After Arch + KDE, there’s Arch with GNOME: KahelOS

October 26, 2009

I’m still happily running Chakra (essentially Arch + KDEmod), but browsing the Arch forums I discovered that Chakra isn’t the only distribution with Arch as its base. Meet Kahel OS, which combines Arch with GNOME.

Now, while Chakra is modest and states it’s essentially Arch with a few added tools (like an installer, GUI front-end for the package management, GUI config tools), Kahel OS claims it’s a whole new distribution. It isn’t…it’s a rebranded Arch, with GNOME added, using the Arch repositories and the Arch installer. If you clicked the link to the Arch forums, this rubbed a few people the wrong way.

I haven’t tried it yet, and I don’t think I will…simply installing Arch and adding GNOME myself is easier for me. But the idea is good…it’s surprising to me not more distributions use Arch as a base.

San

Advertisements

It’s Windows 7 day!

October 22, 2009

But forgive me if I won’t throw a party.

Seriously, I like Windows 7. My girfriend likes it. It looks good, is reasonably fast, no nasty surprises yet (though I’m pretty sure they’ll arrive at one point in the future…), but after I installed it on her laptop I almost immediately lost all interest.

That’s another reason why I prefer Linux: It’s FUN. Or maybe I’m just slightly crazy.

In any case, new major releases of Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva and OpenSuse coming up. Will I continue to be an Ubuntu fanboy? Will I finally be able to install Fedora? Will OpenSuse and Mandriva wow me with their KDE4 versions? So many questions, so little time…

San


KDE 4.3: Boom baby!

October 10, 2009

I’ve blogged about KDE 4 before, gradually noticing the improvement, but ultimately always running back to Openbox for various reasons. These reasons include:

  • Stability: My earliest posts complained about issues with the nVidia driver, crashing plasmoids, KDE simply failing to start,  Kwin effects leaving artefacts, and systray icons that look horrible.
  • Configuration: It’s a well known fact that, while KDE 3.5 was loved for it’s ability to configure the crap out of it, KDE 4 was somewhat lacking in this regard, especially when it came to the panel. A personal pet-peeve is that KDE 4 left out the ShowDesktop keyboard shortcut, although it supports the function. The only workaround here was to add a plasmoid and assign a shortcut to it, cluttering the panel needlessly.
  • Looks: This might seem strange, since I’ve been raving about the way KDE 4 looks since the very beginning.  To clarify, I have no problem whatsoever with Plasma, which looks gorgeous. However, the novelty of the Oxygen window borders quickly wore off, especially when comparing it to Windows 7 or Snow Leopard. Next to those OSes, KDE’s window borders suddenly look dull and drab. The real issue here however, is that there simply weren’t any serious alternatives available.
  • Qt applications: Yeah, I’m beating the old horse again. To sum things up: I think the available selection of QT software is limited, and lacking in quality.

But when I tested Chakra Alpha 3, I also ended up with KDE 4.3.2, so why not have a look if things have improved?

Stability has gradually improved to the point where I no longer have any problems at all. KDE boots fast and without issue. Applications don’t crash, except for the printer applet after one update, which was immediately remedied in the next. Kwin effects are fast and leave no artifacts. KDE 4 is stable.

chakra: Alt-Tab KWin effect

chakra: Alt-Tab KWin effect

Configuration-wise, things have improved too. Config options have treacled back into KDE 4, and while it still might not be up to the standard set by its predecessor, it’s getting there.
There still isn’t a “Hide all Windows and show the Desktop” keyboard shortcut option, but this post should give you an idea how to implement it yourself. It worked for me.
What’s important too, is that the old layout for the System Settings is available too. Personally, I prefer the Icon View, but at least we have the choice now.

Chakra: Tree View in System Settings

Chakra: Tree View in System Settings

When it comes to looks, KDE has improved even further. The old Oxygen Plasma theme looked very good, but the new Air theme tops it in every way. It’s light, fresh, modern, and altogether beautiful. In contrast, it makes the Oxygen window borders look even worse. Luckily, there’s progress in that area too, with the new Aurorae theme engine. To quote: “It was created with the idea of making KWin decorations as themeable as the Plasma desktop shell.” A truly excellent (and needed) idea, and it’s one I really wish the KDE devs had implemented from the start. The selection of window decoration themes is small but growing. One of the best I think is Glowglass.

