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The Ubuntu Diaries
Part III




Introduction

Adam wearing Lubuntu shirt

This is my account of using the Ubuntu and Lubuntu computer operating systems, as well as other free software.

On I acquired a used Dell PC to run the Linux-based Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn. Because of the success in using Ubuntu, on I reformatted the remaining Windows XP computer and installed Ubuntu 8.04 LTS on it, going Windows-free.

I didn't miss Windows at all, in fact I have been far better off without it. Linux is free, works better, is more stable and doesn't run viruses or spyware. It does everything I want to do and has been a perfect solution for my computing needs.

This is the third page of my Ubuntu Diaries and describes my experiences with Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr and later. You will have to go to the bottom of the first page that covers Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty Fawn to Ubuntu 10.04 LTS Lucid Lynx, to see the beginning of the story. The Ubuntu Diaries Part II covers Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat to Ubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander.


Entries




New Menus for Chromium 59

By Adam Hunt

I have long criticized the settings menus used in Chromium (and Chrome) as "messy, poorly laid out, confusing and seem to be designed to make sure users can't find where the cookies are stored and manage them", so I was quite exciting to find that Chromium 59 shipped with redesigned menus. It really is long past time to fix this problem once and for all and make the menus easier to use.

The new menus have a very sleek-looking design, but is is readily apparent that it is mostly just new packaging on the old poor organization. In fact the new menus now bury stuff in multiple menu layers, if anything making it harder and more confusing to find things like where the cookies are stored.

These new menus are not an improvement and Google and the Chromium developers really need to go back to the drawing board and start over from scratch, this time designing the settings menus to allow users to actually use them, instead of preventing it.

My Previous Chromium/Chrome Reviews

Three Bad Sectors

By Adam Hunt

My desktop computer has been giving me trouble since 09 August 2016 when it refused to boot after an update. It did it again on 12 April 2017. In both cases I had to re-install the operating system to get it working right again.

I had assumed it was a software issue, but it seems instead to have been hardware. One clue to the problem was that Disks showed three bad sectors on the hard drive. Presumably when an update was written to one of those, it resulted in a no-boot condition.

I read though David Fisher's How to correctly test a hard disk drive on Frugal Computing Plus and also consulted with him by email. We decided that the best idea was to make a disk image, run Badblocks from the command line in a live DVD session to check and hopefully repair the hard drive and if that didn't work, replace the hard drive instead.

I tried using Disks to create a disk image, both in regular session and from a Lubuntu live DVD session and it just created errors instead. I just did several back-ups and decided to press on.

Badblocks would not run until the hard drive swap partition was turned off using GParted, right clicking on the partition and selecting "swapoff". I then ran Badblocks from the command line in a live DVD session:

sudo badblocks -wsvb 1024 -c 512 /dev/sda

It took about 20 hours to do its prescribed eight checks on the 1TB hard drive, so it ran all day and overnight. The next day it reported no errors and Disks also reported that the three bad blocks were no longer there, so presumably Badblocks fixed them. I re-installed Lubuntu 16.04 LTS and my documents, and everything seems to be working fine now.

Many thanks go to David Fisher and his Frugal Computing Plus website. It is a great resource!


uBlock Origin, Web Browser Wide-Spectrum Blocker Extension

By Adam Hunt

, updated

With Firefox 52 ALSA audio broken, I had recently switched to using Chromium as a web browser.

Chromium works really well these days, but my preferred privacy extension, Privacy Badger did not work at all on Chromium. That sent me looking for a replacement.

The problem

Some people have tried to make a case that using blockers is "censoring" what the webpage designer intended or even "theft" of revenue from web companies. Raymond Hill says:

using a blocker is NOT theft. Don't fall for this creepy idea. The ultimate logical consequence of blocking = theft is the criminalisation of the inalienable right to privacy. Ads, "unintrusive" or not, are just the visible portions of privacy-invading apparatus entering your browser when you visit most sites nowadays."

While it is tempting to go without some sort of blocking extension, these days it just isn't safe to do so. The proliferation of "malvertising" (malicious online advertising) that exploded in 2016 just makes that a non-starter. In one particularly ironic case, involving Forbes, the website begged people to turn off their ad-blockers or risk putting the site out of business through lack of advertising revenue and then when people turned it off, they got malware served up, via pop-up ads.

Advertising networks don't properly screen what their customers upload and many websites just indiscriminately subscribe to multiple advertising networks. That all means that advertising networks have become the new malware vector of choice and blocking them is the only sensible way to go. On top of that, a good blocker makes pages load faster, without the extra junk being loaded and cuts down on-line tracking.

Choices

With Privacy Badger not working on Chromium, I tried out AdBlock Plus and it worked quite well, although it is a bit of a resource hog for RAM and CPU power at times. AdBlock Plus also has an "acceptable ads" policy, under which it charges fees to whitelist some ads, something that some users find objectionable philosophically and that has also been described as "extortion" and "a protection racket". The "acceptable ads" feature can easily be turned off, though.

A friend in the UK recommended uBlock Origin on his Frugal Computing Plus website and so I recently gave it a try.

uBlock Origin is a fork of the now-no-longer-developed uBlock. Raymond Hill was founder of both. uBlock Origin was originally called µBlock, for its "micro" footprint, but that name confused people how to pronounce it. It is often referred to as uBlock0 or even uBO, for short.

Hill says of the project's aims:

uBlock Origin is NOT an "ad blocker": it is a wide-spectrum blocker -- which happens to be able to function as a mere "ad blocker". The default behavior of uBlock Origin when newly installed is to block ads, trackers and malware sites.

uBlock Origin is free software, released under a GPL 3.0 licence and is available for Chrome, Chromium, Edge, Firefox and Safari. Of note, Hill and the team refuse all donations. He explains this:

I don't want the administrative workload coming with donations. I don't want the project to become in need of funding in any way: no dedicated home page + no forum = no cost = no need for funding. I want to be free to move onto something else if ever I get tired working on these projects (no donations = no expectations).

Now that is what I call being independent, even of your users!

Firefox currently indicates that the extension has 3,445,467 users, while Chrome/Chromium has 8,484,135 users. That is 12 million users on just those two browser families.

Installation

Installing uBlock Origin is simple, as it is in the Chrome Web Store and the Firefox Add-Ons. One pitfall if you search for it is that there are imitators, some of which may be malware, so beware and ensure you get "uBlock Origin offered by Raymond Hill (gorhill)". Frugal Computing Plus has more on this issue.

Use

As with all Chrome/Chromium extensions, the user has to enable uBlock Origin for incognito pages on the Chrome/Chromium extensions page at Menu→More Tools→Extensions.

uBlock Origin has a lot of available documentation all linked from the Git Hub page including a complete help wiki.

The interface allows a lot of customizing, allowing many block lists to be added, blocking modes to be chosen and lots of settings to be tweaked, but fortunately it works just fine in the default Easy Mode. It is quite possible to just install uBlock Origin and then forget about it, as it works in the background.

After some testing on some stubborn websites, I decided to activate all the ad, privacy and social filters and those seem to have improved the blocking performance quite a bit. The interface does allow the easy addition of extra filters, with just a few check-boxes clicked.

Performance

In operational use uBlock Origin works at least as well as AdBlock Plus does. Even though Hill describes and provides graphs showing that it has lighter RAM usage than AdBlock Plus, in my own testing I have found some situations where that isn't the case. uBlock Origin's use of separate processes in Chromium's regular and incognito modes means it sometimes uses more RAM than AdBlock Plus does under the same circumstances.

In testing it against AdBlock Plus I found in general that uBlock Origin is comparable, but it does offer more customization and so is worth switching to for that reason alone.

Reviews

In a review by Martin Brinkmann of Ghacks Technology News in 2014, he wrote:

The first thing you will notice is that [uBlock Origin] uses less memory than HTTP Switchboard and a lot less than AdBlock Plus...The extension's main appeal is its ease of use and its low resource usage. If you run Chrome on a low to mid-end device and notice slow downs while running AdBlock Plus or another adblocker of choice, you may want to give this a try to see if it improves the situation for you.

Alan Henry of LifeHacker in 2015 wrote:

There's no getting around the fact that as useful as AdBlock Plus is, it's probably one of the most memory-intensive add-ons you can install. In Chrome, [uBlock Origin is] a dramatic improvement in memory usage, and you get the same protection, to boot.

Barry Levine of Marketing Land noted in 2015:

uBlock Origin, for desktops and mobile, has seen the fastest growth of any such blocker in the 10-month period from November of last year to this past August: a whopping 833 percent, per the comScore survey.

Daniel Rubino of Windows Central wrote in 2016 about it being made available as an extension for Microsoft Edge:

The popular alternative to Ad Block and Ad Block Plus used less CPU and memory and was ported by Nik Rolls as an open source side project.
Summary

So far uBlock Origin seems to be a very good blocker for Chromium, with only advantages and no disadvantages in its use.


Firefox 52 Breaks Audio on Lubuntu

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Firefox 52 arrived in the Ubuntu repositories on , and so I took some time out from testing Chromium to see how it worked. It didn't take long to discover that the audio was broken, with Firefox suggesting, via a browser pop-up bar, that I needed to install PulseAudio to the fix the problem, as ALSA audio is no longer supported.

Background

Doing some digging around I discovered some background on this issue:

Community documentation

Linux Firefox users reacted with many bug reports, forum discussions and some articles in the tech media.

Here are the relevant bug reports:

Here are some of the many discussions:

Here are some of the tech media articles:

User reaction

Many people in the various bug reports and discussions have noted that PulseAudio has problems with things like latency and lagging, resampling side effects, high RAM usage and stability that make it undesirable to install. Some users report that even with PulseAudio installed, Firefox still has no audio, while others say it works. Most of the people on the forums and bug reports are just indicating that they have switched browsers to Chrome, Chromium, Vivaldi, Palemoon or other alternatives.

In a Firefox bug discussion Thomas Wisniewski said:

I'm sure I'm not the only one would rather not suffer PulseAudio on their systems, given that Firefox would be the only software (including other browsers) that would have it as a hard requirement (and given that PulseAudio still does not run well on some of the systems where I use Firefox as my main browser).

In a forum discussion Hugh Jorgen summed up many Linux users feelings:

"[Mozilla] are trying to deprecate ALSA support and make people use PulseAudio. New binaries don't have ALSA. I'm really starting to dislike those zealots...they deliberately sabotaged ALSA for my build (well, surreptitiously disabled), So thanks assholes, I now have no audio. I'm not recompiling this again... I'll just use my old Chromium, which actually works better because I have some working hardware acceleration. They are leaving no reason whatsoever to use their software. Pretty soon I won't even be installing it on Windows XP computers, because they are dropping support for that too...they don't think it's a significant enough number to care about. For many years they've cared more about development on Windows anyway. The Windows binaries are their primary product."
Mozilla's issue handling

The bug seems to be quite political in nature. Mozilla made the decision to drop ALSA support, knowing that some Linux users are not using, or cannot use, PulseAudio. The decision was made mostly based upon data obtained from Firefox telemetry. However this data turns out to not have been reliable, as the Mozilla developers were not aware that many Linux distributions turn off telemetry for privacy reasons, including Puppy Linux and the Ubuntu family, including the version supplied to Lubuntu users. Lubuntu 16.04 LTS users probably make up the largest single group affected by this bug and probably number about two million people. Many of these users affected are very long term Firefox loyalists and naturally those users now feel abandoned by Mozilla.

The Mozilla developer responsible for originally spearheading the drive to remove ALSA support, Anthony Jones, has been completely dismissive of the issue. He replied on 15 March 2017 to many of the comments and questions raised in Mozilla Bug 134661. His opening statement summarizes where Mozilla is going with this as he says, "TL;DR We're trying to do what is best for Linux and Firefox, so please file bugs if you have Pulse Audio issues." Jones has made it clear that Mozilla isn't going to fix this; they want users to install PulseAudio.

On 15 March 2017, Mike Hoye, Mozilla's engineering community manager, wrote that he didn't like the community response to the bug and that he would close the bug to outside contributors if people continued complaining. Just six hours later he cut off all outside input to the discussion. This all seems to contradict Mozilla Manifesto Principle 8, which commits the organization to "transparent community-based processes [that] promote participation, accountability and trust." With all user input to the bug cut off and only Jones allowed to post to the bug, he was able to dismiss everyone's objections in a response post that will probably be the "last word" on this bug. About restoring ALSA support he said "That isn't going to happen. Sorry." He also says "the machine I use most often is a 3 year old $500 HP Pavillion i3 based machine running Windows 10". It seems that the Linux users just got steamrollered.

On Mozilla's Botond Bello asked the developers to reconsider the decision, on the original discussion group, based on all the new information now available, but Anthony Jones simply replied, "No. It is now too late."

On 29 May 2017 Jones closed the Mozilla bug as "wontfix".

Lubuntu action

Given that the default browser in Lubuntu 16.04 LTS, Firefox, was left with no audio with the default audio installation, ALSA, it was pretty clear that the Lubuntu development team had to take steps to fix this in the LTS release, since Mozilla isn't going to fix it.

One member of the Lubuntu developer list agreed that Lubuntu action is needed, as Simon Quigley brought it up there on 22 March 2017. By the next day the developers had discussed it off line and come up with a plan. This involved re-enabling ALSA support in Firefox, checking that it stays enabled in future builds and looking at a replacement browser for Lubuntu 16.04 LTS for when Firefox ALSA coding is removed, sceduled then for .

This solution was actually implemented late on when the Ubuntu package maintainers released 52.0.2+build1-0ubuntu0.16.04.1 which had been recompiled with ALSA re-enabled. Since this problem started with the release on 08 March 2017 of Firefox 52.0, this fix happened in 22 days, at least for Lubuntu users.

Predictably that fix also turned out to be temporary, as Mozilla went ahead with its plans to remove the ALSA code in the release of Firefox 55, which Ubuntu users got on 15 August 2017. This made it impossible for the Ubuntu developers to put out a fixed version of Firefox for ALSA users. The Ubuntu developer's build notes said, "Disable ALSA backend for Firefox 55 because it makes the build failure. This will remain disabled until somebody steps up to maintain it."

User solutions

During the 22 days that this issue was outstanding on Lubuntu, users had the choice of installing PulseAudio and seeing if it worked or not and filing bugs if it didn't, or switching to another browser.

When this issue first came up, my first inclination was to just install PulseAudio, but I didn't do this on the basis that there was a reason that the Lubuntu developers didn't just include it with Lubuntu 16.04 LTS. Since I was already testing Chromium, which was just upgraded to version 56, I checked it and its audio works fine with just ALSA.

