Posts Tagged ‘Gnome’

One week, three distributions (Day 6: Linux Mint Debian Edition)

October 23rd, 2010 7 comments

To round out the week I installed the newly released Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE). Like the other posts I have made I will walk you through my first impressions as well as the general overall feel of the distribution.


LMDE’s install is something quite different from the experiences I had with Ubuntu 10.10 and Kubuntu 10.10. While it is still a very polished installer (complete with a single slide slide-show even!) it does lack a couple of features that make it far less user friendly. Where the other installers basically held your hand in every way, LMDE requires at least some technical understanding in order to complete. For instance there is no friendly auto-partition step, instead LMDE leaves the user to do it manually with GParted. While hardly the end of the world it is enough of a challenge that you could no longer just hand this disc to your non-technical friend and let them have at it. However once that step is complete the installer is very straight forward and rips through the installation in a matter of minutes.

First boot and drivers (oh my!)

I have to say that my first impression of LMDE was a mixed one. On one hand it spewed text everywhere as it booted, which I assume came from its Debian heritage. On the other hand the boot was ridiculously fast. I know it’s been one of Canonical’s goals to make Ubuntu the fastest booting Linux distribution but I have to say that a stock install of LMDE (and maybe even Debian Testing) will easily give that claim a run for its money.

Once at my desktop I was presented with a very familiar Linux Mint set up. If you were to place this desktop next to Linux Mint’s Ubuntu derivative (Linux Mint 9 for instance) I would be very hard pressed to spot any differences.

Unfortunately one thing that was glaringly missing was the lack of the Ubuntu automatic driver detection and install system jockey. Without jockey I had to resort to Fedora-esque measures in order to install the correct driver which is necessary for correct display and power management on my laptop. For reference here are the steps I took in order to install the proprietary ATI driver and setup my X configuration:

1) Run the following command in order to make sure you have the most recent package list

$ sudo apt-get update

2) You may want to now install all available updates so that we start with the most recent kernel

$ sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

3) Install the kernel headers so that we can configure it to work with the ATI driver

$ sudo apt-get install linux-headers-2.6-$(uname -r | sed ‘s,.*-,,’)

4) Install the ATI driver and control panel

$ sudo apt-get install fglrx-control fglrx-driver

5) From there just follow the instructions on my post here in order to generate the new X configuration file and maybe even fix your vsync issues at the same time.

I have read that jockey is currently being ported and will appear in the LMDE repositories so hopefully this small issue will be solved quickly.

Rolling release = LOTS OF UPDATES

One of LMDE’s big selling points is that it is a rolling release, which means that you will continue to get new packages and updates on your system without having to reinstall at 6 month intervals like some other distributions. Strangely though LMDE does not ship with update checking enabled which I found kind of weird. A quick forced check later and I discovered why the team may have made that choice

That’s right, almost 500 updates… Almost every package on my newly installed machine had to be replaced updated. This is definitely a release for people looking for the newest software but could easily lead to update fatigue for everyone else.

32-bit working system vs PAE kernel broken system

One of the unfortunate things about this release is that it only comes in a 32-bit version. As I run a 64-bit processor with 4GB of RAM it irks me to know that I am not using the full potential of my system. I starting looking into Physical Address Extension (PAE) kernels as a solution to this problem. PAE kernels, for those who don’t know, use a system of memory indirection in order to allow a 32-bit processor access to more than 4GB of mappable memory. In the case of Linux the PAE kernel can map up to 64GB of RAM.

After a bit of googling I stumbled upon instructions to install a PAE kernel by simply installing the linux-image-686-bigmem meta-package. Unfortunately this quick fix, as most often is the case, didn’t exactly turn out well and actually broke my GDM system. Without GDM I was unable to log into my desktop and this experiment came to an end. In the interest of time I decided to just reinstall instead of trying to troubleshoot how to fix what I had inadvertently broken.

Software selection

The software selection in LMDE is impressive and in many ways is what Ubuntu’s used to be. Here you will find (pre-installed) Flash, the Java and Mono runtimes, an MP3 codec and even the Gimp. Everything, like the other Linux Mint releases, is designed to make it so that the user does not have to search for solutions to missing functionality.

