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Coming to Grips with Reality

December 8th, 2009 No comments

The following is a cautionary tale about putting more trust in the software installed on your system than in your own knowledge.

Recently, while preparing for a big presentation that relied on me running a Java applet in Iceweasel, I discovered that I needed to install an additional package to make it work. This being nothing out of the ordinary, I opened up a terminal, and used apt-cache search to locate the package in question. Upon doing so, my system notified me that I had well over 50 ‘unnecessary’ packages installed. It recommended that I take care of the issue with the apt-get autoremove command.

Bad idea.

On restart, I found that my system was virtually destroyed. It seemed to start X11, but refused to give me either a terminal or a gdm login prompt. After booting into Debian’s rescue mode and messing about in the terminal for some time trying to fix a few circular dependencies and get my system back, I decided that it wasn’t worth my time, backed up my files with an Ubuntu live disk, and reinstalled from a netinst nightly build disk of the testing repositories. (Whew, that was a long sentence)

Unfortunately, just as soon as I rebooted from the install, I found that my system lacked a graphical display manager, and that I could only log in to my terminal, even though I had explicitly told the installer to add GNOME to my system. I headed over to #debian for some help, and found out that the testing repositories were broken, and that my system lacked gdm for some unknown reason. After following their instructions to work around the problem, I got my desktop back, and once more have a fully functioning system.

The moral of the story is a hard one for me to swallow. You see, I have come to the revelation that I don’t know what I’m doing. Over the course of the last 3 months, I have learned an awful lot about running and maintaining a Linux system, but I still lack the ability to fix even the simplest of problems without running for help. Sure, I can install and configure a Debian box like nobody’s business, having done it about 5 times since this experiment started; but I still lack the ability to diagnose a catastrophic failure and to recover from it without a good dose of help. I have also realized something that as a software developer, I know and should have been paying attention to when I used that fatal autoremove command – when something seems wrong, trust your instincts over your software, because they’re usually correct.

This entire experiment has been a huge learning experience for me. I installed an operating system that I had never used before, and eschewed the user-friendly Ubuntu for Debian, a distribution that adheres strictly to free software ideals and isn’t nearly as easy for beginners to use. That done, after a month of experience, I switched over from the stable version of Debian to the testing repositories, figuring that it would net me some newer software that occasionally worked better (especially in the case of Open Office and Gnome Network Manager), and some experience with running a somewhat less stable system. I certainly got what I wished for.

Overall, I don’t regret a thing, and I intend to keep the testing repositories installed on my laptop. I don’t usually use it for anything but note taking in class, so as long as I back it up regularly, I don’t mind if it breaks on occasion; I enjoy learning new things, and Debian keeps me on my toes. In addition, I think that I’ll install Kubuntu on my desktop machine when this whole thing is over.  I like Debian a lot, but I’ve heard good things about Ubuntu and its variants, and feel that I should give them a try now that I’ve had my taste of what a distribution that isn’t written with beginners in mind is like. I have been very impressed by Linux, and have no doubts that it will become a major part of my computing experience, if not replacing Windows entirely – but I recognize that I still have a long way to go before I’ve really accomplished my goals.

As an afterthought: If anybody is familiar with some good tutorials for somebody who has basic knowledge but needs to learn more about what’s going on below the surface of a Linux install, please recommend them to me.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

A lengthy, detailed meta-analysis of studies of GNOME Do

November 23rd, 2009 11 comments

GNOME Do is a fantastic little program that makes Linux Mint a very comfortable experience. At first glance, GNOME Do just looks like a collection of launchers that can be docked to your window, with a search function attached for completeness. What stands out about Do, though, is that the search function offers a lot of versatility. Through Do, I can launch programs, mount and unmount drives, bring up folders, and execute a variety of actions through the plug-ins. I’ve found that it saves me a lot of mouse movement (yes, I’m that lazy) when I’m working on assignments. In less than two seconds, I can call up Kate to start up my data entry, start up R in terminal, open the folder containing all of my data, and start a conversation in Pidgin. Best of all, since the search function can be called up with the Super+Space key combination, I can do all of this without ever having to switch windows.

I also find that Do helps to clean up the clutter on my desktop. I’ve got it set up as the Docky theme on the bottom of my screen. Since I have no need for the panel, I’ve got it set up to autohide at the top of my monitor. This means when I have something maximized, it legitimately takes up the entire monitor.

What a beautifully clean desktop.

What a beautifully clean desktop.

Adding or removing programs to or from Do is a cinch too – it’s as simple as dragging and dropping.