I decided that it would be better to just keep using Chromium and see what happened in terms of updates and fixes for Firefox on Lubuntu, rather than try to fix this myself, mostly because I didn't have to rush into it, having a serviceable alternate browser to use. Once I started using Chromium I quickly discovered that I liked it better than Firefox and just kept using it.

Market Impact

It is interesting to look at the browser market share data for the month when this issue hit users and see what impact it had on Firefox use.

Stats Counter data shows that between the end of and the end of , Firefox's market share fell from 6.73% to 6.30%, a loss of 0.43% of the total browser market, indicating about 6% of Firefox users stopped using it in those two months. The Stats Counter data shows that Firefox has lost half its market share since August 2014, a period of 21 months. At the current rate it will have no users left by January 2019.

In the same period W3 Counter showed a rather sharp drop from 9% to 6.3%, a loss of 2.7% of the total browser market, indicating 30% of Firefox users stopped using it during the two month period. The W3 Counter data also shows that Firefox lost more than half its users between September 2016 and April 2017, a period of only eight months. At this rate they will have no users left by December 2017.

In the same period Chrome and Safari use were up. The next couple of months will show whether this trend continues.

It is worth noting that StatsCounter shows Firefox had a peak market share of 31.82% in and W3Counter shows Firefox peaked at 34.1% in .

Conclusions

The Mozilla developers broke Firefox for ALSA users and the Lubuntu developers, in conjunction with the Ubuntu package maintainers fixed it, at least for now.

Overall this was a fairly minor technical issue that was not that hard to fix, but Mozilla handled this very poorly right from the start and has now lost the confidence of a portion of its Linux user community over this. They should have communicated this impending change to the users in advance, as well as reached out to main distros that would be affected, like Lubuntu and Puppy Linux, and let the developers there know, so operating system fixes could have been made coincident with Firefox 52's release. Then they could have also at least described what they had done in the Firefox 52 release notes at the time of the release and not wait until user complaints compelled them to add that. These small steps could have mitigated much of the bewilderment and anger expressed and much of the loss of market share Mozilla is now seeing as a result. Instead this whole issue was done almost in secret, no notice given and then when a bug was opened, the users were basically told to shut up. Linux users don't respond well to that sort of approach, as it is perceived as being arrogant. For a non-profit company that relies on a large user base for donations and also to be able to get corporate search sponsorships, this seems all very shortsighted. As one OMG commenter said, "what a fiasco was the bug tracker [response] about it. [Mozilla] pretty much consider their userbase THE dumbest individuals in the universe."

I am going to continue to follow this issue, including how it impacts the longer term Firefox market share statistics, and update this article as new information arises.


A Look at Chromium 55

By Adam Hunt

, updated

It has been three and a half years since I last used Chrome or Chromium. Back then Chrome was at version 29.0.1547.57 and I wasn't all that impressed with how far it had been developed and indicated then that it had too many drawbacks to be recommended over the current version of Firefox, which was then 23.0. I haven't used it since then.

Recently though I had trouble with a web page for changing a password in Firefox 51.0.1, as the page would just not display. I tried it in Chromium via live DVD session and it worked. I thought it might be time to give Chromium another try and see how far it has come in addressing the problems it had.

I should point out that Chromium is the free software version of Chrome. Chromium is released under a BSD licence, whereas Chrome is under Google Terms of Service, making it proprietary freeware. The main difference between the two browsers, other than the logo, is that Chrome includes Pepper Flash, a non-free version of Adobe Flash.

Installation

I installed Chromium from the Ubuntu repositories from the command line, which was as easy as:

$ sudo apt install chromium-browser
Set-up

I went through Chromium's menus and set it up to work the way I like, setting a home page, search and so on. As in 2013, the menus are still messy, poorly laid out, confusing and seem to be designed to make sure users can't find where the cookies are stored and manage them.

I selected Menu→Settings→Show advanced settings→Privacy→Content settings→Block third party cookies. I also set Chromium to clear cookies when the browser is closed and checked "Send a 'Do Not Track' request with your browsing traffic", for whatever that is worth.

I also disabled the following settings as they transmit data to Google, which can be a privacy issue:

I also disabled "Use a prediction service to load pages more quickly" as it just wastes bandwidth pre-loading pages you will probably never visit.

Setting up search for anything other than the default Google Search can be quite hard to do and requires some persistence. I did finally get DuckDuckGo set, using DuckDuckGo's own instructions.

Privacy Badger

Initially the only extension I added was Privacy Badger - the web browser privacy extension, which I also have on Firefox. It has to be configured to allow it to also work in Chromium's incognito mode in Menu→Settings→Extensions.

Over a few weeks of using it Privacy Badger has been behaving oddly on Chromium for me, so I did some experiments. What I have noticed in checking the cookies saved is that with Chromium set to block third party cookies and Privacy Badger "on" I was seeing quite a number of third party advertising and tracking cookies showing up as "saved" anyway. Privacy Badger also indicated that it never blocked any cookies at all, always showing "green" for everything. I ran it for a few days with Privacy Badger "off" and Chromium alone is keeping all those cookies out. I think that there is some odd interaction between the Chromium cookie settings that I have and Privacy Badger that is causing a sort of "cookie leakage". Chromium seems to do a better job alone, without Privacy Badger installed.

AdBlock Plus

With Chromium's settings blocking all the third party cookies and Privacy Badger not working well, I decided to try AdBlock Plus to gain some of the advantages that Privacy Badger provides on Firefox. AdBlock Plus is free software under GPLv3, that blocks most advertising, including banner ads, pop-ups, Facebook tracking and YouTube video ads as well. In fact it blocks more than Privacy Badger did on Firefox. One good feature is it blocks potential malvertising which has done things like spread ransomware through infected web ads. It also causes pages to load faster, since much of the non-desired advertising doesn't get loaded and that saves bandwidth too. Its only downside is it can use a fair amount of RAM and also spikes the CPU as pages are loaded.

I also tried out uBlock Origin, a lower resource bloking extension, and have a seperate write-up about it.

Features

While Chromium has a generally nicely laid out and simple interface, it not very customizable, with only a few elements that a user can change. I like a very clean interface, so it would be nice to remove a few of the extra UI elements.

Spell-checking on longer form pages works just fine, something that Firefox can't handle. Firefox just quits spell-checking at some point down the page, while Chromium keeps going to the bottom of the page, no matter how long the form data. This is very handy for editing things like Wikipedia articles, especially long ones.

Chromium 55 includes an integral PDF reader that has been part of the browser since Chromium 47, after Google open-sourced its previously closed-source PDF viewer. The PDF viewer is very simple with minimal controls, but it works well. A number of features are not indicated in the on-screen controls, but are accessed by right-click menus. This goes for a number of features in Chromium, like title bars and such. If you can't find the control listed in the menus, try a right click, as a control just might be there.

Tab overflow on Chromium is well-handled. Adding lots of tabs keeps each one visible, but they get smaller and smaller. Other browsers. like Firefox, will compress the tabs for a bit and then move them off to the right out of sight, which is not as good a solution.

One nice feature is when using right click to open new links in an incognito window, Chromium makes them all new tabs in a single incognito window. Firefox makes each one a new window, which is messy.

Another nice feature is "paste as plain text", available from a right click. This allows copying website text into emails with making a formatting mess of them and saves having to use an intermediary application, like a text editor to do this.

As in the past, Chromium often doesn't find bookmarks when searching from the URL bar. Sometimes you have to type in the whole URL complete before it will find it in the bookmarks list. You can always pick it from the bookmarks menu, which is displayed in a tab from Ctrl+shift+O or from the "other bookmarks" menu on the bookmarks bar.

Chromium uses most of the normal browser keyboard shortcuts, such as Ctrl+shift+T to reopen a recently closed tab, although a new incognito window is Ctrl+shift+N, whereas Firefox is Ctrl+shift+P. In Chromium that brings up the print dialog. Chromium does lack a user warning before you close multiple tabs, although it makes it hard to accidentally close it by disabling Ctrl+Q and using Ctrl+shift+Q to close everything instead.

Chromium includes the option to translate pages from other languages into the browser's user system language, in my case, English. It should be noted though that this uses Google Translate and so lets Google know what web page you are on, which could be a privacy issue. Using the service is optional on a page-by-page basis, though, and it can also be turned off at Menu→Settings→Languages.

The browser's user agent string seems to be intended that it will be picked up and treated by websites as "Chrome":

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Ubuntu Chromium/55.0.2883.87 Chrome/55.0.2883.87 Safari/537.36
Performance

Chromium 55.0.2883.87 tests as 505/555 on the HTML5 test, versus 469/555 for Firefox 51.0.1. Chromium 55.0.2883.87 has good video support without Flash installed and most video, like You Tube, works fine in HTML5 mode, without additional codecs installed.

With a standard six tabs open Chromium 55.0.2883.87 used 1.459 GB of RAM, compared to Firefox 51.0.1 which used 1.115 GB for the same web sites. Chromium runs each tab as a separate process, which prevents one tab crashing the browser, but this does use more RAM, 24% more in this test.

In a page loading speed test of four standard large web pages Chromium took 13.0 seconds, as did Firefox, making both browsers comparable in speed. Chromium does load long form pages for editing noticeably more quickly than Firefox and also does not lag when adding text to these sorts of pages, which makes editing things like big Wikipedia pages easier.

Summary

So here is what was good about Chromium 55.0.2883.87:

  1. Clean, simple interface
  2. Tab overflow handling
  3. Long web form spell-checking
  4. PDF reader
  5. Incognito tab opening in a single window
  6. Integral language translation
  7. Ability to "paste as plain text" with a right click
  8. Loads and edits long form pages quickly

And here is what was bad about Chromium 55.0.2883.87:

  1. Hard to set search to anything other than Google
  2. Poorly laid out menus that seem to intentionally make it hard to find cookies and other privacy controls
  3. Poor bookmark searching
  4. Much less customizable than other browsers
  5. Uses more RAM

Overall Chromium 55 has some advantages over Firefox 51 and some disadvantages. In many ways both browsers are comparable and which one you use will largely be a matter of which one you like more and which disadvantages you can live with.

My Previous Chromium/Chrome Reviews
External link

Video Editing With Pitivi 0.98

By Adam Hunt

, updated

I seem to be writing far too much about video editing these days!

Pitivi 0.98 was released on 05 December 2016, but only became available via Flatpak today, when the python script was updated.

Pitivi 0.98 is the eighth beta release on the pathway to produce a stable 1.0 version. It includes 35 tasks that have been completed, plus fixes, over 175 commits, with most of work done by Alexandru Băluț. It includes some fixes to the timeline and a new preferences page that allows customizing the keyboard shortcuts, work that was done by Jakub Brindza, a summer student working under a Google Summer of Code sponsorship.

The Pitivi 0.98 release notes warn, "one nasty bug you might hit is the timeline freezing when you work with file formats which are not officially supported. To workaround it you have to allow the app to create optimized media proxy files when importing the files, and wait for the transcoding to finish before adding them to the timeline."

Installing the new version of Pitivi under Flatpak and Curl is very easy. I just re-ran the python script as suggested, and it updated quickly:

$ curl https://git.gnome.org/browse/pitivi/plain/build/flatpak/pitivi-flatpak -Sso pitivi-flatpak && \
   chmod +x pitivi-flatpak && \
  ./pitivi-flatpak --branch=stable --update

I was quite interested to see if this version improved on the endless crashes I saw in 0.97, so, once it was installed, I created a fresh editing project using the same .mov files and an .mp3 soundtrack that had caused so much trouble before. Interestingly Pitivi 0.98 created a proxy file for the .mp3, but not for the .mov files. There doesn't seem to be any way to force it to create proxies, either, which would probably solve the problem.

I tried editing with it. The first time it imported the clips and crashed. The second time I was able edit clips, create transitions and set the sound track before it crashed. The third time it crashed on opening and the fourth time it crashed just after importing the clips. I gave up. Most of crashes seem to be due to the timeline freezing as mentioned in the release notes, but without a way to get Pitivi to create proxies, there is no way for a user to fix this when editing.

For working with .mov video files Pitivi 0.98's rating is 0/10, completely useless.

I did an additional test of Pitivi 0.98 using a set of .avi files from my previous camera and it loaded those and created proxy Matroska .mkv files automatically. I was able to edit those without crashes and render a webm video from them just fine, although the two and a half minute video took just over two hours to render. It seems that Pitivi 0.98 works fine with some video formats and not others. The Pitivi user manual does not list supported formats, saying, "it is not feasible to list every possible combination of supported video or audio formats", which adds to the difficulty of knowing with which files it will work and with which it will crash.

For working with .avi video files Pitivi 0.98's rating is 9/10. The only downside is the very slow rendering times.

My Previous Pitivi Reviews

Video Editing With Kdenlive 15.12.3

By Adam Hunt

, updated

My attempt to find a Linux video editor that actually works continues.

My recent review of Pitivi 0.97 indicated that, with proxy editing, it was stable and actually worked without crashing. That was a fine solution until I got a new camera, an updated Nikon Coolpix L340 that produces .mov files in place of my earlier Nikon Coolpix L27's .avi video files. In testing a couple of small .mov files they worked fine, although Pitivi doesn't make proxy files for them. But recently I tried making a movie with 16 clips and Pitivi just endlessly crashed, just like in the good old days. It was, once again, totally unusable.

This development sent me back to some old standbys. I first tried Avidemux, but there is no version for Ubuntu anymore. It seems that, even though development continues, no one is handling the packaging, so it has been dropped from the Ubuntu repositories.

Next I tried Kino, another old standby, but it has been out of development for so long that it no longer renders modern files right.

That brought me to trying a new video editor, this time from the KDE desktop, Kdenlive. This is a mature project, started by Jason Wood in 2002 and currently developed by a team at KDE. It is based upon the Media Lovin' Toolkit (MLT), relying on libraries like FFmpeg, instead of Pitivi's GStreamer. That is a good thing, as Pitivi's interface with GStreamer is an issue in Pitvi's instability. With Kdenlive 15.04.0 the application became an official part of KDE. The project has fairly stringent standards for applications, so that endorsement gives some confidence.

The Kdenlive interface will be fairly familiar to Pitivi users, as it is laid out the same way, with a clips library at the top left, a viewing screen at top right, with effects and transitions in between. The time line is below and tools at the bottom.

The time line is used slightly differently, as you drag and drop video clips onto it in the order you want, but alternately onto different video tracks to allow inserting transitions. The transitions are created by clicking the green triangles in the corners of the overlapped videos, with a "dissolve" as the default type. Kdenlive makes nice smooth dissolves, as well. I did try other transitions, just for variety and they seem to work just as well. Even though they may not play smoothly in the viewing screen, they render just fine in the completed product. Similarly fades and other effects are easy to insert.

