Archived entries for ubuntu netbook remix

My Digital OE

When we visit a new country, we can whinge that it’s not like home, or immerse ourselves in the culture and enjoy it for what it is, no matter how strange it appears. It’s all part of the overseas experience. Having lived with the HP Mini running the Ubuntu Netbook Remix for about 6 months now, I feel as if I grew up in Minnesota and moved to Italy. Without a phrase book. Things are different here.

The “killer app” is the Ubuntu Software Centre. The ability to find and install free software is the ultimate in high-end user empowerment. I installed Lyx and the LaTeX typesetting system, plus AbiWord to make it easy to convert documents from ODF to LaTeX. As far as I can tell, there is no direct converter from OOXML to LaTeX, so ODF once again proves its worth. Add Inkscape to produce graphics in SVG and PDF and you have a complete publishing system. There is even a plug-in for gedit which lets you see the LaTeX source and PDF output side by side in separate windows. This is barely usable on the Netbook’s tiny screen, but Lyx in full-screen mode is fine.

As usual, Google told me what to do. The only problem I encountered was that LaTeX had to be installed with a –fix-missing option.

There continues to be an ongoing niggle with the wireless networking (like the Italian telephone system, it works in mysterious ways which only the locals understand). I usually have to enter the wireless password at least 3 times, even though it is stored on the key-ring. As far as I can tell, this is an HP Mini issue, as I have no problem connecting to the wireless router when I boot my MacBook from a Ubuntu Live CD. But it’s an irritant, not a show-stopper. It does not bother me enough that I feel compelled to track down a solution, although it would be nice if it worked better.

If we visit Italy wanting it to be like Minnesota, we will not have a happy time. Similarly, to get the most out of switching to a free software desktop, treat it as a digital OE and leave preconceived ideas at the border. Take the time to watch the locals and refrain from pointing out how quaint they are or how much better it is at home. Celebrate cultural diversity!

Koala Bites Man

HP Mini came pre-loaded with SUSE Linux Enterprise Edition version 11. There is much to like about this and if I were coming from Microsoft Windows, I would be very comfortable to carry on using it. But it’s seriously corporate, and HP Mini lives mostly at home. So last night, I took the plunge and installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10; Karmic Koala to its friends. Bye bye geeko, hello koala.

I created USB versions of the regular Ubuntu and the Netbook Remix, and tested them both before opting for the Netbook Remix. In particular, I made sure wireless worked, which involved activating the proprietary Broadcom driver. Ubuntu told me to activate the driver and gave me the activate screen, Press the Activate button. No problem, everything worked flawlessly when running off the USB drive.

Then I installed the Netbook Remix on my hard drive. And the Koala bit me. Activate the Broadcom driver. Enter password. Press Activate. Enter password. Press Activate. Enter password. Press Activate. Nix. Nada. Nothing. WTF? The driver is there. Ubuntu knows it needs to be activated. It tells me to activate it. It knows I entered the correct password. But it does not work.

After hours of searching, the solution eventually emerged from Google, as other people discovered the same problem and mostly failed to solve it. There were lots of messages of the form, “I tried xyz and it didn’t work.”  I finally found a solution that worked for me. In Terminal:
sudo apt-get remove dkms
sudo apt-get install bcmwl-kernel-source

Then restart the computer.

Let’s get this straight. It’s a netbook remix, aimed at consumers. Most netbooks don’t have an Ethernet port and rely on wireless to connect to the Internet. If there is one thing to get right, it’s wireless networking. This is a bug pure and simple. Did anybody actually test this? Not good enough, Mr Shuttleworth.

Apart from the wireless bug, the Netbook Remix is nicely put together. The work the visual design team has done to conserve vertical screen space is excellent; everything fits into one bar at the top of the screen, instead of the 3 bars that the regular Ubuntu uses. So: top honours to the designers; the testers have some explaining to do.

My next quest is to find a way to add a second workspace and move between them.

Ubuntu Netbook Remix

Glynn Foster (of OpenSolaris and Gnome fame) kindly pointed me to Ubuntu Netbook Remix in a comment under my last post.

Well…HP what the hell are you thinking? Why on earth distrubute Novell SUSE Enterprise when such a hot hot distro exists? Indeed, why would you consider any other operating system, especially ones that cost money and restrict users?

I can’t speak highly enough about UNR. Just try it. Go to the web site, follow the instructions, or, send me a 2GB USB key and I promise to send it back with a bootable image ready to install.

To support my case, exhibit 1.

A menu view

A menu view

Exhibit 2:

Comparing Apples

Comparing Apples

and Exhibit 3

Gratuitous Firefox Shot

Gratuitous Firefox Shot

This is a simple very well thought out UI. If this is just the start of the usability work that is on its way I really do have high expectations that Ubuntu will be knocking off OSX sometime very soon.

Next up, Arch.

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