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At work with Ubuntu's latest Long Term Support version of Linux


I have been experimenting with Ubuntu 8.04 codename "Hardy Heron" on two of my personal systems and the Linux test system stack I mentioned last post. I have not written much about 8.04 until now because, being pre-GA, there was not much I wanted to get into as far a discussion of its Enterprise Desktop Worthiness Quotient (EDWQ?)



I started testing with 8.04 Alpha 6, on my IBM X30 laptop. When that looked pretty good, I tried it on my Acer 5610 laptop, temporarily replacing Mint 4.0 there. I used both of those computers for while to do various things like write previous blogs and other perosnal documents, surf the web, and so forth. I kept them updated nearly daily, just to see how 8.04 was trending.



I later installed the Alpha 6 version at the office on one the Dell DX260's in the test stack. The point of this was to configure Evolution 2.22 to get a feel for how that was shaping up. Well, that and I had this cool new set of computers that were crying out to test something.


Personal GA



When 8.04 GA'ed, I did a clean install on the Acer 5610 and tested it for the evening.



To this point, I was looking at personal usability stuff, not Enterprise. My first off the cuff reactions to that were:



  1. I like the new artwork, especially the abstract Heron on the desktop background. I showed it to my wife, and she does too. I showed it to some folks at the office, and got a "Yuch: too brown" reaction. Looks like the preference stuff I talked about in "         Color Theory" are still true...
  2. When I first brought up 8.04, I had no network connections. 8.04 "saw" the wireless card, and configured it. The wireless card "saw" all the local access points. I just had to pick one and all was good. But I knew to click on that icon and map that AP. Not sure a new Linux person would not have been frustrated nice if a pop up or something mentioned "Pick an AP point to get started" or something.
  3. Compiz seems to work really nicely on the Intel GMA 950 chipset on the Acer 5610, and I did *not* have to tell xorg anything about the screen resolution: It was correct from the get-go. Compiz even works on the X30 with its tiny amount of graphics memory: Vista should be hanging its head in shame. I turned Compiz off on the X30, preferring a crisp screen response to a pretty one. No point turning it off on the Acer: It snaps along pretty well there.
  4. I'd have no issues installing this OS for a non-computer person. My brothers          Mint 4.0 install is not in danger of being replaced though.
  5. It seems like every Linux lately gets a bit faster: A bit crisper. I assume this is the latest set of tweaks to both Compiz and the Kernel. Ubuntu also tossed AT&T style Init a while back to get boot cracking along more quickly and that seems to be getting better all the time.
  6. The new version does the best job yet identifying and configuring the ENE Technologies chipped MMC card slot on the Acer. Still does not see the card insert event to mount the card automatically, but if it is there at boot it sees it, and data transfers from it are faster than before.





This particular release of Ubuntu is more interesting than Ubuntu-average as it pertains to the subject of its viability as an ELD (Enterprise Linux Desktop). This is one of the Long Term Support versions of Ubuntu (the last LTS version being 6.06), with the desktop version of 8.04 being supported for the next three years (April 2011) and the server version for the next five years (April 2013). Given the amount of time a large company takes to get a new release of a desktop image ready, tested with all the corporate apps, and then pushed out to all the desktops, three years support is pretty much a requirement.



Ubuntu, knowing 8.04 was going to need to be supported for a while would tend to focus more on functionality and security related issues than latest and greatest eye candy, or at least that is my assumption. This is the kind of assumption that I'll be looking to test.



While I read some things in the trades about 7.10 being unstable because of how much feature and glitz the Ubunites added, I have to say that I never saw that. 7.10, and its Mint 4.0 variant, have been dead reliable for me other than the few Evolution issues I have already documented in this blog.





With the arrival of the GA version, I installed it not only on my personal Acer 5610, but my BMC laptop, a Dell D620, and did a fresh install over the Alpha 6 version running on one of the DX260's in the test system stack. For the D620 and DX260 installs I took some notes:



First off, I used the 64 bit installer on the D620 because its Core 2 Duo CPU's support that. My first ever 64 bit personal computer install. Done 64 bit servers before, but for some reason, even with the 64 bit capable hardware like the D620, I had never installed a 64 bit OS. The Acer with its Core Duo processors (Not Core 2 Duo, surely one of the most ill advised processor naming conventions on the planet today, Isn't Core 2 Duo alot like say Core Two Dos?) and the DX260 with its P4 received 32 bit versions.





