Blackslab back on Linux

Title says it all. First I tried using Windows 8 on her and it kinda sorta worked… but it was just too much for the computer.

I tried Windows 7 and it worked without a hitch… before I actually installed software. Once I did, the system bogged down to the point where I would dread using it. Even youtube videos would bring the system to its knees.

Right now I’ve been using Linux Mint 14 Debian Edition without problems except the usual Pulseaudio bullshit, but that will require very smart minds to fix.

Linux desktop “progress”

Northfield/Norwood isn’t about changing anything fundamentally with Wayland/Weston, but Moreau doesn’t like the pace of development within Wayland/Weston and it being bottlenecked at times by Kristian’s workload. Moreau is also more focused on just “desktop bling” and effects than low-level graphics subsystem work. Among the desktop effects he wants to bring over from Compiz into a Wayland compositor include the desktop cube, desktop wall, scale, wobbly windows, expo, and Emerald Theme support.

[Phoronix] Wayland/Weston Fork Now Called Northfield/Norwood.

In a couple of years you’ll have to get a new computer to run any sort of Linux desktop environment, while your old computers get Windows installed on them.

Redesigning the Thinkpad for Windows 8 and ONLY Windows 8

ThinkPad loyalists will almost certainly direct their attention to the new trackpad when first laying eyes on the T431s. Or, perhaps, they’ll spot the notable (and very deliberate) omission of the physical buttons that have historically sat just beneath and above a far smaller tracking surface. According to Parrish, the overall concept was to “simplify the appearance of two pointing devices in ThinkPad notebook design and maximize touchpad area — while optimizing it for interaction with Windows 8.” A tricky approach, no doubt, given that a solid swath of ThinkPad users have no doubt grown used to mousing with the crimson-clad, centrally located nub. The end result is a five-button clickpad, as it was detailed to me, which supports 20 gestures and handles northerly clicks for those who refuse to switch from using the aforementioned pointing stick.

The inside story of Lenovo's ThinkPad redesign.

So I guess Linux support is out? Right now I’m pissed at the desktop environment mess, but once the dust has settled, I’ll probably be going back. I’d like to go back to Linux on a Thinkpad, but if Lenovo chooses to block me from that, I’ll buy a computer from some other OEM that does let me.

Ask Slashdot: Mac To Linux Return Flow? – Slashdot.

Just like me, people are switching back and forth.

  • OS X is getting a lot of iOS stuff into it that professional creators don’t want or need.
  • Windows 8 is not everyone’s cuppa tea… but it’s quite solid as long as you learn how to deal with don’t-call-it-Metro interface.
  • Linux is in a state of disarray. KDE is pure eye candy, GNOME is griefing, Xfce and Enlightenment kind of refuse to pick up the slack, MATE and Cinnamon are still bug ridden.
  • BSD is stable… if you’ve got compatible hardware and don’t mind using libraries that are often years old.

Shit’s broken and no one ain’t fixin’ it.

Xorg, Radeon, Thinkpad.

By the pits of elemental chaos, I don’t know where to begin. I truly don’t. I’m typing this up trying to calm down after I was taken against my will on an odyssey of bad documentation, stupid changes and general assholery.

It all started with an innocuous aptitude update; aptitude upgrade. Package linux-image-3.2.0-4-686-pae refused to install properly, but that can be dealt with later. Reboot.

All hell breaks loose upon Xorg. All 2D/3D hardware acceleration is gone. Xrandr refuses to work and the most it can do is clone the displays, displaying the following error with a command that worked for years before today:

$ xrandr --output LVDS --auto --preferred --output VGA-0 --auto --preferred --right-of LVDS
xrandr: screen cannot be larger than 1600x1200 (desired size 2680x1200)

Dig into documentation… nope, I’m setting all options properly. The xorg.conf man page has this golden nugget of information:

VIDEOADAPTOR SECTION
Nobody wants to say how this works. Maybe nobody knows ...

Is it any wonder people are using sites like StackExchange as their first stop when trying to fix issues? Man pages refuse to evolve and more and more applications simply don’t provide them, telling you to go to their website when seeking help.

