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Getting FreeBSD up and running with X.org and nVidia drivers

July 27th, 2013 No comments

The Experiment has officially begun, and with that I’ve gone through the FreeBSD installation process. The actual install was fairly uneventful: apart from the fact that FreeBSD defaults to a different base filesystem and has partitioning identifiers, sysinstall did the trick without the same bootloader issues that Dave experienced.

The first major difference, coming from something like Ubuntu or Debian, is that FreeBSD uses a combination of both source packages and already-prepared binary packages. Ostensibly the binary packages are for the most popular software and source packages are provided for convenience when there is no dedicated package build/maintainer team. In practice, depending on what you need to install, there are several possible locations and methods:

  • As a package, which is the binary compiled version. Available with the pkg_add -r option that acts like apt-get install on Ubuntu. The next version of this is pkgng, but I haven’t had much luck with it so far.
  • As a port, the source version of the program with FreeBSD hints to make the software compile. There are stubs in /usr/ports for a wide variety of software, and the “make install clean” process performs what seems to be a level of dependency injection as well.
  • From source directly, where you download and compile the package directly from its creator’s website; I’m avoiding this unless absolutely necessary.

As a result, I just end up using Google to find the package and then installing using the suggested command line. Hilariously enough, when looking for “take screenshot FreeBSD”, the suggested package was called scrot. Here’s that result:

My FreeBSD/xfce4 desktop taken with 'scrot'.

In order to get the desktop working, I had to fight a bit with X.org. Reading the documentation was incredibly helpful in getting my mouse and keyboard to work – I needed to add hald and dbus to the /etc/rc.conf file:

hald_enable="YES"
dbus_enable="YES"

Once that was set up, I then embarked on the process of getting my monitor to display at native 2560×1600 resolution. First, I was stymied by the Xorg -configure process, which provided a number of created screens does not match number of detected devices error but still generated a configuration file. Copying that file into /etc/X11/xorg.conf and running startx subsequently gave a no screens detected message.

A number of suggestions online related to adding a preferred resolution as a “Modes” line to the Screen section in this file, but there was no change. What eventually worked was changing the Driver line from nv to vesa – clearly my GeForce 660 isn’t supported by the default open-source nVidia driver.

As a result, it was necessary to look at installing the closed-source binary nVidia driver. The first stumbling block in this process was during the make install clean command, where I was first told I’d have to install the FreeBSD kernel source. Using this forum article and adjusting the URL to reference 9.1-RELEASE, I successfully obtained and decompressed the code to /usr/src.

The next problem was with my choice of setup options. Initially during the make install process, I selected the default options, and was now blocked at:

===> Installing for nvidia-driver-304.60
===> nvidia-driver-304.60 depends on file: /compat/linux/etc/fedora-release - not found
===> Verifying install for /compat/linux/etc/fedora-release in /usr/ports/emulators/linux_base-f10
===> linux_base-f10-10_5 linuxulator is not (kld)loaded.
*** [install] Error code 1

Stop in /usr/ports/emulators/linux_base-f10.
*** [run-depends] Error code 1

Stop in /usr/ports/x11/nvidia-driver.
*** [install] Error code 1

Stop in /usr/ports/x11/nvidia-driver.

There didn’t seem to be a good way to get back to the options screen to deselect the Linux compatibility mode and make clean didn’t help the situation. Poking around, I was able to reselect the correct options (remove Linux, and also ensure not to select the FreeBSD AGP option) by running make config. A make install clean command after that, and I could continue to follow the rest of the instructions – creating /boot/loader.conf and adding nvidia_load="YES", editing xorg.conf to set the Driver to nvidia, and then it was time for a reboot.

As a side note, unlike other Linux distributions, the idea of installing proprietary drivers wasn’t portrayed as shameful and against Free Software ideals. The attitude and design of FreeBSD seems to be that you should be able to do what you want with it.

