Why I’m still using Fedora 13

June 9, 2010

I must say I’m impressed with the latest Fedora. I haven’t met any deal-breakers for me yet, but then again, I’ve only used it for a week. Still, there’s much to like.

[Updated with more likes and less dislikes!]

  • I like the speed. I haven’t enabled desktop effects which helps in that department, but nonetheless the system feels snappy and responsive. I have the impression that Ubuntu boots a bit faster, but performs a bit slower when logged in.
  • I like the looks. Of course, that’s subjective, but again it feels lighter than Ubuntu (which is a bit ironic I guess, since their theme is called “Light”). I don’t hate the default Ubuntu colour scheme as many seem to do, but it isn’t particularly attractive to me either. I think blue’s a good choice, and the default background looks fantastic.
    The Plymouth Charge theme is back too, which marks the first time ever that I think booting the PC looks better in Linux than it does in Windows or OSX.
    Of course, I did change background, theme and icon theme since installing Fedora, but that’s beside the point. Why? Because I said so!
  • I like how I read everywhere that I SELinux is annoying and I’d best disable it…I haven’t, and didn’t notice any problems at all.
  • I like how the screen gets locked after a short time. I always forget to do that. This may well be the default behaviour in other distributions too, but in Arch I never got around to enabling it.
  • I like yum. By now, I’ve been using CLI package management for so long, I dislike using the GUI for it. It’s not as fast as pacman, but commands are a bit easier, and information is presented in an orderly and attractive way.
  • I like how this is the first time ever Thunar shows the thumbnails of cbr (rar) and cbz (zip) files. Using Comix, these always showed in Nautilus and have never ever showed up in any other file manager. This is a first.
  • I like the firewall running by default. I know I should set this up myself (after all, using Linux doesn’t mean you’re safe from the worst the interwebs have to offer), but I can never be bothered. Fedora feeds my laziness.
  • I like Adam Williamson.

There are some dislikes too though. In climbing order of annoyance:

  • Every time I open my Downloads folders in Nautilus, I get a prompt, telling me I can share this folder with Bluetooth. Great. I don’t want to. Leave me alone. Solved this by uninstalling gnome-user-share. It’s not ideal, but I don’t need it anyway.
  • Emelfm2 never fails to crash when I try to create a new directory. I had this same problem in Archlinux a couple of months ago, but it has been fixed since then. I have still to check if Fedora is using an older build. Miraculously solved itself…now it sometimes fails to crash. Most of the time, it still does though.
  • Brasero refused to burn audio cds this morning, telling me it failed because of an Unknown Error. I’m planning to look into that this evening, and I hope I can either fix it or find a replacement for Brasero. Probably due to a weird character in one of the filenames. I renamed all the files I wanted to burn and now the problem’s gone.
  • Nautilus can’t determina the name of the Samba file shares on the fileserver I have running. I enabled smbclient in the firewall. Obvious, really.

So there you have it. Fedora somehow turns out to be perfect.

San

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Why I’m using Fedora 13 now

June 7, 2010

There’s a reason I don’t update that much anymore: I’m no longer as excited by Linux as I was before. What I mean is, I no longer install every OS and every application anymore, just to know what it’s like. Linux is Linux, and no matter what major distribution you install, you get more or less the same product.

I was using Arch and KDE and while everything ran more or less smoothly, I disliked two things about it:

1) As I’ve said before, I prefer GTK applications over Qt ones. I use Pidgin, Chromium, Audacious, Comix and Emelfm2 no matter what DE I’m using, and I prefer Rhythmbox over Amarok, and Thunar over no matter what other file manager because of it’s excellent batch renaming capabilities.

2) I find Dolphin to be slow, and it inexplicably doesn’t sort files alphabetically anymore whenever I want it to sort them by type.

The main reason I used KDE was because it’s fast, beautiful, configurable, easy, and KWin is a far superior window manager than Metacity. GNOME even needs a totally unrelated window manager (Compiz) to have any kind of desktop effects, and even then configuration is a total mess.

