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My search for the best KDE Linux distribution

March 3rd, 2010 41 comments

As some of you already know, I am a big fan of the KDE desktop environment (or KDE Workspaces or whatever they’re calling it these days). In my search to reach Linux KDE perfection I have tested out a number of different distributions. First there was Fedora, which I happily ran throughout the length of the experiment. Once that was finished I attempted to install and try both Kubuntu and openSUSE. Unfortunately I was unable to do so after openSUSE decided not to play nice. However my search did not stop there, and once the community edition was ready I jumped over to Linux Mint KDE CE. Finally I decided to once again try openSUSE, this time installing from a USB drive. This somehow resolved all of my installation issues.

Now that I have tried out quite a few of the most popular distributions I figured I would write a little bit to tell you fine people my thoughts on each, and why I will be sticking with openSUSE for the near future.

Fedora 11

  • KDE Version: 4.2 – 4.3
  • Pros: very secure, not too many modifications of the KDE source, cutting edge
  • Cons: could have really used some more modifications of the base KDE packages in order to better integrate GTK+, Bluetooth problems, not always stable
  • Thoughts:

    I have written at length about my experiences with Fedora during this experiment. Without re-writing everything again here let me simply say this: Fedora is primarily a GNOME distribution and I could never shake the feeling that KDE got the left-over treatment.

Kubuntu

  • KDE Version: 4.3
  • Pros: very easy to use, nice integration of GTK+ and GNOME notifications, access to Ubuntu support
  • Cons: the hardware drivers application (jockey) simply did not work, very bad sound issues, Firefox could not handle opening file types
  • Thoughts:

    When I first installed Kubuntu I was thrilled. Ah, this must be what it’s like to use a real KDE distribution, I thought. Everything seemed smoother and far more integrated then it did in Fedora. For example: OpenOffice.org had a KDE theme and it’s file browser actually used the native KDE one. Furthermore the notification system was awesome. Now instead of a GNOME application, like Pidgin, generating GNOME notifications, it instead integrated right into the standard KDE equivalent.

    Then the problems started to show up. Oh I’ll just download this torrent file and… hmm Firefox doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. Why can’t I set the file type options inside of Firefox for torrents? Why doesn’t it use the system defaults? Then the sound issues came. YouTube stopped putting out audio all together and all of my attempts to fix it were futile. Maybe it’s just my hardware but Kubuntu just could not handle multimedia at all.

    While Kubuntu is definitely one of the better KDE experiences it is by no means problem free.

Linux Mint KDE CE

  • KDE Version: 4.3
  • Pros: excellent package manager, easy to use
  • Cons: sound issues, WiFi issues, is this actually a KDE desktop? there are so many GTK+ applications in it…
  • Thoughts:

    After hearing much praise for Linux Mint I decided to give the newly released KDE community edition a go. I must say at first I was very impressed. The package manager was far superior to KPackageKit and even included things like user ratings and comments. It also came bundled with many tools and applications designed specifically for Linux Mint. Sadly very few of these were re-written in Qt and so I was forced to deal with GTK+ skinning almost everywhere.

    Sound issues similar to those in Kubuntu (maybe it’s something in the shared source?) started to crop up almost immediately. Again YouTube just did not work no matter how much I tried to fix it. Finally the WiFi connection was very poor, often disconnected on what seemed like a  specific interval.

    While I think this distribution has a lot going for it I can only suggest the GNOME desktop for those who want to give it a try. The KDE version just does not seem polished enough to be recommended for someone looking for the ultimate KDE distribution.

openSUSE

  • KDE Version: 4.3
  • Pros: very responsive, a lot of streamlined tweaks, rock solid WiFi, excellent audio
  • Cons: slower to boot, uses quite a bit of RAM, too much green 😛
  • Thoughts:

    Installing openSUSE seemed like an awful idea. After reading all of the complaints that both Phil and Dave had written over the course of the experiment I have to admit I was a little hesitant. However, I am very happy I decided to try it anyway; openSUSE is an excellent KDE distribution.

    Everything about it, from the desktop to the little helpful wizards, all seem to be designed with one purpose in mind: make openSUSE the easiest, or at the very least most straightforward, distribution possible. YaST, often a major source of hate from my fellow Guinea Pigs, does indeed have some quirks. However I honestly think that it is a very good tool, and something that streamlines many administrative tasks. Want SAMBA network sharing? Just open up YaST and click on the wizard. Want restricted codecs? Just hop on over to openSUSE-Community and download the ymp file (think of it like a Windows exe).

    My time with openSUSE so far has been wonderful. My network card seems to actually get better range then ever before, if that’s even possible. My battery life is good and my sound just plain works without any additional effort. If I had one complaint it would be with the amount of RAM the distribution uses. After a quick reboot it takes up a very small amount, around ~350MB or so. However after a couple of hours of general use the RAM often grows to about 1-1.5GB, which is far more than I have seen with the other distributions. Thankfully I have 4GB of RAM so I’m not too worried. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that I am running the x64 version and not the x86 version. Perhaps it assumes I have at least 4GB of RAM for choosing the newer architecture.

    Whatever the case may be I think I have finally found what I consider to be the very best KDE Linux distribution. Obviously your results may vary but I look forward to hearing what you think.

