30 days with Ubuntu 7.04 - Part I

By Niall C. Brady, May/June 2007.
If you wish to re-publish this article (or parts of), then you are free to do so as long as it links back to here.


Part I (Days 1-5)

* getting Ubuntu
* installation
* wireless setup/ndiswrapper
* configuring the desktop
* firefox
* rhythmbox
* remote desktop
* dvd playback
* desktop effects (compiz/xgl) and beryl
* built in help

>> Part II (Days 6-10)

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I've been using linux for years now, I started off with Red Hat 5 and gradually learned more and more about linux, and in particular Fedora. Moving from Red Hat to Fedora was the right thing for me to do at the time, and I stayed with Fedora (FCR6) right up to the moment I started my 30 days with Ubuntu. I've also used a variety of other linux distros over the years including (but not limited to) Suse Linux Entreprise Desktop 10, Suse OSS 10 and Suse 9.3 Professional and I have used Smoothwall for years as my firewalls.

Ubuntu, however never got much notice from me, sure I sent off for the free Ubuntu CD's and was impressed when a pack of 10 (Ubuntu 5.04) arrived in the post to me (including live CD and install CD in each pack), but truthfully, I never really bothered with Ubuntu as a distro, it just seemed 'too popular' and I was already more than happy with my chosen distro, Fedora so why change ?

Ubuntu's first release (October 20th, 2004) version 4.10, came at a time when Fedora Core release 2 was already out, and FCR3 was just about to be shipped. Amazingly though, through clever marketing and free (shipit) cd's (and of course 'word of mouth'), Ubuntu quickly became one of the most popular linux distros in no time at all, and the Ubuntu hype never subsided as anyone familiar with Digg/OSnews/Slashdot would know. It seemed to me that more and more linux users (or Windows switchers) were now starting off with (or switching to) Ubuntu, so it was time for me to put it through it's paces (for 30 days to get a real feel for the os) and see what all the fuss was about. Would this distro live up to the hype or not ? In the following six-part article, I hope to answer that question.

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Getting Ubuntu 7.04

Getting Ubuntu couldn't be easier (unless you happened to have tried when 7.04 was released, the massive public interest caused ubuntu.com to be inaccessible). I proceeded to download the Ubuntu iso CD itself, and that was easy, just head over to Ubuntu's website and decide which version you want (I chose the Desktop Edition (Ubuntu 7.04 - Supported to 2008) Standard personal computer (x86 architecture, PentiumTM, CeleronTM, AthlonTM, SempronTM)).

Ubuntu offers more ways to get the distro than most traditional distros do, you get three choices:-

* download
* buy
* request free cds

The last option alone is probably what made Ubuntu stand out from the crowd, I tested it (back in 5.04 days) and it worked. The impatient however will most likely find a mirror in their respective country and start the download (or find a bittorrent link).

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Installing Ubuntu 7.04

I burned the ISO, labelled the cd and shutdown my FCR6 laptop and removed the hdd for later use. I inserted an old Windows 98 hdd (30gb) and started booting from the Ubuntu cd, I chose the first option which appeared after some moments, which was to 'Start or Install Ubuntu'.

It chugged away for a few minutes (and loaded a fully functional live cd version of Ubuntu) and presented me with an Ubuntu desktop [Screenshot] and from there, I chose the 'install' option which was 7 or so relatively easy steps to go through as long as you were not manually partitioning the hard drive(s). After about 30 minutes of file copying the installer said it was done and asked me to 'restart now', or 'continue' using the live CD. I was ready to continue so I chose to restart. Please note that if you had configured Gaim or another application prior to this restart then those changes will need to be made again (as I found out). The first thing that you notice after installing Ubuntu to your hard disc, is that it boots much faster than from the live cd, and that there are software updates available for download.[Screenshot].

In addition to the updates available, I got a message stating:-

"Network service discovery disabled. Your current network has a .local domain, which is not recommended and incompatible with the Avahi network service discovery. The service has been disabled."

Googling the message shows me that I'm not alone and that it is most likely related to my wireless card (which is strange as its non-functional at the moment).

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Wireless/ndiswrapper setup

After the restart I was connected to the internet via a WIRED connection, as the live cd install didn't load firmware for my wireless network card (what a surprise). The wireless network card is a Broadcom ( Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4306 802.11b/g Wireless LAN Controller (rev 02)) which is a pretty standard wireless card, so my first job was to get wireless working.

