Archive for the ‘GNU/Linux’ category

Tweaking Ubuntu 10.04

July 21st, 2010

When I came back from Gregynog, the motherboard on my main PC decided to bite the dust (and to be fair, there was quite a lot of it in the case). So, cue one week of building, installing, transferring data, and (not least) tweaking things so that they are the way they should be. I got a bundle from Overclockers, choosing an Intel processor for the first time in a decade. Not sure if that was a good idea, since it doesn’t seem to play well with the nVidia proprietary drivers. So it may be a while before I can get my wobbly windows back ….

I usually install the stock Ubuntu, and then upgrade to Kubuntu via Synaptic. GNOME is getting better, though it seems to have gone on a bit of a Mac OS X trip lately. KDE 4.4 is just about useable now – it’s got about 90% of what KDE 3 had. There are some weird things about it, though. For instance, in the 4.4.5 version of KMail, it seems you have to put together your own recipe for quoting emails you’re replying to. Maybe it was always like that, and the people at openSUSE put in a sensible default so I never noticed it before, but it’s a strange thing to have to start experimenting with the format of your email replies. Then of course I need to install all the stuff I like, including TexLive and R, which are both big-budget downloads. Unfortunately, the Kile install pulls in over 250Mb of documentation, including the docs for LilyPond! I just can’t get to like the new Amarok, with that big slab in the middle – it just seems to use space badly. (Indeed, that’s something I think applies to all of KDE 4 – everything seems to be surrounded by fat widgets, instead of being a bit less in-your-face.) So I’m pleased to say that there is a fork of the old Amarok – Clementine – which works really well. There are a couple of things that aren’t in it yet (like the popup when you mouse over the tray icon, telling you which track is playing), but it’s light and neat – really much better than the current Amarok..

Talking of sound, PulseAudio may be a great idea, but I have never got any sound on my cards until I rip it out as follows:
sudo apt-get purge pulseaudio gstreamer0.10-pulseaudio
sudo apt-get autoremove
sudo apt-get install alsa-base alsa-tools alsa-tools-gui alsa-utils   alsa-oss linux-sound-base
gstreamer-properties # to set the default to ALSA

With ALSA, everything works fine. Unfortunately, GNOME apps seem to just do their own thing once PulseAudio disappears, and things like Zim give weird pops and drumrolls when you click on things. To get rid of that:
nano ~/.gtkrc-2.0-kde4

and append the following lines to the end:

You need to log out and back in again for it to take effect.

Synaptic looks quite yucky, since it uses the GUI for the root user. To fix that, install qtcurve, and then run:
sudo cp .gtkrc-2.0-kde4 /root/.gtkrc-2.0

I took advantage of having to transfer my data to rationalise it a bit. I usually have multiple copies of things now, ever since the Great Hard-Disk Crash of 2005 laid waste nearly 2 years of records, and I’m trying to put all the web-apps I’ve done into some sort of order. Some will just go in a museum somewhere online (eg Kartouche, Kyfieithu), but others will be updated – Eurfa is going to get about 30,000 extra words, an embedded Konjugator, and citations, and Klebran needs to be finished properly (the old site just disappeared one day last year – my ISP was brazen enough to say that I must have deleted it!).

Talking of which, I’ve just discovered a backup app that appears on first acquaintance to be excellent – SpiderOak. This is cross-platform, allows you to select directories and files to upload to a web repository, does incremental uploads of changed files only (à la rsync), offers syncing and sharing, and (best of all) does on-the-fly encryption of what you backup – the lack of this is a big hole in the Ubuntu One service. You get 2 Gb of storage for free, and you can buy more. Well worth looking at – it’s best to have as many backup locations as you can. Mind you, I now have two 1Tb drives in this machine, so that gives plenty of room for manoeuvre.

I’m now keeping my fingers crossed that this mobo doesn’t decide to go down the Swannee …

A fond farewell to openSUSE …

February 20th, 2010

My first experiments with GNU/Linux began in December 1998. I bought a boxed edition of Red Hat, and couldn’t get it to install. I moved on to OpenCaldera, which did install, and stayed with it for 6 months before moving to SuSE 6.4. I’ve used SuSE/openSUSE ever since, and it’s been wonderful. I’ve looked at a few other distros in the meantime, but I’ve never been tempted away from what seemed to me to be the Rolls-Royce of Linux distros. Even the Novell purchase, which some people were concerned about at the time, resulted in new and exciting developments like the Build Service and openSUSE Studio.

But over the last couple of years, openSUSE seems to have lost its way a bit. I don’t blame Novell trying to focus on enterprise use (that’s where its bread-and-butter comes from), and minimise the amount of time devoted to non-enterprise users, but this seems to have led to some odd decisions being made.

