Posted on February 10th, 2011 by Barry Collins
Live blog: running PC Pro on Ubuntu
Every website story and review we write, every email we send, every picture we edit will be completed on a PC running the popular Linux OS. Click here for full details of the challenge.
We’ll be updating this blog throughout the day with our experiences – good and bad – of running our office on Ubuntu. You can also follow our updates on the PC Pro Twitter account, using the #ubuntupro hashtag.
The latest updates will appear at the top of the page:
6:30pm – Barry Collins writes: And that’s it folks. We’re calling an end to a fascinating day. Many thanks for all your comments and contributions on Twitter. Many thanks also to Jonathan Davies, the poor support guy parachuted in from Canonical to give us a hand. We’ll sleep on it, and come back tomorrow with a blog on the lessons we’ve learnt from our day of running PC Pro on Ubuntu.
6:01pm – Barry Collins writes: Microsoft (inadvertently, I should add) gatecrashed our Ubuntu party this afternoon, by coming into talk about the launch of Internet Explorer 9. I didn’t waver from our mission: Microsoft’s man bought his own laptop, and I watched him demo the new browser, while tapping notes into my Ubuntu laptop.
All was fine and dandy, until I’d just finished writing the IE9 launch story, when my browser suddenly started slowing to a crawl, and then suddenly the laptop crashed. Now I’m faced with a series of unintelligible error messages about a missing boot device every time I try and reboot Ubuntu.
So Microsoft comes in, and I’m forced back to Windows. There’s one for the conspiracy theorists…
5.49PM – Kevin Partner writes: So much more of my work is achieved these days using a browser (usually Chrome) that moving over to Ubuntu for most purposes has been easy today. For PHP programming, I’m using the excellent and free Komodo Edit (which I also use in Windows), TweetDeck works a charm, OpenOffice for word processing and spreadsheets and FileZilla for FTP.
I expected to have trouble setting up my Samsung CLP320N Colour Laser Printer over the Ethernet connection but it was actually easier than in Windows. Ubuntu is more responsive, boots up in 30 seconds and has the excellent Software Centre so it has a lot going for it for general purpose use. And it has the lovely swishy swashy window effect!
The stumbling blocks for me are image editing (The GIMP is idiosyncratic and idiotic) and the lack of a decent Flash development environment. However, I suspect I’ll find myself using Ubuntu for most work and switching to Windows only when necessary.
When push comes to shove, however, the fact remains that I could manage without Ubuntu but I couldn’t manage without the programs that only Windows supports.
5.46PM – Jon Honeyball writes: In the spirt of joining in the fun, I decided to install Ubuntu into a VMware Fusion virtual machine session running on my desktop MacPro. Installation is a breeze, and took a few minutes from ISO to running OS. All the drivers were there, and the only real thing I could criticise was the Zombie Purple background colour scheme.
However, I went to install the VMware Tools. This lets you resize the window on the fly, add in seamless mouse support and so forth. Normally you choose the menu item in the VMware Fusion app to do this, and it mounts a virtual CD-ROM drive containing the driver code and setup routine. With Ubuntu, I just got a .tar.gz file dumped on me. Opening this provided a SETUP program which did nothing.
Turns out that Ubuntu has the wrong sort of installer packages. Or VMware does. Or some other inane mind-numbingly boring excuse. Over in the AppStore, guided by Twitter friends, I found the open source VMware compatible installer which I ran. This installed fine, except at the end it didn’t tell me to reboot the machine. After an inspired moment of clarity, I rebooted the VM and everything came up just fine.
I could get to like this OS, colour scheme notwithstanding. But it’s hard to get excited about OSes by themselves. Sorry. And any glitch on basic setup, whomever is responsible, is simply not good enough in 2011.
5.10PM – Tim Danton writes: My biggest problem remains email. I’ve installed Wine and stuck my Office 2010 disc in (rather optimistically) but hit a brick wall saying it “requires that MSXML version 6.blah be installed on your computer”. Which, strangely enough, it isn’t.
