Getting back to Ubuntu (Again!)

by Robert Nagle on 3/15/2013

in Linux/Open Source

I thought I’d do a quick post detailing my return to Ubuntu.

I installed 12.04 LTS Precise Penguin last June  and experienced a variety of small issues. Mainly I experienced crashes related to memory dumps — often with mounting file systems or loading music libraries. I thought it might be related to my ATI video card or just with the fact that Ubuntu was still receiving bug reports. My main goal in using Linux was to have a test server environment for  a new CMS for my Personville Press site.

I managed to fix most of my user issues (mainly with dropbox) , while I had to live with several others: Oxygen XML Editor was incredibly slow, and I still had not found a decent desktop blogging editor.

Let me define what the problem is: Bloggers need a desktop client for linux which has a preview mode, an  offline mode which you can save  (if necessary) and the ability to withstand a browser crash.  Optionally the  Windows Live does this well (although over time I have noticed some deficincies  — crappy code). The greatest thing about Windows Live is that it was very reliable and did all of these things. (Update: I just checked Live Office 365 which I paid for…Its blog client incorporates most of Live Writer’s elements, while leaving out some important things — like the ability to position an image in terms of pixels instead of inches).

Because Windows Live produced good clean code (basically), had a preview mode and a save/restore mode, it was basically better than MS Office itself….. I tried several linux blogging clients. The best so far I’d seen is blogilo, which has a lot of Live’s features, but just isn’t as reliable (it also hasn’t been updated in a while). More importantly, I lost some work…and I don’t think I ever lost work in Live Writer.

At someone’s recommendation, I am trying Scribe Fire (a browser plugin). This doesn’t really solve the offline mode problem, but it is better than nothing. On the other hand, the WordPress rich text editor is so good and reliable that you might as well do that from another browser. WordPress does autosaving, so if the browser crashes, you are protected generally (thanks, Matt).

Last summer, just as I was getting comfortable and productive in Linux, I had two major projects in MS Office, so I had to live in Windows Vista for a long while. Then I started learning about some Windows music tools and  and then was already comfortable using Oxygen in Windows (it had all my settings configured).  Then, I started doing a lot of music-related research for my upcoming ebook on music collecting  that involved Windows tools. Despite my resolution to have a working Linux desktop, I spent almost all of it in Windows.

Finally, I’m ready to return to Ubuntu, first having to do some updates. Here are some things I discovered:

  1. Ubuntu and specifically Unity  is much more stable than before. Horray! Also, more apps are built into the Unity framework. I know Linux people have been ragging on Unity, but I loved it from day 1.
  2. The Firefox flash plugin still causes problems — especially for Youtube. This firefox plugin lets you set the Youtube default to play the HTML 5 video player.
  3. The Clementine music player (which was the fork from Amarok 1.4 before they ran it into the ground) is awesome and stable. It even makes me less inclined to try Foobar2000 on Wine.
  4. There is an linux client for Evernote called Everpad.
  5. Music streaming program Rdio now has official linux support for their client.
  6. It wasn’t too hard to find, but gpodder podcast client for linux seems to work well.

Another thing. I noticed that Ubuntu works significantly better on my dual boot machine than Windows Vista (which has lots of Firefox-related memory problems and Flash memory problems). Vista is just slow and especially slow to boot.  (Ubuntu by contrast boots in record time). Windows Explorer is ridiculously slow.  Despite the fact that my HW is  6+ years old, its specs are still good:  4 gigs of RAM and lots of HD space. So a new 64 bit OS will have to work much better and faster than an OS several years old which has been patched to death.

So I’m generally happy with my Ubuntu machine and don’t expect to have to revert to Windows (especially because my Win 7 laptop is several feet away). On that laptop I have several indispensable  programs which simply must run on Window: dbpoweramp, Camtasia, Sony Vegas, MS Live Office 365.

Postscript: One very annoying thing is that Firefox is continuously showing a Flash plugin error whenever a website (like my blog) requires flash. Need to figure out how to turn that message  off because (on my system at least) the player and Youtube does work, so the error message is in fact mistaken.  (Solution found: go to about:config, set value for plugins.hide_infobar_for_missing_plugin to True).

Update #2. I’m about ready to give up again on the Unity Window Manager. Really, I had high hopes. I like the interface a lot; I can get things done  quickly, and everything is intuitive. The problem is that it always crashes catastrophically. Whenever I have an application crash (Firefox, etc), the windows manager crashes and then Ubuntu needs to be rebooted. I’ve been rebooting an average of 5 times a day at least.

Here’s a thread I started last summer about alternative window managers. Unfortunately, from a usability point of view, none of the other window managers came close. Now that I’ve decided to ditch Unity 2D, I’m going to have to try again. Here’s a more recent discussion about Ubuntu stability issues. What would be interesting (and sad) is if these random crashes still occur in other windows managers. Then, I  would be in bad shape.

(PS, I am typing this in Windows).

Update #3. My computer crashed and I re-installed Ubuntu on a slightly newer PC.  I learned a few important things. First, with a decent video card, I could use the 3-D Unity. In terms of performance, my PC handles Unity much better, but more importantly the application darkens whenever the app uses too much CPU or memory. When I used Ubuntu before, I think I had tried the 2-D Unity, which apparently didn’t have this feedback feature. I don’t think I’ve had to reboot once. Ironically on my new machine I have only 3 gig of RAM (I had 4 gig before), but because of the better video card and the darkening window, I have avoided any catastrophic crashes. Sometimes a specific app will hang (I’m looking at you, Firefox!), but most of the time it’s just a matter of waiting for the memory usage to decline to more manageable levels.

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