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Ubuntu for the K Desktop Environment

By Gerry Patterson

After installing Ubuntu, I became curious about Kubuntu. I had been impressed with the Suse Linux desktop that I had experimented with previously. And I had been very impressed with Amarok, easily the best music management software I have ever encountered

So I decided to install and test Kubuntu

Kubuntu is another member of the Ubuntu family that lives up to the high standards set by the popular Linux Distribution.

Installation Video Configuration

The Kubuntu Install was as smooth and well integrated as its' American cousin. For someone who is already familiar with Ubuntu, it is relatively easy to become familiar with KDE. Many of the same programs are there, with a different GUI, and a "K" somewhere in their name. Applications like Konsole, Konqueror, Kedit etc. Konqueror manages passwords with an application called kdewallet which seems very similar to the Mac way of managing passwords.

Kubuntu seems to be as robust as Ubuntu. And it includes lots of standard Linux features. The disk is fsck checked every 33 mounts. If you want Firefox you need to install it with the adept installer.

Video Configuration

One of the things I was not happy about with Kubuntu was the screen resolution. I had purchased a 19 inch LCD LG Flatron L194WT-SF monitor. The on-board firmware recommended that I use a resolution of 1440x900 for best results. But the screen was set to 1280x1024. I tried to alter it using the "System Settings->Monitor & Display" menu. This did not have the the setting 1440x900. However when I tried selecting a lower resolution, it did nothing ... until I later rebooted and discovered that the desktop was now stuck permanently in 640x480 (ugh! yuck! blegh!). I tried fiddling with various things ... trying to persuade the "Monitor & Display" menu to bring back my 1280x1024 resolution even though it was sub-optimal ... Obviously this menu has a few undocumented features.

Lastly I tried altering the BIOS settings. I found how to give my display more memory --- and then another one of the settings killed the display altogether. Of course the machine was now as dead as a dodo. I always tell people that I just "don't do hardware". But when the rubber hits the road, you sometimes have to change a tire. I found a torch and I opened up the machine and peered around with the manual in one hand and torch in the other until I found the jumper that reset CMOS. Then I setup my BIOS and selected the handy option that added more memory to the video card and left all the other BIOS settings. Life is too short for fiddling with BIOS settings. I replaced the lid quickly, and from then on I explored only soft options.

The machine was still stuck in the pig-dog ugly 640x480 resolution. After searching online I found many references to X server. I tried re-configuring the X server manually. And the operating system died a horrible death. So I switched to graphics mode and restored my xorg.conf. I had taken the precaution of backing it up, and the reconfiguration process had made a copy also. Then I examined the xorg.conf (in the folder /etc/X11). Alas, while I had been fiddling, I had been over-writing backed up copies of the xorg.conf file. Probably if I had restored it immediately I made the first change (with the System Settings option) might have got out of 640x480 resolution.

Then playing on a hunch, I altered some lines in the xorg.conf (after first making a backup copy!). In the "screen" section. I altered this line:

<   modeline  "640x480@60" 25.2 640 656 752 800 480 490 492 525 -vsync -hsync
to this:
>   modeline  "1440x900@60" 25.2 640 656 752 800 480 490 492 525 -vsync -hsync
And I altered these lines:
<     virtual 640 480
<     modes "640x480@60"
to this:
>     virtual 1440 900
>     modes "1440x900@60"

I rebooted and viola! 1440x900 resolution. Very crisp ... very neat, Circles were perfect circles and the screen look ice cool with some great Kubuntu wallpaper.

Video Configuration for Ubuntu

After successfully fixing the video on the Kubuntu machine, I tried fixing the screen on the Ubuntu workstation, which had a similar problem. It had a Proview 900W 19 inch monitor. And although the system configuration had more options to choose from, and didn't have the bugs that the Kubuntu configuration menu had, the optimal 1440x900 resolution was not one of the choices.

On the Ubuntu machine I found a different looking xorg.conf file. Under the section labeled "Screen", I found these lines:

Section "Screen"
	Identifier	"Default Screen"
	Device		"Generic Video Card"
	Monitor		"L194WT"
	DefaultDepth	24
	SubSection "Display"
		Depth		1
		Modes		"1440x1440" "1280x1024" "1280x960" "1152x864" "1024x768" "832x624" "800x600" "720x400" "640x480"

The subsection was repeated five times for depths 4, 8, 15, 16 and 24. I
changed each subsection as follows:

	SubSection "Display"
		Depth		1
		Modes		"1440x1440" "1440x900" "1280x960" "1152x864" "1024x768" "832x624" "800x600" "720x400" "640x480"

When I re-started the Ubuntu machine it also had the 1440x900 resolution most appropriate for a 19 inch wide screen.

NB: Always make a backup copy of your xorg.conf file. If you make a mistake, and the X11 server refuses to start, you will have to restore the original copy. This may have to be done by booting into safe mode, or using a rescue disk and mounting the hard disk. Sometimes you can get a text console by use the Ctrl-Alt F1 (or F2 etc) to get a console login.