I clicked on 'system, administration, network' and selected to remove the tick from within 'Enable roaming mode' and input the wireless AP's ESSID and WEP key, but still no network connection [Screenshot]. I then proceeded to google my wireless card (in addition to checking Ubuntu's wireless troubleshooter docs) to find a solution to this problem, and it seemed clear to me that ndiswrapper was the solution, I found this strange though as I was under the (mistaken) impression that Ubuntu was designed to prevent linux noobs from having to go through this type of hassle.

Configuring Ndiswrapper

As I'm new to Ubuntu (but not new to linux), It seemed that I had to first enable the universe. This wiki advised me to open the Synaptic Package Manager tool (gui front end for apt), unfortunately I didn't get very far as point 3 referred to the following:-

"In the new dialog that opens, click the Add button on the right side of the dialog."

However no such dialog appeared [Screenshot]. It did turn out that 'community-maintained open source software' was already selected (and that was what I needed), so I continued on with the next step and became root:-

sudo -i

I downloaded this file and proceeded to do as follows:-

root@anyweb-laptop:~# apt-get install bcm43xx-fwcutter

That will prompt you 'yes/no' to install the firmware, so obviously answer yes if you want to get wireless to work. Next (and this is where the linux-noobs and windows users must be getting confused) it's time to patch the firmware so I did this:-

anyweb@anyweb-laptop:~$ sudo bcm43xx-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware ~/Desktop/wl_apsta.o

And off it went....done yet ? no. Next I had to do this...

anyweb@anyweb-laptop:~$ sudo bcm43xx-fwcutter -w /lib/firmware/`uname -r` ~/Desktop/wl_apsta.o

Nearly there, it tells me I need to bookmark this link and then reboot, so I do that. After the reboot everything looked the same and I was still connected to the internet via a wired connection, I removed the wired connection and issued:-

anyweb@anyweb-laptop:~$ modprobe bcm43xx

I then proceeded to disable the Wired connection in Network manager. Now ifconfig shows me eth1 (the wireless nic) and I can ping wirelessly, it worked ! *phew*

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Configuring the desktop

Meanwhile I let Ubuntu's update manager apply 11 or so updates in the background and proceeded to install xchat via apt-get. To do this I had to be root, and to become root in Ubuntu do as follows:-

anyweb@anyweb-laptop:~$ sudo -i

That prompts you for your current passsword (the one you set when installing the system) and then you are logged on as root. As I was already familiar with apt-get from earlier Fedora days (back when yum was in its' infancy) I issued the following:-

root@anyweb-laptop:~# apt-get install xchat

after some moments, it got the package(s) and installed xchat. Why did i do the above ? because xchat wasn't installed by default. Ok once done I was on IRC. Please note noobs, that if you don't like using the cli (command line interface, or terminal) then you can click on 'Applications, add/remove' to start the package manger gui.)

Next up, I configured Gaim (not renamed to Pidgin yet ?) to use my msn and gmail accounts respectively. Once done, time to copy back the data I copied to the external hdd, I plugged it in, Ubuntu found it, I selected the windows 98 file system I had copied to (fat32) and copied back all my data from the Fedora Core install. Interestingly, Ubuntu also showed the two other partitions on that hdd, which were NTFS, Fedora didn't mount them at all as no NTFS plugin was installed.

After leaving my laptop for some time, and wiggling the mouse I note that I'm not prompted for a password to regain access to the desktop, I find that unusual in the security concious linux world, as I'm so used to entering my password when not having used my Fedora machine for more than a few minutes or so. I fix this by going to System, preferences and setting a blank screensaver and including the option to 'lock the screen when screensaver is active. Whats that orange icon with a white shining star in it ? I'm looking at my ever evolving desktop and see a red/orange icon that looks unfamiliar to me, i click on it and it reveals itself as the update manager, telling me I now have 4 new updates. I enter my password when requested and off it goes, no kernel updates so no need to reboot :-)

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Configuring Firefox

I wanted to configure firefox to be able to play all the usual stuff, flash, java, media, and so on, I don't yet know if it's pre-configured but i'll soon find out. I go to shockwave's home and straight away I'm prompted to 'click here to install plugin' so obviously Adobe Flash Player is not pre-installed, I accept the license agreement and off it goes. Done. I then head over to bbc.co.uk/news and click on a video to see what happens, it prompts for what type of viewer I will use, i choose realplayer (as it's already selected) and then click ok. It says plugin requied, and 'not available'. So I change it to 'windows viewer' and this time it starts up a media player (Totem browser plugin) but abrubptly stops.