I’ll be trying Outlook 2007 as a standalone install soon…
3.57PM – Mike Jennings writes: Ubuntu has several advantages over the likes of Windows, but two of the most important are its community and versatility. I’ve just seen a prime example of both: I tweeted using the #ubuntupro hashtag that my usual habit of pressing the Windows key to bring up the start menu didn’t work in Ubuntu and, within minutes, readers had flocked to my feed with potential solutions. @jgomo3, @jontheniceguy and @blazemore suggested Alt+f1, which brings up the application menu and Alt+F2, which unveils a search box, and @omahn sided with deputy reviews editor David Bayon and suggested downloading GNOME-Do, an app that allows you to quickly search for applications, files, bookmarks and more.
Linux legends @blazemore and @zeitan then stepped forward with a load of code to bang into the Terminal, before @benb3342 waded in with some more code to change the Windows key’s mapping. So that’s four solutions in as many minutes – I can’t argue with that!
3.51PM – Tim Danton writes: A couple of people wondered what graphics driver I was using and whether that might be causing the slideshow effect in the movie player. Turns out I was using the generic driver, but even the ATI/AMD “proprietary FGLRX graphics driver”, which is meant to offer better 2D and 3D acceleration, hasn’t improved things. In other news, now trying to install Outlook under Wine.
3.35PM – Darien Graham-Smith writes: As you’ll have seen from Barry’s photo below, I’ve installed Ubuntu on an iMac (just to be different). Rather than dual-booting, though, I’ve set it up in a Parallels Desktop virtual machine. Even though I’ve only been able to give it 1GB of RAM, everything seems to work well and very smoothly – a testament to both Ubuntu’s light footprint and Parallels’ impressively snappy virtualisation. Parallels even detected the OS version and automatically set up some nice features, including dynamic screen resolution (so I can have my Ubuntu desktop running in a resizable window).
Sadly, Parallel’s “Coherence” mode – which allows you to hide the guest desktop entirely and view applications on the host desktop as if they were running natively – only works with Windows. They tell me that a similar feature is available for Ubuntu in VMware Fusion, but Parallels happens to be the package I have here.
Since I’m doing hardware testing in the Labs today, I haven’t had much opportunity to put Ubuntu through its paces; but it’s good to know you can explore very effectively within the safety of a virtual machine. And of course, this approach isn’t limited to the Mac: see p152 of the new issue of PC Pro for a guide to setting up a virtual machine in Windows using the free VirtualBox host.
3.25PM – Mike Jennings writes: Not long after installing Tweetdeck, reader @davmor2 suggested that I try Gwibber, the social networking client that’s built in to Ubuntu – so that’s exactly what I’ve done. Like Tweetdeck, it works with several social networks, although Gwibber’s scope is far broader: as well as support for Twitter and Facebook, it’ll handle Digg, Google Buzz and Flickr accounts alongside less popular networks like Qaiku, StatusNet and FriendFeed.
Adding my Twitter and Facebook accounts was easy enough, and its interface is simply enough to decipher, too: messages appear in colour-coded bubbles, with your own updates on the left-hand side on the main window and updates from elsewhere slightly indented. I like the layout, too: people’s real names appear instead of their their handles, and different social networking accounts are displayed on the left-hand side of the window.
A few minutes with Gwibber also revealed that, when compared to something like Tweetdeck, it’s horrendously limited. Twitter can only update once every minute – an eternity for someone used to Tweetdeck’s real-time updating – and there’s no sign of multiple accounts, timed tweets or picture attachments, which are the kinds of features that I take for granted even in mobile apps these days.
It’s good to see that Ubuntu is included these kinds of apps natively, of course, but they’ll have to be a lot better than this if I’m going to switch from my usual software.
3.13PM – Tim Danton writes: As Barry mentions below, Jon has kind of sorted out my FLV playback problems. But not wholly. He installed a bunch of codecs from the “restricted library”, and that enabled me to view the FLV in Totem Movie Player rather than VLC. While I don’t get any of the horrible graphical glitches (see my 10.40am post) anymore, it’s still a slideshow and I still can’t check whether the video is all correct.
