⌚ July 16, 2014
Does Xubuntu 14.04 run on the Acer S3 Ultrabook?
Yes, it does, and Xubuntu runs as stable and as fast as its predecessors.
I have been running Xubuntu 14.04 on the Ultrabook for the past several days, and I am pleased with the results. The S3 Ultrabook is a fine computer, but Xubuntu, like many other Linux distributions, can exhibit quirky behavior depending upon the hardware, so here are a few suggestions based on my experience to help Xubuntu install and run with Compiz desktop effects on this slim netbook.
This article covers following points:
- Installation and partitioning for SSD and hard drive
- Encryption issues
- Kernel 3.14.2
- Adjust the backlight using keyboard shortcuts
- Compiz and Emerald
- R.A.T.7 and M.M.O.7 Support
- Power Management (Fix the display blanking issue that occurs when blanking is disabled)
Create a Bootable USB
Xubuntu 14.04 installation is much the same as the Linux Mint 16 installation, so the same quirks and workarounds apply.
The Ultrabook contains a 64-bit processor, so 64-bit (AMD64) Xubuntu works, and I will be using that version for this demonstration. Download the Xubuntu 14.04 ISO and install it to a bootable USB using Unetbootin or YUMI, depending upon your system. DVD-R is fine too, but USB installation is much faster.
- Unetbootin [http://unetbootin.sourceforge.net/]
- YUMI [http://www.pendrivelinux.com/yumi-multiboot-usb-creator/]
Unetbootin is available in the repositories.
Install Xubuntu 14.04 AMD64
Boot the Ultrabook from the USB. The Xubuntu 14.04 installation process is the same as before, so if you are familiar with past versions, then you will know exactly what to do.
With the Ultrabook, there are a few points to keep in mind.
Install the system root and swap to the SSD and /home to the 500GB drive.
The Ultrabook has two internal drives: one 20GB SSD, and one 500GB 5400 RPM drive (capacity depends upon model). The SSD is much, much faster than the regular drive, so we will install the system and swap space to that. This requires manual partitioning, so do not let Xubuntu choose for you.
Split the SSD into two parts:
16GB ext4 root 4GB swap space
500GB Hard Drive
/dev/sda /dev/sda1 ext4 /home
/dev/sdb /dev/sdb1 ext4 / /dev/sdb2 swap
Device for boot loader installation:
Specify the / mount point on the 16GB partition on the SSD. Specify the /home mount point on the 500GB hard drive.
For the boot drive, specify the 500GB drive. Do not use the SSD as the boot drive. Strangely, I could not make the Ultrabook boot into GRUB when specifying the SSD as the boot drive.
Commit the changes and continue. Xubuntu will install its system files to the SSD, so programs will load faster while using the system. Users will store their junk in their respective home directories on the 500GB drive, and the user home directories will be encrypted provided that home encryption is enabled.
Full Disk Encryption
Xubuntu provides the option of full-disk encryption during installation. This encrypts the entire hard drive, not just the home directories. A separate, system-level password must be entered each time the system boots.
However, whole-disk encryption never worked when splitting up the system root and /home in this configuration on the Ultrabook. Xubuntu accepted the settings, leading me to believe that whole-disk encryption was being installed, but Xubuntu has never prompted for the disk passphrase upon booting.
This is not a major issue since the /home encryption still works fine, so be sure to enable it by checking the Encrypt my home folder checkbox on the Who are you? dialog. While not as secure as whole-disk encryption + home encryption, it still results in acceptable privacy as long as everything private is stored in your home. Anything outside of the user home directories is stored in plaintext.
With single disk installs, whole-disk encryption works as intended.
Xubuntu 14.04 automatically detects the Ultrabook’s wireless hardware, so you can connect to an access point immediately. Update through the Internet from both the command line and the Software Updater located in Settings > Software Updater.
sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get upgrade
For some reason, one catches updates that the other misses, just like Linux Mint 16.