Printer Configuration

I encountered another problem when I tried to configure the printers using the System Settings -> Printers option. This program just crashed with this message:

"The application System Settings (systemsettings) crashed and caused the signal 11 (SIGSEGV)."

I googled several other instances of this problem, but I was not able to google a solution. An easy work around is to use the built in CUPS interface. Just use Konqueror to navigate to http://localhost:631/ This is fairly easy to use and I am more familiar with it than other interfaces. I had encountered a similar problem with "Ubuntu". For some reason the printer configuration has a few undocumented features (sometimes it will not delete a printer). The standard CUPS interface is reliable and consistent. It will also work in lynx or w3m (so you can telnet to a machine and fix printer configuration problems)

Applications, Configuration

Apart from Amarok, which comes with the default installation, I tried several games. A lot of these are displayed in the adept-installer. Our kids seemed to enjoyed "Battle For Wesnoth", "Bug Squish", "Monkey Bubbles", "Same Gnome", "Tux Typing" and "Tux Math". I found that k9copy was the best way to back up video DVDs (very handy because the originals often get damaged from misuse). Also installed the bluefish HTML editor. This one of the best HTML editors I have encountered. Mainly because it seems to be very simple. I will stick with vi however. Gvim works very well on Kubuntu (of course), I made it the default application for text documents. I did not document what I did while I was trying to alter default applications, but the menu that I found to do this (in Konqueror) seemed a little buggy.

Generally, I tried to use the adept-installer. However on occasions I would use the aptitude command line.

Since I used to have a Suse workstation, there wasn't a big learning curve for the KDE desktop. After experimenting with several things, and getting the desktop environment setup, I tried to do a quick installation of mail system for everyone in the family. For a large office you would probably setup LDAP or use an IMAP server. However I found that easy way to setup a shared environment for everyone was to use NFS. The mailhub (postfix on Linux) would deliver mail to an NFS mount. Each user had a mailbox in this mount. I had already configured the Ubuntu machine to use Evolution. I opted for Kontact E-mail on the Kubuntu machine (because it is the default application for KDE). I could have used Evolution. but I wanted to get the two MUAs to inter-operate. Each application was setup to use local delivery (with mutt dotlock). Mail was sent via SMTP without authentication. The server was setup to relay from the local side. I also set each user up with a shared mailbox (so that mail could be transferred between different machines). This was a little difficult to do with Kontact. I had to hack the configuration. Kontact keeps some of its files in ~/.kde/share/apps/kmail. I used the New Folder selection in Kontact and then went into the each folder for each user and removed the files for that folder and created a logical link to the mbox file on the NFS mount. This meant that each user had an inbox (standard local deliver to a file that was an NFS mount), and a local folder that was a logic link to another NFS mounted file. Obviously this approach would be too labour intensive in a medium to large size business.

I was not able to get the Macintosh to behave very well in this environment. The Mac MUA seemed to pretty insistent on doing things "The Mac Way". Eventually I decided it would be easier to install Evolution on the Mac and I configured it in the same way as the Ubuntu workstation.

Upgrading to Gutsy Gibbon

The next project I tried was updating to Gutsy Gibbon. This was "almost seamless". There was one little glitch which was very worrying and I will document it here in case someone else encounters it.

The download of Gutsy Gibbon seemed very robust and well engineered. I encountered a network outage in the middle of it and it recovered ok. The install was as smooth as a buttered glass. Files were updated, obsolete files removed etc.

I restarted and I was not able to connect to the network. I got a deep sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I looked in dmesg and it said the link was not up. I checked the cables and the local hub just in case. I rebooted (twice). But alas the network was quite unreachable.

I then tried the Kubuntu Feisty Fawn Install Disk. And the network came up. I exited to the command line and checked dmesg. It said the eth0 link was up (of course). I rebooted back to Gutsy Gibbon and the network was up. Unfortunately I have lost the dmesg that had the message about the eth0 link not being up. However there did not appear to anything wrong with the hardware, and the simple process of booting with the initial install disk, seems to have fixed the problem permanently.

This one is right out of the Twilight Zone ... I have no explanation for it. I don't know if anyone has encountered a similar problem.

Tips And Tricks

Some of the problems I encountered using Kubuntu.


Here are a few useful links:

Kubuntu Home

Kubuntu. Features links to the Kubuntu FAQ and download pages. or you want a succinct summary of the history and pedigree of Ubuntu, this Wikipedia entry is regularly maintained and should be up-to-date with information regarding the current release.


KDE This Wikipedia article summarises the history of KDE. If you were wondering what the "K" stands for, there are some answers here.


Official Amorok Home Page This gives the latest news and info on Amarok. However if you want the latest stable version, just install Kubuntu. Non-Ubuntu users should check the download page.