There are seven screens that appear after you click the 'Install' icon.



  1. For the first one, I picked "English". That seemed to make the most sense to me at the time.
  2. This makes one of the most annoying new features appear: The time zone chooser. The picture of the world zooms in when you try to pick a TZ (I was going for Chicago, and the picture kept sliding about trying to escape the mouse. There was an old program I used to have for MS Windows back in the 3.1 days that you could put on someones computer and then sit back to watch them scream. It made all the desktop icons dance out of the way of the mouse so that you could never click on anything. The new TZ set feature reminds me of that program. Easier to just use the pick list, which thankfully is still included.
  3. Screen 3 of 7 is what keyboard to use, and I have never once seen this program not know my keyboard type. I assume that there are issues here in other locales to make this screen worth stopping on.
  4. For 4 of 7, I picked the manual disk layout option. I tried the default option with Alpha 6 and everything was laid out in one partition. That was not what I wanted so for GA I went my usual way:


   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sda1   *           1        1216     9767488+  83  Linux
/dev/sda2            1217        1459     1951897+  82  Linux swap / Solaris
/dev/sda3            1460        2434     7831687+  83  Linux


        SDA1 is '/' and SDA3 is '/home'.


  1. 5 of 7 I gave the computer my name, the name of the default account I wanted, and the name the computer should have on the network.
  2. 6 of 7 was the recently added screen where it tries to find old userids from which to derive the settings. It found nothing. This was odd. It did not find anything on my Acer 5610 either, yet it has Vista as a dual boot, and this D620 has XP. Both had previously existing Mint installs too. This feature has never really done me any good to date. Someone must find it useful though.
  3. 7 of 7 verified all my settings. I pulled the trigger, and for about 8 minutes things were copied off the CD. It spent about 2 minutes configuring things, and then was ready to boot to Ubuntu 8.04 LTS GA.


I am not complaining (much) because the install is so dead easy, but the thing is that it could be even easier. Four maybe five screens. Combine a few things. Be smarter about the disk layout so I don't have to keep overriding it. Not saying it has to be the same as mine, but putting everything in one partition is not as brilliant as most of the OS is.


The 2.6.24-16 versioned kernel stopped to check out my hard drives on the way up, which added some boot time the first time.



There were no updates in the package repositories even four days after the GA date, which might be a first. Usually there is a last minute something or the other. Maybe being LTS they are more cautious about releasing things.



I proceeded to add the packages I need: things like Avahi, Sensors, HDDTemp, Macutils, HFS support, the debug packages for Evolution, Pidgin-SIP, WINE, and the 32 bit compatibility libraries (on the 64 bit installed D620 only).



Evolution was then configured, same as I ever do, against the MS Exchange 2003 servers.


Why Evo: a quick review



i have stated some of these next things about using MS Exchange from Linux several times, but I can not assume that everyone who might be reading this right now is familiar with everything I have ever written on this topic. Too easy to get here via a direct Google transporter. If you are a pure Linux, or at least Open Standards based shop, you might be thinking to yourself "Using MS Exchange is just suboptimal: Why not use something else?". Reality is that 50% of the big shops out there use MS Exchange, so no matter: it is something that just has to be coped with.



To work as an Enterprise desktop here, I need to be able to get at my MS Exchange sourced Calendar and email from Linux. The only ways to do this that is viable *at the moment* is:



  • The Gnome Projects Evolution package, with the MS Exchange Connector (WebDAV)
  • Using a web browser to get email off the MS Exchange servers Webmail. I am on record as not really liking this option because the web client is very heavy without real benefit and could use a strong lesson from Gmail on how to do Webmail right.



I do not currently consider the KDE Office stuff as all that workable against MS Exchange, but I am waiting for KDE 4.1 to see if the rumored updates/improvements in this area are in fact there. <note from the far future: as of KDE 4.4, it still was not great against MS Exchange...>


Whats in a Name?



