KDE or Openbox

February 19, 2010

I love KDE, and the latest release is better than ever. It’s easy, fast, beautiful, all that.

So when I installed Arch on another partition in another attempt to to find the cause behind those pesky network problems, and I slapped Openbox on it because I didn’t want to waste my bandwidth on a KDE install I’d never use, I certainly didn’t think I would consider using it full time.

But conky is getting better all the time, and I tried fbpanel just for the hell of it and thought it came out just fine…and there’s this wallpaper I found on the Arch forums I absolute loved, and that Buuf icon set is a work of art, and…

Well, just look at it and judge for yourself ūüėČ

Arch + Openbox: Clean

Arch + Openbox: DirtySan


Tech support and why I hate it

February 15, 2010

I’ve blogged before about this well known phenomenon: if you’re even a bit computer savvy, your whole environmnent will come to you with any PC problem they have. So when I picked up my son this Friday, and his 20 year old sister opened the door with “Hey, maybe you can have a look at this!”, I feared the worse.

First, she opened her sister’s laptop, which showed nothing but a window called “Control Center” claiming the laptop was riddled with various, inviting to click the “Fix the problems” button, and then asking for money. I have to admit that I sighed at this moment.

“Do you know this application?” I asked, wanting her to think for herself, “and do you really think that your sister, a surfer of the click-yes-whenever-something-pops-up variety, installed a virus scanner? One you have to pay for?”

She didn’t understand. “What? Look, it says she has a virus!”

“I bet it does. You’re looking at it.”

She was completely baffled by this, and even refused to believe me. I tried to close the window, but a message popped up “This operation is not permitted. Please check your settings.” Clever. Ctrl+Alt+Delete still worked though, so I opened the Task Manager and killed it. I was left with a blank screen, because the bloody thing had stopped explorer.exe from running. No harm done, I started it manually, and things looked familiar again.

“Look!” she exclaimed triumphantly. “There’s an icon on the desktop!”

“My word. It must be legit then…it installed itself in Documents and Settings. That doesn’t look legit to me.”

I received another blank look. In the end, I googled the thing which proved that yes indeed, this was a virus/trojan/nasty beastie, and no, I wasn’t going to do anything about it. I couldn’t delete the dir it was running from and I stopped bothering after that. I know someone else provides her with laptops and tech support, and he had already been complaining about all the work he had because this laptop kept getting infected. My last (helpful) advice was to make her use linux.

“Okay!” she said cheerfully (wasn’t her laptop anyway), “but while you’re here…”

She opened her own laptop, and I think I groaned audibly at this moment. Moments later, she showed me a Microsoft Genuine Advantage warning pop-up.

“Ah. Is this version of XP legitimate?” I asked.

She looked non-plussed again. “I don’t think so…”

“In that case, that’s going to keep popping up, you poor victim of Software Counterfeiting,” I grinned.

“But it isn’t harmful?”

“It’s just annoying.”

“I can live with that.”

Problem solved! I made a move to grab my son and run out of there, but I was too late. My ex had a question about her PC too. Fortunately, this one was running Ubuntu.

“I don’t want my daughters using my PC anymore! How do I change the password?”

Well, that was quickly explained, and I just loved the fact that her Jaunty installation has been running like clockwork ever since I installed it ten months ago. She doesn’t need Windows, and so she’s safe from typical Windows trouble. And she doesn’t ask me anymore to fix her PC every two months.

Which I wouldn’t do anyway, but, you know. It’s the principle of the thing ūüėČ

San


Arch is hard to replace

February 15, 2010

There’s a good reason I stayed with Arch for so long: it was simple, easy, behaved exactly as it should and it didn’t break. Until now.

The random plasma crashes are probably because of the recent upgrade to KDE 4.4, and I’m reasonably sure it would be solved if I delete the .kde dir or, in the worst case scenario, reinstall. In fact, I’m pretty sure the plasmoids I have installed from the AUR are the problem…

But the network problems baffle me. I don’t have these in other Linux distributions, but I don’t use them as much as I use Arch. The problem is only with the wired connection, my wireless LinkSys USB wireless thingamajammy could always connect (up until it fell and broke :/). I’m beginning to think the cable might be too long…grasping at straws here.

