Sorting a stalled Windows Update service

Following a recent family death, I have ended up with the laptop belonging to the deceased and, since it has been offline most of its life, I set to getting it updated. The McAfee security suite was straightforward enough but trying Windows Update produced errors suggesting that it was not working that a system restart was needed. Doing that did nothing so a little further investigation was needed.

The solution turned out to be stopping the Windows Update service and clearing a certain folder before starting it again. To stop the service, I typed in services.msc into the search box on the Start Menu and clicked on the Services entry that appeared. Then I sought out the Windows Update entry, selected it and clicked on the Stop link on the left hand side. After that, I used Windows Explorer to navigate C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution and deleted everything in there. The, I went back to the Services window and started Windows Update again. That sorted the problem and the system began to be updated as needed.

All of this was on Windows 7, hence the mention of the Start Menu, and the machine is Toshiba Satellite C660 from 2011 with an AMD E-300 APU, 4 GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard drive. Those specs may not be the most impressive but it feels spritely enough and is far better than the lethargic Toshiba Equium A200-1VO that I acquired in 2008 though the HP Pavilion dm4 that I bought in November 2011 probably will travel more often than either of these, if truth be told. After all, it now has 8 GB of RAM and a 1 TB Samsung SSHD along with its Core i3 CPU so it should last a while yet.

Customising Nautilus (or Files) in Ubuntu GNOME 13.04

The changes made to Nautilus, otherwise known as Files, in GNOME Shell 3.6 were contentious and the response of the Linux Mint was to create their own variant called Nemo from the previous version of the application. On the Cinnamon or MATE desktop environments, the then latest version of GNOME’s file manager would have looked like a fish out of water without its application menu in the top panel on the GNOME Shell desktop. It is possible to make a few modifications that help Nautilus to look more at home on those Linux Mint desktops and I have collected them here because they are useful for GNOME Shell users too. Here they are in turn.

Adding Application Menu entries to Location Options Menu

The Location Options menu is what you get on clicking the button with the a cog icon on the right hand side of the application’s location bar. Using Gsettings, it is possible to make that menu include the sort of entries that are in the application menu in the GNOME Shell panel at the top of the screen. These include an entry for closing the while application as well as setting its preferences (or options). Running the following command does just that (if it does not work as it should, try changing the single and double quotes to those understood by a command shell):

gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.xsettings overrides ‘@a{sv} {“Gtk/ShellShowsAppMenu”: <int32 0>}’

Adding in the Remove App Menu GNOME Shell extension will clean up the GNOME Shell a little by removing the application menu altogether. If for some reason you wish to restore the default behaviour, then the following command does the required reset:

gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.plugins.xsettings overrides ‘@a{sv} {}’

Stopping Hiding of the Application Title Bar When Maximised

By default, GNOME Shell can hide the application title bars of GNOME applications such as Nautilus on window maximisation and this is Nautilus now works by default. Changing the behaviour so that the title bar is kept on maximised windows can be as simple as adding in the ignore_request_hide_titlebar extension. The trouble with GNOME Shell extensions is that they can stop working when a new version of GNOME Shell is used so there’s another option: editing metacity-theme-3.xml but /usr/share/themes/Adwaita/metacity-1. The file can be opened using superuser privileges using the following command:

gksudo gedit /usr/share/themes/Adwaita/metacity-1/metacity-theme-3.xml

With the file open, it is a matter of replacing instances of ‘ has_title=”false” ‘ with ‘ has_title=”true” ‘, saving it and reloading GNOME Shell. This may persevere across different versions of GNOME Shell should the extension not do so.

Disabling Recursive Search

This discovery is what led me to bundle these customisations in an entry on here in the first place. In Nemo and older versions of Nautilus, just typing with the application open would lead you down a list towards the file that you wanted. This behaviour was replaced by an automatic recursive search from GNOME Shell 3.6 where the search functionality was extended beyond the folder that was open in the file manager to its subdirectories. To change that to subsetting within the open folder or directory, you need to install a patch version of Nautilus using the following commands:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:dr3mro/personal
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade

The first of these adds a new repository with the patched version of Nautilus while the second combination installs the patched version. With that done, it is time to issue the following command:

gsettings set org.gnome.nautilus.preferences enable-recursive-search false

That sets the new enable-recursive-search option to false to search within an open directory. It also can be found using Dconf-Editor in the following hierarchy: org > gnome > nautilus > preferences. The obsession of the GNOME project team with minimalism is robbing user of some options and this would be a good one to have by default too. Maybe the others should be treated in the same way even if you need to use Gsettings or Dconf-Editor to change them so as to avoid clutter. Having GNOME Tweak Tool able to set them all would be even better.

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.