Because this is a rolling release it doesn’t really make sense for me to review the included software as much as it does to just mention it. For web browsing LMDE, like Ubuntu, ships with Firefox. To send and receive e-mail it calls upon Firefox’s cousin Thunderbird. Instant messaging is handled by Pidgin and your music collection is controlled by Rhythmbox. F-Spot remains as the photo manager, unlike Ubuntu which replaced it with Shotwell, while Gwibber and Totem round out the release.


Currently Linux Mint Debian Edition is somewhat of an enthusiast’s release. It has the potential to be a great rolling release but it’s pretty obvious that right now it needs some work to get there. For instance, why when I updated my software, did my GDM background change to a Debian one? The team over at Linux Mint knows how to polish a distribution and so I’m confident that they will do the same for Debian Edition.


  • Rolling release which means you always have the most recent software
  • Still has that Linux Mint charm to it


  • The distribution still needs a bit of polish before I could see myself recommending it to all but seasoned Linux users
  • Being a rolling release might result in update fatigue

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).

One week, three distributions (Day 4: Ubuntu 10.10)

October 20th, 2010 3 comments

Continuing where we left off I am now ready to report my first impressions of Ubuntu 10.10. I should start by apologizing a little bit, this post is going up one day late (even though I had already finished writing most of it). With that out of the way let’s begin.


The install, as one would expect, is exactly the same as the one featured in Kubuntu. As noted before I have nothing but praise for this installer and still think it is one of the best, if not the best, installer on any Linux distribution.

‘New’ Theme

The new theme found in this release of Ubuntu is beautiful. It’s hard to place exactly what makes this theme so nice but Canonical has done a wonderful job iterating the old theme from 10.04 and making some subtle changes that have an incredible overall effect.

This level of polish even extends to the new sound menu. Canonical has implemented new sound APIs which allow media players to integrated natively with the sound menu in a way that is just awesome.

Image Shamelessly Stolen Last Minute from Another Website

Heck even the calculator looks better with the new theme!


As with my previous post, I decided to take a look through the default installed software and see how it presents Ubuntu as an all-in-one desktop experience.

Empathy (2.32.0)

The instant messaging client of champions… or at least those who thought Pidgin was too complicated. My understanding for why this client replaced Pidgin was that it was set to offer features (like audio and video calling) that Pidgin was simply too slow at incorporating. Up until this release that reasoning has been nothing more than a pipe dream in my experience. Yes some people have had better luck than others but I have never had it really work all that well. This time however I did get it to work and, after installing the Ubuntu Restricted Extras package, also got it to successfully negotiate a full video call with the proper Windows Live Messenger client.

Evolution (2.30.3)

First off I have to just say “wow”. The first time I used Evolution was back on Ubuntu 8.04 and I absolutely hated it. Now however I’m starting to sing a different tune. Evolution not only looks better but also performs better as well. It includes many features, like calendar and PGP integration, that my favourite e-mail client Thunderbird requires add ons to accomplish.

Furthermore it integrates completely into the Ubuntu message centre which is a nice touch. I can’t even get Thunderbird to minimize to the system tray on Linux. All told I must say that I’m very impressed with with this version of Evolution.

Gwibber (

Gwibber is Ubuntu’s answer to all of your social media sources. It has the ability to combine all of your feeds, from Twitter to Facebook, in one convenient location. From there you can easily catch up on what your friends are doing and interact with them, all from one easy to use centralized location.

Unfortunately this universal nature is exactly where the Gwibber experience starts to fail. Because it works with everything it often fails to excel at anything in particular. Because of that I just don’t see myself using this application all that often. It is nice that it integrates into the Ubuntu message centre though.

Firefox (3.6.10)

Ubuntu’s default web browser is Firefox which, let’s be honest, I’m sure you know all about. I will say one thing about this browser though; I hope Firefox 4 improves the speed significantly or I think it will continue to lose users to Chrome.

Transmission (2.04)

For downloading torrents Ubuntu 10.10 continues to ship with the Transmission BitTorrent client. It is a more or less unremarkable client that places a large emphasis on simplicity. It is also the only BitTorrent client I know that warns you not to pirate things.

It also might just be me but for some reason this version of Transmission seems to have more features than I remember.

Rhythmbox (0.13.1)

This version of Rhythmbox contains the Ubuntu One music store which I decided to poke around in for a bit. It seems to be a full capable store with many popular artists.

Unfortunately I did manage to make it crash in a rather hilarious way…

Yes that’s right, the Ubuntu One music store is being run off of a Microsoft IIS web server.

