Moving to Precise Pangolin Ubuntu 12.04, HUD and Unity 5

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Note: if you’re just looking for how to activate HUD in latest 12.04 beta, just briefly tap the Alt key! To upgrade from Ubuntu 11.10 on a desktop system, press Alt+F2 and type in: update-manager -d

This post is my daily work journal, starting out with just re-installing my Ubuntu 11.10 Linux system that crashed from an office move, and turns into an Ubuntu Precise Pangolin 12.04 alpha upgrade.

Okay, this morning, I’m trying to go from a re-installed Linux Ubuntu 11.10 OS to full productivity, in as few steps as possible, and I thought it would be interesting to document the process. Everyone’s familiar to settling back into a Mac or Windows post-crash, but settling back into a Linux desktop is an interesting procedure. First of all, Linux is infintely customizable, and therefore settling back in could be infinitely complex. But I’m using the controversial Unity interface from Canonical, which as the name implies, unifies things. It’s operating-system-on-rails, so there’s not really that much choice, and for getting productive quickly, that’s a good thing.

The Ubuntu 11.04 install off the original media went flawlessly, and before ANY updates, I hit the Upgrade OS button in Update Manager, which caused Ubuntu 11.10 to be installed. I went home for the night, because I ran out of time at the end of the day yesterday (started too late), and came in this morning to find that only one reboot was required after the OS upgrade. I ran the Update Manager to start the infernal update, reboot, update, reboot rhythm that I’ve come to expect from Windows, and there were none. My system was completely up-to-date. So, that’s one install, and one update, which got me a whole OS revision and all the updates in one go. That’s good for getting productive again quickly.

Next, it’s time to activate two monitors, and that gets me to where I am now. I’m writing this on Google Docs in the pre-installed Firefox, so naturally, I had no office software to install. And even so, I could have started using the included LibreOffice Writer, which is pre-installed and one-click accessible on the Ubuntu launcher. Getting dual monitor working is a bit more complicated, and requires either putzing around or just knowing where to go. For my motherboard, I have to launch the NVIDIA X Server Settings program, so I go to Ubuntu’s “dash” button, the equivalent of Mac’s Spotlight, and start typing nvidia. Poof! First option. I click it to run, click, the second option “X Server Display Configuration”, click Detect Displays, which immediately shows my freshly attached second monitor marked as Disabled. I click it, switch its status to Twinview, hit “Save to X Configuration file”, provide admin login, answer prompts, click Apply, and Poof! Dual monitors.

I really don’t know why Linux desktop gets a bad reputation for being complex and geeky. So far, this has been a more professional and straight-forward experience than any Windows install I’ve done. Next step? Dropbox! First, I check for Dropbox in the Ubuntu Software Center, which is an icon put on the Launcher pad by the install… bingo! Dropbox is so primetime that it’s in the place you just instinctively go looking for software. I had to click a Restart Nautilis button in the installer, then Start Dropox, then give it credentials. I plow through the Dropbox questions, give it my admin credentials, and POOF! I’ve got all my document files back. It’s syncing as I type.

I found Dropbox in the Ubuntu Software Center, which I imagine is some combination of the Debian repository for Ubuntu, plus another Apple iTunes App Store copycat. Now, Ubuntu is a Debian-based, meaning there’s about 30K ready-to-install free software packages, but the default “Synaptic” program is a little bit too techie for most. It exposes dependencies, and has a checkbox system and apply changes button approach that isn’t good for the mainstream user. the Ubuntu Software Center appears to solve all that. Also, because it’s a marketplace, ala the App Store, it creates an ecosystem where software developers stand some chance in hell of making some money on the Ubuntu platform… not much… but Canonical has got to try.

Next? Time to blast through the step that with proprietary software would involve finding your old serial numbers, install disks, fudging it with a serial cracker and bit torrent, putting your freshly installed system at immediate risk, or going to your IT department to ask for a new Creative Suite install. Instead, I go to the already open Software Center, type in gimp… installing… done. Inkscape… installing… done. Blender… installing… done. Google Chrome… whoops!

