Fedora 13

I’ve had a problem on Ubuntu for a while, or at least I thought it was Ubuntu-specific.  The problem is with suspend-to-ram (aka, what you get when you click suspend; the computer goes into a low-power state, and comes back relatively quickly).  A little while ago, I think after upgrading to Lucid, this stopped working.  That is, instead of suspending, it (this is my laptop, btw) would simply shut down.

I liked Ubuntu, and still do.  But I had wanted to give Fedora a spin for a while now, and figured maybe this problem was distribution-specific.  So I went ahead and installed Fedora 13.  It didn’t solve the problem, the machine still shuts down.  But I have to say it’s not bad.  I’ll probably throw Ubuntu back on here soon, but in the meantime I’ll give this a spin.

My first exposure to Linux was with RedHat 8 – I couldn’t get X working at first (didn’t even know how to troubleshoot it), so I just started playing with the shell.  I learned enough to move around, and even set up an FTP server, followed by a Samba, followed by a Web server…  This was back in high school, and it was really cool to be able to share documents around the house and over FTP.  Of course, I was mostly playing, and ended up breaking the system a few times.

Over the years I tried different distros, including Fedora when it first came out, Suse, and Gentoo – the last of which I stuck with for a while, because it encouraged tweaking.  But while I enjoyed all this there came a time when I wanted the system to (forgive me for contributing to the overuse of this phrase) “just work,” and so I turned to Ubuntu.  I can’t say I remained a fan of RedHat based distros, though I used them occasionally.

Well, Fedora 13 is nice.  I’m used to Ubuntu by this point, but I’m kind of getting into it.  Gnome is not customized as much as in Ubuntu, and I’m not sure I’m crazy about the theme that it defaults too.  But I can see how this would be more of an ‘enterprise’ distro; during login you can select different authentication sources, so in theory it should be easy to get it going with LDAP/Kerberos (something I haven’t done yet myself, but plan to someday).  Also, Fedora gives you the option of full-disk encryption, which is neat.  I encrypt everything except the /boot partition, and I have to say it does satisfy my inner paranoia.  However it does require you to enter a passphrase at boot, which is a little inconvenient but not that bad (especially if you have trade secrets or something you’re trying to protect).  One caveat though is that home directories are not encrypted individually by default (you can do this, but there isn’t an install option to), so with default permissions one use can look in another’s home dir.  But for a single-user laptop it’s probably not that much of an issue.

This was never meant to be a review, just a little blurb.  If you’ve got the hardware, time, and curiosity, and you’re looking for a new distro (or OS?), give Fedora 13 a whirl.  I’ll probably end up reinstalling Ubuntu tomorrow, but if fate calls I may end up using a Fedora for something else in the future.  As for the suspend problem, I’ll look into that more.  Maybe even try to patch it myself (something I’ve always wanted to do).

Ubuntu: The Hanging Purple Splash Screen of Doom

A couple weeks ago I upgraded my laptop to Ubuntu 10.04, Lucid Lynx.  (It’d previously been running Karmic.)  The upgrade went well.  Since this machine was not very critical to me for school, I had opted to do this one first.  This morning I decided to upgrade my desktop, now that I’m done with classes and have some flexibility.

The first half of the upgrade went fine, everything downloaded and whatnot.  However, as the update manager was actually installing a bunch of the packages I for one reason or another clicked on the workspace applet to go and do some stuff while the upgrade was taking place.  At this point the machine froze.

After a few minutes of trying to get the system to respond to respond I ended up using the Magic SysRq key to reboot.  The packages had been interrupted with about half of them installed.  When I had rebooted I noticed that the new purple (and terrible looking out of the box if you use proprietary nVidia drivers) splash screen seemed to go on forever.  I shrugged this off initially and switched to a virtual terminal (Ctrl-Alt-F1), figuring that this had to do with the interrupted upgrade.  I restarted the upgrade and let it finish, and reboot.  However, to my surprise the booting did not progress beyond the splash screen again.

I thought that this was the new boot splash program, Plymouth, at first.  I actually ended up disabling it,  but this did not stop anything – the boot messages displayed, and I was still not presented with a login screen.  I was able to still switch to a virtual terminal, and running startx got me my desktop.  Figuring it was a GDM problem, I tried typing sudo gdm at the virtual terminal.  This is what I got:

me@host:~$ sudo gdm
ERROR:gdm-settings-direct.c:157:gdm_settings_direct_get_boolean: assertion failed: (entry != NULL)

After trying a few different things, I ended up reinstalling GDM, making sure to purge (so that the config files would be wiped):

sudo aptitude purge gdm

In doing this it complained that the packages gdm-guest-session and ubuntu-desktop depended on GDM, and thus would be removed.  I went ahead and agreed, and GDM was nuked.  Next, to reinstall, I did this:

sudo aptitude install gdm gdm-guest-session ubuntu-desktop

It complained again about some empathy-related packages being broken, and wanted to remove some.  I don’t use Empathy for messaging (I prefer Pigeon), so I just went ahead and did this.  Now, starting GDM from the command line worked.  Rebooting brought me to the graphical login prompt.

