Kubuntu Gutsy Gibbon: Second impressions, plus some stuff about Amarok

November 10th, 2007 by Reinder

Since posting my first impressions of Kubuntu Gutsy Gibbon, I've warmed to it quite a bit. It's become my main OS now, though not exactly by choice: I was shooting to multi-boot between it and SuSE 10.0, but once I'd installed Kubuntu, the boot loader could no longer find my other boot setup and all I could do was boot Kubuntu, and that only after some tweaking that I'll spare you the details of because it's not something that will apply to many other people.

However, I'm not too bothered by losing my SuSE because for the most part, Kubuntu is working pretty well for me.

What works: all the things I reported the other day, plus mp3 and mp4 support, tablet sensitivity support, wine (running Photoshop 7, Art Rage and Creature House Expression), DVD and DivX/Xvid, TV card (except sound, for which I will have to open the case to reconnect some things). The smooshiness in the screen resolution went away after a re-prod.

What doesn't work: Azureus crashes (but it's not the only bittorrent client in town). Tablet sensitivity under wine - I'll keep an eye on developments in that regard. Paint Shop Pro 8 and Painter Classic under Wine. There are some more minor issues with Photoshop under wine that I should contact winehq about, but nothing that renders it unusable. Opera is a bit unstable on this system, but that may end when there's a Gutsy-specific release. Aaaaand... that's it, really. I'll add to this list if I can think of more stuff that's broken.

Jelena had already got her own copy of regular, gnome-based Ubuntu on LiveCD, and run it on her PC there. I couldn't get it to boot on the studio PC that's attached to the scanner, but my Kubuntu CD did work, and it got the correct sane driver for my Epson GT-12000 A3 scanner. For me, this is a big plus, because what we mainly use that machine for is scanning. For Jeroen and me, if we have the scanner, internet connection and Photoshop 7, that's all we need. Anything else that works is a bonus - except maybe the printer. I forgot to test that, but will do so some other time. Having Ubuntu around could end up saving us many hundreds, possibly thousands, of Euros in the not too distant future. Having said that, we're not installing it just yet. I would like to sort out the tablet issue affecting wine at home before doing that.

Back at home, something that had been puzzling me was a problem with the music player, Amarok. I'd copied some .m4a files from my iBook, including some that I had ripped myself from CD and some from iTunes Plus. They played well and Amarok could read the tags, except sometimes they didn't and Amarok didn't read the tags. I had spent some time searching for m4a problems in linux, and performed several tests with other players in order to isolate the problem, until I saw that one of the files in my playlist queue was only 83 bytes on disk. That gave me the clue I needed quite quickly: iTunes, in its infinite wisdom, still conforms to the old Mac convention of saving every file as two files: one large one containing all the stuff you need, and one very small one containing some metadata for the OS. If I remember correctly, this was introduced back in the day to facilitate file association with the programs to run the files, a feature that's commonplace now but was pretty novel back in the DOS era. These days, it's implemented very differently on most OSes.
Anyway, those extra files start with the "." (dot) character, which causes linux file managers to hide them from the user, but which doesn't cause Amarok to skip them when looking for music files to play. So whenever Amarok encounters a file called .artist_title.m4a, it tries to add it to the collection, and it will show up in your random playlist. Solution: Make sure you can see those files in Konqueror or Dolphin, and delete them as they don't do anything useful in linux.

The fact that Amarok can play m4a files does contribute to it being a better player overall than iTunes Player, because it can play just about any audio most people will care to throw at it, whereas iTunes doesn't play nice with Ogg Vorbis, the format that most of my music is in. Sure, there's a plugin to support it*) but it slows iTunes down noticeably, and metadata display for Ogg Vorbis is still broken. Plus Amarok's interface, while not as sleek as iTunes player, flows really well, can be customized more, and doesn't depend on slightly-less-evil-than-Real Quicktime to run.

*) Of course, the plugin aspect makes for a rather unfair comparison, because technically, every codec in Amarok works as a plugin - but most of them come with the system and even the ones you have to install - which is straightforward - will then work for all of your installed linux system. From a user point of view, it all works a lot more smoothly.

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