Ubuntu 14.04: A Pleasant Surprise

This is a long personal rant that most of you may find TL;DR. Feel free to skip it, or feel free to read it and enjoy a walk through my tumultuous past with Ubuntu.

If you have been reading posts on this blog you already know that it has been quite some time since I gave up on Ubuntu.

The last Ubuntu release that I had installed on ALL of my computers at home was probably 10.10. Then, Ubuntu announced a lot of changes so I switched to Fedora (verne) on most of my home systems. But, I have always found Fedora, and Redhat, a bit weird. Add to that the fact that I had a bunch of scripts that I used frequently to manage my Ubuntu systems, from package updates to package listing and everything else. But, more than anything else I missed the Ubuntu community.

I feel that, as a Linux distro, Ubuntu’s biggest achievement was the creation of a wide (and very helpful) fan-base around something as trivial as Linux. I say trivial because for people who have been using Linux for some time now, there were always newsgroups and mailing lists. But, Ubuntu’s web based “knowledge management system” (the wiki, askubuntu, etc) combined with, numerous Ubuntu-focused blogs that seem to crop up out of the blue made Ubuntu interesting. Add to that Google’s fantastic search engine, and Ubuntu’s popularity was guaranteed.

Way back in late 2004, a young engineer “gifted” me a whole bunch of Ubuntu CDs. All I could say was “OK! Thanks!”.

That night, at home, I installed Ubuntu on an ancient Thinkpad 600E. Without a doubt, Ubuntu was very easy to install, but, then almost 5 years earlier I had installed Mandrake Linux on that same notebook. And my thought/feeling was that Mandrake Linux felt far easier ages before Ubuntu came on the scene. Bottom line: Ubuntu’s ease of installation didn’t impress me. That night, after playing with Ubuntu for about 2-3 hours, I realized that Ubuntu wasn’t bad, but neither was it as great as most of my colleagues wanted me to believe. Ubuntu felt like a decent Debian based distro.

Oddly enough, I continued to install and use Ubuntu on all of my systems at home. But, I was NEVER happy with Ubuntu. And the fundamental reason was all the useless packages that they were pushing, or rather FORCING,  on to the users. I don’t like people pushing useless pieces of code onto me. And Ubuntu pushed and peddled a lot of useless, open source, crapware onto its users while leaving useful and essential packages out of the distro. And all along, while pushing this bad-ware onto us, Ubuntu did not include essential-ware like compilers and build-tools on their CDs! Or codecs!! You had to download and install the build-essential tools and restricted-extras!! But you had access to absolutely useless pieces of software like Tomboy, Gwibber, UbuntuOne and other stuff that I am fairly certain a VERY SMALL portion of Ubuntu user’s actually found useful.

It’s one thing to say that “you may find the following pieces of code interesting and useful” and its a completely different matter to actually go ahead and just install useless software onto a user’s system. But much worse than those useless software packages was the horrid package dependency tree that required you to uninstall the ENTIRE operating system if you attempted to uninstall a seemingly trivial package!

Realize something: if/when Microsoft installed crapware onto our system, we all – you and I – would be up-in-arms against the 800 lb gorilla from Seattle, WA. But, in Ubuntu’s case … most people seemed to be praising Canonical for peddling useless pieces of software while leaving useful pieces off the distro-CD.

In spite of all my complaints, I continued to use Ubuntu on almost all of my home computers for a L-O-N-G time. There was always one or a few old laptops dedicated to trying out weirdo Linux distros, but, most of my laptops at home ran some version of Ubuntu.

But, by Ubuntu 10.10, things were getting unbearable. Unity and Compiz were well set to make their way onto Ubuntu. And compiz kept crashing on my systems. And Ubuntu had a hard-time supporting hardware devices as trivial as 10-year old Ethernet chipsets, and Wifi and built-in cameras.

Even worse, the “social” features were getting tightly integrated into Ubuntu for reasons that I did not understand. Even worse, trying to remove the stupid “social indicators” like “you got mail” or “your FB friend is trying to bother you” meant a complete system uninstallation.

So, in stead of pulling out my left-over hair, I decided it was time to find a different Linux distro. So, in late 2010 … part ways with Ubuntu … I did.