In any case, I started looking at possible replacements. Over the last couple of days, I tried quite a few:

I didn’t try out OpenSuse KDE, because I was curious about the GNOME version, there’s no Ubuntu because I already had Linux Mint, and I didn’t include Fedora although I wanted to, because I’m a bit worried about my download limit.

My requirements aren’t very hard, I believe.

  1. Relatively easy way to install/configure the nvidia drivers.
  2. I prefer KDE over GNOME, but will use both.
  3. List of preferred applications: nano, Pidgin, Chromium, Amarok/Rhythmbox, Transmission, audacious, k3b/Brasero, Comix, emelfm2 (or Krusader as an alternative), Yakuake/Guake.
  4. If KDE, I prefer the Smooth-Tasks plasmoid over the normal taskbar, and since I dislike the cashew, the I-hate-the-cashew plasmoid is a bonus too.
  5. Multimedia out of the box or easy to install/configure.
  6. No show-stopping bugs, crashes, or other unpleasantries.

So, let’s see what the various distributions are up against.

Arch:

  1. pacman -S nvidia && nvidia-xsettings. Okay, it’s command line, but for me, it’s as easy as that. Never fails.
  2. Arch only installs a base system, so both KDE and GNOME (and everything else) are easily installed. Arch’s packages are split, so you can pacman -S kde for the whole shebang, or pick and choose.
  3. Of those list, nano is installed by default. Everything else is in the official repositories.
  4. Both plasmoids are available in the AUR, so they’re “packaged” by volunteers. You need to be careful with these, but they’re easily installed.
  5. Many options. pacman -S gstreamer0.10-plugins && pacman -S flashplayer will be enough for most people.
  6. I guess the black screens after the latest KDE install and network problems fall in this category.

Now it’s time to have a look at the contenders:

Debian:

  1. Oh dear. While there’s plenty of documentation available, building the nvidia kernel module always failed for me without any helpful errors. I’ve tried this twice, but it just didn’t work. What I didn’t try is installing the drivers from the nvidia website…I didn’t feel like repeating that every time a new kernel came out.
  2. Debian’s repositories are absolutely huge, so both KDE and GNOME are available. The default CD1 installs GNOME, but KDE and XFCE editions are available.
  3. Everything I needed was either already installed or easy to install. Concerning Chromium/Chrome, Google provides a .deb package, but I heard these add their own repository to your sources.list, so use at your own risk.
  4. Not tested
  5. Not tested
  6. Not tested

OpenSuse:

  1. Easy One Click install is available. It’s not very fast, but it works well.
  2. I tried out the GNOME version based on this review.  Of course, KDE is available too.
  3. Again, huge repositories where I found everything I needed. Not all repositories were enabled by default, so this page was a big help. It searches for and installs software in a way familiar to Windows, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  4. Not tested, since I used GNOME. However, smooth tasks is in the repositories. The cashew plasmoid isn’t, but in OpenSuse you can hide it by default
  5. Multimedia codecs aren’t installed by default, but can be easily installed here.
  6. OpenSuse was a bit of a surprise. I liked the looks very much, and it was faster then I remembered, especially Yast. However, I couldn’t get compiz to work. It would start, and I’d have wobbly windows for one second, then it would switch back. This happened on two¬†separate¬†installs.

Mandriva 2010:

  1. Installing the nvidia drivers has been a problem before for me, but this time they were already available after the installation. I didn’t have to do anything. Pleasant surprise.
  2. Both GNOME and KDE are available, I tried KDE.
  3. Mandriva is the only one of the distributions I tried which didn’t have nano installed by default. Considering how small this console editor is, I see no reason not to include it, but there you are. Chromium I found by enabling the backport repositories, and everything else was available too.
  4. Again a pleasant surprise: both plasmoids were available.
  5. In a way similar to Ubuntu, Mandriva detects if you want to play media which is restricted by copyright issues, and offers to install the necessary packages.
  6. There really isn’t much that isn’t to like in Mandriva. There were only two small issues: I found fonts didn’t look as nice on my monitor as they do in the other distributions, and the locale outside of X wasn’t configured properly: I still had a qwerty keyboard. Definitely a contender.

