Installing Ubuntu on a HP Pavilion laptop

So I decided to install Ubuntu on my daughter’s new laptop, more specifically a HP Pavilion. The choice of this particular laptop was because it looked nice, and had good specs for the money. It was first after the purchase I read all the complaints people have about the weird UEFI implementation on HP laptops. So I started the install process with some worries.

Reading on various forums, people seemed to have been doing all sorts of strange things to be able to install Ubuntu on HP laptops, including modifying the UEFI setup, changing the BIOS, and so on. I recall that on my Lenovo laptop I had to work quite a bit to turn off all the fancy auto-Windows-stuff.

I am not sure if HP has changed something recently or not, but the final procedure was super-easy: I just hit the F9 button on startup and got a normal “old-school” boot selector. Here I chose the USB drive, and the Ubuntu installer fired up.

I have installed Linux (primarily various Ubuntu versions) on a number of laptops over the years, and it is very seldom that I get into problems with drivers. Also this time things went smoothly, everything worked perfectly right after the install. I think it is important to continue repeating this message, because I still hear people saying that it is tricky to get Ubuntu to play with different hardware. True, there used to be driver issues some years ago, but personally I haven’t experienced that in five years or so.

Which Linux version to choose for a 9-year old?

My 9-year old daughter is getting her first laptop. But which OS should she get started with?

I have been using various versions of Ubuntu as my main OS for around 5 years now, currently using Ubuntu Studio on my main laptop. This distro is based on XFCE, a very lightweight yet versatile OS. The reason for choosing Ubuntu Studio over the regular XUbuntu was to get a bunch of music apps by default. I haven’t been able to explore these as much as I wanted to, unfortunately, primarily due to everything happening at our new centre (RITMO) and master’s programme (MCT).

Even though I like Ubuntu Studio myself, it is not a distro I would install on my daughter’s machine. Buying a new computer with Windows 10 pre-installed, one could argue that it would be best to leave her with that. This may also help her to be more familiar with the computers they are using at school, which run Windows 7 at the moment. But the question in the store about whether I wanted to buy some antivirus-software with the new laptop, was enough to ensure me that a Linux distro would be a better choice.

I have heard that some people like distros such as Edubuntu for kids, but it does not seem to be maintained? After thinking about it for a little while, I have concluded that it is probably useful for a kid to learn to use a normal OS. If you compare how things were a decade or two ago, most modern-day OSes are comparably easy to use anyways.

Finally I decided to make it simple, and installed the regular Ubuntu distro based on GNOME. It looks “modern”, has large icons, and is fairly easy to navigate due to the streamlining of menus, and so on.

Rotate lots of image on Ubuntu

I often find myself with a bunch of images that are not properly rotated. Many cameras write the rotation information to the EXIF header of the image file, but the file itself is not actually rotated. Some photo editors do this automagically when you import the files, but I prefer to copy files manually to my drive.

I therefore have a little one-liner that can rotate all the files in a folder:

find . *.jpg -exec jhead -autorot {} \;

It works recursively, and is very quick!

Shell script for compressing PDF files on Ubuntu

ubuntu-logo112Back on OSX one of my favourite small programs was called PDFCompress, which compressed a large PDF file into something more manageable. There are many ways of doing this on Ubuntu as well, but nothing really as smooth as I used to on OX.

Finally I took the time to figure out how I could make a small shell script based on ghostscript. The whole script looks like this:

#!/bin/sh
gs -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -dCompatibilityLevel=1.4 -dPDFSETTINGS=/default -dNOPAUSE -dQUIET -dBATCH -dDetectDuplicateImages -dCompressFonts=true -r150 -sOutputFile="compress_$@" "$@"

and by saving it in the nautilus scripts directory:

 ~/.local/share/nautilus/scripts

It shows up when I right click on a file. For most of the files I have tried so far today (uncompressed PDF files), it compresses the files to at least 1/10th of the original size. Very useful, particularly when I only need screen resolution for files.

Screenshot from 2016-06-29 16-55-49

Finally moving from Apple’s Keynote to LibreOffice Impress

Apple’s Keynote has been my preferred presentation tool for about a decade. For a long time it felt like the ideal tool, easy to use, powerful and flexible. But at some point, probably around the time when the iOS version of Keynote came along, the Mac version of Keynote started loosing features and became more limited than it had used to be. Since then, I have experienced all sorts of problems, including non-compatibility of new and old presentation file versions, problems with linked video files, crashes, etc.

Even with its increasing amount of shortcomings, Keynote has been one of the few programs that I have been missing after my move to Ubuntu as my main OS three years ago. Keynote has also been one of the few reasons I have often decided to bring along my old MacBook rather than my current Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro workhorse.

Over the years, I have been trying other presentation software. I was an early user of Prezi, and still like the looks and non-linear approach that it affords. However, the lack of a native Prezi client for Linux has been a turn-off, particularly since I never trust the network connections when I am out traveling. I am also somewhat skeptic about not being able to use local media in Prezi presentations, particularly since I often use a lot of video material.

I have also been excited about trying out some markdown-based presentation solutions, including reveal.js and Remark. This has been refreshing, and I like such an approach when working mainly with text-based presentations. I do realize, however, that many of my presentations rely heavily on images, sounds and videos, which make the markdown-based approaches less ideal.

I have been trying Impress, the presentation part of OpenOffice/LibreOffice, on and off for several years, and have, to say it mildly, never been impressed. The design of the software has been ok, not even close to as intuitive as Keynote, but not so far away from MS PowerPoint. The biggest drawback, however, has been its performance, both when it comes to editing presentations, but also when presenting. After all, a presentation software has to be efficient to work with and needs to perform flawlessly in presentation mode.

Luckily, I decided to give Impress yet another try before giving a presentation in Hamburg this week. I exported a Keynote presentation to a .pptx file, and opened it up in LibreOffice Impress on my Ubuntu laptop. To my big surprise it worked very well! Not only did the graphical elements look good, but also the embedded videos worked well. There must have been some major update to the software recently, because suddenly the speed of editing also worked quite fine. There are still some issues when scrolling through a large presentation with lots of multimedia content, but not more than I can live with.

The conclusion: today I held my first multimedia-rich conference presentation using my Ubuntu laptop. Not only did the projector connection work flawlessly (which has not always been the case with Linux systems…), but also the presentation ran without any performance issues whatsoever. A new era has begun in my presentation life! LibreOffice Impress is still not as smooth and solid as Keynote was a few years back, but it is now at a point where it is stable and easy enough that I actually want to use it professionally.