I got Ubuntu successfully installed on my office machine (Dell Studio 17) yesterday. Today, I’m going to use it all day at the office while making notes on what still doesn’t work, what I could get to work, how I fixed problems, and I’m sure some random ramblings will enter at some point.

Dual Monitors

The first issue didn’t take long to present itself. I have an external 24″ LCD that I have hook up to at the office. This morning, I did what I normally do, plug in everything, including the monitor, and then start up the machine. When Ubuntu came up, the LCD functioned, but it was a clone of main screen.

I went into System > Preferences > Screen Resolution to see if I could set the monitors to have independent content. Unfortunately only one screen was shown.

I rebooted with the monitor disconnected and then plugged it in when Ubuntu had loaded. This produced something new: The screens were still cloned, but the primary laptop screen always tried to “focus” or center on the mouse cursor causing large portions of the screen to be cropped off if I moved the mouse to any of the edges. This was a new situation. I restarted X (ctrl+alt+backspace), and the problem remained. I decided to ignore this until I found another solution.

I googled around, read at least a dozen forum threads, and still didn’t find anything to address the issue of using dual view rather than clone view. So, I did what any good computer user should (or shouldn’t) do; I started digging around the menus for a possible solution. It only took me a couple of minutes to figure it out.

The Dell Studio 15 and Dell Studio 17 use an AMD video solution (personally, I prefer nVidia, but I digress). If you install the AMD proprietary drivers, you get a program at Applications > Accessories > ATI Catalyst Control Center. From inside this program, I could select a specific screen, click on the Multi-Display tab, and tell it how I wanted that screen to behave. I selected the external monitor from the drop-down, clicked the Multi-Display tab and then selected “Big Desktop left of display 1,” which matched the physical setup of the screens on my desk. The screens reconfigured themselves immediately.

Since I’m using cubes with Compiz, I loaded System > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager, clicked on “Desktop Cube”, and changed the “Multi Output Mode” option to “Multiple cubes” to give each screen its own cube.

Headphones

Since I work in a room with other people, I always have headphones in. As soon as I had my dual monitor issue taken care of, I loaded up some music and found out that the sound didn’t work. I unplugged my headphones and heard sound from the system’s speakers. I plugged the headphones back in and didn’t hear sound from the headphones or the speakers.

I think this issue is due to the fancy headphone outputs on the Dell Studio 17. There are dual headphone outputs. In Windows, a software package allows me to select how I’d like to treat the individual jacks. I can use them as headphone outputs or line outs. I think it’s this ability to switch the functionality of the jacks combined with the fact that there is more than one jack that causes Ubuntu to fail.

A bit of playing around later, I found that if I loaded the Volume Control (right-click the speaker on the panel by the clock and select “Open Volume Control”), selected the Switches tab, and checked the “Headphone as Line Out” option, that sound is properly sent to the headphones. However, this has a side effect as having a headphone plugged in no longer disables the speakers. I’m working around this by muting the sound for the Front outputs in the Playback tab while the headphones are in use. Not the best solution, but it works.

Also of note, only the middle headphone jack functions for headphones as the front jack seems to be unaffected by the line out option.

There is an update on the headphone issue: Headphones Jacks Now Fully Work on Dell Studio 17 Running Ubuntu

Accessing the Windows Partition

Since I loaded Ubuntu to dual boot with the existing Vista, I wanted to be able to access the contents of the Windows drive. Here’s how I did it.

First, I had to install a new package. I loaded up terminal and executed:

sudo apt-get install ntfs-3g

I then needed to find out which partition I needed to access. I ran “sudo fdisk -l” and received the following output:

   Device Boot   Start      End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sda1            1       19      152586   de  Dell Utility
/dev/sda2           20     1325    10485760    7  HPFS/NTFS
/dev/sda3   *     1325    16001   117882777+   7  HPFS/NTFS
/dev/sda4        16002    30401   115668000    5  Extended
/dev/sda5        16002    29810   110920761   83  Linux
/dev/sda6        29811    30401     4747176   82  Linux swap

Notice that /dev/sda3 is a bootable partition, is quite large (number of blocks), and uses the NTFS format. /dev/sda3 is my Windows partition.

I created a location to mount the partition called /mnt/windows  by running “sudo mkdir /mnt/windows“. I then modified the filesystem table (sudo vi /etc/fstab) and added the following line:

/dev/sda3  /mnt/windows  ntfs-3g  quiet,defaults,rw  0  0

The two bolded entries are what you will need to modify to match your own setup. The first option is the partition to mount. The second option is where you wish to mount the partition.

To load my changes immediately, I ran “sudo mount -a” to reload the partition mount instructions.

Now all my Windows files are easily accessible at all times at /mnt/windows.

