mok0's world

80 x 25 no more…

Posted in Ubuntu by mok0 on January 12, 2010

On my workstation, I have a beautiful, large, Samsung SyncMaster 275, which is a 27.5″ monitor. The screen area measures around 58 x 37 cm, and the nominal resolution is 1920 x 1200 pixels.

The display is beautiful and crisp, and the fonts are nice and clear on the X-display, and Kubuntu looks lovely on the monitor. My wallpaper is an image of the stunning, intriguing and slightly eery MandelBulb 3-D fractal.

For a while, however, I’ve been annoyed with the virtual TTYs on my workstation. With a screen this size, the font size of the 25×80 terminal is approximately 1 cm. Working on it gives me a feeling of being teleported -25 years to an over sized version of the venerable DEC VT100 terminal. Another thing, the Kubuntu splash screen with the blue progress bar looked really ugly.

So today I did something about it. First, I ran:

sudo hwinfo --framebuffer

That gave me a rather long list of framebuffer modes. I chose the bottom one, that looked like this:

Mode 0x037d: 1920x1200 (+7680), 24 bits

The number I needed was 0x037d. Next step is to edit the /boot/grub/menu.lst and add:

vga=0x037d

to the default boot line, and reboot.

I now have 240 x 75 character terminal, and it looks beautiful! Now, I can run byobu with all its geeky goodness. And the Kubuntu boot-splash screen now looks really professional. Nice. There’s a slight problem with the status messages (from fsck) scrolling, but I can live with that for now.

Needless to say, I can’t show you a screendump… well, perhaps I’ll take a photo one of these days 🙂

I am a happy camper.

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Ubuntu on the Dell Mini 10 (3)

Posted in Dell Mini 10, Ubuntu by mok0 on May 27, 2009

A few people have asked if the psb X driver is stable running under jaunty. It is indeed… rock stable. So now that’s established, let’s move on to something else.

I really want the Dell to be a “mini-laptop” so I originally installed the ubuntu-desktop package. But I’ve felt that the response was a bit sluggish. The menus were just a few fractions of a second to appear, they kind of “rolled” on instead of just appearing etc. Not much, but enough to make it annoying.

So a few days ago, I installed Xubuntu, and it’s brilliant! It made a true, noticeable difference in response. The Mini 10 now appears really snappy! Xubuntu makes use of the XFCE4 window manager, it’s lightweight compared to the Gnome environment, but still comes with a bunch of applications like terminal, text editor, etc. etc. I am truly impressed with the amazing installation the Xubuntu team has created!

I must admit, I am a bit shameful, because I never thought of Xubuntu as a “real” distribution… just one that could be used on really old and slow hardware. Boy was I wrong!

The default setup of the Xubuntu desktop, as designed by the Xubuntu team, is almost exactly like the default Gnome desktop in Ubuntu. I bet you could exchange someones desktop and (s)he would hardly notice any difference. All the functionality is there, and it’s just as elegant. An additional bonus for those who don’t like Ubuntu’s human theme with its brown/beige colors, Xubuntu’s default color scheme is pretty bluish, very light on the eyes.

I’ve been running with Xubuntu for a few days now. One thing that I’ve noticed — also when running ubuntu-desktop — is that the way the default desktop is set up, with panels at the top and bottom of the screen is not well suited for the Mini 10’s wide 16:9 display. What you really need is screen real estate in the vertical direction, because you tend to scroll a lot, for example in Firefox. On my Kubuntu workstation, I have a 27″ Samsung SyncMaster wide screen, and there I can use the width of the screen to have two applications running side-by-side. But the Mini 10’s monitor is really too tiny to do that.

Another thing is that the desktop looks exactly like that of a workstation, with everything scaled down to a tiny size. It looks neat, but for most people — and especially netbook users who are not familiar with Linux — it’s probably not the best setup.

So, I have played a littlebit today with reorganizing the desktop layout, to make it something of an in-between of UNR and the standard desktop. Here is what I’ve come up with:

Xubuntu running a la UNR

Xubuntu running a la UNR

The panels now appear on the left and right edges of the screen, where there is plenty of real estate. The left panel is “controlling”. At the top is the “Applications” menu, then the snapshot applet I used to make the screenshot (really doesn’t belong there). Third and fourth from the top is “Places” and “Help”, which are also on the standard top panel. Next is the desktop switcher (you really need lots of desktops with this small screen). At the bottom is the applet to hide all the application windows, so you can get to the launcher icons on the root.

The right panel is “informational”. From the top, a clock, a weather applet, the notification window (with Ubuntu One, battery, wifi and bluetooth monitors), and finally at the bottom (not visible on the screenshot) I’ve put the icon box showing running apps on that desktop.

The root window has some applications grouped in “Network”, “Office” and “System” areas. With a customized wallpaper image with labels and squares this could be elaborated even further. I have no need for that though :-).