This piece was cross-posted over at my person website ‘TylerBurton.Ca‘.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

The Great Linux Browser War (Well… sort of)

February 13th, 2010 1 comment

Recently while browsing the Internet I noticed that Mozilla Firefox was taking up an awfully large amount of RAM. In fact it’s RAM use continued to grow even though I had not navigated to any new website or even touched it at all! Being a KDE user I decided to try the same website within Konqueror, the KDE web browser that everyone seems to toss to the side right after install. To my amazement Konqueror seemed to render the same website, using much less RAM, and better yet it’s RAM use remained static. Perhaps there was something more to this ‘throw-away’ browser than I had first thought. And thus began my idea for a series of comparisons of four of the most popular Linux web browsers: Firefox, Chromium, Konqueror and Epiphany.

Note: The numbers you are going to see below are purely anecdotal and are based on my own personal experiences, which might not represent your own.  For the record I am running Kubuntu 9.10 with the 2.6.31-19 kernel.

Packages I had to install

This is simply a list of packages I installed for each browsers to sort of give you an idea of what to expect.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
firefox-3.5, firefox-3.5-branding konqueror chromium-browser ephiphany-browser, epiphany-browser-data

Startup speed (from a cold start – i.e. from reboot)

To test this I rebooted the computer and then opened the browsers for the first time.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
~4.5 seconds ~2.1 seconds ~3.7 seconds ~2.8 seconds

Startup speed (from a cached start – i.e. after opening and closing the program)

To test this I rebooted the computer, then opened the browsers for the first time and closed them. Then I opened them a second time and recorded the time.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
~1.5 seconds ~1.2 seconds ~1.1 seconds ~1.2 seconds

Memory usage (about:blank)

This is how much memory the browser took to display the web page in brackets. The memory inside of the brackets is the amount of shared memory each browser uses. This of course could change depending on your system and setup. Where there are multiple numbers separated by plus signs it means that the browser spawns multiple processes which each take up memory.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
24.6MiB (22.7MiB) 10.8MiB (20.8MiB) 6.6MiB (21.5MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.6MiB) + 2.3MiB (6.4MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) 9.4MiB (20.5MiB)

Memory usage (about:blank -> kubuntu.org)

For this test I first loaded the browser to the homepage, in this case about:blank, and then navigated to the website www.kubuntu.org. In Konqueror’s case it spawned a few small KIO processes which I assume did the actually downloading of the webpage. I have averaged their values below.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
35.7MiB (24.1MiB) 22.6MiB (23.3MiB) + 4 x kio_http: 5.05MiB (6.2MiB) 7.9MiB (18.2MiB) + 13.6MiB (11.3MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.7MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) 18.3MiB (23.1MiB)

Memory usage (about:blank -> kubuntu.org | google.com | bing.com)

For this test I once again started with the about:blank homepage and then opened the websites in different tabs.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
41.7MiB (24.6MiB) 30.5MiB (24.0MiB) + 4 x kio_http: 5.3MiB (6.4MiB) 9.0MiB (28.8MiB) + 11.4MiB (11.3MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.7MiB) + 6.8MiB (11.0MiB) + 9.3MiB (11.5MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) 21.8MiB (24.8MiB)

Memory usage (about:blank -> kubuntu.org | google.com | bing.com) 2 minutes later

For this test I started with the above test and then waited two minutes and re-recorded the memory usage. This was to see if the browsers suffer from any sort of memory leaks, something Firefox has been famous for over the years.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
38.45MiB (24.6MiB) – a decline of about 0.03MiB. 30.7MiB (24.0MiB) – a growth of about 0.002MiB/second. The kio_http’s stayed the same. 13.2MiB + (20.8MiB) + 11.4MiB (11.3MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.7MiB) + 6.8MiB (11.0MiB) + 9.3MiB (11.5MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) – a growth of about 0.04MiB/second. 21.8MiB (24.8MiB) – no change

Memory usage (about:blank -> kubuntu.org | google.com | bing.com | ubuntu.com)

Same as above but with one more tab.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
46.0MiB (24.9MiB) 45.1MiB (24.0MiB) + 6 x kio_http: 5.22MiB (6.4MiB) 9.3MiB (24.4MiB) + 14.2MiB (16.2MiB) + 9.3MiB (11.4MiB) + 13.5MiB (11.2MiB) + 11.6MiB (10.8MiB) + 1.6 (1.7MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) 29.0MiB (24.9MiB)

Memory usage (about:blank -> kubuntu.org | google.com | bing.com | ubuntu.com) 2 minutes later

Same as above but with one more tab.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
77.8MiB (24.9MiB) – a growth of about 0.27MiB/second 50.2MiB (24.0MiB) – a growth of about 0.04MiB/second. The kio_http’s stayed the same. 9.3MiB (24.4MiB) + 23.7MiB (16.2MiB) + 9.3MiB (11.4MiB) + 13.5MiB (11.2MiB) + 11.6MiB (10.8MiB) + 1.6MiB (1.7MiB) + 1.5MiB (7.6MiB) – a growth of about 0.08MiB/second 33.2MiB (24.9MiB) – a growth of about 0.04MiB/second

Noticeable rendering glitches in pages viewed

None of the browsers had rendering glitches except for Konqueror. In Konqueror Bing’s search bar was offset from where it should be and on Kubuntu’s website the header image was overlapping text that it shouldn’t have.

Acid 2 test (http://www.webstandards.org/files/acid2/test.html)

The (now old) Acid 2 test.

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
100% 100% 100% 100%

Acid 3 test (http://acid3.acidtests.org/)

How well did the browsers handle the Acid 3 test?

