The migration of a fussy Windows user to Linux

(edit: see comment #60, below; I’m going to switch to PCLinuxOS because it’s far better than Kubuntu, which I chose mainly because of name recognition. Sadly, Kubuntu doesn’t live up to the reputation deserved by Ubuntu (which, even though it uses GNOME, which I can’t stand, is a well put-together distro).

(edit: I have tried Vista at work for over a month and didn’t like it. Apart from the ruined explorer, the print spooler crashes on a daily basis, it forgets my multi-monitor configuration almost as often, and it’s more sluggish than XP on my Dell Latitude D830.)

I’m a very fussy user when it comes to my operating systems and I have managed to get by with Windows XP for a long time, but its days are numbered. Vista is looming and I refuse to install that rubbish, so I have chosen Kubuntu 7.10. Normal Ubuntu users might be wondering why I chose Kubuntu…

To demonstrate just how fussy I am, I installed Kubuntu because it uses Konqueror as the file manager which means I can draw selection rectangles when highlighting files in detailed list view. Ubuntu’s file manager, on the other hand, treats me like an idiot by denying me this basic user right and forcing me to highlight files with the mouse AND keyboard instead of just the mouse. As somebody who does a lot of file management, GNOME just isn’t an option (Mac users might like it since the Finder and Nautilus have a lot in common insofar as the stripped-out configurables are concerned :-).

Having declared myself a part of the KDE crowd in the long-running desktop environment flame war, allow me to describe how this fussy and long time Windows user upgraded from XP to Linux to avoid the impending doom of XP’s old age and the otherwise inevitability of Vista…

Configuration Changes

  • /etc/X11/xorg.conf – modified to support back/forward mouse buttons as per this Ubuntu forum post.
  • kcontrol (which lets you configure KDE more than the System Settings icon on Kubuntu’s menu) – Appearance & Themes, Launch Feedback, disable Taskbar Notification – unless you like seeing audio player taskbar entries for 30 seconds every time you click on an MP3 file!
  • Konqueror – Settings, Configure Konqueror, Behaviour, Show the ‘Delete’ context menu entries which bypass the trashcan (or else it’ll take forever to delete things off USB drives because they’re really copied to your hard drive first).
  • nuoveXT icon theme – I installed this icon theme because the default uses far too much blue for my liking, making it hard to differentiate quickly between icons (and I’m just used to yellow folders).
  • Set Konqueror as the default file manager – Kubuntu uses Dolphin but you can change it to use Konqueror by going to kcontrol, KDE Components, File Associations, inode, directory and then moving Konqueror up in the pecking order. If Dolphin supported tabbed browsing and had a bookmark toolbar, it would make a nice file manager.

