default four desktops aren’t bourgeoise enough, get more:
ccsm: General Options: Desktop Size

Focus Follows Mouse:
ccsm: General Options: Focus & Raise: uncheck “Click To Focus”

Fullscreen Any Window:
ccsm: Extra WM Actions: Toggle Fullscreen: Alt+F11

Swap Ctrl and Caps Lock:
gnome-tweak-tool: Typing: Ctrl key position: Swap Ctrl and Caps Lock

I find the environment comfortable to use after just these five tweaks (press and hold the windows key to see many useful Unity shortcuts), though I’m still struggling with window switching. Usually bypass it by keeping one fullscreen window per desktop.

PS: Why did I write this? Further reference. Yesterday I accidentally ran “unity –reset” (do NOT ever run that) and had to google these steps (again). No more!

Dotrc aka ~/.*rc

If you don’t understand the title, you might just as well leave — this post is going to contain close to no useful information for you.

I’ve been spending a lot of my time in the shell recently. Mostly splitting my time between bash and vim, usually in screen.

I’ve always had a reasonable .bashrc, and my .vimrc used to be above average as well. But I invested some extra time to research more possibilities the dotfiles offer. You can preview and download my dotrc at github.

Here are some of the highlights, whatever I consider the “best of”.

My .bashrc is unremarkable, I just have a lot of shortcuts for the common everyday stuff. Perhaps the only thing worth noting is title setting for screen:

PROMPT_COMMAND=‘echo -ne "\033k`echo $PWD | sed "s:.*/\(.*/.*/.*\):\1:g"`\033\\"’

I actually wrote that myself, it shows the innermost three directories that you’re in. Showing running command in title is useless, as that’s in most cases either bash or vim (rarely also mysql). Showing the full path is useless, because long titles get cut off. Showing only the current directory name is not so great either, as it leaves you without context. I’ve settled for last three so far, but two might also be useful in certain situations.

Perhaps the best tip of all, reduce amount of tab hitting for completion by 50%. Put following to your .inputrc:

set show-all-if-ambiguous on

Next in line is my .vimrc (sorry, no .emacsrc, emacs sucks). Except for the usual stuff (nocompatible, colours, incsearch, etc.), I use few very useful and not very well known tricks.

set so=10 " show 10 lines of context (above and below)

“so” is short for “scrolloff”, which makes sure you have some space to breathe.

Last but not least, the Esc key is real far, hence:

set tm=400 " timeout for shortcuts

inoremap jk <esc> "pressing j and k together escapes
inoremap kj <esc>

Have I missed any useful tips & tricks?

Hardy Heron

As my Ubuntu Edgy (6.10) was not quite cutting edge anymore, I decided to get Hardy Heron.

Upgrade over two skipped releases would be suicidal, so I decided to do a fresh install. I also wanted to preserve my old Edgy… you know — just in case. That involved cutting off half of my system partition to create a new partition. You might expect a horror story now, but in fact it all went flawlessly (I just used gparted, the ext3 got fscked, shrinked to a half without a single glitch, passed fsck again and voila).

Installation of Hardy was provided by a nice graphical installer that didn’t even bother asking questions about my hardware (it just asked me about country and language settings and stuff like that). It recognised my monitor resolution, I installed the proprietary nvidia-glx-legacy drivers with two clicks (yes, it’s not even necessary to touch xorg.conf anymore). I just had to set up the wifi connection manually, because the access point has a hidden ESSID (but all the drivers were already there).

I was amazed how everything works out of the box or almost out of the box. Need to play a movie and don’t have the codec? You get a pop-up asking if you would like to download the codec. You click yes and enter your password, you are all set.

Hardy Heron includes Firefox 3 (beta 5 as of now), which is great, because the speedup over Firefox 2 is rather significant (and it does have some nice new features too). The only sad thing is that Google Toolbar doesn’t work in FF3B5 (yet), but well, I don’t really need to see the pagerank of every page I visit.

With my old 32MB GeForce 2 I never bothered installing Compiz, but as it comes out of the box now, I just had to try it. And whooo it rocks. The cube is amazing and there is also this great “scale windows” thingy, that shows all open windows at once so that you can switch between them. And then there are hundreds of different visual effects…

Gnome now allows repositioning the window toolbar items by drag&drop’ing them. That is the feature I’ve always (secretely) wanted. It’s really useful (as opposed to grouping, which I always (not so secretly) hated).

All I can say is: “Wow“.

PS: I don’t say this often, but I have to say it now: In case you haven’t done so yet — with XP being obsolete and Vista near unusable — this is definitely the best time to switch to Linux. And if you encounter any problems, I’ll be happy to help you with troubleshooting.

