Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

I’m quite impressed with the new version of Ubuntu, and because it’s a LTS release it means one less VM I need to maintain during the next release cycle. I generally keep a VM of the latest LTS and release version, as well as tracking the development version from Beta 1. This results in 3 VMs (or two if the current release version is also a LTS).

I also maintain a VM of Debian testing, as well as a really minimal version of stable and unstable (I run stable physically as well).

And then I have several minimal webservers, which are running Ubuntu 10.04 LTS or Debian stable.

But I digress.

I think this version of Ubuntu is important because it will be around for 5 years and will form the basis of the Linux strategy for a number of organisations. I would certainly recommend it highly, and think it does a good job of providing a decent desktop experience for users of all levels (and particularly non-technical users).

Looking back and looking further forward

By this time tomorrow I will have successfully implemented the support of Mac OS X in my workplace. It’s been a long 14 month slog, but I’ve learned a lot about Macs, project management, and a fair few things beside. I’ve also lived pretty much wholly in Mac OS X since April 2011, which scared me at first but now feels oddly familiar.

Next up will be iOS and Linux. iOS is a new thing for me, but Linux certainly isn’t, and it was quite soothing today to open up my Linux laptop and do my first bit of Ubuntu work for nearly a year.  I’ve also (finally) given up Gnome 2, and after a brief dalliance with Gnome 3 have decided that Unity is the interface that I’ll use on all my Linux machines from now on.

Not that I’m giving up my Macs though. Unity and OS X are actually quite similar in a lot of ways, and I see both of them featuring heavily in both my personal and professional future.

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.

Life on the bleeding edge

I love new things.

I still get that thrill when I buy a new piece of hardware or download a new piece of software.

I still run the latest version of Ubuntu on my laptop and my netbook, and generally upgrade to the next release whilst it is still in beta.

The only drawback with this is that I occasionally run into the sort of bugs that new software is well known for. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a show-stopper, but there have been occasions where running bleeding edge software has hampered my productivity somewhat.

I’ve also recently come to the revelation that whilst I love new software, I’m also very keen on making my desktop look and feel the same no matter what operating system I’m using. Which is why it’s often very difficult to tell what version of Linux I’m running, as I tend to have a very minimalistic looking desktop that is probably quite close to how it looked in 2005 (and also quite close to how Debian 6 looks today). I also tend to use the same wallpaper on all my computers (regardless of OS) which can also muddy the water a bit.

What I seem to be moving towards now is running the latest released software at home, and dual booting between something stable and something experimental at work (where I do need to keep up with the bleeding edge of whatever I’m working on, which at time of writing is Mac OS X and Ubuntu). This ensures that I have a stable platform to use for email, writing documents etc, but that I also have the latest builds of Ubuntu and Mac OS X running on real hardware so I can iron out any potential support issues early on. I also have at least 10 virtual machines that I use regularly, and I wonder how I ever got by without Virtualbox (actually the computer graveyard in our spare room offers some clues).

What kicked of this train of thought was Ubuntu 11.04, which ships with a new default desktop called Unity. I’ve had a play with it, and don’t hate it as much as I thought I would, although I’m glad I can still make a fresh install look exactly like my existing desktop in under 5 minutes. It does seem like a further step towards the UI of Mac OS X, but as someone who has always preferred that to Windows then I don’t mind that at all. I’m still not sold on dark themes, but as I’ve said many times, these things can be changed easily.

So yes, another version of Ubuntu that I can work with and will upgrade to on my home machine. I might also spend some more time with Unity to see if it’s something that I can one day grow to love. Of course, I also wouldn’t say no to a new Mac once Lion is out, but I do get to use quite powerful Macs at work at present, which does scratch the OS X itch for now.

A few notes on minimal Linux installations

I figured it was time I got round to finishing off a few blog posts that have been sitting around in dropbox for what seems like weeks. First off is my attempt to build a really fast and light installation of Debian or Ubuntu for netbooks and virtual machines.