Anyway, back to Xorg. Installing the proprietary fglrx driver doesn’t work; the Radeon Mobility X1400 card on this Thinkpad T60 is not supported anymore. I could try apt pinning to get it to work… but Debian doesn’t really encourage its use. Purged the driver from the system.

Now I’ll have to do the one thing I really didn’t want to do. Setup a xorg.conf file manually. Switch to a VT (Ctrl+Alt+F1), uplift to root, Kill X (/etc/init.d/lightdm stop), issue X -configure. Get this error:

Number of created screens does not match number of detected devices.
Configuration failed.

2003 called. They want XFree86 back.

All right then, let’s manually create a xorg.conf file that X can use without shitting itself. Visit thinkwiki.org and found useful nuggets of information, including a mostly working xorg.conf file. Couple this with another demonstration xorg.conf file and I came up with this beauty:

Section "Device"
Identifier "ATI X1400"
Driver "radeon"
Option "AGPMode" "8"
Option "AGPFastWrite" "1"
Option "RenderAccel" "1"
Option "AccelMethod" "EXA"
Option "AccelDFS" "1"
Option "EnablePageFlip" "1"
Option "ColorTiling" "1"
Option "DynamicClocks" "1"
Option "BIOSHotkeys" "1"
BusID "PCI:1:0:0"
EndSection

Section "Monitor"
Identifier "LVDS"
Option "DPMS"
EndSection

Section "Screen"
Identifier "Default Screen"
Device "ATI X1400"
DefaultDepth 24
SubSection "Display"
Virtual 2680 1050
EndSubSection
EndSection

It’s ugly, it’s messy. It mostly works.

Video performance is, hmm, how to describe it… quirky; I’m getting lots of drawing artifacts all over the place; CPU usage seems to come and go. Hell, the performance of iceweasel while typing this post leaves much to be desired. But now I’ve got a starting point from which to improve the situation.

Was any of this necessary? No. Would I have run into these issues if I were using Windows or OS X? Certainly not. The urge to leave Linux behind on the desktop and move back to Windows is becoming ever stronger. Windows 8 runs quite nicely on my Thinkpad X61t, and I don’t have to deal with forced changes to my desktop environment.

I’m tired of this. All of this. First Amarok 2 became a monster that still can’t compare with Amarok 1.4.x — Clementine does the job well enough, but really. Then GNOME 2 turned into GNOME 3, throwing into disarray the desktop environment landscape; people haven’t recovered and the alternatives aren’t working yet. Interacting with Android devices remains a pain in the ass. Interacting with iOS devices is basically impossible. The big companies are treating Linux like a third-class citizen.

Should I not be able to get performance to what it was before, I will be migrating back to Windows. I am not alone in this consideration. Right now a whole lot of people are migrating to OS X or Windows to avoid these headaches; they too are tired of having to fight the desktop in order to do real work.

Linux is victorious on the server and mobile spaces, but I now truly don’t expect it to remain more than a plaything for common desktop users. I hope to someday come back to the Linux fold but this won’t probably happen for a few years, when things have changed.

UNIX vs. FLOS

To me, the core of a UNIX system is a philosophical matter. To quote Mike Gancarz’s The UNIX Philosophy from 1994, UNIX has 9 paramount precepts:

  1. Small is beautiful.
  2. Make each program do one thing well.
  3. Build a prototype as soon as possible.
  4. Choose portability over efficiency.
  5. Store data in flat text files.
  6. Use software leverage to your advantage.
  7. Use shell scripts to increase leverage and portability.
  8. Avoid captive user interfaces.
  9. Make every program a filter.

FLOS is a nearly diametrically opposed design, with design concepts like the following:

  • FLOS avoids scripts, and prefers to split tasks into compiled logic interacting with logic-less configuration files.
  • FLOS prioritizes ease of machine manipulablity over human manipulablity.
  • The components of FLOS communicate over D-Bus rather than sockets and pipes.
  • FLOS is built on a core of monolithic programs which attempt to synergisticly manage multiple complex components.
  • FLOS leverages features specific to Linux and ignores portability.
  • FLOS prefers tightly integrated components to generic solutions.