Evo is now at release 2.22, jumping from 2.12 in the last release. That is not as wide a jump as it sounds: they are just lining up the Evo release number with the Gnome release number. Nothing really new stands out in the user interface, although I have a feeling it has many subtle upgrades and tweaks and I just have not found them yet. Like those newspaper games in the comics section: "What is the difference between these two pictures?".


EVO Has Needs Too



Lots of them.



Evolution is a problematic beast. It is a large project, and none of the new tweaks appear to be in the code size reduction department. The only thing I noticed different during configuring the email client to use MS Exchange is that is appears to do a better job looking around for available GAL (Global Address List) servers. Every time I have configured it, it has presented a different one. Before, I always got the same wrong one. What algorithm it is using is still not obvious. I still have to over-ride it to put in the one I want it to use: the one nearest to me in the network.



I have noted in these early experiments with Evolution is that it is far more stable on the Dell D620 laptop than the Dell DX260 desktop. The laptop is far more powerful, with dual core 1.73 Ghz processors (7984.3 BogoMIPS) and 2 GB of RAM. The single 2.0 Ghz P4 (3989.49 BogoMIPS) and 512 MB of RAM of the DX260 just don't seem to be a good place for Evolution to live. It fails frequently there, and when it fails, I have to run my cleanup scripts before I restart it. Not a quality, Enterprise level experience. Sure, the DX260 is hardly what a current hardware shop would be using, but I expected Linux and its apps to work in 512MB.



Quick poking with a diagnostic sharp stick, and I have the performance problem down as not enough RAM on the DX260: With Evo up and running under the D620, only 15% of the RAM or 300 MB is in use for programs. With Evo running on the DX260, 50% of the RAM or 256MB is in use by programs.



I expected the desktop system to be crisper, given its faster hard drive, but the extra RAM on the laptop appears to more than compensate for the lower RPMS of the disk (4200 versus the desktops 7200), at least as far as Evolution is concerned.



When Evolution fails (and so far this is only on the DX260, but not the D620), it is always the MS Exchange connector that is failing. The main Evolution client stays up and running, but without access to the MS Exchange server, that is not very useful. I guess I really should say it is not useful unless you have other email protocols still up and running in any case. If you have Evo set up with IMAP, POP and other email protocols, the failure of the MS Exchange backend would only affect that one mail store, leaving the others to process email to their hearts content. I have in fact set up Evo from time to time to use IMAP and WebDAV-I.E,-Connector to the same mail store, so that when Evolution Connector fails I can still read email until such a time as it is convenient to blow out of Evo and run my cleanup scripts and restart Evo. That only works if you MS Exchange server is set up to run IMAP as well as the murky MAPI-plus-RPC protocols though at the same time though.



Based on the fact that it is working fine on my D620 I infer that my Dell 745 would run Evolution under 8.04 without issue, but will wait for Mint 5.0 before I do anything OS re-configuring there.


IM trying



Another of the suboptimal areas of MS Infrastructure that I have to deal with is our current IM standard.  MS Office "Communicator". Quotes because, like "Sharepoint", it only really works *at the moment* if you are running an MS sourced desktop. IE: you can communicate or share only if you are of the MS Windows population of computer users. Its like starting off a collaboration project by telling a part of your contributing population "we don't want to hear from you, because you think differently"



The Pidgin project is working on getting a SIP client going that will inter-operate, but I have had no luck to date with it, and neither have several of my Linux using compadres.



The good news is that unless I am running MS Windows someplace, like a VM, I do not have to deal with getting IM's. IM if hot hot hot out there, but for me it maps to YAIV: Yet Another Interruption Vector. Unless I need it for real time problem diagnosis, I tend to stay out of it.


Coming Soon



Ubuntu is out and looking good (even if Evolution needs a pretty stout system to run well), but that is only the beginning of the spring season. Still up are Mint 5.0, which of course is Ubuntu 8.04 polished to a fine sheen, Fedora 9, and OpenSUSE 11. More on those as they go GA.