Lucid is pretty nice, and I would encourage you to upgrade.  It’s very convenient on modern GNU/Linux distros to be able to upgrade by just clicking a button, but be warned that things can go wrong.  I advise not messing with your machine while the upgrade is taking place and, if possible, upgrading on a non-critical machine first to see how it will go.  Keeping an eye on the forums/mailing lists isn’t a bad idea either, as is waiting a few days after the new version comes out.  And of course, remember to back up any data you care about beforehand :).

Quick Ubuntu Tip: Not Enough Space Left to Update

So just today I went to run updates on my Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic) machine, only to get an error message stating that there was not enough space left.  Now, I saw this once before, and luckily the fix is pretty simple though it may be a little confusing for new Ubuntu users.

I have my /boot folder, where the kernels are stored so the boot loader can take them and boot them, on a different partition.  Said partition is sized at 64 MB.  Now, when Ubuntu installs a new kernel it does not remove the old ones.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if a new kernel doesn’t work for some reason you can just boot into an old one.  And, of course, by default the installer does not set up a separate partition for /boot.  So over time things build up.  I checked, and sure enough, this partition was almost filled!  The fix is easy.

First, go into a terminal and take note of the version of the kernel you are using.  Just type this:

uname -r

Remember this (leave the window open in the background).  Next, open the Synaptic Package Manager (System->Administration->Synaptic Package Manager, enter your password if prompted) and search for ‘linux-image’ (no quotes) in the search bar.  When a list comes up, sort it by which ones you have installed and take note.  You’ll probably have several kernels highlighted (I had 4).  Select them all and mark them to be removed completely – this way you can be sure those files under /boot will be deleted.  Be sure NOT to uninstall the kernel you are currently using, as your system needs that to run, obviously.  You might also leave the previous version just in case something does go wrong, along with any custom or non-standard kernel you have in there (such as linux-rt, the realtime kernel for audio work).  Now hit apply, and let the package manager do its thing.

When it’s done try running your update again, it should succeed (or at least that error should go away).

New Laptop

Well, I mentioned before that my trusty old Toshiba laptop finally kicked it.  Well, I am now on a shiny new Lenovo G530 laptop, and so far it’s going good!  I’m running Ubuntu 9.04, and am impressed with how well things seem to be supported on it.  So far I’m pretty happy.

I wanted to get a refund for the Windows Vista Home license I’m obviously not using, but Lenovo was giving me the run around about not being able to do that when it’s bundled in with the machine.  I’m still going to try, though, so we’ll see what happens.  Anyway, now for some pics, mouseover for comments:

So far so good...

Yeah, no thanks.

And suddenly, out of nowhere...  FreeBSD!  (Wait, what?)

I didn’t, of course, accept the Windows license.  I probably won’t get anything for it, but whatever.  For fun I threw a FreeBSD CD in, but decided not to do the install.  Ubuntu is running happily, and that’a s good thing.

Battery Life and Other Nonsense

As I mentioned before, I have switched my laptop to Gentoo again after getting a new battery for it.  When I first finished my Gentoo install there was this beautiful feeling of euphoria…  It was just a raw Linux system, somewhat optimised for my machine.  It could be a normal Gnome desktop, it could be a mobile server…  It could be a workstation with no GUI at all…  So much potential, so many things I could do without having a predetermined computing environment like what Ubuntu provided.

Yeah, I ended up putting Gnome on it, along with the other types of apps normal people tend to put on their laptops: OpenOffice, Firefox, Pidgin (thus completing the desktop publishing-Web browsing-instant messaging trifecta), etc.  And now I find myself trying to replicate a lot of the things Ubuntu did configure out of the box.  Things like PulseAudio, multimedia codecs, and power management settings.

Actually the power management was a bit of a sticking point with Ubuntu.  I mean, it did provide decent control over LCD backlight brightness, and it configured CPU frequency scaling out of the box.  But at the same time I still never got the battery life I got in Windows.  The same is true for Gentoo.  I can get maybe four hours of life, which is nice.  But the older, smaller battery was rated for about this also.  Yeah, I know that rating’s a bit optimistic, but I sitll got maybe three of those hours on XP.  I’d like to get about 5 or 6 with this battery.

