Posts filed under ‘Linux’


Over the past few years, I installed Linux Mint on my Dell laptop, then “upstreamed” it to become a Ubuntu hybrid, then, a year and a half ago, when it started showing signs that it was dying, I bought what was originally supposed to be a replacement, this one made by HP, with 3GB of RAM and a dual-core AMD processor. After converting it from Vista to Ubuntu, I found that the too-small screen resolution made it too difficult to use, so I gave that lappy and the Vista restore CD to MJ, who almost immediately started complaining about the things that he had to do to make it do anything.

I then purchased another Dell, this one at a Best Buy in the St. Louis area. This Inspiron model has the dual-core processor and 4GB of RAM. I immediately converted it from Windows Vista 64-bit to Xubuntu 9.04 64-bit. The Ubuntu family’s 9.04 release was kind of rough. I upgraded the old lappy the same night I installed Xubuntu on the new one. The primary result was that neither one had working audio, and even after I installed and tweaked, audio started muted every time, then I’d have to unmute and turn it up.

Shortly after I returned home to California, the old XPS model finally corpsified itself. No problem, I had a recent back-up, so I could finally transition to the newer machine. Except that I had decided to go back to using Linux Mint. I installed Linux Mint 7 x86_64, the then-current version for this architecture. Even though it is based on the Ubuntu family version 9.04, I could never get it to recognize my wireless card. I have to say here that I could have manually installed and configured the Broadcom 4312 driver, but I would have to redo it every time there was a kernel update. That’s the reason people rely solely upon the package manager for software installations and updates.

My nephew’s Dell Inspiron was running Linux Mint version 6, and he was waiting for version 8, so we could upgrade. Meanwhile, I had gone back to Xubuntu 9.10, which is solid. Xubuntu is easily the best distro of the Ubuntu family.

By the way, Linux Mint system requirements are very similar to whatever the underlying Ubuntu version requires. So if you want to know what Linux Mint 8 “Helena” requires, take a look at the corresponding Ubuntu 9.10 version needs.

Linux Mint 8 x86_64 (with Mint’s improved GNOME desktop) recently came out. So my nephew and I got together for an installation fest. I didn’t have much data on this computer, because I had already been planning for this ever since the other one died in October. We did our backups, then I stuck the LiveCD into his Inspiron and tested out the desktop. It recognized that there was a proprietary driver available for his WiFi card. We didn’t try the driver out, but everything seemed good in LiveCD mode, except one thing. His one year-old laptop’s hard drive is bad. Not having any funds to replace it, we went ahead and installed on it, but everything we did was a struggle.

Installing the “STA” WiFi driver took approximately 8 attempts before it succeeded. I finally had to install the “B43” driver, reboot, uninstall it, reboot, and then install the STA driver and reboot.

I then went to work on my own lappy. As expected, everything was quick and easy, except for a few things:

  • I greatly prefer the KDM display manager to the GDM display manager. However, KDM doesn’t work right on Mint 8 x86_64. Neither computer could go straight into an X session. Instead, we had to log in under console mode, then use startx to launch X. In this version, at least, GDM seems to find XFCE and KDE. In some earlier versions, GDM could only find GNOME and Enlightenment.
  • The STA WiFi driver for the Broadcom card refused to install. Over and over and over. Finally, I decided to do some research. It seems that sometimes, the driver gets placed into the “blacklist” and will not be loaded into the kernel. Checking /etc/modprobe.d/ showed me that this was indeed the problem. It still took several attempts to resolve it. I eventually had to reinstall, and this time, the b43 driver works. I don’t often have access to an Ethernet connection, so I have to have WiFi that works well.
  • After years of avoiding it, suddenly, there are quite a number of packages that attempt to overwrite the same file. This is not specific to Mint. I see it on Debian and Ubuntu as well.

Advantages include a faster, more responsive desktop, quick to go from power-on to usable, and quick to change workspaces, even when I have four browsers, an e-mail client, and a twitter client (and either OpenOffice Writer, KWord, or AbiWord) open. Of course, I have learned to keep a terminal open (set to sticky) running top, so I can see CPU and memory use.