Chakra: The Glowglass windows decoration theme

Chakra: The Glowglass windows decoration theme

Finally, the Qt applications thing…I’m sorry to say that in my opinion it hasn’t improved. In some cases it’s a matter of personal preference, in others the Qt apps simply don’t work as well as their GTK counterparts. To deal with the situation, I used whatever application I thought worked best, and installed QtCurve to make sure things looked decent. In fact, they look more than decent: QtCurve is a beautiful, professional looking theme, and is actually a step up from the default Oxygen theme.
However, while QtCurve can make your applications look good, it can’t make them better. For chat, I still prefer Emesene with it’s clean layout over the cluttered Kmess or Kopete. Both Qt options work very well, I just don’t like the looks of the Contact List or the Chat Window.

Chakra: Emesene

Chakra: Emesene

It’s the same with browsers. You can use Konqueror of course, and Chakra also provides Arora as an alternative. I quickly uninstalled it, because if I’ll use a Webkit browser, it’s going to be Chrome. It’s fast, configurable, supports extensions these days, has a lot of available themes (I chose the Porsche one), and is perfectly usable in Linux.

Chakra: Chrome with the Porsche theme

Chakra: Chrome with the Porsche theme

The real sore point in this area is still the music manager. If you want Qt, it’s Amarok, Juk, and maybe Cuberok. That’s it. I still detest Amarok’s playlist based layout, which means that Cuberok is out too (and Exaile and Listen on the GTK side, for that matter). In my mind, music managers have to scan my music collection, play music, and stop bothering me. Amarok doesn’t do that. Besides, upon scanning my collection it stopped at 53% every time. No Amarok for me, and Juk is so old it can’t handle a decent collection without a crash. On the GTK side I still have to try Banshee. I won’t try Rhythmbox because it’s too tied to GNOME. The last time I tried that half of the functions and icons were missing.
In the end, I installed the same music manager I also used in Openbox, which is Goggles MM. It uses the FOX toolkit, which means that QtCurve can’t do anything about the looks, but it does have an Oxygen colour scheme which makes it look a bit better. The next major version will have *gasp* gradients, which should improve things even more.
But here, the looks don’t matter. It has my favourite, Rhythmbox-like layout. It’s lightning fast, scanning my 6000+ music collection in less than 30 seconds. It can edit tags. It has album art. It uses the xine-engine, which means it plays more internetradios than both Rhythmbox and Amarok. Really, the only thing I’m missing is a song queue, but that’s it.

Chakra: Goggles Music Manager

Chakra: Goggles Music Manager

To add insult to injury, I even replaced Konsole with XFCE’s Terminal. It supports transparency just as well, but is much much faster. Konsole booted slow and performed quite badly. Whenever I tried to create a package from the Arch AUR, text scrolled by at a slow, jittering pace. It took me a couple of days to find out that the problem wasn’t Chakra or yaourt, but Konsole itself. Using Terminal immediately solved the problem.

Chakra: XFCE's Terminal

Chakra: XFCE's Terminal

I’ll admit, one of the reasons I wanted to try KDE again is because I was jealous of Jen’s fantastic looking Windows 7 laptop. She had rotating backgrounds of beautiful English landscapes, folders with previews of the pictures inside, nice window effects, a great looking Aero theme, that panel/dock crossover…I wanted that! Well, without installing Windows, obviously. I’d never do that.
In the end, I think I succeeded. Apart from the dock/panel thing I have everything she has, using far less space on my hard drive, with all the benefits of (Arch) Linux included. It’s fast, it’s beautiful, and I like it so much I’m keeping it, even though Dolphin, Krusader and Kaffeine are the only Qt applications I use.

KDE has arrived, baby.

