Debian and LXDE

April 28, 2009

I’ve been trying to use Linux since 94. It replaced XP as my desktop OS in 2004, and I’ve been using it exclusively since then. In all those years, I’ve installed more Linux distribuions than I can remember. From the top of my head, I’ve tried the whole Ubuntu family, Arch Linux, PCLinuxOS, Mepis, Mint, Suse, Mandriva, Pardus, Zenwalk, Yoper, Wolvix, Slackware, Vector, and Fedora; and after a quick look on distrowatch I can add Kanotix, Knoppix, Sidux, Gentoo, Linspire, Freespire, Slax, Elive, OpenGEU, Red Hat, Puppy Linux, Damn Small Linux and Dreamlinux.

So it’s rather puzzling to me I’ve never installed Debian. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t. Maybe I thought stable software was old and boring, and unstable was dangerous and to be avoided. For whatever reason, yesterday was the first time I ever completed a Debian installation. It was netinstall, and a minimal installation, since I rather like the (Arch) way of being dropped in a console and building your system from there. Also, downloading and installing GNOME would have cost me an hour, while a minimal install was finished in under ten minutes.

To make things even more difficult for myself, I then installed PekWM, a Window manager I have no experience with (I’m an Openbox fan). I’ve been wanting to try out PekWM since it has pixmap support, which means it looks a bit nicer than Openbox does. However, the default mouse behaviour is absolutely wrong for me (focussing windows on mouse over, having to click your way through the menu), and so was the alt-tab behaviour (cycling through applications in the order in which they were opened, and not cycling through minimized applications). I’ve managed to solve all those issues except the last one, and in the end I just removed PekWM and installed LXDE.

What a revelation that was. My favourite Window Manager, Openbox, without the need to configure the fonts, the theme, the icon, or the background. Granted, it’s fun to do all that, resulting in a very personal desktop, but it’s easy and professional looking when you just install lxde. All the speed of Openbox and none of the hassle.
LXDE is still very much expanding, and one of the areas they’re working on are translations. The Dutch translation is woefully incomplete, only PCManFM has been translated (to a degree) by…me, last year. I’d love to help out here…I’ll look into that this evening.

In any case, the combination Debian (testing) + LXDE is lightning fast. I haven’t timed anything yet, but it feels even faster than my Arch install, even using ext3. Okay, at the moment it doesn’t boot into X yet, I have to start it manually. Wireless hasn’t been configured yet, sound doesn’t work yet, and I have to install most of the applications I need…but man, it’s fast.

More to come, I’m sure.


Xubuntu 9.04: Where’s the beef?

April 22, 2009

The best way to download and install the latest Ubuntu? Avoid the rush, and download the Release Candidate a couple of days before the official release. I’ve been testing each and every Ubuntu release since the first one, so this time I thought to try something different and install Xubuntu on my girlfriend’s Dell Inspiron laptop (the one I had previously installed Arch + XFCE on).

The result leaves me with mixed feelings, I must say. To make things perfectly clear, everything works. All I did after the install was change some programs (replace Pidgin with Emesene and Listen with Rhythmbox for example). Wireless worked, printing worked, the default screensettings were correct, suspend worked, downloading and installing extra codecs worked…everything worked as expected, and since this is Ubuntu, I did expect everything to work.

But it’s hard to see the point of Xubuntu. Most of the polish and new features Canonical comes up with are reserved for Ubuntu itself, and I feel that side projects like Xubuntu and Kubuntu just can’t keep up with that. What you get is basically Ubuntu with vanilla XFCE slapped on. without much added value. Okay, it’s made to look like GNOME, but I don’t prefer the whole two-panel layout, and it has another GTK-theme…supposedly better looking because it’s blue. Can’t argue about tastes, but it’s worth noting that my girlfriend preferred the orange icons…µ
Another point is the language support, which isn’t as good in Xubuntu: many of the menu entries remained in English, resulting in a rather messy multilingual menu.

I guess the lesson here is, if you want Ubuntu, just go for the real thing, so that’s what I’ll do tonight. Maybe Ubuntu will be much slower on that laptop, but I doubt it. We’ll see.


Howto: Create launchers using easy bash scripts

April 6, 2009

I’ve been wanting to write this for quite some time, because I find it incredibly useful. Of course, creating launchers has become very easy in KDE and GNOME (and thus, in most Linux distributions). It’s just drag and drop really, so why do you have to “create” launchers?

Well, sometimes you want a launcher for not just one command. Or maybe the command is ridiculously long. Or you’re not using GNOME or KDE, and you want launchers in the taskbar or on the desktop anyway. Or all of the above.

Let’s take, for example, starting Warcraft3 in wine. The command to do that on my machine is:

wine ~/shared/Warcraft\ III/Warcraft\ III.exe -opengl

The hideously complex mapstructure is a remainder of the days I still played this game in Windows, and it was on a shared VFAT32 partition. Same thing with the backslashes (note: having spaces in filenames is not a good idea). Anyway, everytime I wanted to start this from the command line, or put it in a launcher when I had installed a new distribution, I made at least three mistakes writing that down, and every time I had to go back and check the command for errors. Which isn’t really easy in a launcher settings window, since they tend to be rather small.

So, I think it’s easier to create a file and write down the command just once:

nano warcraft3

The content would look like this:

wine ~/shared/Warcraft\ III/Warcraft\ III.exe -opengl

The first line identifies it as a bash script (or whatever shell you’re using), the second is the actual command.
Of course, just creating the file isn’t enough, because the file isn’t a command just yet. To do that, we have to make it executable:

chmod +x warcraft3

Now you can execute it like this:


Even easier is copying it to /usr/bin (or /usr/local/bin if you want to keep them apart from the “real” binaries). You have to do that as root though:

cp warcraft3 /usr/bin/

There. Now you can this file just like any other command…so either you start the game with “warcraft3”, or you create a launcher, and you put “warcraft3” where the command should go.

Those little scripts are even handier when you need two commands. For instance, Heroes 3 runs perfectly in wine on my girlfriend’s laptop, but only when the command is given in the game directory. Otherwise, it just complains about missing files. There the script, which I simply called “heroes”, becomes:

cd /path/to/right/directory
wine heroes3.exe -opengl

One last example: I like Epiphany as a browser, but I dislike session managers. If I shut down the PC, Epiphany thinks it has crashed, so every time I start the browser again it asks me if I want to restore the tabs I had open at the time. I don’t, but Epiphany doesn’t provide an option to disable the session manager. Simple solution: delete the session it has stored in an xml file, and then start Epiphany:

rm -rf ~/.gnome2/epiphany/session_crashed.xml

I called this file epiphany-nosession, so when Epiphany does crash and I want the session back, I can just run the normal command (by the way, be careful with that rm -rf command. Don’t put spaces where they don’t belong).

Some tips: to avoid nasty permission issues, create the files as a normal user, and copy them as root. Keep the originals somewhere where you can find them again, just in case you switch distributions or something like that.

Really, there’s nothing much to it. In fact, it’s ridiculously easy and I bet many people don’t need this howto at all. Still, little scripts can come in very handy sometimes, and I was rather please with myself when I learned how to do this 😉


Update: Shutdown box

April 5, 2009

I’ve been informed that in this post, the link to the shutdown box files is dead, so I zipped the files I have and put them on mediafire. The original article has been updated.

The files in question can be found here.