Unfortunately, it’s not all great

Like every other Linux program, Do saves time and effort. Like every other Linux program, Do also costs time and effort in the bugs that it has. The most frustrating bug I’ve had so far is that Do simply disappears on a restart. It runs and in a manner it “exists” since I can resize it on my desktop, but I can’t actually see or use it. Apparently this is a known bug, and I haven’t been able to find a decent solution to it. It’s especially unfortunate because Do provides so much convenience that when it doesn’t work properly, I feel like I’m reverting to some primitive age where I’m dependent on my mouse (the horror!)

Notice how the cursor is cut off? In reality, it's a resizing cursor, used to resize an invisible panel. It technically does work since after I reboot I find that GNOME Do inadvertently takes up half my screen.

Notice how the cursor is cut off? In reality, it's a resizing cursor, used to resize an invisible panel. It technically does function, since after I reboot I find that GNOME Do inadvertently takes up half my screen.

Regardless, I’d recommend Do for anyone who can install it. When it works, it’s great for saving you some time and effort; when it doesn’t, well, ’tis better to have loved and lost….

Fedora 12: Drenched in glory

November 20th, 2009 6 comments

Let me start off by saying that my experience thus far (over the last 24 hours) with Fedora 12 – Constantine has been the complete opposite from Tyler’s.  For the most part, at any rate.  While I, too attempted to do a preupgrade (from terminal) to Constantine and had it fail due to an insufficiently sized /boot partition – the 200 MB that it suggests on install is simply not enough – my clean install attempt went smooth as silk.

After backing everything important (user folder) up to my server, which over gigabit ethernet took all of 12 minutes, I popped the Fedora 12 x86_64 DVD into my drive and restarted.   Installation and drive partitioning was easy, as was customizing my installation repositories to include Fedora 12 x86_64 and Fedora 12 x86_64 updates – this has saved me a lot of headaches now, I’m sure.  I also decided this time around to add KDE at boot time, just to see if this would simplify my problems with that environment; more on that in a later post, I’m sure.

As of right now I’m running a stable – though desktop effects-less – Gnome environment.  Boot time over Fedora 11 has significantly improved, and the boot animation is a great improvement over the scrolling bar from Fedora 11.  In addition, off the bat my computer automatically supported native resolution (no-go without drivers in Fedora 11) and screen brightness changing (same story there in Leonidas).

One other thing that GREATLY excites me – folder mounting of my Windows Home Server shares has increased in speed tenfold.  It’s almost instant now, much like it would be in Windows – fantastic!

Though frustrated by the idea of having to re-configure Wine and vpnc (that took me FOREVER!), and waiting for nVidia or a kmod driver to come out that supports my GeForce 8600M GS for enabling desktop effects and my beloved Gnome DO, I’m pleasantly surprised by my experience thus far.

More to come soon!

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

Twelve to twelve

November 5th, 2009 3 comments

Well, it’s official – twelve more days remain until the November 17 release of Fedora 12 (Constantine).  I, for one, can hardly wait – Fedora 11 has been rock-solid for me so far (under Gnome, anyways – but I’ll leave that subject alone) and I can only imagine that Fedora 12 is going to bring more of the same my way.

Among some of the more notable changes being made that caught my interest:

  • Gnome 2.28 – the current version bundled into my Fedora 11 distribution, 2.26.3, has been nothing but amazing.  Unflinchingly stable, fast, and reliable – it’s everything I want in a desktop environment.
  • Better webcam support – not sure how this can get any better from my perspective since my LG P300′s built-in webcam worked straight out of the box on Fedora 11, but I’m interested to see exactly what they bring to the table here
  • Better IPv6 support – since our router does actively support this protocol, it’s nice to see Fedora taking charge and always improving the standard
  • Better power management – for me, this is a major headache under Gnome (I know, I know…) since it really doesn’t let me customize anything as much as I would like to.   Among other things, it’s supposed to offer better support for wake-from-disk and wake-from-RAM.  We’ll see.

I’m sure that Tyler and I will keep you posted as the due date gets closer, and especially once we’ve done the upgrade itself!

Back at Square 1

November 2nd, 2009 2 comments

This morning I reinstalled my Debian system. I began by downloading an ISO for the current Debian Stable build (called Lenny), and installing it with the graphical installer. That done, I used a couple of my old posts to get my wireless firmware installed and to upgrade my system to the Testing repositories.

Unfortunately, I have realized that a clean install of Debian Linux is a pretty plain place to be in. Even though I have the benefit of my old writings to help me get up to speed, some, like the ones dealing with how to get Compiz working properly, are somewhat lacking in detail.

