I am in a nothing-to-do month. I am really glad I was selected to problem set SRM 550 in Topcoder , else this would not have been a very productive month.
When you got nothing to do, you try to remember things that you were not able to do back when you were very busy. To me, my ever growing issue was that my ubuntu version in my main computer was ages behind. Until this week, I was using 10.10.
My history with ubuntu begins in 2005!, I installed a 5.something version. In retrospect it was not that good. With time ubuntu has been improving in somethings and getting worse in others.
I actually kept my initial 2005 setup since then, upgrading to newer version every 6 months or 1 year. Direct upgrades without cleaning your hard drive are actually VERY messy stuff to do. Even things like getting a completely different processor and motherboard did not stop me from keeping the old install and configuration. But I feel that with every upgrade, something gets ruined a little. At the end, when I had 10.10 I went through so many upgrade-related issues that I promised myself that the next one would be a clean install of the newer version instead of an upgrade. I guess that is the reason I could not find the will to upgrade for two years.
The problem with keeping an old ubuntu version is that, eventually, you cannot upgrade packages anymore. Your repositories are no longer supported... And these two years were full of exciting things like 600 new firefox versions and the shift from OpenOffice to LibreOffice. So, I figured I needed to upgrade...
I am the proud owner of a 500GB external hard drive that connects to USB. This is one of the most useful things ever invented. So, I just made a backup of my ubuntu partition and saved it in the hard drive.
THREE HOURS I had to wait copying it. But it has so many benefits. I would not lose any data, and configuration for things that are not system-critial can be restored from my own home, if I just now where to find them and where to place them...
A clean install is so much easier than upgrading. You can even test the ubuntu version from the install CD. A great sign was that things like 3D acceleration , sound, resolution and printer were working completely out of the box in this CD.
Something ominous was the new interface. The new ubuntu version has this thing called unity . Which was casually something they started using just AFTER version 10.10. So I avoided 2 whole years of development towards this unity thing. The change is VERY drastic from the GNOME thing I was used to (which was the default since before I started using ubuntu).
So, I start installing, it offers me to download updates for packages while installing. That is a novelty and sounds useful (In the past, after installing you would be greeted with the request to download tons of package updates so your install wasn't finished). So I click yes.
Then I find a cute surprise. Apparently the new installer can actually install ubuntu without deleting your data files. Perhaps the whole "copy partition to external hard drive" thing was not needed. I did not use the option though.
Format partition, install it. Then it downloads the packages. And it takes 2 hours to download everything. The good thing about the live CD installer is that you can actually use your computer and browse the web WHILE installing the Operating system. After the 2 hours, it begins installing the new packages and... THE IDIOT CRASHED!. Yes, installer crashed, I panicked, if clean install is messed up, then I would have a messed up install and the same kind of problems I had for upgrading so many times.
I restart, and somehow ubuntu boots just fine without complaining of everything. All hardware seems to be working. But apparently, updates weren't installed. So I have to... download again. But this time I also download all the things I remember are useful: jEdit, valgrind, wine (from its ppa), firefox 14 (from its ppa), jdk, g++, avidemux... I tried to remember everything that to me is vital. New download took ages, but thankfully this time everything installed fine. I found my own game, Xye in the repositories, great.
I began to notice this when playing with the live CD. Then I tried to use Unity for a while. Casually, by the time I finished setting the basics up, it was Thursday and I received the shock surprise that I was assigned to work in setting up SRM 550. Suddenly, I needed to use my computer for real, programming work. Yet, my programming environment was not setup, and I had to improvise with Unity.
After about 3 hours of attempting to work using unity. I really got sick of it. Sorry, but this vertical apple clone thing is GREAT at getting in the way. I can't tell if icons in it are launchers or already opened windows or both. When I have multiple windows of the same app, I need to browse whole menus to get the correct ones. Switch desktops? It takes seconds to play animations and double, triple click to enter the desktop.
You cannot do the minimum configuration. Want to change the interface's colors? NO. Want to move the launcher bar horizontally? No.
Maybe users new to computers like this stuff, as they are used to taking ages to do the most basic things. But I do not.
What I liked was the menu that appears when you click the main button. It automatically searches for applications or files or both. And remembers the ones you use the most. But I was fed up with just about everything else. I looked for alternatives.
GNOME 3, classic GNOME, classic GNOME without compiz...
So, the good thing is that I can actually install different interfaces and keep the operating system. Can you say something like this about Winods, OX/S, iHOS or ArDoird, or whatever they are called?
I did it: installed GNOME 3. Turns out GNOME 3 is also very different to the GNOME I was used to. When I tried GNOME 3. It was even MORE obscure than unity. Or perhaps I was just tired of trying funny things that I was not used to?. I really could not get why it shows the name of the active app at the top. Complete mystery.
The good thing is that it allows you to use the CLASSIC gnome too!. So I switched to that option. That was closer to what I use, but still not much. I could not configure the GNOME panels like in the past.
Google around, and it turns out that you cannot anymore right click to edit the panel, so I used the complicated keyboard combination and edited everything.
But even the classical gnome had some difference. There were definitely less options in the panel configuration, and I could not change the interface colors (seems new GTK+ is lacking in this department). Also, those flashy desktop effects and animations that were so annoying in unity are still around. I have been here before, It is because of something called compiz. I tried to like compiz in the past, but it makes everything slower and is too annoying at times. Specially when switching between Desktops. (Sorry, but I do not need animations there, I just want to switch in 0 seconds).
The last tweak was, pick the "Classic GNOME without Effects" option. But now, you do not have cute shadows and you cannot use transparency! Do not worry, you can now Enable metacity compositing.. This does the good things that compiz does. Without doing the childish, annoying things it does.
Some interesting results
- Sun Java does not exist. And Oracle Java cannot be installed from the repositories anymore because those Oracle guys are jerks that want to ruin open source completely. But it turns out OpenJDK from the repositories does all that I need it to do ... I can compile Java stuff, run Java stuff and the Topcoder Arena and MPSQAS work well!
- GCC 4.0 was missing from the repositories for ages. So I used GCC 4.2 to test Topcoder stuff. Now GCC 4.2 is also missing. GCC 4.3 is missing too! So I now have to use GCC 4.4. Which is very different. Topcoder really need to upgrade their GCC version. 4.0 is too antique (and bugged too).
- Classic/fallback gnome is much faster than the stuff I used in 10.10. For some reason. My environment is flying!
- Nautilus removed the emblems feature, now I have a lot of folders that I cannot differentiate from each other.
- LibreOffice is much faster and better than OpenOffice.
- My iPod (Won it at a Google code jam), still cannot be mounted. This is a bug that I started to experience at version 10.10, and thought it was because of the upgrade.
- The lack of customization options are KILLING me.
- I restored EVERYTHING from my old firefox by just replazing the .mozilla folder in the new install with the .mozilla folder from the old one. I mean everything. Semantic bar, addons, addons's settings...(/home/yourusename/.mozilla
- I restored EVERYTHING from my topcoder arena by doing the same with a file called /home/yourusername/ContestApplet.conf.
- The new version of GRUB loads much faster. If you install a program called grub-customizer, you can configure it and it is much easier than before.
- Ubuntu 12.04 boots VERY quickly.
- Say what you will about Ubuntu, and in fact its interface changes are terrible. But hardware support has really improved since the old years. Applications are very competitive now. And ubuntu specifically is great at one thing: packages. There are many things in the repositories, and then they invented ppas. It is very easy to install things on ubuntu. I got so used to the repositories that I cannot try another distribution. I can always change the interface and tweak it, but the packaging is something internal to the Linux distribution.