I know the Inspiron 4000 is old but it was lying around!

I've since discovered:-
- that the lost mouse movement is a known FAQ. A couple of other Inspiron 4000 users have the same problem.

- I've finally worked out the font issues. In XP I have cleartype turned off and font smoothing set to standard. On Arial it doesn't anti-alias below about 10pt normal. In Ubuntu I now have sub-pixel smoothing with max hinting. It's very close to being the same but is trying to anti-alias small fonts like 9pt when perhaps it shouldn't. It's a subtle difference but just enough to be distracting.

- For some reason, screen refresh such as scrolling in Firefox has improved. No idea why but I have been doing a lot of fiddling.

- Radio buttons in firefox are truly horrible. No sure if this is firefox, gnome or X

- Stuff keeps coming and going and I've no real idea why! For instance Restart and shutdown has just disappeared from the quit menu. hey ho.

Latest game was trying to persuade it to auto-mount a volume on a Linksys NSLU-2 that is shared over Samba. I can see it in the file manager but can't persuade it to mount. Perhaps I'm putting the wrong commands into fstab or it's permissions on the mount point or something. dmesg is not very helpful.

A lot of this stuff still feels surprisingly hard compared with XP.

Have you noticed how when you do a search for solutions you often pick up on fixes that were out of date 3 years ago? ;)


As usual with the linux you can do anything with some command line work. I discovered that fonts.conf can be configured to disable anti-aliasing for small fonts. I set it to 10pt (is it pt or px?) so 9pt is displayed clean and it's worked a treat. Bizarrely Firefox has it's own anti-alias settings and doesn't take all of them from X. Still digging on that one.

The Samba problem was that the smbfs package wasn't loaded but smbclient was by default. So I could see the share, use "connect to server" to mount it but a mount in fstab didn't work. Now it's all peachy.

So now I have my 90Gb of music mounted. I pointed Amarok at it but it complained of too many tag errors. This is good because it will prompt me to fix the few remaining MP3 tag errors in the collection. but bad because Amarok should have completed it's scan regardless.

Hibernate stopped working. It will hibernate, it just won't restart.

Later still

Somewhere in trying the ATI screen drivers and installing XFC to try the Xubuntu variant, the login sessions and Quit dialog got badly screwed. There was no obvious way to turn the machine off as restart and Shutdown had disappeared! trying to resurrect it looked like too much work, so I gave up and re-installed. At which point I discovered the logic of having a /home partition.

Firefox anti-aliasing is curious. It takes some of it's setup from X but does some of it itself. There is a font.antialias.minimum setting in about:config but it doesn't appear to do anything in the Ubuntu build. This could be a distro bug rather than a firefox bug.

For some unknown reason backspace in Firefox doesn't do what you'd expect. But that's also fixable in about:config.

I tend to use mouse wheel click for doubleclick. I think there's a way of making this work involving the usual hacking of .conf files but I haven't attempted it yet.

There's something weird about Amarok. I think it's a KDE App running under Gnome and so it's using it's own font definitions for the gui. The font in the data content areas can be changed in Amarok configuration, but the dialog fonts can't and they look awful.

This is all a geek's experiments. I want to see what the current state of desktop Linux is like. I'm quite happy to dig down in the process just as I did 4 years ago with XP. The only performance issue I have is hiccups in mouse, keyboard, scrolling and MP3 playing. And I'm mostly prepared to accept that I wouldn't see it with faster hardware even if I think it's still a bug.

And even later

The glitches in mouse movement were coming from powernowd which is supposed to handle CPU speed for power management. Turn it off in services and it's all smooth. The whole system is now the same or slightly faster than XP on the same machine as I expected.

I can't manage to get all the fonts to work right in all the Apps. The problem is Amarok and Firefox. which use KDE and GTK respectively. I've tried installing kcontrol and fonts with that are now the same as in Gnome but it's having no effect on Amarok. You can change the fonts in some of the windows from within Amarok configuration but the dialog and collection text come from KDE. I'm beginning to get pretty tired of this. This really needs sorting by the OSS community. Fonts are the one thing that you immediately see and compare and it ought to be possible to (perhaps with one click) set up a new Ubuntu install to look exactly like Windows. Why? Because it's one of the few things that MS is very very good at.

Amarok is repeatedly failing to collect tag info from my entire music collection. It fails with a bizarre error message after 30 minutes saying "too many errors. Maybe you've got an old taglib." Right. It really should just ignore errors and carry on.

The "ugly" proprietary drivers for MP3 et al installed ok. but until I rebooted, Rhythmbox played MP3s at double speed!

Even though mount on the SMB share works (see above) fstab won't mount it during startup. My guess is that it's timing out. Curiously browsing the share in nautilus also times out. The first time you try to open a folder or file it almost always fails. Try again and it just works. Maybe there's a samba config setting somewhere to tell it to just wait a little longer.

I tried loading Skype. It loads, starts logs in, gets most of the contact info and then fails spectacularly. The display is all over the place with text being shown on the screen well outside the window. resize the main window and it never manages to redraw it.

O I think I'm going to stop there and leave it all for a few months. My over all impression is that you can change everything which is good. but you have to change everything which is bad. It's made me rethink what I use every day and what I need to make it work. Key windows only programs are:-
- Winamp
- Skype
- Turnpike (really!)
- IE6/7 purely for checking web development, not to actually use.
Given enough time tweaking, everything else either has a direct port in Linux or a direct equivalent.

I think we stand at a crossroads. XP is good enough but it's not going to be around forever. Vista is expensive and scarily DRM riddled. MacOSX is neat but your exchanging an MS straitjacket for an Apple straitjacket. You gain some of that OSS goodness but also get more Apple lock-in and lose some programs that never get ported from windows. Go to Linux and you're into the OSS anarchy where nothing is clear and everything almost works.

In theory, given enough memory it's now possible to run VMware or Parallels to run two or more of these at the same time. I've been trying to find somebody who's actually run Skype under XP+OSX/Linux+Parallels/vmware but without success. Maybe it's possible. Not sure I want to try. And certainly not on this hardware.

One other thing thats a larf

I put up my original post on my own blog as well as here. Today I tried again to search google for things like "KDE font ubuntu gnome amarok". A large number of the front page results are either pointers to here and my own blog or to Linux community sites that have picked it up and commented on it. It's the downside of having lots of Google Fu. You frequently end up being the definitive statement of the problem. Which is a pain in the neck when you didn't find the answer and still haven't a month later when you go back and try again!

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[ 03-Feb-07 5:53pm ] [ , ]