Install Kernel 3.14.2
This is needed. On the Ultrabook, kernel 3.14.1 had issues with the USB 3.0 ports when a USB 3.0 device was connected. Sometimes a USB 3 device would read, and other times Xubuntu would recognize that the device was present and mount it but fail to open and read it in a file manager. The same USB 3 device seemed to function fine with other computers, but it had issues with the Ultrabook. (Perhaps the USB 3 device was wearing out?) This issue happened before with an earlier kernel, but it was later resolved in a newer kernel release. Regardless of the cause, the USB 3.0 ports on the Ultrabook seem to operate more reliably with 3.14.2.
Kernels can be downloaded from http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/
- 3.14.2-utopic works with Xubuntu 14.04 trusty despite “utopic” in the filename
- I chose the generic kernel, not the lowlatency kernel
This should be enough for the system updates. Reboot before proceeding.
You will want this, so install it now.
sudo apt-get install synaptic
Install gedit (Optional)
Gedit is another text editor. If you are happy with mousepad, vi, nano, or if you have your own personal favorite, then this is not necessary. Many tutorials list gedit in command line examples, so it never hurts to have it available.
sudo apt-get install gedit
The Fn key combinations still do not adjust the panel backlight brightness on the Ultrabook even though they work by default on the Acer AO722. This is another quirk involving different hardware. For the Ultrabook, we must add a custom key combination to run a program that adjusts the brightness.
xbacklight is the program that adjusts the backlight brightness.
sudo apt-get install xbacklight
This step is necessary or else xbacklight will not work.
sudo gedit /etc/default/grub
Change the line:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="quiet splash acpi_osi=Linux acpi_backlight=vendor"
Save the file, and then update GRUB.
Once logged back in, you can open a terminal and test xbacklight.
xbacklight -set 10 xbacklight -set 80
Do not try -set 0 just yet because that will turn off all backlighting and make it impossible to see the screen.
If the screen brightness changes, then xbacklight is working properly. Now, we need to create keyboard shortcuts for easier backlight adjustment.
Add keyboard shortcuts
Go to Settings > Keyboard Shortcuts.
Open the Application Shortcuts tab.
We want to add these two shortcuts.
xbacklight -inc 5 Ctrl+Right (Decreases brightness by 5 steps) xbacklight -dec 5 Ctrl+Left (Increases brightness by 5 steps)
Click the Add button, and enter the first command: xbacklight -inc 5.
Next, Xubuntu will prompt for a keyboard shortcut. Choose a non-conflicting shortcut that is to your liking. In this case, I chose Ctrl+LeftArrow to increment the brightness. Surprisingly, the Fn key will not work, so you cannot map a keyboard shortcut to the original Fn + LeftArrow key combination.
Do the same for decrementing brightness using Ctrl+RightArrow. Once saved, the keyboard combinations will have an immediate effect and persist upon rebooting.
Changing Backlight Adjustment Steps
Backlight is adjusted in a range from 0 (total off) to 100 (full brightness). These instructions increment and decrement the backlight brightness in steps of 5 with each press. Holding down the keys lowers and raises the brightness without the need for continued pressing. For larger jumps per press, change the 5 to a larger number by editing the shortcut command.
Keep in mind that it is possible to lower the brightness to 0, which makes the screen black. Simply increment the brightness to see the screen again.
Compiz and Emerald both work with Xubuntu 14.04, so we can regain the desktop cube and other eyecandy effects. Yippee! But it requires effort and patience. Uh-oh!
Let’s start with Emerald because Compiz needs it for window decorations (title bars and borders) and because the default /usr/bin/gtk-window-decorator is ugly. Emerald creates beautiful window decorations that provide transparency effects and fine customizations, so let’s use it.