The application has a good manual that helps with the learning curve as well. Reading the manual is time well-spent as new video editors are always different from the last one you were using.

Rendering is easy and fast as well. Under "file rendering" it supports MP4, MPEG-2, Matroska, HDV and raw DV (in NTSC), or a sequence of images in BMP, DPX, JPG, PNG, PMM, TGA and TIFF formats. Hidden under "web sites" it allows rendering in webm, therora and flash of all things. Other choices include AVI, Windows Media Player, FFV1, H.264, ProRes and MJPEG, among other formats. So there are lots of choices in free and non-free formats. Rendering a video that would have taken hours on Pitivi was completed in Kdenlive in about 12 minutes.

The most important feature Kdenlive offers is stability. There are no crashes; it just works. So far this seems to be the best video editor for Linux I have used yet, I can't find any issues with it at all.

This is a video I created on Kdenlive 15.12.3 and rendered in MP4 format:

External link

Video Editing With Pitivi 0.97

By Adam Hunt

, updated

My last Pitivi review was about version 0.95, which was the version provided in the Lubuntu 16.04 LTS repositories, when that new operating system version came out in April 2016. That version of Pitivi worked fine on several simple video projects I put together and I was generally happy with it, until I tried something more complex.

This more complex video project involved 56 clips, removing the audio and adding a music track. Two attempts in 0.95 resulted in the transitions disappearing after all being set by hand, in some odd form of crash. That wasted a lot of time.

To try to correct this problem I installed the latest version of Pitivi, 0.97. It isn't available in the repositories for Lubuntu 16.04 LTS, so I resorted to the Pitivi developer's recommended flatpak system. Flatpak is now in the repositories for Ubuntu 16.10, but not earlier versions. It allows installing outside applications, like the latest version of Pitivi. Flatpak works through Curl, which is a "command line tool for transferring data with URL syntax". I did the whole thing from the command line, as suggested, and it all worked:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:alexlarsson/flatpak
$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install flatpak
$ sudo apt install curl
$ curl https://git.gnome.org/browse/pitivi/plain/build/flatpak/pitivi-flatpak -Sso pitivi-flatpak && \
   chmod +x pitivi-flatpak && \
  ./pitivi-flatpak --branch=stable --update

At the end of running the installation process it actually launches Pitivi 0.97, although you have to log out and back in for it to appear in the menus.

Pitivi 0.97 is the seventh beta release on track to produce a stable 1.0 version. It has many stability improvements, plus a few new features, including a better rendering dialogue box. It also retains the proxy video editing feature added in 0.96. This creates proxy versions of my input .avi video files in Matroska format for editing, instead of the .avi files themselves. The proxy files are created when added to the project, which takes a few minutes to accomplish.

This new version of Pitivi fixes some issues from 0.95, like the mostly-invisible time line. The 0.97 interface itself is now quite good. Best of all, 0.97 was able to handle my video project, with 56 clips and music, with no crashes. The only drawback to this new version of Pitivi is the rendering time, which may be due to the proxy system. The render of this same project in 0.95 took two and a quarter hours, but in 0.97 it took seven hours, although the render dialogue predicted it would take sixteen hours at the start!

Because Pitivi is resource intensive when rendering for both RAM and CPU, it is best to edit a video project and then leave the computer to render overnight or at least when not otherwise in use.

This is a video I created on Pitivi 0.97 and rendered in WebM format:

Update -

After intial success with this version of Pitivi using .avi files under proxies, I got a new camera that produces .mov files. Pitivi doesn't make proxies from these and just crashes endlessly, making it useless.

My Previous Pitivi Reviews
External link

"Reboot and select proper boot device or insert boot media in selected boot device and press a key"

By Adam Hunt

This week I installed a routine update for Lubuntu 16.04 LTS on my desktop computer. It was a kernel update and so needed a reboot. On reboot the screen simply said, "Reboot and select proper boot device or insert boot media in selected boot device and press a key".

Other Ubuntu users didn't have this happen, so it was unlikely to be a bad update. This sent me to the forums for some idea as to what happened. Unfortunately they were not very helpful, as I found hundreds of opinions as to what the problem is and lots of responses from users indicating that some things worked and others didn't. One Russian You Tube video suggested taking the hard drive out, hitting it with a hammer and then getting a new one.

The error actually just indicates that the computer can't find a bootable operating system and nothing more. It doesn't tell you much about what the problem is. It can be caused by a failed, or failing hard drive, some sort of issue with the BIOS, the boot sector or bootloader (GRUB in the case of Linux) on the hard drive itself. It will also show this message when booting to a blanked drive, one missing an operating system or with a corrupted operating system.

I was able to boot to a Lubuntu DVD just fine and all the hardware tested out as serviceable. I was even able to access the hard drive and do a document back-up from the hard drive just fine, too, although I had done a full back up just before the problem appeared. The hard drive and BIOS both seemed serviceable.

A simple re-installation of Lubuntu from DVD didn't fix the problem. Assuming it was a corruption in the hard drive boot sector, I ran DBAN over the disk, blanked the drive overnight and then installed Lubuntu from scratch and that solved it. The total work time to fix this was about 18 hours.

Perhaps the biggest lesson here is "make document back-ups". Hardware can be replaced, but don't lose your documents in the process.


Video Editing With Pitivi 0.95

By Adam Hunt

When I last reviewed Pitivi it was version 0.93, which came in the Lubuntu 14.04 LTS repositories, two years ago. That version sort of worked a bit on videos with a few clips, but any attempt to edit videos with many clips resulted in it locking up and crashing. It was pretty much worthless, just like most previous versions of Pitivi.

Since Pitivi 0.93, I have tried several newer versions. Lubuntu 14.10 also had Pitivi 0.93 available and it continued to sort of work some of the time on smaller videos. Lubuntu 15.04 had Pitivi 0.93-4.2, which would not even launch at all. Lubuntu 15.10 had Pitivi 0.94-4, which could be opened, but just crashed when you tried to use it. Finally Lubuntu 16.04 LTS brought Pitivi 0.95-1 and it actually works!

Pitivi 0.95, code-named "Enfant Suisse" (Swiss child) is the fifth beta release on track to produce a stable 1.0 version. As such it has lots of improvements aimed at reducing crashes. These include rewriting the timeline to eliminate the use of Clutter libraries and using GTK+ instead. This does however result in the timeline being hard to read, due to low contrast. I have tried different GTK+ themes but I haven't found an easy fix for for this.

Other changes in this version include:

This all seems to add up to better stability than past versions and that is exactly what Pitivi needs.

As in past versions, Pitivi 0.95 is extremely easy to use and requires minimal technical skills. All you have to do to make a movie is import your clips (or drag and drop from your file manager), arrange them on the timeline, cut them as required, drag them to overlap a second or so to produce nice fade transitions, perhaps add a fade to black at the end and then render the video. For posting on YouTube this is best done in the WebM HTML5 video format.

As in the past, Pitivi uses quite a bit of RAM and CPU power to run and rendering can take a while. One ten minute video rendered in WebM format took an hour to complete, so it does require some patience. Due to the high system use, the computer is best left to render without being used for other tasks, but the resulting video is worth the wait, though.

This is a video I created on Pitivi 0.95 and rendered in WebM format:

My Previous Pitivi Reviews
External link

Wifi Radar

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Wifi Radar is a simple little utility written in Python/PyGTK2 for managing wifi networks. It was recommended in a training session presented by Andrew Asare of National Capital FreeNet. It fits the Unix philosophy of doing one thing and doing it quite well.

The package is quick to install and only uses 2 MB of disk space when installed. It provides a very simple graphical interface that shows local wifi networks within range and allows you to connect to them. The GUI shows the SSID name, the MAC address, a signal bar strength graph, mode and channel in use. This makes it handy for solving local wifi interference problems, as you can quickly see which are the strongest stations and which channels they are on.

The GUI does allow creating and managing connections to wifi stations as well as saving profiles for connections.

The information provided isn't perfect. It lacks actual signal strength numbers, for instance, just showing a little relative signal strength graph with no data to go with it for each station. It also shows all stations as 802.11g, regardless of protocol used, although this is noted as a bug. While the stations shown can be dragged and dropped into any order you like, it would be useful to allow sorting by channel number or signal strength when trying to troubleshoot interference issues. All of these would be nice features to have.

Wifi Radar does have a brief, but useful, on-line user manual as well as FAQs. As well being in the Ubuntu repositories, it is also available for Debian as well.

Overall Wifi Radar is a good little application. It isn't fancy, but gets the job done, allowing you to manage and troubleshoot wifi networks.

External link

Lubuntu 16.04 LTS

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Lubuntu 16.04 LTS was released on and I upgraded my laptop the next day, on , followed by my desktop on .

Being a long term support release, Lubuntu 16.04 LTS is supported for three years, until April 2019.

This release was once again only a very minor update, a bug-fix, with just some updated applications and some new artwork, as the main development effort still continues to be towards a future LXQt-based version of Lubuntu that was announced in 2014, but seems to be getting no closer over time.

I elected to do a fresh installation from a DVD on both my computers, rather than an upgrade, and the actual complete installation took just 15 minutes, which is quite fast, with all configuration and such done in about 1:25 on each computer.

There were only two installation issues. First the ISO's built in test feature did not work. It works on the Ubuntu and Xubuntu DVDs, but not on Lubuntu for some reason. This has happened in the past as well and the DVD itself is is fine, ironically it is just the built-in test that is broken. That is annoying, but not a "show-stopper".

My initial laptop installation also had a wifi error. The wireless card was identified and the modem's router could be seen, but no connection could be made, as the passwords were rejected for no identifiable reason. As a test Lubuntu 16.04 LTS connected fine when run in "live-DVD" mode, but not when installed, indicating some sort of file system error had occurred during the installation. I did a re-installation from the DVD and that fixed the problem.

The desktop installation was very smooth, however, with no issues at all.

As with Lubuntu 15.10 the artwork bears some mention, because once again in place of the attractive "wave" series of wallpapers that Lubuntu has traditionally sported from its very beginning with version 10.04 right through until 15.04, the new wallpaper is once again an ugly spiderweb design! Fortunately it is easy to replace with wallpaper from elsewhere.

Boot time

Lubuntu 16.04 LTS is the first version that uses a pure systemd boot sequence. Here is a comparison of boot times between versions on the same hardware:

Ubuntu-Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Operating system Ubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 15.04 Lubuntu 15.10 Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
Desktop 1:06 0:56 0:55 0:57 0:57
Laptop 1:16 0:53 1:07 1:15 0:58

The boots times are the same for my desktop, but 17 seconds faster for my laptop.

RAM Usage

Here is a comparison of RAM usage after a fresh boot:

Lubuntu RAM Comparison
Operating system Lubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 15.04 Lubuntu 15.10 Lubuntu 16.04 LTS
Desktop 237 MB 234 MB 251 MB 231 MB
Laptop 217 MB 215 MB 206 MB 224 MB

Idle RAM usage is slightly up for the laptop and slightly down for the desktop.

Printing and scanning both set up smoothly and work fine.

Applications

Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 16.04 LTS are:

My chosen applications from the repositories are:

*Indicates applications not upgraded from Lubuntu 15.10

Midori

I didn't install it this time around, but it is worth noting that the Midori web browser in the Ubuntu repositories, has at long last been updated. For a number of years the version provided was 0.4.3, which was very old. Getting the newest version, 0.5.11, required adding a PPA and updating that way. Since PPAs are untrusted this was not an ideal way to go. So kudos to the Midori maintainers for getting the latest version up and running in the repositories. I hope they manage to keep it up to date as new versions come out.

Fixed

There were just two outstanding issues from Lubuntu 15.10 and these were both fixed in Lubuntu 16.04 LTS:

Pitivi crashes
This is an old issue that seems to be finally fixed with Pitivi 0.95. Because this seems to be working now I skipped installing my old stand-by video editor, Avidemux. I did a detailed review of Pitivi.
Wireless disconnects
My laptop often had disconnects just after connecting the first time after coming out of "suspend". I had thought it might be due to interference from nearby stations, but it seems to now be fixed, so may have been driver-related instead.

There was also one repeat minor gitch from Lubuntu 15.10, that was easily fixed:

GPRename not on the menus
The GPRename bulk file-renamer once again did not show up on the Lubuntu main menu or the PCManFM application menus, due to lacking a desktop config file. It can still be run from the main menu run command, though, so this is an easy work around. As with Lubuntu 15.10, I installed it on the menus, with thanks to NCF's Andre Dalle and the Ubuntu Forums. I used an old GPRename desktop file and using Run → gksudo pcmanfm to act as root, dropped it into /usr/share/applications and that resulted in it immediately showing up in the accessories menus.
Conclusions

Lubuntu 16.04 LTS is a good solid release and may be the best version of Lubuntu to date. In fact it is just about flawless, as would be expected in a long term support version. I hope to be running it until Lubuntu 18.04 LTS comes out in April 2018.


The Epiphany 3.16.3 Web Browser

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Since the last time I tried this lightweight web browser in version 3.10.3 on Ubuntu 14.10, it just crashed a lot, I thought I would give the new version, 3.16.3, shipped with Ubuntu 15.10, a try. As usual this is not the current version of Epiphany, which, as of this week is 3.18.1.

Epiphany is also called Web in the new Gnome naming scheme, although the Linux package remains epiphany-browser, so that is what I call it. I still think it is far too confusing to call a web browser Web.

I installed Epiphany 3.16.3 from the command line using APT and the installation went very smoothly. Lubuntu added it to the main menu, although for some reason made it the default browser.

Next I went through the set up and discovered that the menus have been re-arranged and are very simple and easy to follow through now, including the "preferences". I did an "import bookmarks" using a Firefox exported HTML file and that worked pretty much flawlessly. Bookmark export to a .rdf file works well, too.

In use Epiphany 3.16.3 is actually quite smooth, stable and fast. In testing RAM usage on five standard web pages Epiphany 3.16.3 uses much more RAM than Firefox, but it now runs each tab as a separate WebKit process, like Google Chrome does. This creates better crash resistance and security, but uses more RAM and means that this is not really a lightweight browser anymore:

Browser RAM Comparison

Browser

Firefox 42.0

Epiphany 3.16.3

RAM used 472 MB 1481 MB

Testing page loading speed as a total of three standard web pages, Epiphany 3.16.3 scores far faster than Firefox 42.0, giving it a real speed advantage that is noticeable when browsing:

Browser Page Loading Comparison

Browser

Firefox 42.0

Epiphany 3.16.3

Seconds 22.8 10.9

This version of Epiphany scores 386 on the HTML5 test which is a negligible improvement over the 385 score for Epiphany 3.10.3. Most importantly it supports all HTML5 video formats, important for Adobe Flash-free use, although it relies on external codecs for playback, unlike Firefox.