Windows, Linux, Usability and Filemanagers

This is not going to be only about the systems themselves, rather about general (desktop) working environment. As I had to spend substantial amount of time working with Windows recently, I feel qualified enough to share some insights:

What I like in Windows:

  • Total Commander: it really rocks, it remembers my ftp connections with passwords, it allows me to use tabs, and it has many other nice features (I just don’t get it why I can’t rename files with F2)

What I don’t like in Windows (sorted by annoyingness):

  • Broken clipboard: When I select bloody text I want it in the bloody clipboard. This is just fucking annoying as I have to copy text between apps several hundred times a day.
  • No real terminal with real commands: Sure, I can use ALT+F7 <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <space> in Total Commander, but I find “grep” much more comfortable to use than ALT+F7 <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <space>, not only because grep is just four keystrokes and ALT+F7 <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <space> is eight, but also because grep has all sorts of things like -i or -x (those can probably be reached in Total Commander with something like <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <space>, but again, that’s not very comfortable). As for commands I miss, I mentioned grep, but there’s also bc, tcpdump, df, du, top, ps, and that’s just off the top of my head.
  • Moving windows with alt: when I hold alt, and press down mouse button, I want the window to move. Especially when the window jumps out on me with its title bar hidden above the top of my screen, as is usual in MS Windows (a colleague suggested a very useful ~5 key combination that helped, but I already forgot what it was).
  • Missing package management: want to update all the installed software to newest versions? Out of luck, I guess…
  • All those annoying messages that attack me from lower right part of screen everytime I log in.

What I don’t like in Linux:

  • General inconsistency in behaviour of different apps (one gets used to it occasionally, though).
  • Applications crash much more often (though the system itself stays stable). But it’s getting better (I haven’t experienced gaim crash ever since they started calling it pidgin ;-), and firefox 2 doesn’t crash anymore either).
  • No good filemanager for everyday work.

 
And now for something completely different:

Yeah, separating different topics into individual posts and all that… never been too good at that…
So, I’m searching for a good Linux filemanager… here are features of the ideal one (sorted by priority):

  • Two-panel layout
  • Find-as-you-type (without having to press alt key or something to enable it, I have a terminal in the other window, thank you)
  • Ability to remember ftp connections (w/ passwords is a big plus). Also, ability not to segfault when one tries to upload a file through an ftp connection that timed out (hello, mc?).
  • Lynx-like motion (left and right ascend/descend directories)
  • Tabs on each panel (that’s useful when working on many things at once)
  • Ability to run in a terminal (not too important, but it surely would be neat)

So far, mc is the best, but it’s still far from perfect (doesn’t remember passwords, segfaults on ftp timeout, no tabs support).

Amarok

The creators of Amarok say “rediscover your music”… and I did.

I always thought that having playlists and just opening them with any simple player was enough for me, but now I thought I might try to use something more sophisticated. I tried Rhythmbox, it was simple, clean and working but nothing astonishing. On the other hand, I competely fell in love with Amarok.

Although Amarok is a qt application (I strongly prefer gtk and I don’t use any other qt ap, but Amarok is so good that I don’t care), I fell in love at the first sight. It’s a bit slow, but it has many nifty features like grouping/searching by various criteria, album cover preview, complete lyrics and info about author/album (it downloads all that from the internets, very kewl) just one click away. It can also pop up a small window with info about the coming song. The window is transparent and you can choose where it pops up. It will disappear after a short interval (set by you, of course).

And they get bonus points for this message:

One of Mike Oldfield‘s best pieces of work, Amarok, inspired the name behind the audio-player you are currently using.

Go ahead and rediscover your music too!

Edgy Eft – final release

As much as I praised the beta of Edgy Eft (betas are usually horrible and this one was simply great without any flaws), the final release sucks. It replaced  [working] orinoco drivers for my wifi with [not working] prism2_pci drivers. Took me a while to figure it all out (merely a day or so, because I messed it up). The cool login/logout sounds from gnome were replaced with not so cool ones, The textbox of firefox’s google toolbar looks awfully. Uh, not sure what else they managed to mess up… but I think I will find more things…

As a side note, the bloody gaim still doesn’t write “user logged out”/”user logged in” to the chat windows, I dunno where the mistake could be… I was told that it works but it doesn’t work for me with gaim2.0.0beta3.1 (nor under my settings nor under default settings (which I tried, as my settings could have been borken)). Any ideas/experiences?

And ubuntuforums suck. Seriously. They just ignore my posts (only sometimes someone writes “I have the same problem too”).