I have installed VirtualBox 3.1, but haven’t used it yet, so I don’t know whether that will slow things down a bit. Recent versions of Vbox have avoided the whole VM-causes-dragginess thing. VMWare hadn’t found a way to fix that, last time I used it.

All in all, Linux Mint 8 is great to have, but I’d advise waiting to install until Spring, when the LTS (long-term support) version comes out. Being based upon Ubuntu, I feel, Mint is losing a little of the stability and reliability that made it such a good desktop system. An LTS version, on the other hand, is supported for around three years, so it has to be stable.

I’ve also recently tried out (on a much older machine that is slated for disposal soon) PCLinuxOS, Debian 5.0 “Lenny”, and Mepis.

PCLOS appears to have diverged from Mandriva, so even though it uses APT & Synaptic for package management, its applications are not divided up the same as their Debian/Ubuntu cousins. The KDE version is very smooth and reliable. Until one day, it just wouldn’t boot.

“Phoenix”, an XFCE-based version of PCLOS wasn’t quite as reliable. It continually had problems with its package management. And since a dark theme on an older monitor is too hard to see, I wiped it. So far, I have only seen 32-bit versions of PCLOS, which could be a problem on a RAM/4GB machine.

Mepis was smoothest and most reliable on that older hardware, but the newest version wouldn’t install. It wasn’t just Mepis, though. I tried to put Debian testing “Squeeze” on it, as well as Xubuntu 9.10. No go with anything newer than about a year ago. Mepis’ package selection is rather old (now I know why–I replaced Mepis with Phoenix again, then quickly moved on to Debian “Lenny”, which has the same antiquated selection).

The reason I have had some time is because I am home for a while, serving as on-site tech support for the family, as well as gardener and dog groomer. It is a little too interruption-filled, so I can’t really do anything important. By the time I get back on track after an interruption, another interruption has come along. I am trying to get everything taken care of before I get sent back out for another few months.

Friday, 2010-January-15 at 09:02 1 comment

Minty Again Soon

In “No Longer Minty Fresh“, I recounted my reasoning for “upstreaming” from Linux Mint to Ubuntu. Essentially, I disliked that I would not be receiving current security updates. Since then, I’ve lived through Kubuntu’s move to KDE4 (disasterous… KDE4 is seriously broken and almost unusable… I now use XFCE4 and LXDE [and occasionally OpenBox or IceWM] instead) and the Ubuntu PulseAudio breakage (lost audio in Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Kubuntu 9.04 “Jaunty Jackalope” 32-bit and 64-bit versions). I’m nearing seven months in Missouri, working around 12 hours per day, 6 days per week. When I come “home” to the hotel room, I don’t want to fight with my computer (or I could go to Best Buy and pick up a replacement with Vista on it). I want it to do what I want it to do without resisting, and without dire warnings that I might see Microsoft’s Barney underwear if I view hidden and system files, and without someone (whether in Canonical / Ubuntu or in Microsoft) rushing a non-ready product out to hit some deadline set by executives. So “broken” isn’t going to be acceptable.

I also bought a laptop for one of my nephews. I installed Linux Mint for him instead of Ubuntu, reasoning that Mint’s slower pace of updates means less chance of breakage, even if it also means they are slower to support certain peripherals. (Another one got a Dell Mini 10v netbook–running Ubuntu, of course.) Mint has a well-deserved reputation for being “improved Ubuntu”, just as Ubuntu is “a pretty face and reliable applications atop a stable Debian core”.

I’m looking to replace this laptop soon, as in within the next year. Linux Mint is the top candidate to go on the next one. (Fedora, SimplyMEPIS, gNewSense, Ubuntu, and OpenSuse are also being considered.) Yes, I know I had purchased another and even upgraded it from Vista to Ubuntu. But HP skimped on the screen resolution, and it bothered me that I couldn’t view windows as I’m accustomed to viewing them. So I popped in the Vista restore CD and gave the computer to MJ. I even saw an announcement that said that Lenovo would be shipping OpenSuse-powered lappies, and tried to order one. Learned my lesson–do not do business with Lenovo–but they did return my funds eventually.

