Running Ubuntu 8.04 (beta) at Work
As an experiment today I tried installing the Ubuntu 8.04 beta on my work PC. I work for a very large commercial company and don’t personally know of anyone who has tried such a thing before, so I thought I might as well give it a go.
Here are some highlights of the 5 or 6 hours I spent on this today:-
Most of my time was spent mucking about trying to get my dual screens setup to work. Something that is supposed to be easier in 8.04.
Ubuntu detected my video card fine (an on-board Intel 945G, quite standard for a work PC) and initially set me up with one monitor fine. Screen redraws were fast and Compiz was running pretty well.
But both monitors were showing the same image…
So I jumped to the new 8.04 Screen Resolution dialog and had a looksy. Sure enough it thought I had 2 monitors. It had also correctly decided that 1600×1200 was the resolution of choice. But where was the option to run a second desktop on screen #2?
And why was my xorg.conf nearly empty?
The answer (after quite a bit of research): X.Org 7.3 and XRandR.
As of 7.3, X.Org decides to wherever possible keep your xorg.conf brief. So much so that if you are having display issues the recommendation is to delete your xorg.conf file and restart X. Wow. The only downside being if you want to tweak just one parameter, erm, how do you do that?
XRandR, or X Resize and Rotate, replaces a plethora of dynamic display utilities and basically does just resize and rotate your X display or displays.
Right. So what about that Screen and Graphics dialog from Gutsy, aka displayconfig-gtk? It used to allow me to configure multiple displays the way I wanted. Oddly it’s now in the menus under Applications->Other. It’s an Application now? (Looks like this has since been removed – there’s now no menu item for it at all!)
Right anyway, so I trundled through and configured my screens using displayconfig-gtk, hit the Test button and wow, what an ugly garbled display I had on screen #1 and screen #2 just went black.
Fiddled with the settings some more and managed to get screen #1 looking okay but nothing on screen #2.
Reset my xorg.conf back to default.
Read somewhere that adding
SubSection "Display" Virtual 3200 1200 EndSubSection
should solve the problem (3200×1200 being the bounding box resolution of my 2 screens).
It worked! But screen draws were reeealllyyy sllloooww.
A quick scan through the xorg log file and hmm, this message
Cannot support DRI with frame buffer width > 2048
In other words, the driver was telling me my virtual desktop size (3200 pixels wide) was too big for the hardware to support. Odd, I’ve had this working before I thought.
I finally discovered that one of the caveats of XRandR is that it:
…hardware does not support unlimited coordinates. For instance, Intel boards up to i945 only support 2048 pixels in each direction. If you enable a larger virtual screen, DRI will be disabled and some problems may appear.
In other words: Even if your hardware is capable of handling two high-res displays, XRandR won’t be your friend unless your hardware is equally capable of running a single really really high-res display. For this reason I must say that I don’t think XRandR is ready for the big time and Ubuntu in some cases needs to know to fall back to other technologies.
The (only?) solution? Manually configuring Xinerama. Something I don’t mind doing but enough to put most new Linux users off the whole thing.
And the caveat: No Compiz.
To be honest I’d never tried connecting a Linux box to an Exchange server before so really didn’t know what I was in for on this one.
A few things I learned quickly about Evolution mail:
- Exchange must be configured for web access (webmail) for Evolution to talk to it with all the features you would hope for. My email server wasn’t, or at least not openly
- Failing that, IMAP/SMTP is your only option, which means no calendar and no address book. Using a work mail system day in day out without a calendar or address book is simply impossible
- Evolution can be hard on the eyes! After about 20 minutes using it the whole screen started to look blurry. Maybe it just takes some getting used to?
Other than that, Evolution did crash on me once and also at one point I had to delete my configuration and start over to get it to connect to my mail server. D’oh!
Ah Eclipse, my favourite IDE. And oh so wonderful cross-platform(-ish)ness of Java, surely there will be good stories to tell my colleagues about running Eclipse on the latest and greatest Linux distro?
Actually, yes and no.
- disk access times in Windows are so poor (what is it about NTFS and small files?) that Eclipse ran frighteningly fast by comparison on Linux. Although the virus scanner in Windows probably has a lot to do with performance.
- Still, it was really really fast, yippee!!
And No –
- Eclipse 3.2?! Still?! Come on Ubuntu/Debian, what’s the hold-up??
- The Subversive update site complains you’re running the wrong operating system unless you tick precisely the right boxes.
- One in-house Eclipse plug-in failed to run. I suppose we can take the blame for that one though 😉
On the whole though Eclipse ran pretty well and I do hope to spend some time coding in Linux. Even if I have to go out and install 3.3 without the help of apt-get!
A couple more points, both incidentally related to networking:-
- I wanted access to a Samba share in Eclipse, which seems to not properly understand GVFS, how can I do this without jumping to the command-line and creating a mount??
A Couple of Suggestions
- Ubuntu definitely should roll back to Xinerama for hardware where XRandR is known not to work.
- And similar for all new drivers/software. Compatibility is key.
- The networking GUI in Gnome could perhaps do with an overhaul. Most of the dialogs are fiddly and I still can’t work out how to create a Samba mount or even a virtual Samba mount with it.
- A GUI log file viewer for the important logs (boot, kernel, xorg) would save considerable time & effort (update: this already exists, System->Administration->System Log)
Almost a day’s effort and I am saddened that I don’t really have a machine I can do my day to day work on.
Generally I found today that to get a lot of tasks done I still needed to jump to the command-line or examine/edit cryptic files. In fact, outside of perhaps Eclipse, I hardly used a GUI configuration tool to good effect.
I love Ubuntu, I love Linux and I certainly love running Ubuntu Linux at home. But today’s experiment did make me wonder whether the OS and Gnome are yet mature enough for corporate environments.
I’d love to hear your experiences.