I’m still running 10.2 on my main machine. 10.2 is a couple of years old now, and in fact the repos for it have been emptied, so there are no updated packages available any more. So why am I doing this? The main reason is package management. Sometime around 9.2, the package management system began to be overhauled, and the net result was a tremendous loss of functionality. The first few iterations of the new system were slow and buggy, so much so that I started using first apt4rpm, and then the excellent Smart for package management. The 10.2 system was much faster, but had the unfeature that you could not save the packages you downloaded, so if you wanted to install them on several machines on your network you had to download them separately on each one (I know there are ways around this, but Smart was easier :-) ). The new 11.x systems are very fast (using deltas), and you can save the downloaded packages, but 11.2 has the bizarre unfeature that the package management system will not list or download packages in any new repos that you add, until you tell it to (see here, for instance – there is a better post about this from an openSUSE developer, but I can’t find it ATM).

This appears to have been done in order to minimise bug reports and queries from people along the lines of “I installed x from rep y, and now my system is broked”. Fair enough. But when I tried the new 11.2 a couple of months ago, I was pretty surprised when I added a new repo, and couldn’t get a listing of packages that I knew from the webpage listing were there. It took me about 3 hours to figure out what the problem was, and I wasn’t pleased, particularly since there was nothing in the release notes or in the package manager itself to tell you about this – it might have been sensible for whoever signed off on this decision to ensure that the repo manager popped up a message when you added a new repo, saying that it will not be activated unless you confirm that you know what you’re doing.

So for me, this was the last straw – four iterations of the distro and the package manager was still behaving unintuitively. I’d been using 64Studio, and quite liked apt-get, and then that was moved from a Debian base to an Ubuntu one last year. I was also noticing that there’s a lot of Ubuntu about – packages for it seem to be made quite widely, and there is a lot of info about it on the web. I’d tried Ubuntu last year, and was quite impressed, especially when I switched to Kubuntu, and did a complete dist-upgrade without a hitch (though mistrust returned when one morning said Kubuntu just refused to boot, and seemed to have FUBARed itself). It also got brownie points for doing a flawless UNR install on my eeePC, and a similarly flawless one on my R41 laptop, and even going online without a hitch via wired, wireless and mobile dongle. And the clincher was that Linode offers a virtual Ubuntu instance, with some excellent notes on how to configure various bits of software. It made sense to run the same distro on my desktop as I had on the server, not least because you can test things there before they go online.

So I took the plunge and did an Ubuntu install on my second PC. I kept GNOME on for about 3 weeks until I couldn’t stand their file dialogue any more, and upgraded to Kubuntu. KDE 4.3 is actually very nice now, and has most of the old KDE 3.x features back in. The only problem I have noticed is that iBus, the new system for using characters-sets like Chinese, seems to freeze the display after about 36 hours. The workaround is to quit it when it’s not in use.

Setting up Apache, PHP, R, LaTeX, etc, has been very easy. The only sad point there is that the cran2deb repo isn’t really useable on Ubuntu, because Ubuntu decided to break binary compatibility with Debian. But all in all, I’m quite impressed so far – a consumer version of GNU/Linux.

It will be interesting to see if Ubuntu stands the test of time (10 years) like openSUSE, but for me at the minute it’s certainly a better bet.

Printer gotcha on openSUSE

September 12th, 2007

I just spent a couple of hours yesterday trying to figure out why the printer on 2 new openSUSE 10.2 installs was only printing in greyscale. This is a very reliable network printer (Xerox DocuPrint C20), which I got for a song about 6 years ago (although the cartridges cost a packet!). I had just run through the standard YaST printer setup, and accepted the defaults.

Now, with a daughter wanting a printout of her homework poster 5 minutes before the bus went, the darned thing was only printing greyscale. But why??? Daughter was packed off with a “holding” greyscale version, and cue some headscratching.

It eventually transpired that the default setup in YaST installed the Gutenprint drivers (which for this printer and some others only seem to print in greyscale), instead of the Foomatic drivers. The odd thing is that the Foomatice ones have “(recommended)” next to them, so why does YaST go and install something other than the ones that are recommended? That may not be a bug per se, but in my view it comes pretty close to it.

The other strange thing is that changing the printer driver in YaST made no difference – it still printed greyscale. A reboot was required to make openSUSE start using the newly-selected driver!!! There is presumably some reason for this, but again, it seems to me that if something had to be restarted YaST should have done the needful by itself. It’s certainly one of the few times I have come across where a Linux box has to be rebooted just in order to have a configuration change take …..