Your editor is not always known for making life easy for himself. Perhaps
one of the most clear examples of masochistic behavior would be a certain
preference for running development distributions on mission-critical
systems. That said, your editor has stuck with a stable distribution on
his laptop through a round of intensive travel earlier this year. But that
was too easy, so, shortly before heading off to the Linux Foundation's
Collaboration Summit, the laptop got moved to the Ubuntu "Hardy Heron"
distribution. Needless to say, there have been some interesting ups and
downs (literally) since then.
There is always a certain thrill that comes with upgrading a system and finding that
important features no longer work. In this case, the problem was suspend
and resume, which your editor uses heavily. In fact, the system would
suspend just fine - as long as one failed to notice that, behind the
cleverly darkened screen, the laptop's backlight had been left on.
Needless to say, this new behavior is not helpful if one's goal is to save
power while the system is suspended, but it gets worse than that. Your
editor discovered this nice surprise after carrying the computer in a
backpack for a few hours; by the time it came out, it was almost too hot to
hold. Happily, no permanent damage appears to have been done.
Or, perhaps, unhappily. Your editor has been looking for an excuse to
get a new laptop for a while.
The problem turned out to be a HAL configuration error combined with a
strange internal model number which makes your editor's Thinkpad X31
different from, seemingly, every other X31 on the planet. Once your editor
found the bug report and attached a "me too" comment, the solution was
quick in coming. On the net, one can find complaints that Ubuntu is
unresponsive to bug reports, but that was certainly not the experience
As an aside, it seems worth noting that life seems to have gotten more
complicated, with a lot more code wrapped around the kernel than there once
was. The problematic configuration file was
- not a place where your editor, who is not a HAL expert, would have
thought to look. That, it seems, is the price of more capable hardware and
software, but sometimes your editor pines for the days when it seemed
possible to carry a full understanding of the system within a single brain.
GNOME developers are (perhaps unjustly in recent years) known for taking a
minimal approach to configuration options. That can be irritating, but
just as annoying is their tendency to reset the options they do provide
over major updates. Once suspend and resume work, your editor demands
something else of a laptop when traveling: absolute silence. So the return
of beeps to gnome-terminal was not appreciated. Those were easily silenced,
but the GNOME developers also saw fit to bring back the blinking cursor -
and they took away the configuration option which abolishes that
Your editor first ran into the unstoppable blink with Rawhide; a query to
the developers there turned up a quick answer. It seems that the GNOME
developers have decided to create a single, system-wide parameter to
control blinking cursors. Now, your editor approves of the concept of
being able to turn off that behavior everywhere with a single switch - but
only as long as that switch isn't hidden where nobody will ever find it.
In this case, the GNOME developers have taken this feature, wrapped it in
old newspapers, and stashed it behind the furnace in the basement; then
they put a trunk on top of it. It is a
rare user who will find it unassisted. In the hopes that it may save
one or two readers from some time spent with search engine, your editor
will now divulge the top-secret incantation which turns blinking cursors
gconftool-2 --type bool --set /desktop/gnome/interface/cursor_blink false
Naturally, a terminal window is required to run this command. It would
have been nice if the developers who packaged this code for Hardy Heron had
found a way to smooth over this change, but no such luck; as far as your
editor can tell, no distributor has made that effort.
Another bit of fun is that your editor is no longer able to set the desktop
background; the relevant configuration windows are ineffective. In this
case, it would appear that the task of implementing the user's background
choices have been moved to nautilus - just the place your editor would have
thought to look for it. As it happens, your editor has no use for file
managers and does not run nautilus - and is punished with an immutable
Ubuntu-brown background for that sin. Happily, your editor still knows how
to run xsetroot.
All of the above is a set of relatively minor grumbles, all of which are
rectified in relatively short order. Once those details have been taken
care of, the Hardy Heron release works quite well. One of the biggest
aggravations from previous upgrades - having OpenOffice.org reformat the
slides in all of your editor's presentations - was not present this time
around. Hopefully we are moving into an era where "it didn't mangle my
documents" is not something considered worthy of mention.
There was one very nice surprise as well. Your editor's laptop previously
required almost 12 watts of power when running unplugged. This laptop is
not at the bleeding edge of current technology, so the amount of time it
was able to run without a recharge has been dropping for a while. With the
Hardy release, steady-state power consumption has dropped to just over
9 watts - a big improvement. The credit for this change belongs to
developers at all levels: kernel, applications, distributors, etc. The end
result is a system which runs much more efficiently, and that is a good
All told, your editor is reasonably content; this distribution looks
like one which might just be worth keeping around. That's a good thing,
since Ubuntu plans to maintain it as a "long-term support" release. Not
that your editor intends to make much use of that long-term support; there
should be a new development series starting soon, after all. One of
the nice things about development distributions is that support
never ends as long as one stays on the treadmill and the project
itself remains alive.
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