Add the webupd8 Repository
Emerald is an abandoned project no longer available in the Ubuntu repository, but it is available from the webupd8 PPA. [http://www.webupd8.org/2013/05/how-to-install-emerald-in-ubuntu-1304.html]
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:nilarimogard/webupd8 sudo apt-get update sudo apt-get install emerald
To perform a quick test to see if Emerald is working or not, open a terminal and enter,
After a few seconds, the window borders should be replaced with a gradient/semi-transparent red border. If so, Emerald is working properly.
I had trouble testing Emerald by itself. Most of the time, Emerald would hang at the command line without changing the borders. But when used with Compiz, Emerald would work. If this happens to you, ignore it for now and try installing Compiz anyway.
Compiz is still available from the repositories, so open Synaptic, search for and install compiz, ccsm (CompizConfig Settings Manager), and the main plugins. Skip the extra plugins for now because they can cause problems. We want Compiz to work in its basic configuration before adding too many extra effects.
Configure Compiz Before Running
After Compiz installation, open the Compiz Settings Manager. Enter ccsm in a terminal or choose CompizConfig Settings Manager from Settings.
A number of plugins must be enabled or else Compiz will have no effect. For full details, please read Xubuntu 13.10, Compiz, and Emerald since much of the process is identical.
In the Command text field for the Window Decoration plugin shown in the screenshot above, change /usr/bin/gtk-window-decorator to /usr/bin/emerald (enter whereis emerald in a terminal to locate the emerald executable) or enter emerald by itself. This tells Compiz to use Emerald. When Compiz activates, Emerald does too.
Compiz + Emerald is a flaky arrangement at first, so you will no doubt experience issues. To test the setup, open a terminal and enter,
If all works properly, desktop effects and windows borders should change. Open the CompizConfig Settings Manager and expand the number of workspaces. Go to General Options > Desktop Size and increase the number of workspaces to four or more. (Compiz workspaces are handled differently from the Xfce4 manager.) Try switching workspaces using Ctrl+Alt+Left/RightArrow keys. You should see a different workspace prompt appear in the center of the screen. If so, so far so good.
Next, try enabling the Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube plugins. You will be prompted to disable the Desktop Wall plugin. Disable it. You might be prompted twice despite clicking once. Another quirk. If you successfully see a rotating cube when switching workspaces, then congratulations! Compiz works.
For the rest of us, we will need to wrestle with Compiz some more. Be prepared that some plugins might cause Compiz to crash, and you will lose all window decorations. If this happens, log out and then log back in. There is no need to reboot. Expect to do this often while tweaking Compiz. The Compiz of today is flaky compared to the stable and stunning out-of-the-box experience it once boasted with Ubuntu 10.10 and Linux Mint 10. Ah, those were the days…
Saving Compiz Settings
Compiz might or might not save your finely-tweaked configuration. Usually, Compiz saves using the default Flat-file Configuration Backend. If not, you need to install gconf-editor and choose Gsettings Configuration Backend from Preferences > Profile & Background in the CompizConfig Settings Manager.
Please view the Compiz Not Saving Settings (Probably Optional) section in the Xubuntu 13.10, Compiz, and Emerald article for more details about this. The process is the same. With the Ultrabook, I had to choose Gsettings Configuration Backend. Strangely, gconf-editor was already installed.
R.A.T.7 and M.M.O.7 Mice
The R.A.T.7 and M.M.O.7 are fantastic mice peripherals, but the mouse buttons still offer shaky performance. Support for the M.M.O.7 is better in Xubuntu 14.04 with kernel 3.14.2 than it has been in the past. For example, the buttons do not exactly lockup and become unresponsive in exactly the same way. The buttons will select items and the right button will open the context menu, but the Whisker Menu and panel Launcher items will not respond to mouse clicks. Compiz is also blocked. In short, we still need xorg.conf with custom sections for the R.A.T.7 and M.M.O.7.
