Precise Review

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Contents

Precise Pangolin Review

Introduction

  • I installed and evaluated Kubuntu (KDE) and Ubuntu (Unity) side by side in May 2012. I was drawn in by the Ubuntu marketing, but after a full evaluation stuck with Kubuntu (KDE). Why? The KDE desktop can be customised to look and function like Ubuntu Unity pretty easily, but in comparison Ubuntu Unity can't be customised to look and function like KDE (without a tremendous amount of effort). I use Kubuntu for a wide variety of servers, desktops, laptops, netbooks, and now as a television interface (from a laptop with remote control). While Ubuntu Unity held a lot of promise for this variety of platforms, I have found that it is actually trying to re-invent the KDE wheel and is playing catch-up on everything but a tablet (for which it is specifically designed).
  • As an example, a significant complaint for Ubuntu Unity users has been the inability to easily customise the sidebar. Of course, this has been possible in KDE/Kubuntu since KDE 4 came out. The menu (and/or panel) bar can be moved and any app or widget added to it, resized, or manipulated in a large variety of configurations, and there are several dock applications available, as well. It only took me 5 minutes to replicate the appearance of the Ubuntu sidebar in Kubuntu, and the Kubuntu panel has a lot more functionality and flexibility than the Unity sidebar has, too.
  • Although I tried the Kubuntu Netbook interface, I don't see the advantage to it. The default KDE desktop already has widgets that have a hundred different ways to customise them. In contrast, the KDE Netbook workspace is difficult to customise.
  • I went to Oneiric from Lucid completely last year and have been extremely happy with it. It was not as stable as Lucid (which was a superlative incarnation) but did a lot of things (mainly available apps) that were not available to me in Lucid. (I never went from Lucid to Maverick or Natty completely because they just didn't work well enough.) This review concerns my comparison of Precise to Oneiric, therefore.

Below are the steps I took to run Precise. I initially tested on a single-core AMD 64-bit processor at 2 MHz with nVidia graphics (and an old monitor) with a wired ethernet connection to a DHCP-capable router. I then tested on a multi-core 64-bit laptop with a wireless connection. I have successfuly used both DHCP (dynamic) addressing and static IP addressing. I have now installed on 12 different computers (some that have not been updated in years), both i386/i686 and AMD64 versions, with a variety of wireless cards and graphics cards (including integrated Intel graphics, ATI, and nVidia). I have only needed to make one major tweak (on two 9-year-old computers for which no drivers existed to monitor the heat sensors on their motherboards). With a minimum of intervention, all 12 computers are running well with Precise (including some that have not been successfully updated since Jaunty). This is the widest variety of hardware I have ever been able to use with Kubuntu.