I’m not sure that this is a bad design, but it is most definitely not UNIX or anything like it.

Linux Future | PAPPP's Rambling.

via Linux Reddit.

This here explains why a lot of stuff simply doesn’t work the way it used to: Xorg, NetworkManager, Pulseaudio. It also explains why no one outside of IT uses Linux for real-world software development; you don’t have to fight OS X to get started writing code. FreeBSD is almost there as well, with people switching over to it to avoid dealing with the eldritch abomination that is D-Bus.

Are FLOS proponents still butthurt by Microsoft? So much that they would turn the OS on top of Linux-the-kernel into a bad imitation of Windows?

Sinful Interfaces

Windows 8′s Greatest Sin | TechPinions.

It is quite telling that Linux is nowhere on the list. This is how hard all open source desktop environments have failed.

GNOME lusted after OSX and became a bad imitation of it. KDE lusted after Windows 7′s candied interfaces, and became bloated. Xfce remains too static and people use it only it is known and stable.

There is some semblance of hope with MATE, Cinnamon, Trinity and Razor-qt, but they’re too young and still need years to achieve feature parity with Windows XP.

I’ve been using Windows 8 and I’ve found I have to fight its UI quirks less than those of Xfce, GNOME or KDE, enticing me to jump back and stop dealing with all these changes.

Want to win a war when they can’t even put gas in the car.

Hi guys, I recently updated Arch and I got the new gtk3 stuff. All would be fine except for the fact that now, my gtk2 apps use a theme and the gtk3 ones use another (ugly) one. I searched the forum and I basically found that I should wait for gtk3 and gtk2 to become armonic or gtk2 apps use the gtk3 libraries

via Gtk3 apps in XFCE (Page 1) / Newbie Corner / Arch Linux Forums.

This is why Linux will never win on the desktop, and I have been a Linux desktop user for 5 years now.

No, it did not work.

In short, KDE 4 is about one thing and one thing only: 3D rendered eye candy. If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get, in spades. But as a desktop, as a single, integrated, holistic sense of place and set of potentialities and operations that are intuitive, minimal, and streamlined and that support productivity, KDE 4 is an epic fail in a way that makes KDE 3 roll in its grave.

via KDE4: It hurt, but did it work? | Linux Journal.

That specific comment states the plain truth about KDE4. I tried to run it on my trusty Thinkpad T60 for a few days, finding out it is basically unusable with compositing turned off. Turning it on makes it work too much for too little return; I couldn’t even listen to music on Grooveshark without the music slowing down!

Linux + Bluetooth

What a fucking joke. Save yourself the trouble and stick with Windows.

Yet another source of constant annoyance for the so-called “Year of Linux on the Desktop”. It is not worth your time to fight Linux on this.

C’mon, now

I’ve been trying to get the damn Debian Wheezy installer to work via USB on a Thinkpad T60 for the past three days without any success. Sure, it works like a charm when put on a CD or a DVD and booting from there, but that is beside the point.

I’ve tried various methods I’ve found on the web and on the Debian wiki without avail. To use any of them, you need to fuck around with the terminal, or installing things (as in the case of unetbootin). As it is right now, most Linux installers still can’t easily be put on USB drives without fucking around on the command line and getting things wrong a few times.

I realize I’m just venting, but… really, it is now past mid-2012. Apple is selling its OS X via digital delivery. Microsoft is about to do the same with Windows 8, and did sell Windows 7 installers on USB drives.

Linux should have gotten there years ago, to make it easy for people to try it out and keep their files around with them. Instead, we have lots and lots of guides for “the perfect $LINUXDISTRO USB install”, all of which are outdated within a few months. This would have led to Linux spreading virally among the common user, instead of just staying in the nerd ghetto.

Combine this with motherboards implementing UEFI and Linux installers not supporting it, and the future is getting ever dimmer for “Linux on the desktop.” Next time someone says “This is the year of Linux on the desktop” I will laugh at them on their face.

