From Ubuntu to Linux Mint with Cinnamon

I’m becoming a technology curmudgeon. For as long as I can remember I’ve used a traditional window manager on Linux. Maybe I’m just stuck in my ways but I’m convinced that the combination of Focus Follows Mouse (with a 450ms auto-raise delay), the ThinkPad TrackPoint, and middle-click scrolling is the most efficient way to navigate windows. So Ubuntu’s neglect of that paradigm in favor of something that feels too much like my wife’s Mac has caused me to seek greener pastures.

It seems that all of the cool kids are switching from Ubuntu to Linux Mint. So I decided to give Linux Mint 16 with Cinnamon a try. It took some tweaking but now I’m pretty happy with the setup. I’ve switched from the “can’t let go of the past” desktop environment to the “I’m not dead yet” one. Besides some minor UI annoyances the only big downside seems to be worse battery life.

As with all Linux distributions I had to make some changes to the default system. For my future reference and possibly for others, here are the changes I made:

  • To install Chrome I created /etc/apt/sources.list.d/google-chrome.list containing:
    deb http://dl.google.com/linux/chrome/deb/ stable main

    And then installed the key:

    sudo apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-keys A040830F7FAC5991
  • Out-of-the-box dnsmasq completely breaks things when connecting to Wifi networks that muck with DNS so I disabled dnsmasq and now networking works great.

  • There is a bunch of unneeded cruft which I removed:
    sudo apt-get remove banshee brasero tomboy vlc xchat casper modemmanager simple-scan mintnanny mintbackup mintupdate sox
  • I had to install some other stuff:
    sudo apt-get install xcursor-themes powertop vim skype git trash-cli
  • Also I setup git to use the Gnome Keyring so things are copacetic with GitHub’s 2-factor auth.

Now I can happily continue with my old-school ways.

Install Adobe AIR on 64-bit Ubuntu 10.10

Right now Adobe AIR is only officially available for 32-bit Linux. But it does work on 64-bit Linux with the 32-bit compatibility libraries. There are several ways to install Adobe AIR on Linux. My preferred way on Ubuntu is to use the .deb package. However the .deb package distributed by Adobe can only be installed on 32-bit systems. Good news is that this can be easily fixed! To install the Adobe AIR .deb package on a 64-bit system just follow these steps:

  1. Download the Adobe AIR .deb file
  2. In a terminal window go to the directory containing the adobeair.deb file
  3. Create a tmp dir:
    mkdir tmp
  4. Extract the deb file to the tmp dir:
    dpkg-deb -x adobeair.deb tmp
  5. Extract the control files:
    dpkg-deb --control adobeair.deb tmp/DEBIAN
  6. Change the Architecture parameter from “i386″ to “all”:
    sed -i "s/i386/all/" tmp/DEBIAN/control
  7. Repackage the deb file:
    dpkg -b tmp adobeair_64.deb

Now you can install Adobe AIR on a 64-bit system! From the command line just do:

sudo dpkg -i adobeair_64.deb

That’s it! Let me know if you have any questions.

Flex Development on Linux with IntelliJ IDEA

It’s kinda hard to believe that I’ve been doing Flex development on Linux for over six years now. In that time I’ve tried a few different tools. Vim will always be my favorite but debugging is painful. Flex Builder for Linux worked but lacked major features and commitment from Adobe for continual improvement. Most recently I’ve been using IntelliJ IDEA for Flex development on Linux. It’s been working great! There are a few things I’ve had to get used to but they are doing a great job of providing superb tooling support for Flex. I’ve also been very impressed with the responsiveness from the IntelliJ team in their forums and bug system.

Here is a quick video I recorded to show the basics of using IntelliJ IDEA for Flex development on Linux:

To get started download either the latest prerelease of IntelliJ IDEA or their current production version. Flex development is only available in their Ultimate Edition but they do provide a free 30 day trial. Let me know what you think.

Install Flash Player on 64-bit Linux

UPDATE: This video was intended to show how to upgrade Flash to a new / experimental version. If you do not have Flash and want to see the video, first switch YouTube to default to HTML5 video and then watch this video on YouTube.

Adobe has just released a preview of a 64-bit Flash Player for Windows, Mac, and Linux! I created a quick video to show Linux users how to install Flash Player on a 64-bit system. Check it out:

Let me know how Flash Player “Square” works for you!

Ubuntu 10.10 Boots in 8.6 Seconds!

