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One Month With Ubuntu


ascona_hugin_previewI’ve been traveling the last four weeks, away from my workstation. My notebook is slowly dying from a dry joint under the ICH7 that seems to affect many similarly designed models. It is no longer usable in Windows where a CPR-like ritual around the touchpad is required to unfreeze the machine every few key strokes. Ubuntu deals better with the issue, disabling the faulty component and going on with life:

[  191.052015] uhci_hcd 0000:00:1d.0: host controller process error, something bad happened!
[  191.052076] uhci_hcd 0000:00:1d.0: host controller halted, very bad!
[  191.054019] uhci_hcd 0000:00:1d.0: HC died; cleaning up

So how was life with Ubuntu? Mostly good! I rebooted into Windows only once in an attempt to diagnose a wireless connection (the problem turned out to be incompatiblity between my North American gear and my friend’s European gear. Changing the access point’s channel solved it and I could continue to use Ubuntu as usual).

Keeping in touch with the office was easy. OpenOffice, Firefox, Thunderbird, Skype are mostly the same across platforms. There is no reason for a small business to spend on office sofware licenses nowadays.

My experience with scripting / web dev tools was mixed. There is an alternative to every tool I use in Windows, but it is not the same, requiring the user to adapt. Some of the adaptation is painelss and actually pleasant: Gedit (Ubuntu) and Kate (Kubuntu) are much better than the default text editor that comes with Windows. But I still miss PuTTY‘s convenient copy&paste interface (I know about the third mouse button, but that button does not exist on the notebook). I am also missing the sleek integration of Subversion (TortoiseSVN) and Secured Copy Protocol (WinSCP) in the system’s file browsers. I ended up using more of the command line (CLI), particularly rsync over ssh.

Over four weeks I produced about 47 GB of media – mostly video. I did not compromise on quality (1920×1080 AVCHD 24Mb/S). Because of the broken USB I could not get the videos onto the notebook. The 32GB flash memory of the camcorder lasted until the last week, and then I used an additional SD card. It would not have made a difference anyway – the notebook is too weak to edit FullHD video.

I did copy the pictures from the digital camera to the notebook, using a Compact Flash to PCCard interface.

I processed the RAW files with RAWstudio. I built the latest stable release (1.2) from source (Ubuntu currently distributes version 1.1) and I was pleasantly surprise by the speed of the interaction, the clean interface and the pleasant results. I also noticed some other positive details such as sensible default storage locations. I did not convert / process fisheye images because correction of chromatic aberration is not activate yet; and I bumped into a minor glitch: Hugin reported a few of the pictures from the same batch as being rotated 90°, although at the time of shooting they had the exact same orientation. I will investigate and eventually provide the RAWstudio developers with a complete analysis  / bug report.

Hugin performed heavy duty, including the stitching of 294 pictures. Disk space was the only limit. I have ordered a new hard disk and will re-process the images on the workstation once it arrived.

I will also have to do most of the image editing on the workstation. I tried hard to use the GIMP for masking, but I ended up being frustrated at how slow I am with it, so I did other things in the meantime, leaving the image processing task for home.

I’ve tried to get tha antipasto-arduino IDE to build on Ubuntu because I wanted to implement a few new ideas on the Arduino + TouchShield. The guys at Liquidware were very supportive and together we came close, but it still does not build. I will have to use the Windows workstation for this one as well. The experience helped me discover the joys of git, and I also enjoyed this talk by Linus Torvalds.

Last but not least, I’ve participated on and off to the discussion on Hugin’s mailing list and I codified a collaborative policy for the bug tracker. I hope it will draw more community members into the task of sorting out bugs and help the developers keep the overview.

That was it for my first month ever with Ubuntu only. Did it work? Yes. Did it make a difference? a little. Operating systems are interchangeable nowadays, there are equivalent applications on any of them and the choice boils down to user preference (i.e. Usability with a capital U) and the limited availability of a few killer apps (which again are defined by the users and what they want to accomplish). And what count most for a user on the road is battery life, and after years of average 2-3 hours (with the occasional outlayer) there finally is some good news for the mainstream on that front. Other than battery life, my killer app at the moment is still Photoshop.

11 Responses

  1. Hey you’ve got remote filesystem in the ubuntu file manager, you only have to pick connect to remote server (or connect with server) in the file manager and choose SSH (or FTP, or webdav, or windows), after you fill the blanks you will have a path like this: sftp://user@server:port/ (you can even skip the wizard and key it directly in the urlbar)

    About the third button in trackpads its usually a click with two or three fingers in the pad or pressing both trackpad buttons a the same time (like with a two button mouse).

