After hearing about the recent MintCast mention of our experiment, I figured it was high time to post an update with what’s gone right and what’s been enraging about my experiences with Gentoo over the past month.
What’s Gone Right
- I’ve installed GNOME (Gentoo’s stable version is still 2.24.3, but I’m looking into the newest version) as I needed more of a true “desktop environment” – removable device mounting, in particular, wasn’t always functional in XFCE. Sometimes my external USB drives would be recognized and other times the system would just sit there as if nothing had happened. GNOME handles this task wonderfully, which I assume is in combination with dbus and HAL. I also like the toolbar customization features and login manager.
- The installation for VirtualBox 3 went really well – I have Windows XP running in a virtual environment for a dedicated accounting image with Simply Accounting 2007. (While I may be running Linux as my primary OS, we can’t afford to stop doing business.) Bridge mode for the network adapter works even better than it has on Windows for me. The VM has its own IP address on my network, allowing the router to manage port forwarding operations and continue with issuing invoices as usual.
- After giving up on Ekiga and conducting yesterday’s conference call using X-Lite on my Asus netbook running Windows, I gave VOIP on Linux another shot. I removed the Ekiga SIP account from the connection manager since it was giving me incredible grief. Access denied error messages, calls that wouldn’t complete and an odd signup process are not conducive to attracting users to your service! After adding my own Asterisk server credentials, I went ahead and made a test call – both internal extensions and external numbers worked great, and voice quality was wonderful.
- Networking support has also been improved with my GNOME installation. I can easily save favourite server mountpoints without having to define them in /etc/fstab, and related applications such as VLC seem to handle this style of network mapping in a more consistent manner. For example, mounting “/media/server” through fstab would often result in stuttery video playback from a SMB share. Performing the same operation using GNOME’s Connect to Server option seems to indicate the appropriate buffer size and the video plays smoothly as expected.
- The ISO downloader .EXE’s from MSDNAA work great under Wine! Just another example of how I could see potentially running Linux as a main system, even though I have to interact with Windows on a regular basis.
What’s Been Enraging
That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’d appreciate any suggestions for new programs and neat tricks. Knock on wood that Portage doesn’t start acting like dpkg did on Sasha’s machine!
Any recommendations for a softphone (VOIP client) that runs under Gentoo? I’m at the end of my rope – my usual poison X-Lite doesn’t want to run in any sort of fashion. I essentially need something that can connect to an Asterisk server for the occasional call where I want to use a headset.
I’m back from a brief vacation, where $3 blackjack was the name of the game. Since I didn’t lose all my money I’m in pretty good spirits. That is, up until I booted my Gentoo system and found that I had no sound. This was one thing that worked perfectly on initial installation.
I’ve troubleshooted sound issues with Linux distributions before; usually they came down to hardware that worked fine under Windows, but crackled or stuttered under an open source OS. They also tend to be generally messy, with confusing acronyms and changing buffer timeouts. As such, I was not looking forward to spending time on figuring out something that had already been working.
First of all, what had changed? I powered down my system for four days, so I checked the mixer settings. The PCM volume was down to zero, so I reset it to the picture below; still no audio.
Then I figured I’d check if my speaker system was working. Connecting the stereo minijack plug to my BlackBerry resulted in successfully playing music… so the problem was the computer. Great.
I then noticed a peculiar thing about this screenshot: what are those console buttons all doing turned on? I’ll try turning them off and see what happens – the function of the “link” button is obvious (left channel and right channel volume levels are pulled together), but I’ve never seen a console button in this interface. There’s also no tooltip on the buttons to indicate what they do. I’d thought maybe they’d provide verbose logging of a sound output to the terminal or system log.
After unchecking them, the “new message” notification sound in Pidgin was a relatively nice reward!
So what happened? Even after changing icon themes within XFCE, the console buttons stay as… consoles. I can only suspect that some KDE packages I installed managed to overwrite the default mute and unmute graphics. Over the next day or so I’m going to reinstall the XFCE icon themes and go from there to see if that takes care of the issue.
So after my initial three-hour fiasco of getting my mouse to work, Gentoo Linux is running in a stable manner on my system. My graphics card, input devices and external drives are all working wonderfully – the ntfs-3g package properly enabled support for my main user account to read and write files off NTFS partitions. Owing in no small part to my OCZ Vertex SSD, the XFCE desktop appears in half a second once I’m logged in.
There’s one remaining issue I have to sort out before I could consider Gentoo a reasonable environment – getting Windows networking up and running. Snow Leopard and Ubuntu have always been acceptable in this matter, but there doesn’t appear to be an XFCE-ish “Network Neighborhood” application readily available. Taking a quick search, it appears that this set of instructions for CIFS should solve my issues, at least from the command line.
More details (and some screenshots) coming as I transition to full-time use over this weekend…
Today was installation day – that is, get my Gentoo system up and running to begin its full-time use. I have several pictures of the installation process, but will try avoid cheating by posting them once I get my digital camera working natively. So far, I have encountered the following enraging or annoying glitches:
The Gentoo project seems like it could definitely use some additional documentation maintainers – some of the desktop files mention 2006 releases of the distribution. The KDE installation guide mentions nothing about versions beyond 3.4 (I believe there’s a working draft for version 4, but it involves ‘unmasking’ some packages; I’m not quite ready to do that yet.) The tutorials are well-written and fairly easy to follow, but this is not a distribution I’d recommend to someone unfamiliar with Linux.
