Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Experiences Installing Ubuntu and Kubuntu 9.04

So, I've had the opportunity to install the latest Ubuntu on two friends' machines. The machine I'll focus on here is that of my roommate Chris, a Panasonic CF-W4 Toughbook. It has a basic Intel Chipset, Intel 915 Integrated Graphics, and an Intel graphics card. He also has a pair of Logitech USB speakers.

I only started blogging this after I had given up on Ubuntu, so I'll just give a light summary of what went wrong there, and then proceed to a stream-of-consciousness report on my experiences with Kubuntu. Basically, PulseAudio=FAIL. Certain programs were capturing input extremely choppily. Redirecting audio streams manifested buggy behaviour. And, course, Skype did not work OTB.

This was a major disappointment to me. I hate to see such an otherwise awesome distro be marred by this POS sound server.

So, I switched to Kubuntu. Installation was easy enough. Here are my initial impressions:

Upon initial start, the Desktop Folder failed to load, giving a message like: "The Desktop Protocol Died Unexpectedly". Not such a good sign. I deleted it and made a new one. Seems to work, but I haven't restarted yet.

Navigate to the Windows partition. The Partition shows up in the Dolphin file manager, but not under Places. Confusing.

Now I'm using KPackageKit. It didn't update my packages automatically. It's a different kind of interface. Font size are too large, making all of the Packages look the same (for Firefox, for example). I need to maximize the window to tell them apart. Have to press enter to search. Counterintuitive. I liked seeing all of the packages available and having incremental filtering, like in Synaptic and Adept. This is much more confusing to me. Packages are not in alphabetical order, even though it appears they should be; it's like there are two alphabetically-ordered groups, but nothing to partition them. WTF is this? And every time I do a search, it resets the group to "All Packages". Why?

But do we have functional audio? Test sounds work. I can emit sounds to the external Logitech speakers, as well as to the built-in speakers, no problem. Plugging in headphones causes the the sound in the built-in speakers to stop and redirect to the headphones, as expected. Hmmm, Kubuntu doesn't ship with a built-in sound recorder (where is krec?). OK, let's just go ahead and try Skype, then. Works, OTB, no problems at all. w00t!

What about multimedia? Kubuntu doesn't know what to do with rmvb files when I click. Kaffeine no longer seems to be shipped by default. How about Dragon Player, that sounds promising. Hm, shows no video or audio. But it does pop up an alert that says it wants to install codecs. I'm not familiar with the Kubuntu notifications system, so I missed the little applet that appears. The gnome way is more invasive, but much more obvious. Codecs install seamlessly. But will it play video...? No. Strange, because audio is now playing fine. Maybe I'm missing some more codecs? Strange that this worked in Ubuntu but not Kubuntu. I think this may be because Totem downloaded a bunch of gstreamer-specific packages bundling codecs; the packages that Kubuntu pulled in must have left out the codec I needed. So I'll go hook up Medibuntu. sudo apt-get install w32codecs, and now we seem to be playing video... but highly suboptimally. Video is skipping, audio is skipping. DragonPlayer==FAIL.

Let's try KMplayer. Aw man, KMplayer won't play this either! Let's try mplayer-nogui. Works, but video is sluggish. In fact, Desktop graphics look great in general, but feel a bit sluggish overall. Maybe it will help if I turn off window effects. System Settings -> Desktop -> Desktop Effects > General -> Uncheck Enable Desktop Effects, click apply. Works immediately. System is already feeling much snappier. Let's try video again with mplayer. OK! Now we're good, no problem at all. Nice and fast. Let's try KMplayer, maybe mplayer pulled in some codecs that it will now use. Heck yah, now it works :) And, just for kicks, what about dragon player? Looks like it's working better too.

Now, how do we go about redirecting audio to the Logitech speakers? Rather than try it with KMplayer or Dragon Player, let's eliminate as much complexity as possible by trying it with a really excellent, first-class application of KDE4: Amarok. So, I go System Settings -> Multimedia -> Device Preference -> Music and push the Logitech speakers up above the Intel chip. Try it in Amarok. Doesn't work. Restart Amarok. Totally works! Try a skype call. I have skype coming through my headphones, and Amarok playing through the Logitech speakers. Totally sweet.

Now, let's try to get this to work with Video. I set the Video preference in the same way I did audio. The goal is to now get this to work with KMplayer. Trying various things... telling KMplayer to use different audio output devices (doesn't change the audio sink); telling it to use Phonon instead of Mplayer as movie player (won't play video, hangs with message "Phonon buffering"). Maybe I need to configure MPlayer to use the KDE4 equivalent of aRts? Wow, it looks like KDE has a bunch of redundant media players written for it:

I guess I could try installing some of those and see if they work. Let's start with Kaffeine. Fails like Dragon Player. Also, does not output to logitech speakers. KAFFEINE=FAIL.

How about Kplayer? Plays video, but doesn't output to logitech speakers. Messing around with audio settings, looks promising. Currently set to use ALSA. I can manually set the output device to the Logitech speakers. Doesn't work though. Messing about with it some more also doesn't work. KPLAYER=FAIL.

And I am out of things to try! KDE MULTIMEDIA=FAIL

And seriously, why is Konqueror still the default web browser? Either make it Firefox, or start using WebKit. This is silly.

That's all. I've filed bug reports for all 4 media players I tried in KDE. I could install Kubuntu 8.04 on the machine, which might work better, but I think it's good enough for Chris to use now.

It looks like Dragon Player actually successfully outputs audio to the Logitech speakers when instructed to do so. I think I missed this because of the trouble it was having playing RealMedia video files.