Edgy Eft

Hello from Edgy Eft!
Recently I got a new disk and I decided it might be a good idea to make a clean new install (I had the previous system through warty – hoary – breezy – dapper). I didn’t want to upgrade the old system to something which is still unstable and I thought it might also be good to get rid of all the trash that I don’t use anyway… (well, yeah, I copied my whole home directory with a lot of trash, but at least I got rid of the programs that I don’t use).

And the first time experience? Magnificent! I encountered no serious problems, almost everything “just worked” out of the box and the things that didn’t were pretty easy to fix.

List of “nice and surprising”:

  • sounds: the default intro sound of gnome was so horrible it was almost unlistenable, the new one just rocks, gaim also has different sounds, it will take a while to get used to it but they are better I think (and now gaim also has a volume control, w00t)
  • new artwork: nothing spectacular, a bit better than dapper (which was pretty good, at least compared to previous “shit brown” themes)
  • firefox: 2.0beta is just better (it has one small mistake that when I search by / it doesn’t let me highlight the words, which sucks, but maybe I can set it somewhere…)
  • gaim 2.0beta… it simply rulez (hey, why is everything 2.0beta?)
  • a lot of things stayed the same and 95% of my ~/.something configuration files work so I don’t have to reconfigure everything.
  • many problems that I expected didn’t occur at all… wifi (which was borken in the 2.6.15 kernel), nvidia, wine (particularly fonts), X server, java, etc.

But that was a clean install, I will see what an upgrade looks like when they release the official version and I will upgrade my sister’s system, but after such a pleasant experience I don’t expect any problems either.

Userfriendliness

Computer programs should be user friendly, it should be always easy and intuitive to do what you want.

I like userfriendliness of firefox, various stupid pop-up windows have been replaced by information bars that fit nicely into the application (such as search bar at the bottom when you press / (some people insist on using ctrl+f but any unix user knows that / is the true way to search :P) or the bar at the top informing you about a blocked pop-up window).

However, gnome has become way too “user friendly”. Linus was probably right when he said that gnome developers are interface nazis. In the new gnome, the default is to show the location in nautilus (default gnome file manager) as buttons (for each folder there’s a button). That sucks, it’s much better to have a textbox, as then you can also switch folders by writing it there. Luckily, it’s still possible to change this…

What I find very annoying are the pop-up windows at the lower right informing me that there is not enough disk space (it always announces the disk and the percentage that is free). Gimme a rest… I do know that my disks are almost full and I can use “df” too. I really see no reason for this annoying feature which the developers have probably seen in M$ windoze and thought that gnome users should suffer too.

Anyone knows where to turn it off? :x

As a side note, I am not switching to KDE because it is too bloated and I’m not switching to fluxbox because I am not cool enough (but maybe if I grow up to be cool I will switch to fluxbox one day…).

Video editing in linux

I started with avidemux, which is capable of handling lots of formats. I’d call it a low level editor, it gives you power over many very basical things (such as containers, codecs and their settings (there are many settings)). It allows you to do some basic operations (but you have to be careful not to cut of the keyframes (or I-frames or whatever you like to call them), or transfer the whole video into something containing only I-frames if you want to edit it) but no effects and such.

Then I tried to install cinelerra, but I disliked at the first sight   it is way too complex (at least for me, I am not going to spend the rest of my life learning how to manage a video editing program). In the near future I am going to try out diva and/or jahshaka. Diva seems really nice & easy, but jahshaka too. So I don’t know where to start… any suggestions?

Dapper Drake

Hello from Dapper Drake!

I’ve been patiently waiting for the final release not to get myself into trouble (I never installed release candidate I think), well, the upgrade wasn’t as smooth as I expected, but still went kinda ok. Let me sum up the result:

Positives:

  • Wine doesn’t take more and more memory when running Pokerstars (which means I will not have to restart it every while).
  • New ubuntu “human” theme rocks! (unlike the previous ones)
  • Firefox 1.5, and generally updated versions of apps.

Now for negatives:

  • The upgrade was an ordeal (as usually), I was up till 3am to get it at least a bit working.
  • Gentium font has a very weird ‘u’ that is much taller than it should be (you’d say it is not that important but it’s totally annoying). Had to switch to verdana (any better tips for a font to use in apps ?).
  • Nvidia drivers (for 3d graphics) got deinstalled and I will have to install them again.
  • A lot of problems with Java (no java plugin in firefox (I know it only takes one link, but I can’t remember anymore where it was), CGoban won’t run (java.awt.AWTError: Cannot load AWT toolkit: gnu.java.awt.peer.gtk.GtkToolkit))
  • Wavemon doesn’t run (fatal error: could not get range information), also my wifi connection is very crappy for no apparent reason, maybe it has something to do with it…

And I always think “this time thay have to get the upgrade right”. No. Never.

Hello from Dapper Drake…