Mouse buttons will still become semi-unresponsive in Xubuntu 14.04 upon booting. If this happens, switch terminals with Ctrl+Alt+F1 and then switch back using Ctrl+Alt+F7 to return to the Xfce GUI desktop. The RAT7 /MMO7 buttons will work again during the session. A logout/login also works.
However, we want the changes to be permanent, so we need to edit xorg.conf. If this file does not exist, create it:
sudo touch /etc/X11/xorg.conf
Copy and paste the following lines depending upon your type of RAT:
Section "InputClass" Identifier "Mouse Remap" MatchProduct "Saitek Cyborg R.A.T.7 Albino|Saitek Cyborg R.A.T.7 Mouse" MatchIsPointer "true" MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*" Option "Buttons" "17" Option "ButtonMapping" "1 2 3 4 5 0 0 8 9 7 6 12 0 0 0 0 0" Option "AutoReleaseButtons" "13 14 15" Option "ZAxisMapping" "4 5 6 7" EndSection
Section "InputClass" Identifier "Mouse Remap" MatchProduct "Mad Catz Mad Catz M.M.O.7 Mouse|M.M.O.7" MatchIsPointer "true" MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*" Option "Buttons" "19" Option "ButtonMapping" "1 2 3 4 5 0 0 8 9 10 11 12 0 0 0 16 17 7 6" Option "AutoReleaseButtons" "13 14 15" Option "ZAxisMapping" "4 5 6 7" EndSection
Save xorg.conf. The settings should apply automatically upon the next reboot.
NOTE: The M.M.O.7 mouse mapping might not work with some hardware and Linux Mint 17 combinations. In this case, change the MatchProduct line from
"Mad Catz Mad Catz M.M.O.7 Mouse|M.M.O.7" to
"Mad Catz M.M.O.7 Mouse"
Leave everything else the same. On one test system, the M.M.O.7 would still result in unresponsive buttons until the MatchProduct string was changed to Mad Catz M.M.O.7 Mouse even though it worked fine on another test system.
The only way to be certain is to view the syslog files located in /var/log and find the entries where the M.M.O.7 is initialized. Use the product string shown in syslog for the MatchProduct string.
Editing R.A.T.7 and M.M.O.7 Buttons
The RAT7 and MMO7 both possess custom buttons that be can mapped to keyboard shortcuts using the xbindkeys and xdotool programs. For example, we can press the side buttons to switch workspaces. The exact configuration is up to you depending upon the exact ButtonMapping string and mappings in .xbindkeysrc. Experimentation is required to find the mappings you prefer.
The process for making this happen remains the same as for previous Linux distributions, so please see any of these articles for full details:
- Using the Mad Catz M.M.O.7 with Linux Mint and Ubuntu (Information about fixing CTRL+F)
- Using the Cyborg R.A.T. 7 with Ubuntu
- The Cyborg R.A.T. 7 Albino Gaming Mouse
Keep in mind that when you use xbindkeys, CTRL+F will not work because xbindkeys overrides that key combination, so you will need to comment out or remove the block,
# set directly keycode (here control + f with my keyboard) "xterm" c:41 + m:0x4
located in .xbindkeysrc and restart xbindkeys after the change. The Using the Mad Catz M.M.O.7 with Linux Mint and Ubuntu provides more information.
Xubuntu 14.04 will blank the screen…even when you tell it not to. I do not want the Ultrabook to enter power saving mode or activate its screensaver, so I disable Light Locker, set all settings to “Never,” and then choose “Never” for all Power Manager settings.
Despite this, Xubuntu still blanks the screen after ten minutes. This can be quite annoying when watching a lengthy video or using the Ultrabook to monitor network connections and processes because it means every ten minutes, I must shake the mouse, swipe the touchpad, or press a key on the keyboard to awaken the display.
If you have experienced this issue, please rest assured that you are not alone. Many others have complained about this also, and Xubuntu 13.04 and 13.10 have been plagued with the same problem. It’s nothing new.