I am very pleased with the setup as it has developed so far. I think Xubuntu, installed with lpia architecture packages, and with a simplified desktop theme is very close to the ideal setup for a netbook. Perhaps something to consider for the Xubuntu team? An XUNRR package? (Xubuntu UNR Revisited :-))

Ubuntu on the Dell Mini 10 (2)

Posted in Dell Mini 10, Ubuntu by mok0 on May 25, 2009

Great news! The Dell Mini 10 now runs on Ubuntu 9.04 at full nominal resolution of 1024  x  576!

What has happened is that the Ubuntu Mobile Team has compiled and packaged kernel modules, X.org drivers, libraries to interface to kernel DRM services, etc. etc. for the Poulsbo chipset and made them available on their PPA.

Remember from my previous post, that my Mini 10 was running using the VESA driver for X. All I had to do to switch to the psb driver was to create the file /etc/apt/sources.list.d/ubuntu-mobile.list with the following content:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/ubuntu-mobile/ppa/ubuntu jaunty main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/ubuntu-mobile/ppa/ubuntu jaunty main

Then,

apt-get update
apt-get install xserver-xorg-video-psb

and reboot! The Dell Mini 10 then came alive — after a bit of thinking — with the display at the correct resolution, and the little display just looked stunningly bright, crisp and sharp!

This is really great news to the many owners of Dell Mini 10 and 12 — as well as other Poulsbo based netbooks — that want to run Ubuntu Jaunty.

Kudos and many thanks to the Ubuntu Mobile Team for their effort and a job well done!

Ubuntu on the Dell mini 10 (1)

Posted in Dell Mini 10, Ubuntu by mok0 on May 22, 2009

I recently purchased a Dell Mini 10 notebook. I’ve been wanting to get a netbook for some time, and I was planning to one of the Asus EEE series. However, looking at one at the local computer store, I found it a bit “plastic-y”. I’ve always heard that Dell computers have a good build quality, so one morning, on a whim, I ordered a Dell. I told the salesman that I had no use for Windows XP. He said there was no price on it, but gave me a discount of around 26 Euro. My suspicion is that Microsoft allows Dell to install XP for free.

Now that I have it, I’m a bit disappointed in the Dell’s build quality. I find the Mini 10 a bit plastic-y too. But then, I’m used to the solid feel of my PowerBook G4, and in build quality, nothing comes close to Apple I guess.

Apart from that, the Mini 10 has some really nice features, among others I really like the touchpad without buttons. From the Mac, I am used to using gestures on the touchpad, and I can reveal that it works nearly perfectly under Ubuntu 9.04. I also really like the keyboard, which is about the same size as my Cherry 4100 keyboard that I use on my workstations. In fact, everything works… except the graphics… but more on that later.

Initially, I was confused by the fact that Ubuntu recommends that you install the UNR version on all netbooks, but that is for the i386 architecture only, and I wanted to use lpia, because it’s optimized for the Atom processor and has been reported to run better, and give better battery life.

So instead of UNR, I chose to download the MID version of Ubuntu which installs lpia architecture packages.

I put the image file on an USB key following the instructions on the download page . I then booted up the Mini 10 with the pre-installed XP — just to make sure that it worked. When the XP installation came to the point where you have to accept the license, it felt REALLY good to hit the “No” button :-).  The XP install process then rebooted the Mini 10 from the USB key.

So I installed the Ubuntu-MID version, zapping XP with 2 ext4 partitions (/ and /home plus 5Gb swap). Everything went very smooth and the Mini 10 sprung to life.

The MID version by default installs a very simple window manager; it seems to work fine but was unfamiliar to me (and after all, the Mini 10 is not MID device) so I installed ubuntu-desktop. It works very well. (I am actually a Kubuntu user, but KDE4 is not at all suited for the limited resolution on the notebook.)

Every worked out of the box: WiFi, bluetooth, sound, even the little camera. BUT, the machine runs at resolution 800 x 576 so images and fonts look a bit “squished”.  The Mini 10 is based on the Poulsbo chipset and Intel’s GMA-500 graphics chip. There’s been a lot of chatter on the net on the lack of Linux drivers from Intel for these chips. You can google and see for yourself. The situation for Linux is pretty bad, since the Poulsbo chipset is appearing in more and more netbook computers.

To cut a long story short, X does not recognize the GMA-500 graphics chip, so it uses the VESA driver. The native resolution on the Mini 10 is 1024 x 576, but the VESA driver refuses to use that resolution. I have tried various things, i.e. specifying the modeline, but to no avail. X always returns to 800 x 576. So for now, I’ve settled and am using that resolution. Another thing is that there’s no acceleration and glxgears runs pathetically slow (25-30 fps) but the Mini 10 is perfectly usable as a netbook despite of this.

There’s an effort to get drivers for the Poulsbo chipset in shape, hopefully that will result in something soon.