So after this work, what was the result when I ran startx again? Nearly flawless detection of multiple monitors, a readable desktop and non-balls graphics performance. A quick trip to sudo /usr/local/bin/nvidia-settings fixed the monitor alignment and was quite easy to use. Now to work on the rest of the desktop components to make this a more usable system, and I’ll be well on the way to future moments of rage.




I am currently running various *BSD variants for this Experiment.
I currently run a mix of Windows, OS X and Linux systems for both work and personal use.
For Linux, I prefer Ubuntu LTS releases without Unity and still keep Windows 7 around for gaming.
Check out my profile for more information.
Categories: FreeBSD, Jake B, XFCE, Xorg/X11 Tags:

Reinstalling Linux

November 2nd, 2009 2 comments

Generally, after using a Windows machine for close to a year, it gets bogged down and slow and benefits greatly from a reinstall. After about 2 months of using Linux, and installing three different desktop managers on top of one another, I’ve found the same with my Linux install.

I attribute most of the problems that I’ve been having to the relationship between XFCE and KDE. After installing KDE and playing with it for one evening, I hightailed it back to XFCE, and found that many of  the options that I set in KDE leeched their way back into XFCE.

For instance, all of the window decoration that I set in KDE, the default web browser and file manager all persist in XFCE. Thanks to the light weight way that XFCE handles settings (read: it doesn’t save them, and doesn’t listen to ones that you do set, so don’t expect it to), most of KDE has leeched into my XFCE install.

This, along with a few other minor problems that I’ve been having lately, as well as a curiosity about what the install process would be like now that I know what I’m doing, have lead me to attempting a fresh install. Ideally, I’ll be back up and running within an hour.

Cheers, and wish me luck.




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.
Categories: Debian, Jon F, KDE, XFCE Tags: , , , ,

Learning to live with XFCE

October 24th, 2009 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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




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

GUI Failure

October 14th, 2009 No comments

Now that I’m running the Testing repositories, I actually get regular updates. Today, there were 15 available for my system. However, when I started the update manager, I was confronted with this dialog:

Screenshot-Upgrade-Fail

Well what the hell does that mean, anyway? Does it mean that the safe-upgrade will not remove any existing packages or install any new ones? Or is it asking if I would like to perform a safe-upgrade as opposed to installing new packages? Should I just click the Yes button, because it is green and the No button is red? Am I even seeing the correct colours? I am colourblind, you know. Furthermore, if I don’t understand what’s happening here, where can I get more information? How come, no matter what I choose, the Apply button on the next screen is disabled until I manually clear and re-select every update in the list? Lastly, how come the entire update manager crashes when I hit the Check button? It seems unable to resolve one of the sources in my list (one that doesn’t even appear in my /etc/apt/sources.list file), and instead of timing out, sits, waiting, presumably forever, no matter how many times I hit the Cancel button. I’m a seasoned computer user with well over a month of Linux under my belt and I’m concerned – what of those other users who don’t know shit about shit? I want blood, damnit!

/rant.




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.

XFCE: A Bitch Session

October 14th, 2009 10 comments

After a full day of using XFCE as my new desktop environment, I have just a few complaints, handily summarized in the following ordered list:

