Moving from Ubuntu 10.10 to Linux Mint 10

With a long Easter weekend available to me and with thoughts of forthcoming changes in the world of Ubuntu, I got to wondering about the merits of moving my main home PC to Linux Mint instead. Though there is a rolling variant based on Debian, I went for the more usual one based on Ubuntu that uses GNOME. For the record, Linux Mint isn’t just about the GNOME desktop but you also can have it with Xfce, LXDE and KDE desktops as well. While I have been known to use Lubuntu and like its LXDE implementation, I stuck with the option of which I have most experience.

Once I selected the right disk for the boot loader, the main installation of Mint went smoothly. By default, Ubuntu seems to take care of this but Mint leaves it to you. When you have your operating system files on sdc, installation on the default of sda isn’t going to produce a booting system. Instead, I ended up with GRUB errors and, while I suppose that I could have resolved these, the lazier option of repeating the install with the right boot loader location was the one that I chose. It produced the result that I wanted: a working and loading operating system.

However, there was not something not right about the way that the windows were displayed on the desktop with title bars and window management not working as they should. Creating a new account showed that it was the settings that were carried over from Ubuntu in my home area that were the cause. Again, I opted for a less strenuous option and moved things from the old account to the new one. One outcome of that decisions was that there was a lot of use of the chown command in order to get file and folder permissions set for the new account. In order to make this all happen, the new account needed to be made into an Administrator just like its predecessor; by default, more restrictive desktop accounts are created using the Users and Groups application from the Administration submenu. Once I was happy that the migration was complete, I backed up any remaining files from the old user folder and removed it from the system. Some of the old configuration files were to find a new life with Linux Mint.

In the middle of the above, I also got to customising my desktop to get the feel that is amenable. For example, I do like a panel at the top and another at the bottom. By default, Linux Mint only comes with the latter. The main menu was moved to the top because I have become used to having there and switchers for windows and desktops were added at the bottom. They were only a few from what has turned out not to be a short list of things that I fancied having: clock, bin, clearance of desktop, application launchers, clock, broken application killer, user switcher, off button for PC, run command and notification area. It all was gentle tinkering but still is the sort of thing that you wouldn’t want to have to do over and over again. Let’s hope that is the case for Linux Mint upgrades in the future. That the configuration files for all of these are stored in home area hopefully should make life easier, especially when an in-situ upgrade like that for Ubuntu isn’t recommended by the Mint team.

With the desktop arranged to my liking, the longer job of adding to the collection of software on there while pruning a few unwanted items too was next. Having had Apache, PHP and MySQL on the system before I popped in that Linux Format magazine cover disk for the installation, I wanted to restore them. To get the off-line websites back, I had made copies of the old Apache settings that simply were copied over the defaults in /etc/apache (in fact, I simply overwrote the apache directory in /etc but the effect was the same). MySQL Administrator had been used to take a backup of the old database too. In the interests of spring cleaning, I only migrated a few of the old databases from the old system to the new one. In fact, there was an element of such tidying in my mind when I decided to change Linux distribution in the first place; Ubuntu hadn’t been installed from afresh onto the system for a while anyway and some undesirable messages were appearing at update time though they were far from being critical errors.

The web server reinstatement was only part of the software configuration that I was doing and there was a lot of use of apt-get while this was in progress. A rather diverse selection was added: Emacs, NEdit, ClamAV, Shotwell (just make sure that your permissions are sorted first before getting this to use older settings because anything inaccessible just gets cleared out; F-Spot was never there is the first place in my case but it may differ for you), UFRaw, Chrome, Evolution (never have been a user of Mozilla Thunderbird, the default email client on Mint), Dropbox, FileZilla, MySQL Administrator, MySQL Query Browser, NetBeans, POEdit, Banshee (Rhythmbox is what comes with Mint but I replaced it with this), VirtualBox and GParted. This is quite a list and while I maybe should have engaged the services of dpkg to help automate things, I didn’t on this occasion though Mint seems to have a front end for it that does the same sort of thing. Given that the community favour clean installations, it’s little that something like this is on offer in the suite of tools in the standard installation. This is the type of rigmarole that one would not draw on themselves too often.

With desktop tinkering and software installations complete, it was time to do a little more configuration. In order to get my HP laser printer going, I ran hp-setup to download the (proprietary, RMS will not be happy…) driver for it because it otherwise wouldn’t work for me. Fortune was removed from the terminal sessions because I like them to be without such things. To accomplish this, I edited /etc/bash.bashrc and commented out the /usr/games/fortune line before using apt-get to clear the software from my system. Being able to migrate my old Firefox and Evolution profiles, albeit manually, has become another boon. Without doubt, there are more adjustments that I could be making but I am happy to do these as and when I get to them. So far, I have a more than usable system, even if I engaged in more customisation than many users would go doing.

