Xubuntu 8.04.1 64-bit Edition — Fast Indeed

I installed Xubuntu 8.04.1 64-bit on my PC last week. Why, you ask? I wanted to have a 64-bit environment to work on C++ programming (a new hobby of mine) using gcc’s “-m64” option. Besides, the thought of creating and executing my own 64-bit programs, primitive as they may be, gets me all excited in a very nerdy, geeky way.

I chose Xubuntu 64-bit, because it was the most popular 64-bit, lightweight distro I could find.

Installation

Since the Xubuntu Live CD couldn’t figure out how to resize/edit my existing Elyssa ext3 and swap partitions, I tried to give the Elyssa Live CD a try. To my surprise, it worked. (NOTE: Using a Live CD to edit partitions is the best way to go, since you can edit any partition; e.g., if I had booted into Elyssa, then I wouldn’t have been able to edit my Elyssa’s ext3 partition). So now, Xubuntu and Elyssa are on the same 2nd physical hard drive. (My first hard drive just has Windows XP on it.) Here’s a tip about partitions when you have 2 Linux distros on one disk: use only 1 swap partition! You do not need a second swap partition for your second Linux distribution (Xubuntu, in my case). Linux distros are a “family” in the sense that they can all share the same swap partition as each other. Isn’t that beautiful? (Also, if you’re really advanced, I read somewhere that you can have them share the same /home partition, if you partitioned that part separately in your first Linux distro’s install process).

The only side effect to installing Xubuntu on the same drive as Elyssa is that the GRUB boot loader looks different — the customized Elyssa background/logo is gone. Instead, I just have a simple text-based GRUB (which suits me fine either way). I had to edit the /boot/grub/menu.lst file again to set Elyssa as my default choice instead of Xubuntu.

Look and Feel

Using Xubuntu is very easy if you’re used to Mint already. You’ll probably find out all the system settings and customizations you need to know within an hour (conservative estimate). The Xfce GUI that comes with Xubuntu somewhat resembles how Gnome looks, but it’s much, much faster. And I realized that compiz-fusion isn’t all that great. The default Xfce interface functions very well, and isn’t lacking in any respect. Xubuntu by default comes packed with tons of window themes (how your title bar and window borders look), as well as a few GTK2+ themes (how the inside of your windows look).

Since I have a dual-LCD monitor setup, I installed nvidia-settings, and made it use “TwinView”.

Performance

And yes folks, Xubuntu is built for speed. Xubuntu loads in about half the time it takes Elyssa to start up. Beautiful!! I also realized that the windows are more responsive/faster than the Aurora theme in Elyssa’s Gnome environment. Considering how I have a decent setup (Q6600 @ 2.8Ghz, NVIDIA 8800 GTS 320 MB), it’s a bit of a shame how Gnome & Compiz-Fusion is still a bit slow compared to Xubuntu.

Here to Stay?

I am aware that the Mint people are going to release a 64-bit edition of their own in the coming months, but I think I’ll stick with Xubuntu for now. There is basically no reason why I should choose a Mint 64-bit edition over Xubuntu 64-bit. Mint doesn’t come with any special features. I’m no longer a Linux “total newb.” Also, I like the idea of having different distros and knowing how to use them.

UPDATE August 27, 2008: Some more info on performance/speed: I’ve read some forum posts on the Ubuntu forums, and the consensus is this: build from source — i.e., compile everything on your own native system from source code for all the desired Linux packages to get the highest possible performance. Some OS’s, like Gentoo, does this for you to a large extent — of course, it takes a whole day to install Gentoo. I heard Zenwalk was also very fast. But for me, I think Xubuntu is fast enough.

UPDATE August 29, 2008: Apparently, the slow speed of the Aurora GTK theme engine in Elyssa was something unique to Elyssa. I have the Aurora theme running on my Xubuntu installation, and there is absolutely no slowdown in performance. I guess something is up with the Gnome environment (maybe it was CompizFusion slowing Aurora down?).

UPDATE March 2, 2009: I use Arch Linux + Xmonad now, and as Xmonad is simply a Window Manager (WM) and not a Desktop Environment (DE), it beats my old Xubuntu setup in terms of raw speed and memory usage. I highly recommend you read my posts on Arch Linux, and make the switch to Arch!