But as I said, as my excitement about (but not enjoyment of) Linux ebbed, I found that I no longer needed the latest and greatest of whatever the open source community had to offer, and I planned to install Arch with XFCE or GNOME on a spare partition, use my favourite software, and forget about desktop effects or any other bells and whistles.

I hit a snag though: whenever I installed any DE or WM that used GTK the system became unbearably slow after I was done configuring it. Because the problem didn’t show up right after the fresh install, obviously it had something to do with my configuration. It mainly happened in “Open File” dialogs, and upon logging in. It wasn’t WM or DE specific: it happened in GNOME, XFCE, PekWM and Openbox. It wasn’t distribution specific: I had the same problem in Ubuntu, Mint, and finally Fedora, which I had installed because reviews were raving.

At that moment, I had enough and devoted an entire evening to solving the problem. I looked at logfiles. I installed Arch again, checking speeds every step of the way. I browsed every forum I could find. SVG based icon themes might have been the cause, but it turned out the problem was there with basic icon themes too. GDM was a possible suspect, because that would explain why I didn’t have the problem in KDE, but using SLIM or even “startx” didn’t solve everything. I searched through the logfiles and noticed gnome-vfs errors, which did provide the explanation of that but not a solution. And I still hadn’t found the reason why a fresh install of any distribution would run smoothly as anything.

Finally, I discovered that /etc/fstab (which contained a couple of lines I copy-pasted every time) was the problem, specifically the line that mounted the file server. Prejudice got the best of me for a moment and I briefly blamed Ubuntu, because that was what the server was running. That didn’t make any sense, however. As usual, the fault was entirely mine: I mounted a directory containing over 6000 mp3s, and most of them weren’t categorised into folders. And some movies. And some games. Creating a bit of order in the mounted directory took 5 minutes and solved the problem immediately. Which of course left me feeling a right fool, but I’m used to that.

Of course, at the time I was running Fedora, which was running fine, fast and stable, and had found by network printer just by looking at it. RPMFusion took care of the necessary media codecs and the nvidia driver (although that disabled the pretty plymouth theme, but I can live with that), and while I was surpised I didn’t find Chromium in the repositories, instructions on how to install it can be found here.

In short, I’m not running the latest versions of applications anymore, because Fedora doesn’t have a rolling release schedule. This used to be a big deal for me, now I find that I don’t care. The repositories are extensive, but of course Arch has the AUR which contains almost all open software known to man…but I’m not running anything exotic anymore.

In short, I like it. Let’s see how long it stays.

San


Ubuntu 10.04 Beta

March 26, 2010

I have the beta of the latest Ubuntu on a spare partition on my HD, mainly out of curiosity. My impressions in one sentence:

“Looks okay, but it’s not for me.”

Basically, the same reaction as I have to Windows 7 and Mac OS X.

The install was fast and painless, boot times up to GDM were quick (quicker than my main Arch install, even), but Ubuntu’s GNOME is as slow as ever and starts a load of services I don’t need (bluetooth? I don’t even have bluetooth hardware in my PC), but deselecting them doesn’t seem to make any difference.

The new Software Install Center looks good and works well, and the new look doesn’t bother me, but neither did the old one. I think it now looks marginally better. I moved the window buttons to the right, and completely failed to throw a hissy fit about it. Afterwards, I uninstalled empathy and installed Pidgin and Chromium.

There were some issues…I couldn’t get the USB Disk creator to work, for example, and I don’t like Compiz one bit. More importantly, it detects but doesn’t automount any of my USB sticks, and I noticed this in Karmic and Mint 8 too.

In any case, after my look around I quickly booted back into Arch. Ubuntu’s just fine if you want Ubuntu. I however want to use anything I like, and what I like changes every month.

San


My take on the whole Ubuntu hullapalooza

March 23, 2010

Basically, I agree with everything in this article.

There, that was easy 🙂

San


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 😉

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 😉

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