A few thoughts on Ubuntu 12.04 Alpha 1

After an aborted installation in VirtualBox using the direct installation, I got a VM instance of Ubuntu 12.04 in place by installing from a loaded Live CD session. That proceeded without any trouble and downloaded the required updates too. First impressions revealed a polished Unity interface that ran without any crashes. Adding VirtualBox’s Guest Additions in the usual way was all that was needed to tart up the experience even more. However, there remains a wish list for improvements to unity so here are mine:

  1. Merging of an application title bar with the desktop’s top panel on maximisation: In 11.10, removing the appmenu packages does force menus into application windows and that seems to be destined as a configurable item in Unity at some point; it’d be good to see it in 12.04 though it’s not in the first alpha release. the merging of the panel and title bar would be a good thing to have as a user setting too because I am unconvinced by the current behaviour when there is plenty of screen space.
  2. Rearranging icons on the application launcher: There seems to be no obvious way to do this at the moment and attempting to move them with a mouse only moves the launcher up and down. There is no doubt that this behaviour is a bonus for those working with small screens but it is a nuisance unless there is another means for achieving the same end.
  3. Desktop environment switcher on the login screen: This seems to have disappeared for now. Hopefully, this is an oversight that will see correction in later stages of the development of Ubuntu 12.04. This is how I currently get Ubuntu 11.10 to boot into GNOME Shell so its loss would be a step backwards. Then, a Gubuntu project would become truly necessary though I have to say that Linux Mint makes such a good alternative that I wonder how they would get going.

In summary, it does look as if the Unity interface is getting more and more polished. However, there are niggles that I have described above that I think need addressing and I hope that many of them will addressed in either 12.04 or 12.10. Usability seems to be improving but I still am left with the impression that it has a way to go yet.

Adding GNOME 3 to Linux Mint 11

On the surface of it, this probably sounds a very strange thing to do: choose Linux Mint because they plan to stick with their current desktop interface for the foreseeable future and then stick a brand new one on there. However, that’s what last weekend’s dalliance with Fedora 15 caused. Not only did I find that I could find my way around GNOME Shell but I actually got to liking it so much that I missed it on returning to using my Linux Mint machine again.

The result was that I started to look on the web to see if there was anyone else like me who had got the same brainwave. In fact, it was Mint’s being based on Ubuntu that allowed me to get GNOME 3 on there. The task could be summarised as involving three main stages: getting GNOME 3 installed, adding extensions and adding the Cantarell font that is used by default. After these steps, I gained a well-running GNOME 3 desktop running on Linux Mint and it looks set to stay that way unless something untoward has yet to emerge.

Installing GNOME 3

The first step is to add the PPA repository for GNOME 3 using the following command:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3

The, it was a case of issuing my usual update/upgrade command:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

When that had done its thing and downloaded and installed quite a few upgrades along the way, it was time to add GNOME Shell using this command:

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

When that was done, I rebooted my system to be greeted by a login screen very reminiscent of what I had seen in Fedora.While compiling this piece, I have seen that GNOME Session could need to be added before GNOME Shell but I do not recall doing so myself. Maybe dependency resolution kept any problems at bay but there weren’t any issues that I could remember beyond things not being configured as fully as I would have liked without further work. For sake of safety, it might be a good idea to run the following before adding GNOME Shell to your PC.

sudo apt-get install gnome-session && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Configuration and Customisation

Once I had logged in, the desktop that I saw wasn’t at all unlike the Fedora one and everything seemed stable too. However, there was still work to do before I was truly at home with it. One thing that was needed was the ever useful GNOME Tweak Tool. This came in very handy for changing the theme that was on display to the standard Adwaita one that caught my eye while I was using Fedora 15. Adding buttons to application title bars for minimising and maximising their windows was another job that the tool allowed me to do. The command to get this goodness added in the first place is this:

sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

The next thing that I wanted to do was go adding some extensions so I added a repository from which to do this using the command below. Downloading them via Git and compiling them just wasn’t working for me so I needed another approach.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/testing

With that is place, I issued the below commands to gain the Dock, the Alternative Status Menu and the Windows Navigator. The second of these would have added a shutdown option in the me-menu but it seems to have got deactivated after a system update. Holding down the ALT key to change the Suspend entry to Power off… will have to do me for now. Having the dock is the most important and that thankfully is staying the course and works exactly as it does for Fedora.

