Ubuntu Linux 11.04 Test

If there’s one thing I read a lot in technology news, it’s that the year of Linux is finally upon us. We’ll all be using it on our desktops and laptops within the week, I’m sure.

I read this article this morning, about how much time the writer saved by ignoring a Windows XP problem, and installing Linux on his wife’s laptop instead. Curiously, he chooses to install an old version of Ubuntu, rather than the current version. I’m not sure why. If now is the time to try out Linux again, why not pick the latest version?

Spurred on by this anyway, I downloaded the latest version of Ubuntu (11.04), burnt a CD, and thought I’d run it on my laptop.

I tried this a few years back on the same machine, and found that Ubuntu didn’t support my laptop’s trackpad. A search on forums discovered this was a common problem, and the solution was too complicated for me to bother with, so I forgot all about it.

First Attempt

Today, I burnt the disc, inserted into my laptop, and.. still waiting.. still waiting. It’s been a long time since I ran a Linux live disc, but I don’t remember it taking this long. It loaded a ‘Welcome’ screen which asked me to pick a language, and say whether I wanted to install it or run it from the disc. I picked to run from disc. My trackpad is working!

Eventually it booted into a usable desktop, but they’ve unfortunately taken something from Windows here. That is, the desktop has loaded, but there’s still more stuff loading both visually and audibly. Can I use it at this point or not?

The WiFi is working, it correctly found several wireless networks (including mine), and I’ve got sound. Good times.

I tried to load an audio player called Banshee, and at this point the entire thing froze up. I couldn’t click anywhere, the keyboard wasn’t responding, so I did a hard shutdown.

Second Attempt

Restarted, again with the live disc in it. Got as far as the ‘Welcome’ screen, picked a language, clicked to run it from the disc, and…. it’s stopped. It hasn’t done a thing in 10 minutes. I’ve just got a kind-of spinning hourglass.

I can still use the mouse though! There’s an option to restart in the top corner. I’ll pick that.

It takes me back to an ugly command prompt, with a page of dialog about what services it is stopping/starting. The last one says “Stopping bluetooth” (my laptop doesn’t have bluetooth), and it then ejected the CD. It has neither shut down, nor restarted. Another manual switch-off then?

Third Attempt

Third time lucky?

I’ve put the disc back in, switched it back on. Let’s see. I’m past the welcome screen. I’ve got a desktop. Looks-wise, it’s a massive improvement on the last time I tried Linux. It’s no longer a horrible brown colour, for a start.


Old design. Eugh. What were they thinking?

The speaker, and WiFi icons on the new version are so similar to Mac OS X, that one is probably suing the other for copyright infringement. There’s a visual “dock” type system similar to a Mac, while also being different. Nice though.


The top of the new version's screen

I open LibreOffice Writer (equivalent of Word/OpenOffice Writer). It opens, slowly. Very slowly. Then it closes again, inexplicably.

I connect it to my wireless network. Seems pretty straightforward. I open Firefox. Waiting. Waiting. I don’t think this is going to work. I know this is running from a CD, but even still – this is very slow.

While it’s doing that, thought I’d do a print screen, for this blog post. It comes up with a box in the centre asking me where I want to save this screenshot, but in doing so, I’ve seemingly lost the dock of icons, and the menu bar at the top.

At this point, it’s frozen up again (I got the two photos above, from Google Images). Mouse/keyboard no longer responsive. I push the power button once. I get the mouse back, and a menu asking me if I want to shut down or restart. Then the menu disappears. Then it comes back. Then disappears. Back, disappears, back, disappears. If I’m quick enough, maybe I can click one of these buttons before it goes again. This time it doesn’t come back. I graze the touchpad to see if I can move the mouse, something flashes, the screen goes blank, then back to the ugly prompt of closing services. Eventually I get this message, which I take a photo of.