3:01PM – Barry Collins writes: Jonathan Davies (who we’ve been mistakenly calling ‘John’ on the blog all day, like a bunch of Del Boys addressing a foreign barman), is our Canonical tech support chap for the day.
Aside from being a thoroughly nice chap, Jon’s helped us with a variety of issues today, including Tim’s Flash video playback issue, how to use the command line to make HD video play smoothly on Jon Bray’s machine, and other minor issues.
He couldn’t solve Mike’s graphics card issues, nor coax my Vodafone broadband dongle into life – although we did pop a 3 broadband dongle into my laptop and it worked first time, which suggests the drivers for the ZTE K3570-Z stick may be wonky.
We ran out of problems for Jon to solve, so he’s popped back to Canonical HQ with our thanks.
2:56PM – Nicole Kobie writes: I’ve been using Ubuntu happily enough to do my work since this morning, but have run up a bit of an unexpected problem with screenshots. Using the “Take Screenshot” tool, I snapped the eBay homepage for a feature I’m putting online:
It took a picture of the screen, but inexplicably also captured a faint image of the screenshot tool window itself. Anyone have any suggestions for alternative screenshot tools?
2:52PM – Mike Jennings writes: After having a fight with the Terminal I’ve managed to get TweetDeck working, but my day with Ubuntu isn’t going as smoothly as I’d like. Evolution is so far behind Microsoft Outlook that its name seems ironic: my emails take eons to load, if they do at all, and I’m currently using webmail to communicate with my colleagues.
In the meantime, I’ve busied myself with installing Steam. That was easy: search for Wine in the Software Centre, click install – authenticate, obviously – and wait for it to do its business. Then download the Steam client and use Wine to install that. Easy enough, you might think, but I’ve just clicked on the Steam icon and been greeted with a message informing me that there’s no internet connection. Despite the fact that I’m using webmail and updating Twitter.
The friendly Canonical engineer has also been trying to solve my graphical woes. My ageing work desktop runs an AMD Radeon HD 4550, and every time I try to activate the existing driver the system reboots and greets me with a blank purple screen. The engineer stepped in, muttered something about “purging the system” and typed in a few odd-looking commands. My desktop then appeared but, when he tried to enable the graphical effects that numerous folk had told me were so impressive, the PC still wouldn’t play ball – and the driver still wasn’t listed as being activated. The engineer, John, has retreated for lunch, and I can’t say I blame him.
2:45PM – David Bayon writes: Thanks to @blazemore for suggesting I install Banshee. It’s not the prettiest of media players, but it sure packs a lot in.
Aside from basic music and video libraries, it’s great for podcasts and links directly to Amazon’s MP3 store and several radio hubs and guides. I already like it at least a hundred times more than I like iTunes, let’s put it that way. I have no idea if the Miro guide is a big thing, but come on Ubuntu people: just the one five-star rating? Where’s the PC Pro podcast love?
1:59PM – Barry Collins writes: One area that definitely lets Ubuntu down is its dual-screen support. Once you’ve downloaded the Nvidia graphics driver, Ubuntu can handle an external monitor for your laptop. But if, like me, you’re constantly yanking the monitor cable out to head off to another meeting with your laptop, Ubuntu fails to recognise the screen’s been detached and you end up with a weird double-desktop on your laptop. So far, the only way I’ve found to get around it is to reboot – it’s even stumped Canonical’s tech support chap.
It’s a good job Ubuntu doesn’t take long to reboot…
12:59PM – Mike Jennings writes: Things are looking up! I’ve continued along the open source theme by writing my Android App of the Week blog, and I’m now able to send email to my colleagues as well as wade through my 17,000-strong inbox.
Google Chrome’s superb syncing feature also means that I’ve got access to all of my bookmarks instantly, which is enormously helpful. My next goal is to get some of my other favourite apps running: Tweetdeck is a vital part of my working environment, and I might even install Steam to see what sort of gaming options are available for Ubuntu users.