The easy way to print from Linux to Windows

The usual way printing works on Linux is by connecting your printer directly to your system, or printing through IPP. But what if you need to print to a printer connected to a Windows system?

Here is how to get it working while keeping fuss to a minimum. Once again, these instructions are made with Debian Squeeze in mind, so adjust them if you’re using a different distribution. I used Windows XP but I believe these instructions should also work for Vista and Windows 7.

  1. In Windows, make sure the printer is shared.
  2. Make note of the printer’s share name and the system’s hostname, viewable in System Properties (right-click the My Computer icon).

  3. Install smbclient.
  4. # aptitude install smbclient

  5. In GNOME go to System/Administration/Printing. On the menu bar go to Server/New/Printer. You’ll probably have to provide your root password to continue.
  6. Click “Network Printer”, then select “Windows Printer via SAMBA.”
  7. On the right pane you’ll see a textbox to enter the address for the printer itself. Click Forward.
  8. You have to enter both the Windows hostname and the printer’s share name, so you’d type something like mywindowspc/myprinter. Make sure you get the case right.

  9. It is likely CUPS already has a working driver for your printer, so look for it on the list of drivers. If you want to provide a PPD file or look for another driver, you can also do that.
  10. In my own case there were three available drivers for the printer, so I went with the one marked “recommended” by the wizard.

  11. Assign a printer name, description, and location. You may have to re-enter your root password to save all settings.
  12. Print a test page.

That should do the trick. If it doesn’t work you can try using another print driver. If that still doesn’t work, try looking for a Linux driver for your printer.

Set Qt mouse pointer inside GNOME

You don’t have to install theme packages, engines or extra apps. All you need is already on your Debian system:

# update-alternatives --config x-cursor-theme There are 2 choices for the alternative x-cursor-theme (providing /usr/share/icons/default/index.theme).

Selection    Path                             Priority  Status
------------------------------------------------------------
* 0     /usr/share/icons/DMZ-White/cursor.theme   90    auto mode
  1     /usr/share/icons/DMZ-Black/cursor.theme   30    manual mode
  2     /usr/share/icons/DMZ-White/cursor.theme   90    manual mode

Press enter to keep the current choice[*], or type selection number: 1 update-alternatives: using /usr/share/icons/DMZ-Black/cursor.theme to provide /usr/share/icons/default/index.theme (x-cursor-theme) in manual mode.

If you’re not using Debian, it seems the way to go is to follow /usr/share/icons/default/index.theme with the following:

[Icon Theme]
Inherits=DMZ-Black

Either method sets the cursor theme systemwide through Xorg itself. To set it for a single user, add the following to ~/.Xdefaults:

Xcursor.theme: DMZ-Black
Xcursor.size: SIZE #optional

In my own case, I was using the the DMZ-Black theme on GTK applications, but Qt3/Qt4 applications (Amarok 1.4, Clementine, Skype, KeepassX) had the mouse pointer switch to DMZ-White when it entered their windows. Nothing that would cause trouble, but annoying if you want a consistent look across your environment.

As said before, this avoids unnecesary cruft on your system and works for all desktop environments you might have on your system.

Tips grabbed from here.

The no-bullshit Samba plus Nautilus network shares method.

Here is how to setup Samba and GNOME Nautilus to allow user directory sharing without having to allow root access. These commands are made with Debian in mind, so if you want to use them for your Linux distribution, you’ll have to adapt them.

  1. Install samba and nautilus-share.
  2. # aptitude install samba nautilus-share

  3. Rename your smb.conf to smb.conf.master
  4. # cd /etc/samba
    # mv smb.conf smb.conf.master

  5. Add the following to smb.conf.master somewhere under the [global] stanza using your favorite text editor.
  6. security = SHARE
    usershare allow guests = Yes
    usershare owner only = No

  7. Run the following command:
  8. # testparm -s smb.conf.master > smb.conf

    This tests the samba master configuration file, then outputs the results to the file samba itself will use for its configuration. If it finds errors, it will warn you about them.

    According to the Samba docs, a small smb.conf file improves performance. It also improves readability once you’re familiar with Samba options.