GNOME 3 in Fedora 15: A Case of Acclimatisation and Configuration

When I gave the beta version of the now finally released Fedora 15 a try, GNOME 3 left me thinking that it was even more dramatic and less desirable a change than Ubuntu’s Unity desktop interface. In fact, I was left with serious questions about its actual usability, even for someone like me. It all felt as if everything was one click further away from me and thoughts of what this could mean for anyone seriously afflicted by RSI started to surface in my mind, especially with big screens like my 24″ Iiyama being commonplace these days. Another missing item was somewhere on the desktop interface for shutting down or restarting a PC; it seemed to be case of first logging off and then shutting down from the login screen. This was yet another case of adding to the number of steps for doing something between GNOME 2 and GNOME 3 with its GNOME Shell.

After that less than positive experience with a Live CD, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’d be giving the GNOME edition of Fedora 15 a wide berth with the LXDE one being chosen in its place. Another alternative approach would have been to turn off GNOME Shell altogether by forcing the fallback mode to run all the time. The way to do this is start up the System Settings application and click on the System Info icon. Once in there, click on Graphics and turn on the Forced Fallback Mode option. With that done, closing down the application, logging off and then back on again will gain you an environment not dissimilar to the GNOME 2 of Fedora 14 and its forbears.

Even after considering the above easy way to get away from and maybe even avoid the world of GNOME Shell, I still decided to give it another go to see if I could make it work in a way that was less alien to me. After looking at the handy quickstart guide, I ventured into the world of GNOME Shell extensions and very useful these have come to be too. The first of these that I added was the Alternate Status Menu and I ran the following command to do so:

yum install gnome-shell-extensions-alternative-status-menu

The result was that the “me” menu gained the ever useful “Power Off…” entry that I was seeking once I refreshed the desktop by running the command r in the command entry box produced by the ALT + F2 keyboard combination. Next up was the Place Menu and the command used to add that is:

yum install gnome-shell-extensions-place-menu

Again, refreshing the desktop as described for the Alternate Status Menu added the new menu to the (top) panel. Not having an application dock on screen all the time was the next irritation that was obliterated and it helps to get around the lack of a workspace switcher for now too. The GNOME Shell approach to virtual desktops is to have a dynamic number of workspaces with there always being one more than what you are using. It’s an interesting way of working that doesn’t perturb more pragmatic users like me but there are those accustomed to tying applications to particular workspaces aren’t so impressed by the change. The other change to workspace handling is that keyboard shortcuts have changed to CTRL-ALT-[Up Arrow] and CTRL-ALT-[Down Arrow] from CTRL-ALT-[Left Arrow] and CTRL-ALT-[Right Arrow].

To add that application dock, I issued the command below and refreshed the desktop to get it showing. Though it stops application windows becoming fully maximised on the screen, that’s not a problem with my widescreen monitor. In fact, it even helps to switch between workspaces using the keyboard because that doesn’t seem to be working when you have fully maximised windows.

yum install gnome-shell-extensions-dock

After adding the application dock, I stopped adding extensions though there are more available such as Alternate Tab Behaviour (restores the ALT-TAB behaviour of GNOME 2), Auto Move Windows, Drive Menu, Native Window Placement, Theme Selector and Window Navigator. Here are the YUM commands for each of these in turn:

yum install gnome-shell-extensions-alternate-tab
yum install gnome-shell-extensions-auto-move-windows
yum install gnome-shell-extensions-drive-menu
yum install gnome-shell-extensions-native-window-placement
yum install gnome-shell-extensions-theme-selector
yum install gnome-shell-extensions-user-theme
yum install gnome-shell-extensions-windowsNavigator

One hope that I will retain is that more of these extensions will appear over time but Ranjith Siji seems to have a good round up of what is available. Other than these, I also have added the DCONF Editor and GNOME Tweaks Tool with the latter restoring buttons for minimising and maximising windows to their title bars for me. As ever, YUM was called to add them using the following commands:

yum install dconf-editor
yum install gnome-tweaks-tool

There are other things that can be done with these but I haven’t to explore them yet. All YUM commands were run as root and the ones that I used certainly have helped me to make myself at home in what once was a very unfamiliar desktop environment for me. In fact, I am beginning to like what has be done with GNOME 3 though I have doubts as to how attractive it would be to a user coming to Linux from the world of Windows. While everything is solidly crafted, the fact that I needed to make some customisations of my own raises questions about how suitable the default GNOME set-up in Fedora is for a new user though Fedora probably isn’t intended for that user group anyway. Things get more interesting when you consider distros favouring new and less technical users, both of whom need to be served anyway.

Ubuntu has gone its own way with Unity and, having spent time with GNOME 3, I can see why they might have done that. Unity does put a lot more near at hand on the desktop than is the case with GNOME 3 where you find yourself going to the Activities window a lot, either by using your mouse or by keystrokes like the “super” (or Windows) key or ALT-F1. Even so, there are common touches like searching for an application like you would search a web page in Firefox. In retrospect, it is a pity to see the divergence when something from both camps might have helped for a better user experience. Nevertheless, I am reaching the conclusion that the Unity approach feels like a compromise and that GNOME feels that little bit more polished. Saying that, an extra extension or two put more items nearer to hand in GNOME Shell would be desirable. If I hadn’t found a haven like Linux Mint where big interface changes are going to be avoided, maybe going with the new GNOME desktop mightn’t have been a bad thing to do after all.