12:35PM – David Bayon writes: I have to say, my instant favourite is undoubtedly the Software Centre. It’s like an app store made by people with brains who don’t find fart noises funny – and I’ll freely admit a good number of the obscure titles in there go right over my balding head. I’ve just been looking through the Science and Engineering category: star charts, protein visualisations, even cave surveying! I’m sure I could find these things online for Windows, but they’re right there for me, ready to go. I feel like there’s a little Ubuntu alien inside my laptop telling me to learn things and stop playing Solitaire – and that’s precisely what it makes me want to do. I’ve only skimmed through a couple of the categories so far, so throw your recommendations my way in the comments.
12.12PM – Tim Danton writes: Thanks to John, our friendly Canonical engineer, I can now view Flash on Chrome on my 64-bit installation of Ubuntu 10.10. I’d already downloaded the beta Flash 10.10 plugin from Adobe Labs, but couldn’t find where to put it. John created a new folder in the Mozilla Firefox Plugins directory and plonked the file in there. Chrome cleverly picked it up and now I can view our Flash videos in all their glory!
12:02PM – Barry Collins writes: So we’re coasting towards lunchtime, and despite migrating the entire office to an entirely new OS in a single morning – a task no IT manager in their right mind would undertake – it’s still pretty much business as usual. Yes, we’ve had teething problems (as you’ll see below) and John, our Canonical support guy, is currently working on solving Tim’s video issue as I type. But the website’s still up and running normally, the team can still pass copy to the production desk, everyone’s email is working, even if they do have to dip into Outlook webmail.
As nejode remarks on Comments below: would things have gone as smoothly if we attempted to migrate to a new version of Windows en masse. It’s certainly questionable…
11:39AM – Nicole Kobie writes: Our tech support from Canonical has arrived. His first challenge is sorting out Mike Jennings’ graphics card woes. We’ll see how it goes…
11:26AM – Mike Jennings writes: I was so close to writing something nice about Ubuntu. So very close. After my reinstall, everything seemed to be working. I’d received some handy graphics driver tips from Ubuntu veterans on Twitter, and I’d actually started doing some work inside the unfamiliar OS using OpenOffice.
I then attempted to install the 300MB of updates that I’d tried before. Figuring that it was the graphics driver rather than these more prosaic updates that were causing problems, I installed them – this time, a window actually appeared to tel me they were downloading – and rebooted.
Cue dozens of error messages, and another reboot – this time into the older version of the OS, where I can at least do some work.
11:02AM – Jonathan Bray writes: Just for the day I’ve installed the Linux version of TeamViewer 6, which allows me to get back into my main office PC for anything I can’t get running in Ubuntu today. It’s working beautifully so far.
On a side note, how good is Ubuntu’s keyboard layout selection? Bear with me: not only do you get a list of countries to pick from, but there’s also a visual layout to go with each entry, so you can check you’ve got exactly the right one. Much better than the Windows equivalent.
11.01AM – Mike Jennings writes: Ubuntu wants me to authenticate absolutely everything. Installing the latest version of the OS is easy: download Wubi, run the file, pick a password and wait for it to complete. It doesn’t take too long – about the same length of time as a fresh Windows 7 install – and while it’s loading I was able to watch a slideshow that demonstrates Ubuntu’s many talents.
Not that I’ve seen many of those talents yet. Updating graphics drivers, installing apps and downloading standard updates requires me to authenticate it every single time, even when I’m entering passwords seconds apart, and there’s no way to tell if the authentication has been successful; instead of disappearing, the box often just sits there, silently mocking my dependency on Windows.
Oh, and I’ve now reinstalled Ubuntu four times. It’s all the fault of the graphics driver. My modest work machine uses an AMD Radeon HD 4550, and a box informed me that activating the existing driver was only a click away. I authenticated, obviously, and it downloaded, before telling me to restart to complete the installation. Ubuntu then booted to a blank purple screen (a nice shade of purple, admittedly) and hung.
