Archive

Archive for the ‘Free Software’ Category

Day 12, my current software setup

September 12th, 2009 No comments

It has been almost half a month since the experiment has begun and I think everyone is just getting to the point where they can begin to be truly productive on their systems. As such I just wanted to share my current software setup, as is, and the replacements I am using for the proprietary software packages that I  would have otherwise normally used under a Window’s environment.

Operating System

As you may have already known, I have chosen Fedora 11 as my distribution for this experiment. While it was quite a rocky start, Fedora is proving to be a competent operating system and should fit my needs for the duration of the experiment.

Office & Word Processing

Fedora ships with OpenOffice.org 3.1.1 as its office suite. I have used OpenOffice.org in the past and have found it to be a adequate alternative to Microsoft’s Office suite if not without it’s own faults. Perhaps it is just my familiarity with Microsoft’s Office suite but I find OpenOffice.org to have many odd quirks. For example its ability to open but not save to Office Open XML (*.docx, *.pptx, *.xlsx, etc.) is rather frustrating. I think for the most part I am going to be using OpenOffice.org’s preferred format, the OpenDocument Format, but I have read numerous issues with this format as well. I guess time will tell if this is a good choice or not.

Moving forward I think I am going to be looking at alternatives to OpenOffice.org, such as AbiWord or KOffice, just to see if those work better for me.

E-mail Client

As on Windows I am using Thunderbird to manage my e-mail. What’s kind of weird is I can only seem to install the Thunderbird 3 beta version from my repositories. Again you can find my contact information on my page here.

Browser

This one was a really a easy choice for me. I have been using Firefox on Windows for a long time. Fedora allows me to run the most recent version which is 3.5.3 as of this writing. My browsing experience has not changed whatsoever from how it was on Windows.

Instant Messaging

On Windows I had been mostly using Windows Live Messenger. Now that I am on Linux I have tried various IM clients including aMSN, Kopete and Pidgin. Of the bunch I think Kopete has a lot of potential but I am sticking with Pidgin. It just seems to do everything and do it mostly right.

Music/Media Management

As an alternative for iTunes I gave Rhythmbox a go and was very impressed. Next I tried Songbird and while there isn’t much difference between the two players, I like the feel of Songbird better. For videos I am still trying to decide whether I prefer VLC or MPlayer. Like Rhythmbox and Songbird there really isn’t much difference between VLC and MPlayer.

Image Manipulation

I have never been a big Photoshop person so my needs in this category were pretty easy to meet. That being said I have settled on using both the GIMP and KolourPaint to fill in any gaps.

Development

In the past I have been primarily a Windows developer using tools such as Visual Studio to get my jobs done. I would be very interested in seeing how Mono development works on Linux but in the meantime I will be using Eclipse’s Java and C/C++ tools as my primary Linux development platform.

Torrents

Because there is no µTorrent support for Linux, except under Wine, I have decided to use the native client KTorrent for all of my torrenting needs! I find it to be very similar to what I’m used to on Windows so again this is a easy solution for me.

That’s It For Now

I’ll let you know if I find any better alternatives moving forward.

Alien, OpenPGP & Wine

September 6th, 2009 No comments

Now that the horrors of installation and setup are a part of the past I have been spending my time delving deep into the desktop and the applications. I would like to briefly touch upon three of these.

Alien

One of the first things you figure out after you install your distribution of choice is what package manager they are using. Now I’m not talking about Synaptic, mintInstall, or KPackageKit, but rather the packaging format, commonly RPM or DEB. While both of these are excellent they do create problems when you want to install software that only comes in the format that your distribution does not use. This is where alien comes in. Alien is a small command line program that will convert from one package to the other. So I can download a .deb file and use alien to convert it into Fedora’s native .rpm format. It’s simple and works great.

OpenPGP

As I am a bit of a privacy nut I have been using Pretty Good Privacy for a while now to secure my e-mail and attachments. My mail client of choice makes this very easy through the use of the Enigmail add-on. What’s even better is Fedora, like most if not all Linux distributions, already ships with the program gpg. GnuPG is a command line application that implements OpenPGP, the open source, fully compatible version of PGP. This means that no matter which program you are using on your system they can all access the same PGP keys seamlessly! I have taken the extra step of generating a GPG key for my e-mail account here, tyler at thelinuxexperiment.com, which you can find under my page (under Guinea Pigs at the top). I highly recommend anyone who is the least bit computer savvy set themselves up  an key and upload it to a key server. It takes about 1 minute and is very easy to use!