So I have some tweaking to do, no matter which distro I use on here.  I really do like having a less-bloated system, and at the very least Gentoo is a little more encouraging of tweaking, and is more familiar to me, so I may as well try diferent power saving methods on here for a while.  (Yeah, compiling software takes a bit of juice, but I do that when I’m plugged in anyway.)  Ubuntu 9.04 is coming out soon, and I’m thinking I might go and try it on here.

So, that’s that.  On an lighter note, the sun is coming out more and more here in Rochester.  We’re finally starting to get some Spring weather, even though we also just got some snow.  (I woke up one morning and it looked like it was winter outside.  It didn’t last long, but it was still weird.)  Though I do enjoy winter I am looking forward to the warmer weather a lot.  Soon it will be summer, and I will (hopefully) be working.  Getting away from class will be nice.

Back to Gentoo

When I first started on Linux, my distribution was RedHat 8.0 on our old HP Vectra.  After installing it I found that I couldn’t get X to start, and so I had to navigate the system from the command line, without the GUI.  It was a good learning experience, and I think I ended up breaking the system a few times.

When I finally got a more powerful machine, I tried RedHat again, then Fedora Core, then I think Suse, and then back to Fedora…  At first it was motivated by some driver problem that made the system freeze (I never figured out what it was, but it did just stop at one point), but later on it was just to get exposure to the different distros.  And there were (and are) a lot of nice ones.  However, I wanted to tinker.  And then a friend introduced me to Gentoo.

My first install on that machine, a dual AMD MP 2800 took three days.  I think I did a Stage 1 install (no longer supported), in which the entire system is compiled from source.  I ended up reinstalling a few times after, but in the end Gentoo was what I stuck with.  I liked it, it was fast and gave me a lot of things to customize and tweak.

Sometime a little more than a year ago this computer had a power supply problem, and I decided I might as well just upgrade as it was kind of outdated anyway.  So I went with an Intel Core 2 Quad system, and it’s been good.  But, I had also been doing some recording on Linux, making a low-latency kernel necessary.  I had patched it here and there on Gentoo, but I started to take an interest in Ubuntu Studio, as it takes care of a lot of that for you.  Also, while I still liked Gentoo I still had a few incidents in which I updated the system only to have some package like X or Gnome broken, and my desktop gone.  On top of that I had been starting to recommend Ubuntu to other people, after hearing about its supposed user-friendliness.  So, I went with Ubuntu Studio on my desktop.  I had actually been running normal Ubuntu on my laptop, and it was alright.  I was really impressed with Ubuntu Studio, though.  Doing my audio stuff was easy, and performance was decent.  Overall, I was happy.

Now, in an earlier post I mentioned how my laptop only ran at 600 MHz despite a supposed speed of 1.4 GHz.  Well, that was my primary reason for switching to Ubuntu on that box, though having everything configured out of the box was nice too.  I figured I just didn’t want to do all the compiling Gentoo entailed on such a slow machine.  Well, I fixed the bug (it was hardware related), and the performance jumped.  It was great for a while.

Now, I still run Ubuntu Studio on my desktop, despite some annoyances with 8.10 version’s low latency kernel not supporting multiple processors, and thus only running on of the cores on my processor (I don’t use it unless I need to record).  Now, another annoyance, and one that I especially noticed on my laptop was the bloat present in Ubuntu.  After deciding I didn’t feel like putting up with it anymore, I relented and did a Gentoo install this weekend.

And so far it’s been great.  Even with the speed bug fixed compile times can be long, but thanks to Ice Cream I can distribute some of the compiling to my desktop.  (Most packages are fine with this, some don’t seem to like it so much.)  I got Gnome installed, got power management and CPU frequency scaling working, along with suspending to RAM.  So now I have a zippy Linux install on my laptop.

Gentoo is a bit of work, but it’s worth it, in particular if you want to learn about how your system works.  I recommend it.

New Ubuntu

Ubuntu Intrepd Ibex (8.10) is out.  If you want to upgrade, I say wait a day or two before upgrading anything.  Also, choose a mirror close to you for a normal upgrade, or go get a torrent if you’re doing a fresh install.

Here is a site on upgrading via Bittorrent (instead of just grabbing the iso) which looks interesting, though I haven’t tried it.  If you’re in upstate NY, you can use the RIT Mirror.

I don’t recommend upgrading a production machine right away, as there will be some things needing fixing.  Actually, if you have an inmportant server, don’t upgrade unless you really need to, as if everything works you’re probably best off not changing it.