Package Installations

  • Pidgin – instant messaging client with guifications (to get little popups just like Windows Live Messenger when people sign on and go offline, etc), the extended preferences plugin (to hide the Buddy List from the KDE taskbar), and the Message Notifications plugin which is part of the pidgin-plugin-pack (to flash new chat windows so that I’ll notice them in the taskbar).
  • Audacious (similar to Winamp) – Amarok seems to get a lot of publicity these days but I can’t stand it. I did give it a try but you have to keep searching for and dragging things to the right-hand pane to get them to play and this just won’t do. Whilst I preferred iTunes for music library management I often kept using Winamp in Windows so I’ll get by with Audacious for the time being. Songbird looks good but I haven’t installed it yet (it’s on my to-do list).
  • msttcorefonts – to make most web pages that use Microsoft’s fonts appear more readable (though, I still seem to find some pages in Firefox that use a pretty squashy and unreadable Roman font).
  • imwheel – to enable back/forward mouse button support (why this isn’t installed by default I’ll never know).
  • GKrellM – system monitor program to monitor bandwidth usage and to show my Internode ADSL usage per month (thanks to the WindowMaker Internode Usage Meter + Gkrellm2 plugin).
  • mbmon – used by GKrellM to display system temperatures and fan speeds (I’ve added “mbmon -r -P 61234” to my /etc/rc.local script so that the deamon is available to GKrellM after a reboot; thanks to “biovore” on #kubuntu for that tip).
  • Firefox – in Windows I’d say this is the best web browser ever, but the Linux version seems somewhat more flakier; web pages sometimes just won’t render even if the browser seems to go through the motions of downloading it (I have to close Firefox and start it again to get the page the draw). Firefox on Kubuntu also crashes a lot more than I remember it ever did in Windows; for example, every time I click on the zoom for the first icon preview here, it will crash every time. Still, I wouldn’t be without it.
  • Thunderbird – email client that I once used in Windows before biting the bullet and using Outlook 2003 (mainly for its integrated calendar but Thunderbird supports that now – see next item). I chose not to use Kontact because I’ve learned my lesson about using programs that require the use of a particular operating system for something as important as email.
  • Sunbird and Lightning – Mozilla’s calendar program and plugin to make Sunbird accessible through Thunderbird.
  • AllTray – to dock any application to the system tray that doesn’t support it (such as Thunderbird -e.g., by modifying the KDE shortcut command to “alltray thunderbird %u”). Very nifty but it’s not 100% reliable because programs sometimes close instead of minimising to the systray; clicking only on the systray icon when restoring and minimising is more reliable.
  • aMule – the closest thing you’re likely to find for eMule (I did try KMLDonkey but the less said about it the better; it was not a very straight forward or pleasant experience!)
  • LAME – so that I can rip CDs to MP3 instead of OGG (which is the default in K3b, an excellent replacement for both Nero and Exact Audio Copy).
  • VLC Media Player – what can I say? It’s just better.

Important File Association Changes

  • Set KWrite as the default text editor – Kate shows an annoyingly large list of currently opened files that takes up a quarter of the window’s area, and what’s worse is that you can’t disable it for good; not exactly what I’m looking for in a simple replacement for Notepad.exe
  • Associate picture files with Gwenview – by default Konqueror will preview the image itself and if I click the close button, I’m actually closing Konqueror and not some external image preview like I’m used to with Windows.

Outstanding Issues

  • The hack to get Thunderbird to return to the Inbox after deleting a message (found here) didn’t work for me. This behaviour bugs me no end and if I don’t find a fix for it soon, I may even consider Kontact!
  • I’d like to get my Vista media center PC to connect to the videos share on my Linux machine using Samba, but getting Samba to cooperate is about as painful as previous encounters with it that I can remember. I’ve tried all sorts of things, including configuring Vista to use LM and NTLM but to no avail. All the more reason to try MythTV, I suppose, but something tells me it will probably involve quite a lot of tinkering. (edit: see comment #54, below, for a solution that I tested whilst using a standard Ubuntu 7.10 live CD)
  • K3b complaining that the CD is in use – if I stick an audio CD in the drive, up pops a window allowing me to rip audio from CD, so I click it. I then specify where to save the files and get a long-winded error that starts out: “Device ‘PIONEER – DVD-RW DVR-111D’ is already in use by other applications (kio_audiocd)” giving me the options Check again, Quit the other applications, and Continue. If I can put on my ordinary user hat: “Hey, you’re running this show – don’t blame me for problems you created!” I have to close my existing Konqueror window, which isn’t even viewing the CD, and click Check again before it’ll rip the CD. Pretty stupid, really.
  • The back and forward buttons on my mouse actually scroll left and right in Konqueror a few centimetres at a time. I’ve yet to search for or find a fix for this very odd behaviour.
  • The spell checker in OpenOffice.org Writer doesn’t seem to work – it seemed to be set to Czech by default but after changing it to English (UK) (there’s no Australian but there is a New Zealand version? no fair!) it still won’t find any spelling mistakes. KWrite’s spell checker works but it doesn’t like contractions. Better than nothing, I guess. (edit: see comment #2, below, for a solution)
  • I downloaded and extracted the latest Firefox tarball to /usr/local/firefox but most things that shell out to a browser don’t seem to know about it anymore. Maybe this isn’t the right location? Whatever the case, there needs to be an easy way to update important things like Firefox through the usual repositories. The old version (2.0.0.6) that I was using was probably the reason it was flakey, but getting a proper installation of the latest version (2.0.0.11) is a non-trivial exercise. Firefox took care of all this for me in Windows.