Sidux 2009.04:

  1. Installing the nvidia drivers is not very simple, but it works well. The documentation can be found here.
  2. Sidux comes with KDE as the default. XFCE is available too.
  3. When it came to software, the only problem was finding a Chromium package, but adding a repository rather amusingly called frickelplatz solved that issue.
  4. The cashew plasmoid couldn’t be found, but adding another repository named xadras made Smooth tasks available.
  5. As far as I could see, sidux played multimedia out of the box. I didn’t rest this rigorously.
  6. Some problems here. I installed sidux twice, and the first time everything seemed okay. The second time however problems arose. One boot everything would be okay, the second one the locale would be wrong and I’d end up with a qwerty keyboard. Also, the system didn’t register the first two keystrokes after switching virtual desktop. Extremely odd.

Linux Mint:

  1. Mint’s based on Ubuntu, so it detects automatically if you have hardware which needs restricted drivers, and offers to installs them. Never fails.
  2. Mint’s default is GNOME, but a KDE version is available too. I didn’t test this, because this version ¬†is mainly the standard edition with KDE slapped on top, which makes it a 1,1 GB download.
  3. Everything I needed was already installed, except for Guake and Chromium. Guake was in the repotories, for Chromium I needed to add this PPA to the software sources, which was easily done.
  4. Not tested (GNOME)
  5. Mint prides itself on playing everything out of the box.
  6. I had high hopes for Mint: it provides everything I want, looks fantastic, and never failed me before. However, this time it did. I had no problems in the LiveCD, or right after install, but after the necessary updates, it no longer auto-mounted my USB stick. I installed Mint twice just to be sure, with the same result. I could see the USB stick when I opened “My Computer”, but had to double-click it to mount it. Installing gnome-volume-manager temporarily solved it, but then it reappeared. All in all, disappointing.

And the winner is:

Arch.

That may not be a surprise. There’s nothing much wrong with Mandriva, and I probably would have kept Mint if it didn’t have that USB stick bug, but after testing all those I simply installed Arch again. It took me 25 minutes all in all, KDE 4.4 is behaving now, and the network problems haven’t returned so far. Arch really is radically simple, there’s no substitute for /etc/rc.conf, for pacman, and for the stability that comes with a policy of not patching anything unless there’s absolutely no other way.

Granted, the rolling release model means that things occasionally break. Regular checks of the homepage are required before any major updates, to stay informed of possible issues. But in my experience, no distribution is entirely bug free. Non of them however, comes as close as Arch.

KDE SC 4.4 and Arch

KDE SC 4.4 and Arch

San


Arch is failing me!

February 10, 2010

I’ve been posting less and less here, simply because I’ve been very happy with my system as it was. My distribution of choice is Arch, my DE of choice is KDE, and my applications of choice are Pidgin, Chromium, Amarok (yes, it’s back), and Transmission. I don’t need more, and I was happy.

However.

I’ve mentioned my network woes before. In short: sometimes, when I boot, I have no network. When I don’t log in to KDE immediately, this happens even more. A reboot may solve the issue, but almost never does. When I run “dhcpcd eth0” it just hangs at “Waiting for carrier…” and then times out. I don’t have these problems in other Linux distributions (live-cd or installed), but I then again, I haven’t used them as primary OS either. Whenever I load a livecd though, find the network, then reboot, the problem’s gone in Arch. For a while.
I’m not sure what to blame. Arch? KDE? dhcpcd? Network card failure? Network cable too long? In any case, I’ve been putting off really solving this issue.

However.

Yesterday saw the release of KDE 4.4, and as mentioned on the Archlinux website, Arch users could upgrade almost immediately. I followed the procedure mentioned on the homepage, restarted KDE, and marveled at the beauty that was KDE 4.4. For two seconds, and then the screen went black. I could still hit Ctrl Alt Del, and reboot. Same thing happened.

I must say that at this point I really didn’t want to try and solve the issue, or reinstall Arch (which probably would have solved the issue), ¬†so I now run Mint, my second favourite distribution, with GNOME. While I thing Metacity and Compiz are¬†infinitely¬†inferior to KWin, this works for now.

Unless I have this bug, because right before I left home today I noticed my USB stick didn’t show up. I might be okay…I have problems with pendrives all the time. If not…well, I can always try out OpenSuse I guess…

Sigh. I’m getting too old for this shit ūüėČ

San