This is easily the worst result of a Linux live disc, ever. I’ve tried in the past on a variety of machines, various Debian-based things, Mint, DSL, Ubuntu/Kubuntu, Mandrake/Mandriva, and a few other ones. They all worked better than this.

The laptop is a Celeron-M processor’d HP 510, and it’s a few years old, but according to Ubuntu’s documentation, the “recommended” ram is only 512mb, which this laptop has, and I’m a long way above the minimum. They recommend a P4 1ghz minimum. This is one of the later mobile Celerons (1.5ghz), so I think that should be OK.

In the same way that the author of that original article didn’t bother to try and troubleshoot his wife’s Windows XP problem, I don’t think I’ll bother trying to troubleshoot this Linux one.

I’m not slamming Linux entirely. It’s used on a lot of mobile devices, and set-top boxes, etc. It probably powers the server this blog is hosted on. I’m just not sure that it’s ready for mass market home users on PCs/laptops. Maybe it never will be.

5 thoughts on “Ubuntu Linux 11.04 Test”

  1. Live CDs are OK for playing around, but a) IO from optical media is MUCH slower than IO from a hard disc (at least around 3-4 times slower; 24x DVD is 31.7MB/s, a typical SATA hard disc is about 120MB/s), b) loading a system image into RAM reduces the amount of memory available for both applications (which may cause unpredictable behaviour) and disc cache, further reducing performance.

    If you’re seriously interested in trying Linux out, I’d recommend doing a proper disc-based install.

    I set my Dad up with CentOS (like RHEL) on his desktop a few years ago now, and he much prefers it to Windows. Of course, I do all the system administration (sometimes via SSH across our respective ADSL links), but it’s got everything he needs, and without a lot of Windows’ hassles. Linux probably won’t ever be bundled with hardware as a general purpose OS, like Windows’ desktop editions are. If it’s appliance-ized (a la Android), then it it up to the job of supporting mass market users.

    1. I dunno. I’ve tried live discs before with substantially more success. And I get what you’re saying, but the live disc is a bit redundant if you can’t explore what the OS will be like (even at a substantially slower speed, with less ability to open lots of files at once). This is Ubuntu’s chance to impress me enough into replacing Windows with it (well not ‘me’ obviously – I was unlikely to switch permanently), and it failed. Three times.

      I didn’t really have the time (nor the spare hard drive space) to install it to disk (where I’ll admit it would have likely ran substantially faster). My last longer-term test was on quite old hardware, with an older version of Linux, but I wouldn’t say it was better than the equivalent Windows system I had previously had on it. What I gained in security and not requiring antivirus, etc., I lost in time trying to make it work properly with hardware that wasn’t well supported, trying to find Linux equivalents of Mac/Windows software, and trying to work out which of the hundreds of media players available, might actually be able to play all the file formats I use, reliably.

      That’s a big problem for me. Apple make both the hardware and software. Microsoft make the software but get manufacturers to build machines that work with it. Linux vendors…don’t have the luxury of either (although I will grant you that it has improved a little in the last few years as Google, Adobe, etc. actually make (some) software for Linux now).
      A friend asked me for help with a budget Asus eeePC netbook a few years ago, and it came with Xandros. When I couldn’t get Java to install on it and Synaptic kept crashing, I thought I’d try Asus support, but they referred you to Xandros’ website. Xandros said that Asus had modified the version on their laptops, and so would provide no support on it. That’s pretty shit customer service, isn’t it? http://forum.eeeuser.com/viewtopic.php?id=9114 seems like a lot of work to install a browser plugin, really.

      Maybe that’s what I was saying earlier. As a basic machine for internet/email, it’s fine. Try and do some regular audio or video editing, and you’ll be back on Windows or Mac before you know it.

      1. Regarding hardware compatability, Apple has the advantage here as they know what hardware they’re going to be running on. Third-party out-of-distribution drivers are usually undesirable with Linux; you’re best off consulting the hardware compatability lists and buying accordingly. That said, most hardware can be coaxed into working, and I’ve long since given up on testing newly-purchased hardware on Windows first to check it’s not DOA before I start trying to get it working under Linux.