Installation steps

  • I did not try a direct upgrade from Oneiric to Precise because I have never been successful with direct upgrades in the past. On all my computers I already have a Kubuntu Oneiric (or older) installation, and I left it on its own partition while I installed Precise in a new partition. This allowed me to transfer files and settings from the Oneiric partition to the Precise partition (and to make sure Precise was working, before shrinking the Oneiric partition to a minimal size as an emergency backup).
  • Using KDE Partition Manager in Oneiric (or from a LiveCD), I therefore created a blank partition (I usually create a partition within the extended partition, which is the last of the 4 "DOS" partitions on my hard drive) with enough space for a new OS (mimimum 25-30 Gb). (I don't use an independent /home partition because a lot of the settings for the OS are particular to that OS only and are stored in the /home partition. Sharing the /home partition becomes problematic for me, after a while, as the common files in /home are changed by each OS that accesses it. However, I don't see a problem with a /sharedfiles partition). If there is not a separate partition that is used for shared files, then the Precise partition should be made much larger at the outset.
  • While logged into the Oneiric OS, I adjusted my /boot partition's Grub Legacy config file ( /boot/grub/menu.lst ) and created an entry that will chainload the Grub2 bootloader stored in the new partition. (For the first time, a simple chainload +1 command from Grub Legacy to Grub2 was accepted by Grub2.)
  • For most of my installations I used Kubuntu 12.04 LTS Alternate CD, which I put onto a USB stick using the Startup Disk Creator from my existing Kubuntu Oneiric. (Installing from a USB pendrive "stick" instead of a CD / DVD is three times as fast. I could install from USB only on computers that allowed booting from a USB "floppy" drive, of course, but this was possible even on my 10-year-old computer.) The text-based Alternate CD installer is much faster than the regular Desktop CD, IMO, but of course doesn't allow you to run Kubuntu in "demo / trial" mode. Except on 32-bit computers, I used a 64-bit version (since none of my regular apps require 32-bit versions any longer).
  • I also tried the "Regular" Desktop LiveCD, and the installation interface is much cleaner and streamlined than in the past. The user variables are entered in an installation screen while installation simultaneously commences, allowing user variable input at the beginning (instead of at different stages of the installation process). After completing the initial user input, this allows for an unattended installation thereafter. That is a big improvement and is very, very nice! (In fact, my only objection to the "Regular" LiveCD installer is the occasionally odd English usage and the slightly confusing and non-standard arrangement of the partition manager options, but these are very minor cavils). Furthermore, the installer now provides the option to install "restricted" packages for mp3 and Flash capabilities (something I usually do later with sudo apt-get install kubuntu-restricted-extras anyway).
  • I also tried installing Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS (I use a 64-bit version) followed by the kubuntu-desktop (sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop). I occasionally install a server version for 2 reasons: 1) I do "headless" server installations (especially in virtual machines) from time to time, and it is worthwhile to first troubleshoot server installations without a GUI, and 2) it is often faster and more efficient to install a server without a desktop. A server installation takes me about 18 minutes (compared to a desktop installation, which can take a little more than an hour). While this used to be my major method of installation, though, I no longer recommend it (unless a pure "headless" server is intended). The Alternate CD ends up being a faster route overall, and all server functions are available from the desktop versions as well, so that for many servers I no longer need to install a server version at all.
  • I installed Kubuntu Alternate (or Ubuntu Server) to its freshly created partition. (When installing the Server version I only install a minimal version without any added packages or tasks, in the interest of speed). I never install Grub2 to the Master Boot Record. My computers all have Grub Legacy in a standalone boot partition, since Grub Legacy does not require an OS to function (and can chainload the bootloader of every type of OS). In contrast, Grub2 requires a complete OS in order to function and if the (K)Ubuntu OS installation gets screwed up, so does Grub2 (and then you can't boot the computer). I tried to use Grub2 as the primary bootloader on one new computer to see if things had changed, but a new bug in Grub2 (version 1.99, which comes with Precise) caused the computer not to boot and I was then forced to re-install Grub Legacy to a /boot partition as usual (and then set the MBR to use it). I DO always install Grub2 to the partition in which the (K)Ubuntu OS is installed (so that Grub2 manages the bootup for the (K)Ubuntu OS in that partition) and then merely allow Grub Legacy to chainload Grub2. For example, if the (K)Ubuntu OS is installed to /dev/sda6, I install Grub2 to /dev/sda6 only (and NOT to the Master Boot Record, which is also referred to as /dev/sda in the Desktop LiveCD installer).
  • After finishing the installation on some computers with nVidia graphics cards, I received a "FREQUENCY OUT OF RANGE" error that flashed 4 times before completing the boot. (This error usually disappeared once the Kubuntu-desktop was completely installed, however.) It was possible, but not eventually necessary, to suppress this error by editing /etc/default/grub and uncommenting (or editing) the graphics mode line to read:
GRUB_GFXMODE=1024x768
and editing the relevant line (using sudo nano /etc/default grub) to read:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet nouveau.blacklist=1"
or
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet nomodeset"
After Grub2 is updated (sudo update-grub) and the computer is rebooted, the error no longer appears.
  • Unlike with previous versions of Kubuntu, I had no problems on my systems that have integrated Intel graphics cards and needed to make no adjustments.
  • While logged in at the server command line the first time I personally like to set a password for the root user using sudo passwd root (so that someone else who might log into the computer later can't do it instead). If installing a full Kubuntu system, I do this later from a command-line terminal.
  • When installing the Server version first, I update and upgrade the server (sudo apt-get update and sudo apt-get upgrade) to make sure all the server components are current. Then I finally add the Kubuntu desktop (sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop). When I reboot I have a fully functional Kubuntu system. (Kubuntu-desktop installation time: 35 minutes).