Wine

Wine, or Wine Is Not an Emulator, is a Linux program that can run a lot of Window’s programs by tricking them into thinking they are running on a Window’s machine. While I wouldn’t recommend it for everything, Wine is quite powerful and can get you out of a pinch. You can run Windows programs simply by opening a terminal and typing

wine [path to exe]

wine_notepad

Notepad running thanks to Wine

Fedora FAQ

September 5th, 2009 No comments

I just wanted to quickly mention this awesome website, http://www.fedorafaq.org/. While it only covers up to Fedora 10 most of what it says is still completely accurate. It has helped me quick a bit get my system up and running, most recently allowing me to use Window’s fonts in Linux!

Finally Up and Running

September 3rd, 2009 1 comment

As you may recall, last night, I ruined my system by manually editing the xorg.conf config file according to a sketchy tutorial on the Debian Wiki. This evening, I fixed the problem and got Compiz effects running in all of 20 minutes. The moral of the story: Before fucking about online, use the resources that are right in front of you.

Firstly: Fixing X

When I edited the xorg.conf file last night, I made a mistake, and every time X tried to load on startup, it failed out. At the time, I was bleary-eyed and half in the bag, and didn’t realize that when this happened, Debian presented me with the ability to log into the terminal and fix my silly mistakes.

Refreshed and ready to go, I logged into the terminal as root this evening, loaded the config file in question, took out my changes, saved, and restarted. Lo and behold, everything worked perfectly, and I got my desktop back.

Part B: Getting Compiz

After enabling OpenGL support and 3D hardware acceleration last night, I immediately attempted to get the Compiz suite of relatively useless eye candy nonsense up and running, a process that lead directly to me bricking my system.

The first tutorial that I tried to follow last night instructed me to edit my sources list and download the required packages from a third-party mirror… Until I scrolled down (after already doing all of the suggested actions), and realized that the entire tutorial was outdated because Compiz had since been migrated into the Debian repositories. I more or less succeeded in disabling all of those changes, in the sense that undoing them didn’t break anything apparent.

The next step was a quick dash over to the Debian Wiki for information on how to install Compiz properly, which I assumed could be had from this tutorial. Turns out I was wrong, because while the package installs that it reccomends mostly succeeded, when I tried to enable Compiz, it errored out and locked up my desktop.

Pissed off, I tried making the suggested changes to the xorg.conf file that are suggested in the tutorial, which to my dismay, resulted in X locking up because of errors in my freshly edited config file. This brings us roughly to where I was at with last night’s post.

Once I had restored my desktop and come to my senses, getting Compiz was actually a snap. I launched the Aptitude package manager from a root terminal, searched for the Compiz package, and let it take care of handling any dependencies and conflicts for me. In the process, it handily uninstalled a few garbage packages that I had added last night while fucking things up.

With Compiz properly installed, I used the Synaptic package manager (the graphical front-end to Aptitude) to add the Fusion Icon package (a Compiz control icon) to my taskbar for easy access, and sat back to have a celebratory beer and enjoy me some Wobbly Windows. Another moral for the story: The Debian Wiki sucks, and has lead me astray one too many times. From here on in, I will take everything that it claims with a truckfull of salt.

(Supposed) Icing on the Cake: Screenlets

Lastly, I added the Screenlets package, which allows me to have Vista-like widgets on my desktop that do silly things like monitoring my internals and wasting my system resources. So far, I’ve found the default screenlets to be pretty lame and useless, and I don’t quite understand the process of installing a new screenlet yet. I’ll get back to this in a later post.

How to add audio and video codecs to Fedora 11

September 3rd, 2009 3 comments

By default this distro does not support non-free codecs. After a quick google search I found this quick and easy solution to add audio and video codecs to my Fedora install. Thanks again Tech Jaws.

In a root terminal run these commands

rpm -Uhv http://download1.rpmfusion.org/free/fedora/rpmfusion-free-release-rawhide.noarch.rpm http://download1.rpmfusion.org/nonfree/fedora/rpmfusion-nonfree-release-rawhide.noarch.rpm

and

yum install gstreamer-plugins-bad gstreamer-plugins-ugly

That should do it! Full MP3 support!

[UPDATE] I noticed that MP3 support wasn’t working in Amarok so after some googling I corrected this problem by also installing the following.

yum install libtunepimp-extras-nonfree
yum install xine-lib-extras-nonfree

The Fedora Megapost

September 3rd, 2009 2 comments

As I sit here writing this I am enjoying the more simple things in life. A fully functional laptop, graphical desktop effects, a strong network connection, decent battery life, and a touchpad that works completely. Ah, but things were never always this easy. No, in fact the last 3 days have taken me through a roller coaster ride of the high peaks and endless lows of my Fedora experience thus far. Allow me to take you through the story of how I got here, and hopefully this will help out people who aren’t quite here yet.