*** Update: My boot time is now down to 7 seconds! New video coming soon. ***

I just updated to the latest Ubuntu 10.10 desktop and noticed that boot time is now extremely fast! My Intel Core 2 Duo 2.80GHz laptop with an Intel SSD now boots in 8.6 seconds! That is from boot loader all the way to logged in and ready to use! Nice work Ubuntu! Check out the video if you want to see it in action:

Ubuntu 10.10 will be released in October, 2010 but if you want to check it out now, get the beta.

Flex Builder on Linux Update

Adobe has posted an update for Flex Builder on Linux which was scheduled to time-out on December 1, 2009. While the Flex SDK has always worked on Linux, development is certainly easier with Eclipse support for coding, compiling, and debugging. This alpha 5 release of Flex Builder for Linux allows us Linux folks to continue building Flex applications in Eclipse for another 401 days. However, Adobe has still not announced any plans to create a full Flex Builder (or Flash Builder) product for Linux. If that is something you want then please go vote for FB-19053. This update still doesn’t support Eclipse 3.5. If you want Eclipse 3.5 support then you will need to apply patches created by Danyul and myself.

Let me know how it goes. And if you are in the USA – Happy Thanksgiving!

Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala) Desktop Edition Review

Today Ubuntu released Karmic Koala 9.10 Desktop Edition. Like Snow Leopard and Windows 7, I find this release underwhelming. It seems that all three major operating systems are running out of room for innovation and the focus has now shifted to core improvements. But the lack of anything really new and exciting in all three recently released operating systems (Snow Leopard, Windows 7, and Ubuntu 9.10) indicates that the OS space has become a commodity market. All OS innovation seems to have shifted to mobile devices while the only significant remaining differentiator between the operating systems is the applications that run natively on them.

Applications are now the key to OS adoption. I love using iPhoto and iMovie on my wife’s MacBook Pro. They are fantastic apps for a novice photo and video editor (like me). Outlook and Office on Windows continue to be significantly better for office productivity, email, calendaring, and contact management than any other available options for me. Everyone I work with passes around PowerPoint presentations and Word documents. Without 100% compatibility the Mac and Linux alternatives to Office make it unusable for me. Adobe uses Exchange so Outlook is the only real option for email, calendaring, and contact management. Outlook may not be sexy or simple but it just works. There are also some great plugins for Outlook that really improve my productivity. For instance, Adobe’s travel agency has an Outlook plugin that automatically syncs my travel information to my calendar. I frequently hear my co-workers who use Mac Mail / Entourage complain about calendar mishaps and other issues, which makes me thankful that I have never had any issues with Outlook in the past seven years that I’ve been using it.

Ubuntu Linux is my primary desktop OS and since I need Office for my day-to-day work I use VMWare Workstation and boot the same Windows 7 install that I also can dual-boot into for presentations. This provides me with the ability to use the OS I’m most familiar with (Linux) most of the time but to also use Windows for Office when needed. It’s just too bad that I can’t run Snow Leopard in VMWare since that would certainly alleviate some marital tension because my wife hates it when I use her laptop to produce new episodes of Drunk on Software.

As I said before I’m underwhelmed by Ubuntu 9.10. It’s not a bad release. Most stuff works. But looking back at my review of Ubuntu 9.04 it seems that not much has really changed:

  • Battery Life – Still great!
  • Suspend – Still works great except that I still can’t see my F3507g Mobile Broadband card after I resume (open bug) unless I toggle my wireless kill switch.
  • 3G Mobile Broadband – Now consistently works much better! And works out-of-the-box (unlike on Windows).
  • Email – I would love to switch to Evolution from Outlook but MAPI is still not working for me. Whenever I try Evolution crashes.
  • Display – The Intel drivers are working great except that setting the Display Preferences in Gnome’s Preferences still doesn’t work. Using xrandr from the command line works fine though – even when plugging into a projector.
  • Boot Performance – Improved by a few seconds. From BIOS to logged in in under ten seconds!
  • Office Productivity – OpenOffice is unusable for me. It’s UI is clunky and it’s compatibility with Office is still not perfect.
  • Screen Sharing – Still no Adobe Acrobat Connect presenter plugin for Linux.
  • Flex Builder for Linux – The alpha is about to expire. Please vote for the feature request.
  • Accelerometer – Still doesn’t work out-of-the-box.