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
93% 89% (linktest failed) 100% 100%

SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark (http://www2.webkit.org/perf/sunspider-0.9/sunspider.html)

The classic JavaScript benchmark test!

Firefox Konqueror Chromium Epiphany
Total: 2380.2ms
Click here to see full results.
Total: 2940.2ms
Click here to see full results.
Total: 445.2ms
Click here to see full results.
Total: 794.8ms
Click here to see full results.

Conclusion

Well there you have it. Rather than ‘rate’ each browser I’m going to leave it up to you to weigh the merits of each given the above information. Even though Firefox might not be the most technically superior browser it does have the advantage of being very popular and having an excellent add-on system. Then again Epiphany can use most of those add-ons as well. Chromium, based off of Google’s Chrome browser, is also a new favourite for a lot of people and is obviously the fastest in terms of JavaScript. Being a KDE user, Konqueror might be the best browser for you thanks to its infinite customization and uniform look.

Linux is all about personalization and I think everyone should extend that to the browser they use. Who knows you might just find one you like even more.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

Using KDE on Windows

February 11th, 2010 3 comments

Since the end of The Linux Experiment I have started dual booting my laptop, switching between Kubuntu 9.10 and Windows 7 as needed. While this solves all of my compatibility issues, it does pose some more annoying issues. For example after setting up one operating system just the way I like it I now need to do the same for the other. Furthermore after becoming used to using particular applications under Linux I now have to find alternatives for Windows. Well no more! The KDE guys and gals have ported the libraries to Windows!

Installing

To install KDE on Windows all you need to do is head over to http://windows.kde.org/download.php and grab a copy of the installer exe. This will more or less walk you through the initial setup and then present you with a list of packages you can choose to install. Most applications are there including things like KTorrent, Konqueror, Konversation and more! Simply select them and watch as they are easily installed.

Image Walkthrough

The first screen you'll see when installing

The package list

kdebase-apps includes things like Konqueror

The installer downloads the source and compiles it locally

After installing the applications show up right in your start menu

The final result. Konqueror and KWrite running on Windows




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).
Categories: Free Software, KDE, Tyler B Tags: ,

Enabling Video Thumbnail Previews in Dolphin

January 31st, 2010 3 comments

Just a quickie here – if you keep video of any kind on your Kubuntu 9.10 system, you may have noticed that the Dolphin file manager doesn’t show thumbnail previews of video files by default.  Turns out that it’s a very easy (if non-obvious) feature to enable. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Open up kPackageKit
  2. Search for and install the package mplayerthumbs – it has three dependencies, which include mplayer itself (I use VLC, but to each his own)
  3. Back in Dolphin, navigate to Settings > Configure Dolphin > General > Previews Tab
  4. Scroll down in the list, and you should be able to see an option called Video Files (MPlayerThumbs) – Check that box
  5. Drag the Maximum file size slider all the way to the right, and hit apply

Navigate to a folder that contains video files, and watch as they slowly begin to populate. Be patient though, it can take a few minutes if you have a lot of media. You should also note that it doesn’t work with all WMV files.

Thanks to youTube user gotbletu for the following informative video that I ripped these instructions off from:




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.

Restore the default Linux Mint 8 theme and colours

January 18th, 2010 3 comments

After playing with the GNOME Appearance preferences on my new Mint 8 installation, I managed to completely lose the color scheme, window decorators and other options for the default Helena theme – which I actually liked.

Due to an unrelated incident that I will blame on an abuse of Compiz (which really doesn’t play nice with the Xinerama extension), I recreated my GNOME profile this morning and saved out the default theme. For my own future reference (and anyone else who doesn’t want to nuke their profile), I’ve uploaded the default Mint 8 theme. Extract it to your ~/.themes/ directory and it will appear in Control Center > Appearance as “Default Mint Theme”.

This theme should theoretically work on any Linux distribution with GNOME, as well, but you’ll need the “Shiki-Wise” control set, “Shiki-Colors-Metacity” window border, and the “GNOME-Wise” icon set for more than just the gray and green hues.




I am currently running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.

Trying Mint – I likes what I sees.

January 16th, 2010 8 comments

While my initial plan for January was to stick with Windows 7 and perhaps try out Fedora 12, a bad DVD interrupted the Fedora install progress. Out of sheer convenience, I’d planned on running Linux Mint in a VM and had pulled the ISO earlier in the week. “Aha!” I thought. “I’ll install this instead of Fedora and see what’s what.”

My initial impressions are that Mint is perhaps the first Linux distribution that I’d enjoy using on a day-to-day basis. With only a few minor tweaks (activating multiple monitors and using optical out for sound), I have a completely functional desktop environment. Compiz is totally integrated into the experience, degrades gracefully if needed, and is used to enhance the UI rather than provide unneeded eye candy.

Taking a page out of Jon’s book, I also installed Banshee for media playback. What a difference from previous media player experiences – my BlackBerry was automatically detected, synced with my library and folders were built properly in the MediaCard/BlackBerry/music directory. Now, all I need is some better music and I’ll be set!




I am currently running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS for a home server, with a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux clients for both work and personal use.
I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity - XFCE is much more my style of desktop interface.
Check out my profile for more information.

Pulse Audio Nonsense

January 4th, 2010 3 comments

Just a heads up: This isn’t the kind of post that contains answers to your problems. It is, unfortunately, the kind of post that contains a lot of the steps that I took to fix a problem, without much information about the order in which I performed them, why I performed them, or what they did. All that I can tell you is that after doing some or all of these things in an arbitrary order, stuff seemed to work better than it did before.