This setup will work using either Ubuntu (alternate or server CD) or Debian . It will give you a basic graphical environment, with a web browser, mail client and terminal, and can be built upon with other software (should you find you need any other software). I find this most useful as a virtual machine, or as a minimal installation for a laptop that will largely access a more powerful machine remotely.

1. Install a minimal installation of Debian/Ubuntu. This involves just installing the base packages with no additional package groups. Once you’ve done this, reboot and you should find yourself at a terminal prompt.

2. Install the following packages (as root): x-window-system-core xserver-xorg gnome-core gdm and network-manager-gnome. Once you’ve done this reboot, and you should find yourself at the graphical login prompt.

3. You should find you’ve got epiphany, evolution, gnome-terminal and not a lot else. You can then add anything else you need through apt/aptitude.

I’ve set up a few of these, and find them useful for development, testing and generally having a computer that I can set up easily, break, and then restore to a fixed point in time.

I’d like to pair this setup with a netbook with a decent screen resolution, long battery life, and more than 1Gb of memory. But that’s a subject for another post.

More adventures in new technology

It’s been a week for exploring new technology. After my iPad adventure, I also got to spend a bit of time with Ubuntu Netbook Edition this week. Now, I’m a big Ubuntu fan, but I have never been particularly interested in running anything but full-fat Ubuntu on my netbook. I still feel like this, but after doing a couple of wireless setups at work I have gone as far as creating a USB version that I can play around with when the mood takes me. On first impressions it seems very fast, and while the interface is slightly alien, it does make sense on a smaller screen, in the same way that the new ambience/radiance themes only make sense on a big screen.

I also spent a couple of hours working on one of the new Macbooks today, testing how mail.app and iCal integrate with exchange. I’ve not explored this side of Mac OS X for a couple of years, and was very surprised as to how far things have come. I think we’re getting to the point where the default calendaring and email software are finally ready for the business desktop, and I feel I could easily do 95% of my job on this Mac.

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.

A week of doing nothing?

My day job currently involves a lot of development work, and not a lot else. As a result I’d pretty much decided that I would try and do different things while I was on holiday.

So yes, apart from a day of testing beta versions of Ubuntu/Mandriva, an hour yesterday reading about the basics of Ruby (and making Hello World), and an hour this morning reading through the Rhythmbox bugs that are getting hugged tomorrow, I’ve done nothing with my computer above the level of just using it.

This has left lots of time for general relaxation (which I’m rubbish at), interspersed with shopping (I now have more than one pair of shoes again), cooking (which I never tire of) and the first part of the tiding/de-cluttering which needs to happen before our new kitchen is fitted in the summer. There was also some family-based socialising, a wedding, and a great plumbing victory which finally fixed the flood in our kitchen (involving the realisation that the plumbing in our house is ever weirder than we thought).

There was also the less wonderful realisation that Bennett’s Bar turns into a trendy disco on Thursday nights that directly precede Bank Holidays. I’m glad I won’t have to have this realisation again.

I’m back to work tomorrow, and I’m actually looking forward to getting on with things. I’ve got a couple of hard deadlines coming up in regard to the release schedule of what I’m working on, so the time between now and 21st June looks madly busy (apart from May half term which I have booked as leave). I should also get round to organising some sort of release/birthday party, as the two are so close to each other.

I should also make a concerted effort to write blog posts more often than once a month.

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.

The new Ubuntu theme

I’m not sure I like the new Ubuntu theme. But I should probably mention that since I started using Ubuntu in 2005 I’ve not used any default theme for longer than a day, and have instead largely stuck with the default Gnome theme (currently Clearlooks), or anything that is blue and doesn’t get in my way.

I’m a great fan of user interface, and think a good interface is integral to a pleasant computing experience. But I also believe in the freedom to make my computer look however it needs to look to be productive for me. I’ve had a play with the beta version of 10.04 tonight, and it took me about a minute to get it looking identical to what I’m used to.

This largely means that although the new theme is not to my taste, it will in no way make me less productive. And being productive is all I really care about because the quicker I can do what I need to do on my computer, the quicker I can be spending time doing the things that really matter.