Rythmbox the program also suffers from some annoying issues which were well covered by Jon on one of his previous post. One that particularly annoys me is the encoding options. As long as you stick to the defaults the application is very easy to use, but the second you want to adjust the settings you get stuck trying to decipher GStreamer command line options.

Totem Movie Player (2.32.0)

For video playback we get stuck with Totem. Its not that I think it’s the worst video player in the world, it’s just that it doesn’t do anything particularly well. Back when I was using Kubuntu’s Dragon Player I felt the same way but at least Dragon Player was able to provide video playback devoid of various vsync issues. To be fair though this might be an issue with Compiz vs KWin and not directly related to the video software.

PiTiVi (0.14.5)

PiTiVi, besides having a horrible name, is actually a very good piece of software. It is essentially a Windows Movie Maker clone and makes no excuses for it, which in this case is probably a good thing. Within just a couple of minutes of never using the program before I was able to import the two free clips that come with Ubuntu, one movie and one song, strip the audio from the movie clip and replace it with the song’s audio. One button click later my movie was rendered in glorious 1080p. That’s a lot of p’s!

For those wanting a bit more power, the software also seems capable of rendering to any (logical) combination of containers and codecs you might have installed on your system.

Ubuntu Software Centre (3.0.4)

And finally the big one. This release brings with it the first paid application to the new app store. This has already  been written about quite a lot, and while I think its a good thing, I do have some issues with it. The biggest issue that I have is that with only one application in the store people will probably never check it out again, even if new applications are added later. In my opinion what they should have done was created a beta program that people could opt into and test the store out. That would have given Canonical the feedback they need while still not spoiling the store for potential future users.


This release of Ubuntu is a solid one and deserves much praise. While I could give or take on some of the default included software, but then again who couldn’t, I do think that this release has an overall polish that simply hasn’t been as strong in previous releases. This is what Ubuntu 10.04 should have been from the start and makes me look forward to what is still yet to come.


  • An unparalleled polish and sheen that no other distribution has
  • An updated software roster that is showcases some of the best Linux application-desktop integration I have ever seen


  • While the polish is nice there really isn’t that much difference from 10.04
  • The Ubuntu Software Centre store release may have been a bit premature

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: GNOME, Tyler B, Ubuntu Tags: ,

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.

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).

Back at Square 1

November 2nd, 2009 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fucking Linux.

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

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

October 26th, 2009 2 comments

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

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

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

Enable the Workarounds plugin under the Utilities category

Select the "Force synchronization between X and GLX" checkbox

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

I am currently running 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.

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.

KDE on Gentoo: slightly less inflammatory but still difficult

October 24th, 2009 1 comment

After the shitstorm that was Dana’s post about KDE, I figured I’d go into more details about how my day to day use is going.

Multiple Libraries Make Baby Jesus Cry
All the base system software in the Gentoo kdebase-meta package compiles against the QT4 libraries, but many of the optional packages still depend on QT3. Popular programs like KTorrent and AmaroK either still haven’t been updated or tagged in the Portage repository, so at any given time a desktop user will have programs running that use two separate graphical widget libraries. My level of use is such that I have programs running with GTK+, QT3 and QT4 on the same monitor – not to mention apps like Songbird that draw their own custom interface.

From an efficiency and system resource standpoint, this is really poor utilization. I have 4GB of RAM for intensive tasks such as music library organization, not to show slightly different scrollbars and window controls in every third application. Under GNOME 2.26, there was nowhere near this level of display potpourri with the default system utilities. (It also helps that Firefox is GTK+, which is close to the top-used app on my machine.)

Some Applications Just Suck
I’ve attempted to use all of the built-in KDE applications to combat the mismatched desktop effect, and often I’ll find them wanting compared to the GNOME or GTK+ equivalents. Dolphin seems like a very capable file manager, but it will lock up when hovering over some video thumbnails or seemingly randomly when in my home directory. (The rest of the system remains responsive, so it looks like Dolphin’s the culprit.) Konqueror is fast, but the configuration and settings are confusing to say the least – and without proper add-on/AdBlock Plus support, I can’t consider making it my primary browser.