At this point I'm beginning to wonder why all the fuss about Ubuntu is there, I mean, I've had to configure wireless using ndiswrapper and I had to install plugins in firefox and now I cannot view online content, wasn't Ubuntu supposed to be taking care of all this unecessary hassle ?

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I decided that I'd leave my Firefox browser issues for now, until later and to listen to some music so I right click 122 or so mp3's and choose to play them with 'rhythmbox' (that was the choice I had, apart from using Movie player, which seems odd for opening music files...), and then the system starts to act weird and goes slow, hdd is chugging and my topmost taskbar starts moving the gaim icon left and adding little music icons, heh.

No music starts to play, instead it shows me a wizard to config my music library, I choose skip, and still no music, but lots of Rhythmbox's wizards to play with at least ;-)

I closed the numerous Rhythmboxes and each one pops up with another Rhythmbox, which I close again, and this time i click on one single mp3, and now I'm prompted to 'Search for a suitable Codec'. I choose 'yes'. That in turn brings up 'add/remove packages' listing three choices, the first of which is Gstreamer Extra plugins, which lists mp3 support so i select it. Doing so, prompts me that this is 'Restricted Software' and I should review the terms etc. I click ok, and ok again, it prompts for my password and installs the stuff, and then, low and behold, Abba starts to play "The Winner takes it all".

What I didn't like about this experience was how gnome got confused when I selected to open so many files, and instead of passing them as args to the program I selected, it decided to open a whole batchful of them, thankfully not 122 (more like 10). What I DID like about this process was that I was given the choice to get a codec, the procedure was relavtively straightforward and easy to do, and once done it plays mp3's. Nice.

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Remote Desktop Access

I realise that I need to apply an update to another box so I decide to vnc over ssh, and I'm glad to find that vncviewer is already installed in Ubuntu 7.04 (because it's integrated in Gnome since ver. 2.8), I used the vnc connection for a while (about half an hour) and found it a bit slower than normal, in addition there was a bug with the scrolling bars (x/y axis) where once you scrolled down, you couldnt scroll back up again. Disconnecting and re-connecting the session seemed to fix that until you moved the scollbars again.
Next up I tried tsclient to remotely connect to a windows box. It too was pre-installed (I like that). No problems there !

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DVD playback with Totem

I inserted a DVD (Firewall/Harrison Ford) and Totem Movie Player popped up, with an error "An error occured: could not read from resource". At first I presumed that because I havn't installed any codecs yet, that this was why I was getting this error, but it seems a bit more complex. Trying to browse the DVD using 'places, home folder, cdrom 1' failed also, so I clicked on details to get more info.

mount: block device /dev/scd0 is write-protected, mounting read-only
mount: /dev/scd0 already mounted or /media/cdrom0 busy
mount: according to mtab, /dev/scd0 is already mounted on /media/cdrom0

This is an external usb DVD rom drive and works fine in Fedora, I did however attach it after booting so perhaps I need a reboot for it to be mounted correctly, so I reboot. After the reboot I insert the dvd again, and this time things look different, Totem starts again with a spinning circle as if it's thinking. Unfortunately nothing else happens, just Totem with an orange background and the spinning circle as if it's locked up. Issuing top via cli I can also see that Totem has hung, consuming approx 80% of available CPU bandwith and nothing to show for it. I try to close totem.

After closing Totem, I re-insert the DVD only to get the original error I got the first time. So I try with a different DVD. I get the same error with another DVD so I guess I have other issues. Time to do a bit of research. To verify that Ubuntu can actually use this dvdrom drive, I insert an Audio CD and 'Sound Juicer' pops up and starts playing the music CD. Good that works. Next I insert a data dvd and it shows the files correctly, so the DVD rom drive does work, and this must be a codec issue. I start up 'add/remove packages' and select Multimedia, and scroll down to other two Gstreamer plugins, one of which lists Video codecs. While there I scroll down (looking for mplayer) and find that 'Movie player' is listed (selected) and below it (unselected) is Movie Player Totem (xine backend) so I choose to select that as well, as it's description is 'Play DVD, movies and songs via xine backend'. It prompts me do I want to install communinty based software (isn't that what linux is anyway ?) so I allow.

