Making Ubuntu 10.10 Netbook suck less

I’m a bit late to the game, but I recently upgraded from Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Netbook edition to 10.10. Like just about everyone else, I hated Unity. The interface in 10.04 is pretty damn good, so I wanted to just go back to that – I wasn’t going to reinstall 10.04 fresh though – you just shouldn’t have to do that with a system that uses apt/dpkg. So, here’s how I got 10.10 to Not Suck:

  • install (or make sure they are installed) netbook-launcher-efl and maximus
  • log in to either “netbook 2D” or “desktop” profiles
  • add netbook-launcher-efl and maximus to the startup applications (System -> Preferences -> Startup Applications)
  • configure nautilus to not show desktop icons. Run gconf editor, go to /apps/nautilus/preferences and untick “show_desktop”

This last one is important – if you don’t do it, then the netbook launcher will start upon login, then disappear to be replaced with the desktop. If you kill it, then restart via a terminal, then it will work fine.

If you log in via the desktop profile then you will also need to muck around with the panels – add a window picker applet, get rid of the extra bars etc.

3G tethering via bluetooth (Ubuntu 10.04, nokia 5800)

I’ve managed to set up 3G tethering of my Nokia 5800 via Bluetooth, which uses the Virgin mobile network in Australia.

Here’s the details:

  • probed, then bound the phone as a modem as per the instructions here
  • then, created a wvdial config file (.wvdialrc) as per here again, with ISP details for virgin taken from this page, with a few mods after experimentation.

This is the .wvdialrc that I use:

[Dialer 3g]
#for bluetooth connection to nokia 5800
# need to establish connection to create rfcomm device first
Modem = /dev/rfcomm2
Baud = 115200
# may not need pin – need to test. this does work though
#Init = ATZ
Init = ATZ+CPIN=”0000″
# specify apn. required for virgin.
Init2 = AT+CGDCONT=1, “IP”, “virgininternet”
# Most services dial with with *99#, a few seem to require *99***1#
Phone = *99#
#need a dummy username/pass here – wvdial won’t work without it.
#virgin doesn’t seem to care what you have
Username = “hello”
Password = “there”

What tricked me was the username and password – don’t need them according to¬†this, however wvdial refused to work without them.

Asus Eee PC 1201PN + Ubuntu 10.04 Netbook edition – review

I’ve finally upgraded from my old Eee PC 900, which was, quite frankly, getting a bit old. I went with the 1201PN primarily for the larger screen. I would have preferred something with a more powerful “conventional” processor, but there just wasn’t anything in my price range suitable. The 1201PN cost me $699 from Myer (I had vouchers) in early June 2010.

The basic specs for the 1201PN are as follows:

  • Intel Atom N450 CPU
  • Nvidia Ion2 graphics
  • 12.1″, 1366*768 gloss screen
  • 2 gig of ram
  • 320 gig 5400rpm hard drive
  • wifi, bluetooth, card reader, hdmi + vga port etc

It came “pre-installed” with Windows 7 Home Premium. The reason for the quotes is that upon first power-up, it had to go through a “configuration” step, which took approximately 20 minutes, several reboots, and resulted in the system hanging, forcing me to power cycle it. I mean, is it that hard to get things working? Not having installed windows since the early XP days (eight years ago or so) I kind of thought things might have improved a bit. Good to see my hatred of windows has not become unfounded.

Anyway, the only reason I even noticed this was I decided to power it up to play while waiting around at the shops before I could go home. Upon getting home, i immediately downloaded the latest Ubuntu. Using usb-creator i created a bootable USB drive. Getting the 1201PN to boot off the USB drive took a bit of fiddling. Some combination of pressing tab, f2 and delete just after power-on displayed the POST screen and allowed me to choose to boot from USB. Note that even after changing the boot order, I still needed to bring up a boot device selection box, as it would not boot straight from the USB device.

Installation of Ubuntu was, as usual, very quick and easy (a lot easier than configuring Windows 7!)

Out of the box things worked pretty well. Wifi, bluetooth, sound, microphone, screen brightness via function keys (fn-f5 and fn-f6) etc.

There are still a number of things that aren’t working:

  • Volume function keys. These don’t work, nor do they show up in xev, so I’m not sure where to from here
  • Screen brightness on resume. resumes to minimum backlight brightness
  • No on screen display (OSD) for any hotkey functions
  • Wifi hotkey – doesn’t turn on/off wifi
  • multitouch. doesn’t seem to work except in a software emulated mode. It is touted as a multi-touch device, and in windows functioned ok (two finger vert/horizontal scroll, zoom in/out, rotate), however i think it might have been software driven. Ubuntu mouse properties allow you to use the zone based vertical scroll, but this really does suck.
  • battery life. Indicated as around 5 hours by power meter. Not sure if perhaps ubuntu isn’t fully using the power saving features of the CPU/chipset. will have to investigate further.

The touchpad is probably the most irritating issue at this point. Doing some investigating, /proc/bus/input/devices lists the touchpad thus:

I: Bus=0011 Vendor=0002 Product=0007 Version=01b1
N: Name="SynPS/2 Synaptics Touchpad"
P: Phys=isa0060/serio1/input0
S: Sysfs=/devices/platform/i8042/serio1/input/input9
U: Uniq=
H: Handlers=mouse1 event9
B: EV=b
B: KEY=420 0 70000 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
B: ABS=11000003

I haven’t looked into the touchpad issue too much, but will hopefully have it resolved and two finger scrolling happening soon.

Overall, Ubuntu works pretty well out of the box. A few minor issues, which hopefully I will sort out in time. I’ll post any updates here as they happen.

UPDATE1:

I have now got volume control function keys working. It seems that the Asus BIOS is a bit stupid in that it will change how it behaves based upon the OS which it is running. Therefore, you need to tell it you’re running linux to get it to send the right keycodes. Instructions came from here, but to summarise, you need to edit /etc/default/grub and add acpi_osi=Linux to the parameter¬†GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT. After you’ve done that, update the grub configuration (sudo update-grub), reboot and volume hotkeys (with OSD) should function.

UPDATE 2:

HD flash video (vimeo, youtube HD etc) doesn’t work under linux, whereas it does under windows. I did some investigation after a query from kajdo, and it looks like the issue is with the flash plugin, not the video driver. I installed the restricted nvidia binary driver (using jockey-gtk), and get good 3D performance in games. Doing some reading, it seems that HD flash video is a feature of the Flash 10.1 plugin for windows – it enables use of the ion acceleration features.

So, basically i think we’re going to have to wait for 3D acceleration support in our flash plugins before we’ll be able to watch HD flash video, damnit.