San


Chakra Alpha 3: a review

October 9, 2009

Introduction

You have to hand it to the Chakra project developers: they sure have ambition. Don’t expect a remastered Ubuntu here, Chakra takes the do-it-yourself distribution Arch, and tries to make the installation easy, providing you with the latest and greatest KDE in the process. Chakra has more or less grew out of KDEmod, a modded and modular set of KDE packages for Arch. Apparently, the devs decided that they might as well slap an installer together and create a whole new distribution. Easier said than done…

I say “distribution”, but the Chakra people are apparently very modest and call it a distrolet. Their reasoning is that after the install, you end up with regular Arch, albeit with their version of KDE. Be that as it may, they also included their own tools: the installer Tribe, the package manager front-end Shaman, the system config utility Arxin, and even live media creation scripts. In my book, Chakra certainly qualifies to be called a distribution. I know many other projects certainly do, even if they’re just a glorified Ubuntu…

In any case, Chakra is still alpha software, and it hasn’t that many developers working on it, so it’s progress is rather slow. On the other hand, those devs are involved in KDE itself, so they have a pretty good pedigree. Still, bugs are to be expected, maybe even serious ones.

Installation

I grabbed the torrent from the website (apparently the servers were a bit overloaded after release), and copied it to a USB stick according to the instructions on the website. Upon boot, I was greeted with a few options, one of them including non-free software. I have a nVidia graphics card in this machine, so that’s what I chose. I booted into a nice looking, but default KDE. As far as I know, the only modification that has been made is the menu button, which is the Chakra swirly icon instead of the usual K. I was online, things looked good, so I clicked the “Install” icon on the desktop. Apparently, the installer checks for new versions of itself before running, which is a good idea, but unfortunately the newly downloaded version didn’t work. It got stuck, showing me a message “Setting up Tribe”. After a quick search around the forums, I learned that this is a known bug, and typing “sudo tribe” in a terminal takes care of that. The installer works fine after that, but it’s not a great start, really.

As you can see on the screenshots, Tribe looks fantastic. The various installation steps are visible in a list on the left, in a layout that reminds me of the openSuse installer. I especially liked the globe when choosing Language and Time settings. The disk partitioner on the other hand, was a bit confusing. You have to click the various options to change them (like mount point, filesystem, etc), instead of a general “Edit Partition…” button. It works just as well, it just isn’t that obvious. This part of the installation also took a very long time, to the point where I thought it had crashed. A couple of steps later and you’re installing the system, which happens very fast until you hit the part where the default mirror for the package manager is selected. You can’t choose from a list, instead Chakra uses the rankmirror script by default, which checks the five fastest mirrors in your location. It’s a good idea, but it takes a long time.
Eventually, there are a couple of configuration steps left to do, like creating the user (which you can grant Ubuntu-like sudo privileges), the root user, and installing the boot loader. You can choose the right partition, but you have to do it in grub-speak (hd0 for the MBR, hd0,0 for the first partition, etc). Again, this might not be obvious for everybody.

First boot

After a quick reboot you can enjoy your brand new Chakra system…well, you could, if grub hadn’t added hd0,4,4 to my configuration file, instead of hd0,4. This is such a strange error that I was wondering if I hadn’t made the mistake myself. I’m fairly sure that I didn’t. In any case, it’s quickly solved, but you need to know where to look. Another issue I had: the locale was correct, but the keymap wasn’t. Because I have quite a lot of experience with Arch, I knew I had to edit /etc/rc.conf and /etc/hal/fdi/policy/10-keymap.fdi, but I can’t imagine normal users knowing about this. Finally, upon reboot, I noticed that a couple of daemons failed to stop: networkmanager, avahi, and cdemud. I disabled the last two, because I have no need of them, and as far as I can see it’s not like there’s any trouble because of it. Still, it’s worrying to see that big red “FAIL” scrolling by.
A final minor point: a distribution that aims to look good, as Chakra obviously does, really shouldn’t have messages scrolling by at boot or shutdown at all. I prefer a nice scroll bar or animation, with the possibility to hit Esc or F2 for the more detailed messages.