Somtime in late 2010 or early 2011, I ran back to a distro I had used quite extensively in earlier life: Redhat. But, I never really liked Redhat. For an unknown reason RedHat never felt like a distro for human beings. RedHat always felt snobbish. Ubuntu’s community made Ubuntu the “Linux distro for human beings.” But, I didn’t want to use Ubuntu any more … and I wanted to try GNOME 3.0 … so Fedora seemed to be the best option.

I loved GNOME 3.0. I still do! In fact, I have an old Lenovo 3000 v100 running Ubuntu 13.10 minimal with all GNOME 3.x additions. I feel that GNOME 3.x is a nice departure from the usual Unix/Linux desktops. And I feel more people should contribute to the GNOME 3.x development to make it stable, leaner and overall better.

Within about 3 weeks of starting to use Fedora Verne I knew that I really needed a Debian based distro. And that is how my my search led me to my current favorite distro: Xubuntu.

I believe I started using Xubuntu from the 11.x series. Xubuntu felt like the desktop OS I had always wanted. It’s simple, but NOT ugly. You can install most of the software that is there in Ubuntu repos. And Xubuntu didn’t and still doesn’t come with half the crapware that Ubuntu packages by default. There’s no useless social integration. And there are no useless programs to do useless things that you really don’t want to do: like make notes in software written in C# using Mono on Linux! (What the …)

Sure, I still had to download the compilers and build-tools on Xubuntu, but that was a “hangover” from the parent (Ubuntu). And sure I still had to download the codecs and what have you, but that was because of the bad decisions the parent (Ubuntu) made. But most importantly Xubuntu felt like Linux, not a lame attempt at copying of some fruity, feline operating system that Ubuntu was trying to be and failing miserably. Add to that the fact that most of my scripts from the Ubuntu days worked flawlessly on Xubuntu. And most importantly, I once again had access to the fantastic and helpful Ubuntu community.

So, that was that. Back in Oct 2010 I severed my ties with Ubuntu. And then sometime in late 2011, I established ties with Xubuntu. And I have been using Xubuntu on all-but-one of my home systems for the past 2-3 years without any significant complaints.

For all practical purposes, I had completely forgotten Ubuntu. And I would have never thought of it if Ubuntu hadn’t sneaked up on me the way it did a week ago.

So, a week ago, I got myself a new laptop. At the time of ordering, I knew it did not have any version of Windows on it … which was the reason I bought it … but at least in India, the “cute” thing most of these PC vendors do is that they install FreeDOS on the system when they send it to you. Not the company which made my laptop! Or at least not that reseller from whom I bought the laptop. My new laptop came with Ubuntu 12.10 LTS!! Imagine my shock when I started the notebook and it said “finalizing Ubuntu“!! I was like “no! no! no! what the heck are you doing? nobody installs ubuntu in my house …” but, before I had finished uttering those words … in my head, of course … the laptop was happily smiling at me, asking me for login information. I figured what the heck, why not give it a try … so I logged in and looked around. And lo-n-behold, a lot of the complaints and the bitchin-n-moanin I had done as an Ubuntu user seemed addressed in that release!! I don’t know who did it: was it the hardware manufacturer or was it Canonical/Ubuntu. But, the Ubuntu installation on my new laptop did not have Tomboy or Evolution or Gwibber or all the useless social integration. It had UbuntuOne, but, I purged it even before that piece of software could say a word. There was that ugly Unity interface, but, I could live with it. Unfortunately, the application menu (file, edit, view, etc) still shows up in the top bar. And because of that, there’s no way to switch the “x [] _” window control buttons from left to right because … the application menu still shows up in the top bar. How idiotic is that? Who puts window controls in the top bar other than some tooty-frooty, lame, unncessarily high priced operating systems named after feline species?

But, you know what … just the absence of all that crapware (Tomboy, UbuntuOne, Gwibber, Evolution, etc) and a saner package dependency tree in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS made me happy. Just to give it a hard time, I purged avahi. Without complaints Avahi was gone from my system. I tried to uninstall a few more packages (cups, anyone?) and still no complaints. I was “almost” impressed.