It’s funny how these posts often seem to come about when trying to get hardware related things working. I distinctly remember writing one of these about getting hardware compositing working on Debian. This one is about getting reliable audio on Kubuntu 9.10.

You see, I have recently been experiencing some odd behaviour from my audio stack in Kubuntu. My machine almost always plays the startup/shutdown noises, Banshee usually provides audio by way of GStreamer, videos playing in VLC are sometimes accompanied by audio, and Flash videos almost never have working sound. Generally speaking, restarting the machine will change one or all of these items, and sometimes none. The system is usuable, but frustrating (although I might be forgiven for saying that having no audio in Flash prevents me from wasting so much time watching youtube videos when I ought to be working).

Tonight, after some time on the #kubuntu IRC channel and the #pulseaudio channel on freenode, I managed to fix all of that, and my system now supports full 5.1 surround audio, at all times, and from all applications. Cool, no? Basically, the fix was to install some PulseAudio apps:

sudo apt-get install pulseaudio pavucontrol padevchooser

Next, go to System Settings > Multimedia, and set PulseAudio as the preferred audio device in each of the categories on the left. Finally, restart the machine a couple of times. If you’re lucky, once you restart and run pavucontrol from the terminal, you’ll see a dialog box called Volume Control. Head over to the Configuration tab, and start choosing different profiles until you can hear some audio from your system. Also, I found that most of these profiles were muted by default – you can change that on the Output Devices tab. If one of the profiles works for  you, congratulations! If not, well, I guess you’re no worse off than you were before. I warned you that this was that kind of post.

Also, while attempting to fix my audio problems, I found some neat sites:

  • Colin Guthrie – I spoke to this guy on IRC, and he was really helpful. He also seems to write a lot of stuff for the PulseAudio/Phonon stack in KDE. His site is a wealth of information about the stack that I really don’t understand, but makes for good reading.
  • Musings on Maintaining Ubuntu – Some guy named Dan who seems to be a lead audio developer for the Ubuntu project. Also a very interesting read, and full of interesting information about audio support in Karmic.
  • A Script that Profiles your Audio Setup – This bash script compiles a readout of what your machine thinks is going on with your audio hardware, and automatically hosts it on the web so that you can share it with people trying to help you out.
  • A Handy Diagram of the Linux Audio Stack – This really explains a lot about what the hell is going on when an application tries to play audio in the Linux.
  • What the Linux Audio Stack Seems Like – This diagram reflects my level of understanding of Linux audio. It also reminds me of XKCD.
  • Ardour – The Digital Audio Workstation – In the classic tradition of running before walking, I just have to try this app out.



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.

Kubuntu 9.10 (Part II)

January 4th, 2010 No comments

Well I managed to fix my compositing problem but I honestly don’t know why it worked. Basically I went into the System Settings > Desktop > Desktop Effects menu and manually turned off all desktop effects. Next I used jockey-text to disable the ATI driver. After a quick restart I re-enabled the ATI driver and restarted again. Once I logged in I went back into the System Settings > Desktop > Desktop Effects menu and enabled desktop effects. This magically worked… but only until I restarted. In order to actually get it to start enabled I had to go back into System Settings > Desktop > Desktop Effects and then click on the Advanced tab and then disable functionality checks. I am sure this is dangerous or something but its the only way I can get my computer to restart with the effects enabled by default.

I’m really starting to hate this graphics card…




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

Kubuntu 9.10 (Part I)

January 4th, 2010 No comments

After giving up on installing openSUSE 11.2 (the installer insisted on failing during the partition stage) I am now successfully dual booting Windows 7 and Kubuntu 9.10. On the Kubuntu side of things I must say that overall I am impressed. It is a much sleeker and more refined KDE experience than I was treated to on Fedora and I am enjoying it thus far.

That’s not to say it is without it’s own set of problems though 😉 Once again my graphics card does not play nice, although this time I place the blame firmly on Kubuntu. The KDE front end for jockey, otherwise known as Hardware Drivers to the *buntu folk, completely failed at activating my ATI driver. I was finally able to enable the driver by using the text version of jockey, “jockey-text” in the terminal, but that still didn’t solve all of my problems. Now the system uses the correct driver but refuses to enable compositing for some reason. -sigh-

Looks like I have a long afternoon of IRC ahead of me…




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

Finally Synching my Blackberry on Linux

January 2nd, 2010 18 comments

Some readers may recall all of the attempts that I’ve made in the past to synchronize my Blackberry with Mozilla’s Thunderbird email and calendar client. During each of these tries, I had relied on the OpenSync framework, along with the Barry project for communication with my phone, and a number of different solutions to link into Thunderbird. At various times, these included the opensync-plugin-iceowl, opensync-plugin-sunbird, and bluezync packages, none of which yielded success.

While running GNOME on my Debian laptop, I had managed to successfully synchronize my phone with the Evolution mail client. Even so, I continued to work at Thunderbird synchronization because I disliked Evolution, seeing it as a Microsoft Outlook clone, which is a platform that I have had considerable problems with in the past.

