Took a very quick look at Ubuntu 11.04 this afternoon.

Oh my. What a mess!

I don't have a fundamental objection to Unity the way some people do -- I typically use a Mac as a desktop so the single-menu-bar thing doesn't bother me -- but the inconsistency of it sure does!

Gtk+ applications use the menu bar at the top. Apps using other libraries do not. This is something of an issue when the web browser and office suite are in that category.

There's also some weirdness with that menu bar, sometimes a delay before it registers that the mouse is over a menu item. This is a bug, and the sort of thing I imagine they'll fix before release. But the Firefox/LibreOffice/etc problem seems like a bigger issue, and probably not possible to solve without getting the Mozilla and OOo people involved, not unless Canonical want to maintain their own forks.

My overwhelming reaction right now is: we're going through all this acrimony for this?
A few days ago I booted my iMac back into OS X to check out the new release of Steam and the pile of games I'd previously purchased for Windows which were now available for Mac.

And something I noticed immediately is that the wireless support is much better than it is in Linux or Windows. I strongly suspect that the driver Ubuntu finds for the wireless chipset in this thing is talking 802.11g rather than 802.11n -- it goes from topping out at 1Mbps to 5-6Mbps.

That and the sheer convenience of being able to play a game without having to reboot or fight Wine has seen me leave the machine running OS X again, at least for now.

There's a lot to like in Ubuntu 10.04. I'll keep using it at work, and I'll probably put it on my laptop too. But given the hardware I have and the desire to occasionally fire up a game, the home desktop machine will probably stay running OS X.
My home network is more the product of evolution than intelligent design.

It started out with all the computers in one room, upstairs. So there's a consumer ADSL router-thingy with built-in switch up there, and everything was hooked up to that by Ethernet.

Then various devices requiring wireless showed up in the living-room. A PVR, then an AppleTV and a Wii. A laptop appeared. There were several devices capable of 802.11n, so I added an Airport Express and switched off the wireless AP on the router-thingy.

Then I moved my main desktop machine downstairs.

By this point almost everything is using wireless. Which is a pity, because even with 802.11n wireless is slow and insuffucient for media streaming. It is also prone to crapping out from interference. The difficulty is that any substantive rebuild has the potential to take me off the Internet for days, and that would be a Bad Thing(TM) on account of needing to be able to work from home at the drop of a hat.

Yesterday I finally made another step in this evolutionary process, running a long bit of cat-5 from the iMac downstairs around the room to the PS3. I am surprised and delighted to report that Ubuntu handled this very gracefully: edit the "Auto eth0" IPv4 settings, change "Method" to "Shared to other computers", and boom. DHCP server, NAT, DNS, all configured for the PS3 every time it starts up.

Installed Mediatomb on Ubuntu. Required a slight change to force it to bind to eth0 -- it was far too keen on virbr0 -- and now I've got video streaming nicely. Two complaints: can't get internet radio stuff working, despite there being several "how-to" guides online, as the PS3 doesn't handle it directly and Mediatomb's configuration is somewhat on the obtuse side; and the interface for media selection on the PS3 via Mediatomb is nowhere near as nice as XBMC or Boxee. Particularly the bit where it doesn't remember what you've already seen.

Still, image quality is significantly better than the AppleTV, even on my 32" SD CRT with both devices connected via component and running 576i. And the PS3 gets aspect ratio right, which both XBMC and Boxee struggle to do. If I could solve the streaming audio problem I could pull the AppleTV out of the system entirely.
This is not any great discovery, but just in case anyone else stumbles over this...

The current release of HandBrake isn't compatible with 10.04. If you run it, you'll find that most of the encoding options are greyed out.

The author knows and has fixed whatever needed fixing, but that isn't in a binary release yet. You'll need to compile it from SVN. The instructions here work just fine.
At the moment there isn't an official stable build of VirtualBox for Ubuntu 10.04. The Karmic build works OK until you hit a need for USB support.

The workaround I am using at the moment is to run the Lucid build of the 3.2.0 beta available here. If you run it as root USB works properly, alternately you can add your usual user account to the 'root' group and it'll work.

I believe it's poking around in /dev/bus/usb, which is all world-readable but only writable by root:root. There's probably a better fix for this than giving your user account such open-slather access but all of /dev is being managed automatically these days and I'm a little unclear on just how one could go about convincing the responsible subsystem to, say, make all the USB device nodes owned by a 'usb' group instead.


Abort, Rephrase, Ignore?

October 2011

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