Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kubuntu 10.04, the aftermath (1)

I've been using Ubuntu since Hoary, which was released 5 years ago. It has always been, and still is, my preferred OS for desktop computing. April 29th the latest LTS version, 10.04, was released. This week, I decided to take it for a spin.
Being able to upgrade / dist-upgrade on a Debian based Linux system, has always been one of the main reasons why I like Ubuntu so much. In Ubuntu's early days, however, breakage was very likely after dist-upgrading your system. dist-upgrading from Hoary (5.04) towards Dapper (6.06) every six months has been a true nightmare. After that experience, I decided to stick with every LTS version (i.e., 6.06, 8.04, 10.04, ...) and reinstall from scratch. Having my home directory on a separate partition, eases this process a lot. Just reinstall Ubuntu (after backing everything up of course), mount the home partition and your done.
Since I became a big fan of KDE, over the years I've been using Linux, I decided to replace my Kubuntu 8.04 (which was, let's face it, crap) with Kubuntu 10.04. The installation went smoothly and in a matter of minutes I had my new, shiny desktop.
My PC is equipped with an ancient NVidia graphics adapter (GeForce 6 series). Kubuntu 10.04 comes with the nouveau graphics driver, which is an open source effort to eliminate the need for NVidia's binary driver which is, of course, closed source. I am a big fan of open source projects and the community surrounding it, but the nouveau driver is nothing compared to NVidia's binary version.
Since the nouveau driver comes preloaded, I had a hard time installing NVidia's binary driver. First, you have to "apt-get remove" all packages named "something-nvidia-something".
dpkg -l | grep nvidia
shows a list of packages that are pre-installed.
Next, you need to blacklist the nouveau driver, so the kernel doesn't load it while booting. To do this, open /etc/module.d/blacklist.conf and append blacklist=nouveau.
After rebooting, in single user mode, you'll see that nouveau isn't loaded and you can safely execute the NVidia installer script.
Once installed, another problem arises. There is currently a bug which makes the splash screen (i.e. the logo and stuff that appear while booting) looks very ugly after installing NVidia's (or ATI's) binary driver. The people from Ubuntu have provided a temporary fix, enabling a splash screen in 16 color mode. IMHO this still looks like crap, so I disabled the splash screen altogether.
Having to blacklist modules to be able to install NVidia's driver and the crappy plymouth screen is, IMHO, unacceptable. Ubuntu supposed to be a user friendly system. Forcing people to use the nouveau driver is unacceptable as well. I am free to choose whatever driver I want for me graphics card, albeit a closed source driver. Using the closed driver increases graphical performance a lot and the desktop and text look much "sharper". Not so much with the open source driver.
The crappy plymouth screen proves, again, that the people from Ubuntu didn't do their homework and forgot there are a lot of users out there using closed source drivers for their graphics card.
All in all, I am still pleased with my 10.04 install. It looks nice and boots very fast on my 5 year old PC. But somehow, I feel like they failed again to release a Linux distribution, ready for the desktop and ready to replace Windows on the desktop. Maybe we'll have to wait for 12.04 :)

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