Ubuntu 14.04 — a review

It has been a while since I last tried ubuntu.  So, with the hype I was hearing, I decided to give the new 14.04 release a good trial.  I downloaded both the standard version and the kubuntu version (KDE version) on the day of the release announcement.

My initial reaction was “this is awful.”  But it turns out that most of what I did not like was because of the Unity desktop in the standard version.  So that’s probably not a good way of judging the distro, since other desktops are available.  Perhaps I’ll post on my opinion of Unity at another time.

“Burning” to USB

My plan was to install via a USB flash drive.  I ignored the instructions at the ubuntu site, and copied the “.iso” files directly to the USB device.  I used “dd_rescue” on opensuse for that, though “dd” or some other raw copying utility should work.  The instructions at the site also indicate how to create a persistent store for changes you make when running from the USB.  My method did not do that, but otherwise worked well and was simple for me to do.

I first tested by booting the kubuntu live USB on an older computer with nVidia graphics.  It locked up.  The standard ubuntu did boot into the Unity desktop on that computer, but the graphic screen was a bit corrupted.

I next tried both on a newer computer with Intel graphics.  That newer computer uses UEFI.  I set the firmware to enable secure-boot, in order to test whether that works.  Both the standard and KDE versions booted without problem and with any of the screen problems that I saw on the nVidia computer.

Installing

My first install attempt was to the newer computer.  I wanted to install into an existing encrypted LVM.  I described how that went in an earlier post.

Apart from those crypto problems, the install seemed simple enough.  The installer gave three main options:

  1. install alongside other operating systems;
  2. delete everything and use the whole disk for ubuntu;
  3. something else.

First time linux users would probably select either the first or second of those options.  While I did not test those, it looked as if installation would be quite straightforward for either.  And the user could choose to install into an encrypted LVM, without the difficulties I described in my earlier post.  The difference would be that the installer was setting up (creating) the encrypted LVM itself, instead of using an existing LVM.

The third option, which I took, requires knowing what you are doing.  The installer presents a list of partitions and logical volumes, and I can select which to use, which to format, and where to mount.  While that required a little knowledge, it was not particularly difficult.  The problems came later, on reboot, and are described in the earlier post.

My second install

I later tried to install on my older computer — the one with nVidia graphics.  That went through several missteps, due to the graphic problems.  While experimenting with that, I learned how to work around the problems.

I booted the live kubuntu USB.  When some strange graphics appeared on the screen, I hit enter.  That got me into a screen where I could set the language (I went with the default).  The next screen had some menus listed at the bottom.  The menu for F6 allowed me to set “nomodeset” as a boot parameter.  I expected that to avoid the nVidia graphic problems, though at the cost of having crappy graphics.

That got me into a running kubuntu system, with stable graphics.  I opened a Konsole session (command prompt session), and used

sudo bash

to get a root shell.  There, I used “cryptsetup” to open an encrypted LVM.  My plan was to install to an ordinary partition (“/dev/sda8”), but to use swap and the home directory from an existing encrypted LVM.  So I again chose the third (expert) install option.  That seemed to go well.  I told it to install booting in “/dev/sda8”.  It accepted that without complaint.  My plan was to chain-boot to that from the grub booter on my opensuse installation on the same disk.

I should add that I mounted the home file system from the encrypted LVM as “/xhome”.  My plan was to have a private home directory for ubuntu, where I could use symlinks to provide easy access to my opensuse home.  That avoids conflicts between different configurations, but still allows sharing of most of the data between opensuse and ubuntu.

The reboot went tolerably well, because the main partition was not part of the encrypted LVM.  The boot complained that it could not find swap or “/xhome”, but I was able to tell it to proceed anyway.  Once up and running, I got a root shell and opened the encrypted LVM.  I then used “swapon -a” to add the swap, and “mount /xhome” to mount the home volume.  And, finally, I ran

# update-initramfs -k all -c -v

to update the initrd.  On reboot, I was prompted for the encryption key, and startup was normal.

That graphics problem

As expected, the kubuntu graphics were poor, due to the “nomodeset”.  A notification told me that my system might work better with added drivers.  So I went into the driver manager (the settings menu), and followed that advice.  This installed the nVidia graphics drivers.  I rebooted, and the graphics looked much better.

What I don’t like

I’m not a fan of ubuntu, because I don’t much like their software policy.  They have a spartan or minimalist approach, and do not install a lot of standard software.  For example, “konqueror” is the standard web browser for KDE.  The ubuntu folk decided that “firefox” is better (and I agree), so they installed “firefox” but not “konqueror”.  I would have preferred that they installed both.

Granted, the software is all there in the repos, and can be installed.  But I would prefer more to be there in a standard install.

In a typical KDE system, there are multiple workspaces, and a pager in the panel showing which workspace is current and allowing easy switching.  The installed “kubuntu” setup only a single workspace, with no pager.  Presumably somebody decided that a pager is not needed with a single workspace.  But that makes things harder for those who want to configure additional workspaces.

While installing, the messages indicated the “ecryptfs” was being removed.  Such a pity.  If I were to seriously use ubuntu, I would want “ecryptfs”, so I would need to re-install it.  Presumably, it would not have been removed, if I had setup an encrypted home directory.  But I didn’t want that.  I wanted only an encrypted private subdirectory.

In one of the missteps for my second install, I tried using only a single partition.  The plan would have been to add the swap and home afterward, to avoid any problems with an encrypted LVM.  The messages for that install showed “lvm2” and “cryptsetup” both being removed.  I would have needed to reinstall them.

My first experience with ubuntu was a few months after its initial release in 2004.  Back then, disk sizes were smaller.  So perhaps this minimalist approach made sense.  In my opinion it no longer makes sense with today’s disk capacities.

Problems

I did run into a few problem on my older computer.

When I attempted to add software with “apt-get”, there was an error message:

Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree       
Reading state information... Done
You might want to run 'apt-get -f install' to correct these:
The following packages have unmet dependencies:
 xserver-xorg-video-all : Depends: xserver-xorg-video-nouveau but it is not going to be installed
E: Unmet dependencies. Try 'apt-get -f install' with no packages (or specify a solution).

This problem was blocking me from adding any software.  My best guess is that the install of the nVidia graphics drivers created this problem in the package database.  I was hesitant to fix, not knowing if that would break the nVidia driver setup.  But I went ahead and followed the suggestion.  I then rebooted, and the graphics still were working properly.  And now I could install more software.

A second problem was with the system clock.  When I rebooted to my opensuse system, I found that the clock was 5 hours off.  I’m not quite sure why it was 5 hours rather than 6 hours.  The ubuntu install had set the hardware clock to local time, instead of the UTC that I had been using.  There was no prompt about that during the install.  I did not have that problem on the newer computer, probably because there is no Windows installed, so the ubuntu installer went with UTC.  In any case, this was fixable via the file “/etc/default/rcS”, so not a major problem.

Summary

Overall, I would give ubuntu good marks, though this distro is not for me.  Users new to linux would not run into the crypto problems that I had.  Those with nVidia graphics might have some initial difficulties, but most users would be be able to install and have the system up and running without many problems.

For myself, I don’t much care for their minimalist policy on choice of what to install.  And I don’t like the Unity desktop.  So I won’t be switching to ubuntu.

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About Neil Rickert

Mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

2 responses to “Ubuntu 14.04 — a review”

  1. oogenhand says :

    Reblogged this on oogenhand.

    Like

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  1. Why I don’t like Unity | Thoughts on computing - 2014/05/06

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