10:55AM – Barry Collins writes: Here’s something to give Steve Jobs and colleagues sleepless nights: Ubuntu running on a Mac, courtesy of Parallels Desktop.
(Image edited in the Ubuntu version of Google Picasa)
10:45AM – David Bayon writes: I’m up and running and all seems fairly straightforward, yet the single most irritating thing so far is also something Ubuntu is so praised for: security. Basically, I’ve had to enter my password at least ten times already this morning. I know that’s because I’m installing applications, and on a normal day this wouldn’t be the case, but it brings to mind the more logical approach taken by iTunes on my phone. There, once I’ve entered my password to authorise something, it remains authorised for the next few minutes, or until I lock the phone. That doesn’t seem to loosen security too much in my eyes. Can this be altered?
10.40AM – Tim Danton writes: This morning, I had one key job to do while travelling in on the train: to watch through some videos and make sure they were suitable for loading onto the website.
The first task was to load VLC onto my ThinkPad X100e before heading home last night, and it was an absolute pleasure: Ubuntu Software Centre is a brilliantly simple way to add software, far simpler and safer than downloading from a random site as you sometimes do in Windows.
Actually using VLC was less pleasant, as the screenshot below reveals:
While the video played fine when nothing was happening, as soon as someone started to move the whole screen was corrupted, making it impossible for me to check if everything was as it should be.
10:25AM – Jonathan Bray writes: After several weeks without a problem, the Ubuntu installation on the laptop I was intending to use for day decided not to work this morning. So, like the sensible IT journalist I am, I decided to uninstall it in Windows (that’s the joy of Wubi), and reinstall again. Anyway, everything is back up and running again now. Oddly, though, when I attempted to install the drivers for the ATI graphics chip in the laptop again, like a small child refusing to finish dinner, Ubuntu stuck out its bottom lip, stamped its tiny open-source foot and refused to start. Fortunately, this machine has dual graphics, so a quick boot into Ubuntu’s equivalent of safe mode later and I’m back with the safety of Intel HD Graphics. Phew.
10:20AM – Barry Collins writes: Canonical have found out about our Ubuntu experiment, and are sending over a support engineer to help us through any tech difficulties. In the interests of full disclosure, we’ll reveal any problems the engineer solves and share them with you.
10:00AM – Barry Collins writes: We’re having all sorts of bother with IM clients. Nicole has Pidgin up and running, but her recipient isn’t seeing her messages. Meanwhile, neither Empathy or Emesene are playing ball for me. Emesene says “connection refused”. Does it not know who I am?
9:17AM – Nicole Kobie writes: It’s taken longer than expected for me to get write this first update, as I have no idea what any of my passwords are — the biggest pain hasn’t been using Ubuntu, but the fact that all of my settings and saved passwords are gone. Otherwise, this early morning news shift has gone surprisingly smoothly.
As I got settled in this morning, I realised I hadn’t figured out how I was going to communicate with Stewart Mitchell, our contributing editor who lives in deepest, darkest rural France (aside from writing news and trying to sort Ubuntu this morning, he’s also welcomed two new lambs). Normally, we use MSN Messenger. While pondering what I should download, I logged into my Hotmail account — only to have a cheerful “Good Morning” message pop up from Stewart. I’d forgotten Messenger is now built into Hotmail (or Live or whatever it’s called) so we didn’t need to download a thing. While we’ve now switched to GMail’s web-based messaging, does anyone have any suggestions for messaging clients we could try?
9AM – Barry Collins writes: So #ubuntupro day has got off to a bad start for me. I’ve grown used to logging in with my mobile broadband dongle and checking my email and the day’s news on the train to work. But I can’t get my dongle (a ZTE K3570-Z running on Vodafone) to work in Ubuntu 10.10. The software that comes on the stick doesn’t work, and while the Ubuntu Mobile Broadband wizard promisingly detects my modem and even allows me to pick my network and tariff (i.e. contract, prepay etc), I can’t make a connection. Anyone got any advice before I start trawling forums?
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