Painless Install

If there’s one thing I can say in Fedora’s favour its that the install went just perfectly. In fact the one part that I thought might be difficult, the partitioning, turned out to be the easiest. Fedora prompted me to select if I wanted the system encrypted via a checkbox or not and then if I wanted to review the default partition choices. Upon review the default partitions nearly matched the ones I thought I was going to create anyway. This includes an ext3 boot partition and an encrypted partition holding a LVM with the rest of my system partitions; an ext4 root and swap partitions.

On the next page I was able to select which software categories I wanted to install, and then customize exactly what that means. I chose to deselect GNOME and select KDE as my desktop environment. I also installed some software development tools, a web server (for fun), and SAMBA support to play nicely on the Windows network.

After entering a countless number of passwords, for the bootloader, the encrypted partition, the root account, and my user account, the system was finished installing and I was presented with my desktop! All told it too about 20 minutes to install – very quick and very impressive.

First Impressions

The K Desktop Environment (KDE) is something that I am very unfamiliar with. It took me about an hour to find my way around it and to be honest I hated it at first. I found it very clunky and some dialogue boxes were too small to show the text that they were trying to show me. Since then though it is starting to grow on me, though I am not sure if I would go with KDE over GNOME again in the future.

Now to Enable Those Fancy Desktop Effects I’ve Been Hearing So Much About

A simple check in the Desktop tab of the System Settings menu and Desktop Effects are enabled!…. COULD NOT ENABLE DESKTOP EFFECTS? If only I had known that this would be the start of all of my problems…

OK So Maybe I Need A Graphics Driver?

After poking around online for a while I finally gave up and just went to the ATi website and grabbed the driver from there. This graphical install was straightforward enough and when it finished everything seemed great! That is until I restarted and tried to turn effects on again. It turns out that there is a bug somewhere that freezes the system if hardware cursor is enabled, which it is by default. Disabling hardware cursor and enabling software rendering makes the system stable again, even with desktop effects, but causes graphics abnormalities around the cursor on the screen.

To enable the software cursor I first dropped down to the terminal from the login splash screen. To do this I used

Ctrl + Alt + F2

Next I logged in as root and changed /etc/X11/xorg.conf and added Option “SWCursor” “true” to the “Device” section as shown below,

Section “Device”
Identifier  “Videocard0”
Driver      “fglrx”
Option      “OpenGLOverlay” “off”
Option      “VideoOverlay” “on”
Option      “SWCursor” “true”
Option      “AccelMethod” “xaa”
EndSection

I also tried switching from OpenGL to XRender which seemed to fix things but its performance was all over the map, causing the system to slow to a crawl at times. -sigh- Guess I’ll just reinstall…

Round Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, etc!

I will skip through most of the 2 days worth of cursing that I went through to get everything set up correctly. Needless to say I tried everything from patching the kernel, to using open source drivers, to sacrificing a goat and nothing seemed to work. In the end it was a series of small steps that eventually led to my graphics card working. Here are some of the high points:

RPM Fusion

Following the advice of this FAQ over at FedoraFAQ.com, I used their community wrapped version of the ATi drivers that I had tried initially. Well at least I tried to, you see when I ran the following line it told me the package didn’t exist.

yum install kmod-fglrx

After more time spent googling I found out that the new name for it was ‘kmod-catalyst’, just like how ATi names it. It would have been nice for the authors at FedoraFAQ to update this in their old article but alas.

I patched and rebuilt the kernel and then rebooted. To my amazement my resolution was no longer very small. In fact I had my full 900p resolution! If that worked surely Desktop Desktop effects will as well! A quick jump to the Desktop settings tab and a check of the checkbox and I had effects up and running! Well… for about 20 seconds until my entire system locked up. Like, we’re talking a hard lock here. I couldn’t even kill X or drop down to the terminal to try and turn software cursor on. -sign- reboot and see if it worked? Nope, no luck there either. Well guess I will just reinstall then…

RPM Fusion Take Two!

After finishing the reinstall I found this new forum post with updated instructions. Great! I thought and followed them to the letter. Too bad this worked even less than before. Again I was forced to reinstall.

Skip All That Crap, Tell Us What Finally Worked!

Here is the process I took to get this to work, hopefully it will help some of you as much as it did me! I didn’t follow any particular instructions but rather mixed and matched ones that seemed to work. As such I don’t really know what each piece does but I have a general idea.

Step 1

Update the system, especially the kernel, to the most recent release.

Step 2

Bringing up a terminal I typed

su

To become the root user. Next I typed

yum install kmod-catalyst-2.6.29.6-217.2.16.fc11.x86_64.x86_64

This downloaded and installed the ATi driver catalyst kernel module for Fedora 11 x64. Next I shut down X using

init 3

Logging back into root I enabled the catalyst driver

catalyst-config-display enable

Finally I rebuilt the kernel so that it loaded the drivers correct.

new-kernel-pkg –mkinitrd –update $(rpm -q –queryformat=”%{version}-%{release}.%{arch}\n” kernel | tail -n 1)

Remember that’s two dashes before mkinitrd, update and queryformat! At this point you may have noticed that so far I am following the exact same process as I did during my first attempt with RPM Fusion. That is because this series of steps is the only one that gave me working hardware and good resolution.

