Hardy Heron is out. Now you all should know by now that I pride myself in being a late adopter, I only upgraded from Feisty to Gutsy last week! To be honest I was so impressed with the improvement that was made release-on-release that I could not wait for Hardy to be released. For once I broke my golden rule of “Update only when most issues have been resolved” and downloaded Hardy once the feeding frenzy was over.

My first impressions were not all favorable. Every time I install a new Ubuntu Release I am all excited and time and again remark to my wife how much it has improved. Even she is giddy with joy, and I cannot wait to install the release on her workstation so that we can work on similar platforms. I have not installed Hardy Heron for her yet.

For the first-time since I have made the move to Ubuntu I can honestly say that I did not have the “wow what an improvement!” conversation with my wife within minutes of booting the live disk.

Now, after one necessary re-install and a few disappointments I am beginning to see some light, and I can say that yes, there have been many improvements – detail improvements for this release – and many issues. On the last pages I will detail my issues and likes with this release, and any fixes that I might have found. First off a few notes on settling in to my new “office”…

It has been four days with the Hardy Heron, and only now I am beginning to suppress the urge to retreat into my geek foxhole, roll back to Gutsy, and wait out the storm for a month or so. I installed Hardy on my laptop on Monday the 27th of April, three days after Hardy was made available for download.

Upon install I found that some applications crashed the laptop (hence the re-install), desktop effects did not work (in fact Compiz is disabled for certain laptops shipped with ATI graphics cards…), and although the gnome-settings-manager features a much improved network-admin applet it refused to allow me to configure my modem.

For a user that is used to the Ubuntu interface it all seems very familiar. A few items have been moved around from Feisty to Gutsy, and a few smaller changes have been made from Gutsy to Hardy. One thing that I really liked with Gutsy was how screen resolution and setup worked. Under System > settings there was a helpful application that allowed one to fine tune ones graphics card settings without needing to delve into xorg.conf, and right clicking on the desktop and selecting “Change Desktop Background” will open a dialog box that not only lets one do that, but also fine-tune desktop effects, change theme, fine tune fonts and your interface.

Since for my older laptop getting my limited hardware to work best is one of the first housekeeping tasks that I perform I went hunting for the displayconfig-gtk to fine-tune my hardware. It was missing! Eventually I found it via command-line, which is a disappointment since one would think a release of Ubuntu progresses, and not otherwise. Displayconfig-gtk did not serve me well in this incarnation of Ubuntu though as you will see under “Issues”, below. (Update 13 May 2008 – On some installations of Hardy Heron displayconfig-gtk crashes, and you are unable to change the resolution, screen card or screen settings via it. This is a known and submitted bug. An upside is that it is available as an entry in the main menu via the menu editor.)

Housekeeping sorted out I started feeling around to see how everything works. A few niggles here and there (after re-install most things worked fine) and I could try out some of the new features. I found OpenOffice 2.4 to be an improvement, and no matter what the naysayers want to tell you I find Firefox 3b5 to have been a smart move. The added features are great and generally make ones browsing experience more satisfying. Pity it doesn’t integrate with the search tool.

Another feature I like is the refined clock applet. The world clock that has been added is a boon for me since I regularly chat with people from all over the world and had to check on my cellphones world clock to make sure what time it was there. That is not all however, for every location you add a weather indicator is provided – really a nice tool for the frequent traveller. I am disappointed that Pretoria ( my home town ) does not have an entry at the moment. Hopefully it will be included as other smaller towns in South Africa are listed, but our Capital City is not! (Update 13 May 2008: The clock application has developed problems. It crashes the Gnome-panel every time I open it. This is a known and submitted bug.)

Bluetooth support has been refined as well. I had no problems pairing my cellphone with my laptop, but setting it up as a gprs modem did not work. It would seem I still need kppp for this task.

Honorable mention goes to Evolution. I am a gmail user, and in the past have used the web interface for all my mailing tasks. It is rather convenient to have your mail open on a tab in Firefox. Thunderbird and Evolution have not done a satisfactory job for me with gmail before, Firefox was great but I missed the feature set of Evolution so went without. Now, with Evolution promising Google Calendar support I just had to give it another try. I am impressed. It loads faster, sets up easily and integrates well. A real improvement. Being a creature of habit – and a user with limited resources at his disposal – I will still use the web interface to spare the resources that Evolution would use, but henceforth I will use it more often than not.

(Update 3 May 2008 23:08 – I discovered that Evolution does indeed have a bug when it comes to Imap synching. It doesn’t update flags (read, unread, deleted etc) with the Gmail account. This is true for Google Calendar as well. I discovered this problem when trying to create a new entry for my Google Calendar and I found it would not update. Then I realised that my “deleted” mails were not actually deleted. A bit of googling found this thread on the Ubuntu Forums. Apparently this bug has been around for quite some time.)

A glaring omission is Ndiswrapper. Forgive me but I find the absence of even a command-line tool to install my Wireless drivers to be a pain. Sure it is easy to install the tool and even the gui tool via a package manager, but without ready internet access this will pose serious problems. Another user found Ndiswrapper on his install CD, so if you load it as a software repository you should be able to install Ndiswrapper from the install disk.