Epiphany 3.16.3 has a user interface that has evolved since 3.10.3. It is is very clean, simple and has simplified menus and preferences. The preferences menus now includes ad-blocking, pop-up blocking, blocking third party cookies and a choice of three search engines: DuckDuckGo, Google and Bing, with DuckDuckGo as the default at last! Spell-checking is enabled by default and passwords work and are saved, but require a key-ring open after a reboot, which is a bit odd.

With ad-blocking and third party cookie blocking both enabled you only get cookies from the main websites you visit, which works reasonably well.

As in the past, PDF files are handled by downloading them to your home directory and then opening them in your default PDF reader, in my case Evince. Web page coding (Ctrl+U) opens in your default text editor, in my case Leafpad, which works fine.

This version also supports most common browser keyboard shortcuts. One new shortcut for Epiphany is Ctrl+Shift+T which opens the last and subsequent pages recently closed. This is a real boon for this browser, as before you had to go back into the page history to reopen pages.

A new feature is a "speaker" icon that appears in the tab when audio is playing. This is handy when some website auto-loads a video and you can't figure out which one to kill to silence it.

As in recent versions of Epiphany this version has no "bookmarks bar", although bookmarks can be called from the URL bar quickly enough. The new tab page includes a browser-collected selection of "most visited" pages. The selection is pretty random, many end up with no images and the only user control is to delete unwanted ones, one at a time, so it is pretty much useless for most users. Personally I would rather have a blank page than that mess.

Downloads are reasonably well handled, but as in the past the only option is to designate one place to save them, which lacks flexibility. In comparison, Firefox allows you to choose where to save downloads individually if you like.

Epiphany 3.16.3's user agent string is the rather convoluted:

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; Linux x86_64) AppleWebKit/602.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/8.0 Safari/602.1 Ubuntu/15.10 (3.16.3-1ubuntu1) Epiphany/3.16.3

Epiphany 3.16.3's stability is pretty much rock-solid. I only saw two tab crashes in a week, neither of which took the browser down, just the offending tab. Now that is definitely something new!

Overall Epiphany 3.16.3 seems to be the best version of this browser yet and far better than recent versions in key areas, such as stability. The refined, clean interface makes it very user-friendly to set-up and browse with. Overall it is a good web browser and worth using if you value page load speed and simplicity over rich features.

Update -

Good as it is, I had to stop using Epiphany 3.16.3 some time ago, as it seems that a Lubuntu system update removed the browser's scroll bars, making it very hard to use. This is probably related to running Epiphany outside the Gnome desktop environment and the developers do say that may be problematic. In this case it proved a "show-stopper". I was hoping that a later update would restore the scroll bars, but that didn't occur while I was running Lubuntu 15.10.

External link

Upgrading to Lubuntu 15.10

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Lubuntu 15.10 was released on and I upgraded my laptop the next day, on , followed by my desktop the subsequent day, on .

This release was once again only a very minor update, a bug-fix, with just some updated applications and some new artwork, as the main development effort still continues to be towards the future LXQt-based version of Lubuntu.

The upgrade took just over an hour to complete and went very smoothly, although it requires monitoring and some human input along the way, so you can't just go out and leave it to upgrade on its own. This time there were no error messages during the upgrade process, although there seems to have been some upgrade-induced problems introduced, described below.

The new artwork bears some mention, because in place of the attractive "wave" variation wallpaper that Lubuntu has sported from its very beginning with version 10.04, the new wallpaper is really quite ugly! Fortunately it is easy to replace with something better, although it will have to come from elsewhere, as the three wallpapers provided with Lubuntu 15.10 are identical. I used Whisper for my new wallpaper.

Boot time

Here is a comparison of boot times between versions on the same hardware:

Ubuntu-Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Operating system Ubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 15.04 Lubuntu 15.10
Desktop 1:06 0:56 0:55 0:57
Laptop 1:16 0:53 1:07 1:15

This is the second version of Lubuntu to use systemd for boot-up and it is notable that overall boot times do not seem to be improving over time.

RAM Usage

Here is a comparison of RAM usage after a fresh boot:

Lubuntu RAM Comparison
Operating system Lubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 15.04 Lubuntu 15.10
Desktop 237 MB 234 MB 251 MB
Laptop 217 MB 215 MB 206 MB

Idle RAM usage is slightly down for the laptop and slightly up for the desktop.

Applications

Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 15.10 are:

My chosen applications from the repositories are:

*Indicates applications not upgraded from Lubuntu 15.04

The upgrade process turns off any PPAs in use, and so once the upgrade process was done I had to go to Preferences → Software & Updates → Other software and turn the PPAs for Midori on again. This resulted in a slightly updated version of Midori 0.5.11, optimized for Wily, to be installed.

Printing and scanning worked fine after the upgrade and my customized hplip installation for printing survived the process.

Fixed

Here is the one issue from Lubuntu 15.04 that was fixed in Lubuntu 15.10:

Notification dialog
The notification dialog boxes that previously showed an ugly set of horizontal lines that made reading the text difficult was caused by a background file that was tiled in the notifications. There is a filed bug report on this that includes an easy work-around. This is fixed in Lubuntu 15.10 and now shows a nice light grey dialogue box that matches the default Lubuntu window colour scheme.
Broken

Here is the one outstanding issue:

Pitivi crashes
This is an old issue that is still not fixed. The Pitivi movie editor has been updated to version 0.94-4. It can now actually be opened without crashing, but it still crashes every time you try to edit a video with it. I am still using reliable Avidemux for video editing, which is an easy work around. I was the only person to note this problem, as Chris Long of Red Hat could not get Pitivi 0.94 to work either and noted that it just endlessly crashed.

There was just one other issue that was easily fixed:

GPRename not on the menus
After the upgrade the GPRename bulk file-renamer was no longer showing up on the Lubuntu main menu or the PCManFM application menus. This seemed to be due to lacking a desktop config file. It can still be run from the main menu run command, though, so this is an easy work around. I did manage to install it on the menus (with help from NCF's Andre Dalle and the Ubuntu Forums). I used an old GPRename desktop file and using Run → gksudo pcmanfm to act as root, dropped it into /usr/share/applications and that resulted in it immediately showing up in the accessories menus.
Upgrade issues

The upgrade process seems to have introduced some software errors. These are easy to detect, as they just affect one of my computers and not the other one and so are not operating system-wide, but specific to one installation. They are hard to fix in situ, though. These were:

The problems with my desktop computer were annoying enough that I decided to reformat it and do a fresh installation on . The actual installation of Lubuntu 15.10 only took 17 minutes, but configuring the system and re-installing documents made that into a three hour job. The re-installation initially fixed the power management issue, but not the long boot time or the ALSA crash issue, although both of these were fixed over time, probably by Linux kernel or firmware updates. I had asked a question about the ALSA crash issue on the Ubuntu Forums, but did not get any answer.

Reviews

Joey Sneddon of OMG Ubuntu somewhat humourously noted, "Lubuntu 15.10 is another highly minor bug fix release." He wasn't wrong.

Conclusions

Lubuntu 15.10 is a good solid release, with very few issues to report. It seems to be a worthy successor to Lubuntu 15.04 in the run-up to the next LTS, which will be version 16.04, due out on 21 April 2016.


Midori 0.5.11 "Heads or Tails"

By Adam Hunt

, updated

My last review of Midori was version 0.5.8 in . At that time it was improving, but was still lacking some basic features.

I thought it was time to try out the current version and see how it is coming along, including its usefulness as a main browser for everyday web browsing.

Getting Midori

The version of Midori in the Ubuntu 15.04 repositories remains Midori 0.4.3, which hasn't been updated in three years, even though newer versions are available. The developers indicated in September 2014 that is due to lacking a person to manage the Debian and Ubuntu repositories. Many people volunteered back then, but it seems no one is doing the job yet. This is really too bad, as it slows uptake of Midori considerably.

As I noted in my last review, the development team keeps an active PPA that is easy to install and gives the latest Midori version, which is currently 0.5.11. All you have to do is run:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:midori
$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webkit-team
$ sudo apt-get update

and then run the Ubuntu Software Updater and it will be installed.

This version of Midori is code-named "Heads or Tails", it is better than earlier versions and is worth installing. It is available for both Linux and Windows.

Features

Midori uses the WebKit rendering engine and is fast and easy to use. It scores 356 on the HTML5 test, compared to 477 for Firefox 40.0.3. Midori does have MPEG-4 ASP video support though, which Firefox lacks at this point in time.

Midori 0.5.11 does have a lot of good features. The interface is clean and straightforward. It handles tab overflow in a similar manner to Firefox, compressing the tabs to some extent and then moving them off the page with arrows to access them.

This version also has full bookmark management: you can import from an HTML file, add, edit, remove and back-up or export bookmarks as an .xbel file.

Midori lacks a "bookmarks bar", but does have a new tab page with a "speed dial" feature much like that found on Chrome, Firefox and Epiphany. The main difference is that Midori's speed dial doesn't automatically collect recent pages, it requires the user to decide which pages to display, which is far better than any other browser. I always found that Chrome just collected random stuff there and not what you wanted. With Midori you decide and it stays there. Pages can be added to the speed dial on the new tabs page or by right clicking on any web page and selecting "add to Speed dial" from the context menu.

Midori has a "reopen recently closed page or tab" feature which works well. Unlike on Firefox, you can pick just one to reopen and don't have to go back through them all. The toolbar has a "trashcan" icon to access this feature. The common browser Ctrl+Shift+T shortcut to reopen closed tabs also works, although it opens tabs in reverse closing order, just like Firefox does.

The default search engine in Midori 0.5.11 remains DuckDuckGo, with Google, Yahoo, Google Translate and other options presented when searching from the URL bar. Of course any other search engine can be called up if it is in your favourites, just by starting to type the name in the URL bar or it can be easily added to the search box options from "manage search engines".

When I tested Midori 0.3.6, Google Docs and Google Calender wouldn't work in it, but it does work on Midori 0.5.11, thanks to a feature at Menu → Preferences → Network → Identify as, that allows the user to change user agent strings to Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, to fool services like Google into working right. The one drawback is that by default it identifies as old browser versions, such as Chrome 18, Firefox 4.0 and Internet Explorer 6! The user agent string is user-editable at Menu → Preferences → Network → Identify as custom. It can be found stored at ~/.config/midori/config, which is a plain text document, although not user editable as Midori over-writes it.

Midori 0.5.11 finally has full spell-checking, including underlining errors and right-click suggestions from a menu. This was worth waiting for and in many ways it works better that Firefox's spell-checking!

Standard browser keyboard shortcuts seem to work on Midori, such as:

Ctrl+L
Highlight URL bar
Ctrl+F
Find on web page
Alt+number
Move to tab number
Alt+9
Move to last tab
Alt+arrow left
back one page
Alt+arrow right
forward one page
F5 or Ctrl+R
reload page

The very common shortcut of Ctrl+U to display web page coding doesn't work, but this feature is available from the right mouse click menu on any web page. The right click context menu also allows the display of page elements, which is a useful web developer feature.

There is a browser chrome bar at the bottom of the window, which is used to display the URL on mouse hover-over, as well as downloads, but it can be hidden with Ctrl+J, in which case mouse-over URLs appear in the URL bar and downloads are hidden.

In testing RAM usage on six standard web pages Midori scores comparably to Firefox:

Browser RAM Comparison

Browser

Firefox 40.0.3

Midori 0.5.11

RAM used 472 MB 477 MB

Midori 0.5.11 still does not have any integral password management, although it can be combined with a password manager, such as KeePassX or similar.

Midori comes with a suite of 23 different extensions found at Menu → Preferences → Extensions. I like Advertisement Blocker 2.0, Colorful Tabs 0.5 and Cookie Manager 0.2, but Form History Filler 2.0 and Toolbar Editor 0.1 don't seem to work. Midori 0.5.11 seems to have fairly good stability, except when the Cookie Security Manager 0.1 extension is activated and used in its default "ask for a decision" mode on each cookie, as it causes the browser to crash every time. It works fine in other modes, such as when it is just used for blocking named site's cookies.

In testing Midori 0.5.11 over 24 hours I saw five crashes, three of which were caused by the Cookie Security Manager 0.1 extension. Midori 0.5.11 does have some problems with some websites, including grab-scrolling in Google Maps and some clipboard cut and paste errors in Gmail.

Downloads are well-handled and the user is given a choice of where to save them or to display them with an appropriate application. Midori does not have an integrated PDF reader and so PDFs are displayed in the default PDF reader, in my case Evince.

Testing page loading speed as a total of three standard web pages, Midori scores comparably to Firefox:

Browser Page Loading Comparison

Browser

Firefox 40.0.3

Midori 0.5.11

Seconds 15 14
Conclusions

Overall Midori is steadily improving and is recommended for use. It still needs password management, but outside that missing feature, it is fully functional for day to day use. It also does display blogspot websites correctly, including showing images!


Privacy Badger

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Privacy Badger is an extension for the Firefox and Chrome browsers that was developed by The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as a public service. The extension is designed to be a better privacy tool for dealing with third party content on web pages that do not respect "do not track" requests.

As a non-profit foundation acting in the public interest, the EFF has more credibility that some of the makers of other browser extensions that are selling white-list opportunities.

Privacy Badger uses some of the code from AdBlock Plus, but it is not primarily an ad-blocker. Instead it assesses third party content on web-pages, including cookies, images and scripts to see if they are designed to track you and blocks them. This means that it also blocks some ads, too, but only ones that are tracking you. Some third party content is there to make the page work, like blog comments for instance and Privacy Badger just blocks the cookies for those.

I have long used Firefox's settings at Edit→ Preferences→ Privacy→ Accept third party cookies→ Never, to block third party cookies, but Privacy Badger goes further than that in protecting your privacy, so it is worth having in addition to the settings.

Privacy Badger is easy to use, just install it and it goes to work immediately, without any need to mess around with settings. It puts a small badger logo on Firefox at the top right, next to the search box. It normally works silently, but clicking on the logo shows a box with all the third party cookies on the web page and what Privacy Badger is doing with them, with a green-amber-red slider bar. You can change the settings on any single bar or enable all trackers from the menu or even disable Privacy Badger on that single page if you like. It remembers settings and also learns as it goes along.

Privacy Badger was first released just over a year ago, on 01 May 2014, and is currently in beta, although in testing it out it seems to work well.