Crisp, Clean Fonts in Hardy/Elyssa

If you’re coming from a Windows background like me into the world of Linux, then you probably noticed that the fonts (in the GUI) in Hardy/Elyssa don’t look so crisp on your LCD monitor. In fact, they may look more blurry than in Windows. For me, I could never really get used to the blurry fonts at all — my eyes felt like they were always searching for something crisp and clean to hold onto.

So far, I found 3 fonts that look ultra-clean (in small sizes like 10 or 12 pt) on my Elyssa system: Kochi Gothic, Kochi Mincho, and Terminus. The Kochi fonts come installed by default (they are the fonts used for Japanese text, but also work for English text, though not European accented characters). As for Terminus, all you have to do is install the xfonts-terminus package from Synaptic. Terminus is supposedly the veteran font from the UNIX command-line days, and it does look quite excellent in small sizes. For me, I use the Terminus font as my default system font for all of my GUI menus and such. And boy, does it look crisp and clean! They look as if font anti-aliasing has been turned off – what a relief. So try out these fonts as your system fonts if you haven’t already!

UPDATE September 25, 2008: I forgot to mention in my original post: you should also install the xfonts-terminus-oblique package for the proper italicized version of the Terminus font.

Automatically Mount Hard Drives on Elyssa

For some reason, Elyssa wouldn’t automatically mount hard drives for me any more. And if you’re like me, you probably rolled up your sleeves and tried to edit fstab numerous times. But if you’ve been pulling your hair out reading threads like this, and still haven’t found a neat, simple solution, here’s one that really worked for me on Elyssa: just install ntfs-config from the repositories, and you’re set! Go to Start -> NTFS Configuration Tool, and select the desired options.

UPDATE July 15, 2008: Be sure to have the to-be-auto-mounted-hard-drives *unmounted* before you click on the NTFS Configuration Tool icon (otherwise, it won’t recognize them).

When You’re Tired of Typing “sudo”

Here’s a neat trick: when you’re in the terminal, type sudo su to become the super user! Now, you don’t have to type in sudo this or sudo that (or even gksudo) for every command. You will stay logged in as the super user as long as the terminal remains open!

UPDATE September 22, 2008: One user, “Joss,” has pointed out to me that you could just type su instead of sudo su. Unfortunately, it does not work for me on my end (Xubuntu 8.04.1 64-bit). As with any command, prepend with “man” to learn more about it (e.g., “man su”). (Tip: whenever you’re viewing a manual with “man,” press Q on your keyboard to exit.)

UPDATE June 16, 2010: I’ve been using “su -m” to become the super user (root) for over a year now. The “m” flag keeps my local variables — so all of my neat customizations and aliases from ~/.zshrc are accessible, even as root!

Brother HL-2040 printer on Elyssa

I had issues with getting my HL-2040 printer to use correct margins on Daryna (using US Letter paper, or 8.5″ x 11″). Follow my steps to get it working perfectly in Elyssa (assuming you already have the printer identified/installed onto your system):

  1. Install the following packages with Synaptic: brother-cups-wrapper-laser, brother-lpr-drivers-common, brother-lpr-drivers-laser.
  2. Go to /usr/Brother/inf and open up brHL2040rc in your favorite text editor with superuser privileges (e.g., gksudo gedit /usr/Brother/inf/brHL2040rc). Don’t worry, the file is really tiny.
  3. Make the PaperType variable Letter.

It should now use the correct margins. This solution is identical for the solution for HL-2070N printers. Thanks to dcstar, post #4.

Netbeans 6.0.1 on Elyssa – Ruby, Rails, C/C++ Projects

Some weeks ago, the Ubuntu people quietly upgraded their Netbeans package on their repositories from version 5.5 to 6.0.1. For me, this is great, because I don’t have to download shell install scripts from the Netbeans website any more (the current 6.1 not being much of a facelift from version 6.0.1). However, you’ll notice that 6.0.1 from Synaptic does not support the creation of projects other than Java or some other “Samples” in the New Project dialog box. To remedy this, simply go to Tools -> Plugins -> Available Plugins, and check off the boxes that you want to use. For me, I added the Ruby and Rails, Ruby Extra Hints, and C/C++ plugins. Now, I can create (and open existing) projects that are based on Ruby, Rails, or C/C++, and use all of the functionality of the IDE associated with those languages! You might also want to go to the Tools -> Plugins -> Updates tab to install some of the “core” updates to the general IDE.