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Flipping the Linux switch: Envy, no longer a deadly sin

We're taking a little departure this week from our sometimes successful attempt to be non-distro-specific, and looking at a neat little program that runs on Debian and Ubuntu flavors (including Ubuntu-derivatives, like Mint).

Have you ever had the joy of installing restricted or proprietary drivers on Debian or Ubuntu? Most of the time, it really does work like a charm. Sometimes though, something doesn't go quite as planned. We had this happen quite recently with Mythbuntu and an onboard NVIDIA card. The restricted drivers wouldn't work right, and the very latest from NVIDIA compounded our problem.

In our desperation, we tried Envy. Envy is the creation of Alberto Milone. It is an unofficial (so please note you are using it at your own risk) installer for both NVIDIA and ATI drivers. For those of you who are interested, it's a Python/PyGTK application.

We're guessing that most of you just want to get your freakin' video drivers installed, though.
Our house rule is this: This is an unofficial installer. There is the distinct possibility it could bork our graphical server more than it is already. However, because it is not acceptable to run our Ubuntu box in safe graphics mode, and because we've tried the traditional methods of installing the drivers with no success, we feel the benefits outweigh the risks.

Envy is nifty because it does several things. It can uninstall your old drivers, and not only install the new drivers, but actually preps your system, handling all the driver dependencies, before installing the actual driver.

So how exactly do you use it? It's pretty easy (as far as installing video drivers go). Download the appropriate version of Envy for your Debian, Ubuntu, or Ubuntu derivative distribution. In this instance, we're installing on a Gutsy box, so we're using Envy New (Feisty users will also be using this version).

Once the application is downloaded, open Synaptic (or Adept) and make sure, under repositories, that both "universe" and "multiverse" are checked off. This will allow (hopefully) all the dependencies Envy needs to be installed with Envy. As you will see, sometimes this doesn't happen (but it's easy to fix).

Close Synaptic and right click the Envy package. The option to install will appear in the menu. Let's get the party started, shall we?

An install window appears, with a description of the package. We're sick to death of the ugly vesa graphics already, let's just get this baby installed. Click Install Now.

Enter your root or sudo password, and things should start magically installing. Let Envy go through the motions, and when it's successfully installed, go to Applications>System Tools>Envy in GNOME. (You can also simply run the command "Envy" on the Run Command line in KDE.)

Remember how we said sometimes all the dependencies don't quite make it? Whoops. If that happens, you'll see a little message like this pop up. Fear not. Just go ahead, tell it to try installing them now.

After a few more seconds, Envy should be ready to go.

Here is the main Envy screen. As you can see, it's a standard point and click sort of GUI in this form. (Should you not have a graphical server, it is possible to run Envy via the command line.) Since we're at least partially fortunate today, we're able to run Envy with generic drivers We've an NVIDIA card, so we're taking the default selection.

If we've ever had any ATI or NVIDIA drivers on the system, it's good to run the "Uninstall" option before installing anything else. Envy does try to uninstall if it finds them, but we'd rather not hedge our bets. In general, we've found most major driver snafus come from having old drivers kicking around on the system.

Click "Apply" and Envy snaps into action. It starts downloading all the dependencies and files the selected driver type will need to install Be forewarned. This can take a while.

As the process starts to finish, you'll notice that Envy is accessing the official proprietary drivers from your card manufacturer. It downloads the driver, and runs the proprietary driver's installer script. Very nice for NVIDIA users, who typically have to kill the graphical server to do this.

Finally, Envy asks if you'd like your xorg.conf updated (sure, why not?) and if you'd like to restart your computer (the surest way of getting your new drivers to kick in to gear.)

Our experience with Envy has been largely very positive. It has gotten drivers successfully installed on systems that were being very temperamental. We have never experienced problems with it that go beyond the problems we were already having with our drivers.

That being said, please always try to use the drivers in your distro's repositories first. If they fail for whatever reason, then try Envy. Generally, it's always best to install from a repository if you are able. Also, we've discovered that, at least in Gutsy, it's not terribly easy to enable advanced desktop effects like Compiz-Fusion when using Envy-installed drivers. If Envy is what it takes to get a good looking desktop, sans eye candy, though, it's well worth the time investment!

Tags: Alberto Milone, AlbertoMilone, Debian, driver installation, DriverInstallation, envy, graphics cards, GraphicsCards, linux, linux-switch, Mint, opensource, Ubuntu, video, video drivers, VideoDrivers