With my recent installation of Kubuntu 9.10 on my PC, I have been exposed to the Kontact PIM suite, and have thus far been impressed. Kmail is a solid email client, although the way that it handles the setup of multiple email accounts is confusing to say the least, forcing the user to create a sending, receiving, and identity object for each account, and then to link them together. Likewise, Kontact is a decent application, but is sorely lacking basic GUI configuration options, something I never thought that I would say about a KDE app. Finally, Kalendar does everything that one would expect, and allows the user to display appointments in a number of useful ways. All have excellent integration, and live in a tray widget that uses the native KDE notifications system to let me know when something important has happened.

Most importantly however, I managed to get the entire Kontact suite to sync with my Blackberry after about five minutes of playing around in the terminal. Unlike during previous installation attempts, I found the latest stable Barry packages available in my repositories, so installation was a snap. I simply added the following packages to my system:

  • libopensync0 v0.22-2
  • multisync-tools v0.92
  • libbarry0 v0.14-2.1
  • opensync-plugin-kdepim v0.22-4
  • opensync-plugin-barry v0.14-2.1

From a terminal, I then used the msynctool application and the following steps to do a little bit of configuration:

  1. msynctool –listplugins if the install went well, this command should list both kdepim-sync and barry-sync as available plugins
  2. msynctool –addgroup BB create an OpenSync sync profile for my Blackberry called BB
  3. msynctool –addmember BB barry-sync add the barry-sync plugin to the BB sync group
  4. msynctool –addmember BB kdepim-sync add the kdepim-sync plugin to the BB sync group
  5. msynctool –showgroup BB this lists each of the plugins that we just added to the BB sync group, along with their member numbers. In my case, barry-sync was member number 1, and kdepim-sync was member number 2. The output also showed that while barry-sync still needed to be configured, kdepim-sync had no configuration options to be set.
  6. msynctool –configure BB 1 configures member number 1 of the sync group BB. In my case, this was barry-sync, and simply popped a config file in the nano text editor. All that had to be changed in the file was the PIN of the Blackberry that the plugin would attempt to sync with.
  7. msynctool –sync BB actually performed the synchronization process. For safety’s sake, I made sure that Kontact was fully closed before running this command.

And that’s it! In the future, I simply have to run the msynctool –sync BB command to synchronize my Blackberry with Kontact. That’s one more reason to stick with Linux – Blackberry synchronization that isn’t tied to Microsoft Outlook!




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.

The end of the long road

January 1st, 2010 3 comments

Well it’s official, the year is now 2010 and we still don’t have flying cars.

The End

2010 also marks the end of The Linux Experiment. I can honestly say that the last four solid months of Linux use has taught me a lot. In reflection of this I decided to look back at what I had originally wrote about my goals of this experiment and see just how many of them I had accomplished.

  • I will have learned enough of the ins and outs to be as comfortable within a Linux environment as I current am within a Windows one.
    • This one is a bit tricky to answer. I am far more familiar and comfortable with Linux now than I have ever been before. However I still do not understand a number of things. For example the Linux file system confuses me to no end. What is the difference between /bin/ and /sbin/? Or why do some things end up in /etc/ and others in /var/ or even /opt/? Clearly I have some room to improve here.
  • My bonus goal is to have a fully functional, self-created, program that runs native to Linux.
    • This one I was actually able to realize. Not only did I have a native OpenGL program running, but in recent weeks I have even created cross-platform .NET/Mono based applications. In addition Linux has proven time and again that it is the platform for web development. I can definitely see myself utilizing it as such in the future.

Fedora

Fedora has been both a terrible nightmare and an absolute pleasure. I have had more problems getting things to just work on this distribution that I care to even remember. Yet time and time again there was something about Fedora that just kept pulling me back in. Perhaps it was the challenge of trying to master a power user’s distribution of choice. Or maybe it was just pure stubbornness. The fact remains that with the exception of Fedora 12 being incompatible with my graphics hardware there was nothing I haven’t overcome.

So would I recommend Fedora to someone? Well… yes and no. Fedora has a rock solid community and lives right on the cutting edge (what? I’m already running KDE 4.3.4??) but it does not make things easy. Now that most distributions have moved up to the 2.6.31 kernel there is really less of a reason for me to recommend the cutting edge simply as a way to get decent hardware support. Obviously if your machine is even newer than mine than perhaps Fedora is still your only stable ticket to that support, but for most users I think there are far better alternatives. Don’t get me wrong, I really do enjoy Fedora and from what I have read it has come a long way in recent years, I just don’t think I will be using it again anytime soon.

The Future

Today will bring some changes to my computing setup as I plan on removing Fedora and trying out two new KDE distributions, OpenSUSE and Kubuntu, just to see which one I prefer. In addition I will be dual booting with Windows 7 for the first time. I will be sure to keep everyone up to date with my experiences as I do so.

As we here at The Linux Experiment debate where to take the experiment moving forward, be sure to check back for updates on our new experiences!




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

XBMC Camelot

December 28th, 2009 3 comments

In my daily RSS feeds I read about the release of the newest version of XBMC, formally the Xbox Media Center, so I decided to check it out.

