Friday, September 01, 2006

Xubuntu 6.06 Short Review

Well, I had a stint with Xubuntu (6.06), the Ubuntu variant with the lightweight desktop/window-manager Xfce. Overall, I liked Ubuntu's repository of software -- essentially, Ubuntu uses Debian's package management tool, apt-get (aptitude, and Synaptic). Installing software was relatively straight-forward. However, you really have to read the online documentation and Ubuntu's community wiki to set up your system correctly for multimedia support. First, you need to allow apt-get to obtain packages from most of the other repositories. Then, you have to find and install a number of packages to enable Flash and audio codecs. You also have to do some backdoor installation of windows codecs to be able to play some multimedia files.

Even after all that, on some computers (the laptop at home, for instance), there are horrible sound problems with Flashlpayer and Firefox and Opera. All around, Xubuntu's sound management is horrible. Unless you read scores of [unresolved] threads online about sound problems, applications will lock the sound for their own personal use. Even after following numerous guides online, I was not able to multiplex sound correctly on multiple systems. The documentation, or lack thereof online, is hit-or-miss depending on your hardware configuration. If you're not watching Flash movies online, the non-working Flash might not be a problem (I'll say though that I was able to get Flash working on my own computer). But it's really sad that the sound device is locked by applications so you might not receive sound notifcations for your messenging program. Worse yet, you'll have to close and restart applications to allow other programs use of the sound. I don't think I'll get an argument when I say the lack of a unified sound architecture for [X]ubuntu (or more generally, Linux) is a real problem.

Another issue that really nipped at me was permissions to mount. Now, I'm no idiot and I know how to mount drives. I know all about fstab. I know about pmount. And I know how to add groups/users to have mount privileges. It's really weird though, how RhythmBox (in user mode) is able to mount my CD-ROM drive to rip music when I can't even use mount or pmount myself to mount a drive! I know my fstab is configured correctly. I can mount as root. I'm not sure if there was a problem with the inablity to execute mount or pmount as user, but I kept running into the same error with scores of unresolved threads about online. I don't want to mess around with the default permissions of any files/devices. I shouldn't have to. Strike one for Xubuntu for user mounting issues. Maybe it was just my machine (pretty sure not because the problem existed for the laptop and desktop I installed Xubuntu on).

And then there were the issues of Xorg taking 50% or more of my CPU. Maybe it's all the unsupported multimedia support I installed (perhaps combined with Firefox/Flashplayer issues). Suffice to say it got pretty annoying. Yeah, so I guess if you don't care about multimedia support, you might not have this or previous issues. Then again, if you don't care for multimedia support you should probably install a lightweight GNU/Linux distribution instead. I do like the 2.6 kernel in that I don't have to mess around with ide-scsi emulation of my CD-ROM drive (I've more experience with Slackware and its usage of the 2.4 kernel).

Another gripe about Xubuntu (I'm not sure if this applies to Ubuntu) is the fact that they've installed xscreensaver without a lot of screensavers. Now, this I don't mind -- but it's the fact that xscreensaver is defaulted to run a random screensaver from a list of checked screensavers. Most everything from the list is checked. Problem is, Xubuntu doesn't have a lot of them installed. You can imanage xscreensaver crashing because it tries to load a non-existent screensaver. Solution: Xubuntu needs to change the default configuration of xscreensaver so it doesn't crash on you when you run it. It's really an odd bug that shouldn't have been overlooked. Some might argue that only someone who knows what they're doing by even running xscreensaver should know to check for these things, but it's a real shocker for anyone to load up a standard screensaver program, expect it to run, then having it crash on you -- taking down X11 and everythign else! The worst part was that I had left my SUPER-LOUD ANNOYING computer on all night to compile cvscedega when xscreensaver kicked in and crashed. There was a sad me to wake up excited that I would have a compiled cvscedega, only to have a blank screen with not even terminal switching or ctrl+alt+backspacing could fix.

On the plus side, VMWare Player ran fine on Xubuntu -- only thing is that the current repositories are not compiled/configured for the currently installed/default kernel. Essentially, you have to download the kernel headers yourself and download the VMWare software from VMWare's site and run their installer, compiling some things along the way. It's not very hard, but it's pretty sad to have the official repository not work.

Oh, and Google Talk doesn't work with Linux in general. GAIM wouldn't even connect to Google Talk through Jabber. Skype is only at version 1.3 Beta for Linux. I didn't even bother with aMSN or any other VoIP-enabled client. Skype works well enough, but then there's the sound-device-being-locked problem. Plus, I'd rather use Google Talk at times. It's not Xubuntu's fault that there aren't good VoIP software for Linux, but it's annoying none-the-less. On a side note, VMWare Player running Windows ran MSN pretty well. Unfortunately, I could not get the audio device working for Google Talk or Skype within VMWare Player (I installed the correct audio drivers and such, and I know my sound device works in VMWare). The only stickler is that I could not run my webcam within MSN in VMWare Player (voice worked suprisingly well, though). Maybe it's my weak computer, or the lack of proper VGA hardware acceleration support in VMWare.

And then there was the lack of a good non-linear video editor for Linux. I did my research -- Kino, Avidemux, Cinerella, LiVES: all were not up to par with what I expected or needed.

And I don't think I really like that there isn't a super user default. I like options, and being babied around by sudo isn't my style.

Other than that, web browsing usually went by fine. Wine actually ran Steam with Day of Defeat at 15-18 FPS as opposed to 25-30 FPS in windows (good ol' GeForce 4MX 4000, but no sound unfortunately). PCB123 software ran smoothly well in Wine from what I could tell. Sound configuration with winecfg was a program, as the program would keep crashing. It's a known issue, and unresolved in many threads online.

I guess the only positive was that I was able to use mencoder for transcoding pretty slick and fast, after learning some command line options. Now if there was a decent GUI for mencoder for Linux that includes options and isn't dumbed down, mencoder would work pretty slick.

Overall, I liked Xubuntu for simply being Linux that avoids all the malware problems of Windows. But I'm already a pretty safe user in Windows (i.e.: I don't use IE) so I don't have that problem. The lack of proper multimedia support/options (in fact, multimedia is pretty much not official supported) is a real stinger. AbiWord, unforutnately, has some problems with Word Document interoperability (which I'm forced to use when printing to university computers). I'm already switching over to writely.com anyways, which autosaves things for me in case of a crash. Plus, revisioning support in writely will come in handy when you want to revert changes.

Out of two thumbs, I'd give Ubuntu one and a half up. I'd rather use Slackware if I'm running a Linux box, because if I'm going to have to do loads of post-installation configurations to get things working, it doesn't really matter what distribution you use. For now, though, I'm running Windows basically because it has better VoIP support and audio support. Sad, isn't it? Slackware 11.0 is almost due, so maybe I'll run that to test out the Linux world again. Plus I have some FreeBSD 6.1 CD's lying around. Maybe I'll take that for a test spin.

New Blogspot Blog

I've started a new blog at Blogspot. Google is taking over the internet! Well, while you're at it why don't you check out writely.com, an online word processor that's really slick. I think this blog will be a little more thought-out then my ramblings at Xanga.