  1. No Alt-Tab: I was under the impression that alt-tab window switching was a standard feature of every desktop environment since at least Windows 98. So where the hell is it in XFCE? Nowhere! That’s where! Instead, I enabled the ring switcher plugin for Compiz, which I had to run in order to use GNOME Do anyway.
  2. Default Browser Doesn’t Save: This one started out with the crappy default web browser that comes with XFCE, Web Browser 2.26.3. It is allegedly a GNOME project (which is odd to say the least, since this is XFCE, and GNOME defaults to the Epiphany Browser). In any case, even after setting the default browser to Firefox (Iceweasel in my case), the system still launches all links in this inferior app.
    Screenshot-Preferred Applications
  3. Cursor Set Doesn’t Apply Immediately: Along with changing the default web browser for my system, I changed the cursor set. The default one was ugly, so I grabbed some new ones from Synaptic, and set one in the mouse theme options dialog. The problem is that the cursor set doesn’t change until some random amount of time has elapsed after I log on. So my session begins with the old, ugly cursors, and then eventually gets around to changing over to the prettier new ones. What the hell?
  4. GNOME Do and Screenlets Don’t Always Start: This one is likely related to running Compiz on top of XFCE (which includes it’s own compositing engine), and the order of startup applications. In any case, sometimes when I log on, GNOME Do and Screenlets fail to start, and I have to bring them up manually. I have a feeling that this is because Compiz hasn’t yet started, and the applications fail, as they rely on it being there. Still, a hearty WTF to this one as well.
  5. Default File Browser Lacks Network Locations: The XFCE default File Manager is Thunar 1.0.1, which is fine, except that it does not include any way to browse network shares. In GNOME, I can hit the ‘Network’ place, and immediately view any available SMB share drives on my local network. As of yet, I haven’t figured out how to find or mount network locations through the XFCE GUI.
  6. The ‘Start’ Menu Fails: I never thought that I would say this, but I find myself longing for the Applications/Places/System menus of GNOME, instead of the mashed together start menu that is present under XFCE. Although this could just be because I’m not yet familiar with XFCE, I find it harder to locate programs in this menu system. The GNOME organization just felt more logical once you got used to it.
  7. Lack of Default Features: This speaks mostly to the organization of XFCE. Instead of including every imaginable feature in the default install, extra features are added through a series of plugins, so as not to bog down machines that don’t require them. As such, my default install did not include a battery level indicator, a wireless network strength monitor, or a slew of other ‘basic’ desktop environment features. Installing the package xfce4-goodies fixed all of these problems.

Of course, not everything about XFCE is bad. So far, I’ve found it to be stable and exceedingly fast. X11 hasn’t crashed once, although I have no doubt that it will; and once I installed the xfce4-goodies package, I found the environment to be very functional. Overall, I am pleased with my choice, even though there have been some minor setup annoyances.




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.

Testing out Testing

October 13th, 2009 No comments

With everybody switching up their desktop environments this week, I decided that I’d take a shot at installing XFCE on my system. My initial research showed that it is somewhat like a light-weight, highly customizable GNOME. Since I’m running on older hardware, it seemed like the best choice for me. While at it, I also decided to go ahead and move my Debian install from the stable to the testing repositories. In an ideal world, this switch would open the doors to some newer software, alleviating many of the issues that I have had with older software.

Moving to Testing:

Without bothering to do any research, I added the Debian Testing repository to my sources list and told the machine to check for available updates. It immediately found 655 new packages available for installation. Luckily, Debian offered me a handy “Smart Upgrade Manager” and I didn’t have to navigate the upgrade process myself:

Screenshot-update-manager

After hitting the Smart Upgrade button, my machine chugged away for a few moments, figuring out dependencies and the like, and finally presenting me with a 1289.4MB list of 1570 required packages. Hoping for the best, I hit Apply, and spent the next 2 hours waiting for the necessary downloads to complete. Three episodes of House and an episode of Flashpoint later, at almost 1am, the install process was finally finished. So far, everything seemed alright.

Until I restarted. With the updates applied, my machine booted just fine, and even allowed me to login. Unfortunately, it never made it as far as the desktop. I was presented with a blank grey screen and a mouse pointer (which does work), but no windows, toolbars, or panels to speak of. It seems then, that X11 is working, but that it isn’t launching a window manager of any kind on login. I hit ctrl+alt+F1 and was relieved to find that I still had a terminal, and access to all of my files. But where did my desktop go?