While the maintainers do not specifically support Fedora with pre-built RPMs, they do offer instructions on how to build it from source here. Even so, I did run into a couple of little problems along the way. For example on the step that says to enter

*sudo ln -s /usr/lib/mysql/libmysqlclient.so.15.0.0 /usr/lib/libmysqlclient.so
*sudo ln -s /usr/lib64/mysql/libmysqlclient.so.15.0.0 /usr/lib64/libmysqlclient.so

depending on if you are running the x86 or x64 version of Fedora, I needed to change this to say

sudo ln -s /usr/lib64/mysql/libmysqlclient.so.16.0.0 /usr/lib64/libmysqlclient.so

because that is the current version of my library. In addition running

./configure

failed due to an error with OpenSSL, specifically its lack of something called “openssl/ecdsa.h”. I managed to fix this by altering the source code according to the patch found here. Then before re-running ./configure I had to run

autoreconf –force –install

(that’s two dashes in front of force and install!) from within xbmc/cores/dvdplayer/Codecs/libbnav. Once that was done the ./configure ran smoothly. From then on I simply followed the rest of the instructions and I was in business!

There really is only one word to describe this version of XBMC: AWESOME!

It picked up my pictures, videos and music from all of my network shares and local drives without issue. The user interface is absolutely stunning as well. At one point I had Star Wars playing in the background (still in view) while navigating beautifully rendered and slightly transparent menus to adjust other system settings. It can even be configured to pull down information about the movies from the Internet, including who stars in it and what the plot is. The music playback is similar and offers a variety of visualizers for your viewing pleasure. The picture options allows for very neat slideshows, accompanied by your own music playing in the background, which would be great for atmosphere at a party.

From Wikipedia here are just some of the features supported by this release:

  • Physical media: CDs, DVDs, DVD-Video, Video CDs (including VCD/SVCD/XVCD), Audio-CD (CDDA), USB Flash Drives, and Hard Disk Drives
  • Network/Internet protocols: UPnP, SMB/SAMBA/CIFS, XBMSP, DAAP, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, RTSP (RTSPU, RTSPT), MMS (MMSU, MMST), RTMP, Podcasting, TCP, UDP, SFTP, RTP
  • Container formats: AVI, MPEG, WMV, ASF, FLV, Matroska, QuickTime, MP4, M4A, AAC, NUT, Ogg, OGM, RealMedia RAM/RM/RV/RA/RMVB, 3gp, VIVO, PVA, NUV, NSV, NSA, FLI, FLC, and DVR-MS (beta support)
  • Video formats: MPEG-1, MPEG-2, H.263, MPEG-4 SP and ASP, MPEG-4 AVC (H.264), HuffYUV, Indeo, MJPEG, RealVideo, RMVB, Sorenson, WMV, Cinepak
  • Audio formats: MIDI, AIFF, WAV/WAVE, MP2, MP3, AAC, AACplus, AC3, DTS, ALAC, AMR, FLAC, Monkey’s Audio (APE), RealAudio, SHN, WavPack, MPC/Musepack/Mpeg+, Speex, Vorbis and WMA
  • Digital picture/image formats: RAW image formats, BMP, JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF, MNG, ICO, PCX and Targa/TGA
  • Subtitle formats: AQTitle, ASS/SSA, CC, JACOsub, MicroDVD, MPsub, OGM, PJS, RT, SMI, SRT, SUB, VOBsub, VPlayer
  • Metadata tags: APEv1, APEv2, ID3 (ID3v1 and ID3v2), ID666 and Vorbis comments for audio file formats, Exif and IPTC (including GeoTagging) for image file formats

For a sampling of the beautiful new interface check out their official wiki here. I apologize for this sounding a lot like an advertisement but in all honesty I am floored by how impressive this application is and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a sweet home theater setup. Try it out now!

AQTitle, ASS/SSA, CC, JACOsub, MicroDVD, MPsub, OGM, PJS, RT, SMI, SRT, SUB, VOBsub, VPlayer



I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

Going Linux, Once and for All

December 23rd, 2009 7 comments

With the linux experiment coming to an end, and my Vista PC requiring a reinstall, I decided to take the leap and go all linux all the time. To that end, I’ve installed Kubuntu on my desktop PC.

I would like to be able to report that the Kubuntu install experience was better than the Debian one, or even on par with a Windows install. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.

My machine contains three 500GB hard drives. One is used as the system drive, while an integrated hardware RAID controller binds the other two together as a RAID1 array. Under Windows, this setup worked perfectly. Under Kubuntu, it crashed the graphical installer, and threw the text-based installer into fits of rage.

With plenty of help from the #kubuntu IRC channel on freenode, I managed to complete the Kubuntu install by running it with the two RAID drives disconnected from the motherboard. After finishing the install, I shut down, reconnected the RAID drives, and booted back up. At this point, the RAID drives were visible from Dolphin, but appeared as two discrete drives.

It was explained to me via this article that the hardware RAID support that I had always enjoyed under windows was in fact a ‘fake RAID,’ and is not supported on Linux. Instead, I need to reformat the two drives, and then link them together with a software RAID. More on that process in a later post, once I figure out how to actually do it.

At this point, I have my desktop back up and running, reasonably customized, and looking good. After trying KDE’s default Amarok media player and failing to figure out how to properly import an m3u playlist, I opted to use Gnome’s Banshee player for the time being instead. It is a predictable yet stable iTunes clone that has proved more than capable of handling my library for the time being. I will probably look into Amarok and a few other media players in the future. On that note, if you’re having trouble playing your MP3 files on Linux, check out this post on the ubuntu forums for information about a few of the necessary GStreamer plugins.

For now, my main tasks include setting up my RAID array, getting my ergonomic bluetooth wireless mouse working, and working out folder and printer sharing on our local Windows network. In addition, I would like to set up a Windows XP image inside of Sun’s Virtual Box so that I can continue to use Microsoft Visual Studio, the only Windows application that I’ve yet to find a Linux replacement for.

