Monthly Archives: July 2008

Total Installations: 2

Trying to get Cedega working properly had resulted in a catastrophic loss of Wi-Fi. I tried to get help through my (Windows) laptop, but the situation was just too desperate. I decided to do my first reinstall.

This time, I felt confident enough to try the manual partitioner, which allowed me to install my /home partition on a different drive. I tried to get manual graphics drivers working again, but still missing the crucial information regarding editing the restricted modules config, (see my How To on installing the NVIDIA Graphics Drivers) the drivers still did not stick, and I again gave up and installed EnvyNG.

Once I was happy with the basics, I decided to work on setting up my desktop properly. I had seen some awesome pictures of what could be achieved, and stumbled across this post and this post about customising Ubuntu’s look and feel. Both excellent posts, the resulting discoveries kept me merry for days! I would write my own ‘How To’ on customising Ubuntu, but I feel that these posts really covered all the chief points.

Panels vs. Docks

I spent hours looking through Gnome Look for the right GTK2 theme, then set my desktop to match my colours, with customised Gnome Panels that looked more like a dock than a panel. Then I got distracted by a proper dock, Cairo Dock, a fantastic little toy which has the slight drawback that it is developed by an (extremely dedicated) French man called Fabounet, and most of the website is in french. Nevertheless there is a good (unofficial) English speaking help channel on Freenode called #cairo-dock with people who seem very willing to answer the most basic questions about installing and configuring this MacOSX style application dock.

I found I much preferred Docks to Gnome-Panel; although there probably isn’t a lot of difference once you’ve customised your Gnome-Panel to look like a dock, I like the flexibility and customisability of it. It’s a friendly, adapatable, thing, and I never did figure out how to make my own GTK2 theme. With Cairo-Dock, I can manipulate it to look pretty much like anything I want.

It took me a while to get the hang of customising Cairo Dock, it’s still in early stages of development and there’s still a few things to refine. There are other dock-style apps out there, such as Kiba Dock and Avant Window Navigator. I haven’t tried them yet though, because after some fiddling, I found Cairo-Dock did everything i wanted.

Embedded apps – Conky and Screenlets

Next, I explored ‘screenlets’, which can be downloaded from Synaptic. These are basically ‘widgets’, the inspiration for those now used in Windows Vista. There are all sorts of different things you can do with them, and I briefly experimented with the clock, but the one that really caught my eye is a little embedded terminal, which can be downloaded at . This is a really useful little tool for anyone who likes using the command prompt.

Having got the hang of Screenlets, I followed the guide onto Conky, a highly customisable system monitor that can be embedded into the desktop to show pretty much any system information you like, plus your emails, your current music, weather, and all sorts of other plugins.

The difficult bit is that it is customised through its configuration text file, which can be a bit daunting. A common trick is to download someone else’s configuration, and there are plenty posted on the Ubuntu Forums. I preferred to make my own, and after a bit of reading and studying configurations I liked, I didn’t find this too hard. Here’s the result:

Conky

Conky

You can find the code to create this look here.  Just copy and paste it into an editor, and save the file in your home directory as ‘.conkyrc’.

While exploring conky configs, I saw a screenshot of someone with seethrough glass borders, which led me to thinking ‘I must have those!’ After some research and asking around, I discovered they come from a theme manager called ‘Emerald’, part of the Compiz suite, which can create metallic and see-through glassly effects around the frames and titlebar of windows. It’s available through Synaptic, so I easily installed it, and started looking for themes.

By this time I had learned to modify my gnome panel (but wasn’t entirely satisfied with that), replace my gnome panel completely with Cairo Dock (much better), embed system info, terminals and other useful information into my desktop, and make my windows look pretty. Finding a backdrop I had been able to do for years, and is much the same in Linux as it is in Windows. The difference is that I couldn’t have separate backdrops easily; I had to either glue them together into one picture in Gimp (tricky since I have different sized monitors) or just make sure I’m using a backdrop that doesn’t look rubbish stretched across both screens.

Having got the hang of customising my desktop, I found it got quicker and easier to do everytime. As a result, I have found myself changing desktops with my mood.

The results of a few of my experiments are here:

A Customised Desktop

A Customised Desktop

Pink and Blue Desktop

Pink and Blue Desktop

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First attempt at getting games to work

I had installed Ubuntu successfully, without trouble. I had navigated my way through installing graphics (three times before giving up and installing Envy) and I had done some minor customisation of backdrop and theme appearance through System > Preferences > Appearance. I was ready to test the waters of Linux Gaming.

I had heard of Wine before, which is well known as, effectively, a Windows Emulator. It picks up any Windows applications you try to run in Linux, and runs them for you, acting as a sort of buffer between Linux and the Windows program. However, unsurprisingly, they do not have access to any useful Windows code, so a lot of guessing and trial and error is involved. Neveretheless, they’ve had a few years to get it right, and it’s supposed to be pretty good now. You can find the website here:

http://www.winehq.org/

I installed Wine through the Synaptic package manager, put in my game CD (World of Warcraft) and clicked the ‘setup.exe’ from Nautilus. Wine picked it up very happily, and proceeded to start the install. I was thrilled. Then it got to the point where I had to run the game to start updating. Disaster! I was only able to see a quarter of the screen, not enough to log in and start updating, and certainly not enough to play the game!

