Day 7: Lessons from the Unity trenches

By Tony Bradley, PCWorld

Welcome back as we wrap up the first week of 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux. I guess it says something about the complexity of switching operating systems as opposed to switching office productivity suites that we are a week in and still playing around with how to just get things installed and configured. I intended to make this post about actually playing around with the Unity interface, but after all of the helpful comments from Day 6, I thought I would try out some of the tips and see what happens.

Ubuntu Linux

The 30 days series

Day 1: Getting Started

Day 2: That was really easy

First -- a quick recap. I installed on Windows using Wubi, but did not get the Unity interface. I installed on an external USB drive, but did not get the Unity interface. I installed Ubuntu Linux locally in its own partition, and it detected my Nvidia card and installed the Unity interface ... but then lost the ability to connect to my external monitor. Within the comments, though, I got advice both for adding the Nvidia drivers and using the Unity on the first two installs, and guidance for enabling the external monitor on the local install.

Ubuntu Linux additional drivers

I was able to detect my Nvidia card and install the necessary driver in the Wubi install of Ubuntu. (Click to enlarge.)

I booted in to the Wubi installation and followed the advice from the comments. I clicked System -- Administration -- Additional Drivers, and Ubuntu Linux detected my Nvidia card and identified the missing driver. I clicked Activate to download and install the driver. When it was done, I got a message stating that I would need to reboot to complete the installation process.

So, I rebooted the system. I went into the Wubi install, but it just sort of flashed really quick and went back to the Ubuntu boot loader. I chose the Windows loader again, and then chose the Wubi Ubuntu install again, and it did the same thing. I did this five or six times before I gave up. Apparently my Wubi install no longer works, but I can't tell what the problem is because there is no message or information. It just goes back to the boot menu.

C'est la vie! I decided to move on to testing out the other advice I got for enabling my external monitor again on the local install of Ubuntu. I chose that installation from the boot menu, then dug my laptop out from under my desk since I have to actually use the laptop display at this point.

As promised, I found the Nvidia X Server Settings under System Settings in the System group. I opened it up, and clicked on X Server Display Configuration in the left column. I found that my monitor was detected, but disabled, so I clicked the monitor and selected Configure. There were three options to choose from-Disabled, Separate X Screen, and TwinView. I chose TwinView.

Applying these settings, though, resulted in my external monitor being enabled, but with a big blank Ubuntu screen that was an extension of the Ubuntu desktop workspace from my laptop. I wanted the external monitor to be the only display-or at least a mirror image-so I can shut the laptop and just use the external monitor. In the settings I clicked on Position and found a setting called Clones which makes the laptop and external monitor displays identical.

So, I shut the laptop to get back to ... oops! Ubuntu put the OS to sleep when I shut the lid of the laptop. I pulled the laptop back out, logged back in, and went into the Power Management settings. The problem, though, is that Ubuntu only offers three choices -- Sleep, Shut Down, or Blank Screen. On Windows 7, I have it configured to "Do Nothing" so I can open and close the laptop lid without the hassle. None of these options will let me shut the laptop lid and continue working using the external monitor.

Ubuntu Linux

It is frustrating that Ubuntu doesn't have a "Do Nothing" setting when closing the laptop lid. (Click to enlarge.)

So, I decided to just reboot -- with the laptop lid closed -- so it could just enter into that mode from the get-go without me shutting the lid. No can do. Ubuntu forgot everything I had configured and I had to dig the laptop out from under the desk and start over. I tried a variety of ways to get Ubuntu to save my Nvidia X Server Settings so that the external monitor would be enabled, but nothing worked.

So, as of right now, my Wubi install is trashed and simply doesn't work. My local install works, and I was able to get the external monitor working -- but only as long as I also keep the laptop out and open. Oh, and I have to reconfigure the external monitor every time I reboot.

I am sure that most of my issues are operator error, or a function of my ignorance of Linux and Ubuntu. Again, keep the tips and advice coming. Just remember, I am trying to represent Windows users who embark on the mission of switching to Ubuntu Linux, and I am more tech savvy than some -- so I imagine that average users walking in my shoes would find this all very daunting and just throw in the towel.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page, or contact him by email at He also tweets as @TheTonyBradley.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2011 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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