Ubuntu 17.04 – a review

Ubuntu 17.04 was announced a few days ago.  I had already decided that I would install it, and do a little testing.  So, once I saw the announcement, I started a download.

Downloading

To download, I followed the links from the announcement to the download page.  From there, I selected the torrent download.  I was using the “vivaldi” browser, and it gave me several options with the torrent link.  I chose the option to open the file.  And that started the download with “ktorrent”.

I also downloaded “SHA256SUMS.desktop” and “SHA256SUMS.desktop.gpg”.  Next, I checked the gpg signature with

gpg --verify SHA256SUMS.desktop.gpg SHA256SUMS.desktop

which showed that I had a good download of the checksum file.  After the torrent download had completed, I checked its validity with

sha256sum -c SHA256SUMS.desktop

That reported that the downloaded iso file was ok.  It also reported that some files did not exist.  I ignored that.  It was just that the checksum file had checksums for other isos that I had not downloaded.

Next, I wrote the iso to a USB device that I intended to use for installing.  The iso file was around 1.6G, so a 4G USB was big enough for the purpose.  I used “dd_rescue” to write to the USB flash drive.

Install to an encrypted LVM

My plan was to install to an existing encrypted LVM.  I first booted up the USB device.  I’ll note that this was on a UEFI box with secure-boot enabled.

The system booted into the Unity desktop, with an introductory message showing.  I hit the super key (Windows key) to bring up the menu.  And there, I typed “term” into the search box, and clicked on the terminal application.

Once I had a terminal open, I ran “sudo bash” to give me a root command line.  My next step was to unlock the encrypted LVM on that computer.  I used the command:

cryptsetup luksOpen /dev/sdb5 cr_sg2

Here, “/dev/sdb5” was is the partition for my encrypted LVM.  And “cr_sg2” is just a virtual name to assign to the virtual device created by opening the encrypted partition.  I was prompted for the encryption key.

I was now ready to start the install.  So I clicked on the installer icon.

I had to make a few preliminary choices, such as timezone and language.  The defaults actually worked pretty well.

Next came the partitioning screen.  There were several options.  I chose “something else”.  That got me a list of partitions that I could manually assign to this install.  I assigned a volume (named “root2”) from the LVM to be used for the root file system.  I set that to be formatted and mounted at “/”.  Next I selected “/dev/sdb4” to be formatted and mounted at “/boot”.  I then selected the swap volume from the LVM to be used for swap.  And, finally, I selected “/dev/sda2” to be used for the EFI partition.

At the bottom of the screen, it showed “/dev/dm-0” to be the location to install the bootloader.  That looked wrong.  I changed that to “/dev/sda2”, which is also wrong.  The bootloader install works differently for UEFI systems, so this was probably just misleading information.

From there, I proceeded with the install.  And everything seemed to be successful.  But I knew, from previous experience, that it would not be bootable without some adjustments.

When done, the installer offered to either reboot or continue testing.  I selected “continue testing”.  That left me running the Ubuntu system booted from the USB.

The next step was to create “/etc/crypttab” on the installed system.  So I mounted the root filesystem at “/mnt”.  I copied “/etc/crypttab” to “/mnt/etc/crypttab”, and I then edited that almost empty file.  I added the line:

cr_sg2 UUID=6418eff9-1796-412a-9b0c-9d2db5430640 none none

The first field “cr_sg2” was just the virtual device name that I used for the LVM.  The next field specified its UUID.  I found the UUID using the command “blkid /dev/sdb5”

With that done, I now had to create the initrd (or initramfs) for the boot.

mount /dev/sdb4 /mnt/boot
mount /dev/sda2 /mnt/boot/efi
mount --bind /dev /mnt/dev
mount --bind /proc /mnt/proc
mount --bind /sys /mnt/sys

The above commands mounted the other file systems needed for the installed system.  I then went into “chroot” mode for the final steps

chroot /mnt
update-initramfs -k all -c -v

That last line regenerated the “initrd”.  And with that, the new system should be bootable.

exit

Finally, I exited from “chroot” mode and then rebooted the system.

Booting Ubuntu

During reboot, I hit F12 (while the boot logo was showing).  That gave me a BIOS boot menu.  There were two items named “ubuntu”.  I chose the first, which turned out to be a lucky choice.  That was the entry for booting Ubuntu with secure-boot, while the other entry would only have worked if I had turned off secure-boot.

The system booted up smoothly, and gave me a login screen.  And there, login was successful as the user that I had created during install.

I was logged into the Unity desktop.  I’ve never liked Unity.  But I had already decided that this time I would try harder.  A day or two before Ubuntu 17.04 was released, I saw an announcement that this would be the end of the line for Unity.  The 18.04 release of Ubuntu would instead use Gnome as the main desktop.

I could have given up on Unity at that point, but I decided to follow through with my plans.

Unity

I proceeded to see whether I could make the unity desktop usable.

I knew that Unity was somehow based on Gnome.  So I looked for Gnome-Tweak-Tool.  I opened the software center, and searched for “Tweak”.  And I then installed Gnome-Tweak-Tool.

I later realized that I probably should have used Unity-Tweak-Tool.  But Gnome-Tweak-Tool worked for what I wanted.  I was able to set it to sloppy focus (the focus goes to a window when I move the mouse over that window), and I was able to turn on auto-raise (a window is raised to the front when I move the mouse over it).  For the way that I use computers, this setup makes it a lot more useful.

While looking at the Gnome-Tweak-Tool window, I noticed that it showed that I was set to have 4 desktops (or workspaces).  Previously I had never been able to access more than the one.

Exiting the tweak tool, I tried to move to another workspace.  And that did not work.  So I used google.  Apparently Unity comes with workspace switching disabled.  The google search showed me how to enable it (with the “Appearance” application in system settings).

I also changed the background (or wallpaper) to something better than the bland default.  And I was able to set the dashboard on the left to auto-hide.

With those changes — sloppy focus, auto-raise, auto-hide, workspaces enabled and a decent wallpaper, Unity looked a lot more usable.  In fact it looked a lot like Gnome.  I’m not a Gnome fan, but this was still a lot better than the defaults immediately after Ubuntu install.

The Gnome-Tweak-Tool also allowed me to define an auto-start application.  I did not see how to do that with the Unity-Tweak-Tool.  So I set it to automatically start a terminal session when I login.

Software center

I don’t much care for the Ubuntu software center.  I was able to install the Tweak tools with a search in the software center.  But I also wanted to install “csh” (my preferred shell).  And I wanted to install “sshd” so that I could login remotely.  Search in the software center did not find either of those.  So, instead, I resorted to running the commands “csh” and “sshd” at the bash command line.  Bash told me what command I would need to install those applications.  That worked.  But it’s a pity that search in the software center does not find them.

Overall

This far, Ubuntu has seemed pretty stable.  I still prefer opensuse.  But, once I had the Unity desktop suitably configured, I found it reasonably usable.

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About Neil Rickert

Mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

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  1. Ubuntu-gnome 17.04 | Thoughts on computing - 2017/04/23

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