I’d love it if Toshiba shipped a decent lappy that wasn’t infected with the HE11N0 flu (Infesticus microsoftii spp. Vistus, otherwise known as Windows), especially if Best Buy offered computers with your choice of the three major operating systems pre-installed or at least an install-your-own-OS option. (Question: how can they be the “best” buy, when they can’t offer you a full selection of available operating systems and software? How is it “best” if you have to settle for something that doesn’t meet your needs or go elsewhere?) I did look at Dell’s site, but it looks like they haven’t updated their Linux models in a while. The Linux-powered laptop I saw was seriously outdated in comparison with their Windows-powered models. I haven’t checked in a while, so they may have updated the product line.

I am very likely to return to Linux Mint when I buy the new computer. At that time, I’ll move the data I choose to keep onto an external hard drive (EXT3 or EXT4 formatted, of course), then sledge this lappy’s hard drive (that is, smash it with a sledgehammer), and then bring the data to the new computer. I think I’ll name it TOENAIL, because it’ll spend most of its time in the case (shoe / sock) wherever I’m currently working.

Friday, 2009-October-02 at 02:17 2 comments

Getting Free From Vista

A third of new PCs being downgraded to XP, says metrics researcher

According to Devil Mountain Software Inc., which operates a community-based testing network, nearly 35% of the 3,000-plus PCs it examined had been downgraded from Vista to XP.

Given my own recent experience with Windows Vista, I can see why such a large chunk of buyers quickly UPgrade from Vista to XP. Personally, I finally completely wiped out Vista this weekend, replacing it with Ubuntu 8.04 AMD-64 desktop edition.

Actually, it happened this way: I was going to add Fedora 9 to the list of operating systems installed on the computer, so I burned Vista restore DVDs, deleted the restore partition, then proceeded to resize the existing Windows and Ubuntu partitions to make room for Fedora–from inside Windows. Bad move, because I wound up with an unbootable system. I could have let the Fedora installer try to sort things out, but I realized I wasn’t going to use the Vista installation again anyway, so I wiped it out. And if I decide to pass this laptop on to someone else, they can stick the Vista restore DVDs in and have the same miserable experience I did.

After the installation of Fedora, I went to do updates, but was unable to reach the Fedora update servers from Friday evening to Sunday, when I decided to blow away F9 during the Ubuntu (re-)installation. So, in a multi-step process, my HP Vista laptop became the HP Ubuntu laptop that I should have been able to get from the retail location where I bought the computer.

Last year, Devil Mountain benchmarked Vista and XP performance using other performance-testing tools and concluded that XP was much faster. [Devil Mountain Software CTO Craig] Barth said things haven’t changed since then. “Everything I’ve seen clearly shows me that Vista is an OS that should never have left the barn,” he noted.

Auditioning a supplier for pre-installed Linux computers? Let us know how it turns out for you. Do you know a site which keeps a reasonably up-to-date and reasonably complete list? I’m not talking about buying a Windows computer and installing Linux over it–I mean offering computers powered by GNU + Linux and completely free of the Windows tax.

Monday, 2008-August-18 at 21:50 1 comment

… And Then They Fight You

In Romania, Microsoft signed on as a co-sponsor of an education event. Some of the participants wanted to demo some free software educational software and hand out Ubuntu Linux CDs. They could not, however, because Microsoft claimed it was “unfair competition”.

See the story.

I asked the organizers if our Free Software Group could hold a short
session about the benefits of FOSS in education, with references to
Ubuntu, Edubuntu and Kiwilinux and we were given a slot after the ones
which had already been planned a while ago – those of Microsoft, Cisco
and a local company that sells education software for Romanian schools.

My question is:

Are they really so afraid of competition that they have to resort to this sort of thing? Is it likely that demonstrating Edubuntu and passing out LiveCDs is going to significantly affect the vendors’ sales to event participants? I would say the answer is assuredly ‘no’, but apparently it isn’t so clear.

Seeing how much the company detests fair competition, it makes me wonder just how faithfully they intend to implement ODF in their office suite. Are they afraid for customers to have a choice? Will they bully their “partners” to prevent them from fully supporting ODF?

