Vakkotaur (vakkotaur) wrote,

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The (Not This) Year Of The Linux Desktop: Bluetooth Edition

I've been running Linux of one sort or another as my primary ("desktop") operating system for over a decade. While I am not The Ultimate Linux Geek or such, I have at least a fair idea of what I am doing and going back to Windows makes my teeth itch. There has been significant progress in making Linux readily usable for "the general public." While there are distributions like Slackware and Arch which expect the user to be able to pop the hood and adjust things, there are also distributions like Ubuntu and its variants and descendants that are made with the idea that the only time a user ever sees a command line is if s/he really wants to use that. It's a wonderful objective. I'd love to be able to tell people "Just use $DISTRIBUTION and everything will be taken care of." But, alas, I cannot.

The nightmares of years past, often squirrelly audio and dubious video seem to have been vanquished. CoDec issues are either obviated or readily cured with single package of a graphical package manager, if not by a system offered "Download and install these now?" option. And then we come to bluetooth. That thing that pairs up your phone with your headset or such, and after the initial setup it "just works" and you no longer think about it unless you change hardware somewhere. That's how Linux should handle bluetooth, too. Keyword: "should" And yet, that is not the case.

I had been using Xubuntu 12.04 and while bluetooth required a bit of work to install (more than one package, editing of a config file - the sort of thing *buntu tries so hard to not need) after that setup, things worked. A reboot didn't stop that. Things that worked yesterday, would work tomorrow just the same, without any intervention.

And then after I screwed something up (admittedly my own fault) I went to Xubuntu 13.10 and learned things no longer worked that way. The same is still true for Xubuntu 14.04 and therefore Mint 17 as well. The bluetooth package installs nice and easy, graphically, and appears to work. It scans around and finds bluetooth devices. But if I want my headset to work? Nope. Not until I invoke the incantation, "sudo pactl load-module module-bluetooth-discover" which is odd as the system discovers things fine, it just doesn't work with all of them.

Someone, somewhere, updated something. It was meant well. But everyone seems to have rushed to embrace the update which was not yet ready for one of the more popular things to do with bluetooth: transmit and receive audio. The result is that pretty much every distribution I have tried of late has this exact same breakage. For me, it's merely annoying. If it were others of my family it would likely be, "It doesn't work." or "Why can't it do that automatically?" (I've wondered that one myself - it should happen automatically, yet does not.) or simply, "That's stupid" - and I agree. it is stupid. It's this sort of nonsense that impedes things.

Ah, but that's not all, folks. Now if I should take my headset out of range and lose the connection, all that should happen is a lost connection - and an automatically regained connection once I am reliably back in range. Instead what can happen is things stop working altogether and the incantation must be invoked again - which has a curious side-effect of quietly and invisibly breaking something else: Skype looks like it's still connected and working, but is not. And trying to close it doesn't truly end the process. Once more I must resort to the command line and issue "kill -9 <process_number>" Yes, with the -9 option or the unwanted process runs on anyway. Then, and only then, can I restart Skype and be able to actually communicate with it. And just this once, I do not believe it is Microsoft (which now owns & runs Skype) that is screwy. Microsoft is busy breaking it in other ways just now.

The frustrating thing is not simply that it's weirdly broken now, but that it is weirdly broken now when it worked exactly as it should (aside from initial setup being fiddly) earlier. Now, this will almost certainly be resolved in time, but how much? I've already gone through Xubuntu 13.10 and the problem remains in 14.04. And I'm not just picking on *buntu here. PCLinuxOS has the exact same breakage. Korora (a Red Hat derivative), at least the Xfce edition, didn't even seem to have bluetooth that could be made workable at all when I last tried it. Dangit, solved problems should stay solved. This is a reinvented wheel, but while new, it is not yet properly round. Don't ship it unfinished.

Tags: bluetooth, computers, linux
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