Living with the Windows 10 interface ►

◄ Project Zebra 2: Minimalist customisation on old hardware

2018-08-10Project Zebra: Picking up with Linux entries


Tags All Linux Tech Personal

So, (X)Ubuntu 18.04 has been out for a good while, and apparently Spectre/Meltdown-originated issues with hibernation went with it, touch wood. How's it coming along?

I started by switching from qpdfview to Atril, and hid xarchiver and xfburn (they're used by other things, but I don't deliberately run them) as they're all bit redundant with Engrampa and Brasero. Hid the Education category on Whisker Menu for good measure. With a little setting up Atril is very nice, particularly the presentation (fullscreen, no chrome) F5 option which makes a fine comic viewer. Don't be tempted to remove file-roller if you happen to be using Nemo, as there's a plugin to use it to provide context menu extract functions.

There are nice reviews on

Since I upgraded to VLC 3 in the last Ubuntu release, I've noticed two things: hovering over the seek bar steals focus from the window itself (note from the future: fixed) and VLC seems to be doing something with the Intel i915 graphics driver that occasionally freezes X, particularly with more than one window open (note from the future: hopefully fixed but I'm wary). It could be a false positive connected with a faulty USB device, judging by output to tty1, but I seem to recall freezing being an issue with VLC under Windows too, and I didn't want to undo the tear-free setting, so my options are probably guesswork with or looking at alternative media players. Already having SMPlayer installed it seemed a good place to start.

SMPlayer can actually use different underlying video players, and mpv works better than mplayer in my limited testing insofar as pausing doesn't cause the window to go black.

Things didn't get a huge amount better. Although it comes with a lot of features, and in the interface is more configurable than the default VLC one, a lot of what you take for granted in the latter is missing or rudimentary by comparison. A-B repeat? Check, although the implementation is a bit more fiddly with separate toolbar icons. Tray icon? Check, although the application closes to it if it's shown so KDocker might be a better solution than using it. It doesn't appear to have a crop function like VLC. It honours rotation metadata in MP4 files but doesn't switch the width and height.

I tried Option "NoAccel" "True" but after a restart it resulted in pegging the processor at 20-30%. So I ended up taking out the tearfree config for now to see if it made any difference.

As part of all this I had a bit of a look at snaps: one of several self-contained ways of distributing software like Flatpak and AppImage that wrap up dependencies as a way of delivering version-specific support separate from libraries already on a system. There are pros (side-by-side install of otherwise incompatible dependencies, releasing faster than distribution repositories get updated) and cons (vulnerabilities may persist if older versions of libraries remain in use and aren't updated in snap packages). The snap format is Canonical-backed –

Interestingly, as well as some big open source projects where you might want to get new features ahead of a repository approach (browsers such as Chromium or Opera and other fast moving projects such as VLC and GIMP) there's also Notepad-Plus-Plus there as a Wine application.

There's the plus of not needing to add repositories and still having it managed through Canonical, and apparently according to "snaps are updated automatically in the background every day" and each snap "runs fully confined and can only access its own data" – the downside is that the store page doesn't seem to offer listings to browse, only featured snaps and a search function. Snaps aren't well-presented by Canonical elsewhere either. In the gnome-software store they aren't clearly differentiated, and there's no warning that eg VLC won't open files on another partition, in this case an NTFS one I have symlinked. So, I might try Flatpak at some point, but would generally rather stick to one provider's software management method and I assume there are similar limitations.

The downside of the traditional package management system, of course, is that if software is no longer actively maintained it's a lot less likely to continue working than under Windows, where backwards compatibility is the shibboleth that progress traditionally died on before Microsoft decided that breaking things with frequent OS updates was fun and they wanted to try it too.

For instance, either the last Ubuntu update or previous buggered Pinta, which I don't use enough to have noticed when;

I've therefore added a PPA for the recently released GIMP 2.10 and taken the plunge – /

Changing the settings to Color icons and System theme, and generally laying things out closer to how you'd expect to find Corel PhotoPaint or Paint Shop Pro around the turn of the century, I'm fairly comfortable I can learn what I need to as I need it.

Similarly I appreciate that GIMP uses a small font for the UI to make better use of space, but I prefer the Noto Sans 8 system setting I have, so the solution is to make a local copy of /usr/share/gimp/2.0/themes/System (or your theme of choice) into ~/.config/GIMP/2.10/themes and then edit the gtkrc to make the references to 0.8333 say 1, uncomment the font_name line and make it equal your desktop environment default font plus size.

Now, if I could just get something like GtkInspector or gtkparasite to run and find out if it's possible to shrink the pointless MDI tabs, rather than just hide the status bar and stick them at the bottom of the window, that'd be aces. Of course, Tab still hides all toolbars etc in editing workflow, but the interface is still the poor relation in Gimp development even years after the option for a single window mode was conceded and even became the default.

In similar news, Thunar might not suck in future; the instability issues have apparently been addressed as well as a conversion to GTK3:

As an alternative to tearfree with the graphics drivers, I followed another avenue;

My recipe was: disable the Xfce compositor, install compton-conf via Synaptic which will bring along Compton, create the Manjaro-suggested ~/.config/compton.conf, run compton-conf to look at what other settings are available (I can't stand window open/close animations, for instance, and wanted a subtler shadow effect than either Xfce or the default) then run Compton to test. Terminate and re-run Compton to apply any changes, and when you're happy, create a .desktop file by right-clicking over Compton in Whisker Menu and putting the shortcut in ~/.config/autostart/

Taking the suggested .conf, reading (useful tip about menu shadows, and I used all four lines uncommented) plus reading and making my own settings left me with the below as ~/.config/compton.conf

One note: I did find I had to increase my mouse sensitivity and acceleration a bit, otherwise the smooth window drag effect made things feel a little sluggish.

I suspect that will do fine until Xfce adopts Wayland, if ever.

Bonus tip for this entry: an answer to – apparently it’s pkexec on a lot of distros. Useful if you want to launch GUI apps with elevated privileges, such as when not following terminal-based instructions to the letter and launching a file browser or text editor.


Tags All Linux Tech Personal