Overall I really appreciate any steps that Linux takes towards being a more viable Windows / Mac alternative. And who am I to complain? I don’t have to pay for Linux and have never really contributed to making it better. So overall I am happy with Ubuntu 9.10 and there are only a few things that I wish were better. The good news is that improvement of Linux on the Desktop is accelerating while desktop OS innovation seems to have stagnated due to the OS market being commoditized. As long as the applications that run on Linux continue to improve then the future of Desktop Linux seems bright. Maybe what we need is more cross-platform applications using Adobe AIR? :)

Ubuntu 9.04 Desktop Edition Review – What works. What doesn’t.

Since the days when I installed Slackware Linux via a stack of 3.5″ floppies, Linux has been a *nearly* suitable desktop for me. With some tinkering and with VMWare to run Windows when I need it I’ve been able to use Linux as my primary desktop OS for around 15 years. As computers and software have evolved Linux has had to keep up. In some areas it’s done exceptionally well and in others it has struggled. But based on the improvements in Ubuntu Jaunty I believe the pace of improvement is accelerating. This means that many of the niche oddities and problems with Linux should soon be ironed out.

With the recent release of Ubuntu 9.04 aka Jaunty I wanted to give a brief overview of what works for me and what doesn’t. My requirements for an operating system are not the same as everyone else’s. So some of these may not matter to others. First let me describe what I primarily use my computer for. I travel frequently so things like battery life, suspend, and 3G connectivity are important. My employer uses Exchange so being able to access my email, contacts, and calendar while offline is essential. I do development on Java and Flex so those development platforms must work. I regularly present at conferences and user groups so connecting to external displays and solid presentation tools are essential. So let’s see how Jaunty does in these areas:

Battery Life

The 9-cell battery on my Lenovo W500 now lasts four to five hours! This is a significant improvement! In the past I was never able to get more than about two hours. Also tools such as PowerTOP help me identify which processes are waking up the processor most frequently.

Suspend

I never hibernate to disk so I’m not sure if that works. But suspend now regularly works when using the Intel video card (my laptop has both Intel and ATI). The only problem with suspend is that my F3507g doesn’t come back after I resume. I’m not sure if there is a bug for this yet other than a comment on another bug.

3G

Sometimes 3G dial-up works. My F3507g card for some reason is a lot slower than using a PCMCIA 3G card. But strangely I can only get my PCMCIA card to connect occasionally. I’m not sure if there are bugs for either of these issues. Overall NetworkManager has led to significant improvements in 3G connection handling. And more improvements are expected with NetworkManager 0.8, which will include ModemManger.

Email

Using Evolution for my personal email via IMAP has always worked fine. However using Evolution for my work email has been hit and miss over the past few years. It used to work sometimes before my email account was switched to Exchange 2007. Since then it has pretty much not worked at all. I could use IMAP but then I wouldn’t be able to access my contacts and calendar. So unfortunately I’ve been using Outlook via VMWare. I do have hope though that the evolution-mapi support will soon stabilize and I can ditch Outlook. Right now there are a number of evolution-mapi bugs, some of them crashers.

Display

After a number of problems with my ATI card (performance, suspend, Xrandr, etc.) I gave up and switched over to my Intel card. So far things have worked much better than they ever have with display drivers on Linux. Xrandr now actually works to mirror my display when I plug into an external monitor. However I continue to have problems with gnome-display-properties and compiz.

Boot Performance

One of the best improvements with Jaunty is boot performance. My W500 now boots from the Grub menu to GDM in 16 seconds! Hopefully the next release of Ubuntu (Karmic Koala) will incorporate the kernel mode setting stuff to trim the boot time down even further.

Office Productivity

For some people OpenOffice is a viable alternative to Office, but unfortunately not for me. The PowerPoint and Word conversions are not 100% perfect. The reviewing / tracking changes mode in Office is still second to none. So I’ve been trying to use online solutions like Buzzword and SlideRocket more. Once these new platforms support full offline editing I think I’ll be able to mostly stop using Office. But for now I’m stuck with Office via Windows on VMWare.

Screen Sharing

I frequently use Adobe Acrobat Connect to do remote presentations. However there isn’t a presenter plugin for Linux so this is another thing that keeps me using Windows. Please go vote for this on the Acrobat.com Ideas website.

Accelerometer

My laptop has an accelerometer and although the hdaps module is supposed to make it work the module won’t load. There is an open bug for this one.

Overall

Overall Jaunty is a solid release that moves Linux closer to being my full-time desktop. For the first time I can see on the horizon the day when I no longer have to use Windows (dual-booted or via VMWare). Thank you Ubuntu and everyone else who builds this great stack of open source software!