Okay, verdict time.

Overall I am happy with Hardy Heron, and will not revert to Gutsy. I have seriously considered doing so, but after sorting out most of the issues I am reasonably content with waiting for bug fixes to roll out. I am sad to note that Hardy feels a bit unfinished in some key areas, and some omissions and seemingly arbitrary removing of programs from the menus really does not lend one to favourable impressions.

On the plus side the general feel of the interface is solid. If one looks past the niggles of a new OS, and the confusing omissions (no Base and Calc for OpenOffice among a few others) there is a good omen of future things to come. I am disappointed that a LTS release, which is kind of the “Flagship” in the Ubuntu stable, has many issues that would make lives harder of sysadmins and users alike. Hardy Heron was touted as the release to swoop into the gap left by Vista’s poor performance, but my first impressions of the current build is less than satisfying in this regard.

Wish List.

Here are a few things I would like to see included or fixed in a future release of Ubuntu.

  1. Ndiswrapper should be included. Even only the command-line tool! It would be great if the gui tool was included. (As above I would like to point out that Ndiswrapper is available on the install disk)
  2. The long standing issues with network-admin need to be finally sorted. When will I be able to use a usb/bluetooth modem in Gnome without resorting to a command line script or kppp? Admittedly kppp is a tough act to better.
  3. Compiz Config. I find it a shame to have Compiz-Fusion included, but no application to configure it.

Issues:

Here is a list of issues I have come across during my (short) time with Hardy Heron. The list is far from exhaustive – one need only check on launchpad to see a full list of current bug reports. Also note that not all my issues listed are recognised bugs, they might only stem from an incorrect setting somewhere – but this being an LTS I am placing something under “Issues” if an obvious solution or help dialog is not provided in the default install. Ubuntu is catering for all levels of users, after all.

If I have found a fix I have included it alongside the problem.

Display Setup

  1. displayconfig-gtk hidden away in command line, no longer on menu. Why?
  2. displayconfig-gtk defaults to wrong graphics driver (other than selected) from time to time. Need to edit xorg.conf by hand.
  3. The screensaver utility insists that there is a second screen attached, and “clones” the output. If it weren’t for the displayconfig-gtk utility or an ability to edit xorg.conf I would be stuck in 640×480 because with a cloned output and a “plug and play” screen detected it defaults to 640×480 and does not allow one to select any other resolutions, even with the correct drivers
  4. Desktop effects cannot be enabled. Many users with ATI graphics cards have the same problem. A fix has been found and involves editing /usr/bin/compiz.

There is a section that says:

#don’t run on laptops using ati driver

In that section there is a line:

verbose “Found laptop using ${DRV} driver. \n”

return 1

Okay, change the value “return 1″ to “return 0″

That should work for newer ATI cards, and then for older cards run the following in a terminal:

mkdir -p ~/.config/compiz/ && echo SKIP_CHECKS=yes >> ~/.config/compiz/compiz-manager

And that should work for older cards.

Then, an issue that have been with compiz, compiz-fusion and beryl window managers since feisty, and one that is so easy to fix that I really cannot understand why it hasn’t been implemented by default before.

When running one of the above window managers before, you would lose the window border on some hardware.

The fix is simple:

create a file called drirc in /etc.

The content of the file must be this line:

<option name=”allow_large_textures” value=”2″ />

Then you should have a working whizz-bang desktop.

5. Another (minor) niggle is that the compiz-config utility is not installed by default, it is essential to get the most out of compiz-fusion, and its omission really limits the experience.

Network Issues

  1. network-admin utility doesn’t allow the modem to be activated. No fix yet found.
  2. When you edit the modem properties it will often default to your original settings, no matter how you edit them afterwards, so if you enter the wrong settings the first time you are stuck with them. No fix yet found.
  3. ifdown is overridden by the network-admin utility. Even when I use “sudo ifdown -force eth0″ it brings the eth interface back up as soon as you open the utility. This could be problematic for some network administrators, and indeed hindered my troubleshooting of the modem issue mentioned above.
  4. Ndiswrapper is not installed. Not even the command-line utility. Ubuntu 6.10 had it, edubuntu 7.04 had it, and ubuntu 7.04 did not. Gutsy did not, and now hardy does not. This is a glaring omission – for me, other users might not need ndiswrapper to install their wireless network cards, but I need it – and now I have to download it to use it. I would think that at least the ndiswrapper command line utility should be provided to allow users to install their wireless network cards. Again, allow me to helpfully point you in the direction of your install disk – apparently there is Ndiswrapper available on the disk for your installation pleasure.

Programs and settings

I don’t know if this is hardware specific, but two programs caused me endless problems.