It probably is useful to finish this by sharing my impressions of Linux Mint. What goes without saying is that some things are done differently and that is to be expected. Distribution upgrades are just one example but there are tools available to make clean installations that little bit easier. To my eyes, the desktop looks very clean and fond display is carried over from Ubuntu, not at all a bad thing. That may sound a small matter but it does appear to me that Fedora and openSUSE could learn a thing or too about how to display fonts on screen on their systems. It is the sort of thing that adds the spot of polish that leaves a much better impression. So far, it hasn’t been any hardship to find my way around and I can make the system fit my wants and needs. That it looks set to stay that way is another bonus. We have a lot of change coming in the Linux world with GNOME 3 on the way and Ubuntu’s decision to use Unity as their main desktop environment. While watching both of these developments mature, it looks as if I’ll be happily using Mint. Change can refresh but a bit of stability is good too.

Solving an upgrade hitch en route to Ubuntu 10.04

After waiting until after a weekend in the Isle of Man, I got to upgrading my main home PC to Ubuntu 10.04. Before the weekend away, I had been updating a 10.04 installation on an old spare PC and that worked fine so the prospects were good for a similar changeover on the main box. That may have been so but breaking a computer hardly is the perfect complement to a getaway.

So as to keep the level of disruption to a minimum, I opted for an in-situ upgrade. The download was left to complete in its own good time and I returned to attend to installation messages asking me if I wished to retain old logs files for the likes of Apache. When the system asked for reboot at the end of the sequence of package downloading, installation and removal, I was ready to leave it do the needful.

However, I met with a hitch when the machine restarted: it couldn’t find the root drive. Live CD’s were pressed into service to shed light on what had happened. First up was an old disc for 9.10 before one for 10.04 Beta 1 was used. That identified a difference between the two that was to prove to be the cause of what I was seeing. 10.04 uses /dev/hd*# (/dev/hda1 is an example) nomenclature for everything including software RAID arrays (“fakeraid”). 9.10 used the /dev/mapper/sil_**************# convention for two of my drives and I get the impression that the names differ according to the chipset that is used.

During the upgrade process, the one thing that was missed was the changeover from /dev/mapper/sil_**************# to /dev/hd*# in the appropriate places in /boot/grub/menu.lst; look for the lines starting with the word kernel. When I did what the operating system forgot, I was greeted by a screen telling of the progress of checks on one of the system’s disks. That process took a while but a login screen followed and I had my desktop much as before. The only other thing that I had to do was run gconf-editor from the terminal to send the title bar buttons to the right where I am accustomed to having them. Since then, I have been working away as before.

Some may decry the lack of change (ImageMagick and UFRaw could do with working together much faster, though) but I’m not complaining; the rough of 9.10 drilled that into me. Nevertheless, I am left wondering how many are getting tripped up by what I encountered, even if it means that Palimpsest (what Ubuntu calls Disk Utility) looks much tidier than it did. Could the same thing be affecting /etc/fstab too? The reason that I don’t know the answer to that question is that I changed all hard disk drive references to UUID a while ago but it’s another place to look if the GRUB change isn’t fixing things for you. If my memory isn’t failing me, I seem to remember seeing /dev/mapper/sil_**************# drive names in there too.

Converting from CGM to Postscript

On thing that I recently had to investigate was the possibility of converting CGM vector graphics files into Postscript and from there into PDF. Having used ImageMagick for converting images before, that was an obvious option. However, that cannot process CGM files on its own and needs a delegate or helper application as well. This is the case with raw digital camera files too with UFRaw being the program chosen. For CGM images, the more obscure RALCGM is what’s needed and tracking it down is a bit of an art. The history is that it was developed at the U.K.’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory but it seems that it was left go off into the wilderness rather than someone keeping an eye on things. With that in mind, here are the installation packages for Windows and Linux (RPM):

Windows Installer

Linux RPM

RALCGM is a handy command line tool that can covert from CGM to Postscript on its own without any need for ImageMagick at all. From what I have seen, fonts on graphical output may look greyer than black but it otherwise does its job well. However, considering that it is a freely available tool, one cannot complain too much. There are other packages for doing vector to raster conversion and the ones that I have seen do have GUI‘s but the freedom to look at for cost software wasn’t mine to have. The required command looks something like the following:

ralcgm -d PS -oL test.cgm test.ps

The switch -d PS uses the software’s Postscript driver and -oL specifies landscape orientation. If you want to find out more, here’s a PDF rendition of the help file that comes with the thing:

RALCGM Documentation

Rough?