Miscellaneous Observations

  • KTorrent is rather nice. It even has built-in support for PeerGuardian’s IP block list. The only thing that would make it better would be built-in previewing, but uTorrent doesn’t have it either, so I’m no worse off.
  • KDE’s Lock Session does what it says but it leaves a snapshot of your session as the backdrop to the locked screen instead of a wallpaper or something. Not that I care but it’s still not as nice-looking (I lock the session to prevent the cat from walking on the keyboard, messing things up).
  • It would be nice to have better integration with KDE for certain appliations, such as Thunderbird and eMule, for example. Maybe Linux needs some kind of system independent of your desktop environment for systray-like things and other notifications?
  • Unlike previous attempts at switching to Linux this time it seems far more viable. I don’t have to return to work until mid-January so I’ve got time to sort out any issues before then. When the bulk of my day is taken up with work I won’t tolerate computer problems as easily so I could still switch back to Windows if things go awry and wait for Kubuntu 8.04. Here’s hoping I can stick it out!

68 thoughts on “The migration of a fussy Windows user to Linux

  1. Hello

    I understand you, I just bought the Aspire 4720Z, and tried
    Ubuntu, everything worked except for the sound(it’s seems to be
    detected, all volume up, but I got no sound from the speakers) and the wifi, (atheros AR5700EG). Wi’ll like to hear from your experiences.

  2. cyneuron,

    Mandriva is a great distro, but don’t give up on PCLinuxOS for the wrong reasons. While it is true that updates appear first on the Pass servers, this seems to be more due to logistics than to a desire of encouraging more donations. Updates appear on the regular servers withing a couple of days, usually. It is not like the old practice Mandriva used to have of releasing first to Club members and a month or more latter to the community. I really like the fact that PCLinuxOS offers the option of faster, more reliable, servers to those willing to give a small donation ($20 is barely more than a meal at a Chinese restaurant for crying out loud.) I wish all distros offered this choice, including Mandriva who’s mirrors are often slow.

    Any way, the Mini Me version of PClinuxOS 2008 is out, and it is awesome!

  3. Kubuntu is real mess….doesn’t stand anywhere in front of Ubuntu….

    But there are problems with Ubuntu as well…..biggest of all is that Ubuntu defaults to GNOME….

    I have used Ubuntu for long time…..currently using Gutsy….everything works fine….but the problem is of customization….GNOME doesn’t allow me to change things the way i want….with time i get bored and a little frustrated with this fact….although things work fine but this should not mean that one can not change his/her system….

    other is that Ubuntu seems really slow to me….may be it is something related to GNOME….

    and finally Amarok….this is something i can’t live without…..its the best Music player you will ever play with…..Although i can run it in GNOME, but it takes too much time to load and also takes up too much of RAM in GNOME causing further slow down of system…K3b is also great app (though Brasero in GNOME has filled this void)

    You wrote that you are using PCLinuxOS….thats a really fine OS….one of best of KDE distro….but its development cycle seems slow….and apps are limitedin repoistories….and the fact that they have concept of paid servers under which they provide updates first to paid user makes me reluctant to use PCLinuxOS….this is something against Linux principles (at least i think so…..)

    i am currently downloading Mandriva 2008…..seems its a really good KDE distro….

  4. Some advice from me on kde stuff;
    You can avoid turning off launch feedback (which is rather nice IMO) by working around the kubuntu bug of the mp3 thingy. If you open kcontrol and find the mimetypes kcm you can remove all applications that are registered for the mp3 mimetype so kde will just complain there is no app instead.

    Konqueror has a feature of ‘right button is back’ which you might want to use instead of the (IMOHO obsolete) imwheel.

