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Running Alpha Karmic on The Thinkpad X301

Karmic Desktop

Buoyed by the success I reported running Karmic on an antiquated X40 (and this positive report), I decided to take the plunge this past weekend and upgrade – against the recommendations of many, given that a beta is still two weeks away – my production laptop, a Thinkpad X301, to an alpha version of Ubuntu’s forthcoming Karmic Koala release. While I would not encourage anyone to follow my example at this juncture, because I’m experiencing the typical growing pains of ever-changing, still alpha software, there is good news.

Herewith, a quick review of Karmic in its pre-release state.

What Works

Pretty much everything, happily. While it must be acknowledged that I did an in place upgrade rather than a fresh install, and thus am not subject to some of the more aggressive fundamental changes such as the default filesystem, the upgrade experience was relatively painless. With the exception of the bluetooth modules, which I have yet to test but are detected properly, all of the on board hardware is supported seamlessly and out of the box. Wifi, audio, suspend, the video hardware: all good, for the most part. Even the famously problematic on board Ericsson F3507g WWAN card is working for me as of the 2.6.31-10 kernel. Indeed, this post is coming to you via the magic of that function.

What Doesn’t Work (and How to Fix It)

With the caveat that many, if not most of these, are because I’m running alpha software, here are a couple of gotchas.

  • Banshee:
    Certain applications seem to make Karmic mad, and Banshee – version 1.4 – is one of them. My instance would start up and play music, but crash when I did nothing more significant than clicking on a playlist. The fix seems to be upgrading to 1.5. It’s not in the official repositories yet, but there’s a PPA with daily builds available for Karmic users here.
  • Compiz/Intel Video:
    This will vary from hardware platform to hardware platform, but the Intel Video drivers have been iffy recently and Karmic continues this trend. One day Compiz – or now Compiz-Fusion in Karmic – will work, the next it will be broken and you’ll be left with a sad, no-effects desktop. When it breaks, it can be disruptive, because I depend on seamless and fast switching between multiple desktops. The fix for this, unfortunately, is to wait for updates; I’ve tried all manner of Xorg.conf manipulation and driver swapping, but it’s safest just to wait for a working update.
  • Firefox:
    This one is my fault rather than Karmic’s. The new Ubuntu version, as is standard with each release, upgrades the Firefox instance from the 3.0 that shipped with Jaunty to the latest and greatest 3.5.3. As part of that upgrade process, I made the mistake of having it import my settings – bookmarks, etc – from my 3.0 release rather than the other 3.5 build I’d installed from the PPA here. Rather than seek to correct this problem through importing backups, I decided to solve the problem with Weave, Mozilla’s browser syncing plugin. Directing Weave to erase my local data and replace it with that it had stored in the cloud, it successfully completed the first task but failed at the second. Unable to sync the data successfully from the cloud, I’m thus left with a hollowed out Firefox 3.5 – one with its memory wiped, and nothing to replace it. To their credit, the Weave team has been very responsive on Twitter and email, but in the meantime, I’m relying on Chromium more heavily than ever.
  • NetworkManager:
    NetworkManager – what most users will know as the wifi applet in the upper right hand corner – has undergone a few changes in Karmic, most notably being migrated from an /etc/init.d script to an Upstart job. NetworkManager may or may not come back for you laptop users after suspend; in the event that it fails, try sudo /etc/init.d/network-manager start instead of the old sudo /etc/init.d/NetworkManager start. This has worked for me thus far.
  • Suspend/Resume:
    I claimed above that suspend/resume works and so it does. The catch is that while the machine resumes properly, not everything else comes back so gracefully. I’ve had issues with everything from Window Decorations as discussed below to NetworkManager when returning from suspend. It can be messy coming back, although it’s gotten better with the last few days updates. The fix here depends on what’s wrong, of course.
  • Window Decorations:
    I am periodically losing my Window Decorations – the top borders of windows – following a resume from suspend or a straight restart. This is problematic not only aestheically but functionally, because you lose the ability to move applications around the desktop. The fix, fortunately, is simple: head to Appearance under System, click the last tab, “Visual Effects” and select Normal or Extra. This may fail, but even if so it will act to reboot, so to speak, the GUI and in so doing it’s restored my Window Decorations every time.

Look and Feel

I’ve argued for a while now that one of Canonical’s primary contributions to the Linux distribution world is in the polish, the look and feel of the desktop. Karmic continues this tradition, with an attractive, aesthetically pleasing UI. While some of the decisions – the introduction of the Growl-like notification system, for example – have been controversial in some quarters, I find them to be welcome additions to a rapidly improving user experience.

To that same end, I’ve made two changes to my desktop in recent weeks that might be of interest to others running Ubuntu. First, I changed from the now-standard Dust theme to the more refined if unfortunately named “Wild Shine.” You can pick that and other newer eye candy themes from the PPA here. The other change I’ve made has been in the font department. For the first time since I started using Ubuntu I’ve strayed from the default Sans and Sans Mono fonts to the Red Hat authored Liberation Sans and Liberation Sans Mono fonts. A small change, to be sure, but one I’m happy with.

Ubuntu still is not, in my mind, a match for the top to bottom polish of an OS X, but the days of Linux desktops being boxy and unattractive – the old Volvo of the desktop world – are over, in my opinion. Those were the days.

Categories: Desktop, Linux.

  • Stephen Pierzchala

    You provide motivation!

    Time to convert the Dell Latitude D610 back to Ubuntu from Windows 7 RC


  • Mugatu

    Gnome has only one look, for Christ’s sake! Bamboo? Exotic? Wild Shine? They’re the same theme! Doesn’t anybody notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

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  • Tim Williams

    Very useful thanks. Did you get a chance to measure battery life? Using powertop with Jaunty, my X301 consumes about 15W with 3G broadband active, Compiz and maximum brightness.

  • Anthony

    I’ve been running karma on about 5 machines – all seem to work fine with a few issues with sound.

    I grabbed one of the ACER Revo NVIDIA ION boxes – very nice….

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