I tried uninstalling a few apps (Thunderbird, etc) and thankfully, the package manager did not suggest that I should try a different distro like it used to in earlier days. So, after playing with Ubuntu 12.10 LTS on my new laptop for about 2 hours, I was pleasantly surprised. Surprised because Ubuntu seemed to have taken some feedback … not necessarily from me … but from a lot of its users and purged a lot of the crapware and cleaned up the package dependency tree. Yes, Unity was still around, as was Compiz … but, then it is never easy to convince people to do ALL the right things.

I attempted a system update from 12.10 LTS to 14.04 LTS but things seemed to break at first. Some editing in /etc seemed to fix a few things, but, I am not sure what else is broken at this point in time. On the whole the system seems to work fine. For an unknown reason this Ubuntu feels OK to use. I may actually use this Ubuntu installation for some time before I install Xubuntu on that new system.

Bottom line: I am going to play with my old friend “Ubuntu” for some more time. All I am hoping for is that my old friend (Ubuntu) doesn’t remind me all over again, all the reasons I had to hate it: like useless packages and even worse, a broken dependency tree that required you to uninstall the operating system or live with all the crapware.

Kudos to the Ubuntu team on FINALLY producing a decent enough Debian based Linux distro.

Change default font in LibreOffice 4.x Spreadsheets

LibreOffice (henceforth referred to as LO, in this post) is a decent piece of software. I think what makes it better is the price: free.

But, LO is also a VERY FRUSTRATING piece of software. Or at least I find LO very frustrating. I mean, things that a user should be able to do quickly and easily have to be done in a round about way.

I love to do most of my work in plain, pure, simple text files. But, then, there are times when you have to create “documents” and presentations. My usual method of operation for a long time was:

  • I would write my documents in text form (i.e., as an ASCII text file in gedit or even “cat > fileName”) and then add HTML tags to the document “manually” (yeah! go ahead call me crazy)
  • I would write the outline for my presentations in text form (again, as an ASCII text file) and then use the some presentation creator (e.g., like the one in Google Drive) to create the final presentation

Till about 3 months ago, the only reason I would invoke a spreadsheet (typically Excel, which was the only reason I would need a Windows and an Office licence) would be to create a pretty-chart to insert into a document or a presentation. Other than that I was blissfully ignorant of all the cool things Excel and other spreadsheets could do although frankly the real reason was that I didn’t care that those spreadsheet apps could do so much.

If I had to do some “significant” (not really) calculations on a given piece of data, then, till about 3 months ago, I would do my calculations by starting either bc/dc or the python interpreter. For longer calculations, I would write simple python code. (My knowledge of Python is restricted to writing elementary programming constructs, but, my calculations were also pretty simple till 3 months ago, so that knowledge sufficed.)

So, that was that … till about 3 months ago.

Then, about 3 months ago, I “discovered” the power of spreadsheets. (Now you know I have been living under a rock for a LONG time, right?) And I instantly fell in love with them. My current understanding is that spreadsheets are great not only for creating pretty-charts from cooked-up data, but, they are also good for routine calculations.  With a spreadsheet you don’t have to worry about “how am I going to read that data into my program”. Why? Because you work with the data … directly. Your program is specified as a bunch of formulas that you insert into various cells where you want some calculations done. And most of these spreadsheets, but, especially Excel, come with an extensive library of functions you can use to manipulate your data. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

Now, all that sounds great and works well, but, there’s one big problem in Linux-land. No, the problem isn’t that there’s no good spreadsheet software. In fact, if you search online you would find a lot of open source spreadsheet software for Linux. The problem is that none of that spreadsheet software is as “nice” as Excel.

LibreOffice Calc comes pretty close to be being “nice” but it is like using Excel 1980 rather than using Excel 2013. Why do I say that? Because even a simple function like “set default font for ALL my spreadsheets … now and in the future” is absent. And the developers seem to have no intention to provide that function for whatever philosophical reasons. Mind you, we are talking about LibreOffice 4.x here, not LibreOffice 0.04.

(On a side note, the biggest problem with open source software is that there are TOO MANY philosophers who “initiate” the code and then never contribute a line to that code but continue to rule as the “Benevolent Dictators“. And in the world we live in, where we love to make Gods out of humans, we accept these “abusive” benevolent dictators as Gods for no apparent reasons.)

