Monday, March 29, 2010

Ubuntu Lucid Themes - Radiance versus Ambiance plus Pointers

Some screenshots of alternatives to Lucid 'Ambiance' Themes and Pointers.

Radiance Theme with Pointer 'redglass'

The 'redglass' Pointer gives a deep red colour with shadow effect, and gives you an hourglass spin when your system is waiting.

( The background showing through with a few bubbles is 'Ethais' )

Radiance is a good alternative if you find the Ubuntu Lucid default (Ambiance) to be a bit dark.

Radiance can be customised in several ways as shown below:

Oxygen for 'Icons' has been selected, to give a blue KDEish feel rather than the more traditional Ubuntu look.

Installing Jens Luetkens comic cursors package gives you a few additional pointers to play with, including the Green one from the screenshot.

Providing you have the 'Universe' repository enabled and are using Firefox, then this direct link will install the additional pointers:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Google Calendar - Once per year on the fourth Sunday

Living in a timezone where the clocks are altered during the year gave me an excuse to see how to put a suitable reminder in calendar.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I just saved myself some typing with this screenshot :)

What to avoid:
      Repeats: Yearly

My way:
      Repeats: Monthly         Repeat Every: 12 months
      Repeats by: day of the week

There is a bit on Wikipedia about timezone adjustments relevant to Summer times here.

The above screenshot is from a Cloud service calendar (Google), and similar repetition settings can be achieved in a free software calendar also:

By selecting 'Custom' in Thunderbird calendar, you are able to select 'The Last' - precisely what you need for a reminder set to Last Sunday of March.

Thunderbird is cross platform and available for download at

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ubuntu Lucid - Nvidia and ATI cards will get some changes

Ubuntu Lucid might be an tricky release for some people who are using older graphics cards or currently use binary/proprietary drivers.

My understanding is that new drivers will be in use (where possible) to replace some of the basic rendering for Nvidia and ATI.

I run computers with ATI, Intel, and Nvidia cards and so I will be working through these changes several times perhaps :)

( If you are a command line type and just want to find out what grub options might help you get a terminal to a broken display, then skip to the end of this post, for some hints in a .diff )

Nvidia cards and the Nouveau driver:

For Ubuntu Lucid, the proposal is that Nouveau will replace 'nv' driver.

Nouveau provides basic rendering (probably good enough for a business desktop), and is not yet designed to use all of the features of your graphics card.

Nouveau themselves have some information here, which says about the current status, and they also appeal for testers here.

ATI cards and fglrx package:

Looking like there may be a new way for basic rendering using ATI/AMD cards in Ubuntu Lucid but this is touch and go at the moment.

There are some hints as to how to get fglrx working unofficially, and by the time I upgrade the ATI desktop machine, this should be a bit clearer.

Help? All I can get is a blank screen and 'out of range':

Hopefully by the time Lucid is released there will be none of these sort of messages, although the hints and tips that follow are generally useful for helping you recover from display issues perhaps.

If you have an Nvidia card and a monitor larger than 19" then maybe the Nouveau driver is not able to give a suitable resolution.

Whatever the cause, you are likely stuck until you can either:
  1. Get some interaction (even terminal) in which you can intervene
  2. Force some boot parameter via the Grub menu or similar
  3. Boot an older kernel which doesn't involve the newest driver setup
My solution involved all three steps for the desktop Nvidia machine as you will see:

I just happened to have a Lucid 'alternate' i386 iso which I intended updating with, but in the end went with a network install. This 'alternate' CD has a rescue option which allows you to boot from CD but drop you into the system to be rescued :)

Having a terminal into my system I was then able to alter Ubuntu's hidden menu behaviour, so as to get a choice of which kernel to boot (see end of post)

Holding down the shift key, whilst grub is initialising is the easier way of getting a Grub menu up :)
(Hold down Shift after your BIOS has finished messaging and before your hard disk light shows your system is booting)

Because this was an upgrade, I had several old kernels, as well as the newer Ubuntu Lucid 2.6.32 kernel. I wanted to check that it really was the new Nouveau driver that was causing my problem and booting an older kernel helped me understand that.

Booting using the old kernel got me into my system and GDM and Gnome looked to work okay. First thing I did was pick up the latest updates - even though it was only a day, this being a beta phase of Lucid, there were several packages with updates.

Now how to boot the current kernel but prevent it from using Nouveau driver?
The nomodeset switch is the way around things as a bit of websearching suggested that if some drivers cannot be used without a mode setting :)

If you are comfortable with emacs or good at following on-screen instructions then you need to edit the boot command line in Grub so as to pass nomodeset as one of the boot options.