Once at the terminal, I launched Aptitude, to see if there were some broken packages that needed to be fixed. It listed 190 that ought to be removed, and another 6 that ought to be upgraded, including GNOME. Hoping to fix the problem, I told it to get to work, and watched as it attempted to clean up the mess that I had created. That finished, I did what I should have done in the first place, and followed these instructions in an attempt to fix my system by upgrading properly.

This time, everything worked nicely, and within minutes, I was looking at my desktop through the brand spanking new GNOME v2.28.0, just released on September 27th. A solitary hiccup with dependencies required me to completely remove and reinstall the Compiz compositing engine. Friends, I speak to you now from the bleeding edge of the Debian GNU/Linux experience. From this point onward, I will receive the very latest code, just as soon as all release-critical bugs have been addressed. Sweet.

Adding XFCE:

From my newly stable machine, I opened up Synaptic package manager and installed the xfce4 package, which pulled all of the necessary components of my new desktop in as dependencies. I also added the xfce4-artwork package, as it promised a slew of extra pretty desktop backgrounds to play with. After adding Gnome Do, Docky, and playing around with the desktop settings, I arrived at a pretty decent looking desktop:

xfce-desktop

My first impressions of the desktop are that it seems very solid, fast, and customizable. Unfortunately, it is lacking a few creature comforts, mainly alt-tab window switching (seriously, what the fuck?), and drag-and-drop from menu items to  other windows. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll give it a solid run, and see if it will become my Desktop Environment of choice.

Edit: After a long look down the tubes, I concluded that XFCE doesn’t support alt-tab, and just enabled the Ring Switcher plugin for Compiz to do the job instead.




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.

Climate Change

October 11th, 2009 No comments

Here at The Linux Experiment we are all about shaking things up. After all, we have committed to using Linux for four whole months just to see if we could! The next big thing that we are going to introduce into the experiment is a little environmental change. No I don’t mean the Al Gore kind of environment, but rather the desktop environment like GNOME or KDE.

For a week or so, leading up to the recording of our next podcast, each of us will be switching our current desktop environment to something else. The point is to once more branch out of our comfort zones a little bit and see if we don’t end up liking something else better!

Stay tuned!

Gentoo updates and annoyances

September 30th, 2009 2 comments

After hearing about the recent MintCast mention of our experiment, I figured it was high time to post an update with what’s gone right and what’s been enraging about my experiences with Gentoo over the past month.

What’s Gone Right

  • I’ve installed GNOME (Gentoo’s stable version is still 2.24.3, but I’m looking into the newest version) as I needed more of a true “desktop environment” – removable device mounting, in particular, wasn’t always functional in XFCE. Sometimes my external USB drives would be recognized and other times the system would just sit there as if nothing had happened. GNOME handles this task wonderfully, which I assume is in combination with dbus and HAL. I also like the toolbar customization features and login manager.
  • The installation for VirtualBox 3 went really well – I have Windows XP running in a virtual environment for a dedicated accounting image with Simply Accounting 2007. (While I may be running Linux as my primary OS, we can’t afford to stop doing business.) Bridge mode for the network adapter works even better than it has on Windows for me. The VM has its own IP address on my network, allowing the router to manage port forwarding operations and continue with issuing invoices as usual.
  • After giving up on Ekiga and conducting yesterday’s conference call using X-Lite on my Asus netbook running Windows, I gave VOIP on Linux another shot. I removed the Ekiga SIP account from the connection manager since it was giving me incredible grief. Access denied error messages, calls that wouldn’t complete and an odd signup process are not conducive to attracting users to your service! After adding my own Asterisk server credentials, I went ahead and made a test call – both internal extensions and external numbers worked great, and voice quality was wonderful.
  • Networking support has also been improved with my GNOME installation. I can easily save favourite server mountpoints without having to define them in /etc/fstab, and related applications such as VLC seem to handle this style of network mapping in a more consistent manner. For example, mounting “/media/server” through fstab would often result in stuttery video playback from a SMB share. Performing the same operation using GNOME’s Connect to Server option seems to indicate the appropriate buffer size and the video plays smoothly as expected.
  • The ISO downloader .EXE’s from MSDNAA work great under Wine! Just another example of how I could see potentially running Linux as a main system, even though I have to interact with Windows on a regular basis.