Future plans for the extension include making it available for Opera and Firefox Mobile, as well as fingerprinting countermeasures and first party privacy protection.

Oddly Privacy Badger is not available on the Firefox add-ons website, but only directly from the EFF Privacy Badger web-page.

Overall is a worthwhile addition to your browser, even if it only incrementally improves on-line privacy, that is still worth having!

Reviews

Several tech writers reviewed this extension, all when it first appeared in alpha form. It is worth noting it has improved since then.

Jon Brodkin wrote on Ars Technica in May 2014:

Web browsers generally allow users to send a "Do Not Track" signal that lets advertisers know the user prefers not to be tracked for the purposes of serving up personalized ads. But it's largely a futile exercise, because websites and advertising networks are free to ignore the signal. Even Yahoo, which had been honoring Do Not Track requests, decided to stop doing so this week....Privacy Badger works, but it's an "alpha" release so the EFF wants interested users to test it out before attempting to convince larger populations of people to install it.

Nathan Willis wrote on LWN.net in May 2014:

...it is an easy-to-use tool, and it both offers protection against web trackers and sheds light on just how pervasive web-tracker deployment is; both are useful outcomes... There is no telling how well the project will fare as a DNT enforcement tool, but it may be the best option currently available.

Kif Leswing wrote on Gigaom in May 2014:

Considering that using a blocker is somewhat of a political statement about privacy — users don’t opt-in to third-party tracking, and by running Privacy Badger can they opt out — it’s more than good enough, and its relative “purity” compared to the others on the market should make it the cypherpunk’s choice.

Youtube-DL - The Command Line Video Downloader

By Adam Hunt

Youtube-DL is yet another one of those neat Linux command line programs, except this one is also available for Windows and Mac as well. In all cases it runs from the command line, but don't let that intimidate you, as it is very easy to use.

One interesting thing about this application is its licencing, which is "public domain", leaving it open for any use at all. The source code is available, so it is free software. The application is under rapid development, with new versions out each week or so.

For Ubuntu users it is available in the repositories. The currently provided version is a few months old, dating from 28 February 2015, but still works well. Installing it is easy from the command line:

$ sudo apt-get install youtube-dl

The application has a lot of features built in, all of which are explained in the included manual file, which can be read at:

$ man youtube-dl

One nice feature is that it can download Flash videos even if you don't have Flash installed, which can then be played in a media player such as VLC, thus avoiding using non-free software.

In basic mode the application is very simple to use, just open the command line, add the name of the application to call it up and the URL that the video to be downloaded is located on and it does the rest, querying the page, finding the video and delivering the video to your home folder.

These sorts of command line applications work well and are easy to use, so hard to improve upon!

This article also provides some good basic introductory information about youtube-dl: Download Youtube Videos From Linux Command-line.


Whois - The Command Line Domain System Tool

By Adam Hunt

This is another of those great "no-nonsense" Linux command line tools, that I recently learned about from a National Capital FreeNet discussion group. It is amazing what you can learn just by watching problems being solved on line and making notes!

Whois does not come with Lubuntu, but it is available in the repositories. Oddly enough it doesn't show up in the Lubuntu Software Centre, but then no command line utlilies do, including clamav, scrot and exiv2. Whois is easy to get from the repositories by command line, though:

$ sudo apt-get install whois

The tool is very easy to use. When you want to know who owns an internet domain or IP address (IPv4 or IPv6) you just call up whois and then add the address to be queried. The resulting report is usually long and detailed, pulled from a number of RFC 3912 internet registry sources. As usual there is a manual of commands at:

$ man whois

The main advantage of whois is that it saves you going to multiple websites to look up data using a web browser, it does it all for you and very quickly as well.

Like most Linux command line utilities whois is hard to improve upon. The syntax is simple and it works fast.


Guvcview - Lubuntu 15.04's Webcam

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Lubuntu's webcam application is Guvcview, an ungainly name which means "GTK plus UVC viewer", as it uses a GTK+ interface and the Linux UVC driver. I presume that it is pronounced "G-UVC-View", but it could be "Gov-see-view".

In Lubuntu 14.10 the supplied version was Guvcview 1.7.3 and it didn't work, just crashed on opening each time. With Lubuntu 15.04 you get Guvcview 2.01 and it works!

Guvcview is designed as a lightweight webcam controller, using the Linux UVC driver, luvcview, for video and the portaudio library for audio.

For photos it can save in the following formats: .raw, .jpg, .png and .bmp. For video there is .avi, .mkv (which is the Matroska Multimedia Container open standard format) and .webm (the Google-developed open standard format that is very YouTube compatible).

Guvcview's controls are very simple and easy to use and still images can easily be taken using the default settings in .jpg format.

Video takes a bit of adjustment to get things working right. By default it records in .mkv, using the MPEG4-ASP codec. With both my webcams that resulted in bad interference on the video. Setting the container format to .webm required going to Video→File→File Format and choosing .webm. This also sets the video codec to VP8, which is the correct codec for .webm. That works, and with a microphone, will also record audio. As a bonus .webm format is one of YouTube's supported file formats, along with .avi, but not .mkv, so the resulting video can be uploaded to YouTube, if desired, although Avidemux, my current video editor, will not edit any videos made by Guvcview, for some reason.

The video capture mode includes a few basic special effects, including mirror, invert, negative, mono (black and white), pieces and particles. These can be combined, too, by selecting more than one.

In comparison to Cheese, the Gnome webcam application, Guvcview is lighter weight and easier to use.

Reviews

In February 2011 Jack Wallen said on GHacks:

GUVCView, from my perspective, is a much better means of recording video than Cheese. This especially applies if the video you are recording is to be used for something other than, say, Skype chatting.

Jim Lynch, wrote about the application's inclusion in Lubuntu in May 2011:

I actually like Cheese so I can’t say I’m real thrilled about it being replaced by guvcview, but it’s sort of six of one or half dozen of the other when it comes to these two programs. I could get by fine with either one though your mileage may vary depending on your needs and preferences.

Gayan of Hectic Geek wrote in September 2012:

I didn’t have any issues with it and successfully recorded videos (you can manually disable audio input) and took pictures, added few funny effects...all is good with guvcview"

Overall I have to agree, Guvcview is a simple webcam application that works well.


Upgrading to Lubuntu 15.04

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Lubuntu 15.04 was released on 23 April 2015 and I upgraded my laptop on , followed by my desktop the next day, on .

This release was only a very minor update, a bug-fix, with some updated applications and some new artwork, as the main development effort continues to be towards the future LXQt-based version of Lubuntu.

This was the first upgrade I had done in many years, in the past doing fresh installs each time, instead. This upgrade took 67 minutes on my laptop and 63 minutes on my desktop to complete and went relatively smoothly, with just a couple of error messages along the way, that seem to have been inconsequential.

The upgrade resulted in a couple of application surprises, some good and some bad. On the plus side the Guvcview webcam, which always crashed on opening before, now works. On the bad side the Pitivi video editor won't even launch now, just crashing instead of opening. I even tried uninstalling and purging it, but it still crashes on opening. Fortunately there is still reliable Avidemux for video editing, so this is not much of a loss.

Boot time

Here is a comparison of boot times between versions on the same hardware:

Ubuntu-Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Operating system Ubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 15.04
Desktop 1:06 0:56 0:55
Laptop 1:16 0:53 1:07

The boot time comparison is particularly interesting because this is the first new version of Lubuntu to replace upstart with systemd for boot-up. I was very curious to see if it improved boot times, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

RAM Usage

Here is a comparison of RAM usage after a fresh boot:

Lubuntu RAM Comparison
Operating system Lubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 15.04
Desktop 237 MB 234 MB
Laptop 217 MB 215 MB

Lubuntu 15.05 seems to use about 1% less RAM. While this is not much, the trend is away from "bloat", so that is good.

Applications

Some of the applications included with Lubuntu 15.04 are:

My chosen applications from the repositories are:

*Indicates applications not upgraded from Lubuntu 14.10

Fixed

Here are the issues from Lubuntu 14.10 that Lubuntu 15.04 fixes:

Guvcview crashes
The Guvcview webcam application has been upgraded from 1.7.3 to 2.01. Guvcview 1.7.3 crashed on opening every time, but 2.0.1 now launches, so this is fixed in Lubuntu 15.04.
Pointer crashes
On Lubuntu 14.10 occasionally the mouse pointer crashed, resulting in two pointers in a horizontal row. The left pointer still works fine when this happens. I discovered that both a reboot and just opening a text editor and typing any text will fix this, rendering it a minor issue. It seems to be fixed in Lubuntu 15.04.
Wireless disconnects
On Lubuntu 14.10 the wireless connection would sometimes be lost, requiring re-selecting it each time. It seems to be fixed in Lubuntu 15.04, so it must have been a driver issue.
Broken

Here is the one issue that I have found in Lubuntu 15.04:

Pitivi crashes
The Pitivi movie editor has been updated to version 0.93-4.2 which which moved it from occasional crashes to not being able to launch at all. I reported Bug 1449616 on this, although there are many open bugs about Pitivi crashes. I have continued to use Avidemux instead.

That is all! There are a couple of minor glitches that needed fixing or configuring as well, as described below.

HP Printing

Due to problems with the switch from Python 2 to 3, hplip was broken at the upgrade from 14.10 to 15.04. This problem affected all 'buntus and not just Lubuntu. Hplip is the system that allows most HP printers to work.

There a thread about this on the Ubuntu Forums that points to bug report 1430561. The bug report is now a bit out of date, but here is what I did to get my printer working:

  1. Download hplip-3.15.4.run from hplipopensource.com
  2. Run the command in a terminal to make it executable: chmod +x ~/hplip-3.15.4.run
  3. Run the command in a terminal and follow through the dialogue: sh hplip-3.15.4.run
  4. Set up the printer from the printer GUI at Main Menu→System Tools→Printers if not already set-up.
  5. Printing now works!

This issue, consolidated as bug 142004, was resolved on 08 May 2015 when the changes in hplip 3.15.4 were incorporated as 3.15.2-0ubuntu4.1, which was set to replace version 3.15.2-0ubuntu4. Once the update is propagated to Ubuntu users all HP printers should work and the problem should not recur.

Freshclam

Originally I thought that freshclam, the command line virus scanner definition updater for Clam AV, did not work. In the past I manually updated the definitions with the "freshclam" command, but this returns ERROR: /var/log/clamav/freshclam.log is locked by another process. In investigating further and reading the /var/log/clamav/freshclam.log file it looks like freshclam is running in daemon mode by default, is updating definitions automatically and that is the process that is locking the file out to manual freshclam.

That is fine that it is running automatically, but it would have been nice to know!

Notification dialog

The notification dialog boxes show an ugly set of horizontal lines that makes reading the text difficult. This is caused by a background file that gets tiled in the notifications. There is a filed bug report on this that includes an easy work-around though. If you select "run" and "gksudo pcmanfm" to allow modifying system files, you can then just remove /usr/share/themes/Lubuntu-default/gtk-2.0/images/panel-bg.png which is the offending file and the notifications will display with a very elegant dark grey background instead.

Reviews

This release has not received much tech press attention, but Marius Nestor of Softpedia did note:

...the Lubuntu 15.04 operating system comes now with updated artwork, which includes an updated theme, more beautiful icons, and an updated GTK+ infrastructure for better compatibility with Qt applications.
Conclusions

Lubuntu 15.04 is a good solid release, with very few issues to report. It may well be the best version of Lubuntu yet! With Lubuntu 14.10 support running out in June 2015 it is worth an upgrade to this new version.

Update -

Lubuntu 15.04 turned out to be one of the best operating systems ever released, with almost no issues at all to report. I can only hope that Lubuntu 15.10 is nearly as good.


Solving the Byte-Order Mark Problem

By Adam Hunt

For quite a while, when I validated my web pages, some of them have validated fine (green), but showed a warning that says:

Byte-Order Mark found in UTF-8 File.

The Unicode Byte-Order Mark (BOM) in UTF-8 encoded files is known to cause problems for some text editors and older browsers. You may want to consider avoiding its use until it is better supported.

A Byte order mark (BOM) is a series of unicode characters that indicate the "endianness" or byte order of a text or html document. As the validator indicates it isn't necessarily well supported and isn't required. Since I hand-code my web pages I have no idea where it came from and why it is in some of my web pages and not others.

Ever since the warning started appearing, I began trying to figure out what it was and how to get rid of it. I read a number of articles about it and they detailed the characters that the BOM includes for UTF-8 encoded pages, but reading the page in my text editor they were not found, because they are hexadecimal characters.

Next I tried installing a hexadecimal editor from the Ubuntu repositories, Bless 0.6.0, and then searched the pages with that. I figured I could just remove the characters and then save it, but it didn't find them.

Then, finally, I had a flash of insight. It occurred to be that if my text editor, jEdit 5.1.0, couldn't read the BOM, then perhaps it also couldn't copy it. So I tried opening the offending pages, cutting all the text out of the page, saving it as a new document, deleting the old page and then renaming the new page to replace it (in other words Ctrl+A, Crtl+X, Ctrl+S, Ctrl+W, Crtl+N, Ctrl+V, Ctrl+S). I then uploaded it and re-validated it. Lo and behold the warning was gone!

That turned out to be a very simple solution! I carried out that "cleaning" on all my affected pages and it solved the BOM problem. Now, if I knew how it got on those pages in the first place I would have a complete story!


Evaluating Lubuntu 14.10

By Adam Hunt

, updated

I have recently been having problems with Nautilus, the Gnome file manager, running on both Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and more recently on Ubuntu 14.10 too. In both cases this is the same version of Nautilus, 3.10.1, that has been crashing fairly regularly, sometimes only minutes apart. In many cases it loses functionality, like the ability to rename files, or it maxes out the CPUs until it is closed. It often needs the whole operating system to be rebooted to fix the crash, which is quite annoying.

To address this problem I decided to install an alternate file manager, one I have used before and like, PCManFM 1.2.3 from the LXDE desktop. In checking I discovered that PCManFM is included with the minimal Lubuntu installation package called lubuntu-core, which is an alternative to the full lubuntu-desktop and can be easily added to an existing Ubuntu installation. Installing this meta-package gave me a chance to try out the 64-bit version of Lubuntu 14.10 and see if it fixed some other outstanding Ubuntu 14.10 issues like the screen locking only working sporadically.

I ran Lubuntu back in 2010-11 for about a year and it worked well enough most of the time, but versions 11.04 and 11.10 had some stability problems. I moved back to Ubuntu to take advantage of progress on Unity in the Ubuntu desktop.

Gnome Problems

In looking at the list of current problems in Ubuntu many of them are related to Gnome applications, like Nautilus, Epiphany (Web) and gEdit crashing, plus applications like Brasero not working right either. I am not sure what is going on with previously stable Gnome applications, but all of these factors have caused me to seek other, non-Gnome alternatives. Along the way I have often discovered that the alternatives, like PCManFM, jEdit and XFburn work better anyway. All of this makes it more attractive to move back to the LXDE desktop once again.

Installing

Downloading the lubuntu-core package for my existing Ubuntu 14.10 installation was quick, as it is only about 43 MB in size. This provides the LXDE desktop, artwork and icon sets, but very few applications beyond the LXDE keystone PCManFM file manager. To add screen-locking functionality I installed light-locker 1.4.0, the Lubuntu screen-locker.

PCManFM has improved greatly since I last used it and it now includes a much-needed file search capability that is actually better than Unity's in many ways, as it can quickly search individual folders. The only feature PCManFM is lacking these days is the ability to show exif file meta-data, but this is easily made up with the exiv2 command line utility for those odd occasions when I do need meta-data, usually from photos.

The resulting Lubuntu installation is a bit of a hybrid, with mostly Ubuntu default applications, so it is not entirely representative of a pure Lubuntu 14.10 ISO installation. To do a more full evaluation, after I had run the lubuntu-core on my desktop for a few days, on 07 December 2014 I did a fresh clean installation of Lubuntu 14.10 on my laptop. This went reasonably well, with few glitches, until it refused to log into anything but an OpenBox session, requiring me to reformat it and start again on 08 December 2014. That installation seems to have gone better.

On 13 December I did a full, fresh installation on my desktop computer. The installation had problems, but they seemed to be related to Grub and EFI. Once I got them sorted out the installation worked fine.

Boot time

Lubuntu 14.10, even in this hybrid desktop installation, boots up 15% faster than Ubuntu 14.10 on the same hardware. The pure Lubuntu 14.10 installation on my System76 laptop boots up 30% faster:

Ubuntu-Lubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Operating system Ubuntu 14.10 Lubuntu 14.10
Desktop 1:06 0:56
Laptop 1:16 0:53
RAM Usage

RAM usage after a fresh boot is 273 MB for Lubuntu 14.10 versus 421 MB of RAM for Ubuntu 14.10 on the hybrid desktop installation and 217 MB on the laptop pure Lubuntu installation.

Applications

Some of the applications included in the Lubuntu 14.10 ISO file are:

There are some applications that I don't use and so to save disk and menu room I removed Abiword, Gnumeric, MTpaint, Gnome-mplayer, Sylpheed and Xpad.

I installed from the repositories:

Overall Lubuntu 14.10 has a pretty good suite of lightweight applications for basic computing tasks and with some additions from the Ubuntu repositories can be turned into a very capable system for getting work done. It has some nice detail finishing touches as well, such as how Ctrl+Alt+Del brings up the LXTask system monitor, which allows you to see what is going on and kill any processes needed.

Outstanding Issues

Here is a look at what Lubuntu 14.10 does to address the outstanding issues from Ubuntu 14.10:

Brasero breaks DVDs
Replaced by default with XFburn in LXDE.
Epiphany crashes & video
Lubuntu uses the Firefox browser by default, although Epiphany still crashes of course. I have just stopped using it.
gEdit crashes
I replaced gEdit with jEdit 5.1.0 instead and it works better than gEdit did. See my review.
GIMP HUD loss of focus
No HUD in Lubuntu, so this is fixed.
Mounting a blank DVD
The spurious error, "Unable to mount blank DVD, location is already mounted" is fixed in Lubuntu 14.10.
Nautilus crashes
Replaced with PCManFM 1.2.3 so this is fixed.
Pitivi crashes
The Pitivi movie editor seems to work a bit better in the Lubuntu environment, but still crashes. I have continued to use Avidemux as a back-up.
Screen Lock
The screen lock in Ubuntu sometimes fails to work, but the Lubuntu light-locker seems to work fine, so this is fixed.

It is not hard to see that most the issues from Ubuntu 14.10 seem to be basically fixed. This is actually quite remarkable and makes Lubuntu better than Ubuntu in almost every respect. As a bonus, in the normal Lubuntu installation the annoying Ubuntu "edge scrolling" handles are replaced with normal scroll handles. I wasted a lot of time trying to find them with my mouse and they are one of the worst features of Ubuntu.

Printing with CUPS 1.7.5 and scanning with Simple Scan 3.14.0 work fine.

New Issues

Here are the new issues that I found on Lubuntu 14.10:

Guvcview crashes
The Guvcview 1.7.3 webcam application crashes on opening every time. There is a filed bug report on this. I checked out Cheese 3.12.2 but it wants to install the Brasero CD/DVD creator and Nautlius file manager for some reason, which is not good.
The notification dialog has horizontal bars through it
Whenever notifications are displayed they show an ugly set of horizontal lines that makes reading the text difficult. There is a filed bug report on this that includes an easy work-around. If you select "run" and "gksudo pcmanfm" to allow modifying system files, you can then just remove /usr/share/themes/Lubuntu-default/gtk-2.0/images/panel-bg.png which is the offending file and the notifications will display with a very elegant dark grey background instead.
Pointer crashes
Occasionally the mouse pointer crashes, resulting in two pointers in a horizontal row. The left pointer still works fine when this happens. I discovered that both a reboot and just opening a text editor and typing any text will fix this, rendering it a minor issue.
Wireless disconnects
The wireless connection is sometimes lost, requiring re-selecting it each time. This doesn't seem to happen to other wireless devices in the house, pointing to an issue with the Lubuntu installation.

That is all!

Reviews

Silviu Stahie, writing for Softpedia said about Lubuntu 14.10:

"One of the main characteristics of Lubuntu is the fact that it's fast, even on older computers. Basically, Lubuntu is able to run on anything built in the last decade, and there are very few operating systems out there that can claim the same thing...Just like its Ubuntu base, Lubuntu 14.10 has seen very few important visual modifications, although many packages have been updated under the hood. The theme and the icons have been updated, but the developers are preparing to make the switch to LXQt, a project that is still in the works."

Arindam Sen, writing in his blog, Linuxed said about Lubuntu 14.10:

"Make no mistake, Lubuntu 14.10 is in itself a good release. It is stable, bug free and offers incredible performance even on low powered machines. However, the only constraint is it's rather limited support of 9 months. I wish this was the LTS release! And did I forget to tell you that Lubuntu also supports touch screens. It is a perfect replacement for Win8 for the low powered laptops with touch screen being released these days. Anyway, definitely recommended from my side if you are ok with 9 months of support. I can surely bet that Lubuntu 14.10 will match up to your expectations."

Igor Ljubuncic, writing in Dedoimedo, didn't think much of Lubuntu 14.10:

There's nothing functionally wrong with Lubuntu. It's not bad. It's simply not interesting. It's meat without flavor, it's a hybrid car, it's accounting lessons at the local evening school, it's morning news, it's a visit to Pompei while blindfolded. There's no excitement...I liked this desktop environment in the past, but it's stagnated. It hasn't evolved at all, and its competitors have left it far behind. And that reflects poorly on Lubuntu, which, despite a calm and stable record of spartan behavior, has left with me an absolute zero of emotional attachment toward it.
Conclusions

These days Lubuntu is a very simple and elegant distribution, from its stylistic blue wave wallpaper to the default windowing theme. Behind the scenes it also seems to have an elegance of design that outperforms Ubuntu on the same hardware.

Work flows are different moving from Ubuntu's search-based desktop to Lubuntu's menu-driven system, but, once your brain makes the switch over, no real work efficiency is lost.

Overall Lubuntu 14.10 seems like a great release and solves many of the problems that Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and Ubuntu 14.10 suffers from. I made it my sole operating system once again on 13 December 2014.

Update -

The time has come to upgrade to Lubuntu 15.04, which was now released five days ago and say goodbye to Lubuntu 14.10, which I have run for almost five months now. I have found Lubuntu 14.10 to be one of the best releases of any Linux distro I have ever used. It is very stable, fast, easy to use and elegant, with almost no problems. Hopefully Lubuntu 15.04 will continue that tradition.


The Ubuntu Browser

By Adam Hunt

, updated

The Ubuntu Browser is a simple web browser intended for tablets and phones, but it has been included by default with the desktop Ubuntu ISO since Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr and available in the repositories since Ubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander. The first version seems to have been 0.20 and I first noted the existence of this application in my review of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

The browser is the default for all Unity web applications, meaning if you accept features like "Gmail integration" in Firefox, Gmail will be displayed in the Ubuntu Browser.

The browser on the desktop and the Ubuntu Software Centre is just called "Browser", which is a bit confusing, although its package name is "webbrowser-app". Its package description says "Ubuntu web browser - A lightweight web browser tailored for Ubuntu, based on the Oxide browser engine and using the Ubuntu UI components." Oxide-qt is a web browser engine library for Qt that facilitates using WebKit as the layout engine.

Although it has a very simple interface, it does lack a lot of features that are normally considered desirable in a browser. Missing are:

In many ways the application is not very complete and feels like alpha software.

On the plus side it is a very fast browser, rendering pages quickly. It has a unique tabbing system, where the open tabs are kept on a separate page, accessed from the "hamburger" menu or the HUD, rather than on tabs along the top of the browser like Firefox or Chrome does. This is a simple method of dealing with "tab overflow" problems.

The Ubuntu Browser scores 507/555 on the HTML5 Test, which is a very high score. It is odd that it lacks H.264 and MPEG4 video support, limiting its use for watching HTML5 videos.

Copy and paste functionality is also odd, also. If you right click on a section of text you can use a button that appears to copy it, fairly unconventional as Ctrl+C doesn't work. You can only copy whole paragraphs this way, as there is no way to highlight individual words or lines of text.

The lack of normative keyboard and mouse functionality can be a bit disconcerting. It took me quite a while to learn that reloading a page won't work by hitting "F5" and instead you have to tap "Alt" to open the HUD and then search for "Reload (Leave page)" instead. Hitting "Ctrl+Left Click" to open a link in a new tab does work, but the new tab is hidden and you may not realize it has opened.

The user agent string is likewise a bit unusual, in that it mimics Chromium 35, but doesn't report its own identity. It also reports running on Ubuntu 14.04 when it is actually running on 14.10 in this case:

Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Ubuntu 14.04) AppleWebKit/537.36 Chromium/35.0.1870.2 Safari/537.36

On the Ubuntu Software Centre the application currently has 13 reviews, most of them quite negative. The positive ones note that it is a work in progress and suggest it will get better in time. Several reviews report crashes and stability issues, although I have only seen one crash, a SIGABRT fault, which is an abort command.

The browser is quite useful on the desktop for web developers to test page coding on a webkit-powered browser to see how your pages render, an alternative to the Gecko-powered Firefox browser that also comes with Ubuntu.

Overall the Ubuntu Browser has the potential to get better over time and thus bears watching, although most users will greatly prefer Firefox, Chromium or another "full-featured" browser at the present time.


The jEdit Text Editor

By Adam Hunt

, updated

My recent discovery that gEdit on Ubuntu 14.10 was causing problems with Xorg, lock-ups and crashes, lead me to install an alternative text editor and see if that worked better.

It was back in 2007 that I first started using jEdit on Windows XP and wrote a review. At that time I found jEdit to be effective, but a bit geeky and a bit of work to configure. Given gEdit's problems I considered just installing the very simple Leafpad text editor, but decided to give jEdit another try as I really wanted a text editor with syntax highlighting and spell checking and Leafpad lacks those features.

jEdit is easy to install from the Ubuntu repositories, although, because it is based on the Java virtual machine (formerly called the Java Runtime Environment), it requires quite a number of dependencies to be installed along with it.

jEdit does work fine "right out of the box", but its strength is that it has a lot of plugins available, which allows users to customize it to add capabilities.

It doesn't come with spell-checking installed. To add that I needed to go to Plugins→ Plugin manager→ Install→ Spellcheck. Ubuntu comes with the Aspell dictionary already installed, but even after installing the spell-checking plugin jEdit doesn't recognize the dictionary! That requires: Plugins→ Plugin options→ Spellcheck→ General→ Spellcheck engine→ Aspell→ refresh list→Apply, to get it working.

I customized my text display at Utilities→ Global Options→ Editing→ to set "word wrap soft" and "wrap margin 120", so it wraps text by default, instead of displaying each line without wraps (i.e. off the screen to the right). I also set Utilities→ Global Options→ Saving & Back-up→ Max number of backups to zero, to stop jEdit making constant hidden back-up copies of files.

One strength of jEdit is that users can apply key bindings right in the application itself, creating keyboard shortcuts for common tasks. I set just two at Utilities→ Global Options→ Shortcuts, setting spell checking to the commonly used "F7" and setting toggling between word warp and no word wrap as "F2".

Lastly I customized the theme to make it fit the Ubuntu Unity desktop a bit better, by adding the GTK+ theme to replace the default Metal theme at Utilities→ Global Options→ Appearance→ Swing look and feel→ GTK+.

jEdit doesn't support Unity's global menus, but that is a minor drawback. Like most applications it displays normal menus across the application window top, although the menus are a bit unconventionally organized. Probably the most unusual thing is that what would normally be found under Edit→ Preferences on most Linux applications is found under Utilities→ Global Options instead. jEdit does take a bit of work to customize it, but once it is done it works very well and the high degree of customization available means that you can configure it the way you want it.

jEdit does have some advantages over gEdit, for instance it displays syntax highlighting in HTML headings and indicates unencoded ampersands, whereas gEdit doesn't. jEdit's key bindings and customization are also unmatched in gEdit.

Being Java-based, jEdit is available for all computer platforms, including Windows, Mac and Linux. Overall it is hard to improve on jEdit. Best of all it doesn't seem to consume excessive resources or crash, unlike gEdit in Ubuntu 14.10. With a bit of work setting it up it makes a good alternative text editor to gEdit.


Ubuntu 14.10

By Adam Hunt

, updated

I was intending the skip this new version of Ubuntu, that came out yesterday on , in favour of just staying with 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr for two years, but the ongoing crashes motivated me to download 14.10 Utopic Unicorn, give it a try and see if it is an improvement or not.

The problems with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS have included regular crashes of Epiphany, Gedit, Nautilus, Pitivi and Unity, with occasional crashes of GIMP and Firefox as well.

Switching from the LTS releases to the regular releases does mean going from a five year support period to nine months and so commits me to more frequent upgrades, but it would be worth it to get better stability.