  • On two computers with nine-year-old motherboards (with no drivers (for CPU scaling and fan control) available for the heat sensors on those motherboards), I received the "powernow-k8: failing targ, change pending bit set" error every few seconds (which started to fill the logs). I adjusted the ONDEMAND module using these instructions.
  • The KDE desktop used in Precise has some new idiosyncracies. You can now establish different types of desktops (called "Activities") depending on the purpose of your computer. This is actually pretty cool, especially for mobile or "kiosk" devices. You can establish an Activity optimised to display slides or movies on the desktop (in fact, there is a pre-designed Activity for this purpose). One thing that annoyed me, though, was that the upper-right "Cashew" has the name of the Activity showing. However, if the widgets are un-locked, the Cashew can be slid over to the right and the name of the activity will be hidden that way.
  • There are a lot of customisations to the desktop that can be done at this juncture, and I won't go into them. I happen to like DejaVu Sans 10 for my default font (Settings -> System Settings -> Application Appearance -> Fonts -> Adjust All Fonts), and set that right away. I also turn off all the advanced (Settings -> System Settings -> Desktop Effects) until my system is tuned, since they slow down things considerably. I don't use a modem or bluetooth, so I remove both these modules (sudo apt-get remove modemmanager and sudo apt-get remove bluedevil), since I haven't found an effective way to disable them in the settings.
  • I did some final tweaking of my Grub2. I happen to like the graphics included with grub2-splashimages (especially the plasma-lamp Tesla coil), and installed one using this suggestion. At the same time I secured Grub2 using this suggestion. I then updated Grub2 (sudo update-grub).
  • Once everything is set up, Precise initially ran a bit more slowly than Lucid did. I turned off startup services I do not need (System Settings -> Startup and Shutdown -> Service Manager -> Startup Services). I also installed Bootup Manager (sudo apt-get install bum) to turn off some other programs I did not wish to automatically start at boot. This did not help appreciably at first, but after a few reboots I guess the configuration changes were stored and the system was faster!
  • One of the first things I do is to create a menu item to be able to launch the Dolphin file manager as the root superuser. I copy the Dolphin menu item, rename the new menu item to "Dolphin as root" and change the command to:
kdesudo dolphin %i -caption "%c" %u
I then add both the regular Dolphin menu item and the "Dolphin as root" menu item to my panel for easy access. (Because I do a lot of stuff in the command terminal, I also add the Konsole Terminal menu item to the panel at the same time.)
  • In Precise I am no longer able to automatically launch the Kate text editor from "Dolphin as root", which is one of my most common tasks (to edit configuration files). This problem did not occur in Oneiric. Whenever I attempt it, the error appears:
KDEInit could not launch '/usr/bin/kate'
The workaround involves adding a Root Actions Servicemenu to Dolphin which allows functions (including text editing with kate) as the root superuser. I add this service menu to both instances of Dolphin (regular and "Dolphin as root"). This solution is detailed here.
  • After installation, Network Manager was disabled by default ("unmanaged") on my system. In this "unmanaged" configuration, I was able to manually configure my static IP settings as I have been accustomed. There is a change in that I no longer edit resolv.conf directly but add my dns-server list directly to /etc/network/interfaces as discussed here.
  • If I wish to activate Network Manager and allow it to manage the settings, I use the advice detailed here.
  • On my wireless laptop, Network Manager worked at installation (in DHCP mode) without any additional configuration. However, I was able to customise the wireless connections to accept static ("manual") IP addresses and custom DNS servers wihout a problem. This is the first time Network Manager has reliably worked for me with wireless connections, and I did not need to install Wicd (as I have in the past).
  • I used the "Install Firefox Browser" option from the Kubuntu menu to install Firefox 12. I configured Firefox and turned off the annoying SSL certificate name in the address bar. I then added my favourite add-ons: NoScript, AdBlock Plus, Bookmark Favicon Change, Hide Tab Bar with One Tab, Download Helper, and Menu Editor. I still use AdBlock Plus and Noscript routinely, but have to be careful about the settings, since AdBlock and NoScript now try to "whitelist" a range of sites and "allow non-intrusive advertising" unless you turn off the behavior. I also turned off updates for the add-ons.
  • Firefox allows Bookmarks to be exported and then imported. I therefore exported my Firefox bookmarks from Oneiric, copied them from Oneiric to Precise, and then imported them into the installation of Firefox in Precise.
  • I installed Thunderbird with the Enigmail and Lightning Calendar extensions. I was able to copy my ~/.thunderbird folder directly from Oneiric to Precise and it maintained all my settings, addresses, and emails!
  • I still use Firestarter, simply because it is easier for me to turn off and on depending on my task. However, Firestarter uses an old logging system and the newer kernels have changed logging systems. To accommodate Firestarter (and other older programs that still use the old logs), I used the solution here to tweak the logging system to accept the old style of logs. Then Firestarter didn't complain about the logs any longer.
  • Installed PulseAudio Volume Control and PulseAudio Preferences (sudo apt-get install pavucontrol paprefs). There is a new plasma widget (sudo apt-get install plasma-widget-veromix) to control Pulse Audio volume, but I haven't tried it yet.
  • Tweaked k3b to use growisofs so that large data-volumes (> 3.5 GB) could be written to DVD. See this section.
  • I started and adjusted Firestarter after all the apps were seen to be working properly. Some common outgoing ports that ought to be opened/unblocked/"allowed" are 80 (HTTP), 443 (HTTPS), 53 (DNS), 993 (secure IMAP), 465 (secure SMTP), 123 (NTP).
  • To the panel bar I added icons for the menu items I use most frequently. I hid the system tray icons I don't like to see, adjusted the clock a bit, and added the weather widget. Voila! The Kubuntu panel bar is far more powerful than anything in Unity (and can be dragged to any screen edge using the Panel Options -> Panel Settings)! Further, I can press ALT-F2 and bring up the text-based launcher (which they have only recently created for Unity).
  • After backported updates, Precise now has a simple screen locker available as a lockable screensaver (System Settings -> Display and Monitor -> Screen Locker). I now use this screen locker, but prefer my own image as the background. I therefore adjusted the screen locker image using the advice here.