Another example of application suck is ksnapshot, which is supposed to do what you think it would – take screen captures of active windows or the entire desktop. I made the unfortunate selection of selecting to capture a region, specifically the “Settings” menu in Konqueror. After selecting a nice 300×300 pixel area, pressing Enter to confirm the region did nothing. Escape did nothing, nor did any combination of mouse buttons. Since ksnapshot takes focus away from the entire desktop, it wasn’t possible to exit the application. I had to SSH in from another machine and manually kill the process to regain control.

Desktop Effects Are Nice
Once I’d mangled xorg.conf and set up my nVidia drivers in TwinView mode, I still ran into issues enabling the built-in KDE compositing effects. The command in Gentoo to learn is “eselect”, which when combined with “eselect opengl list” allows a display of all the possible OpenGL rendering engines. Apparently even when the nVidia drivers are enabled, one must specifically tell X to use the correct renderer.

The problem I’ve encountered is that while some effects are smooth as butter, such as moving Wobbly Windows, resizing them is delayed and causes display tearing. I have no idea what’s causing this, and the behaviour shouldn’t exist.

Going back to GNOME
As of tomorrow, I have no doubts that I’ll be returning to GNOME for regular desktop use. KDE has some compelling features but my experience with it has been less than ideal. I can’t afford to have my file browser lock up during regular use – and GNOME’s environment seems much more predictable.

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.

KDE: [insert poorly worded and derogatory comment here]

October 20th, 2009 28 comments

Editor’s note: This, as everything we write on The Linux Experiment, is an opinion piece.  I fully recognize that some people may be quite happy with having KDE, Harbinger of Doom, in their lives as an every day desktop environment.  Who knows?  Maybe if KDE had been my first user experience with Linux – back in my early days with Ubuntu – I would have enjoyed it a little more.  For now, I love Gnome.  I will continue using Gnome until such a time that KDE decides to stop sucking the fattest of donkey penises.

Why [I Personally Dislike KDE] (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Gnome)

My absolute first experience with KDE – about a week and a half ago, for this experience – did not start well.  Upon initial boot, I discovered that I had absolutely no sound.  Great, I thought!  Let’s just un-mute this [particular distribution] and get started.

KDE [random alternative acronym] dealt its first lethal [hit] across my face at this point.  Nowhere in the Multimedia settings did I have the ability to switch my default sound device, and no manner of muting / un-muting my audio device could get anything to work.  Thanks to Tyler’s initial problems with audio though, I was able to – after twenty minutes of tinkering – get some audio all up in this piece.

That amounts to about all of the success I’ve had with KDE so far.  Thanks to another one of Tyler’s posts I was just able to get touchpad clicking working, but check out this full list of things that don’t work in KDE that definitely work (now) in my Gnome desktop environment:

  • My volume dial on the side of my laptop
  • Screen brightness keys on the keyboard
  • Fn+F9 key functionality (mute on my laptop)
  • Suspend to Disk
  • Touchpad scrolling
  • The majority of my font changes (why are menu bars still so huge?  They’re not in Gnome for me!)
  • My happiness

Among other things, reduced battery life (even with the – and yes I will admit this – awesome application that is PowerDevil) and a ridiculously elongated boot time are not subtracting from my ever-burgeoning list of frustrations.

I know that some of you were maybe hoping for something a little longer than this (that’s what she said!) but I can’t honestly vent all of my frustrations here –  I clearly have to save some of it for the podcast on Sunday.  Listen closely as you hear me completely nerdgasm over my ability to use Gnome again.

Categories: Dana H Tags: , , ,


October 16th, 2009 2 comments

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


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


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

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

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


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

GNOME slip ups; a KDE perspective

October 15th, 2009 3 comments

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

Look and Feel

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

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


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

Battery Life

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

One week and counting

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

I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily 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: Fedora, Free Software, GNOME, KDE, Tyler B Tags: , ,

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:


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:


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.

The road to GNOME

October 12th, 2009 2 comments

As you know we are all going to be transitioning from our current desktop environment (DEs) to something new. I did a bit of quick research and it seems as though Fedora offers the following DE options: KDE, GNOME, Xfce, LXDE. However because KDE is my current DE I  obviously can’t use that one.

Goodbye KDE, you served me well

Goodbye KDE, you served me well


Let me start by saying I didn’t chose LXDE as my replacement. With that out of the way I think LXDE could have a lot of potential given the right scenario for its use. From what I have read, it is an extremely light-weight DE that is mostly menu driven. So much so that you can actually script the right-click menu!