It turns out that Chromium is in the Ubuntu Software Center, and not Chrome. The description reads: “Chromium is an open-source browser project that aims to build a safer, faster and more stable way for all Internet users to experience the web. Chromium serves as a base for Google Chrome, which is Chromium rebranded (name and logo) with very few additions such as usage tracking and an auto-updater system.” Very interesting! I was using Chrome on my last install, but I was grabbing software from everywhere, and not trying to do it all through the Ubuntu Software Center. Well, I’m going to abide by their wisdom, and start using Chromium rather than Chrome. Installing… done!

This is all just a friggin’ pleasure. I have to do an obligatory shout-out to Barry Altman, the guy who resurrected Commodore computers lately. He and I were in communication during the development of what has come to become the Commodore OS, or COS, which is a Debian derivative, fancied up to be nostalgic for both the 8-bit C64 days, and the Amiga wizbang graphics days. He chose Ubuntu as the initial officially supported OS, but then switched to COS and Mint Linux — COS for folks who want the novelty, and Mint for folks who want a better-than-Windows window/menu environment. The timing was such that Ubuntu went a little too funky for mainstream tastes by introducing the tablet-friendly Unity user interface at about this time. And although COS and Mint look really cool, I am just philosophically aligned with what Canonical and Mark Shuttleworth are trying to do with Ubuntu Unity. I am going to stick it out for awhile, particularly to see the impending head-up display (HUD) designed to ultimately replace vile time-wasting dropdown menus, which most people don’t know are a crime because it’s all they’ve ever known.

Okay, time to run each program: Gimp, Inkscape and Blender, and select “Keep in launcher” for each of their icons. I am reminded at this point, the biggest weakness of Unity in my mind is the slight time-delay when you click on the Dash button (their equivalent of Mac Spotlight). And run Chromium… choose Google as my default search engine, and provide my gmail login, and POOF! I’ve got all my bookmarks magically auto-flowed over.

What’s next? Well, it’s stupid little things. I can’t live without my em-dash—I used to have a setting to make right-alt triple-minus do an em-dash, but there are two problems with this. It is not a generic way to type an em-dash on any Ubuntu machine I sit down on (requires a system setting), and the right-alt is not the most comfortable for typing. So, odd muscle memory is forming for a sub-optimal solution, when the alternative is learning how to type special Unicode characters directly, which has the advantage of working everywhere, and helping me to learn the Unicode values. So, this ends up not being a to-do item after all, but an education item: Ctrl+Shift+u 2014. This is better than the Windows way, which requires having a number-pad (Hold Alt+0151), but not as good as the Mac, where it’s simply Alt+Shift minus.

I’m tempted to do Remmina remote desktop as my next step, because no matter how much you do to get PCs out of your life, you still need to keep them around to run every once in awile. For this, this means my original company-issued PC laptop from over 3 years ago, still sporting Windows XP. I don’t treat it as a laptop anymore, but rather, just a machine to terminal serve into remotely on those increasingly rare occasions where I need the Windows version of Outlook or Office. But now that I have Mac Office 2011 on my MacBook Air (surprisingly good), the need for that is dropping still further. Only accessing network drives remains an issue, which should be possible through Samba, which I saw the IT people do when Mac Office was installed, but which is uncharted territory for me. I’ll have to tackle that soon.

NOTE: Remmina full-screen behavior has gone funky with 12.04’s new workspaces virtual screens and dual-monitors. Really annoying. Not sure the solution, but Remmina is still the best Ubuntu RDP client, and for now I’m avoiding full-screen.