    KMail can use maildir and mbox dirs without problems; even have different folders of different formats. This is really useful since you can ‘convert’ your mailbox by just dragging all of them to another folder. Note the kmail configuration option of the default format for new mailboxes.

    The systray is a open-desktop wide spec; so all apps should implement it and thus being able to show up in your systray. If they don’t (and claim to support systray docking) thats a buggy app.

  5. stupid security code messup causing me to lose my post…

    OK WELL, SAMBA AND VISTA….
    install rinetd
    edit /etc/rinetd.conf
    include the line “192.168.123.123 445 192.168.123.123 139” where 192.168.123.123 is the IP of the Samba server; 445 is the port of Vista’s smb use, and 139 is Samba’s smb port…

  6. Marc, you should check the Konqueror Preload feature (Control Center, Components, KDE Performance). It happened to me that when you close Konqueror window, it is not destroyed but kept hidden, as a “preloaded” instance in order to reduce the time needed to display a new window when required.
    Sadly, hidden the window doesn’t change to “about:blank” or something like that, but keeps the current view, so if you were looking a removable media the thing can’t be unmounted.
    I’m not sure if it happened to me while trying to burn something, but I suffered all the time while browsing CDs or pen drives.

  7. I appreciate the reasons you for using KDE. I, like you, really like Konqueror for a file manager.

    I was a long time Mandrake user because for years they had the best KDE distro. When I finally couldn’t take the rpm package system anymore, I tried the Debian world. I have used Mepis, Kubuntu and Etch. I have become quite comfortable with Kubuntu on my main desktop and Etch on my old P3 laptop.
    I love APT! I still try various distros under VMWare Server, but I still have not found anything I like better than Kubuntu for now. It does get treated like the little brother, but the 8.04 development cycle looks to be an interesting one.

  8. I’ve just helped my brother install PCLinuxOS on his system and apart from having to add an option to his xorg.conf file to disable some power check for the video card (that the crash info advised us to specify and which I can’t now remember) and not being able to install the NVidia driver until we had configured our third repository in Synaptic, the installation went rather well.

    The integration between KDE and Compiz (still called Beryl in this installation) is far superior to the experience I had with Kubuntu. It even has a better GUI configuration screen for Compiz than Kubuntu.

    Come tomorrow morning I’ll be backing up my home directory, formatting my Kubuntu partition, and installing PCLinuxOS :-)

  9. jhansonxi: I reinstalled Samba and used a fresh smb.conf out of /usr/share/samba (since re-installing the package didn’t create a fresh smb.conf, and doing a ‘rm -rf /etc/samba’ isn’t a good idea either, because re-installing doesn’t put the conf file back, not even with a ‘dpkg -i –force-confmiss’). Anyway, with a fresh Samba and your additions, I’m now at the point where Vista can at least see the share and the printers share, but as soon as I double-click on the file share, it tells me to check the spelling and offers to run a diagnostic. I’ve tried yes and no for “encrypt passwords” but still can’t get Vista to play ball. In short, I’m beginning to dislike Kubuntu. It seems to have the smell of neglect about it, so my brother is downloading PCLinuxOS on his 8mb broadband connection, which I’ll try soon enough :-)

  10. jhansonxi: I decided to boot off the normal Ubuntu 7.10 CD and tried Samba’s default sharing. It wouldn’t let Vista connect but after uncommenting the “guest account” line and adding the “map to guest” line you mentioned, it works a treat :-) I’m starting to form the considered opinion that I might have been better off choosing a distribution where KDE gets all the love it deserves. Thanks for your help.

  11. asim: Thanks for being so constructive.

    rm42: I started reading your review but haven’t read pages 2 and 3, yet (I got distracted showing off Compiz to my brother and trying to get Vista connecting to Samba).

