A productive first day of my holiday

Today was a day for doing computer-related things. I’ve had a brief play with Gnome 3 and Unity (again), and still found both of them getting in my way a lot more than I’m used to. I will persevere though, because I figure that eventually I’ll end up using one or the other, and could actually do with knowing about both.

I also took advantage of having my very fast work laptop with me and built a few virtual machines as part of a personal project that I’ll write about in more detail at some point soon. Suffice to say, using the Macbook Pro was remarkably painless, and it really does offer a viable Unix development environment, especially when working with Virtualbox (which I work with a lot). I’m also 75% towards getting Unity and Gnome 3 running virtually (both have fairly steep graphics requirements), and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to build something that other people could use before the end of my Easter break.

Apart from that I’ve done very little, but have plans for the next two days so should be out and about a bit more.

My first stab at self-interview

In my last post I mentioned The Setup. This is my attempt to answer the questions.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Andy, and I work for IT Services at the University of Birmingham in a Service Desk management/development role. In my spare time I listen to and write about music, dabble in free and open source software (mainly Ubuntu), and am sporadically involved in the Isles of Darkness live action roleplay society.

What hardware are you using?

At work everything is largely generic. I have a Dell desktop that is coming to the end of its life, but that is still more than capable of dealing with most of my emailing and calendaring needs. It is plugged into a 17″ Sony monitor that has been with me for about 4 years now, and which I keep holding on to as it is one of the few desktop monitors I’ve used that doesn’t give me a headache after hours of staring at it (yes, I know a new monitor and more breaks might be a more sensible plan).

Most of my actual work is done on an (again) fairly generic Fujitsu Siemens laptop, which I started using a couple of years ago, and which allows me to type for hours without my wrists hurting. I wouldn’t recommend this laptop above any other, but it does the job.

At home I have pretty much left desktop computers behind. My main workstation is a Sony Vaio VGN-NS10l (dual core, 4Gb ram), which I bought a couple of years ago and deals with anything I throw at it. I’ve also got a 10″ Dell Inspiron Mini, which goes everywhere with me, and is increasingly becoming the computer I do most of my web browsing, email and writing on. My backup machines are a G4 iBook and a EeePC 701, and we’ve also got another Mac and a Wii plugged into the TV downstairs. My wife has several other computers which I’ll not mention here except to say that we have more computers than there are rooms in our house (by quite a lot). And that’s not counting the ones that are propping open doors or otherwise not really being used for anything productive any longer.

And what software?

Work is a mix of Windows XP (desktop) and Ubuntu 10.04 (laptop). In Windows I largely use Outlook for email and calendaring, office communicator for collaboration, and very little else. In Linux I use Firefox for browsing (with Chrome and Epiphany for testing), Evolution for email, Empathy and Dropbox for collaboration, OpenOffice.org for creating documents and spreadsheets, and (generally) Bluefish for coding. Recently I’ve been using GIMP a lot too, and have also been dabbling with a few command-line image conversion tools. I also maintain several instances of Mediawiki, as well as a full LAMP environment for development, and use google calendar to plan and maintain my work-life balance.

At home both of my laptops are running the latest version of Ubuntu, which I’ve used as my primary OS since 2005. I use largely the same software as I use at work, although I’ve recently reverted to using gedit for writing blog posts and other bits of text, and only venturing into OpenOffice when I want to make something available to other people. Home is also where I spend a lot of time playing with WordPress and Virtualbox, and where I use Rhythmbox to listen to music (and Last.fm to catalogue what I’m listening to). I’ve also recently started using Google Reader, and I now don’t know how I coped without it.

My Macs run a very stripped down version of Leopard, and really only get used for iTunes and other media related things now (although I’d still use my iBook as my main portable computer if it weighed a little less). They also run Dropbox (as does every computer I own), and I’ve been syncing all my important files between all my machines for a couple of years now. I still can’t understand why more people don’t do this, and I’ve lost count of the number of times this one piece of software has got me out of a hole.

What would be your dream setup?

I change my mind about my ideal working environment a lot, but what I basically want is a laptop that is thin, light and stylish, and that can perform at the level where I could use it as my only computer (including storing 100gb of music). The nearest thing I’ve come across is the 13″ Macbook Pro, although I’d be happier with something the size and weight of my 10″ Dell Mini with all the power and stylishness of the Macbook Pro. Being able to run OS X and Ubuntu at the same time would also be great.

Of course, having used an iPad for the first time recently, I’d probably have to add that to my wish list, just because it’s a really stylish and functional piece of kit.

I also wonder if having a desktop computer with two large monitors would make me more productive. I have a feeling that most of what I do can be achieved on a single small screen, but it would be nice to have the opportunity to experiment with these things.

Question format borrowed from The Setup under the Attribution-Share Alike license.

Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and Mandriva 2010.1

Yesterday I spent a few hours testing the latest beta versions of my two favourite Linux distributions (Ubuntu and Mandriva). I often get torn between which one of these two I’m going to use, but generally plump for Ubuntu when some particular bit of software I want to use either isn’t available for Mandriva or I have to spend too much time making something work and not enough time actually using it.

So far my thoughts are:

  • Gnome 2.30 rocks, and has moved in exactly the direction I wanted it to.
  • Ubuntu’s version of Gnome is now a lot further from default than Mandriva’s, which makes swapping between the two a bit of a pain. BUT, with a bit of tweaking I can make them both almost identical (providing I use Clearlooks as a theme and do a lot of UI tweaking in Ubuntu).
  • I still try and make each new machine I install look as close to the default Gnome as possible. This is something I might have to reconsider, as both of these distros look a lot better when they look like themselves.
  • Epiphany 2.30 might possibly be ready to actually use as my default browser.
  • I don’t like dark themes. They give me a headache and just look wrong.
  • The way Ubuntu integrates social networking is miles ahead of anything else I’ve seen.
  • I really like Ubuntu’s default background, which is not pink.
  • The new Ubuntu theme does look a lot like Mac OS X, but I think the change was needed. Mandriva still looks like it did 4 years ago, which is not a bad thing but which makes it difficult to work out which version I’m using.
  • Both distros boot far more quickly that anything else I’ve used. Rebooting Ubuntu only took a few seconds on physical hardware.

I think that’s all for now. I do have a few screen shots which I might do something with later.

Sensible window sizes on Dell’s version of Ubuntu

I love my Dell Mini, but there are a couple of “features” added by Dell that drive me mad. One of these is called Maximus. It’s an application that tells any window that opens on the desktop to open full-screen. It’s particularly annoying with applications I’ve added myself (like Empathy), as the default applications seem preconfigured to ignore it. I’ve had a poke around in gconf-editor (install it with sudo apt-get install gconf-editor if it doesn’t exist already), and the key that needs editing is called /apps/maximus/exclude_class (see below for details):

Screenshot

It’s basically a list of applications that open with the same window size they closed with rather than open in full-screen.

Double click on the key, and you should get the following dialogue:

Screenshot-Edit Key

Click on the plus button, and add whatever applications you need as shown below:

Screenshot-Add New List Entry

Then click on OK. Next time you open the applications in question they should honour your desired window size.