Xubuntu 12.04: Some Steps Forward, Some Steps Back

The continuing saga of trying to run a Linux desktop with two monitors (one rotated in portrait mode), separate X sessions, two trackballs, and a Wacom graphics tablet continue with Xubuntu 12.04. KDE continues to not work quite right with dual monitors, Gnome seems to be dead in the water, Unity wants to be a touch-screen UI when it grows up, and Linux Mint introduces yet another not-quite-baked UI. The breathtaking churn in Linux infrastructure continues, rendering everything I’d figured out with respect to FDI / HAL / udev configuration lagely irrelevant.

For lack of a better alternative, I’ve installed Xubuntu, which is now a deprecated (available, but unsupported) version of Ubuntu. Configuring separate X sessions on two monitors requires the proprietary nVidia driver. The XFCE display configurator falls over dead when confronted with two screens and the xrandr extension seems unworkable. Fortunately, I’d left a bit of commented-out cruft in the xorg.conf file that worked in Xubuntu 10.10 and could copy the whole file over with only one change:

Section "Screen"
    Identifier     "Portrait"
    Device         "GF9400_1"
    Monitor        "Dell2005FP"
    DefaultDepth    24
    Option         "TwinView" "0"
    Option         "metamodes" "DFP-1: 1680x1050 +0+0"
    Option         "NoLogo" "Off"
#    Option         "RandRRotation" "On"
    Option         "Rotate" "CCW"
    SubSection     "Display"
        Depth       24
    EndSubSection
EndSection

Configuring two trackballs with the XFCE utility remains surprisingly easy: the Kensington is left-handed and the Logitech is right-handed.

Swapping buttons 2 and 3 on the Wacom stylus poses a bit more of a challenge. Doing it on a per-session basis seems straightforward:

xsetwacom set "Wacom Graphire3 6x8 stylus" button 2 3
xsetwacom set "Wacom Graphire3 6x8 stylus" button 3 2

You’d put those into a script and tell XFCE to auto-run it when you sign in, but that doesn’t handle hotplugging. I don’t hotplug the tablet, but random static glitches knock the USB hub into a tailspin and cause the same effect, so I jammed the lines that used to be in xorg.conf into /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-wacom.conf:

Section "InputClass"
        Identifier "Wacom class"
        MatchProduct "Wacom|WACOM|Hanwang|PTK-540WL|ISD-V4"
        MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*"
        Driver "wacom"
        Option "Button2" "3"
        Option "Button3" "2"
EndSection

I’m certain there’s a different location for those that fits in with whatever the overall design might be these days, but I’m kinda tired of figuring this stuff out.

The Wacom drivers in Ubuntu 12.04 no longer permit restricting the tablet’s range to a single X session (xsetwacom set ... MapToOutput "HEAD-0" assumes you’re using xinerama with a single X session across two monitors), which sprawls the tablet’s limited resolution across both screens and leaves a big unusable rectangle in the lower third of the left side. This is not progress in a positive direction, but there’s no workaround.

That workaround for the upstart Pachinko machine also applies to this box. The minute-long pause while NFS hauls itself to its feet isn’t attractive: you see VT 1 with the bare white-on-black command-line login prompt, but if you actually log in, things get very ugly, very quickly.

Restoring the usual verbose Unix-oid startup messages requires tweaking /etc/default/grub to set noquiet nosplash, then running update-grub.

Search the blog with the obvious keywords to get my earlier posts on all these topics…

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  1. #1 by Erik on 2012-10-19 - 11:41

    The Unity mess prompted me to try Kubuntu, which wasn’t half bad. Then fiddling with all that revealed that the KDE version in the repos wasn’t terribly current, so I went to Fedora 17 and an alternative repository to install KDE 4.9. And 4.9, so far, seems quite decent. Much, much better than KDE used to be, anyway. :-)

    I agree, though… sometimes this stuff makes me miss Motif/mwm/CDE. CDE on modern hardware ought to be infinitely fast.

    This makes me wonder: does your X setup present you with :0.0 and :0.1, or have you combined them into one large (and geometrically interesting) :0.0? Or does this mean you’ve gone seriously old skule and implemented :0.0 and :1.0 as entirely separate sessions with separate xdm (or equivalent) logins? Because that would be (a) superbly hackish and (b) requiring two keyboards, too.

    • #2 by Ed on 2012-10-19 - 12:59

      Much, much better than KDE used to be, anyway. :-)

      Well, if one weren’t forced to manually configure a two-monitor setup every time KDE starts up, I’d give it a try. They still seem to value eye candy over simple functionality; don’t any KDE developers have a dual-monitor configuration?

      A quick XFCE Mint installation demonstrated that there’s no reason to use Mint if you’re not using Cinnamon / whatever; their rewritten display manager (MDM) doesn’t use upstart, so I couldn’t figure out how to hold it back until the NFS mounts finish happening.

      X setup present you with :0.0 and :0.1

      That’s it: windows on the two monitors operate independently, but with unified keyboard / mouse input. I used to limit the Wacom tablet to the left-hand portrait display, but that option has been improved out of existence, which accounts for the unusable chunk of the tablet I mentioned.

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