Ubuntu Karmic; Macbook Bliss at Last

History of Linux and I

I tried twice previously to switch to Linux, and for a few reasons didn’t end up having any luck.

The first time I did so was around 2005, when I was living out of home for the first time. My room was beautifully minimalist; just a double-bed, a wardrobe, a Shuttle X desktop PC and a 5.1 surround sound system. The wooden floors and old timber beam made it warm and cosy. I decided to top it all off, I should remove all the evil from my digital experience, and ditch Windows.

So, I got a new copy of SUSE Linux and installed it. It worked fairly well, but I had to battle a few nVidia Drivers (Thanks, incompetent nVidia. Just release the source, please? Your money’s on the hardware, so let us support it!), Flatscreen support in the X window system, and ultimately found that once everything was working, there was waay too much command-line use in the day-to-day of using the system. Also, lots of programs wouldn’t run, and gave no reason or even acknowledgement that they’d been clicked on. I got fed up and morosely moved back to banal, ugly, locked-down Windows. For games only of course, I did all my other business on MacOSX, a far superior system in every respect.

Then again, perhaps in 2007, I tried again with Ubuntu. Again, I had to battle nVidia (no, they don’t really move at all as a company!). Again I had issues with a few day-to-day issues, and decided it wasn’t working for me. Thankfully I discovered Linux Mint, which was a big improvement. Linux Mint is Ubuntu plus the things they should include in Ubuntu. Drivers, for one. It had issues of its own, such as a confusion arising when you used the Ubuntu repositories to install things and it developed an identity crisis, but it worked better. Ultimately I just let it slide though, because I used my Mac for everything else and that was good enough for me.

Three Times Charmed: Ubuntu Karmic on Macbook

With those two previous times under my belt, I returned to Linux when I got fed up with two things: Firstly, that Apple had become just as bad as Microsoft for mistreating their own customers and telling them “love it or leave it”. I left it. Secondly, that my Macbook was beginning to show signs of age. I’d bought it in late 2006, and it had 1GB of RAM, a dual-core 2Ghz processor (still very nice!) and only 128GB HD space. Some things were running slowly, and there was a screen-flicker issue that Apple refused to acknowledge as a design flaw, going so far as to lock and delete discussion of the issue on their forums.

It needed an upgrade, and the cheapest way to speed up a PC is to install Linux, so I said I’d give it another go. Ubuntu had just released their new system, Karmic Koala, and there was documentation on getting every single relevant feature of the Macbook running on it, as well as info on Dual-booting MacOSX with it. I figured I’d get new hardware, and once upgraded I’d install Snow Leopard and Karmic Koala together.

I got a dual-boot working on the old Harddrive to test things out, and it worked beautifully. However, when I installed the new Harddrive, Snow Leopard wouldn’t boot from the DVD. Nice one, Apple; this is your fault for using a stupid bootloading system that wasn’t ever installed on non-Apple hardware. Ubuntu, however, booted perfectly. Installed perfectly. Configured perfectly. Following the instructions as written, I found that everything worked without a hitch, and I now find myself equipped with a perfectly functioning laptop with a beautiful desktop environment, speedier than ever with 2.4GB of RAM, and sporting a more satisfying 256GB of Hard Drive space.

I haven’t even bothered looking at installing Snow Leopard now; everything I want works on this. Better, in fact! Let’s take a look at a pleasing case history:

**Google Sketchup and WINE - A How-To Example **

One of the things I never got working right before, which I found particularly frustrating, was WINE. The “Compatibility Layer” is supposed to make Windows programs work with Linux natively, but my previous efforts to get a response out of WINE hadn’t borne fruit. On Karmic, I just installed it from the Ubuntu Software Centre (I decided to use the latest beta version) and it was right there in the Applications Menu; a virtual C-drive you could install windows apps into. Any file ending in .exe was diverted straight to WINE as well, opening with the normal window appearance of a Linux program with the interior appearance of the native Windows application. Perfect!

I decided my first trial software would be Google Sketchup, because it’s my favourite application for Makerbot modelling. It’s really the only thing I’d need OSX for at this point, and even then it runs terribly on OSX. So, I downloaded Sketchup 7 and did a bit of Googling on how to install it in Ubuntu/WINE.