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-dock
sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-alternative-status-menu
sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-windows-navigator

Adding Cantarell

The default font used by GNOME 3 in various parts of its interface is Cantarell and it was defaulting to that standard sans-serif font on my system because this wasn’t in place. That font didn’t look too well so I set to tracking the freely available Cantarell down on the web.  When that search brought me to Font Squirrel, I downloaded the zip file containing the required TTF files. The next step was to install them and, towards that end, I added Fontmatrix using this command:

sudo apt-get install fontmatrix

That gave me a tool with a nice user interface but I made a mistake when using it. This was because I (wrongly) thought that it would copy files from the folder that I told the import function to use. Extracting the TTF files to /tmp meant that would have had to happen but Fontmatrix just registered them instead. A reboot confirmed that they hadn’t been copied or moved at all and I had rendered the user interface next to unusable through my own folly; the default action in Ubuntu and Linux Mint is that files are deleted from /tmp on shutdown. The font selection capabilities of the GNOME Tweak Tool came in very handy for helping me converting useless boxes into letters that I could read. Another step was to change the font line near the top of the GNOME Shell stylesheet (never thought that CSS usage would end up in places like this…) so that Cantarell wasn’t being sought and text in sans-serif font replaced grey and white boxes. The stylesheet needs to be edited as superuser so the following command is what’s needed for this and, while I used sudo, gksu is just as useful here if it isn’t what I should have been using.

sudo gedit /usr/share/gnome-shell/theme/gnome-shell.css

Once I had extricated my system from that mess, a more conventional approach was taken and the command sequence below was what I followed, with extensive use of sudo to get done what I wanted. A new directory was created and the TTF files copied in there.

cd /usr/share/fonts/truetype
sudo mkdir ttf-cantarell
cd ttf-cantarell
sudo mv /tmp/*.ttf .

To refresh the font cache, I resorted to the command described in a tutorial in the Ubuntu Wiki:

sudo fc-cache -f -v

Once that was done, it was then time to restore the reference to Canterell in the GNOME Shell stylesheet and reinstate its usage in application windows using the GNOME Tweak Tool. Since then, I have suffered no mishap or system issue with GNOME 3. Everything seems to be working quietly and I am happy to see that replacement of Unity with the GNOME Shell will become an easier task in Ubuntu 11.10, the first alpha release of which is out at the time of my writing these words. Could it lure me back from my modified instance of Linux Mint yet? While I cannot say that I am sure of those but it certainly cannot be ruled out at this stage.

A lot of work ahead

Curiosity recently got the better of me and I decided to have a look at the first alpha release of Ubuntu 11.04, both in a VirtualBox virtual machine and on a spare PC that I have. They always warn you about alpha releases of software and the first sight of Ubuntu was in keeping with this. The move to using Unity as a desktop environment is in train and it didn’t work perfectly on either of the systems on which I tried it, not a huge surprise really. There wasn’t any sign of a top panel or one at the side and no application had its top bar, either. It looks as if others may have got on better but it may have been to my doing an in situ upgrade rather than a fresh installation. Doing the latter might be an idea but I may wait for the next alpha release first. Still, it looks as if we’ll be getting Firefox 4 so the change of desktop isn’t going to be the only alteration. All in all, it looks as if Natty Narwhal will be an interesting Ubuntu release with more change than is usually the case. In the meantime, I’ll keep tabs on how development goes so as to be informed before the time to think about upgrading comes around. So far, it’s early days and there a few months to go yet.

An early glimpse of Ubuntu 9.04

Ubuntu development is so gradual these days that there’s almost no point getting too excited about new versions. Its being a mature Linux distribution means that updates aren’t that much of an upheaval and I must admit to liking it than way. Taking a look at the first alpha release of Ubuntu 9.04, otherwise known as “Jaunty Jackalope”, it seems that there isn’t a change to that gradual, some may call it glacial, approach. The biggest change that I noted was the addition of an encrypted private area to your home user area. In the times in which we live, I can certainly see that coming in useful though it may not set pulses racing in some quarters. OpenOffice is still at 2.4 and things don’t appear very different on the surface at all. Of course, things like kernel changes and such like could be going on under the bonnet without many of us noticing it.Saying that, it played well with VirtualBox and I seem to remember virtual machine trouble with early builds of 8.10 so that can be taken as a plus point. I suppose that it is a case of wait and see before there is anything more obviously defining about 9.04. Anyway, they’ve got until April next year…

Another alpha release of Ubuntu 8.10 is out

It’s probably about time that I drew attention to Ubuntu’s The Fridge. While the strap line says “News for Human Beings”, it seems to be the place to find out about development releases of the said Linux distribution. Today, there’s a new alpha release of Intrepid Ibex (8.10) out and they have the details. As for me, I’ll stick to updating my 8.10 installation using Synaptic rather than going through the whole risky process of a complete installation following a download of the CD image. Saying that, it would be nice to see the System Monitor indicating which alpha release I have. I didn’t notice anything very dramatic after I did the update, apart maybe from the hiding away of boot messages at system startup and shutdown or the appearance of a button for changing display settings in the panel atop the desktop.