Sure enough the machine booted and gave me a login box so I am now able to go further in my testing.

(By forcing the kernel nomodeset, the system was unable to use Nouveau and in fact used a basic Vesa driver)

Things are still not ideal (well this is a beta!) and the big questions for me right now are:
  • Why can I not get any sort of terminal with Ctrl+Alt+F1?
  • Why is my 24 inch iiyama such a problem when it was fine in Karmic?
These are questions for me, and so I will finish this post now and just include a diff file, which might give you some pointers, as to useful configuration options for Grub (should you want finer control as to how Grub behaves at boot time)

What follows is output from a diff file:

> #GRUB_TERMINAL=console
< GRUB_GFXMODE=800x600

For anyone that might have a similar issue with the switch to Nouveau from 'nv', then the graphics card was identified as Nvidia FX 5200 and might show as NV34 board perhaps.
[ At seven years old that Nvidia card could almost be part of a #retropc :) ]

Friday, March 19, 2010

advanced ubuntu - lightening you desktop

For many users the default Ubuntu install and desktop is a good fit.

If you feel that you wish to deconstruct things a bit, or just get rid of some programs that are perhaps too feature rich, then read on.

I will use CD burning as an example:
  • Brasero ( default for Gnome )
  • K3b ( default for KDE3 and soon to be KDE4 reworked )
  • Xfburn ( designed with Xfce Desktop in mind )
  • Wodim ( the command line way )
Those 4 choices are really just a matter of personal preference. If you are running regular Ubuntu, then you will already have met Brasero. Exposure to the other programs is really dependent on your past use of desktops.

A couple of useful questions, that may help you decide on how 'heavy' or 'light' you like your CD burning application, are...
  1. What does Xubuntu use?
  2. What does Lubuntu use?
  3. What does Kubuntu use?
Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Kubuntu, can (for my purposes here) be viewed as a collection of packages.

A quick read of the dependencies for xubuntu-desktop, lubuntu-desktop, kubuntu-desktop can give you a pretty good idea of what the non-Gnome alternatives for your application are.
Those alternatives might be a good place to start if you are fed up with your existing application or want a lighter alternative.

Note: I chose 'CD burning' simply because it provided a convenient example. It is not my intention to be critical of any of the 4 applications listed. As a GNU/Linux user I am privileged to benefit from such a wide choice of tools to get the job done.

The main aim of this article is to introduce the package listings for xubuntu-desktop, lubuntu-desktop, and kubuntu-desktop, as an additional source of information, to guide you, in finding alternatives for a particular application.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Min Max Close - Leftmost or Rightmost for Ubuntu Lucid - you choose

There is a look and feel change coming with Ubuntu Lucid, that some folks will protest against.

Barring any last minute change of heart it looks as if the Min Max Close buttons for the windows will be Leftmost (rather than Rightmost).

And so on your screen:

...will become...

Now a few folks are not liking this idea at all, and suggesting solutions:
  • Don't change things
  • Make the default placement for Min, Max, Close be Leftmost but have a simple switch to revert to the Rightmost (previous) look.
Xubuntu users have the freedom to choose Leftmost or Rightmost already as shown below:

( Image above needs enlarging?...just click on it for better results )
( No worries as I will be covering things in a bit more detail below)

The order of elements in this box:

...can be changed by dragging and dropping to suit your preferences.

For my example, I have kept, the most commonly used buttons in the 'Active' section, and the results would be 'Rightmost' placement of Min, Max, Close buttons.

In the 'Hidden' section the + icon is for sticking the window, and the upwards arrow is referred to as 'Shade' and essentially reduces the window to just a title bar.

Shade/Unshade feels quite familiar having had experience using WindowMaker/GNUstep, but that button would not be showing based on my configuration shown above.

The Dark/Dark Blue Theme in use on my Desktop in the large screenshot is Albatross (a theme derived from Alvaro)

The Window Manager Style I have used is 'Iceg'. There are lots of styles to choose from including 'Next' which is another style which I find appealing.

For readers who want a bit more detail about the Window Manager customisation in Xubuntu, reading the Xfce 4.2 documentation here will give you a good start.

Commentary on the proposed change from 'Rightmost' to 'Leftmost':

All layout change will meet some resistance, it is natural to become familiar with things being placed where they are, in the current version.

A few years before Ubuntu was born, the users of another operating system were forced to use a new 'Teletubbies' style user interface (Remember that protest?)
Well there was the option to go back to the previous style I suppose, but I don't remember there being so much lasting negativity to Redmond back then...people just got over it and eventually accepted the change.

If you feel so strongly, then this article at least gives you a third way - use Xubuntu.