Archive

Archive for the ‘Open Source Software’ Category

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).

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….

Back to relative stability with Funtoo

November 21st, 2009 No comments

In my last post, I’d mentioned that I planned on reinstalling Gentoo to fix several dependency issues that had made upgrading packages an impossibility. I chose to use the Funtoo variant and have since become an expert with the install process.

My first attempt was an installation of Funtoo unstable, which included packages that are normally masked out for stability reasons. This particular installation went fine and worked properly, until the hard drive I’d installed it on decided that it had better things to do than spin up when booting the computer. The end result was a kernel panic on boot and inability to mount the drive. One thing that I did notice under GNOME 2.28 is that “alacarte”, the menu editor, is not installed as a default package or chained as a dependency. As a result, the “Edit Menus” option in GNOME merely displayed a list of installed applications, with no way to add new ones or edit the properties of existing ones.

The latest and most current version I’m running now is Funtoo stable. It’s a very snappy and responsive environment, and I haven’t yet run into package conflicts or dependency problems. Unfortunately, two of my most-used apps (Songbird and VLC) have problems running – VLC refuses to display a user interface (but runs in a terminal seemingly properly), and Songbird insists that my request to play a song should be met with a core media error. I may end up trying the mailing list or IRC channel to see what the level of support is for VLC at least, or the appropriate process for migrating a “stable” release to the “unstable” one.

Update: I’m apparently plagued with the “didn’t read the documentation” curse. Here’s what VLC says when I try to reinstall it:

 * Messages for package media-video/vlc-1.0.3:

 * You have disabled the qt4 useflag, vlc will not have any
 * graphical interface. Maybe that is not what you want...

I’m not sure if I really want to build it with QT support… but in the meantime, I’ve added “media-video/vlc qt4” to the /etc/portage/package.use file and it seems to work fine.




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.

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:

Fedora 12 Graphics [Update]

November 19th, 2009 No comments

I stumbled upon this news thread which mentioned open source ATI driver support through the use of the mesa-dri-drivers-experimental package. Promptly installing this

yum install mesa-dri-drivers-experimental

and a quick reboot later and my desktop seems to have actual 3D graphics support! It’s not perfect but it will certainly do until ATI gets in gear with their own Fedora 12 release.




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).

Installing Fedora 12

November 19th, 2009 1 comment

With the recent release of Fedora 12 it is high time that I upgrade from my existing Fedora 11 install to the new wonders that surely await me. So I hopped over to google and did a quick search and came across the official documentation to upgrade Fedora. My plan was to try and upgrade to see how it works and then eventually do a full re-install just to clear out any cobwebs that have developed over the past couple of months. Without further ado here we go!

Attempt #1: Upgrade

Because the Fedora repositories now use LZMA as the compression algorithm for packages the first thing I needed to do was upgrade rpm

yum update rpm

Next I needed to add rawhide (the current software repository) to my list of repositories.

yum –enablerepo=rawhide –skip-broken upgrade

Once that was done I ran a simple update and was presented with literally thousands of updates.

That's a lot of updates!

That's a lot of updates!

Unfortunately this failed a dependency resolution. Doing some more reading I found out that the dependencies might in fact be OK, but that the older version of yum just can’t resolve them correctly. So I tried updating yum to see if that would make a difference.

yum upgrade yum

Trying once again I was met with utter failure. Still unresolved dependencies! Turning back to the Internet I found out that Fedora actually maintains a separate set of instructions which include the use of a graphical upgrader! Entering:

yum install preupgrade

preupgrade

and I had the upgrade wizard running on my screen. A couple of quick clicks and I was off to the races. I started the download phase and went to bed as I figured it could take a while to complete.

In the morning I was presented with a dialog telling me to restart, which I did. On the next boot a Fedora installer appeared and began to fully install the system. All was going well until disaster struck.

There was an error running your transaction for the following reason(s): insufficient disk space.

Clicking the details arrow gave me more information saying that

You need more space on the following file systems:

18 M on /mnt/sysimage/boot

With no other options I clicked Exit Installer and hopped for the best. Eventually I had to hit the power button on my computer to restart it. Thankfully this allowed me to reboot into my existing Fedora 11 install.

Attempt #2: Re-Install KDE Live CD

After giving up on trying an upgrade I decided to simply download the newest version of the Fedora 12 x64 KDE Live CD. Unfortunately rather than being a smooth installation I had the installer itself crash on me at least 4 different times. Figuring it might be an issue with the x64 version I even tried installing from the Fedora 12 x86 KDE Live CD which ultimately had the same issues. All of these attempts had trashed the data on my hard drive – good thing I did a back up first!

Attempt #3: Re-Install DVD

Getting frustrated I then turned to the old trusty DVD install which I had used previously to install Fedora 11. The unfortunate part about installing Fedora this way is that it defaults to a GNOME desktop. Yes, true, you can select KDE from the installer but last time I did that I got a hodgepodge of KDE with GNOME apps everywhere. Even my network manager was a GNOME application.

Being very careful I inspected the package selections and tried to make this install as KDE-ish as possible. I noticed that even after selecting KDE as your desktop environment, Fedora defaults to installing the GNOME network manager so I deselected that and found knetworkmanager instead. I also added a few other programs, themes, icon sets, etc. that I thought would be useful. Finally I added Armacycles Advanced for install, because honestly it’s great.

If you haven't played it DO IT NOW

If you haven't played it DO IT NOW

Hitting Next the install began. 2,074 packages and counting…

A quick reboot later and I was presented with the install and configuration wizard where I set up my user accounts and system date & time. The install was a success.

Not Problem Free

My install, while complete, is not without its fair share of problems. The graphics module that I had been using with great success under Fedora 11 is just not present in Fedora 12. I googled the problem and it seems that they have yet to release a version for Fedora 12. Without proper graphics drivers my system stability is suffering greatly.

In addition KPackageKit is incredibly slow for some unknown reason. It’s slow to launch, slow to respond, and slow to close. I hope this is something that can be rectified shortly.

Other than that I don’t really have many complaints. The boot time on this version of Fedora is much faster and I can only assume with the new 2.6.31.5-127 kernel that the overall hardware compatibility has improved as well.

Stay tuned for my first impressions in a later post.

My New Desktop

Here is my new desktop. If you look closely you can even see some of the graphical issues that plague my system.

Here is my new desktop. If you look closely you can even see some of the graphical issues that plague my system.




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).