Was it because Canonical and friends kept Ubuntu in such a decent state from 8.04 through to 9.04 that things went a little quiet in the blogosphere on the subject of the well-known Linux distribution? If so, 9.10 might be proving more of a talking point and you have to wonder if this is such a good thing with the appearance of Windows 7 on the scene. Looking on the bright side, 10.04 will be an LTS release so there is some chance that any rough edges that are on display now could be resolved by next April. Even so, it might have been better not to see anything so obvious at all.

In truth, Ubuntu always has had its gaps and I have seen a few of their ilk over the last two years. Of these, a few have triggered postings on here. In fact, issues with accessing the BBC iPlayer still bring a goodly number of folk to this website. That may just be a matter of grabbing RealPlayer, now helpfully available as a DEB package, from the requisite place on the web and ensuring that Ubuntu-Restricted-Extras is in place too but you have to know that in the first place. Even so, unexpected behaviours like Palimpsest seeing every partition on a disk as a different drive and SIL Raid mappings being seen for hard drives that used to live on the main home PC that bit the dust earlier this year; it only happens on one of the machines that I have running Ubuntu so it may be hardware thing and newly added hard drive uses none of the SIL mapping either. Perhaps more seriously (is it something that a new user should be encountering?), a misfiring variant of Brasero had me moving to K3b. Then UFRaw was sluggish in batch but that’s nothing that having a Debian VM won’t overcome. Rough edges like these do get you asking if 9.10 was ready for the big time while making you reluctant to recommend it to mainstream users like my brother.

The counterpoint to the above is that 9.10 includes a host of under the bonnet changes like the introduction of Ext4 hard drive formatting, Xsplash to allow the faster system loading to occur unseen and GNOME 2.28. To someone looking in from outside like me, that looks like a lot of work and might explain the ingress of the annoyances that I have seen. Add to that the fact that we are between Debian releases so things like the optimised packaging of ImageMagick or UFRaw may not be so high up the list of the things to do, especially with the more general speed optimisations that were put in place for 9.10. With 10.04 set to be an LTS release so I’d be hoping that consolidation is the order of the day over the next five or six months but it seems to be the inclusion of new features and other such progress that get magazine reviewers giving higher ratings (Linux Format has given it a mark of 9 out of 10). With the mooted inclusion of GNOME 3 and its dramatically different interface in 10.10, they should get their fill of that. However, I’d like to see some restraint for the take of a smooth transition from the familiar GNOME 2.x to the new. If GNOME 3 stays very like its alpha builds, then the question as how users will take to it arises. Of course, there’s some time yet before we see GNOME 3 and, having seen how the Ubuntu developers transformed GNOME 2.28, I wouldn’t be surprised if the impact of any change could be dulled.

In summary, my few weeks with Ubuntu 9.10 as my main OS have thrown up no major roadblocks that would cause me to look at moving elsewhere; Fedora would be tempting if that situation were to arise. The irritations that I have seen are more like signs of a lack of polish and remain peripheral to day-to-day working if you discount CD/DVD burning. To be honest, there always have been roughnesses in Ubuntu but has the lack of sizeable change spoilt us? Whatever about how things feel afterwards, big changes can mean new problems to resolve and inspire blog posts describing any solutions so it’s not all bad. If that’s what Canonical wants to see, they might get it and the year ahead looks as if it is going to be an interesting one after a recent quieter period.

A certain lack of speed

A little while, I encountered a problem with ImageMagick processing DNG files in Ubuntu 9.04. Not realising that I could solve me own problem by editing a file named delegates.xml, I took to getting a Debian VM to do the legwork for me. That’s where you’ll find all the commands used when helper software is used by ImageMagick to help it on its way. On its own, ImageMagick cannot deal with DNG files so the command line variant of UFRaw (itself a front end for DCRaw) is used to create a PNM file that ImageMagick can handle. The problem a few months back was that the command in delegates.xml wasn’t appropriate for a newer version of UFRaw and I got it into my head that things like this were hard-wired into ImageMagick. Now, I know better and admit my error.

With 9.1o, it seems that the command in delegates.xml has been corrected but another issue had raised its head. UFRaw 0.15, it seems, isn’t the speediest when it comes to creating PNM files and, while my raw file processing script works after a spot of modification to deal with changes in output from the identify command used, it takes far too long to run. GIMP also uses UFRaw so I wonder if the same problem has surfaced there too but it has been noticed by the Debian team and they have a package for version 0.16 of the software in their unstable branch that looks as if it has sorted the speed issue. However, I am seeing that 0.15 is in the testing branch so I’d be tempted to stick with Lenny (5.x) if any successor turns out to have slower DNG file handling with ImageMagick and UFRaw. In my estimation, 0.13 does what I need so why go for a newer release if it turns out ot be slower?