OK So How Come It Worked This Time?

If you’ll remember it was at this point that when I enabled Desktop Effects my system would freeze up. setting Software Cursor in X seemed to fix this but caused other graphical issues. I managed to find this awesome post much later on in the giant Fedora Forum post that showed much promise. By opening a root terminal and typing,

aticonfig –set-pcs-str=”DDX,EnableRandR12,FALSE”

all of my problems were suddenly gone. Again that’s two dashes in front of set-pcs-str, not one! Now I’m not a rocket scientist but I think I just enabled random to make this work? 😛 This little line is a godsend. I was now able to enable full OpenGL graphical effects, including my desktop ones, without software cursor screwing everything up! Finally all of my countless hours of frustration paid off in spades!

Up Next: Full Touchpad Support

I honestly don’t even remember the whole process I went through to try and get my touchpad to support tap-clicking. My time spent on this task was intertwined between my time spent trying to fix my graphics issues. Needless to say all I had to do was verify that the synaptics driver was installed, it was, and then add this to /etc/X11/xorg.conf

Section “InputDevice”
Identifier  “Synaptics Touchpad”
Driver      “synaptics”
Option      “SendCoreEvents” “true”
Option      “Device” “/dev/psaux”
Option      “Protocol” “auto-dev”
Option      “HorizScrollDelta” “0”
Option      “SHMConfig” “true”
Option      “TapButton1” “1”
EndSection

And then set up a terminal command to run on startup that executes the following line:

synclient TapButton1=1

So What’s Next?

Amazingly I think I am almost completely set-up and ready to start actually using my system in a normal way. My networking works, my graphics work, my audio works, it all seems to just work.

Are You Sure?

Well… there are two little annoying things.

Network Manager and KWallet

The first time I installed Fedora, a program called KWallet, the KDE password manager, stored my Wifi password perfectly. Now however for some reason it is not storing the password at all which forces me to enter it every time I want to connect to the network. This is incredibly annoying and should be an easy fix but I just cannot seem to find a way to make it start remembering my password! If anyone knows how to make it suddenly smarten up please let me know!

Kopete and Webcam

I never had any reason to use a webcam in an instant messenger however while poking around inside of Kopete I did notice that it seemed to support it. So I hopped on MSN and attempted to test this capability. Only… I can’t find the button to send or receiver webcam invites anywhere. Does Kopete just not support MSN webcam? A quick google search seems to claim it does… Again if anyone knows the answer to this or how to make it work please post a comment. 🙂

Conclusion

Sorry for the long post but I figured I might as well catch up on everything I had missed writing in the past couple of days. Here is a picture of my desktop just to prove it actually works as promised 😛

My Desktop

My Desktop

The Need for a Password Manager

September 2nd, 2009 1 comment

On my Windows machine, I use a free program called KeePass to manage all of my passwords. It creates an encrypted file that contains all of my passwords, and automatically pastes them into the correct dialog boxes when I hit ctrl-alt-a.

Since I’m attempting to emulate my normal work flow, one of my first goals with Debian was to get a password manager up and running, and to disable the password management tool that is present in Iceweasel (For those that don’t know, Iceweasel is Firefox, but it’s been re-branded and given a new set of icons so that it is a truly “free” program).

Luckily, with just a few minutes of looking around, I found the KeePassX project, a mature cross-platform clone of the KeePass project that even imports KeePass 1.x database files. Installation was simple, and once I exported a 1.x version of my KeePass database from my Windows machine, KeePassX opened it immediately.

It should be noted that GNOME ships with an application called Seahorse that provides a graphical front end to the underlying keyring management system. This application seems to have been designed primarily for remembering PGP keys and remote server passwords. It handles my wireless network passwords, but I can’t seem to figure out how to add website passwords to it, so KeePassX is my replacement solution.

Aside: To add another item to my to-do list, I’ve just noticed that GNOME has registered the Epiphany web browser as my default browser, so all system links launch in it instead of in Iceweasel. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s not that Ephiphany is a bad browser, but more that I’m used to how Iceweasel works. Further, Epiphany appears to just be another re-branding. According to it’s webpage, it runs all the same plugins that Firefox can… So I guess my first question is, why bother?

Fedora HOOOOOOOO!

September 1st, 2009 1 comment

Hi, everyone!  Dana here posting from a successful installation of Fedora 11.  I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get the option to install KDE out of the box, but that’ll be something else to tinker with another day.

