Category Archives: Gnome 3.x

New Laptop

(If you’re not into Linux and don’t know what “Wayland” is, I’d suggest you to skip this post.)

I’ve bought a new laptop to replace my aging Dell XPS 15, a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9. The XPS is good, make no mistake about it, but I wanted something lighter with a better battery life on Linux, and the X1 Carbon fit the bill. I also went full Linux this time. No Windows partition this time, just the latest Ubuntu, even though I’ve been trying out different desktops because I want Wayland rather than X11, and Cinnamon is not moving to Wayland anytime soon.

A few obstacles:

The Lenovo customer support is atrocious. My 4k screen was delivered with the standard black lid rather than the carbon fiber woven one, which does seem like a very minor complaint, and initially I treated it like one. Lenovo did the same. First no-one wanted to take responsibility, then I was told I was wrong because a screenshot of the current state of the Lenovo web shop suggested otherwise, and finally I was sent back and forth between sales and support, and this is where I am right now. They’ll get back to me really soon now, I’m sure.

The new Intel graphics chip is not well supported on Linux. It lags behind, with a characteristic wait-what-did-he-just-click-on half a second when deciding to use the touchpad. A mouse connected through a dock doesn’t have this problem.

Gnome 40 (which I installed through a PPA since Ubuntu 21.04 doesn’t include it) is just too different. I like the gestures, and the Wayland implementation actually feels like it’s getting somewhere, but the PPA is buggy and the DE is just too different.

KDE 5.22 on Wayland (installed through a backport PPA) is very cool but XWayland doesn’t seem to scale properly if your laptop is HiDPI, which mine is, so anything rendered through it is blurry if scaled. Non-scaled output is great, though. KDE 5.22 on X11 does look good, though, and I am thinking about moving back to KDE again.

Cinnamon looks great on X11, of course, but there is no Wayland. Also, there is that weird lag.

I guess 2021 won’t be the year of the Linux desktop either.


Linux Ready for the Desktop and All That

My recent XML Prague presentation ran from a Linux partition, the first time in a while I’ve used Linux for presenting anything. The reasoning was simple; I’d developed the accompanying demo on Linux, on a server on localhost, so it would be much easier to just write a presentation in Open Office than to move the demo to something else.

It wasn’t.

I’d fixed every bug in the demo, styled my web pages in an aesthetically pleasing manner (well, for me), and carefully prepared an XML Prague presentation project in oXygen with only the files I would need to show, making sure that they’d fit without scrolling when projected in a lower resolution. I’d bookmarked the important code, and I’d folded everything else. My demo was in great shape.

What I didn’t do beforehand (even though I actually meant to) was to test my Linux laptop in dual screen mode, mirroring the laptop screen to an external monitor using that lower projector resolution. That, of course, was what failed.

My talk was immediately after a coffee break so I figured I’d hook up my laptop immediately after the last talk before the break and test all this. How hard could it be?

Well, no mirroring in that lower resolution. Mirroring in a higher one (the laptop’s native resolution) was possible but of course, the projector wouldn’t work in that resolution. They usually don’t. Dual screen mode, outputting two different screens, didn’t work because I wouldn’t be able to see on my laptop’s screen what was being projected for the audience. I tested pretty much every setting there was but to no avail.

And then the (Gnome) window manager decided it couldn’t take the abuse any longer and crashed.

I rebooted into KDE, hoping it would fare better, but all I got for my troubles was another crash. Not the same software, mind, but something or the other in KDE. I hadn’t really tried anything very dramatic, I’d simply changed the display modes a few times.

So I rebooted again and accepted my faith, booting into Gnome and using the dual screen mode where I’d be flying blind unless twisting my head all the way back like that poor girl in The Exorcist, trying to run the demo from the laptop’s touchpad in front of me while hurting my neck to see the results on the large screen behind and above me.

If you’ve watched the conference video (second day, about 7 or 8 hours into the file), you now know why.

My laptop is not particularly fancy or modern. It’s a 3-yo Thinkpad with an Nvidia Optimus graphics card, the kind that includes what was then a high-end Nvidia card and a low-end Intel card, the idea being that you use the former for the graphics-intensive stuff while reserving the latter for the 2D desktop stuff. It still doesn’t work properly in Linux so I only use an Nvidia only mode. It’s not something I blame the Linux developers for–the Optimus is proprietary and thus not something easily handled in open source–but it is what it is and quite common.

But other than that, there is nothing very special about my laptop. It just works, mostly. Well, it should.

So is Linux ready for the desktop yet?

Evolution/KDE/Gnome Rant

I’ve been running Evolution as my email/calendar/groupware/etc solution in Debian and KDE 4.6 at work ever since I gave up on Windows for anything beyond PowerPoint presentations and such. In spite of the Novell Groupwise server misery that we are forced to live with at Condesign, Evolution does the job. I’ve actually managed to synch my mail and appointments with both my trusty N900 and an Android thingy that the company wants to be my primary work phone, and have been if not pleased then at least content with the situation.

I should add that using a KDE solution (KMail/Kontact) has never worked for me. I can’t get Kontact to log in to the Groupwise server, no matter what.

Anyway, unfortunately a recent apt-get update did… something. I’m still able to read my email in Evolution but the calendar and address book both crash with a DBus error whenever I try to view or use them. The usual suspects, from deleting caches to looking for non-UTF-8 characters in calendar ICS files, do not seem to apply and upgrading or downgrading Evolution doesn’t help either. The problem seems to be more fundamental.

Yesterday, however, I booted into Gnome rather than KDE, mostly because I was bored and wanted to see what Gnome 3.x is like. Thing is, for some inexplicable reason Evolution now runs without a hitch. Calendars, address lists, everything. No crashes, no DBus errors.

Now, I’ve used KDE for years, preferring it over Gnome because the latter always feels a bit patronising to me. Gnome is like a Linux equivalent to OSX, built on the assumption that users are all idiots and the inner workings-on of a computer should always be kept hidden so the user is not unnecessarily confused with anything even remotely technical.

Yet, OSX, for the most part, does the job. It just works, which I discovered recently when setting up a MacBook Pro for my daughter. It had no problem finding and configuring our home network HD and printer (tricky subjects for our Windows and Linux boxes, for some reason), and even displayed a nice image of the exact printer model to help me install it. Pretty cool, actually.

And this is what Gnome 3.x seems to focus on also, on just working. Yes, it feels a bit dumbed down, but it really seems to just work. I even think that I could learn to live with the 3.x GUI.

And I got my calendar back.