Naturally, I’ve replaced all of the problems that running multiple desktop environments was causing with all of the problems that an entirely unconfigured system can cause. I’ve already mentioned that I haven’t gotten Compiz working yet (whenever I turn it on, all of my window decorations disappear), and there is some error with Postgre that causes Synaptic and Aptitude to complain whenever I make changes to my system:

E: postgresql-8.4: subprocess installed post-installation script returned error exit status 1
E: postgresql: dependency problems – leaving unconfigured
E: postgresql-contrib-8.4: dependency problems – leaving unconfigured
E: postgresql-contrib: dependency problems – leaving unconfigured

Most stressing is the fact that I cannot get into the preferences for the Nautilus file system browser. Whenever I try to open the preferences dialog from the edit menu, it (and most of GNOME) crash. Running Nautilus from the terminal yields me this output:

(nautilus:4213): Gtk-CRITICAL **: gtk_combo_box_append_text: assertion `GTK_IS_COMBO_BOX (combo_box)’ failed

(nautilus:4213): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_object_set_data_full: assertion `G_IS_OBJECT (object)’ failed

(nautilus:4213): Gtk-CRITICAL **: gtk_widget_set_sensitive: assertion `GTK_IS_WIDGET (widget)’ failed

(nautilus:4213): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: invalid (NULL) pointer instance

(nautilus:4213): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_signal_connect_data: assertion `G_TYPE_CHECK_INSTANCE (instance)’ failed

(nautilus:4213): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: invalid (NULL) pointer instance

(nautilus:4213): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_signal_handlers_block_matched: assertion `G_TYPE_CHECK_INSTANCE (instance)’ failed

(nautilus:4213): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_object_get_data: assertion `G_IS_OBJECT (object)’ failed
Segmentation fault

Actually, the terminal prints output similar to the above, but so much of it that this post would take up most of the front page of the site were I to post it all. I have no idea what the hell any of that means, or how it got into my system, or why I cannot get into the preferences panel of Nautilus as a result.

Until I do figure it out, I’ll be spending a lot of time on the #debian channel. Along with these major problems come a number of small tasks, like adding myself to the sudo keyring, adding the Testing repository keys to my sources list so that it stops yelling that all of my software is unverifiable.

Fucking Linux.




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

Resizing batches of images in Nautilus

November 1st, 2009 3 comments

If you’re like me, which you either are or are aspiring to be, then you hate having to manually resize dozens of images. Ubuntu, and Linux Mint, by extension, offers a great image resizing and rotation tool for Nautilus. This tool allows you to resize a batch of images very quickly and easily: you select the images, right-click, and select “Resize images”. You can select how you want to scale the images (the options presented are a preset ratio, a percentage of the original dimensions, or a custom size) and how you want them to be saved (you can append each copy with something like “RESIZED” or choose to simply replace the original image).

This tool is particularly handy if you’re looking to post some of your images online – having it around makes it much simpler and easier to resize several hundred images from, say, a vacation. Smaller images mean faster transfer times, and to some degree less concern about other people pilfering your high-resolution images (this is aimed more at a few social networking websites that like to claim ownership over their users’ photos).

Quick fix: Compiz on Gentoo, resolving text corruption in terminal

October 26th, 2009 2 comments

This will be a brief reference post mostly for my own benefit, but a good fix for an issue where Compiz shows black boxes or invisible characters in the GNOME terminal when typing:

As for the text corruption issue… Is the “Force X and GLX synchronization” option enabled in the workarounds plugin in ccsm?

In my case, the option was enabled in CompizConfig Settings Manager, but the Workarounds plugin wasn’t:

Enable the Workarounds plugin under the Utilities category

Select the "Force synchronization between X and GLX" checkbox

Hopefully this is useful for those of you using the terminal on a regular basis! I’ll likely have a full update on switching back to GNOME and installing Compiz shortly.




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.

Learning to live with XFCE

October 24th, 2009 2 comments

There’s no doubt that when I initially switched from GNOME to XFCE, I was pretty angry. But hey, you can’t stay mad forever – In time, I’ve learned to appreciate GNOME’s minimalistic cousin for what it is, and (unlike some of the other guys) haven’t yet decided whether or not I’ll be switching back to GNOME tomorrow.

Sure, XFCE was a pain to get set up, but since then, it’s been fast and exceedingly stable. As a point of comparison, while running GNOME, I experienced daily crashes related to a known issue between Compiz and my Intel integrated video card. On XFCE, this issue has yet to manifest itself, although this may also have something to do with all of the upgrades that I made the day before changing desktop environments. With the addition of Compiz, GnomeDo+Docky, and some minor customization, I’ve created a desktop that is pleasing to look at, but remains responsive and lightweight on my aging hardware.

