Ubuntu notes

I’ve been running Fedora Core 4 on my laptop for a year and a half now, and I figured it was about time to update to something newer. I had tried Ubuntu briefly on the laptop at the very beginning but wasn’t impressed. I’ve also had Ubuntu running as the OS on my backup machine for a while, but I never use that machine manually, so I haven’t done much testing. Here go some miscellaneous notes after a couple of days of using Ubuntu (Edgy Eft). This is on my Sony Vaio VGN-FS550, which I absolutely love.

The install was fairly easy, and for the first time in the history of linux on laptops for me, the wireless just worked out of the box with no poking around to find drivers and just the right config. Setting up the widescreen was also pretty easy, if a little different from on FC4. On the latter, I had to google around until I learned about a tool called 915resolution that helps you set up widescreen displays, and then I added some config mumbo jumbo to my /etc/rc.local file to adjust the screen resolution on startup. Ubuntu, it turns out, has a nifty package for 915resolution (so no more hunting around — just do “apt-get install 915resolution”), but it doesn’t have /etc/rc.local, so I had to find out how to make it run on startup. Ubuntu does this through /etc/default. When you install a package that may run at startup, it gets a file added in here by the package installer, and you add config to that file. So voila, within a matter of minutes, I had my widescreen set up (compare to hours of clueless googling and trial and error to get it set up originally in FC4).

The Alps mouse was a little more difficult. To fix this, you have to google around and find an xorg.conf config that’s close to what you need and then tweak it until it works. To find out what device to use, you can cat /proc/bus/input/devices and look for the mouse. In my case, it looks like this:

I: Bus=0011 Vendor=0002 Product=0008 Version=7321
N: Name=”AlpsPS/2 ALPS GlidePoint”
P: Phys=isa0060/serio4/input0
S: Sysfs=/class/input/input6
H: Handlers=mouse1 event5 ts1
B: EV=f
B: KEY=420 0 70000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
B: REL=3
B: ABS=1000003

The “Handlers” line in theory tells you what to plug into the InputDevice section in xorg.conf (which in my case looks like this):

Section “InputDevice”
Identifier “ALPS”
Driver “synaptics”
Option “CorePointer”
Option “SendCoreEvents” “true”
Option “Device” “/dev/psaux”
Option “Protocol” “auto-dev”
Option “Protocol” “auto-dev”
Option “LeftEdge” “120”
Option “RightEdge” “830”
Option “TopEdge” “120”
Option “BottomEdge” “650”
Option “FingerLow” “14”
Option “FingerHigh” “15”
Option “MaxTapTime” “180”
Option “MaxTapMove” “110”
Option “ClickTime” “0”
Option “EmulateMidButtonTime” “75”
Option “VertScrollDelta” “10”
Option “HorizScrollDelta” “10”
Option “MinSpeed” “0.45”
Option “MaxSpeed” “0.75”
Option “AccelFactor” “0.020”
Option “EdgeMotionMinSpeed” “200”
Option “EdgeMotionMaxSpeed” “200”
Option “UpDownScrolling” “1”
Option “CircularScrolling” “0”
Option “CircScrollDelta” “0.1”
Option “CircScrollTrigger” “2”
Option “SHMConfig” “true”
EndSection

Googling around revealed to me that the “Device” line should use something like “/dev/input/event5” where the event number matches what you found in /proc/bus/input/devices. The problem I encountered was that the event number varied from bootup to bootup. So one time, the hard-coded xorg.conf would work, and another it wouldn’t. I finally settled on using /dev/psaux, and it seems to work, though I haven’t rebooted since the last time it worked, and I’m not convinced that it’s not still a little flakey. The last time I started up, it wasn’t working, and then I did ctrl-alt-f1 to get to a different screen and then ctrl-alt-f7 to get back to the main screen, and I wonder if that isn’t what made it start working. It was after that switch that the touchpad started functioning fully. Who knows what’ll happen the next time I reboot?

I should note that most of the touchpad functionality was fine out of the box. It was simply the bit that lets you slide your finger down the right-hand side to scroll a window that was busted. I use that a whole lot, so it was pretty high priority to get it fixed. This did eat up a couple of hours of time over a couple of days, but it was the only frustrating part of the install.

The mouse is still a little flakey. Sometimes when I click something (a link or a taskbar item, for example), it just waits until there’s another click or a mouse movement to register the click. I suspect this is something I can tune in xorg.conf, but for the moment, it’s only a minor annoyance that hasn’t justified the further research yet.

Ubuntu comes with a nifty little program called Tomboy that lets you take notes easily. It’s basically a local wiki. If you want to add a note, you just hit alt-f12, and a little menu pops up from nowhere out of the task bar showing recent notes and letting you add one. You can easily link notes together, do some basic text formatting, etc. I’m not sure it’s something I’ll use a lot, but it does strike me as potentially useful.

I’ve had cause this morning to try to write an apache module in perl, and that meant compiling Apache::Constants against apache, which I had installed using apt-get. Which meant that there were no source files lying around that I could find. After some fruitless googling, I eventually checked the man page for apt-get and saw that you can get sources using “apt-get source [package]”. I did this but had troubles with the configure command (“error 77: C compiler cannot create executable”), which I resolved by doing “apt-get install g++”. So now I had apache sources ready to compile the perl module against, but it turned out that the module wants apache 1.3. Which meant that my labors were more or less a dead end, save that I learned how to get package sources in ubuntu. Someone in the ubuntu irc channel suggested as an alternative to downloading sources that I could just install the -dev package, though frankly, I’m not sure where ubuntu would put the sources for that either, so it may not be a valid alternative for my purposes. (While writing this paragraph, I learned that — duh — there’s Apache2::Const, which was already installed and does for apache2 what Apache::Constants does for apache.)

Bootup for this machine now takes about 14 years, and I read somewhere that they actually sped things up significantly in this release. Those who installed the previous releases I gather are still waiting for their systems to be ready for use. It also bugs me that I can’t see the status of the system as it boots up. I’ve always found it comforting to see what part of the bootup process the system was in. I suspect there’s a way to get to this view. Luckily for me on all counts, I shut down rarely.

The battery life is crappy now. Under FC4, I could get a solid hour or hour-and-a-half out of a fully charged battery. The other day, plugged in downstairs, I ran the computer upstairs on battery for a minute, and it almost immediately told me I had only 18 minutes of battery left. On the plus side, Ubuntu’s battery indicator seems to work at least marginally with this system, telling me at minimum whether I’m on AC power or battery. This feature alone would have saved me a number of accidental shutdowns in the past due to inadvertent lack of AC power.

Ubuntu’s UI in general feels just a little more sluggish and less polished than that of FC4, but in general, I’m satisfied with it so far.

The ubuntu online presence and community seem outstanding.

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