  1. Hardy places the user switcher on the top taskbar, which is nice, but when I try to open the login manager setup from this area my hard drive goes into a flat spin. It seems to hang most of the system for minutes before it opens the utility. This happens once though, once Hardy seems to have settled in it runs the program normally.
  2. On my first install Open Office Word Processor did the same thing, hanging the entire system forcing a hard reset via the power button. I eventually had to re-install to fix the latter problem, but the login manager setup problem remains for a while. Writing this review in Word Processor caused the Word Processor to crash as I did my first save, causing me to “force quit” the application before re-launching and then saving without a hitch.
  3. In gutsy the “restricted drivers manager” detected a Nvidia GeForce 8800 graphics card on a machine I tested it and suggested a driver, and then helped me install it. Hardy did not detect the graphics card at all. (Update 13 May 2008 – I don’t know why, but when I installed via WUBI the Geforce card was detected and installed faultlessly. Yes eaven better than with PCLOS.
  4. On my laptop, Gutsy detected the winmodem on the system, but Hardy does not. In fact, I just checked and I am not too sure that the “hardware drivers” utility does the same job as the “restricted drivers manager” did. I cannot find the restricted drivers manager anywhere so I could only guess that this is in fact a similar utility. (Update 13 May 2008 – The Hardware Drivers utility is indeed the new version of the Restricted Drivers Manager.)
  5. OpenOffice is not complete. At least it is missing Base and Calc. For me that is not a great loss, since I never used either of those, but at least one user I know of complained about that.
  6. The deskbar search utility has a few integration issues. One of them is the Mozilla integration. It notes under “Extensions With Errors” that Web Bookmarks, Web Searches and Web History does not work because; “Firefox version must be between 2.0.0.0 and 3.0.0.0″. Well the default install of Firefox on Hardy is 3.0b5, which means it won’t let you integrate that with your deskbar search which is a shame. I think effort should have been made to get the system to integrate better over all applications. Another issue is the Mail Adress Book search, I tried it and it insists that I need to have autocomplete enabled for contacts to let it work. Well with Thunderbird I had no joy. It would seem that with Evolution the problem has been resolved.
  7. (Concurrent with the update above (3 May 2008 23:08)) Evolution is broken in the Imap stakes it would seem. It doesn’t update flags to Imap accounts – read, unread, deleted etc, and this includes not creating new entries on Google Calendar. For a thread on the subject and links to the Evolution bug reports click here.

Likes:

It is far easier to list problems with a piece of software, and incredibly easy to take aim at a project you have yourself not worked on, so I put some effort into listing my likes here.

  1. I like the default login window. It is a definite improvement over the previous versions who looked decidedly bland in this area.
  2. The new default background is also nice, it is infact in second place in my selection of top Ubuntu Backgrounds. In first place is the Elephant skin, second is said artsy Heron, and in third is the “Dawn of Ubuntu” that was available in 6.10 but not available anymore as a default install. Neither of the others were the default backgrounds upon first boot though, so Hardy Heron wins the default background category. In fact this is the first Ubuntu installation where I did not hunt around for a new background as part of my settling in routine.
  3. Bluetooth support. This is a huge improvement. Really. Before I had to manually set up bluetooth via command line, and often download bluez and other utilities before pairing worked. I had to open the config file to set pairing to “multi” and to change the password if I did not want to use the default 1234. With Hardy Heron, bluetooth works out of the box, and I can enter any other passcode on the phone and a helpful little dialogue balloon pops up to confirm the connection and confirm the password. Furthermore browsing and editing files on my nokia phone works like a dream. I am really disappointed that the modem setup is broken in the way that it is.
  4. It must be said though, that the gnome network manager seems to be a great improvement, sad that it doesn’t work properly at the moment. Especially the modem setup, that offers setup options for a gprs modem by default. I think kppp holds the edge in the dialup stakes at the moment. Sadly I would seem to need kppp to use my Nokia modem for dialup after all.
  5. Hardy Heron boots much quicker than any previous versions I used. It boots my P111 laptop exactly as quickly as my Celeron 2gz server which has three times as much ram. Previously the laptop booted in about double the time that the server booted from a clean install.
  6. It is definitely much nippier in general than feisty, and seems to hold the edge over Gutsy. Great in the usability stakes.
  7. Beagle is gone! Beagle was a shameless resource hog, and the new search and indexing tool (Tracker) is much smoother and less resource hungry than beagle.
  8. The deskbar search applet is great. It is a tool that is on par with similar offerings available in MacOS and Vista, and is a real helpful utility to have around. There are only a few integration niggles that I listed above.
  9. Evolution has improved massively. It launches quicker than before, and support for Google is better with flawless Gmail and Google Calendar support. Google Calendar can be accessed via calendars=>new calendar. An option for Google Calendar can be selected and then you enter your Google Login (your gmail address) and when you launch your calendar it will ask you for your password. It works better than any Google Calendar compatibility I have previously used, yes even better than Mozilla Sunbird’s Google Calendar plugin.
  10. OpenOffice (version 2.4 for this release) is an improvement, if you look past the Word Processor bug I ran into. It includes support for MS Office 2007 documents. It launches quicker, and seems to be running smoother too.
  11. The Gnome Clock applet now has multiple timezone support. When Multiple Timezones are enabled it also displays a little icon next to the date to give you the current weather, every timezone also has the local weather displayed.

So, my most exhaustive review of an operating system to date. It is far from complete, and I will update it as readers comment, or if I come across fixes or new bugs.

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