  9. Restart samba.
  10. # /etc/init.d/samba restart

  11. Add your user to the sambashare group. If more people use the system and they need to share files, make sure to add them as well.
  12. # useradd -G sambashare foo

  13. Log out of your user session, then log back in.
  14. On Nautilus, when you right-click directories you will now see a “Sharing options” item. Through this item you can:

    • Share the folder, assigning a share name.
    • Allow read/write access.
    • Enable Guest access, which allows people without a user account on the system to access the share.

This last option is the most useful as people can now get stuff through the network without having to deal with usernames or passwords. Does this make the Linux system behave like a Windows system? Yes, it does.

There is something to be said, however, about the convenience of creating shares without having to muck around the smb.conf.master file whenever you want to make a change.

Cablemas DNS

So it seems cablemas decided to block DNS requests (port 53) going out of their network. I’m not sure if they’re doing this at the network level — which would be extremely stupid on their part — or by reconfiguring their modem. Either way this means:

  • Cannot use OpenDNS or Google Public DNS for domain resolution.
  • I’m forced to use Cablemas DNS servers. They are very, very slow. Most lookups are above 20s, with 30s-40s latency being common.

Since DNS queries take long to resolve, internet connectivity is slow as hell. Enter DNS caching (DNS proxy).

Most DNS servers can do caching on the side (BIND, djbdns, dnsmasq) without too much additional work. The problem is most of the time the cache disappears when the computer is rebooted. If your system is a server, you’re fine. But what if you’re on a laptop or a desktop? It’s no good having a cache if you have to rebuild it every day.

There isalso the fact the electric system in Mexico isn’t the best, so often computers go down hard when the electricity fails. UPS units are expensive to put them on a single desktop computer.

So that’s when I discovered pdnsd. It’s a light DNS proxy that can act as a caching system, working on localhost to speed up queries.

Being on Debian Sid, all I had to do to install it was

# aptitude install pdnsd

When asked which mode to use, I chose ‘manual’. When it was done I added my ISP’s DNS servers like so to /etc/pdnsd.conf

server {
        label=cablemas;
        ip=200.95.144.3;
        ip=10.147.0.43;
        ip=10.147.0.15;
        timeout=30;
        uptest=ping;
        ping_timeout= 300;
}

You’re free to use other DNS resolvers like OpenDNS or Google Public DNS obviously. The caching will work regardless of what upstream server does the actual resolving.

Then set it up so it runs on boot by editing /etc/default/pdnsd

This sets up the daemon to work; you still have to set up your network interfaces to make use of the cache. In my own case my system is getting an IP address from the cablemodem itself dynamically, so I had to edit /etc/dhcp3/dhclient.conf and enable the prepend domain-name-servers directive:

prepend domain-name-servers 127.0.0.1

If you’re setting manually via /etc/network/interfaces, you’ll have to manually edit /etc/resolv.conf so your local DNS is queried first.

Once everything is done, bring down the interface (eth0 in my case):

# ifdown eth0

Then bring it back up:

# ifup eth0

I’m pretty sure it’d be same for wlan interfaces. This should be more useful on laptops or systems that connect to networks of unknown quality.

This all goes to show Cablemas is one of the worst ISPs around and you should avoid it like the plague.

Sources:

Debian

Lenny is good. Rock solid, just like the name ‘Stable’ promises.

But it wasn’t enough. So I updated to Squeeze.

That wasn’t enough. Went up to Sid. These guides helped.

So now I’m running the latest and would-be-greatest. Going to run a server with it.

Yes, I’m insane.

Songbird

Used version 1.2.0, which is the one currently being offered as stable. The application itself takes some extra work to get it going since it’s a XUL application. There are pre-built Ubuntu packages which you don’t get from the developers themselves, but rather from third parties who offer them. This means you have to trust these packagers when performing the installation.

The program doesn’t integrate into the desktop environment at all either. Sure, you can install “feathers” (skins) on it, but if you like a unified look across all your applications you’re out of luck. It can’t be that hard to use system bindings, surely.