I downloaded the ISO file via bit torrent using Transmission and that went very smoothly. The download is not that easy to find, as the Ubuntu website doesn't offer Ubuntu 14.10 on the main download page. I had to click through to the alternative downloads page to find it at all. The download took about 20 minutes. I did an MD5 sum check on it from the command line and that confirmed that I had a good download.

Next, in an effort to save a DVD, I used the Startup Disc Creator on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS to make a USB device that I could boot to for the installation. This failed to work and I located the reason in the release notes: "Due to changes in syslinux, it is not currently possible to use usb-creator from 14.04 and earlier releases to write USB images for 14.10; we believe that it is also not possible to use usb-creator from a 14.10 system to write USB images for earlier releases." Instead I made up a DVD, that booted fine and the installation went very smoothly and quickly.

There is a nice selection of wallpaper available, including a subtle "unicorn" themed one. The default wallpaper is the same "origami" one that was also the default on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

I installed Ubuntu 14.10 on my laptop on and my desktop on . In both cases the completely fresh installation went relatively smoothly, although I had to removed and re-install Firefox to get it working right on both machines.

Boot Times

Boot times to the complete desktop (including sign-in) are generally slower than past releases:

Ubuntu Boot Time Comparison
Ubuntu version Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Ubuntu 13.10 Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Ubuntu 14.10
Laptop 0:40 0:36 1:04 1:16
Desktop 0:36 not tested 1:10 1:06

The laptop slowness is probably due to the encrypted home directory. Ubuntu boot-up is definitely not getting faster over time.

My laptop idles at 406 MB of RAM after a boot-up, while my desktop clocks in at 421 MB of RAM, which is only 71% of the RAM used by Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

Applications

Ubuntu 14.10 comes with Unity 7.3.1, a development version of Unity 7.2.2 used on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS.

Ubuntu 14.10 uses the same version of Gnome and so most of the base applications have not changed from Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. Some of the applications included in the ISO file are:

I installed from the repositories:

As with the last few releases I did not install any non-free software, including skipping Adobe Flash. I have found I can easily get by without it.

Old Issues Fixed

One of the things I wanted to do was see if the issues from Ubuntu 14.04 LTS had been addressed. Here is an update on the old issues that have been fixed:

Gedit crashes
The Gedit (Text Editor) crashes on opening seem to be resolved.
Nautilus slow and pop-unders
The problems with Nautilus (Files) opening directories very slowly and "popping under" seem to have been solved, although it is still crashing (losing functionality).
Printing problems
The printing problems in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS seem to be resolved although I had to run: $ sudo hp-setup -i to get it working properly and consistently.
Unity crashes
Unity HUD crashes seem to be resolved.
New and Outstanding Issues

Here are the ongoing issues left over from Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and the new issues that I have identified so far:

Brasero breaks DVDs
The Gnome CD/DVD burning program Brasero is the same version as used on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and so probably performs as badly, although I am not going to waste any DVDs to find out. so I installed Xfburn once again. This is a new version, Xfburn 0.5.2, which has added some nice new features, like holding the last ISO file for multiple burning. As usual, XFburn continues to improve, while Brasero doesn't.
Epiphany crashes & video
The Epiphany web browser (Web) HTML5 video is now jittery and unusable and it still crashes on closing most of the time, as it did on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. In many ways the new Ubuntu Browser is a better WebKit-based browser for simple page testing and other basic tasks than Epiphany is.
Gedit crashes
The Gedit (Text Editor) seems to cause Xorg to consume a lot of CPU power while just typing, causing the cursor to constantly disappear and often crashes Gedit. To work around this I installed jEdit 5.1.0 instead and it works fine. See my review.
GIMP HUD loss of focus
When accessing GIMP menu items from the Unity HUD, GIMP often losses focus on the window, meaning that the HUD shows menus items for another open application that it had focused on instead. This seems to be a Unity issue.
Mounting a blank DVD
Putting a blank DVD in the drive still results in it mounting correctly, but it produces a spurious error that says, "Unable to mount blank DVD, location is already mounted".
Nautilus crashes
Nautilus (Files) still crashes, often losing functionality, like the ability to rename files. This is the same problem that the same version 3.10.1 had on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS. It sometimes crashes in a way that results in it still working mostly, but it maxes out the CPUs, which is new. I installed PCManFM 1.2.3 from LXDE as a work around when Nautilus crashes.
Pitivi crashes
Pitivi movie editor still crashes, but can be used with some care. New is that it crashes on attempting to open an .xges (gstreamer) file by clicking on the file. This would actually be an excellent video editor if they could solve the crash problems. To work around this I have installed Avidemux 2.5.4.
Screen Lock
The screen lock sometimes fails to work, not turning the screen off after a specified period of inactivity.
Reviews

Overall Ubuntu 14.10 is not getting bad reviews, just not lighting a fire for anyone.

Joey Sneddon said on OMG Ubuntu:

Ubuntu 14.10, codenamed “Utopic Unicorn”, is saddled with a modest changelog, composed largely of bug fixes, stability improvements and key software updates. All worthy, but falls a little way short of the “fresh ideas and new art” that should “raise the roof” – quotes from Mark Shuttleworth’s “U” name announcement...For the release taking place in the week of Ubuntu’s 10th anniversary, this may all read like a bit of an anticlimax. No headline user features, no visual changes (bar a few new icons for the sidebar of Nautilus) — there’s not even a new default wallpaper to look at...But on the flip side it’s perhaps the most fitting release; the one that shows just how far Ubuntu has come in the past few years. Mature, dependable and sure in its own (Ambiance-themed) skin, buggy feature churn has given way to a sustained era of assured stability...Ubuntu 14.10 is a rock-solid, hearty and dependable release. Perhaps more here than ever before. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s an uninspiring update on paper, and is far from being anything approaching essential.

Michael Larabel wrote on Phoronix:

At the end of the day simple end-users won't see much of a difference over Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, which is a bit sad given that this is the tenth anniversary release of Ubuntu Linux. For everyday Linux desktop users the many upgraded packages are great but there isn't too much more to celebrate about today on the desktop front.

Scott Gilbertson, writing for The Register, explained why he thinks there is little new in this release:

I've been covering Ubuntu for seven of the release’s 10 years and 14.10 is the first time I've had to dig deep into the release notes just to find something new to test. If you needed further proof that Canonical is currently solely focused on bringing its Unity 8 interface to mobile devices, 14.10 is the best evidence yet. Almost nothing Canonical develops has changed in this release - there isn't even a new desktop wallpaper. There are some updates to be sure, but they don’t hail from Canonical. The lack of updates isn't unexpected, in fact that's been the plan all along. Desktop Ubuntu is currently in a kind of suspended animation, waiting on Unity 8 and Mir to be ready for its coming metamorphosis. The short story is that it makes no sense for Canonical to keep refining Unity 7 when it will soon be retired.

I have to agree that the lack of flashy new features mean that Shuttleworth and the developers think that Ubuntu is just about where they want it now, that there isn't much to fix or change. Ubuntu development has become a very careful, incremental evolution, which is a good thing. I think, at this point in time, that they are right, overall Ubuntu is a very good operating system.

Conclusions

Ubuntu 14.10 is a mostly solid release with few new features or applications. It does offer some stability advantages over Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, which made it worthwhile upgrading for me, although it hasn't solved all these issues.


Two Months Without Adobe Flash

By Adam Hunt

One thing I wanted to do, starting with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, was get rid of the last non-free software I was using and that meant going Adobe Flash free.

Adobe Flash is used to provide videos and animation on websites and it is becoming obsolete and being replaced with HTML5 instead. As far as I am concerned it can't go away soon enough. Apple's Steve Jobs actually helped force the issue by refusing to have Flash on his iPhones or iPads, relying on HTML5 instead for video.

My objections are:

When I installed Ubuntu 14.04 LTS I left out installing Flash and relied on HTML5 in the Firefox and Epiphany browsers as my main way of accessing video, with the VLC media player's networking capabilities as a back-up. While the browsers without Flash installed revert to HTML5 video, VLC will actually play Flash video, but without the Flash Player.

Overall I have found very little on-line video content that I can't watch with this combination, although it occasionally takes a bit of creativity. For instance on AVweb the way they embed You Tube videos only works with the Flash Player. I have to open the page coding (Ctrl+U) to get the You Tube link and then open it directly instead. Some You Tube videos won't play in Firefox as either they haven't been converted to HTML5 video yet, which is an ongoing project at You Tube, or else because Firefox doesn't support the format yet. Firefox 30 does not currently have MPEG-4 support. In those cases I just copy the You Tube URL and play it in VLC via Ctrl+N instead.

A few websites use Flash to display content, like the Bravenet guestbook, which just returns "Your Browser Does Not Support this Bravenet Service. This Bravenet Service requires javascript to be enabled and the latest Flash player to be installed." I have no idea why a simple guestbook requires Flash to work. Hopefully they will fix it!

Google StreetView also runs on Flash, but the new version of StreetView currently available as a test uses HTML5 instead and will work fine without Flash.

Some CBC News Flash videos are offered as MP4s for download instead, which work fine, playing in VLC or Totem (Videos). In some cases I can find the videos on the CBC News Touch mobile site. In a few cases the video isn't available, but CBC do seem to be doing development work in this area right now and standardizing on MP4 format.

Otherwise I haven't run into any problems being on the internet without Flash, in fact many pages that have Flash content now load more quickly without the Flash Player installed and, of course, stability is greatly improved with no Flash crashes.


Firefox 29 Introduces Australis User Interface

By Adam Hunt

Firefox 29.0 was released on 29 April 2014 and at long last introduced the Australis interface changes that were initially scheduled for Firefox 25. The changes took a long time coming but actually have been worth the wait to get them right!

As soon as you open Firefox 29 you can see the changes, starting with much more rounded tabs, better colour scheme, URL bar line refinements and a new menu. It really looks good. The rounded tabs look better and more up-to-date, but that might be only if you are used to Google Chrome as they look like Chrome's tabs. The colour scheme changes render the open tab in a very light colour and the non-open ones in dark, which is ideal to quickly figure out which one is open.

The main menu has been completely changed to a wide rectangular shape and a symbolic type that works well. It is found by clicking on the "three bars logo" at the top right of the window and uses the same symbology that Google Chrome adopted a while ago. At least it makes switching between browsers easier.

Also found on the main menu is the "customize" menu, which allows dragging and dropping icons on the UI bars and also removing them. I prefer to remove as many as possible, leaving more space to view URLs and such, using keyboard shortcuts, such as using Ctrl+P for printing, rather than having a print icon.

This version of Firefox is more than a pretty face, it also includes some behind the scenes improvements, such as a new Gamepad API and Firefox Accounts, an improved method of setting up and synchronizing bookmarks and settings using end-to-end encryption.

This version of Firefox has an HTML5 test score of 467 which is up from 446 in Firefox 26.0 and this shows that the developers are slowly gaining support for HTML5. I have no Adobe Flash installed on any of my computers right now in an attempt to avoid non-free software with all its stability and security problems, so HTML5 video support is important to me. This version of Firefox still lacks H.264 and MPEG-4 video, which puts it behind Epiphany 3.10.3, but I am able to generally make up that deficiency with VLC's networking capabilities or just downloading and saving videos.

In comparing page loading speed, Firefox 29 is faster than previous versions. In fact it consistently loaded a set of test web pages about 25% faster than Epiphany 3.10.3 does, which is a good reason to use Firefox 29 right there.

In a test of RAM usage Firefox 29 used 547 MB of RAM on a standard set of six websites, compared to Epiphany 3.10.3, which used 425 MB of RAM on the same pages.

Other tests conducted show that Firefox 29's PDF reader still works well, as do downloads and all other features. This version of Firefox gives users more options and more control over how the browser looks and works. Cookie management is still the best there is in the browser market. Firefox's menu organization is still far above Google Chrome's too, which are a mess.

Firefox 29 is a bigger download than past versions, the Windows version weighing in at 29.0 MB versus 25.2 MB for Firefox 28.0, a 13% increase in size.

Past versions of Firefox have never played well with my TP-Link DSL modem's user interface, often failing to load pages properly and producing errors. Firefox 29 seems to have addressed this and the modem interface works flawlessly now.

With its improved page-loading speed, nice modern interface, simple menus, free software pedigree and built-in PDF reader, Firefox 29 is hard to improve upon! It is probably the best browser available today.

Fixing the passwords issue

I also I managed to fix an existing Firefox problem with the download of Firefox 29. As I had previously mentioned Firefox had stopped accepting passwords soon after Ubuntu 14.04 LTS was installed and a removal and re-installation didn't fix it. With the arrival of Firefox 29 I decided to give it another try. So before the update was delivered I removed Firefox and purged it as well:

$ sudo apt-get remove firefox
$ sudo apt-get purge firefox

and then deleted the entire Firefox home directory folder at ~/.mozilla. With that accomplished I then ran:

$ sudo apt-get install firefox

and that installed Firefox 29, created a new ~/.mozilla folder and it all worked fine, passwords and all.

External link

Video Editing With Pitivi 0.93

By Adam Hunt

, updated

I last reviewed PiTiVi (as it used to be spelled) when it was in version 0.15.2 and concluded that, due to frequent crashes, it was pretty worthless. With Pitivi 0.93 somethings have changed, including the capital letters. "PiTiVi" was rebranded as "Pitivi" with the release of version 0.91 in August 2013.

Version 0.93 is a bug fix for 0.91, which was itself a complete rewrite of the graphical front end for Gstreamer and it brings some improved stability. As long as you just try simple tasks then it doesn't crash, gray-out and lose features and that makes it an improvement.

Pitivi has always had a simple, intuitive design and the potential to be a really great video editor, but it still isn't quite there yet.

With Pitivi 0.93 you can import clips, edit them, add effects and render the video. There is a wide choice of containers, video and audio codecs, but the defaults are .ogv and .webm, both open formats. WebM format is especially welcome, as it is the Google-developed open format that is natively used on You Tube, making it a great choice for uploads there. Other output choices include ASF, MPEG, MP4, FLV, AVI, 3GPP, ISML, Matroska and Quicktime.

Pitivi 0.93 integrates nicely with both the Gnome desktop and Unity, displaying global menus and showing up where expected on the Unity menus themselves.

The application is still pretty resource-heavy when rendering, maxing out one of my CPUs, but not using up much RAM in the process. Rendering can be a bit slow, one video I did that turned out to be 39 MB and 1:37 in length took 21 minutes to render, so a bit of patience is required.

Transitions are achieved by simply dragging one video clip over another, with the default a very nicely done fade transition. Many other transitions are available, just by clicking on the overlapped video portion.