Bottom Line

  • The Kubuntu 12.04 LTS Alternate CD on a USB drive rapidly became my favourite installation vehicle, and this is what I ended up using on multiple (now over 10) different computers. I was able to install Kubuntu Precise Pangolin on all of my computers.
  • I only needed to make one hardware tweak; all the rest of my hardware works without problems (including multiple graphics cards). The implementation of Network Manager is finally reliable in all configurations. This is a major leap forward.
  • A single bug in Dolphin (so that the Kate text editor can't easily be opened when running Dolphin as root) is a step backwards, but a workaround (the Root Actions Servicemenu) is available, so this isn't a major problem. (So far) I haven't found a single app (from previous versions) that doesn't work in Precise.
  • k3b does not work for me when burning DVDs larger than 3.5 Gb. (This has something to do with the utilities used to record large-data DVDs, and k3b has removed the ability to customise the utilities.) This is an unpatched limitation and for me is the biggest problem with this version of Kubuntu. However, there is a workaround using the growisofs record package (see here).
  • Update 5-2014: With backported updates, Precise is quite similar to the newest Trusty version. Most of the earlier problems have been fixed but new ones appeared and the system seems to run a little more slowly. After a trial of the recently-released Trusty Tahr backports, I preferred the original Precise Pangolin and did not update the remainder of my computers with the Trusty backports.
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