Any playlists imported into it need to be coded in ANSI (ISO-8859-15). If you try to import anything in UTF-8 you will get lots and lots of ghost songs in the database. In my case I ended up with 4K ghost songs in a library of 13.4K songs. All these songs would have to be rated again. Screw that.

Now, here’s the kicker. It likes to eat RAM like a legislator takes money out of the public treasury, often going into the hundreds of megabytes of RAM usage.

Gotta keep looking for a decent music player. There’s gotta be something comparable to Winamp at the very least.

Exaile

After my update to Karmic Koala I found myself in need of a new music player, specially after using the godsforsaken mess that is Amarok 2. In my search for a new music player for Linux I happened to find Exaile. It describes itself thusly:

Exaile is a music manager and player for GTK+ written in Python. It incorporates automatic fetching of album art, lyrics fetching, artist/album information via Wikipedia, Last.fm scrobbling, support for many portable media players including iPods, internet radio such as shoutcast, and tabbed playlists.

It takes a lot of inspiration from Amarok 1.4 in its layout and design choices and since it’s written in GTK you don’t have to install any KDE dependencies.

Even though it’s up to version 3.0.2 at the time of this writing, it should be considered alpha software. Beta at the most:

  • Playlist import/export doesn’t really work. You can import only from M3U playlists and export to XSPF playlists. The other choices don’t work.
  • Overuse of playlist tabs.
  • Most plugins don’t work the way they’re supposed to.

On the plus side, the developers offer a repository for it, so you don’t have to jump through hoops like you do when you want to use SongBird.

After attempting to use it for a couple of days, I’ve decided it’s not for me. Hopefully I’ll get SongBird working without too many problems.

Sonido en Linux, o la falta de

Tons esta este articulo en el sitio del New York Times acerca del enfoque de Ubuntu en lo Mainstream. Es un buen articulo. Pero nunca va a pasar.

Preguntas por que? Por el sonido. Ya sabes, la cosa que tu cerebro procesa como entrada auditiva.

No voy a decir mucho al respecto, ya que otros lo han dicho mejor de lo que yo lo podría decir:

Yo solamente he tratado de hacer funcionar una diadema con Skype en mi computadora. Tuve que molerle a las cosas durante una hora antes de que Skype funcionara como se supone debe hacerlo. Esto con una diadema barata de 50 pesos sin control alguno; nada de esas chidas diademas USB para mi por que ya se que no funcionan con el sistema operativo de mi elección.

Todos esos APIs, servidores de sonido, sistemas y demonios…. son ganado Augeo cagándose en el establo; necesitan ser llevados al rastro y el establo ser limpiado. Quiza el Sr. Shuttleworth lo pueda hacer.

Sonido en Linux? Esta completamente roto; cada vez que veas artículos anunciando “Este es el año de Linux en el escritorio” por favor procede a abusar del autor hasta que te canses.

Digo esto como un usuario de Linux — tanto en casa como en el trabajo — y como alguien que empuja software libre encima de todo mundo. Supongo tendré que dejar de empujar la gente hacia Apple ahora.

Linux Sound, or lack thereof

So there’s this article on the NYTimes about Ubuntu’s focus on reaching the Mainstream. It’s a pretty good read. But it won’t happen.

Why, you ask? Because of sound. You know, the thing that your brain processes as auditory input.

I won’t say much about it, since others have already said it far better than I could:

I’ve only tried to get a headset to work on my computer with Skype. Had to fiddle with settings for an hour before Skype worked the way it was supposed to. Mind you, this is a cheap-ass run-of-the-mill headphones-and-microphone headset without any controls; none of those nifty USB headsets for me because I know they do not work with my choice of operating system.

All of those APIs, sound servers, systems and daemons… they’re Augean cattle mucking up the stable, and they need to be slaughtered and the stable cleaned out. Perhaps Mr. Shuttleworth is up to the job.

Sound on Linux? It is completely broken; whenever you see articles announcing “This is the year of Linux on the desktop”, please proceed to abuse the author to no end.

I say this all as a Linux user — both at home and at work — and as someone who pushes open source software on everyone. Guess I’ll have to stop doing that and push people towards Apple instead.