In other words, it looks like we have the “same bat channel, same bat time”.

Monday, 2008-May-26 at 17:55

Ubuntu 8.04 Upgrade

I just upgraded three computers to Ubuntu 8.04. The process is long, mostly because of the humongous download. The "road dog" took me an extra day, mostly because I was packing for a trip to Ohio and not clicking on dialog boxes.

I just noticed that this includes a fix to GNOME's Galeon browser. For the past two or three months, trying to print would crash the browser. I just tried it out, and it works like a charm.

Saturday, 2008-April-26 at 20:38

XO Rocks!

My XO laptop arrived yesterday, 2008-03-25. I can see
already that it is a severe threat to the established
hardware vendors, but I could not imagine just how
much the XO’s unique software threatens the existing
eduware vendors.

When MJ was younger, I got the “blaster” learning
games. While they were a great improvement over the
rote quizzes that characterized a lot of eduware of
the time, he soon saw through the entertaining
graphics to the quiz engine underneath. After that, he
played those learning games no longer.

It used to be that computers in schools were not used
for vocational training. Instead, they were used for
explorational learning with tools like LOGO, as well
as introductory programming in the BASIC and Pascal
languages. Somehow we’ve gone away from actually
letting students learn and toward the kind of
mind-numbing learn-by-rote that formerly only
described memorizing multiplication tables.

Teaching schoolchildren to click a particular set of
menu choices to perform a certain task
is a tremendous
waste of time and money. By the time most of them are
in the workplace, the arrangement of those choices
will be different enough that the former student may
need retraining. Instead, we need to teach kids to
think for themselves and to be comfortable exploring
the computer to learn how to perform any specific

About the ‘activities’ or software: I’m trying to
blend exploring into my already cramped schedule, but
I’ve enjoyed the Measurement activity (a moving graph
of the sounds around the unit which could be used as a
fascinating introduction to acoustics, wave theory,
and related topics), watched the Etoys demo, and
opened the TamTam music activities, browsed the Web
with the built-in browser, and opened the chat
activity. I am writing this using the AbiWord-based
Writing activity. It does not yet use ODF, but the real AbiWord (v. 2.4.6) still has problems with the format as well.

I can definitely see how this beats boring quiz games and word processing.

About the laptop itself: the keyboard is definitely
kid-sized, and it occasionally does not catch keys I
press, especially when I start to speed up. The screen
is bright and clear. I can read things at smaller
sizes than I normally can. The wireless picked up
more than double the number of networks than I knew
existed around here.

This thing is so much fun that I really hope that they
bring back Give1 Get 1. I think my family would like several.

Thursday, 2008-March-27 at 00:03 1 comment

Vista Bouncing Down The Stairs

iWeek tells the story in a couple of articles: First, Vista is struggling, while most major computer makers and a number of retailers are selling out of Linux-powered PCs. Brands like Everex are able to match the performance of entry-level Windows computers by using the slimmer Unix-like OS on less-expensive hardware. Here we have $200 to $400 computers that match the performance of competing $400 to $800 PCs. Even better, they avoid many of the Windows annoyances that Apple mocks in those 'Get a Mac' ads.

Secondly, two-thirds of PCs sold with Windows last year were sold with XP. (Again, this is from an iWeek article. It does not match anything I'm seeing, where a number of people are buying Macs and some are buying Linux-powered computers, but Windows users are reluctantly getting Vista. I should note that I am seeing a number of them contact the manufacturer (e.g., Toshiba) to request an XP restore CD, but thus far I know of none that successfully persuaded any vendors to honor the request. These are just individuals that I observe in my path through life, so the sample size is vanishingly small.)

iWeek's figures show that XP captured 67% of the market its first year, while Vista captured only 39% in its first year. When you consider the number of people who are going back to XP, this 39% penetration could be much lower. Take a look at the articles for yourself and decide what you believe.

It was difficult to find preinstalled Linux for the consumer market (sans "Windows tax") in 2002. Now, Linux-powered computers are popping up all over the Web. (I haven't seen them in retail stores yet.)

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Tuesday, 2008-February-05 at 21:34

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