    Rooijan: Thanks. I don’t profess to an expert on usability but I do know what annoys the hell out of me, so if there’s some way I could help with usability testing, then I’d be only too happy lend a hand. I’m not saying that any of my own preferences should be the default but I do believe a lot of the things I’ve done to “fix” Linux for myself should be made available as configurable options that new users can at least see and enable for themselves rather than having to hunt down utilities or plugins as workarounds. The kind person above who said “linux is just bugggy shit” is probably somebody like myself that was turned off Linux because he/she couldn’t easily find solutions to the issues that I’ve worked around. Linux might win more converts if the GUI and applications were a little more polished and consistent.

    Altair: My Info Widget was already enabled so I’ll pay closer attention the next time I download something. Most of my GTK applications already are using my KDE theme, so perhaps this is one thing that works well “out of the box” in Kubuntu. It would be nice if Kontact would use even my KDE theme, then I might consider using it over Thunderbird :-) Strange that a KDE app ignores system-wide preferences like colour schemes because the colour grey it uses is far too bright.

    Vytas: GUI file management doesn’t have to be slow or annoying unless you use retarded file manager, such as Nautilus, which is so dumbed-down and stripped of user-configurable options that my brother said he thought it looked like WinZip!. Konqueror is the best I’ve seen so far; Thunar and Dolphin are OK but have a way to go before I could use them. Doing a lot of file moves/copies in the command-line just gets annoying after a while, especially if you want to work with particular selections where simple wildcards aren’t sufficient.

    jhansonxi: Tried that, didn’t work :-( Thanks for the suggestion, though. I’ve wasted so much time trying to get Samba to work that I’m just ferrying video files to my media center PC via USB stick for now.

    tracyanne: I’ve used Mandrake before, so maybe I should check out Mandriva (given that it shows KDE screen captures prominently, perhaps it’s a good distro that has been well-integrated with KDE). Thanks.

    DiBosco: I’ve since discovered that Kontact (which uses Kmail, I believe) can be told to use mbox format instead of maildir, so I’m considering using Kontact now (but until I find a way to get it to obey my KDE colour scheme, and not use the blinding light-grey it forces upon me, then I’m sticking with Thunderbird). I want mbox because I remember using an “mbox2eml” converter before when I wanted to use Outlook, so with mbox I still have an escape plan if I give up on Linux. I chose Outlook before because I was happy in Windows, but now that I’m considering new platforms, I’m now more mindful of not locking myself into a particular operating system.

  12. So you bash kmail because it only works on Linux but used Outlook which only works on, er, Windows. Weird.

  13. I’d recommend Mandriva 2008.0, you’ll find it stable and it comes with all the software you’ve mentioned in the repositories, and most of it installed by default. The most onerous thing you’ll need to do is link to the PLF repositories to install the Media CODECs.

    DrakConf is a doddle to use, and (for those who find it a fearful thing) I rarely have to use the command line, unlike the Ubuntus.

  14. As a workaround to your Vista networking problem, search for “guest” in /etc/samba/smb.conf and change/add the following lines:

    guest account = nobody
    invalid users = root
    map to guest = bad user

    This will let any Windows or other PC connect using smb without authentication from your network, wireless, or the entire Internet unless you have a firewall.

  15. If you do a lot of file management do not talk bad about file managers just better learn how to use bash shell with things like * [] and ?. Then you will feel real power and speed.
    “Hunting” things with mouse or keyboard is slow and anoing job.

  16. It’s possible to preview files in ktorrent. If you go to the plugins setting and activate the Info Widget, you’ll get, among other things, a tab that will list all the files in the torrent. Then you can right-click on any file and it will open in whatever application you have associated for that mime-type.

    You can also better integrate the look & feel of gtk applications in kde by installing the gtk-qt-engine (not sure what the package name is in kubuntu). This will let gtk apps like firefox use kde theme elements. It won’t affect things like the file-browser dialogs, but it will make things look more unified.

    A warning, however. There’s currently some kind of bug or incompatibility with the gtk-qt-engine that makes audacious throw a fit when you use it. It doesn’t seem to affect the major functions, but it does disable some advanced skinning features, like custom cursors.

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