Weblogs: Gadgets and Stuff

Ubuntu after a month

Sunday, June 08, 2008

I've been using Ubuntu Hardy Heron 8.04 as the operating system on my main home laptop for over a month now. Windows XP having decided that it didn't want to play nicely anymore. I had a few little issues at the start, but I'm starting to make progress.

The Firefox problems

I missed my del.icio.us toolbar and, praise Murphy, days after I complained, a Firefox 3 version of the Del.icio.us toolbar was released, and I'm satisfied again. (Thanks for the tip, MarkusT.)

There's one quirky issue with the del.icio.us dialogue, the Save button disappears off the screen. I think this is happening because I have a load of network contacts which pushes the Save button outside the view area.

I figured out the random effects of right clicking links in Firefox. I was seeing odd behaviour like right clicking a link either opening an 'Add bookmarks' dialog, or open Firebug's Inspect element, or open a new window. It's a timing issue.

There's a noticeable delay in the context menu appearing, and by the time it appears the mouse-button is already released, and the default option highlighted depends on where the context menu appears. Since the mouse-button has been released, it takes the highlighted option. Unfortunately, since the initial highlighted option differs depending on how the context menu is rendered, that's the basis of the seemingly random behaviour of right clicking a link.

The simple solution is to hold down the right mouse-button until the context menu appears, and then select the desired option, and then release the mouse button.


I was experiencing performance problems with Twitter's web interface, so I decided to co-opt a Twitter client. One of the options from the Ubuntu Application Installer is Twitux. I've been running that for the last six weeks and I'm fairly pleased with that.

Except that I'd prefer my direct messages to be much more intuitively reachable that choosing between direct messages or friend tweets. I want both, preferably in a tab pane.

Knowledge gathering

I used to use Dave Winer's OPML Editor to keep track of ideas and notes, and I've struggled to find an adequate replacement. None of the hierarchical editors available on Linux offered anything close to the editing fluency of the OPML editor. I tried NoteCase, briefly touched on Vim Outliner and the console-only hnb.

I found an application that works for me, and it surprised me. I tried Tomboy and I've been hooked on it ever since. So hooked that I'm looking forward to seeing a Windows version appearing so I can use it in work.

Tomboy is a fantastic piece of software, it goes well beyond a Sticky note application, and when using lists it decently mimics outlining. Tomboy is like a desktop wiki, but far far better than the Windows alternatives I tried out over 18 months ago.

The key features of Tomboy are:

Tomboy is, for me, a killer application on Ubuntu, an application that is better than anything on Windows. It just works, and it's a very nice user experience.


The key friction point of migrating from Windows was the loss of Chessbase tools. I've tried to use scid as a replacement, and although I'm finding some really nice features - like novelty search, tournament search, opening repertoire reviews; I'm suffering a little under the analysis modules. Although Crafty is a perfectly adequate chess engine, and there are others available, scid doesn't present the analysis as well as Shredder.

It's not that scid is unusable, it's that I have to change my expectations and just get over the fact that there's hardly any chess software on the market that is as usable and as user-friendly and as intuitive as Chessbase products.

I've been investigating on running Shredder on Ubuntu using Wine. I'm thinking about trying it. The suggested path is to install Shredder to a USB stick on a Windows machine, and then plug that USB stick into my Ubuntu machine.

To be fair, I've been using scid to review and blog about the Corus/Wijk aan Zee tournament. It's a heavy tournament of seven grandmaster games a day, the majority of games are hard-fought. It's the worst case scenario, but I did get through the analysis, it just wasn't as comfortable as I wanted.

I guess one of the downsides of scid is that its an older version that comes with Ubuntu's massive software library. Perhaps if I try to hand-install a more recent version, or ChessDB, then I can get over the perceived hardship I'm facing.

So I have options, which means I'm not in a dead end yet. Scid is adequate and interesting, just not as high quality as the Fritz chess interface.

Plug and play

I'm blown away by Ubuntu's seamless support of USB devices. My MP3 player which I use for listening to podcasts, needs a special driver in Windows XP. It just appears as a file system on my desktop, I just copy and delete files over to it as if it were just another directory.

Although, one little gotcha is that when you delete files from a USB stick, they don't get deleted immediately, so you don't see an immediate increase in space on the drive. The files are in a Deleted Items Folder, and once that is emptied, then the space becomes available for more data.

I used my digital camera (Nikon Coolpix 4600) yesterday taking loads of pictures at the Biggin Hill Air Show. I just plugged it into my laptop, and again, I had a simple directory structure so I could access all my pictures.

My various harddrive enclosures and USB sticks have all just worked after plugging it in. Only one failed, and I think that's because the drive itself is flaky, not a problem with Ubuntu itself.

Uploading to Flickr

The Flickr Desktop Organizer frustrated me quite a lot yesterday evening. It decided to synchronise with my current photos on Flickr, downloading my 1600+ images plus 30+ photo sets. Three hours later, it then crashed every time I tried to upload my new 120+ photos taken yesterday. Here is the first application I actually uninstalled in Ubuntu.

I took a step back and installed the Flickr Uploader which used the normal GNOME interface. This just worked, and allowed me to tag, title and describe loads of photos either all-at-once, in groups and individually. The upload took ages, but it was 84Mb, so that ran over night. And now I have my Biggin Hill pictures up on Flickr.

The F-Spot photo manager is a neat tool for viewing pictures. It's fullscreen mode is perfect for my simplistic needs.


I had a few issues with the graphical MySQL clients, but have now settled on the MySQL Query Browser which is similar to SQLYog.

Bluefish has become my main editing home, whether it's writing blogposts, JavaScript and PHP. It's good enough basis for text editing and my impression will probably improve as I understand more and more of the features the editor has to offer. I haven't found a way of running a PHP script I'm writing and pipe it's output to a tabbed window. Terminal is sufficient for the moment, since I can then take advantage of the shell to do better things.

Next steps

I want to figure out how to get Bluetooth working so I can transfer photos from my mobile phone (a Nokia 6233) up to Flickr. On this particular laptop I have a bluetooth USB device. It might just be as simple as plugging the USB widget in and get another file system view.

I need to experiment with chess software a bit more and find a more comfortable set of tools. The main difficulty is the lack of support of the new Chessbase cbh format (not the older cbf format) outside of chess tools. If I get Shredder running in Wine, this problem disappears. At the moment, I need a Windows machine to access the chess data I need, I can't entirely rely on one Ubuntu laptop yet.

Since I've found a one-to-one match with most Windows software and functionality, I'm in a position to consider what Ubuntu offers that's not available elsewhere. Tomboy is a fantastic example of the possibilities, and I'm looking forward to making better use of the Ubuntu desktop.

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