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Ubuntu 8.10

10 December 2008 12:34:55 non-military service, rant

I was lucky to get to work at department of computer science at University of Helsinki for the duration of my non-military service. I've spent most of my time doing two things: instructing -- that is, not teaching -- course on database applications and working on Ubuntu-based Linux distribution that will replace CSL2, RedHat-based Linux distribution used here at the department. Working on CSL3 (to be renamed) has been mostly rather smooth -- until my personal experiences with Ubuntu 8.10.

When I arrived at the University seven weeks ago I installed current version of CSL3 on my workstation. After completing the install by installing FVWM, zsh, rxvt and ALSA-patched sidplay2, I was quite pleased with the systems. Things just worked right. After all, I had been using very similar configuration back home with Debian for years. Last friday I did the mistake of upgrading Ubuntu 8.04 to 8.10.

X and keyboard
Suddenly the keyboard started sending keycodes different from ones on Ubuntu 8.04 -- or any IBM-PC-compatible Linux-boxes I've tried so far. This meant that my xmodmap changes broke all AltGr-keys such as @ (at), ^ (caret), | (pipe) and \ (backslash) buttons. Less significantly, End button and left and down arrow keys no did what they were supposed to do. Without my xmodmap modifications things worked mostly. I never figured a way to fix the keycodes or why they had changed so I had to work around this by creating alternative xmodmap for changed keycodes and by writing a Perl-script to rewrite my xmodmap file to fix changed modifiers.
GDM and xsession
For whatever reason my ~/.xsession no longer worked. At first it seemed that whatever I did, my Xsession exited as quickly as it started. Perhaps my ~/.xsession was broken all along, but magically it worked before. While I fixed the thing, I also made it to work on multiple systems where Fvwm, rxvt, and zsh may not be available.
Audio
Applications such as alsamixer and ALSA-patched version of sidplay2 now defaulted to using PulseAudio. While being technically neat, PulseAudio seems to be an endless source of trouble. Not only does it hide all the controls from the application, but it also has tendency to crash few times a day. Fortunately when that happens I only need to kill it manually, restart it, and restart all applications using ALSA... When I first logged in to by shiny new Ubuntu 8.10 based distribution, the sound was so quiet that I could barely hear a thing. pavucontrol didn't allow changing master volume but eventually I was told that widget on gnome-panel allowed me to do that. How convenient for a user who shuns GNOME.

I have now spend about one working day to fix things Ubuntu 8.10 broke. When people have asked me which Linux distribution to install I have recommended Ubuntu most of the time with a note that I use Debian myself. I'm starting to wonder if have to reconsider.

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