This is just the beginning of the next chapter of my own personal Linux experiment; stay tuned for more excitement.

This post first appeared at Index out of Bounds.




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.

Over one month later and I STILL cannot install Fedora 12

December 23rd, 2009 No comments

Thanks to incompatibilities with ATI’s catalyst drivers and the newest version of Xorg used in Fedora I am still unable to install Fedora 12 on my machine. Yes, I know there are open source alternatives but frankly they don’t work well and actually caused my system to be unstable during the brief period I did use them.

I had really hoped that I would be able to try out Fedora 12 in a meaningful way before the end of this experiment but I just don’t see that happening…




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

Linux: 12 Weeks of School Later

December 20th, 2009 No comments

Finished Exams

Rather than just copy Sasha’s previous post, I will do my best to try and tell the story through the eyes of a Computer Science undergrad. Now that I have finally finished my exams for this term I can safely say that Linux has not impeded my coursework and in fact has given me quite a seamless user experience.

Web Development

Designing websites and creating server side programs has been an absolute delight in Linux. Unlike within Windows, I can easily mount a remote SSH server as a browsable folder in my file system in Linux, making additional file transfer programs unnecessary. This lets me edit the files in my favourite editor, which more often than not was just KWrite, and then watch as they updated on the remote server with a simple click of the save button.

Graphics Programming

For a different course I was required to program 3D graphics in OpenGL. On Windows my professor had recommended Dev-C++, a program I am familiar with but not exactly a fan of. Thankfully we weren’t doing anything platform specific and thus I was able to make use of the exact same OpenGL and GLUT libraries to get the job done on Linux. As a replacement for Dev-C++ I started with Eclipse but eventually settled on MonoDevelop as my IDE of choice. Even better I was able to share the exact same code with a fellow classmate for our group project, which he was in turn able to compile on Windows in Dev-C++ with no modification whatsoever!

Pretty Standard Stuff

The rest of my time spent at University was of pretty standard fare: note taking, web browsing, e-mailing, instant messaging, assignments, etc. Linux performed superbly at these tasks as well and handled everything I could think to throw at it – even our school’s insane Wi-Fi network configuration.

Three Months of School Later

And there you have it. My experience with Linux during my term at school has been, like Sasha’s, excellent. For those of you out there worried that trying out Linux will impact your school or work or have concerns that you won’t be able to find replacements for your generally Windows or Mac centric worlds, I can attest to the exact opposite being true. Give Linux a shot, it might even make you more productive! Hell, you just might even like it 😉




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

Linux Mint Helena: C’est fantastique!

December 16th, 2009 No comments

Last night I upgraded to Linux Mint 8 (Helena), x64 edition. Based on Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala), Helena has so far proven to be absolutely great and the panacea to my Linux problems. By far most of my issues with Gloria seemed to come from hardware incompatibility. Well, those are all in the past now.

Audio

There was a minor issue in Gloria with regards to my computer’s sound. Basically, although my laptop’s volume had something like 15 increments, Gloria shoehorned those into four categories: Really Goddamn Loud, Loud, Barely Audible, and Mute. That is no longer the case – I finally have the full spectrum of sound available on my laptop. At last, I can stream terrible YouTube videos and listen to them in the coffee lounge without being worried what the people ten tables down from me think!

Visual

First off, I have to compliment the appearance of Helena. The default theme is slick and very easy on the eyes, and the default background is excellent. I have approximately 50 wallpapers on my computer, and the fact that I haven’t changed it out of an ADD fit really speaks for the choice.

Now, onto more interesting matters: my media players work, my monitor works, and everything works damn well. In an earlier post, I documented Mint’s inability to take advantage of my brand new 1080p monitor. Unlike my previous experience, changing resolutions was a breeze and – most importantly – my monitor finally worked in full 1080p glory. At last, everything looks absolutely gorgeous. Watching videos has also been a much smoother experience in Helena. I’m not having any difficulty jumping to random spots in video files – previously, this would do anything between slowing down the video temporarily to crashing the media player. (As a note, I have no idea if Helena is actually responsible for “fixing” that last bit, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt here).

Other bugs

The desktop shift that I occasionally complain about is nowhere to be seen… yet. I never could figure out how to recreate it, so I can’t definitively say whether it has disappeared.

Compliments to the Mint people

Having seen what the open source community can do to improve and support a product, I have to say I’m extremely impressed with the work they’ve done. Just last week I stated that I would probably run a dual boot with Windows 7 as my primary system and Mint or Ubuntu as my secondary system. Well, after installing and using Helena, I have to say I’m strongly considering sticking with Mint and possibly having Windows 7 as a secondary OS for compatibility issues. I can definitely say that I wasn’t expecting a free operating system to work as well as this one does. Bravo.

Categories: GNOME, Linux Mint, Sasha D Tags:

How is it doing that?

December 15th, 2009 13 comments

Just about everything that I’ve ever read about media playback on Linux has been negative. As I understand the situation, the general consensus of the internet is that Linux should not be relied on to play media of any kind. Further, I know that the other guys have had troubles with video playback in the past.

All of which added up to me being extremely confused when I accidentally discovered that my system takes video playback like a champ. Now from the outset, you should know that my system is extremely underpowered where high definition video playback is concerned. I’m running Debian testing on a laptop with a 1.73 GHz single-core processor, 758MB shared video RAM, and a 128MB Intel GMA 900 integrated graphics card.