So, anyway, I googled around and did not find any workable solution for my little problem of “set default font for ALL my spreadsheets … now and in the future” in LibreOffice 4.x Calc. There were things like: create a default template (how?) or choose File->Template (not there in LO 4.x), etc. So, I figured I would try my own trick. And luckily it worked, so here it is for my future reference. If it helps you, all the better.

So, what’s the procedure to “set default font for ALL my spreadsheets … now and in the future” in LibreOffice 4.x Calc? Here’s what I did:

First, I created a new, empty spreadsheet file. Then, I chose “Format->Styles & Formatting …”. Then I right clicked the “Default” list-member and chose “modify”.

 

Modify The Default

In LibreOffice 4.x Calc, choose “Format->Styles & Formatting” and then, choose to “Modify” the “Default”

In the Font tab, I chose to set my font to “Ubuntu, size 16”. Yeah! I like B-I-G fonts.

Choose Your Font ... wisely.

Change the default font. I like B-I-G fonts, so I chose “ubuntu font, size 16” as shown here.

With that done, I chose to save this file as a “template”. I called it “libreOfficeCalcTemple”, although LO added an ots extension to it. This file was saved in “~/.config/libreoffice/4/user/template/” directory which has been set as the default path where LibreOffice 4.x would save its template files.

Now, under ordinary circumstances, I expected that a new invocation of LibreOffice Calc would automatically pick up this spreadsheet template from the default path. But, NOPE! It didn’t even recognize that spreadsheet template’s existence. What gives? I don’t know! And frankly, I don’t care.

So, then, I started LibreOffice (the general program, not the calc/spreadsheet part of it). This brought up this screen:

Start LibreOffice general program

Start LibreOffice, the general program, without any specific functionality (spreadsheet, wordprocessing, etc) and choose “Templates …”

From there, I clicked the “SpreadSheets” tab, and chose to import my “saved” template. Once my template showed up, I chose “Set default” to make that my default template.

Set your template as default

Set your chosen template as the default template for all your spreadsheets henceforth.

Once all that was done, the next invocation of LibreOffice 4.0 Calc came up with “my” font specification.

The point here is that for something as trivial as “set default font for ALL my spreadsheets … now and in the future” I had to jump through infinite hoops (create template file, save it, pull it up again, set it as default, etc) which I feel is unnecessary trouble. So, my humble request to the LibreOffice devs: please set your “high” philosophies aside and create a piece of software that is easy and fun to use. We don’t want a Microsoft Office replacement. We just want a functional, fun and easy to use “office” software. Because if we really wanted to do something the hard way we would all just move to Emacs (JK. BTW, that’s coming from a guy who has used Emacs EVERYDAY for 5+ years … but just used … never really written any Emacs extensions).

Anyway, so if that tip helps you, all the better. If not, ignore my rant.

Grab files from web servers with wget

wget and curl are two fantastic utilities to grab content from the Interwebs. In their simplest forms, both these utilities allow you to download publicly available files from web sites. In reality, each of them is a very complex beast that you would have to learn and practice for a very long time to claim any level of mastery. Point being, we are not here to teach/learn either wget or curl and all their intricacies. There are lots of blog posts, web pages and web sites that teach you how to master wget and curl, so we will leave all that teaching to those posts, pages and sites.

What I want to demonstrate here is an interesting problem I faced today. So, I use wget fairly regularly to download content from the web that I like to read later. As I mentioned earlier, all the content under consideration here falls into publicly available and publicly accessible files on various web sites. If you are point-n-click fan, then you can choose to right-click on a particular link and then choose to save it. That is too much of a trouble for me. I like to “automate” things. 🙂 So, I just make a note of the complete path to the file and save it. Then, I add wget in front of the complete paths of all those files I want to save for later reading, and save all this as a simple shell script. Finally, just before going to bed, I run that download script containing wget followed by comlete URLs of files I want to download. Within a few moments all the files that I need are downloaded, without me having to right-click and choose save … a million times.

Now, is any of that innovative? Absolutely not! So, what problem did I face today? Well! I was trying to download a few files from a site (a stock market in India, which we will not name here) using wget, but, wget failed to get them and in stead gave me “HTTP error code 403 forbidden” error message.