Keeping Flash Stable in Firefox

There is a bug in the current flash player for Linux which, in Ubuntu, will cause FireFox to crash during YouTube videos.  Now, a quick solution to this is to simply remove the package libflashsupport, but this keeps you from being able to use Flash with Pulseaudio, which lets you have multiple things using the sound card at the same time (some sound cards can do hardware mixing, but a lot can’t, hence the need to do it in software with the sound server).  Overall this is very annoying, especially for a desktop OS.

There is, however, a solution.  Basically, you need to update a bunch of packages to the versions intended for the next release, which is Intrepid Ibex (at the time of this writing).  There are details on the problem in this thread, and you can go to this thread for the fix.  Here is the gist of it, though.  Just remember, while this worked for me, do this at you’re own risk:

First, stick the following two lines into your /etc/apt/sources.list file:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/psyke83/ubuntu intrepid main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/psyke83/ubuntu intrepid main

Next, enter the following at the command line:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

Just accept both packages; it will have to uninstall your current versions too.  The above worked for me; be aware of the package names in case you need to uninstall them.  They should be listed on the thread I linked too.

Another interesting thing to do is to run the flash plugin within nspluginwrapper, which is usually used to let you run it on different architectures like PPC or x86_64.  The first thread I linked to has a link for a specially-compiled 32 bit version of nspluginwrapper, allowing you to run it on normal x86.  This makes Flash run as a separate process, so that if it crashes, it won’t bring down FireFox.  Also, as it runs as a separate process, it runs faster on multicore/multi processor machines.

Hope this helps!

Decent Toshiba CPU Speed!

I have a Toshiba Tecra M2 laptop that normally runs Ubuntu.  It used to run Windows a while back, and after that Gentoo.  One thing I noticed while running Linux on it was that I could never get the CPU speed to go above 598 Mhz, or if was lucky 600 Mhz.  I thought for the longest time that this was a software issue, with the operating system itself.  And then I tried Windows again.

I have the original hard disk, with Windows, just in case.  (I used a new disk for my Linux install, rather than dual-booting.)  So, I stuck it in, and took a look at the speed reported in My Computer.  I was surprised to see that it too reported the speed as 598 Mhz.  Shocked, I hunted around on the Web.

It turns out that if you replace the processor or motherboard on a Tecra or similar laptop, it can mess up the CPU speed table.  The speed getting stuck at 598 Mhz is a common problem.  There is a fix for this, however.  Basically, you need a Toshiba utility which creates a boot floppy.  You boot the computer to the floppy, which runs a simple program that updates the BIOS.

You can find some details here.  Now, the link to the utility doesn’t work, so there is a mirror here.  If that mirror is down, I have it mirrored on my own server: pom200t1-v15.  Note that if you don’t have a floppy drive on my laptop (mine didn’t), you’ll need a USB floppy drive — I was able to use one with no trouble.  Note also that though this worked for me, I am not responsible for any damage to your system if it does not work.  You have been warned.

Well, I still use CPU speed scaling on Ubuntu, but now the speed does go up to 1.4 Ghz.  Note that this will probably reduce your battery life.  But, it’s still nice having this power.  Hopefully, this will help some of you struggling with this.

Fun With Wine

A lot of the things most people do on their computers are really operating system-independent these days, if you consider the major OSes to be Windows, OS X, and some Linux distro, Ubuntu let’s say.  Generally, people want to surf the Web, get their Email, and read and edit documents.  A lot of people play music and load songs onto an MP3 player too, and maybe even watch a movie.  Getting a little more sophisticated you might have people downloading big files via BitTorrent, and of course editing pictures or video.

Ah, editing pictures.  How many free apps must there be for this purpose?  Well, there’s The Gimp, which while not the most capable one is very good considering that it’s free and ships by default with Ubuntu and a lot of other distributions.  But no, when you think of photo editing, you probably think of PhotoShop.  Yes, it’s a great program, an industry standard.  And, it runs on Windows and OS X.  But not Ubuntu…  Well, not natively.

I now direct your attention to this screenshot:

PhotoShop CS2 running in Ubuntu Studio 8.04.

That is PhotoShop CS2 running in Wine.  It runs pretty well, too.  The installation was a pretty straightforward; search Google for exact instructions.  However, if you use PhotoShop reguarly it probably won’t be too hard to get going.  Of course, there are some issues, like when I minimized the window and the pallets remained hovering on my desktop (I just threw everything on its own virtual desktop, and it isn’t a problem).  And you may need to install some fonts.  (Many of the guides mention this and give instructions as well.)  I haven’t used it extensively, as I’ve mainly used The Gimp and will have to learn a bit more about PhotoShop, but it seems stable.

So, here is a solution if PhotoShop is keeping you from making the switch.  Now if only I could get Premiere to run…