Incredibly enough, it turns out that this humble setup is capable of playing almost every video file that I can find, even with compiz effects fully enabled and just a base install of vlc media player.

Most impressively, the machine can flawlessly stream a 1280x528px 1536kb/s *.mkv file over my wireless network.

As a comparison, I have a Windows Vista machine with a 2.3GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 512MB video card upstairs that can’t play the same file without special codecs and the help of a program called CoreAVC. Even with these, it plays the file imperfectly.

I can’t explain how this is possible, but needless to say, I am astounded at the ability of 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.

This… looks… awesome!

December 8th, 2009 No comments

Looks being the key word there because I haven’t actually been able to successfully run either of  these seemingly awesome pieces of software.

Amahi is the name of an open source software collection, for lack of a better term, that resembles what Windows Home Server has to offer. I first came across this while listening to an episode of Going Linux (I think it was episode #85 but I can’t remember anymore!) and instantly looked it up. Here is a quick rundown of what Amahi offers for you:

  • Currently built on top of Fedora 10, but they are hoping to move it to the most recent version of Ubuntu
  • Audio streaming to various apps like iTunes and Rhythmbox over your home network
  • Media streaming to other networked appliances including the Xbox 360
  • Acts as a NAS and can even act as a professional grade DHCP server (taking over the job from your router) making things even easier
  • Built in VPN so that you can securely connect to your home network from remote locations
  • SMB and NFS file sharing for your whole network
  • Provides smart feedback of your drives and system, including things like disk space and temperature
  • Built-in Wiki so that you can easily organize yourself with your fellow co-workers, roommates or family members
  • Allows you to use the server as a place to automate backups to
  • Windows, Mac & Linux calendar integration, letting you share a single calendar with everyone on the network
  • Implements the OpenSearch protocol so that you can add the server as a search location in your favorite browser. This lets you search your server files from right within your web browser!
  • Includes an always-on BitTorrent client that lets you drop torrent files onto the server and have it download them for you
  • Supports all Linux file systems and can also read/write to FAT32 and read from NTFS.
  • Sports a plugin architecture that lets developers expand the platform in new and exciting ways
  • Inherits all of the features from Fedora 10
  • Finally Amahi offers a free DNS service so you only have to remember a web address, not your changing home IP address

FreeNAS is a similar product, although I use that term semi-loosely seeing as it is also open source, except instead of being based on Linux, FreeNAS is currently based on FreeBSD 7.2. Plans are currently in the works to fork the project and build a parallel Linux based version. Unlike Amahi, FreeNAS sticks closer to the true definition of a NAS and only includes a few additional features in the base install, letting the user truly customize it to their needs. Installed it can take up less than 64MB of disk space. It can (through extensions) include the following features:

  • SMB and NFS as well as TFTP, FTP, SSH, rsync, AFP, and UPnP
  • Media streaming support for iTunes and Xbox 360
  • BitTorrent support allowing you to centralize your torrenting
  • Built-in support for Dynamic DNS through major players like DynDNS, etc.
  • Includes full support for ZFS, UFS, ext2, ext3. Can also fully use FAT32 (just not install to), and can read from NTFS formatted drives.
  • Small enough footprint to boot from a USB drive
  • Many supported hardware and software RAID levels
  • Full disk encryption via geli

Both of these can be fully operated via a web browser interface and seem very powerful. Unfortunately I was unable to get either up and running inside of a VirtualBox environment. While I recognize that I could just install a regular Linux machine and then add most of these features myself, it is nice to see projects like that package them in for ease of use.

This is definitely something that I will be looking more closely at in the future; you know once these pesky exams are finished. In the mean time if anyone has any experience with either of these I would love to hear about it.

[UPDATE]

While publishing this, the folks over at Amahi sent out an e-mail detailing many new improvements. Turns out they released a new version now based on Fedora 12. Here are their notable improvements:

  • Amahi in the cloud! This release has support for VPS servers (Virtual Private Servers).
  • Major performance and memory improvements, providing a much faster web interface and a 30% smaller memory footprint.
  • Based on Fedora 12, with optimizations for Atom processors built-in, preliminary support in SAMBA for PDC (Primary Domain Controller) with Windows 7 clients and much more.
  • Completely revamped web-based installer.
  • Users are more easily and securely setup now, the with password-protected pages and admin users.
  • Brand new architecture, with future growth in mind, supporting more types of apps, and more importantly, bring us closer to supporting Ubuntu and other platforms. Over 100+ apps are working in this release out of the gates!

It all sounds great. I will be looking into this new version as soon as I have a moment to do so.




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).

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.

Why Linux is great for web development

November 27th, 2009 1 comment

Linux is great for web development, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons. The reason I find developing websites and server programs much better on a Linux machine than on a Windows machine is as simple as the following three letters SSH.

SSH stands for Secure SHell and is a way to remotely log into a server over a secure connection. While you can connect to SSH shares in Windows, connecting to one under Linux is a far more integrated experience. For example in KDE’s Dolphin you can connect to the SSH share right within the file browser itself. Then, as you do work, changes can be reflected instantly to the remote server. This saves you a lot of time instead of having to use (S)FTP to transfer files to and from the server. GNOME also has a similar ability through its Connect to Server menu.

Again there are Windows programs that will mirror changes in a local directory to a remote server through SSH but as far as I know Windows Explorer itself does not have this ability (FTP but no SSH?). So next time you are in the mood for web dev, give Linux a shot!




I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint 17.
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).