Under ordinary circumstances I would have given up on downloading those files, but, the funny thing was that I could download those files with Firefox “right-click and save”!! Why would that be? It seems that stupid, crazy engineers at some companies (like this stock market in India) can deny output to browsers that they do not know about. So, if a site has been coded to serve information to say, Firefox and IE, then, any other user-agent (browser or bot, etc) could be denied access to the data. Or at least that’s how I understand it. Why would they do that? Who knows! Like I said, my guess is they are stupid and crazy. But, that being so, what’s an ordinary human to do? Thankfully, I had dealt with this problem earlier, so, I ran wget but gave it a user-agent string of Firefox. And within moments, wget was downloading files like there was no tomorrow. So, the command is:

$ wget -U Firefox "URL of file to download"

The “-U Firefox” helps wget announce itself as the “Firefox browser”. That may seem like cheating, but, its not. It is the site that is incorrectly coded.

Bottom line: wget is one fantastic utility.

Trouble in TP-Link land!

Some time back I wrote a post about how my D-Link DSL router’s Wifi broke down leaving me with no way to access critically important sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. So, I had to hunt down an old TP-Link MR3020 router and create a hideous looking wireless network that had more wires than I would have loved to have around. Thanks to all the goofing around I did back then (and recorded meticulously in that blog post), I have been able to browse the Interwebs and consume all the knowledge that is out there (e.g. mother kitteh’s love their little kitteh’s, doggeh’s love to chase their own tails, etc).

A few days back a strange and interesting phenomenon happened. I live in a small apartment that is probably not more than 30 ft in length and not more than 20 ft in width. This house would have been a great loft, if the builder hadn’t decided to provide “privacy” to the bedroom. So, there’s one big wall that separates the bedroom from the rest of the house.

The Wifi signal from the TP-Link MR-3020 router reaches most parts of the house, but, there’s a section of cupboards in the bedroom where it does not reach. I would not have detected that dead-zone had it not been for a tiny little Samsung N150 netbook that I am converting (at snail’s pace) into a simple home server. To keep things manageable, I put the Samsung N150 netbook, an external monitor and a Canon scanner+printer into one of the cupboards. But, with that setup in the cupboard, I was not able to access the Interwebs from the Samsung. And even worse, I was not able to access the Samsung N150 netbook and its connected printer/scanner from the other computers in my house. A quick check revealed what I was scared of: the Sammy had no Wifi connectivity!

Pulling the Sammy 2 feet out of the cupboard and into the open enabled it to connect to my home Wifi network. Hmm! What’s a human to do in such a situation? There’s only one thing: get more networking equipment. So, I quickly logged onto a local online retailer and ordered the cheapest Wifi box I could find, which incidentally happened to be a TP-Link WR702-N wireless device. This box is a tiny Wifi device that can be configured in various ways … if you can get to it!

So, the box arrived today (mid May 2014) afternoon, but, this being the peak summer season in India, I decided to ignore it till evening. Then, in the evening, I pulled the TP-Link WR702-N out of the box and decided to configure it in “repeater mode” with the hope of extending my current Wifi network’s range deep into the cupboards.

As with all TP-Link products, the router came packed in a neat little box. The device itself is very small in size, if you care about that aspect of it. The most shocking part of the whole package was a seemingly well written “Quick User Guide” (QUG) that was inside the package. Now … I like to live dangerously, so I don’t RTFM (read the fine manuals) that accompany the devices I buy. But, considering all the trouble I had earlier in configuring the TP-Link MR3020 router, I figured it would help to RTFM this time through. At first impression,  was I impressed with the beautifully done, poster size “Quick User Guide” that came with my new TP-Link WR702-N Wifi device? Yes I was!

According to the QUG all I had to do was connect to the “default/preconfigured” Wifi network on the TP-Link WR702-N Wifi device, configure it using a simple menu and I would be in networking heaven. Then reality hit me

Here is my suggestion if you get yourself the TP-Link WR702-N Wifi device: shred the freakin’ QUG and throw away the pieces so that you never mess your mind. God save the world! That TP-Link WR702-N Quick User Guide is not only utterly useless, it is completely wrong. Why do I say that: because you CANNOT connect to the “default, preconfigured” Wifi network on the TP-Link WR702-N. Since there’s no obvious way to get into the box, there’s no obvious way to configure the box! But, I figured out a way! Here’s what I did:

