Ubuntu Netbook Remix: Blinking Screen, Problem Launcher

I recently added Karmic Koala (Ubuntu 9.10) and the Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) to my Dell Mini 9. I had tried using Ubuntu 8.04 direct from Dell and it was good but not great. I ended up tweaking a lot of features to make it tolerable but it was still shy of what I could do in Microsoft Windows. Ubuntu 9.10 is much more promising and, in the meantime, there are a number of applications for Linux that I have been using heavily on Windows. But there were some new bugs that I had to work out, almost as soon as I had finished installing my updated software.

First, if you are new to Ubuntu, I would probably stick with the “long term support” (LTS) versions, the last of which was 8.04.  If you move forward with new versions, you need to balance your need for the new features with the drawbacks of new bugs or other problems.  In my case, things that worked fine in version 8 are definitely not working properly in 9.

Blinking Screen, Blinking Keyring

After installing new software, and rebooting a few times, I restarted my machine to find the screen flashing and blinking.  The screen would appear normally, then suddenly disappear (but not go to black) and then reappear again.  It was like some application was stuck.

At the same time, I was being prompted to put in my keyring password.  This was due to Ubuntu’s auto-login.  Unlike version 8, when you auto login, you are prompted for a password to enable the auto-login.  Between the flashes, I was able to type in my password and continue.

The blinking screen was a problem though, since the netbook launcher that comes with the Ubuntu Netbook Remix was not appearing.  The only items I had on my menus were the typical status ones (network access, username, time, date).

A bit of research identified the FailSafe mode for Gnome.  I was able to click on my name, which showed the logout option.  Once I was logged out, I could take the next step.  Click on your username and a set of drop down menus will appear at the bottom of the screen.  Select the one that says GNOME and change it to FailSafe mode.  Then login as your user.

This will be familiar to any Windows user who has had to start up in safe mode.  My wireless access did not work but I could change the auto login function.  I could also start to create shortcuts since the launcher had still not appeared.  Right click on the panel (taskbar) at the top of the screen and Add Launcher.  Unfortunately for those who are trying to fix problems with the Netbook Launcher, the shortcut icons have the same name as the utility that contains the shortcuts.

Launcher Back, Panel Gone

Once I had stopped the flashing screen, which I had initially thought was due to a screen resolution or display problem, I was ready to move on.  The netbook-launcher that comes with Ubuntu Netbook Remix appeared with all of my icons and configuration just as it had been.  But now there was a sliver of the top of the screen missing, so that when applications opened, I could not see the title bar and move them.  I could also only see one application at a time, and could not use my ALT-TAB to cycle through open applications.

I tried two things.  The first was to uninstall the netbook-launcher by opening a terminal window and

sudo apt-get remove netbook-launcher

which did remove the launcher but then left me with nothing else.  So I reinstalled the launcher.  Then I used the System > Preferences > Startup Applications to deselect the UNR Launcher.  When I restarted, I was in the same place.  No title bar, task bar, GNOME panel at the top and no way to get anything done.  I had to repeat the steps above (Logout, re-enter in FailSafe mode) to create an application launcher to the Preferences menu and get back to the Startup Applications control.

The Mess of Metacity

One thing that was common amongst many of the forum and blog postings that I read was that Ubuntu Netbook Remix Karmic Koala 9.10 had problems with launchers, Compiz, and Metacity.  I am still not completely sure about the scope of the latter two applications, although the consensus seemed to be that removing Compiz from your environment wouldn’t have an impact for most people:

sudo apt-get remove compiz

but Metacity was the key.  I stumbled upon this one by going into my System > Preferences > Appearance and choosing Visual Effects.  By setting it from the default to Extra (it works the same with the medium setting as well), I suddenly had my top panel back and my full windows.  Before, when the top panel was missing, I was missing the title bar of the application and also the small boxes that allow you to minimize, maximize, or close a window.

When I rebooted, however, I was back where I was before.  So not only was the netbook-launcher not the problem, whatever the problem was continued to escape me.  I could reset the visual effects again but it disappeared each restart.

Again, I stumbled across an answer when I saw one Ubuntu-er reset Metacity from a terminal to get the same result:

metacity –replace

and immediately the top panel and the title bar reappeared.

As a relative newbie, I finally put two and two together and went back to my System > Preferences > Startup Applications.  Instead of turning on or off any application, I added a new one.  Click on the ADD button, type in Metacity in the name, and in the command type:

metacity –replace

You do not need to browse for anything.  Save the application and when you restart, you should see your top panel, etc., each time.

I seem to recall seeing Metacity in that list of startup applications before so I was surprised when I went in there and it had disappeared. But I was glad to be able to continue to use the netbook-launcher application, which is a very nice way to manage a netbook.  I tried a desktop-switcher which worked but didn’t fix the problem – I could move from classic to launcher but the top panel stayed missing – but when I finally set Metacity and tried to reinstall the desktop-switcher, I received a warning from Package Manager which would not let me install it.