I looked around, on the web, in the forums, and on the #wine-hq IRC channel. I received no response, no information, and no luck. I didn’t try for very long, because a friend had recommended a program called ‘Cedega’, and a few other people mentioned it as well. It is a variant of Wine that specialises in Games, where Wine supports Windows applications in general. The website is here:

http://www.cedega.com

The drawback is that Cedega is not free. You have to pay a subscription of 25 (currency of choice) for 6 months, effectively for support. And I will grant you, the support is good. It needed to be, because when I tried to open WoW in Cedega, I had the same problem with the quarter screen.

WoW problems with Cedega

WoW problems with Cedega

I also tried installing Knights of the Old Republic II (KOTORII). That hit the problem that the KOTORII launcher has an ‘auto-detect hardware’ settings chooser. So once I’d installed it, I couldn’t play the game, because it couldn’t detect my Windows Graphic card driver. Because I don’t have one. I’m in Linux.

I tried a couple of things, starting the game directly without going via the launcher, fiddling with the Cedega settings, but in the end I gave up and went to the #cedega channel. I ended up with the devoted attention of a lovely Cedega employee who really did everything in his power to help me. Full marks for effort. We started on WoW, playing with a few settings, before deciding that perhaps the problem was that I was trying to run off a Wine install, instead of installing properly from Cedega. So I deleted the WoW directory I’d made and started again. Still didn’t work. Then we tried some more settings, and finally discovered that it does work if I select ‘XRandR’ instead of ‘XVidMode’. The nice transgamer employee who was helping me however did not seem to be completely happy with this, and felt that the real problem might be caused by my graphics card. Especially after he heard it was installed with Envy.

He talked me (again) through installing the manual driver, but couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t stick. He then decided that I should uninstall (almost) anything I could find in Synaptic that had anything to do with NVIDIA. Unfortunately, it seems this includes quite a lot of my motherboard functionality, and what resulted was my first reinstall…

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How To – Installing Graphics Drivers (NVIDIA)

When I first installed Ubuntu, I found that my Graphics card was not automatically set up properly by the system. This is because it was such a new card that the standard drivers had not yet been configured to work with it.

This guide aims to help others in a similar situation, by explaining how to install your NVIDIA graphics card manually. It also explains a bit about Envy, an alternative, automated driver-installation system. The Envy section comes with a warning though, as I have heard reports that the program is still a bit rough around the edges, and has been known to cause problems. It is also apparently very difficult to uninstall properly, and can conflict with any attempt to install a driver manually at a later time. If in doubt, it’s probably better to follow the instructions for a manual driver install, for now. I didn’t find it that hard.

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How To – Installing Ubuntu Linux

Installing Ubuntu was easy.

The Ubuntu website provides you with everything you need, from how to create a startup-CD to clear instructions on what to do with it.  I just had to follow the instructions.  Partitioning is a bit more tricky, especially if you want your /home folder, where all your personal files and settings are stored, to be on a different drive to the main install, but this guide aims to reduce some of the worry about setting that up, as well.

I found the experience of installing Ubuntu to be well worth it.  I now have it running well, I have been able to customise pretty much anything I can think of, and for everything and anything I might possibly want to do with my computer, I have a choice of usually at least half a dozen different programs with different ways of doing it.

If you want the same degree of choice, flexibility, and stability, then read on.

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Setting up Graphics

The first problem I had was that I have an NVIDIA Geforce 9600 graphics card, at the time of writing still pretty new and leading edge.

This means that it is not yet supported by Ubuntu standard drivers. i.e. I only had basic graphics straight out of the box (which are still a lot less basic than Windows basic graphics – I had to go and fiddle with the graphical ‘extras’ to find out my graphics weren’t working properly).

I went to the NVIDIA website to download the drivers, but realised I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do with them once I’d done that.

Enter the #ubuntu IRC chat room. This place averages over 1000 ‘hangers out’ at all times, and can get pretty chaotic. It’s not a place to go for an idle chat. However, the upshot is there’s usually some helpful volunteer active, who can guide panicking newbies towards Linux enlightenment. You can find it on the ‘Freenode’ network.

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First thoughts on Ubuntu

I decided to install Linux Ubuntu a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been having an interesting learning experience ever since.

Ubuntu is currently the most popular Linux distribution, mostly because of the excellent support, and the strong community that has grown from that. It is also the only distribution primarily aimed at the Desktop market.

This, and the number of recommendations I had received, was one of the main reasons I decided to use it as my distribution for a final foray into Linux. You can find the webpage at:

http://www.ubuntu.com

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