The problem seems to involve the Xfce power management with certain types of hardware. One desktop computer I tested functions fine with Xubuntu 14.04. When I tell it not to blank via the System Settings, it never does. However, most other computers, such as the S3 Ultrabook, will blank the screen regardless of the settings. Other Linux distributions, such as Linux Mint and Ubuntu, function properly on the same hardware. Only Xubuntu exhibits this issue.
Regardless of the cause, this will annoy new users. So, here is a workaround.
Create the file /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrd.d
sudo gedit /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrd.d
Add the following line to it:
xset -dpms; xset s off &
xset sets X user preferences, such as the screen saver and power management. Surprisingly, it works well at controlling the Xubuntu power and screen saver settings while Light Locker and Power Settings do not.
This command is a one-liner that has always worked for me. It contains two parts:
xset -dpms turns off the DPMS (Display Power Management Settings) completely. +dpms would turn it back on. You can even add a flag to force a particular DPMS mode, but this all or nothing approach is plenty for my needs.
xset s off disables the screensaver completely. Other flags are possible, such as noblank, but I prefer to take the all or nothing approach. xset is feature-rich, so please consult the man page (man xset) for more information.
Of course, the same effect is possible by running both commands in a terminal or from a Bash script:
xset -dpms xset s off
However, placing both commands in xinitrd.d will apply the settings automatically at startup to save some time and typing. If xinitrd.d does not work, it should be possible to accomplish the same effect using an xset startup application in Session and Startup.
Checking xset Settings
To check the current X settings in order to find out if DPMS is enabled or not, enter
A list of current system information will appear, but at the bottom is a section labeled DPMS (Energy Star) that indicates the current DPMS state.
After xset -dpms,
From my experience using this technique on the Ultrabook, powering on the Ultrabook after editing xinitrd.d with xset -dpms always showed DPMS Enabled after running xset -q, so xinitrd.d might not have had an effect in disabling DPMS. However, the Ultrabook never blanked the screen after ten minutes like it did before, so xset s off must be preventing the blanking instead. Or, I had adjusted settings elsewhere — and I have adjusted too many setting to be certain. Messing with the power management configuration can seem like black magic at times due to differing hardware, so prepare for trial and error. Keep in mind that this does not fix the underlying issue.
This is one of those workarounds that might vary per user and hardware. For example, the Acer AO722 netbook power management works as expected with Xubuntu 14.04 64-bit. There is no need to modify /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrd.d with xset commands. System Settings properly disables the display blanking on the AO722. It just works. In contrast, the S3 Ultrabook needs a helping hand with xset.
By default, the Ultrabook touchpad functions as a basic mouse, which is plenty for me. Pressing the left side registers a left-click, and pressing the right side registers a mouse right-click. No special driver or configuration is necessary. Gestures require an additional program and set up since they are not provided by default.
No need to install any proprietary video drivers. Xubuntu 14.04 handles the graphics at full resolution and full color by default. Compiz 3D effects are smooth and fluid.
Yes, running Xubuntu on the Acer S3 Ultrabook does involve extra effort just like any other Linux distribution because we are making the Ultrabook do something that it was never designed to do: Run Linux.
However, the rewards are worth it. Xubuntu 14.04 boots in less than 5 seconds from a cold start to the login screen, and then less than 5 seconds to the desktop thanks in part to the lightweight Xfce desktop environment and the built-in SSD. Xubuntu response feels fast and snappy, and all programs I tested run as expected.
In the period of time that I have used it on the Ultrabook, I have not experienced a single system crash (crash reporting dialogs still appear every now and then), and this is after tweaking and overhauling system-level settings, kernels, and a host of other modifications to see what Xubuntu 14.04 can do. This is an impressive testament to the stability of Linux.
The only major obstacle lies with Compiz and Emerald, both of which have problems in any Linux distribution, so this is not really a hardware issue.
But once configured and running, the trials and tribulations of these tweaks are soon forgotten due to how well Xubuntu runs.