If I continue using Gentoo as my main operating system, I’ll certainly try to update the wiki with my best efforts. For now, I seem to be doing better than Tyler – I’m sure he’ll tell you all about his graphics driver fiasco with Fedora shortly.
Less than two days before the experiment starts, and I’m getting things ready ahead of time – my schedule this week is packed with fixing other people’s computers and finishing some key work at the office. To make things as easy as possible, I’ve already downloaded and burned the Gentoo AMD64 minimal installation disc from my desktop. It’s sitting right in my DVD tray:
The desktop in question is currently running the release candidate of Windows 7, which has full support for the wide variety of hardware that I intend to test Gentoo with. Pictured below are a few of the devices:
- BlackBerry Bold: I’m going to try and use barry to back up and synchronize my Contacts, Calendar and Notes databases. I’ll have several backups in case anything goes wrong.
- Logitech MX1100 mouse: The default Logitech SetPoint software includes options for changing DPI/resolution and extra function buttons, including the side “gripper”. It’s currently mapped to Expose on my MacBook, and I hope to convince X.org to work without adding new drivers.
- 2x BenQ FP241W monitors: Both have a native resolution of 1920×1200 at 60Hz – this is absolutely essential. The two will need to provide a seamless left-to-right desktop like they do under Windows.
- Logitech Z-5300 speakers: The 5.1 surround output is routed over three stereo mini-plugs – front stereo, rear stereo and subwoofer. Ideally I can convince the sound driver to perform audio mixing. Most content I listen to is stereo only; the speakers have an option to upmix this content but it will be a good test to see how audio processing compares under different operating systems.
- Finally, the USB coffee cup warmer in the center of the picture is the key to the whole operation!
Hope to be writing my next post from a fully installed system – if I get that far! A trip report will be forthcoming.
I’m back from an intensely relaxing and awesome holiday in our nation’s capital, Ottawa. I’d forgotten how close it was in proximity to Quebec – and as such, how nearly everything within the city is provided in both official languages. As a former French as a second language student in elementary and high school, it was interesting trying to pick out the differences between the two. Most phrases and slogans are completely different, while literal instructions are exactly… literal. 😉
Right now my main decisions with Gentoo will revolve around timing. Firstly, I expect to have about five or six days to get the system up and running in a mostly full capacity – not only am I completing a contract and resuming a new position at my day job, but I’m off to Las Vegas for several days. I’m still debating which laptop to bring along – either my MacBook Pro or Asus eeePC (likely with Ubuntu installed.) Since Internet costs about $15/day in most of the Strip hotels, and tethering my Rogers-homed BlackBerry would be cost-prohibitive, I doubt I’ll be using the machine that often. Still, I’d be interested in opinions on how to make the “away from home” experience less like cheating. I’m already pretty capable of using SSH, but something like X window forwarding is something I don’t have any background with.
Another important consideration is the main desktop environment. I’ve had experience with recent versions of GNOME, but none of the newer KDE or XFCE packages – so it will likely be one of these. XFCE has the distinct advantage of being lightweight and looking nice, but KDE seems to be more widely supported. More than likely I’ll end up compiling and installing both environments for the experience, and so I can switch back and forth as desired.
Apparently Dana’s been making snide remarks about my lack of participation here, suitably prodding me to make an appearance on the front page. To get started, I’ve selected Gentoo Linux as my distribution of choice for the experiment beginning in September.
While there are certainly many hundreds of flavours of Linux available, Gentoo seems to be the best “mainstream”, workstation/desktop-class choice that I don’t already have some level of experience with. My current job involves maintaining servers running RHEL, Debian, SuSE and Ubuntu – so all of those choices are out given the restrictions on this project. I’m looking forward to trying Gentoo out but not necessarily all the compiling of software packages.
I’ve also recently acquired an Asus 1005HA eeePC, but have yet to decide on whether I want to run Linux on it full-time. My initial attempt at installing Ubuntu Netbook Remix failed miserably; transferring the image to a USB stick with unetbootin and then attempting to install it resulted in a stripped-down shell prompt with no discernable way to launch the installer. From the online reviews I’ve read, running Windows on this particular machine results in two additional hours of battery life over Linux.
While I try to decide about the laptop, I still plan on conducting this experiment on my main desktop system.
A few of the things I’m anticipating that will give me grief compared to a Windows or OS X environment:
- Instant messaging. I use Windows Live Messenger under Windows, and Adium while on my MacBook Pro. The main instant messaging clients for Linux that support MSN are Pidgin and aMSN – I don’t really like how either of them display alerts or interact with the windowing system. There are numerous IRC clients available for all platforms, and I expect I’ll continue using irssi (The client of the future!) for my ongoing shenanigans on EFNet.
- BlackBerry support. Up until recently, many BlackBerry tasks such as upgrading device software required the availability of a Windows machine. With the impending release of the OS X Desktop Manager, synchronizing calendar events and music should be significantly easier. Unfortunately there’s no equivalent to Desktop Manager in Linux. I expect this problem would manifest itself with any popular smartphone as well, but I may have to spend time on a Windows system if an OS upgrade for my Bold materializes. The barry package looks like it might be acceptable for the sync end of the equation, though.
- Media management. Will VLC, Amarok or other popular media library applications be sufficiently workable so I’m not enraged? Let’s find out!