The TP-Link WR702-N has two ports: a tiny USB port and an Ethernet port. Cables for both the ports are provided with the box. So, connect the cables to the TP-Link WR702-N  appropriately. Then, connect the other ends of those cables to your computer. Now starts the fun part. Your computer/laptop/netbook/whatever is going to spin round and round to get an IP address from the TP-Link WR702-N, but, the TP-Link WR702-N is NOT going to give any IP address to your computer. Why? I don’t know! I really don’t! So, what should you do? Irrespective of whether you are on Windows, or Linux or Mac OS X, you gotta do these steps:

  • disable DHCP on your computer’s Ethernet port
  • configure a static IP address on your computer’s Ethernet port – anything in the 192.168.0/24 range would do, but, 192.168.0.254 is the TP-Link WR702-N device’s default address, so, I chose 192.168.0.200/24

In my specific case, my laptop runs Xubuntu 13.10, so I had to do all those things (disable DHCP and configure an IP address manuall) from the Network Manager configuration utility. VERY IMPORTANT: do NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT, try to configure the IP address for your computer’s Ethernet port from the shell. I tried being a smart whatever, but quickly realized that Network Manager continuously ran DHCP client on my Ethernet port. So, even if I configured the IP address manually (sudo ifconfig eth0 192.168.0.200/24 up), NM would undo that configuration within the next few moments and then go into a loop requesting IP address from the TP-Link WR702-N.

So, your best bet is to edit your network connections and add a new Ethernet interface that would have a manually configured IP address, in stead of a dynamically acquired IP address.

Network Connections shows two Ethernet interfaces: Eth0-1 and Eth0.

Setup two interfaces on your Linux box. Eth0-1 has a manually configured IP address that lets it connect to the TP-Link WR702-N device. Eth0 is the default Ethernet interface that fetches its IP address dynamically using DHCP.

Here is how my Eth0-1 is setup:

Eth0-1 configuration

Setup Eth0-1 with a manual IP address, 192.168.200.200/24 in this case. (NOTE that i had changed the IP address of the TP-Link WR702-N router to be 192.168.200.254 earlier.)

Once you have done that, login to the TP-Link WR702-N Wifi device and start setting it up. To do that you need to start your browser and point it to 192.168.0.254 (or 192.168.200.254 in my case). Assuming you haven’t done any changes yet, the login and password are both set to admin by default. Now, you would be tempted to get into the “Quick Setup” option provided by TP-Link WR702-N configuration utility/web page. But, don’t do that. In stead go through the process manually.

In my case, I wanted to configure the TP-Link WR702-N box as a Wifi Repeater. So, I had to setup the following:

In “Working Mode” I chose the “Repeater” mode as shown here and saved it.

Setting the TP-Link WR702-N in Wifi Repeater Mode

Setting the TP-Link WR702-N in Wifi Repeater Mode

In “Wireless Settings” I configured the Wifi network that I wanted to “repeat”. For this example, assume that the network name is “abracadabra” and the security password for the network is “bogusPassword”. Also, assume that the MAC address of the TP-Link MR3020 is “”64:70:02:55:55:55” which in TP-Link case translates as “64-70-02-55-55-55”. (Seriously! Who in his right mind uses dashes in stead of the universally accepted colons to write a MAC address? TP-Link does!) Don’t forget to save all that info once you have configured your TP-Link WR702-N device. So, here’s how the whole configuration looks in my case:

The wireless settings on my TP-Link WR702-N box setup as a Wifi Repeater

The wireless settings on my TP-Link WR702-N box setup as a Wifi Repeater.

In “DHCP Settings” I chose to disable DHCP because my TP-Link MR3020 issues appropriate, preconfigured, IP addresses to my notebooks, tablets, and phones.

Disable DHCP on the TP-Link WR702-N

Disable DHCP on the TP-Link WR702-N

Once all that was done, I chose to reboot!

Just reboot, already!

Just reboot, already!

Then, when the  TP-Link WR702-N came back up, it was ready to play its role in my network: that of a Wifi repeater.

Bottom line: never RTFM … especially TP-Link manuals and their online help. (JK)

Xubuntu 13.10 … first impressions

So, I downloaded Xubuntu 13.10 within a few hours, if not minutes actually, of the release going live. Xubuntu 13.10 was released on Oct 17, 2013.