For now, just figured I would give a status update.  Wireless works out of the box, as do vertical and horizontal touchpad scrolling.  Screen brightness is set somewhere near the bottom and can’t be adjusted, but I can live with that until tomorrow when I get home from work.

Fun fact: in Russia, Fedora at one time may have been a more popular name with women (for older women now).  These are the things you learn when you have a Russian exchange student living with you.  Thank you, Masha!

More to come tomorrow.

KDE 4.3 vs. Gnome 2.26: Slap fight!

August 21st, 2009 2 comments

Ding!  Let the fight begin.

In one corner, we have the only desktop environment I’ve used in Linux – Gnome 2.26, the standard for Ubuntu (the distribution with which I’ve worked the most so far) and Fedora, the distribution I’ve chosen for this experiment.

The Gnome 2.26 desktop is something I'm familiar with.

The Gnome 2.26 desktop is something I'm familiar with.

In the other corner, we have newly announced heavyweight KDE 4.3, supposedly with all sorts of social networking integration and enough shiny parts to attract a magpie.

Windows 7, is that you?

Windows 7, is that you?

I’m not going to lie.  Both environments look pretty gorgeous, but KDE to me – though I’ve used Gnome more in Linux – looks (from screenshots at least) a little more familiar.  So what do they have to offer me?  Let’s find out!

History

Both environments have a rich history behind them.  KDE-ONE was released back in 1997,  a little more than twelve years ago today.  Gnome followed not long after, in March of 1999.

Gnome started in response to KDE’s not being completely under the GPL; two projects were started as to address this, and Gnome was born.  Whereas Gnome – and yes, the ‘G’ in there stands for GNU – started as a completely-GPL response to KDE, KDE in itself was started by a university student troubled by parts of the standard Unix desktop.

Long story short?  Both environments got their starts early, and for different reasons.  I respect both of their reasons for why and how they started, but I won’t let those get in the way of what I came her to do.

Functionality and usability

(credit to the main websites of both Gnome and KDE)

As I mentioned before, I’m all ready familiar with the Gnome desktop environment.  To me, as a hardcore Windows user it was easy to use, intuitive and fairly well laid-out.

Gnome’s newest version includes improvements to its disc burning software and file sharing.  File sharing in itself is rather important to me, due to my Windows Home Server containing the vast majority of my digital media.

There are a few other changes – things like the volume manager and Evolution notes client (though I all ready plan on using Thunderbird as I do in Windows), but nothing that particularly caught my eye.

KDE 4.3.0, as a major release, brings home a huge amount of firepower.  Full web integration has been brought straight to the desktop.  Along the lines of file management, Dolphin seems to offer a lot of the nice previews I’ve come to enjoy with my Release Candidate edition of Windows 7 – file previews in a folder, along with video thumbnails to let me know just what I’m going to be watching (VERY YES).

The System Tray has been completely re-vamped, which I understand could be a nice difference from Gnome (whose system tray hasn’t changed much in the last few updates).

The story thus far

Well, given my complete inability to effectively compare two things and document my findings, not much has been told here so far.  Both environments have a rich history and huge amounts of features to offer, and having only used Gnome so far I really can’t say much for KDE other than that ‘it looks nice and sounds nicer’.

…if you have any suggestions on either one, or would like to offer your own experiences here, please do so!  At this point, I think I’m leaning more towards KDE’s major 4.3.0 release.  Mostly for the shiny things, and partly for wanting to try something new.  I’m bored of Gnome.

Categories: Dana H, Free Software, GNOME, KDE, Linux Tags:

The Showdown: Fedora 11 vs Mandriva 2009.1

August 17th, 2009 12 comments

The Final Contenders

Well here we are. After a couple of weeks of research I have finally narrowed down my choice to either Fedora 11 or Mandriva 2009.1 to use during the course of this experiment. The two distros are both very mature and feature rich which makes this choice extraordinarily difficult. To help alleviate some of this I have decided to square them off head to head in a series of different areas. So without further ado let’s start this.

Community

Both distributions have significant communities behind them. A quick jump to their respective websites and you can easily see that they are very comparable. Each sports a community wiki that helps newbies and expert alike get up and running and tweak advanced features.

The Fedora Wiki

The Fedora Wiki

The Mandriva Wiki

The Mandriva Wiki

The Winner: TIE

Customization

Again both distributions seem to offer the same amount of customization. Most of the resources I was able to find regarding the manner had more to do with customizing GNOME or KDE then anything distro specific.

The Winner: TIE

Direction

Fedora is directed by a community elected board of directors. They then vote internally to make large decisions. Mandriva is directed by the Mandriva company which is a commercial entity.

The difference in setup is quite clear. Fedora’s management can be shaken up at any time if the community feels they are going off track. Mandriva on the other hand is a large company and is not going anywhere. I think this makes Fedora more flexible to take on future challenges and react more quickly.