    As for the SVN integration you can try svnfs (svn for FUSE http://www.jmadden.eu/index.php/svnfs/ ) but I didn’t try it YMMV, perhaps there is something similar for gnome-vfs, but I don’t know.

    I’m glad you like it. I learned to edit photos using photoshop, (4.0 not more), and as I switched to linux about the same time I jumped in the gimp bandwagon (about redhat 4.0), now photoshop feels like an alien to me and I don’t find anything in it’s place, so it happens both ways :).

    Cheers.

  2. @Jorge: thanks for taking the time to comment and suggest alternatives on so many points. Ever tried using the remote filesystems you mention on a transatlantic connection via a public hotspot?

    With PuTTY on Windows the selected text is available to paste in other apps without acrobatics, simply press CTRL+V. And pasting into PuTTY works with a single right-button-click. Performing finger acrobatics on the trackpad is not my favorite activity, especially when there is a tried and tested way to do the same with less effort.

    PuTTY is available in Ubuntu too (sudo apt-get install putty), so at least it is possible to manage multiple stored sessions, but the integration is suboptimal: it does not use the standard Ubuntu keys from ~/.ssh and the copy&paste behavior seems crippled. Anyway IMO it would be best if the PuTTY behavior (which is IMO superior) would be implemented in the standard terminal.

    svnfs seems to be read-only. Not nearly enough for me. What I like about TortoiseSVN is that I can right-click a folder and with a single click trigger a complex commit in the context menu (with a neat GUI where I can fine-tune which files from the folder will be committed).

    I’ve learned to edit photos using a dark-room, scissors, brushes and pencils. The current metaphor on computers is crude and I look forward to more natural user interfaces than the mouse (touch screens are coming!).

    If it still has to be the mouse pointer, it better be efficient. I don’t care if it is an alien from outer space or familiar like a next-door neighbor. I do measure the number of clicks that are necessary to achieve an operation; and the time that it takes to move the pointer on target; and/or the number of keystrokes and the time that it takes to activate the finger(s) associated with the keys. I might be missing on the most efficient way to do things in gimp (and in Photoshop too, I don’t claim to be an expert at using those tools), but for what I do I am faster and more efficient in Photoshop CS2 (have not had the need to upgrade to CS4 so far – support for EXR in CS3 was crap, making the 32bit layers improvements a futile exercise; and AFAIK this has not changed in CS4).

  3. Oh, I’m sorry if it sounded rude, einglish it’s not my primary languaje and perhaps it seemed like a criticism, it was not at all.

    I haven used remote filesystems over a transatlatic connection, but I have used ssh filesystem and rsync over ssh over a GSM connection (you know, ~3,5Kb and 0,5 seg of latency), and I used rsync to work on local copies and to sync it back, and sftp:// to do quick changes, copy back and forth without having local copies or not knowing in advance the destination… I use rsync and sftp:// for different ways of file management.

    In X windows there are two clipboards, one called PRIMARY, and a second one called CLIPBOARD, when you select text it gets copied (automatically, just like putty) in the primary clipboard, and you paste it with a third button click (two or three finger or both buttons click), you can also put text explicitly in the CLIPBOARD by using Edit->Copy (or in gnome-terminal you can copy text to the CLIPBOARD with Ctrl-Shift-C), but I usually use only the PRIMARY clipboard just using the trackpad, it’s not that difficult to do a two finger click. Wikipedia has a great text about the various clipboards, selections and ways to use it, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_Window_selection .

    I have no further advice about svnfs and photoshop, I do not use svn and I learned photography with digicams (Nikon Coolpix E885, 3.2 noisy megapixels). You are right that photoshop seems to have more access keys and more easy ways to implement macros (actions, there is not a easy way without knowing script-fu and programing to do a macro/action in gimp).

  4. Putty is available in repositories (Applications->Add/remove). The replacement for TortoiseSVN is NautilusSVN, get the installation .deb file here: http://code.google.com/p/nautilussvn/, get 0.12 beta (thought it’s called beta, it’s stable on my Jaunty).

  5. I don’t usually use PuTTY on Linux, so I can’t comment on how it compares with the Windows version, but it is available. Looks like it can be found in Ubuntu’s universe repository:

    http://packages.ubuntu.com/jaunty/putty

    Also, for a more Photoshop-like take on GIMP, you could try GimPhoto:

    http://www.gimphoto.com/2008/02/gimphoto-for-linux.html

    There are packages available for Ubuntu. I believe GimPhoto is based on an older version of GIMP, but it does claim to be “the only cure for a PhotoShop addict.”