When it works Pitivi 0.93 is smooth, stable, simple to use and produces a nice finished product. As a video editor, with improved stability it coiuld become everything most home users will want.

Over a month of use Pitivi 0.93 worked well on simple projects with only a few clips. The problem I encountered was on more complex projects with twenty to thirty clips. In these cases it often locked up and lost functionality. On at least two of these more complex videos I just could not get it to work at all and had to install Avidemux 2.5.4, instead.

Avidemux 2.5.4 is still the current version on Ubuntu 14.04 and it can handle any number of clips with ease. Its main drawback is that it is slower to work with and the fade transitions between clips are just not as smooth as you can see in this video. I can do "fade to black and from black" transitions between clips, but it isn't as a nice as a smooth fade transition. On the plus side Avidemux renders the finished video much more quickly, often in five to ten minutes instead of an hour or two for Pitivi.

This is a video I created on Pitivi 0.93 and rendered in WebM format:


Gufw For Firewall Control

By Adam Hunt

Gufw is the graphical interface for the command line Uncomplicated Firewall (ufw) controller, built especially for Ubuntu. Both Gufw and ufw control the Linux iptables firewall.

Ubuntu comes with ufw and iptables already installed, but by default turned off. I guess they figure that most computers are firewalled at the modem level and don't need extra protection.

As installed, the firewall can only be controlled from the command line. Gufw provides a simple GUI to control ufw and it is indeed very simple to use. For most home users all you have to do is turn the status to on and leave the default settings at Incoming: Deny and Outgoing: Allow and it is all set.

There is a simple log to let you know how many attacks it has turned back, although I have not seen any yet on the three computers I set the firewall up on, probably because they are all operating inside the dual modem firewalls.

Gufw also allows setting rules to permit selective access, such as for a virtual private network (VPN) or other use, but for most home users these will be non-applicable.

The documentation is pretty complete and is hosted by Ubuntu. It shows how to create rules and other more complex firewall tasks.

Overall it would be hard to improve on Gufw; it just works.


The Epiphany 3.10.3 Web Browser

By Adam Hunt

Since trying out Epiphany 3.6.1, the version which shipped with Ubuntu 13.10, and finding that it worked pretty well, I was keen to try out Epiphany 3.10.3 in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and see if it is any better.

Epiphany is also called Web in the new Gnome naming scheme, although the Linux package remains epiphany-browser, so that is what I call it. It is too confusing to call a web browser Web.

Once I had Ubuntu 14.04 LTS up and running I installed Epiphany 3.10.3 from the command line. The installation didn't go smoothly, though. Once installed it didn't show up in the Unity menus until I had rebooted the computer, which is very odd. Furthermore it never shows up as "recently used" in Unity, although it is under "installed".

Next the set-up failed, as it wouldn't accept "import bookmarks" at all. I found a work-around by saving my old ephy-bookmarks.xml file and then replacing the existing one at ~/.config/epiphany/ephy-bookmarks.xml. A system reboot then installed the bookmarks, but that is not the way it is supposed to work! That is pretty broken.

Once that was out of the way the browser actually worked quite well, thankfully. Epiphany 3.10.3 is actually quite smooth, stable and fast. In a test of four standard web-pages it consumed 336 MB of RAM, versus 287 MB of RAM for Firefox 28.0.

New in this version, Epiphany has been split into two separate processes, epiphany-browser and WebKitWebProcess, which consumes most of the RAM. Pages loads with Epiphany 3.10.3 are usually faster than Firefox 28.0, sometimes twice as fast, so it looks like Epiphany may have its speed edge back, like it had in the days of Firefox 3.5 versus Epiphany 2.22.2.

This version of Epiphany scores 385 on the HTML5 test which is a slight improvement over the 367 score for Epiphany 3.6.1 and definitely shows development in the right direction. Most importantly it supports all HTML5 video formats, giving it an edge over Firefox 28.0 in Adobe Flash-free use.

Epiphany 3.10.3 has a completely re-designed user interface that is very clean and incorporates some good changes. Page searches are now at the top of the window, just below the URL bar and stay open to search the page repeatedly. Once you click a link the page find closes. This rectifies an old gripe of mine. In fact in this version many old issues that I had noted before in Epiphany 3.6.1 have been fixed. Here is the current list of outstanding issues:

Non-configurable web search
Google Search is still the default and only offering in Epiphany 3.10.3. All other searches have to be made by calling up the search engine page first, which is merely a minor inconvenience. This was supposed to have been changed starting with Epiphany 3.10 to DuckDuckGo, but it hasn't been. This is a minor inconvenience as you can still call up any search as a web page.
Saving downloads
All downloads go to the same place, you cannot click to save them in different folders, which is inconvenient.
Auto complete
The lack of auto complete when filling in web forms makes it slow to work on repetitive on-line tasks, like editing Wikipedia.
Not saving some passwords
Epiphany 3.10.3 does offer to save most passwords, but somehow misses a few of them on some pages that Firefox catches.
Displaying passwords
Epiphany 3.10.3's password manager is always blank, even though it has saved passwords. This problem has cropped up before, such as in Epiphany 2.30.6. It isn't a major issue and may even be a good security feature, as no one can read your passwords from the manager, but it does mean you can't selectively delete them either.

Epiphany 3.10.3's user agent string is the rather odd:

Mozilla/5.0 (Macintosh; Intel Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/538.15 (KHTML, like Gecko) Safari/538.15 Ubuntu/14.04 (3.10.3-0ubuntu2) Epiphany/3.10.3

It seems that most websites interpret that as being Safari 538.15 running on Mac OS X, but it does seem to fool them into working right, at least.

Stability has been pretty good so far, with only two crashes and in both cases of WebKitWebProcess. Epiphany recovers from crashes well, retaining tabs when re-opened.

Overall Epiphany 3.10.3 seems to be the best version of this browser yet. Hopefully the next version will solve the bookmark import issue.

Due to Firefox 28.0 refusing to save passwords on my desktop computer, I am now using Epiphany 3.10.3 as my main browser, so that should give it a good trial run over the next few weeks.

External link

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS

By Adam Hunt

, updated

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr, the new Long Term Support (LTS) version of Ubuntu, was released on . It replaces Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Precise Pangolin as the current LTS version of Ubuntu available, although 12.04 is still supported for three more years, until April 2017.

Mark Shuttleworth indicated back on that by the time Ubuntu 14.04 was released that Ubuntu would support smartphones, tablets, TVs and smart screens and good progress has been made towards that goal!

The name for this release, Trusty Tahr, was announced by Shuttleworth on , along with its release date of 17 April 2014. Shuttleworth indicated at that time that the focus for this development cycle would be "performance, refinement, maintainability, technical debt" and, because it is an LTS release, he encouraged developers to make "conservative choices". Technical debt refers to back-work needed to support changes made in other software to improve stability and usability, in other words, "catching-up".

From the start this looked like it was going to be a solid long term release without a lot of new features. The 14.04 development cycle focused on refining the tablet interface, specifically for the Nexus 7 and 10 tablets, with very few changes planned for the desktop interface over Ubuntu 13.10.

The next LTS will be Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, scheduled for April 2016. Ubuntu 14.04 LTS is supported for five years, until April 2019.

New Features

Ubuntu 14.04 does include a few new minor features:

Installing

I downloaded the ISO file on , the day it was first available and installed it on my laptop the same day and my desktop two days later, on . The completely fresh installation went very quickly, taking only 14 minutes from the DVD on the desktop. Re-installing my documents and configuring took an additional 30 minutes and I was done.

It is worth noting that Ubuntu's minimum system requirements have been reduced recently and are now:

  1. 700 MHz processor (about Intel Celeron or better) (was 1 GB)
  2. 512 MiB RAM (system memory) (was 1 GB)
  3. 5 GB of hard-drive space (or USB stick, memory card or external drive but see LiveCD for an alternative approach) (was 15 GB)
  4. VGA capable of 1024 X 768 screen resolution (was 800 X 600)
  5. Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB port for the installer media
  6. Internet access is helpful

This should all add up to make this version of Ubuntu lighter and quicker on the same hardware.

Boot Times

Boot times to the complete desktop are actually slower than past releases. On the laptop Ubuntu 12.04 LTS booted in 40 seconds, while 13.10 booted in 36 seconds and 14.04 LTS boots in 1:04, in all cases including sign-in. On my desktop 12.04 LTS booted in 36 seconds and 14.04 LTS boots in 1:10, almost double the time, although it isn't critical on a desktop computer, which is usually left on and running anyway.

The idle RAM after a fresh boot is 590 MB on my desktop, so I am not sure how well this would do with the recommended minimum of 512 MB of RAM. There could be lots of swap going on, which slows things down.

Applications

Ubuntu 14.04 includes Unity 7.2.0, now a very mature and well tested user interface, a growth version of Unity 7.1.2 used on Ubuntu 13.10.

Some of the applications included in the ISO file are:

The inclusion of Cheese in the ISO file is new and shows how Ubuntu is trying to be complete out of the box for laptops and tablets. It also helps explain why the ISO file is now 1.0 GB. In the last three relases it has grown 300 MB.

The Ubuntu Browser (package name: webbrowser-app) is an odd animal, a very simple WebKit-based web browser with minimal features. It is apparently intended as a cellphone or tablet "app" browser for displaying single web pages launched from a dedicated Unity icon as an "app". When you accept a "web integration" feature in Firefox it opens in this new browser. Joey Sneddon of OMG Ubuntu said of it:

...the browser is neither as featured as Firefox, or as intuitive to use. What’s more, I found the integration with Ubuntu’s Messaging Menu, notification system, launcher, plugins, etc to be buggy and hit-and-miss in my hands-on with it.
When apps do work, they work okay. Sessions are saved, cookies stored, and scrolling and resizing generally do what you expect them to. Clicking links that would typically open ‘in a new window’ is when things can get confusing. To access and switch between tabs you have to pull up from the bottom of the app (fiddly to do with a mouse) and work things out from there.
But, in swapping out the browser now, in this release, Canonical is making things easier for themselves down the line. With five years of support on the horizon, and Firefox and Chromium development plans ever evolving, they won’t have to keep patching this feature back in.

I also installed from the repositories:

I opted to skip installing the non-free-software Adobe Flash with all its insecurity and stability issues and see if I can live with HTML5 video only on my browsers, plus VLC as a networked media player when I need it. I have been trying this for the past two months on the laptop and haven't got stuck yet with video, but I'll write more about this move in the future and report on how successful it is. In this respect Epiphany is a great browser as it has complete HTML5 video support, including MPEG4 and H.264, which Firefox lacks. As far as application software goes my installation is all free software only.

I also didn't install the Midori web browser that I have been testing out recently. The current version remains 0.5.8 and while I like it a lot, its lack of password storage, plus inability to work with Google Calendar are show stoppers for me. If the developers can solve those two issues then I would be using it as my main browser right now. I'll install it and try it out when the next version comes out.

I removed Rhythmbox, Shotwell and Thunderbird, none of which I use.

This version of Ubuntu was supposed to ship with Chromium as the default browser, but showed up with Firefox 28.0. For some reason Firefox on my desktop broke soon after installation and refuses to remember passwords. The laptop version works fine, though. Uninstalling it, purging and then re-installing it didn't fix it, either. (Note: I later got this fixed) On the plus side Epiphany 3.10.3 is really good and does remember passwords, so I am using that as my main browser. I have a separate review of Epiphany 3.10.3.

I skipped installing Avidemux 2.5.4 video editor, as good as it is. This is the same version of Avidemux that was available on Ubuntu 12.04, and my use of it shows that it works quite well. Instead of Avidemux I wanted the chance to check out the new version of Pitivi, version 0.93 and see if it works better than past versions. If I need Avidemux 2.5.4 then I'll install it later on.

Outstanding Issues

One of the things I wanted to do was see if the issues from Ubuntu 13.10 had been addressed. They have mostly been fixed, but over six months of use I discovered that there are new issues:

Brasero breaks DVDs
The Gnome CD/DVD burning program Brasero continues to not work very well. It does now hold a burning speed, but it still occasionally breaks disks, mostly due to hang-ups in the final checksum process. I broke three DVDs out of 12 I tried before I gave up on Brasero and installed Xfburn once again. This seems to be a Gnome problem, rather than an Ubuntu issue.
Epiphany Crashes
Epiphany web browser (Web) crashes on closing almost every time.
Gedit Crashes
Gedit (Text Editor) suffers from occasional crashes on opening, just like in Ubuntu 12.04, but unlike in Ubuntu 13.10. I had thought this was fixed.
GIMP HUD loss of focus
When accessing GIMP menu items from the Unity HUD, GIMP often lost focus on the window, meaning that the HUD shows menus items for another open application that it had focused on instead. This is still an issue, although minor.
Mounting a blank DVD
Putting a blank DVD in the drive results in it mounting fine, but it produces a spurious error that says, "Unable to mount blank DVD, location is already mounted". Hopefully an update will correct this in the near future.
Nautilus Crashes
Nautilus file browser (Files) often suffers partial crashes and loss of functionality that requires closing and re-opening to fix. Sometimes it is very slow to open directories. It also often "pops under" other windows when being opened, which is annoying.
Printing
Printing almost always goes to "hold" and requires restarting the printer to clear it.
Unity Crashes
The Unity HUD sometimes loses functionality and cannot find any menu items. This requires a reboot to fix.
Improvements

These are the new things that I discovered that are better in Ubuntu 14.04 LTS than past versions:

Camera, USB and SD card mounting
This version of Ubuntu mounts cards and devices lightning fast, usually in under a second, compared to 6-10 seconds in Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.
Epiphany 3.10.3
A totally new GUI for Epiphany, including a better page find. See my detailed review.
Pitivi 0.93
The Pitivi video editor has been improved and doesn't crash quite as often! See my detailed review.
Xfburn 0.5.0
The XFburn CD/DVD burner from the Xfce desktop works even better than past versions, now remembering the last file used, which saves time when making multiple copies. While Brasero continues to disappoint, Xfburn is getting better all the time.
The Shopping Lens Controversy

As described in my review of Ubuntu 13.10, despite a certain amount of hoopla by certain critics this has become a big, fat, non-issue. The searches are now fully anonymized end-to-end and many Ubuntu users actually like the feature. If you don't want it, then, with one selection at Settings→ Security & Privacy→ Search, you can turn it off. End of story.

Conclusions

I used this release for a total of six months and while overall it is not bad, it has some annoyances that weren't fixed through updates. Overall these issues make using 14.04 LTS less than an ideal experience, caused me to drop its rating to 8/10 and, ultimately I switched to Ubuntu 14.10 Utopic Unicorn as a result. Users just expect better from an LTS release.