The Winner: Fedora

Install Media Size

Fedora is offered in both ~690MB Live CD and ~4.5GB DVD configurations for all popular architectures and variations (GNOME, KDE, etc)

Mandriva is offered both ~690MB Live CD and ~4.4GB DVD configurations for all popular architectures and variations (GNOME, KDE, etc)

The major difference seems to be that Mandriva lets you really customize your experience during install, more so than Fedora. It allows you to select what you will be using the computer for and only install that software accordingly.

The Winner: Mandriva

System Requirements

A fast operating system is one that leaves most of the system resources alone so your programs can take full advantage of them.

Fedora

  • 400MHz Pentium II or better
  • Minimum RAM: 192MB for x86 or 384MB for x64
  • Recommended RAM: 256MB or 512MB for x64
  • Hard Disk Space: 90MB-9GB depending on what is installed

Mandriva

  • Any Intel or AMD processor
  • Minimum RAM: 256MB
  • Recommended RAM: 512MB
  • Hard Disk Space: 3GB-4GB

The Winner: Fedora

Multimedia

Both Fedora and Mandriva support a wide range of free codecs, but neither includes popular codecs like MP3 and DVD in their base installs. This is due to restrictions placed on the distribution of these technologies. Once installed, both of the distros can download support for these making them effectively equal.

The Winner: TIE

New Features

Fedora is known to sit comfortably on the edge of bleeding technology and often supports new code as it becomes stable. Mandriva, on the other hand, seems to adopt new technology in a slower, more methodical way, picking and choosing what will make the schedule.

The Winner: Fedora

Out-Of-Box Experience

A freshly installed distro should have a certain… fresh feel to it. Like you could take on the world with this new piece of software! While, by all accounts, Fedora is a solid distro, this category is where Mandriva really shines. It’s Mandriva One release specializes in giving the best “out-of-box” experience possible.

The Winner: Mandriva

Release Schedule

As the length of this experiment is rather short (4 months) it would be nice to see how these distributions perform during an upgrade. Fedora will be releasing its newest version, Fedora 12, in November of this year. Mandriva is also planning a release of it’s upgrade, Mandriva 2010.0, in October of this year.

Both distributions also follow a regular, roughly, 6 month schedule. This means that every 6 months or so they release an upgrade to the distro.

The Winner: TIE

Security

Fedora implements the very top of the line security features available to Linux, the Security-Enhanced Linux module. This takes specifications from the Department of Defense and implements them in the distro. While Mandriva may support some of these features, Fedora is known far better as the security-oriented distro.

Fedora's website even has a very detailed security response center

Fedora's website even has a very detailed security response center

The Winner: Fedora

Shipped Kernel

From what I can tell Mandriva ships with 2.6.29 of the Linux kernel while Fedora ships with version 2.6.29.4. I can’t tell if those extra 4 (2 stable?) updates are actually in the shipped Mandriva distro or not. Assuming it’s not this gives Fedora an ever so slight edge on Mandriva… at least before any updates are applied.

The Winner: Fedora

Gut Instinct

This one is tricky. I actually wasn’t going to include this category if the distros were close in count after all of the above showdowns. That being said I can now safely say, and the above comparisons thankfully agree, that my gut instinct is telling me to go with Fedora. More than anything else I get the feeling that Fedora offers a better overall foundation than Mandriva. From that foundation I just don’t think Mandriva offers me anything that I couldn’t simply add to Fedora as well.

The Winner: Fedora

The Winner By TKO: Fedora

Score Card

Fedora: | | | | |

Mandriva: | |

Tie: | | | |

Well it’s been a long week since I committed to choosing my distribution, but here we are finally. Come September 1st I am going to plop the Fedora 11 DVD in my computer’s optical drive and embark on a 4 month long journey of Linux discovery. Wish me the best!

Another one bites the dust

August 13th, 2009 6 comments

In the continuing effort to find my perfect distro for this experiment I have set the goal of having finalized my choice by the end of this week. So welcome to another installment of which distro just didn’t cut it!

Looking at the remaining three candidates, Fedora, Mandriva and Linux Mint, it became apparent that the only distro I really knew anything about was Fedora. Setting Fedora aside for a moment I decided to use the power of Google to help me. I searched “Mandriva 2009 review” and “Linux Mint review” and opened the first four tabs (skipping the garbage links of course ;)) for each. This is what was said about the two of them.

Mandriva

Source: http://superphysics.awardspace.com/2008/10/13/mandriva-2009-review-desktop-emphasis/

While the install went perfectly well for me, other reviews around the internet are claiming some install problem, including a bizarre one where the Gnome is loaded as the default desktop. However, I am inclined to think this is either a rare bug, or something wrong done by the reviewer himself.