I consider Xfce to be GNOME-lite, and I mean that in a good way. It is designed to remove some of the clutter found in more fully-fledged DEs, thus speeding up your ability to be productive. However with my system’s beefy specs and the fact that I have been running KDE this whole time I doubt I need to shed that much DE weight.


GNOME is the default desktop for Fedora and something that I had initially passed up in order to differentiate my experience from that of Dana’s. Now though it seems as though GNOME is the best (for me!) alternative to KDE.


After some quick Googling I found a forum post that described installing GNOME through yum by typing the following command into a terminal:

sudo yum groupinstall “GNOME Desktop Environment”

I could only assume that this means that yum will go out and grab anything that has to do with the string “GNOME Desktop Environment”. So I bravely hit the Enter key only to be presented with a list of 57 packages that needed to be installed for 106MiB worth of download!

Is this ok [y/N]: y

The downloads were actually very quick with an average speed somewhere between 650KiB/s and 1MiB/s. The install process on the other hand took significantly longer. Once it was finished I decided to reboot (just in case!) before switching the session options to load GNOME instead of KDE.

First impressions

Oh god what am I doing here? I am not very good with GNOME. It seems as though the first thing GNOME did was get rid of my pretty KDE log in screen and replace it with a sparse looking GNOME one. Par for the course I suppose. A quick switch of Sessions from KDE to GNOME and I logged in.

My new GNOME desktop

My new GNOME desktop

Once my desktop loaded GNOME presented me with a pop-up telling me to unlock the default keyring. Is this the same as kwallet? Apparently not because I had to keep guessing passwords until I finally hit the right one.

Holy crap! My wireless actually connected without prompting me for the wifi password. That is a feakin’ miracle!

The next thing I did was try and install Compiz, which enables desktop effects for GNOME. This took some work but eventually I got it to work by running the following command:

sudo yum install -y ccsm emerald-themes compizconfig-backend-gconf fusion-icon-gtk emerald compiz-fusion compiz-fusion-gnome yum install -y ccsm emerald-themes compizconfig-backend-gconf fusion-icon-gtk emerald compiz-fusion compiz-fusion-gnome libcompizconfig compiz-gnome compiz-bcop compiz compizconfig-python compiz-fusion-extras compiz-fusion-extras-gnomelibcompizconfig compiz-gnome compiz-bcop compiz compizconfig-python compiz-fusion-extras compiz-fusion-extras-gnome

and then turning on some effects within CompizConfig Settings Manager.

CompizConfig Settings Manager

CompizConfig Settings Manager

Next I had to turn off some stupid default setting that made my file manager open a new window for every folder I browsed into. I don’t know why this was enabled by default but it was awful and had to go.



To finish things off I quickly install GNOME Do and set it’s theme to Docky at the recommendation of Phil D. And welcome to my new desktop!

Is this Mac OSX?

Is this Mac OSX?


I haven’t had a long time to play with GNOME on Fedora yet but I will certainly be comparing it to KDE along the way. So far from what I’ve seen GNOME seems to be a little bit snappier. Another thing I noticed was that while both KDE and GNOME can mount Windows shares, GNOME can’t seem to write to them for some reason. I actually quickly booted back into KDE to make sure this wasn’t just a fluke and sure enough KDE could still write to those same shares. On the plus side KDE now also remembers my WiFi password!

2 weeks and counting…

That’s all for now. In the two weeks leading up to our next podcast I will continue to post about new discoveries and little differences between GNOME and KDE. Until then…

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).

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!

Where did my Desktop go?!?!

October 8th, 2009 3 comments

My desktop used to have icons… And when I right-clicked on it, a fancy little menu came up that let me do things to it. It is now missing in action – and I think I might know why.

This afternoon, I was tidying up my home folder, carelessly deleting some crap that I didn’t think I needed anymore, when I deleted a folder called file: that seemed only to contain the the directories /home/jon/Desktop. I drilled all the way down into this directory, concluded that it was empty, and deleted it. A few moments later, my desktop disappeared.


Edit: I restored the folder to it’s original location and restarted the machine; Everything was back to normal, but I don’t understand the significance of that directory. It doesn’t appear to contain anything, even from a root terminal.

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.

