Christmas IT fun!

This year I've had plenty of IT 'fun' in the run up to Christmas! My daughters both love drawing, and both are always asking if they can print documents they've created on their computers; drawings, writing, photos.

So this year Father Christmas bought us a Bamboo Pen and Tablet by Wacom, and an HP photosmart 5510. Huzzah! Thank you Father Christmas!

Thing is my kids computers are both fairly old relics kept alive by wonderful OpenSource software. Ubuntu is our OS of choice, and Father Christmas seems to have done his homework and brought us toys that will work well with our linux based systems. Almost.

It turns out that the Bamboo tablet is one of their very latest offerings, a 'third generation' tablet, with support for multi-touch or something. It turns out it needs some fiddling to get it working in Ubuntu. First up, it needs a really up to date version of the linux core, which has support for multi-touch. This for me meant an upgrade to Oneiric Ocelot (v11.10), which I have been putting off because of the vocal community of people that seem to dislike the Unity UI, and the alternative Gnome Shell.

First lesson learnt was not to attempt to upgrade from Lucid Lynx (10.04 Long Term Support release) to 11.10. It really doesn't work well at all. I ended up doing a full re-install. After the upgrade I had nasty permissions problems and  none of the imported users worked. It was a bit of a disaster. 

Oneiric is not so good on the netbook as 10.04 netbook remix was. I was surprised by this. I thought that Unity was being adopted to allow Ubuntu to work on tablets, phones, and various devices. I often find I have to resize critical dialogs because the bottom of the dialog is not visible on my 600px high screen. I don't remember having to do this on 10.04 netbook remix. 

So, on getting the right OS, I then had to download, compile and install a current version of the Wacom USB Kernel Driver. Instructions on how to do this can be found here.

After this, the tablet worked well. I highly recommend MyPaint (from the Ubuntu repository). It's a great program for brush/pencil type sketching. 

On Oneiric Ocelot - I can't say I like Unity much as it stands, but I suspect it will get better. I like the old Gnome 2 menus, but perhaps I'm just a bit set in my ways. From the kids perspective, it is both better and worse. Some points that may be pertinent;

  • Unity Launcher is heavily icon based so good for young kids that can't read.
  • Unity Launcher Icons are hard to access and not well organized. You need to be able to understand words and text to be able to navigate (e.g. 52 more... or all applications.... etc). This reduces the benefits of the first point substantially.
  • There is a find... functionality built into the launcher, which is great if you can a) spell and type b) know the name of the app you're looking for (i.e. can read).
  • Application Menus are hidden across the top of the screen in most apps. This is great for space saving, but is not intuitive first time. I think we've all worked this out now. Certainly the kids seem to expect to find menu's appearing when they push the mouse up there.
I'm guessing my kids will find it much harder to use 11.10 Unity. But I remain open minded and will see how they get on. I guess I can always customize the launcher for them so they don't need to search or find new programs. However, they do install stuff themselves, and have always managed to find what they've just installed, but the old netbook remix was easier to find programs in that Ocelot.

Next up, the printer. I needed to also get the latest HPLIP drivers as support for this printer has only been recently added. This was pretty easy via the HPLIP web site.

The longest most frustrating part of getting all this going was the failed upgrade to Ocelot. I really should have done a fresh install from the start. Upgrades are open to bugs and failure in difficult and hard to predict ways. 


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