Ashton Mills17 September 2007, 12:44 AM
Surprisingly, Ashton hasn't gone completely nuts whilst subsisting only on Ubuntu. Of course, the challenge isn't over yet...
In the last section we covered USB pluggable devices such as webcams, USB keys and cameras and took it a step further and looked at the basic image management tools that come with Ubuntu. All went reasonably well after a few tweaks, but what about doing more than just managing images?
In this project we're making the assumption that Windows does all that we need, and we're seeing if Linux and open source software measures up. Perhaps that's not an entirely fair place to sit, however as the de-facto in operating systems for which everyone is familiar, it's our best basis for comparison. So here's how we'll rate the experience of going Windows-free: Optimal
-- Passes with flying colours. The task could not only be completed, but better or easier than under Windows.
Pass -- No problems. The task can be completed exactly as under Windows.
Iffy -- When a task could only be partially completed, or completed but not without issue.
Flop -- Not possible to complete at all. Probably not a good thing.
While Windows comes with 'Paint' to do basic image creation, Ubuntu bundles something much more powerful -- the popular GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program). In fact The GIMP has enough depth and range of features to be a challenger to Photoshop, but unlike the latter is completely free. That said, it's still easy to use to do simple tasks like image resizing and conversion, cropping and filtering, and of course image editing -- handy for building diagrams. This just happens to be a key tool for me -- invariably when I'm writing on complex topics diagrams are a boon, and I have in the past used The GIMP for diagram creation, so it's vital I have this under my Ubuntu desktop if I'm to be able to use it as my workhorse operating system.
Even better, you don't even need Linux to use it -- it's so popular there's also a Windows version which looks and acts just the same as under Linux.
For a change this is one function on my Ubuntu system which works flawlessly. You can't get a better feature, bundled as part of the operating system, than than The GIMP image editor .
|Image editing with The GIMP. Everything and the kitchen sink.
Image Editing: Optimal -- Passes with flying colours. The task could not only be completed, but better or easier than under Windows.
I've been avoiding printing since I started this escapade because the last time I tried setting up a printer under Linux, admittedly a while ago now (read: years), it resulted in days of fruitless trial and error. While at the time it was the hot new thing for many vendors to provide Linux drivers or at least documentation for developers to write drivers, printer companies had a stoic response.
Things have changed since then, and a second generation printing engine in Linux by the name of CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) provides drivers and filters to drive a vast array of printers under Linux, many of which now have official support from the big name vendors.
But that doesn't mean it's going to work, of course.
Since I rarely use a printer much myself, I snarfed my significant other's Lexmark X5150, said a silent prayer, plugged it in and loaded up the print manager.
Selecting to add a new printer to my pleasant surprise it came up detecting the Lexmark, but as an X5100 series. No problem, sounds like it's of the same stable as the X5150, and so clicking forward installed the printer with the recommended 'x125' driver. All looked good, and I selected to print a test page.
|Adding a new printer -- easy to use Wizards.
No go. The printer didn't even twitch. Just because you never know, I tried some of the other Lexmark drivers that sounded similar to the X5150, but to no avail.
|A wide selection of Lexmark drivers, but not for my printer.
So, off as usual to the web for answers -- always an option, but so much for the plug and play easy to use desktop.
From both Lexmark's own site and the Ubuntu forums, I found my answer -- the X5150 appears to be one of the few printers, out of hundreds, that CUPS doesn't have a driver for. Additionally, while Lexmark had made drivers available, they were developmental and for another printer series, and pre-packaged for other distributions including Red Hat and Mandrake but not Ubuntu.
But then lets remember, distributions of Linux are all still Linux. If the drivers were a binary, there could be unresolvable dependencies (ie. files it depends on) between distributions, but we're talking printers here and usually all they need, and especially what CUPS is looking for, is an appropriate PPD (PostScript Printer Definition) file, just the same as can be used under Windows.
Following a link to an archive file on Lexmark's site, I downloaded an RPM (another Linux based package format) for the X55 driver, which in part also supports the X5150, and ran the install script from the command line -- well and truly beyond what your average user should be expected to do, but I don't give up easily.
The script failed for whatever reason, but all was not lost yet. I don't actually need it to install the way the RPM file expects, I just need the PPD file. Manually opening the RPM, I found and extracted the X55 PPD to my desktop.
Back in Gnome's print manager, and selecting to add a new printer, I again chose the 'Lexmark X5100 series' and this time selected to load my new PPD from the desktop for the driver.
Voila, she printed a test page perfectly. But what a lot of work.
|The Ubuntu printer test page. Success!
I know I've gone off at various failures with Ubuntu in this challenge so far, but here it seems the problem lies more with Lexmark. Neither Ubuntu or the CUPS team can force a driver out of a manufacturer that doesn't want to supply one, and for whatever reason Lexmark has made available drivers for others in its range, but not this particular printer except through a distribution dependent umbrella driver for another in its range.
Still, there's more to test -- can I print to a network printer?
Putting the Lexmark back on the SO's Windows box, I added an 'SMB' (Server Message Block, aka Windows' file sharing protocol) printer and pointed it to the Lexmark shared from the Windows box. Again I needed to select a driver, and with the X55 driver installed I chose this and, with ease, again printed a test page. The wizard dialogs for the printer manager made this a snap to setup.
Overall it's hard to mark this one fairly, as CUPS supports hundreds of printers and is a staple printer framework for businesses around the world -- I just happen to have one not on the list. Once I sourced and installed a driver though, the CUPS management features through the Gnome desktop worked beautifully (and is reminiscent of the print manager under Windows). All applications, from the text editor Gedit to Open Office, had no problem seeing, configuring, and using the printer including the array of options for DPI resolution, paper sources, colour and more.
You just need to make sure you have a supported printer, which fortunately is quick to do by searching on the CUPS web site.
|Setting up a network printer is a snap.
|The installed printer with a page in progress.
Printing: Pass -- No problems. The task can be completed exactly as under Windows.
Open Source Challenge