My only major complaint with XFCE remains the organization of the “Start Menu.” While I initially thought that the idea of separate Application, Places, and System menus in GNOME were stupid (having come from a Windows background), I find myself missing them under XFCE. I find their single menu system cluttered and hard to navigate, even with it’s sub-menus. GnomeDo improves things, but only if you know the name of the feature or setting that you’re searching for.

On the other hand, the GNOME community has just released a new version of their desktop environment, and it seems to include some neat new features. More importantly, the GNOME community has done a lot of thinking about where they want to take v3.0, due for release in either March or September of 2010. Some of the most interesting ideas that have come from this brainstorming (in my mind anyway), are a new desktop paradigm, supported mainly by a new compositing engine called Gnome Shell, and a new way of browsing your files called Gnome Zeitgeist. Check out some early demo screens here.

Hell, I might even consider taking the KDE plunge, just to see what all of the rage is about…




On my Laptop, I am running Linux Mint 12.
On my home media server, I am running Ubuntu 12.04
Check out my profile for more information.

OH GOD WHAT THE HELL LINUX!!!11

October 16th, 2009 2 comments

Well, again, it’s been a little while since my last post. I hope you all enjoyed the podcast that we put out the week before last. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, make sure to do so by going here. We had a lot of interesting discussions regarding the experiment. If you have any comments about the podcast, or there is anything you want to see, you can either leave a comment, or shoot me an email.

LINUX IS INSTALLED ONCE AGAIN

After approximately 46.3 attempts at installing openSUSE on my Asus eeePC, it is finally installed. With the help of Jake B. and Windows, we finally managed to get it working. It took only several hours of both of us cursing, and nearly an entire 24 of Stella, but it is working.

WELL, WORKING IS A RELATIVE TERM

I hate KDE more than I hate Differential Equations, and as Jon F. can probably confirm, I really hate Differential Equations. That being said, besides Sasha D, who doesn’t hate Differential Equations?

KDE just makes everything so difficult. With Gnome, most of the applications mesh well with the interface. However, with KDE, I have a hard time even getting some applications to mesh with it at all. Pidgin looks absolutely terrible. The message font doesn’t match up with what my system font is set to, and I did not have this issue with GNOME.

I don’t want any damn widgets… this isn’t a Mac!

I WANT MY GNOME BACK!!!

Screen-shots to follow… that is if KDE will let me do that.

GNOME slip ups; a KDE perspective

October 15th, 2009 3 comments

Since making my switch to GNOME earlier in the week I have finally settled into my new desktop environment. I must admit that while the transition has been almost completely seamless, and in fact has fixed a lot of my issues, I find myself missing KDE. Without trying to spark the holy war that is the GNOME vs KDE argument, allow me to quickly outline some of the reasons for my homesickness.

Look and Feel

Yes I get it, GNOME is supposed to be stripped down and functional. KDE, on the other hand, is supposed to allow for full customization, sometimes at the expense of clutter. Neither of these however explains why GNOME icons and artwork feel so dated when compared to KDE. Take the following as an example.

See the above? See how the Fedora stock icons are just simple shade jobs? Heck that’s better than most default GNOME icon sets. See how the KDE version has actual work put into it? Time and time again KDE wins points for putting more effort into the artwork. And yes I know that you can completely theme GNOME to ‘make it look pretty’ but why should you have to? Why are the defaults so terrible? Surely there are some open source artists out there somewhere. It’s simple things like this that lead to an overall better feel while using KDE when compared to GNOME.

Interaction

The first thing I did back in KDE was to turn off that single-click to open things nonsense. Once that was done my interaction with the two desktops has been more or less identical. However recently GNOME has been ‘losing’ my touchpad tap-click. When I first boot into the desktop it seems to work just fine, but then after a random amount of time I have to resort to the physical mouse buttons. This is really, really annoying.

Battery Life

I have configured both desktop environments for optimal battery life and have some interesting findings. Perhaps as a result of the sparse power management abilities in GNOME I actually get about a half hour less of battery life compared with KDE. I really do wish GNOME would allow for additional power customization; for example I don’t even know if GNOME scales down my CPU clock when it’s running on battery…

One week and counting

Well that’s it for now. At the end of the day it really is a short list of complaints. If anything new crops up I’ll be sure to write about it, if not you’ll have to wait for our podcast!




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Ubuntu 14.04.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: Fedora, Free Software, GNOME, KDE, Tyler B Tags: , ,