Songbird on Gentoo

October 2nd, 2009 No comments

For various reasons, Rhythmbox (the default GNOME audio player) returns this wonderful message, which I’m putting off troubleshooting for the time being:

rhythmbox: error while loading shared libraries: cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory

I decided to install Songbird instead. Problem is, I can’t seem to install the Songbird package from the overlay manager, either by unmasking or otherwise. I’m still a bit confused on how to manually install ebuilds as well. Here’s what I ended up doing to get my music collection back up and running:

  • Downloaded default Linux package from GetSongbird.
  • Extracted package to directory of my choice. Right now it’s sitting in ~/Desktop/Songbird, but I expect to move it to a more appropriate /opt/songbird soon.
  • Removed all gstreamer libraries from the main installation as per this comment in the Gentoo bug tracker:
    rm -rf lib/libgst*
  • Added Songbird to my GNOME menu in Sound and Video category. I haven’t been able to pick an appropriate icon – any official ones or suggestions?

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.
Categories: Jake B Tags: , , , , ,

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 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.

A Pretty New Desktop Theme

September 5th, 2009 No comments

This morning I spent some more time messing around with Compiz. I followed this tutorial to add an alternative repository to my sources list that keeps a more up to date version of Compiz around. When I ran the install initially, it errored out and broke a couple of my packages, but after fully removing Compiz through Synaptic, I was able to get the install process to work with no issues. It added a number of plugins to Compiz, along with the Emerald Theme Manager.

After messing about with Emerald, grabbing some great new wallpaper from Open Source Wallpaper, and screwing about with the Gnome theme for a few minutes, I ended up with this desktop:

Pretty Desktop

I think that this is a great improvement over the default desktop:

Debian_GNOME Default Desktop

Finally Up and Running

September 3rd, 2009 1 comment

As you may recall, last night, I ruined my system by manually editing the xorg.conf config file according to a sketchy tutorial on the Debian Wiki. This evening, I fixed the problem and got Compiz effects running in all of 20 minutes. The moral of the story: Before fucking about online, use the resources that are right in front of you.

Firstly: Fixing X

When I edited the xorg.conf file last night, I made a mistake, and every time X tried to load on startup, it failed out. At the time, I was bleary-eyed and half in the bag, and didn’t realize that when this happened, Debian presented me with the ability to log into the terminal and fix my silly mistakes.

Refreshed and ready to go, I logged into the terminal as root this evening, loaded the config file in question, took out my changes, saved, and restarted. Lo and behold, everything worked perfectly, and I got my desktop back.

Part B: Getting Compiz

After enabling OpenGL support and 3D hardware acceleration last night, I immediately attempted to get the Compiz suite of relatively useless eye candy nonsense up and running, a process that lead directly to me bricking my system.

The first tutorial that I tried to follow last night instructed me to edit my sources list and download the required packages from a third-party mirror… Until I scrolled down (after already doing all of the suggested actions), and realized that the entire tutorial was outdated because Compiz had since been migrated into the Debian repositories. I more or less succeeded in disabling all of those changes, in the sense that undoing them didn’t break anything apparent.

The next step was a quick dash over to the Debian Wiki for information on how to install Compiz properly, which I assumed could be had from this tutorial. Turns out I was wrong, because while the package installs that it reccomends mostly succeeded, when I tried to enable Compiz, it errored out and locked up my desktop.

Pissed off, I tried making the suggested changes to the xorg.conf file that are suggested in the tutorial, which to my dismay, resulted in X locking up because of errors in my freshly edited config file. This brings us roughly to where I was at with last night’s post.

Once I had restored my desktop and come to my senses, getting Compiz was actually a snap. I launched the Aptitude package manager from a root terminal, searched for the Compiz package, and let it take care of handling any dependencies and conflicts for me. In the process, it handily uninstalled a few garbage packages that I had added last night while fucking things up.

With Compiz properly installed, I used the Synaptic package manager (the graphical front-end to Aptitude) to add the Fusion Icon package (a Compiz control icon) to my taskbar for easy access, and sat back to have a celebratory beer and enjoy me some Wobbly Windows. Another moral for the story: The Debian Wiki sucks, and has lead me astray one too many times. From here on in, I will take everything that it claims with a truckfull of salt.

(Supposed) Icing on the Cake: Screenlets

Lastly, I added the Screenlets package, which allows me to have Vista-like widgets on my desktop that do silly things like monitoring my internals and wasting my system resources. So far, I’ve found the default screenlets to be pretty lame and useless, and I don’t quite understand the process of installing a new screenlet yet. I’ll get back to this in a later post.