Upon first boot into KDE, I was greeted with a very familiar sight: a popup asking me to configure Automatic Updates. It’s looks and like the Windows Updater, but upon reflection it really is the best way to handle Arch’s rolling release model. I am however very happy that “Download and install the updates automatically” is the last option available, and is clearly marked as dangerous. This is true for any OS but certainly Arch: look at what you’re about to install. Arch has been very solid for me, but occasionally things do go wrong. For example, the latest update of the KDE printer applet made it crash every time at boot. I knew what I had installed, I checked the Chakra and Arch forums, saw people having the same problem, and waited a day. The next update solved the problem.

Chakra: Automatic updates

This brings me to another advantage of Arch, and by extension Chakra: you’re running the latest software. KDE was updated from 4.3.1 to 4.3.2 less than a day after the official release. I’m running the latest and greatest, which from a security point of view, is always a good idea. Hardware detection was very good too: the nVidia graphics card was detected and configured properly, and so was my wireless USB dongle. This is something the Chakra devs had to add in Tribe, because I know I have to do these things myself in Arch. Cups however wasn’t added to the main configuration file (/etc/rc.conf), and I had to add it myself to be able to use the network printer.

I mentioned before that I installed the Minimal CD. The official release will be a DVD image, but in the case of the CD, Minimal means indeed minimal. You get a barebones KDE, with Kaffeine, K3b and Arora, but that’s it. Everything else can be installed with Shaman, the package manager. The upside here is that Chakra/KDEmod splits the traditional KDE packages, so for instance it’s possible to install just Ksnapshot, and not the entire kde-graphics package. I prefer to use pacman and the command line, but Shaman is a very good (easier?) alternative.

chakra: Shaman

chakra: Shaman

Conclusion

All in all, I’m impressed. As I said in the introduction, Chakra is still alpha, so the problems I encountered can certainly be forgiven. They can easily be solved by anyone with a bit of experience with Arch Linux, but for others they might be show stoppers. I’m pretty sure they will be ironed out at the time of the final release though, because it’s quite obvious the Chakra devs know what they’re doing. They wanted to bring the speed, stability, and rolling release model of Arch, combined with the elegance and beauty of KDE to the average user, and in my opinion they’re well on their way there. Tribe needs some work, but it works. Some configuration has to be automated even more, but most of it has been taken care of. Shaman is an excellent and easy front-end of the command line package manager pacman. The rolling release model makes very frequent updates necessary, which the Chakra devs have solved by including a sane Automatic Updater, which provides plenty of information both before and after install. They’re very much on the right track, and I feel confident to predict that Chakra will become a popular choice among Linux users when the first release hits the internet. I know I’m sold: I’m using it as my main OS at the moment.

Chakra: My KDE after config

Chakra: My KDE after config

San


Asus EEE 900 and Ubuntu Netbook Remix

October 5, 2009

Although Tinkerbell was running fine with Arch and Openbox installed, after the install of the file server, there were some problems. For some reason, I couldn’t get samba to start, and I wasn’t looking forward to configuring cups on it.

So, just as with the file server, I took the easy way out and installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix on it. I must say, I don’t regret it. The boot is as fast as before, with the added benefit of it looking a bit better. Gnome of course is a bit slower than Openbox, but it still performs surprisingly well. Just as beforem, RAM stays below 200 MB with Firefox open. CPU usage is a bit higher in that case, around 20%. Also, while the layout leaves a little less screen estate for applications, I really love the netbook launcher, and the way applications maximise with the window bar toccupying part of the top panel.

Furthermore, and this is pretty much a given, installation and confguration was much easier and faster. I left the theme as is, deleted some of the gnome bookmarks I never use anyway, installed Comix, rearranged the “Favourites” tab, and that was it. Network surging was easy. Power management was already setup, something I hadn’t configured in Arch, which meant Tinkerbell dropped dead every time she ran out of battery life. Network connection came to life automatically when opening the lid. Little pleasures, and I could have figured them out in Arch, but I have a new-born in the house who eats all my time 😉 Things have to be fast and easy these days.

One final note: I’d have loved to try out Moblin on this little thing, but apparently the eee900 isn’t supported. It’s a shame…the interface looks really interesting.

Tinkerbell and UNR

Tinkerbell and UNR

San