I must say at this point; the Command-line nature of Linux isn’t gone. However, it is foolproof now, whereas before it’d give you a cryptic middle-finger answer and then sit there uselessly. So far on Ubuntu I haven’t had an issue; mostly because, if something isn’t installed correctly, Ubuntu tells you immediately how to install it. Example: if you were to type “dos2unix skp_to_dxf.rb” (because someone online told you that’d solve your problems!) but “dos2unix” wasn’t installed, Ubuntu would return “type ‘sudo apt-get install dos2unix’ to install”. When you type exactly that and try again, it works. So the Command line, though still around, isn’t that bad, and it’s come to the point where my mum could use Linux without ever seeing a Command line, anyway. I just see them all the time because I’m doing crazy things, I think.

Moving on. I had Sketchup 7 downloaded and an account from 2008 of a guy installing Sketchup 6 on older versions of Ubuntu/WINE before me. Reading through it, he suggested that you can expect Sketchup to crash on the first time you open it, but if you do a little registry hacking afterwards it’d run normally.

I did my homework. You do registry hacking by running ‘wine regedit’ in the Terminal, which brings up exactly the same interface as the normal Windows regedit. You’re advised to back up the two registry files that are found in “/home/yourusername/.wine” first. Do so by typing “nautilus /home/yourusername/.wine/“, which will pop up that folder, and copying them.

My first attempts to open sketchup didn’t get as far as the crash he predicted; the splashscreen that asks you to pick a template crashes first, followed by the google bug detector crashing too. A quick look at the documentation of Sketchup 7 on WINE suggested that you can turn off the Splashscreen by unchecking the “Show on startup” box, but I couldn’t do that without causing a crash, and it didn’t save. Looking again, someone had said that it was crashing due to an internet request gone wrong, but by starting it while offline this wouldn’t happen. So I did, and it didn’t. Unchecking the box, I proceeded into the program itself, which crashed as it was expected to.

Then, I followed the instructions from the 2008 account exactly, and when I reopened Sketchup it worked fine.. better, in fact, than it ever had on MacOSX!

However, it didn’t end there. I looked up the 3rd party .stl output plugin for sketchup, which is an essential tool for anyone but especially for makerbotters who use .stl for exporting files to the robot. Downloading the file, I did what the 2008 account suggested; plugins require a quick conversion between their windows form and a unix form before they’ll work right, so you just do exactly as he suggests (go to terminal, then go to your plugin, type “dos2unix yourpluginname”, install the package as Ubuntu suggests, then try again when it’s done. It works right away.). Once that was done, I just put the file into the plugins folder like one would on Windows, and tested it in sketchup; it worked right away without hassle.

I since put the properly converted Linux skp to dxf/stl plugin on the Makerbot users group, so others don’t have to go to that trouble.

In summary

I love the new Ubuntu, and I finally think I’m on Linux to stay. I’d recommend it to anyone, because although it might sound daunting from my account to a casual user, you won’t actually need to do any of this stuff if you don’t want.

Office applications, Internet, Music and Video, the whole lot, is all freely available through the handy Ubuntu Software Centre and installs with the click of a mouse. I’ve never had a bug.

There’s also loads of free games, including clones of Civilisation and Simcity 2000. Very addictive.

It also has a nice feature Windows or Mac don’t offer; free cloud storage built in with desktop synchronisation. So you can drop your files in a special folder and expect them to be online if you find you need them later when you’re away from your personal PC. Very handy! And, shareable with other people or between your PCs.

If you are a power-user though, clearly the new Ubuntu (and the new WINE) is a heady, wonderful thing. You can easily set up and use things with the Command line without feeling like an idiot, and the system finally offers feedback when things don’t work. If it’s a program you haven’t got installed, it’ll tell you how to install it. Networking is beautifully simple at last, in fact it’s easier than it ever was on Windows and it’s on-par with MacOSX. Tethering with my HTC Hero required zero setup; when you activate it on the phone, it detects instantly on the computer and connects.

Finally, if you’re a Makerbotter, it’s a viable option with the inclusion of working Sketchup, ReglicatorG, and Skeinforge. The instructions for installing RepG are clear and easy on the replicator.org website, and Skeinforge runs as it always does on Mac. Just remember to manually drag the contents of the Skeinforge zip file to a visible directory, or it’ll be hidden by default for some reason.

My satisfaction with Ubuntu 9.10 thus imparted, I’ll retire and go to bed. Many thanks to the Ubuntu crew, to the developers of WINE, and to “lewiswadsworth” of SketchUcation.com!