  6. @Jorge: You did not sound rude. The way I perceived your message was that there are solutions to my issues in Ubuntu, and my reply is that there are not. Because my issue is not the functionality: most functionalities are available in Ubuntu to those who know how to use them. My issue is efficiency. I’ll post something about efficiency later on.

    @Dim: Thanks for the pointer to NautilusSVN. I’ve just used it for this commit. The functionality is there and very promising. Speed / reactivity of the UI when browsing the folders has still room for improvement, but from my point of view it is a step in the right direction.

    @mudCat: I am not a Photoshop addict and GimPhoto does not solve my issue. I’ll make my issue more clear in the post about efficiency later on.

  7. So, here is the efficiency post.

  8. Gnome’s gvfs-sftp (and KDE’s KIO counterpart) is vastly superior to WinSCP. It will also automatically mount the remote system using fuse, so that apps that don’t support it directly will be able to work on remote files. Pretty awesome. I use it all the time to remotely edit config files with gedit (I hate vi/emacs).
    There is no mature TortoiseSVN equivalent that I’m aware of, unfortunately. Me I use eclipse but that’s definitely overkill for many people. Last time I tried NautilusSVN it wasn’t very good, but that was a while ago.
    gnome-terminal is also much better than putty. The interface is much better designed, it’s also very reliable, has much less bugs. I don’t understand your problem with copy/paste; you can either emulate the third button by clicking left and right simultaneously, or simply use control-shift-C / control-shift-V to use the clipboard. When running compiz, I set the background to 80% opacity, and activate the blur window plugin so that I can see if something’s happening behind it.

  9. @niczar: gvsfs-sftp is awesome for its purpose which is different than WinSCP. If I needed to integrate seamlessly a remote file system into the local one I’d use gvsfs-sftp. I need the exact opposite. I need careful management of the separation. The only tool I have found on ubuntu that somewhat matches my needs is rsync, but it is tedious command line, I have to remember all sorts of credentials, switches, filesystem paths and other stuff that WinSCP take cares for me on a session by session base automatically.

    I have tried Eclipse isn the past but it is indeed overkill for my needs and I have not taken the time to learn it properly.

    I don’t. I don’t have any reliability problem or other issues with PuTTY. The problem with copy&paste? simple: say I want to copy a some text from the terminal to a wiki page in the browser.

    Windows/PuTTY:
    * highlight the relevant text inside PuTTY
    * switch to the browser with ALT-TAB
    * press CTRL+V

    Ubuntu/gnome
    * highlight the relevant text inside gnome-terminal
    * switch to the browser with ALT-TAB
    * pay attention not to accidentally highlight anything
    * target the exact insertion point with the mouse (cursor is not enough)
    * press two mouse keys at the same time

    I don’t run compiz. Last time I bought a video card was in 2002. Integrated graphics does it for me. Last time I tried compiz on my dual monitor / integrated video setup was about a year ago and there were still too many incompatibilities and bugs (at least with my weak integrated video setup).

  10. I think you need this:

    Ubuntu:
    * Highlight text in gnome terminal
    * Hit CTRL+SHIFT c
    * Switch to browser with ALT-TAB (or alternative if you have effects turned on)
    * Click with mouse to get insertion point
    * Press CTRL v to paste

    I’m not sure if you’re complaining about having to click to focus, I wasn’t aware that Windows did different focus methods. Anyway, you could also use a Window manager that did sloppy focus but that’s pretty advanced.

  11. @Steve: your suggestion is also less efficient: it still takes one user action more than in Windows/PuTTY.

    The heart of the problem lies IMO in how gnome-terminal handles the clipboard. Jorge mentions above the distinction between PRIMARY and CLIPBOARD.

    I described using PRIMARY and you described using CLIPBOARD.

    To bring gnome-terminal/Ubuntu to par with PuTTY/Windows on this particular issue is simple: automatically put in CLIPBOARD (and not in PRIMARY) the text highlighted in gnome-terminal.

    There is only one purpose of highlighting text in a terminal: copying it. Having to hit CTRL+SHIFT c is a redundant step.

    I find plenty of such redundant steps in Ubuntu/gnome and question why the system puts obstacles in my way, like having to hit ENTER after renaming a file or folder in Nautilus or a layer in GIMP.

    Might be an old habit, and old habits die hard. I am trying to make Ubuntu work for me and because I am a lazy bum, any keystroke I can save is welcome, especially if it is an action that I repeat often.

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