What’s Been Enraging

  • Some fonts in web browsing still don’t anti-alias properly. It’s a very intermittent issue only appearing on certain sites, and as soon as I can find a page causing this issue I will get to the root cause. In the meantime, I’ve installed all the appropriate font packages using emerge – there may be a replacement for the “odd man out” in there somewhere.
  • The mixer resets my primary volume to zero on every reboot.
  • I need to use “overlays” and “autounmask” to enable some packages for the AMD64 architecture. autounmask is a pretty decent tool – it automatically finds package dependencies and allows me to force installation of a program that for some unknown reason isn’t available. layman also has helped in this regard, and a searchable directory of overlay packages is decent. I just installed Firefox 3.5 using this technique and all seems well.
  • My mixer now shows the appropriate “mute/unmute” icons:
    Mixer with proper mute/unmute icons
  • Audio inputs and outputs on my “Intel HDA” card aren’t labelled as you might expect. Here’s a list of them:

    Volume Control Preferences
    Of these inputs and outputs, the appropriate one for my front microphone to actually work worth a damn? Capture. Incredibly intuitive.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’d appreciate any suggestions for new programs and neat tricks. Knock on wood that Portage doesn’t start acting like dpkg did on Sasha’s machine!




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

Not entirely awful.

September 4th, 2009 3 comments

So after my initial three-hour fiasco of getting my mouse to work, Gentoo Linux is running in a stable manner on my system. My graphics card, input devices and external drives are all working wonderfully – the ntfs-3g package properly enabled support for my main user account to read and write files off NTFS partitions. Owing in no small part to my OCZ Vertex SSD, the XFCE desktop appears in half a second once I’m logged in.

There’s one remaining issue I have to sort out before I could consider Gentoo a reasonable environment – getting Windows networking up and running. Snow Leopard and Ubuntu have always been acceptable in this matter, but there doesn’t appear to be an XFCE-ish “Network Neighborhood” application readily available. Taking a quick search, it appears that this set of instructions for CIFS should solve my issues, at least from the command line.

More details (and some screenshots) coming as I transition to full-time use over this weekend…

Categories: Gentoo, Jake B, XFCE Tags:

Back and ready for action

August 25th, 2009 No comments

I’m back from an intensely relaxing and awesome holiday in our nation’s capital, Ottawa. I’d forgotten how close it was in proximity to Quebec – and as such, how nearly everything within the city is provided in both official languages. As a former French as a second language student in elementary and high school, it was interesting trying to pick out the differences between the two. Most phrases and slogans are completely different, while literal instructions are exactly… literal. ;)

Right now my main decisions with Gentoo will revolve around timing. Firstly, I expect to have about five or six days to get the system up and running in a mostly full capacity – not only am I completing a contract and resuming a new position at my day job, but I’m off to Las Vegas for several days. I’m still debating which laptop to bring along – either my MacBook Pro or Asus eeePC (likely with Ubuntu installed.) Since Internet costs about $15/day in most of the Strip hotels, and tethering my Rogers-homed BlackBerry would be cost-prohibitive, I doubt I’ll be using the machine that often. Still, I’d be interested in opinions on how to make the “away from home” experience less like cheating. I’m already pretty capable of using SSH, but something like X window forwarding is something I don’t have any background with.

Another important consideration is the main desktop environment. I’ve had experience with recent versions of GNOME, but none of the newer KDE or XFCE packages – so it will likely be one of these. XFCE has the distinct advantage of being lightweight and looking nice, but KDE seems to be more widely supported. More than likely I’ll end up compiling and installing both environments for the experience, and so I can switch back and forth as desired.

Categories: Gentoo, Jake B, KDE, XFCE Tags: