Ubuntu 11.04 - Notes, Tips and Warnings

As anyone who has any interest in Linux at all knows (and most of those who don't have an interest, for that matter), Ubuntu released version 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" yesterday.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

As anyone who has any interest in Linux at all knows (and most of those who don't have an interest, for that matter), Ubuntu released version 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" yesterday. The Internet is overflowing with reviews and screen shots of the new release at the moment, so I am not going to bother posting YANR (Yet Another Natty Review). I have made a few notes while installing and testing it on various of my notebooks and netbooks, which might be of interest to others or might save someone else some time and frustration, so I will post them.

First, the management summary. Let's get the question of bias out of the way. I am biased. I don't like Natty - in particular, but not exclusively, because I really don't like Unity. I will say up front that the final release is noticeably better than any of the pre-releases has been, so that is a positive point. But I still just don't like it. I will keep it installed on several of my systems, but I can guarantee that it will not be the "default boot" or "operating system of choice" on any of them. Having said that, let's get on with the real information.

- The Ubuntu installer (ubiquity) uses the "new style" scroll bars. This means that you don't actually see the bar unless you are sitting on it, otherwise there is just a small colored line at the side of the window where the scroll bar will appear when the mouse cursor moves there. This can deceive the user into thinking the scroll bar is missing, or the window is "too big", especially if they are working on a netbook and have experienced that kind of problem before, and they are not familiar with the new scroll bars. This happens in the keyboard selection screen, and in the custom disk partitioning screen if you go there.

- When installing on a system which has a Broadcom 4313 WiFi adapter, such as my Samsung and Lenovo netbooks, the Ubuntu Hardware Drivers utility will still offer to install the STA driver for it. DO NOT FALL FOR THIS! The brcm80211 driver is included in the Natty distribution, and it is the correct driver for the 4313. The STA driver has serious performance and reliability problems with the 4313 adapter.

- When installing on my beloved HP 2133 Mini-Note, on first login it informs me that it "does not have the hardware required to run Unity". It will fall back to the "Ubuntu Classic" desktop, which can be permanently selected as described below. That will keep it going for this release, but as thing stand now, when Ubuntu 11.10 comes out, systems like this will be left out in the cold. I hope that changes, because if you are going to demand that users have the latest and greatest hardware, you might as well change your name to Microsoft...

- The only system on which I had a wireless networking problem was the Lenovo S10-3s, and even that was better than it had been with the pre-releases. Basically, there is a kernel module called acer_wmi which interferes with the brcm80211 driver on this system, so you have to go to /etc/modprobe.d and add "blacklist acer_wmi" to the blacklist.conf file. Then reboot, and wireless networking should work normally.

- If you don't want the Unity desktop, or you can't use it as in the case of my HP 2133, after the installation is complete you can select the Gnome 2 desktop. On the login screen, select your login name and then before entering your password click the session selection list at the bottom center of the screen (it probably says "Unity"). Select "Ubuntu Classic", and then go ahead and login. Once you have done this it will stay selected, so you don't need to do it every time - but if you want to go back to Unity, you can select it this way again.

- Improvements in the Unity desktop - the two biggest ones that I noticed were that the side and top panels now auto-hide when necessary, so you don't lose that screen space permanently. This is particularly important on netbooks. Also, it is now possible to simply drag-and-drop icons from the "Applications" window to the side panel to add them there.

- Problems/confusion in the Unity desktop - Applications which have menu bars, such as Firefox, will display those bars in the top Panel of the screen, not in the top of their own window. This can be particularly confusing if the application is not full-screen, it is located somewhere around the bottom of the screen, and you need to get to the menus to get to something like the Firefox "Options" or "Bookmarks / Import-Export".

- You can still suppress the irritating 30-second delay on shutdown or reboot, by using Alt-F2 and then run gconf-editor. I got a bit confused when I did this, because the window that comes up on Alt-F2 looks a lot like the "Applications" window, but it is certainly not the same. In particular, just going to Applications and typing gconf-editor does not produce any interesting results.

- When using the Applications window to start a program, it is a lot easier to just type a bit of the program name - any part will do - and then choose from the list it presents, rather then try to slog through all of the Applications sub-menus to find what you want.

- Don't forget that you can Maximize/Un-Maximize a window by double-clicking its title bar. I find that a convenient short-cut when I keep going to the right corner of the window looking for control buttons. I suppose if I used Ubuntu more these days, I would eventually get over that habit - but I won't, so double-clicking will save me some time.

That's about it for now. Good luck.


Update - I've come across the first piece of useful additional information sooner than I had expected. As I mentioned in the original post, Firefox menus show up on the top Panel (I believe this is called "Global Menus" or some such, and I hate it) rather than in the Firefox window itself. I haven't figured out how to get rid of the Global Menus, but at least I can activate the menus in the Firefox window itself again. Start Firefox, then go to "Tools/Add-ons/Extensions". You should see the "Global Menu Bar Extension" listed there; disable it, and restart Firefox. After restarting you will see the normal menu toolbar. If you want the "new" Firefox 4.0-stype drop-down menus, just go to "View/Toolbars" and de-select the Menubar. You will be left with just the little "Firefox" drop-down tab. Whew.

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