My take: Well that doesn’t sound very good. Hopefully that’s just a fluke.

The best part I have liked about Mandriva is that it is the only Linux distro to date… that actually runs my graphics card out of the box. Not even openSUSE or Ubuntu do that.

My take: This is excellent news, especially because my machine is also using an ATi card.

I have by now done a lot of testing, and my current impressions are slightly less positive. The hang consisted of a screen freeze when I opened five windows of Firefox. What I did not realize is that this recurred for me. I am not sure if it is the same case for others. There were also two more crashes, from unidentified causes.

My take: As a novice user who doesn’t know how to just “kill and restart X Server” this could be an issue for me…

But more so, the desktop, and plasma improvements are great. Take the time to experiment with each, they are worth it. They too, are stable.

My take: I’m not really sold on the plasma paradigm but this is still good news!

One of the most important parts of any distribution is the package management. I had not had a chance to test this earlier, but this was a big let down. I was expecting something exceptional here. What I got was an almost exact replica of the management system of the previous Mandriva, which was, let’s face it, slow and cumbersome… I had a difficult time downloading packages from online repositories – Mandriva’s package management apparently did not like my slow, albeit passable, internet connection.

My take: Installing software easily and efficiently will be key during this experiment. This person’s take on Mandriva’s package management is worrisome.

Source: http://izanbardprince.wordpress.com/2009/03/06/mandriva-20090-much-improved-since-last-year/

Mandriva is one of the few distributions that lets you have the  XFS file system on /boot with GRUB as your bootloader, so all you really need is SWAP and one / partition with XFS if that’s all you want.

My take: Can someone in the Linux community explain to me why GRUB isn’t able to just use all of the filesystems?

You do have to edit your Timezone and monitor/video card settings or else it may reboot with the wrong resolution and using the unaccelerated VESA driver (And set for New York’s timezone), I selected 1680 x 1050 Generic Monitor with Nvidia 6100 or later, this brings the system up with the 2d accelerated NV driver until you can get around to installing the Nvidia binary module.

My take: This seems like a lot of messing around just to set up the system time and video card!

Mandriva saw my Windows shares out of the box, and could browse them through Nautilus immediately.

My take: Playing nicely with Windows is going to be one of the things I test during this experiment so this news is promising.

Source: http://linuxandfriends.com/2008/10/14/mandriva-linux-2009-review/

Mandriva One has everything that a home PC user should require, including a graphics suite (GIMP), document viewer (Gwenview), Office suite (OpenOffice.org 3.0), audio player (Amarok), Movie player (Totem) and latest version of Firefox web browser. Of course, I need not say that Mandriva 2009 comes bundled with KDE 4.1.2 or GNOME 2.24 depending upon the live CD you downloaded. So you get all the applications that are part of these fabulous desktop environments.

My take: Something that  I will certainly be writing about is the ‘out-of-box’ experience of the distro. How it looks, works and feels before I add additional software.

If you have any of the NVIDIA or ATI graphics cards, you are in luck as Mandriva One 2009 bundles with it the proprietary drivers for these cards and you can use the 3D acceleration capabilities out of the box without any further tinkering.

My take: Again, by the sounds of things Mandriva has all of the graphics drivers I’ll need built right in!

Linux Mint

Source: http://techtoggle.com/2009/01/linux-mint-review/

Linux mint offer number of applications that are not available in Ubuntu. There are many pre-installed applications like multimedia codecs, drivers for Wi-fi cards etc. Moreover as Ubuntu and Linux Mint use the same software repositories, so any software that can be installed on Ubuntu is compatible with Linux Mint, hence it provides users access to a huge collection of packages and software.

My take: My experience with Ubuntu is that it supports most things right away. If Mint can improve upon that it is a welcome enhancement.

It is a Debian-based distribution and as such it is very solid and it comes with one of the greatest package managers.

My take: Debian is an excellent, stable distro and this bonus was inherited into Mint through Ubuntu.

Ubuntu as compared to Linux Mint have got very larger support community but at the same time every advice and help is also applicable to Linux Mint.

My take: Having support to fall back on is going to be key so let’s hope this statement rings true.

“It’s one of the most community driven distributions. You could literally post an idea in the forums today and see it implemented the week after in the “current” release. Of course this has pros and cons and compared to distributions with road maps, feature boards and fixed release cycles we miss a lot of structure and potentially a lot of quality, but it allows us to react quickly, implement more innovations and make the whole experience for us and for the users extremely exciting” –Linux Mint Team

My take: While this sounds like a neat idea I think I would much prefer a solid roadmap over feature creep.