        A lot of the media players use the same underlying frameworks, and usually you end up installing win32 codecs for them to use. VLC and mplayer are my usual choices (VLC is better nicer, but mplayer tends to be more adaptable and adds new formats more quickly, IME).

        The netbooks that were shipped with Linux were a collossal loss, as you found. I’m pretty sure the hardware manufacturers only shipped their hardware like this to extract a better licensing deal from Microsoft; new netbooks ship exclusively with Windows.

        As for software, the main desktop distros do a pretty good job of including tools that can achieve your goals without needing commercial packages from the likes of Adobe. The local LUG has a reasonably friendly mailing list ( https://mailman.lug.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/bristol ), providing you ask questions the smart way ( http://catb.org/~esr/faqs/smart-questions.html ). I use Fedora as my day-to-day machine, doing video editing using kdenlive, audio editing using Audacity, and DSLR photo post-processing using a variety of tools (Photiva, Darktable, Rawtherapee, RawStudio, GIMP). That said, it’s not for everybody, and I have no problem with that.

        1. I think the problem with the hardware compatibility lists, is another reason it will never be mainstream. If you go through the list and discover that a certain Dell laptop has full support under Ubuntu – for example. When you buy the Dell laptop, it will have Windows already on it (which you’ll already have paid for). There’d be no cost saving to remove Windows and install Linux (unless you go through the whole EULA disagreement thing – if Dell are still honouring that). You’ll effectively be paying for a free operating system.

          Although I use VLC on Mac, I don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong – it can play almost anything you can throw at it, and there has been times I’ve been grateful of that, but as far as quality of playback goes, it’s just not as smooth as Quicktime/WMP on filetypes that they support.
          I’m not keen on Audacity either. It’s just a bit clunky compared to say Amadeus Pro on the Mac (which is only about £20), or Audition on Windows (which is now prohibitively expensive since Adobe bought/renamed Cooledit).

          Gimp is an awkward one. On the Mac it uses X11, which is frustrating. It doesn’t use the same shortcut keys as most mac software either, and you have to click say once to select the toolbox, then once to select the tool – which makes it a bit of a pain to use, having to sometimes click once, or sometimes twice. I’d imagine that one is a much better product on Linux.

          I mentioned Linux to someone on Twitter a couple of days ago, and they replied saying that Linux has a lot of good programmers, but it could do with some UI designers. Just a bit of polish, in some areas. That said, Microsoft must have plenty, and yet they’re seriously considering those Explorer “improvements” to Windows 8. So UI designers, and an honest/varied user test base.

  2. The thing is, if one is using Linux solely as a way of saving money, then one’s probably being short-sighted. The main reasons to use Linux are either a) because it is the best OS for doing what you want and b) it’s free (liberated) in the sense that you have access to the source code for all the components and can use it to determine exactly how it works, fix bugs, or customise it to your precise needs.

    As for ports of apps that were developed primarily or initially on Linux, it’s my view that a “finished” port should behave like a native application on all platforms that it’s ported to. Failure or reluctance to do so is, in my opinion, arrogance, incompetence or half-assedness on the part of the application developers. Gimp is far from the biggest offender here; Firefox is the same way, and many commercial apps on Linux suffer similarly (e.g. games wanting to write preferences/high scores to the application installation directory rather than in the .gamename directory in the user’s home directory, Google Earth and Corel Draw using ‘winelib’ to allow the Windows source code to be compiled to a Linux binary – resulting in the UI looking and feeling more like Windows than a native app).

    Finally, on the various graphical environments, I’d say that the problem isn’t that we have too few UI designers, but that we have too many – almost every developer thinks /they/ are a UI designer! Also, people come and go, and as new people come in, they often rip out and replace stuff, and leave again before they’ve completed the replacement. *Sigh*

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