My Ubuntu Year-End Update

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This was meant to be a one-month update in August but then month after month slipped by with me happily Ubuntu 12.04 as my main desktop OS.  So, now it’s a quarterly update.  The short version: Desktop Linux is absolutely great for me.  Try it out!  OK, here are the details:


I’ve long used Ubuntu on servers and desktops, but have been using OSX as my main laptop OS since 2003 with my original iBook G3.  As of July 2012, mostly in reaction to 10.8’s GateKeeper, I moved to Ubuntu Linux on a Lenovo ThinkPad X200s.  This summer experiment developed in to a wonderful rediscovery of desktop Linux.  I’m happy to report that after absolutely hating versions initial of Unity, I now see the wisdom in Cannonical’s ways.  It is a lovely, intuitive, and yet advanced user interface.  Almost six months in now, I think it’s easily the most effective and efficient user interface that I’ve had the opportunity to use.

Before my move to Ubuntu, I had been making heavy use of the Adobe Create Suite CS5.  In particular, I have done extensive work with InDesign.  In the last month, I created one poster with Inkscape instead.  It wasn’t the same, but was perfectly up to the job.  However, I now primarily use InDesign through a VM running Windows.  For times when I absolutely have to have CS5 and MS Office, I have a VirtualBox VM with Windows 7, Office 2007, and Creative Suite CS5.  The VM weighs in at 20GB.  I find running InDesign in a Windows 7 VM on the X200s to be about as fast as InDesign was natively in OSX 10.6 on my 2010 MacBook Air.  This has been a pleasant surprise.  I don’t fire it up terribly often, but I never launched the Create Suite lightly, so this hasn’t been a problem, or even much of a difference in workload.

For day-to-day work, I haven’t been sent anything that LibreOffice, The Gimp, Inkscape, and a text editor haven’t been able to handle.

On my Mac, I’d been making heavy use of Panic’s Coda for years.  I was so excited when Coda 2 was released, that I bought it as soon as it was released.  I’m sad to say that in many respects, I preferred Coda 1.  I tried to get comfortable with 2.0 for a month or so, but it never really fit right.  So, when I had to let this go and move to something else, this didn’t bother me as much as it would have six months earlier.

After a few attempts at other software, I’ve settled on gedit and sshfs for major work sessions.  gedit with the Sessions plugin isn’t quite as slick as Coda 1, but it’s close enough.  If there was a way to install Coda 1 in Ubuntu 12.04, I would do so without hesitation.  Still, this has been perfectly acceptable and hasn’t slowed me down much.  In fact, I’d say that any losses I’ve suffered on the IDE/editor front have been nicely compensated for by using sshfs.  Live editing has been my preferred approach for years.  Doing so with an SSH-mounted filesystem makes everything run unbelievably smoothly.  It’s just been great for me.  When it comes to doing Systems-level work, there is just nothing more efficient than running pure Linux.  Mac OS was OK, Linux is better for me.  These days, with web work, I’m either doing editing using WordPress and the Advanced Code Editor plugin, or I’m doing something more involved with sshfs and gedit.

For writing, I’ve been using Sublime Text 2.  I bought a license for the Windows version and quite like it.  I know it’s not Open Source, but I find it a very relaxing way to write.  Besides, I’m far more flexible with respect to licensing than Richard Stallman.

For music, Rhythmbox has easily replaced iTunes.  I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with iTunes and welcomed this change.  Rhythmbox behaves better with my BlackBerry Torch 9810 and my Galaxy Nexus.  I still hate MTP but support for it is better in Linux than OSX.

I’m using as many Canonical defaults as I can.  Empathy for IM, Thunderbird for mail (as always) etc.  The entire environment is a joy to use.  Initially my X200s was bitten by a very odd and annoying resume-from-suspend problem between the xorg-intel driver and Unity 3D.  This forced me to use Unity 2D for a while. It’s is good but many of the advanced subtle niceties are lost.  Luckily, this bug was fixed months ago and hasn’t resurfaced.

I have found some valuable Linux-only extras.  I’ve been using something called Time Tracker from Project Hamster to track my time on various projects.  I’m also using the calendar-indicator and an Epiphany shortcut to Google Calendar for scheduling.  Of course, off-line use is limited but I’m rarely off-line these days.

I’ve found Dash to be an intriguing and valuable tool.  It was quite helpful during a recent foray into The Gimp for some advanced layer effects.  This is a deep and valuable addition to the Linux desktop.  I hope that other Linux distributions pick up on it.

Most of all, it’s been wonderful to get my geek back on for the last month.  I was getting rusty in a few areas and it’s good to reconnect with what initially drew me to Linux and Open Source during my undergraduate days.  Unity and Linux have matured much over the last few years, but it’s still delightfully rough around the edges.  I’ve missed this.

I’ve standardized on high-quality second-hand ThinkPads for hardware and am quite pleased.  Battery life is excellent.  My 11″ 2010 MacBook Air flew with MacOS 10.6 and would get between 5-7 hours on the battery.  Sadly, this was down to 3 or so with 10.8 and time.  My much faster Lenovo ThinkPad X201s looks to get between 5-8 hours on a six-cell battery depending on use.

Since the summer, I sold my 11″ MacBook Air and have slowly acquired a stable of ThinkPads for various tasks.  At the moment, I’m typing this on a 12″ X201s.  I also have a 14″ T420 workhorse and a slightly older ThinkPad T500 with a gorgeous 15.4″ 1680×1050 screen with wonderful viewing angles and great speakers.  It replaces my 15″ MacBook Pro.  If I had to pick one, I’d just use the X201s.  However, one of the nice things about moving away from Macs and back to Linux, is that eBay is overstocked with excellent off-lease ThinkPads.  The X201s is my most expensive ThinkPad purchase to date, and it was still only $500, which makes it significantly less expensive than my iPad.

I still keep one mac running OSX to handle testing, our media needs, and legacy apps that I need from time to time, though I suspect that I will eventually move this to Linux now that iOS devices don’t have to be tied to a PC.

So I guess that’s it for my Ubuntu wrap-up.  Unity is great.  Canonical is doing great things for Desktop Linux.  They often come under fire for this and that.  This is a healthy, necessary part of Open Source development.  Overall, they’re doing a fantastic job.  I thank Canonical employees and of course Mark Shuttleworth for the excellent work to date.  Linux on servers has been fantastic for years.  It’s great to see that Linux on the desktop can be as much of a pleasure to use.  I look forward to my penguin-infused future.

GoSaBe Blog - Dec 19, 2012 | Linux, Web Development