I can’t do remote desktop next, because another casualty of the office move appears to me how my Linksys WiFi router is configed as a switch. It’s stopped working as a switch… oh wait, deja vu! Special rule. Googling it up produced my forgotten knowledge: “Plug the ethernet cable from/to the upstream router into one of the numbered jacks, NOT the Internet jack.” Okay Okay, installing Remmina. Cnnecting Linksys WRT54G switch and patch cables… powering up laptop… getting IP with ipconfig… okay (a good reminder my internal IPs are my personal LAN and not the company’s internal IP’s), pop the values into Remmina, and Bingo! Remote desktop to my laptop established. As an added bonus, I have my XP modified to allow two simultaneous RDP logins, so I can use my entire dual-monitor space with remote desktop via two Windows logins.

Next thing to change is my virtual screen setup. I’ve had something of a revelation recently with workspaces, given the brilliant horizontally oriented, virtual screen when you need one setup with Mac OS X Lion, but it is very much geared towards a touch user-interface, with the three-finger swipe gesture. I love working with virtual screens on my MacBook Air. It makes the 13-inch monitor feel so much larger. You never futz around with windows. Just put everything full-screen, and swipe left and right. Gnome 3 has followed suit, and gives you virtual workspaces on-demand. Ubuntu Unity is still in the old-paradigm of pre-selected and fixed workspaces, which works out well with a dual-monitor setup. You hardly need to swipe left and right. It’s hardly conceivable and headache inducing. Instead, I prefer to stack them vertically, so that I have 3 dual-monitor setups virtually stacked for a 2×3 six-screen configuration where I can only go up and down. It maps easily to the mind and muscle memory. The problem is that it’s always a puzzle to edit workspaces under Ubuntu.

Hmmmmm. I just had an evil thought. I googled up the answer to workspaces in Ubuntu, and the answer addresses 11.10 and bellow. I’m like, hmmmm. Do I want to be running 12.04? Will it get me HUD? How easy is the upgrade?

Get Ubuntu 12.04
To upgrade from Ubuntu 11.10 on a desktop system, press Alt+F2 and type in “update-manager -d” (without the quotes) into the command box. Update Manager should open up and tell you: New distribution release ‘12.04’ is available. Click Upgrade and follow the on-screen instructions.

…so I’m doing this, and hitting Upgrade, and again hitting the Upgrade button. My Commodore 64x will be out of commission for a bit, and I’ll be on my MacBook Air. So much for becoming productive ASAP, but this falls into the category of important but not urgent. If HUD works out, I could end up being more productive forever forward as a result, rather than more productive for just a single day, and in Stephen Covey’s 4-quadrants, this is the most important kind of work. Ha ha, the upgrade says about 1 day and 2 hours remaining… okay, now 13 hours… okay 4 hours remaining… 1 hour 35 minutes… ha ha!

Makes me think if it isn’t just worth downloading the 12.04 ISO image and installing fresh. But truthfully, downloading an ISO can take a long time too, and upgrades on Debian/Ubuntu appear to have… a… precision to them, that makes them feel as pristine as a fresh install. Perhaps that’s the precision they call 12.04 Precise Pangolin. The estimated install time certainly isn’t precise. I guess it’s better to build low expectations and please than being over-optimistic. Anyway, I’ll be on 12.04 a lot faster than I thought.

After Precise Pangolin is installed, it looks like the cool stuff will still require a few steps. It hardly seems to make sense to make Unity and HUD separate from the 12.04 Alpha, but I have found articles on the Internet that imply that I will have to trigger the following commands:

NOTE: The latest Unity and HUD are included in the latest 12.04 release. You access HUD just by tapping the Alt-key! Refer to tomorrow’s entry.

Get the latest Unity
sudo apt-add-repository ppa:unity-team/ppa

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:unity-team/hud
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

…we’ll see. Meanwhile, it’s time to shift my focus back to work work. Just to those reading my work journal, I actually have been in and out of meetings, doing client work. Okay, where am I at now? It’s time to fire up a secure shell and start working on Tiger, and it’s time to cut this work journal entry… finally.

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