I decided to install it on my brand new Fujitsu Lifebook AH-532. This is a 15″ notebook with Core i3, 8G (upgraded from factory installed 4G) RAM and 500G hdd. The notebook seemed fairly priced for its configuration, especially when compared to other notebooks from popular brands like HP and Dell. Just a side NOTE: I am typing this blog post on an “almost” similar notebook that came with Windows 8 installed. 🙂

Anyway, the reason to talk so much about the hardware is that the Lifebook comes with Fastboot “disabled”, CSM “disabled” and SecureBoot “disabled” in its BIOS, but, … and that’s a big but … Xubuntu 13.10 consistently wanted me to install in EFI mode. That wouldn’t have been a problem if the installer didn’t fail every time I tried it. What essentially happened was this: I would let the Xubuntu installer go ahead with its default partition scheme and then, it would happily say partitions created … copying files … installing … and then BOOM! The installer would say something along these lines “grub2 failed to install grub-efi to /target/ … blah, blah, blah”. After the first installation failure, I tried playing around with the BIOS settings. I enabled CSM in one try, enabled and then immediately disabled Secureboot on another try and so forth. But, the Xubuntu 13.10 installer wasn’t happy with all of my goofing around. I figured while I was at it, I would also try out my usual partitioning scheme with 8G of swap and the rest of the HDD put into an ext4 partition mounted at /, but, that partitioning scheme was a complete no-no. The installer didn’t like that partitioning scheme and it repeatedly warned me that an EFI partitioning scheme was necessary on this notebook.

So, I was almost ready to give up … when I cursed the Gods … and then I decided to try one last thing. So, I went through the following steps:

  • I reset the BIOS through “Load Setup Defaults”
  • I made sure Fastboot and SecureBoot were disabled
  • I enabled CSM in the BIOS. The Compatibility Support Module (CSM) provides backward compatibility for OS that need it
  • I saved the BIOS and boot from my USB pen drive that had the Xubuntu 13.10 installer
  • I configured and enabled my home wireless network on the notebook so it was connected to the global net
  • During the installation, I chose to create 3 partitions: (1) EFI partition of 100MB instead of the ~500MB partition the installer was creating by default (2) Swap of ~10G (3) rest of the HDD formatted as ext4 and mounted at /

With those changes the installer ran like a happy puppy and completed its work! No complaints this time through!!! Since it was connected to the Internet, the installer (probably) downloaded a few updates during installation, but, I am not sure of that.

(UPDATE 2014/03/28 – Today I did the following with the Fujitsu laptop that came with Windows 8.1:

  • I removed the Windows 8.1 hard drive from the notebook.
  • I installed a new 500GB hard drive into the notebook.
  • I did NOT change any of the UEFI BIOS settings. This was important, because if and when I decide to or need to go back to Windows 8.1, I do NOT wish to worry about what the BIOS settings were. I just want to pop-in the Windows 8.1 hdd and reboot the laptop.
  • I started installation of Xubuntu 13.10 on the new 500GB hdd.
  • On first attempt the installation failed with the same grub installation failure notice.
  • On the second attempt I connected the laptop to my home Wifi network and chose to update the system.

With update enabled, the installation succeeded! So, at this point in time I am fairly certain that at least for the original Xubuntu 13.10 install image, you MUST enable “update the system” at installation time to ensure that Xubuntu 13.10 installs on your UEFI BIOS based system. No BIOS changes should be necessary.

Old post continues …)

So, after about 3 hours and multiple attempts I finally got Xubuntu 13.10 installed and running on my new laptop. A quick look around Xubuntu 13.10 tells me that there are no major changes. Sure there’s Gimp installed by default, but, I like Gimp, so that doesn’t bother me. There’s also Abiword and Gnumeric installed, but, again, I don’t care.

At this point in time the major question I have in my mind is if I really want to upgrade the rest of my notebooks from Xubuntu 12.10 to Xubuntu 13.10. And I don’t have a firm answer for that. Sure, Xubuntu 13.10 comes with a newer kernel and with an updated Xfce. There’s a newer version of Thunar, the Xfce file manager, that supports multiple tabs. But, frankly most of those are minor improvements from my perspective. A lot of the complaints I had in 12.10 are still unresolved in 13.10. But, even more importantly, I have made so many modifications to /etc files on my 12.10 systems that it’s not going to be easy to start all over again. And this is the fundamental reason I really hope, wish and pray that Ubuntu and all of its derivatives like Xubuntu would move to a rolling release model. The 6-months release cycle and having to start all over again every few months is just plain painful. But, all that is only applicable to people like me who already have a few machines running older versions of Xubuntu and are happy with that installation.

