Ubuntu or bust…

So I’ve been forced onto my Linux desktop machine full time by Dell, my new Inspiron 8600 has a flaw in the LCD so I’m sending it back for repair. Dell had a 7 day return-to-depot warranty (unless you pay more) so for the next week I’m using my desktop machine.

I have had Ubuntu Linux on here for a couple months but I haven’t really used a Linux desktop for my primary workstation for a couple years. I know there are no good excuses for using windows but the last couple years I’ve been so busy with work and home life that I haven’t had much extra tweaking time, something you need to use a Linux desktop for the day to day.

While the basics of desktop use have been ready for prime time in Linux for years (mozilla, abi word, the gimp, open office, evolution etc) the biggest single drawback has been multimedia. I mean honestly, what serious computer user wants to spend hours compiling and tweaking mplayer to watch basic media files. I barely have time to get a coffee in the morning, I want my desktop OS to just work. I guess thats why hoards of self respecting OSS zealots have been migrating to OSX. It’s got a unix core and rockin GUI.

Anyway, since my windows machine’s gone I’ve taken the past week to dive back into the Linux desktop scene. In the past 6 months I’ve played with several OS operating systems on the desktop including Suse 9/9.1, Gentoo, Debian, Fedora Core 3 and FreeBSD 5.3. Suse was too slow and bulky for my tastes, Fedora Core 3 had too many annoying bugs, gentoo was too much work (man, gentoo users are a sick bunch), Debian Woody was a little too out of date and my beloved FreeBSD 5.3 just didn’t support the hardware I needed it to (mainly USB mass storage, firewire and my Nvidia video card). That’s ok, FreeBSD still finds a home on 3 machines on my network at home :-). Finally I settled on Ubuntu Warty Linux after reading about it online.

Basically Ubuntu is a fork of Debian-testing optimized for the desktop user. It’s got some big time funding behind it and a large active user base. Some of the things I really like about ubuntu are as follows:

* It uses debian’s APT package management. Apt is super easy to use and has great dependency resolving abilities (unlike RPM).
* It maintains compatibility with Debian so most Debian packages install and work perfectly which means you have a huge software base.
* It uses the 2.6 kernel.
* The Gnome Desktop environment is very complete, out of the box Ubuntu is ready to roll.
* The user base is quite active online meaning google can usually help you crawl out of pretty much any hole you dig yourself into.
* As a desktop machine it’s quite fast especially compared to Suse.
* The default install doesn’t allow root logons, something that caused 15 minutes of cursing when I first installed. Forcing the use of sudo makes it a lot safer for newbies who may feel the urge to run as root all the time. Of course you can sudo passwd root and reclaim your root account.
* It’s very easy to use, a newbie should be able to sit down at a ubuntu machine and be productive. Similarly, old Linux guys like myself won’t have to spend hours tweaking to have a usable system.
* Warty backports let me run the latest firefox packages without running the Hoary-testing version, which has proven to be a little unstable and slow on my machine.

Now here are some things I didn’t like about Ubuntu Warty:

* Hotplug seems sketchy but I guess that’s a 2.6 issue and not a warty issue.
* My USB mouse seems to puke and die a couple times a day which forces me to unplug/plug it.
* The default media player in warty, Totem, has yet to play ANY media. It seems to lack pretty much every audio and video codec out there, and yet it’s the default?? Luckily Mplayer packages are available and work very well once you install the win32 codecs package.
* The Nvidia binary driver seems a little buggy and has caused 2 hard locks on me in the past week. Don’t know if this is ubuntu specific or not.
* Firewire support seems broken at the moment on my machine. I haven’t had time to debug the issue.

Overall the windows to Ubuntu experience has been fairly positive, I definatly suggest anyone working or thinking about working on a Linux desktop check out ubuntu, they have a live cd that will let you test drive things before you get bloody doing a migration.

Mplayer Plugin in Ubuntu

If you’re using mplayer plugin in Ubuntu linux and it doesn’t work chances are you haven’t configured the /etc/mplayerplug-in.conf file. My mplayer-plugin was loading and buffering when playing embedded media files but refused to start playing and often crashed firefox. If I saved the media and then opened it with mplayer it played fine!

I did a quick google and found that mplayer plugin has it’s own config file for mplayer’s options under /etc/mplayerplug-in.conf . In Ubuntu all of the options in the file are commented out by default so you have to go in and configure what sound output engine you prefer (esd if you’re using the default Gnome install). This is what was crashing mplayer for me, once I set esd as the default output all my media played fine.

3Ware Escalade controllers on FreeBSD

At work I maintain a couple large (2+TB) ATA raid servers running FreeBSD 4.x. As with any RAID setup, one important aspect is monitoring the raid status. Historically to use 3ware Raid cards in freebsd I’ve use the 3dm port from the freebsd ports archive. A couple months ago while doing a portsupgrade I noticed that the 3dm port was depricated.

I went to the 3ware site to see if there was a replacement utility for freebsd and sure enough they have a 3dm2 package availible for download. One thing to note is the 3ware site is not well layed out, it took me 15 mins of searching to actually find the download link for 3dm2. Once downloaded I simply ran the installer and edited the /etc/3dm2/3dm2.conf to reflect my preferences and started the deamon. The 3dm2 installer put the apropriate rc files in /etc (/etc/rc.3dm2 ) for me so there was no need to edit anything to have it start on boot.

I have to say that the web interface is much improved, recently I was able to rebuild and array that had a flakey disk via this utility and everything went smoothly. When it comes to ATA raid, 3ware is definatly leading the way.