Source: http://infinity-sama.blogspot.com/2007/12/linux-mint-review-fantastic-distro.html

I booted into it via LiveCD. Yikes! Gripes. Dunno why, but it didn’t boot at first. It just showed me a nice black wallpaper, and my cursor. GNOME was not starting. Reboot! Again, but this time, I saw the GNOME bottom panel, but blank, and no icons! WTF! REBOOT! Poof! This time, for a weird reason, everything loaded fine, and I got my desktop and all icons and all. Strange…

My take: This… doesn’t sound good

From the menu, I could see a whole bunch of applications already installed, most notably Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, GIMP, Totem, Mplayer, Amarok, Open-Office 2.3 and Serpentine

My take: Sounds as though the basics are covered.

Regarding drivers, I was amazed. My WiFi (Intel Pro Wireless 4965) worked directly, prompting me for ESSID and the other usual settings, and minutes later, I was on Google. Same for my graphics driver (Intel GMA 965), giving me my 1280×800 native resolution. Sweet!

My take: Just like the Mandriva review this seems to point to Linux Mint being an excellent experience right from the start.

What I want to say is that Linux Mint is really great for users that want a simple and clean system, that is fast and efficient, and that works without hours of configuration.

My take: While this sounds nice for the beginning I’m not sure how well the lack of configuration options will play out as the experiment goes on.

Source: http://1n73r.net/2009/05/09/linux-mint-7-review

The install was painless, as usual, and the theme was just as elegant and smooth as ever.

My take: Maybe I’m a spoiled Windows user but if the install isn’t painless why are we even bothering?

One of my biggest complaints with Linux Mint in the past was the mintMenu application. While I loved its functionality of allowing you to search for programs and documents all right when the menu is open, it never had the ability to open with a hotkey, until now. I found out by accident. I pushed the “Super” key and started typing Firefox because that is what I usually do in Vista.

My take: This is a very nice feature and one that I use on Vista all of the time.

The only other surprising feature to find was that Evolution was not the default mail client and instead Thunderbird still held that title. While I still do like Thunderbird I feel like Evolution is a step in the right direction and I love that it can not only manage all of my personal email addresses but it can also painlessly get my works Exchange email.

My take: I currently use Thunderbird so that’s a plus. However in order to get the true Linux experience perhaps I should install Evolution even if it is not the default?

Conclusion: It seems that no matter which of these two is chosen to stay on, the other could have been equally qualified. With that in mind I will have to base my decision on some other factors.

The Sweet Taste of Mint Just Isn’t Enough

This was a tough call but I am going to allow Mandriva the honour of staying in the race. While Linux Mint seems like a solid distro it also feels a lot like it’s just Ubuntu with a different theme. True there are the mintTools and other features but if the goal of this experiment is to truly dive deep into the guts of Linux and learn something new I shouldn’t be hidden from them. The small community for Mint only features and tools is also kind of troubling because they may not react as quickly to an issue, for example a Mint specific security flaw, as one of the big name distros would.

Well that’s all for now. I hope you made it through this giant post. When I wake up in the morning I’ll try and fix the spelling mistakes that are bound to be there :P. Don’t forget to tune in next time for the showdown between Fedora and Mandriva!

Narrowing it down…

August 9th, 2009 2 comments

Two posts in one day!

I am learning quite a bit in my continued research of which Linux distro will be right for me. So far I think I have knocked out a lot of the more… exotic Linux distros and have come up with a bit of a short list with a few pros and cons to go along with them.

The Short List

  • Debian
    • Pros: Very stable, lots of support, lost of software, one of the oldest distros.
    • Cons: The distro prioritizes stability over new technology which sometimes seems kind of dull, only F/OSS software.
    • Why I am considering it: This distribution has widespread use and serves as sort of a gold standard and I know using this would be a very practical choice.
  • Fedora
    • Pros: Stable, very secure, a lot of support, constantly adding brand new technology.
    • Cons: Using bleeding edge technology can sometimes be a bad thing (I hear KDE 4.0 didn’t go over so well for example), I don’t know a lot about it, not sure what the software situation is like for example.
    • Why I am considering it: To be honest it intrigues me. It seems like a distro that can have a lot of customization done to it and it has a focus on security which I’m a bit of a nut about.
  • Linux Mint
    • Pros: Ubuntu as a starting point, tried to make the best desktop experience possible, simplified a lot of the UI and made great improvements in the usability.
    • Cons: It’s a relatively new distro and doesn’t quite have the community behind it yet. I’m worried that updates for Mint specific problems might not come frequently enough.
    • Why I am considering it: I am familiar with Ubuntu and this seems like an improved version of that.
  • Mandriva
    • Pros: Mandriva One sounds like it includes everything I could possibly ask for.
    • Cons: It seems to try and push a full computing experience on the user, which for most would be great but for this experiment maybe not so much.
    • Why I am considering it: It seems like an easy out.

Hopefully I can make my decision shortly and read up some more about it before the start of the experiment!