So, if you are coming from a different world and now need to use Linux in some form, should you try Xubuntu? My short answer: ABSOLUTELY. Among all the Ubuntu variations out there, I feel that Xubuntu is probably the best. Let me qualify that statement.

I was introduced to Ubuntu sometime back in 2005. Since then all the way through Q3-2012 I always had some or other machine, and more typically all of my machines, running Ubuntu. But, I always hated the Ubuntu experience. The problem, for me, was very simple: Ubuntu was installing way too many packages that I really didn’t want and/or care about. Also, it was trying to be a hipster OS by adding all those “cute social features” in which you could add your Facebook and Twitter and other accounts and get instant updates notifications, etc. I mean seriously dude, if you need those features go get yourself a Mac Book or some Windows notebook. Now, all those packages and all those “cute” features wouldn’t have been a problem if Ubuntu’s package dependency tree wasn’t so messed up. Although it has been some time, if I remember it correctly, trying to uninstall something as useless and as trivial as Tomboy mandated that I uninstall the entire Ubuntu. Or a significantly worse package: GNOME Evolution, the mail reader. Jesus! That’s one messed up piece of code with messed up dependencies and messed up naming. And having lost my entire mail through Evolution, I never ever wanted it ever on any of my systems. But, Ubuntu, in trying to be cute and all that, wouldn’t let me uninstall Evolution completely. Also, Ubuntu’s kernels and drivers were always behind the curve so there was some or the other device in my laptops that would not be supported. Finally, there was Unity. With Unity it became obvious that Ubuntu was trying to compete with Mac OSX and unfortunately, Ubuntu was miserably failing at that attempt.

Please realize that none of this is to say that Ubuntu is a bad distro. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee you that if you have never used Linux before, then Ubuntu is one of the better Linux distros out there. It is fairly easy to install on most standard Wintel hardware, and if you can live with the cruft that it installs and updates regularly, you would never have to worry about paying a single dollar, euro or baht for any piece of useful software. And best of all, Ubuntu has a HUGE community of people always willing to help out others.

So, anyways … with all the frustrations I had with Ubuntu … starting in early 2012, I decided to try other distros. I decided to go back the Redhat way by downloading and installing Fedora. That let me try the new GNOME 3.x and although I liked GNOME 3.x, I have never been a fan of Fedora because it comes with SELinux enabled.

So, after trying a few other popular Linux distros and not being happy with any of them, I figured it was time for me to give up on computers altogether! (Not kidding.) But, then I decided to give one more distro a try … and that was Xubuntu. The rest is history! Within moments of installation I realized that Xubuntu 12.10 was the distro I had been looking for all my life. (Please don’t mess it up Xubuntu guys and gals.) There was no GNOME, there was no Evolution, there was no Tomboy and there were no fancy social notifications. The misery that is Open/Libre-Office suite was pleasantly absent from the default installation. Xubuntu felt like a plain simple Linux kernel with a basic, but functional UI slapped on top of it … just the way I wanted it. Within hours after the first install, Xubuntu 12.10 found its way onto all of my other computers, except one. And I have been happily using it as my primary OS for the past year or so. Sure, I had to make a few modifications and almost all of those modifications had to be done through the command line, but, I can assure you that most average users don’t need those modifications.

So, with that background, I don’t see a significant change in Xubuntu 13.10. And to me, that’s a good thing. The only thing that would really make Xubuntu better would be to transform it into a rolling release, but, that is probably asking for too much from a derivative distro.

So, in some ways I am happy with the new Xubuntu 13.10, but, I am just not convinced, yet, that I want to switch all of my other machines running Xubuntu 12.10 to the new release just yet. But, I guess its gotta happen … sooner than later.

I like Xubuntu 13.10. It continues to be the clean, good, simple and functional OS that most of us really want and desire. Try it, you will like it.