While I'm there I cannot find mplayer, so scroll down and see VLC, I select it but get a warning:-

"Cannot install 'vlc', this application conflicts with other installed software. To install 'vlc' the conflicting software must be removed first. Swith to the 'synaptic manager' to resolve this conflict."

OK, I continue with vlc deselected. Once the package manager is finished updating itself I re-insert a DVD movie, this time at least I get an error that makes sense:-

"Totem could not play 'dvd:///media/cdrom0 there is no plugin to handle this movie"

Groovy, well now that I installed some codecs via add/remove package manager you would have thought i'd be ok, wrong. I then tried to use mplayer so as root

apt-get install mplayer

now I get the mplayer essential codecs

wget http://www1.mplayerhq.hu/MPlayer/releases/codecs/essential-20061022.tar.bz2

I then extract them

tar xjvf essential-20061022.tar.bz2

and finally I place them somewhere where mplayer should use them

mkdir /usr/local/lib/win32 mv essential-20061022/* /usr/local/lib/win32/

Once done, I fire up gmplayer and point it to the DVD, the DVD rom drive led lights up and it's spinning but nothing else, mplayer opens two windows on my desktop, one big, one small but no video, nada, zilch. I don't think playing a DVD is really happening today. Well the above didn't work for me, so thanks to IRC (#ubuntu on EFNET) I was pointed to this but before I tried that, i needed to remove what I just did so:-

root@anyweb-laptop:~# apt-get remove mplayer
root@anyweb-laptop:~# rm -rf /usr/local/lib/win32/

OK, now to try the guide...

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras libxine-extracodecs gstreamer0.10-plugins-base gstreamer0.10-plugins-good \ gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad gstreamer0.10-pitfdll

I had to accept some java license and a dlj license to continue, finally it's done, now for the W32 codecs.

sudo apt-get install w32codecs

unfortunately for me that errors out with the following

"Package w32codecs is not available, but is referred to by another package. This may mean that the package is missing, has been obsoleted, or is only available from another source E: Package w32codecs has no installation candidate"

So I re-read the guide again and see that it refers to how to add extra repos, I presume this is why i'm getting this error so I go ahead and add them. I edit /etc/apt/sources.list after backing it up to match what they tell me to do, then I do the following:-

wget -q http://packages.medibuntu.org/medibuntu-key.gpg -O- | sudo apt-key add -
wget -q http://lut1n.ifrance.com/repo_key.asc -O- | sudo apt-key add - sudo aptitude update

Easy wasn't it ? yep, now once done, I tried to add the W32 codecs again. This time, I succeeded ! Unfortunately, that's not enough, because inserting the dvd pops up totem again along with a libdvdcss encryption error, a quick read of this wiki told me to do as follows:-

sudo aptitude install libdvdcss2

and finally, after much messing around I can watch a DVD in Ubuntu. woohoo :-)

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Enabling Desktop Effects

I wanted to enable desktop effects (compiz/xgl) in Ubuntu, to see what they'll look like (note: this is not Beryl). To do this, simply click on System, Preferences, then Desktop Effects, then click on 'Enable Desktop Effects'. This did work on my laptop (which is no surprise as I already had Beryl enabled just fine in Fedora Core release 6). Once enabled all looked good except I momentarily lost the ability to type, but once I came back to here (I was typing here) then I got focus back and all was good.

Installing/Enabling Beryl

Maybe it's just me, but once you've tried Beryl, you'll want to do it again, so after playing around with XGL/compiz above, I decided to see what Beryl looked like in Ubuntu. installing it was easy.

sudo aptitude install beryl emerald-themes beryl-manager

And then click on Applications, System Tools, Beryl Manager. Now you can do much more with your wobbly windows, stretch them, and see thumbnails of the app in the taskbar. Beryl is highly configurable with lots of nice themes (just right click on the beryl icon up in the top taskbar and choose 'Emerald Theme Manager'.

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Getting help with Ubuntu

I clicked on the Blue help icon (third from left at top of the screen, a blue circle with a white question mark) and it opened an Ubuntu Help Center. It is pretty comprehensive too, and I like the idea, as it has help for Users migrating from Windows to Ubuntu, helping them to organise files, photos, settings and more. This is good and something similar should be present in all Linux distros if you ask me.

>> Part II (Days 6-10)

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anyweb First draft: June 04, 2007.