Accessing Remote File Systems

Since I frequently access remote Linux file systems for my job and my hobbies, I thought that I’d take advantage of SSH Filesystem in order to make these file systems available as if they were local file systems. Thanks to the SSHFS AUTOmount on Feisty guide, I was able to set this up quickly and easily. Not only that, but the scripts provided automatically mount and unmount the filesystems when the internet connection goes up or down, which is really, really cool to play around with and watch.

I did make a modification to the /etc/network/if-down.d/umountsshfs script provided in the previously mentioned guide. This change may or may not be needed depending on your setup. I changed the last line to the following, note the bolded portion:

[ -n "$mounted" ] && { for mount in $mounted; do fusermount -u $mount; done; }

In case anyone is interested in my final /etc/fstab entry format, here’s one as a sample:

sshfs#servername:  /mnt/servername  fuse  comment=sshfs,
uid=1000,gid=1000,users,noauto,exec,allow_other,reconnect,
transform_symlinks,BatchMode=yes,ConnectTimeout=10  0  0

Note: I changed the actual server name to protect the innocent. Also, the uid and gid are specific to my setup. You can find your’s by running “id” on the command line.

You may notice the lack of username and other relevant parameters. I put those in my ~/.ssh/config file to make connections to the servers more easy. For example, here’s a sample entry from my ~/.ssh/config:

Host hostname
     User username
     ServerAliveInterval 15
     Port 23

An entry can be created for each server with specific SSH directives which allow you to keep connection information for often-used servers short and simple. Setting the ServerAliveInterval helps keep inactive connections alive (this may not be needed or recommenI have to ded in your setup). You can find a full listing of available options and their descriptions at the ssh_config NetBSD Manual Page. You might also find the SshfsFaq helpful if you try to set this up.

Misc Other Setup

I installed Crimson Editor to be my programming editor until I find one I like that is Linux based. I really like Crimson Editor, so it’s going to be hard for me to find a replacement. Running CE in Wine isn’t without its problems though. It seems that CE only remembers changes to settings if I exit by doing File > Exit. If I simply close the window, the settings are not saved.

I tried gedit earlier, and it is extremely close to what I want but is just enough off to make me not want to keep trying with it. It sounds silly, but if gedit just added the ability to make the tabs visible, I would probably use it as my main editor.

I installed jEdit, but it failed to load. I reasoned that since jEdit was built on Java that the JRE was missing, so I installed it. I find it odd that the JRE wasn’t installed by default when I installed jEdit. I’ll try it out later and see what I think.

I can’t use my favorite coding font, Dina, so I’m hunting for a replacement there as well. So far, I’ve tried Bitstream Vera Sans Mono and Monaco. They are both nice, but they just aren’t what I’m looking for. Oh well… Time to keep looking. Why or why can’t I just have my lovely Dina? 🙁

Remaining Issues

I still have massive problems with video. I’m starting think that AMD video hardware just doesn’t perform well in Ubuntu, even with the proprietary driver. Flash video is fine, but all other video is choppy or has a frame rate around 1fps. The performance is so poor, it seems like all video decoding and rendering is handled in software rather than hardware. I have yet to confirm this though.

I can increase or decrease the brightness using the Fn+Up/Down keys, but there are problems. The brightness indicator doesn’t go away, the keyboard stops functioning, and the panels no longer function. Every time I accidentally adjust the brightness manually, I have to restart X (Ctrl+Alt+Backspace).

There are odd times when X just seems to fail. It always happens in different ways, but every time it happens, the windows just stop responding properly or windows get stuck in odd places. As with the brightness adjustment issue, restarting X is a quick fix. I’d really rather not have to do that though as it closes everything I have open. Sure beats a complete reboot however.

The trackpad on the Studio 17 is really wide. I keep accidentally touching it with my palm, causing focus to shift elsewhere while I’m typing. I need to see if I can change a setting somewhere to ignore the touchpad as I type.

The mouse acceleration is much different than I’m used to in Windows, but I’m sure that I will get adjusted to this.

Performance overall seems a bit sluggish. For example, whenever I visit a WordPress site that has the snowfall thing going on (thanks Matt), scrolling is very choppy and closing/switching tabs becomes slow. I’ll have to see if I can find a site that has information about optimizing Ubuntu performance to get the mose out of the machine.

Final Thoughts

I have to admit that I’ve found more issues that I expected, and not all the problems have been readily solvable. Ubuntu has already given me the ability to do things that I just couldn’t do with Windows. Ubuntu has also presented some very core problems which may or may not be fixable, but at least I have the power to make changes and try to fix it while I always felt that Windows told me to “suck it up kid, that’s the way it is.”

I’ll be playing with the system more over the weekend. I hope to have it in fighting shape by Monday so that I can stop messing with my computer and start using it.

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