Category Archives: Linux
Get to see the way I see Linux running on my system!
One of the primary reasons I was attracted to Linux was the due to the visual aspect of the whole thing. Now, I know that this becomes a paradoxical statement on my part when I string beauty and Linux in the same sentence! The common (and in my opinion illogical) perception of Linux is that it is extremely clunky and not at all user friendly. The terminal, the Microsoft FUDs and geeky imagery attached with it has not helped it either. But, Linux, in the visual sense is simply beautiful! I was mesmerized by the breath-taking visuals of SuSE Linux 9! KDE3, the beautiful crystal icons, the green tinge, the smooth icons; everything reeked of professionalism. And what did I have next to it? Windows ME! Enough said.
But that was 2004. Fast forward to nearly a decade to the present day. I have been a wholehearted user of Linux at home, with most of my work done on Ubuntu. Moreover, thanks to Wine and Google Drive, I can do my office work on Linux without any difficulty whatsoever. Feeling nostalgic, I decided to give the latest incarnation of OpenSUSE 12.3 a try. OpenSUSE is the free version of SuSE Enterprise Linux, akin to Fedora for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. It is a community driven testbed for new software! As in most distros, it comes in various flavours, such as GNOME, KDE, XFCE etc. I downloaded the KDE version, since I was most acquainted with it on a SuSE system, using it nearly after a decade. The Live CD ISO does not work with UnetBootIn, but has its own USB installation tool called Image Writer.
Booting the distribution from a USB stick, I was presented with a beautiful desktop, with a darkish theme and all, giving it Mint-ish look! During live boot, the OS detected my LAN connection but could not find the wireless LAN setting. The installation process was fairly easy, but quite detailed, akin to Anaconda, the Fedora installer.
The installation system is well integrated, with YaST handling it superbly. It has quite a few steps, including a EULA-like disclaimer! The hard disk selection was complicated to say the least, but once you got the hang of it, the system is extremely powerful too.
Time and Location selection had been lifted straight out of a page from Ubuntu, with a similar geographic map, but power users can also select from the menus provided below. If connected to the internet, the installer allows you to install other packages at one go as well, which is , great for unattended installations. The installation, due to its complexity, longer than Ubuntu and its derivatives. Post installation, the installer asks for a reboot. After the reboot, I had seen everything! The most beautiful GRUB menu on a computer! Just google it to see what it looks like! Unlike Ubuntu though, the system does not reboot to the desktop with runlevel 5 activated, it proceeds to download the latest updates as well. After updating, I finally get to see the installed desktop. The desktop is an absolute copy of the Live USB system, without the Installer icon of course!
The operating system comes with a decent suite of applications. There is Firefox for internet browsing as well as the veritable KDE Konqueror, pus there lies LibreOffice productivity suite. For multimedia, Amarok is present as well. Moreover, there were some quirky programs here and there! For example, the system came with certain games as well as Marble, the KDE Atlas. All programs feel tightly integrated in to the system, with Firefox feeling like a KDE program, and LibreOffice having OpenSUSE branding. There were some rough ends as well. The system could not detect my internet connection, either over LAN or over Wi-Fi. A few tweaks here and there, and I had access to porn! The Network Management icon at the taskbar was also a source of visual irritation. It contrasted in all of its coloured glory with the rest of the
monochrome icons! The best thing about OpenSUSE has to be YaST. It is the perfect Control Panel for controlling nearly every aspect of the distribution. Though most Linux enthusiasts I know prefer to dabble with text files to change settings,
YaST gives them a similar amount of control while in a comfortable GUI environment. For those who prefer to work from the console, YaST has an ncurses environment too. Moreover, the classic Linux text file approach still works! So everyone gets to be happy.
For all that jazz though there were problems aplenty! First off, the newly installed system could not connect to the internet over either Wi-Fi or LAN. There was a problem with the network management daemon. I guess it conflicted with the YaST network tool, since selecting YaST with ifup to configure the network worked flawlessly. If the daemon did not work, it should have been made to choose YaST and ifup as the default network selection tool. Moreover, the system failed to update repositories. It failed to find the repomd.xml file, which resulted in the error. A quick google search and the generous folks at the OpenSUSE forum made updating easy and flawless. All of this happened at the course of a single boot instance in a single day! Again, this showed the shoddy work by the SuSE quality team! And….. Why was LibreOffice stuck at 3.6, while KDE was at 4.10? Beats me hands down!
Overall, the system is okay, though not frugal on resources. Yet it does not feel sluggish. In fact, KDE, with more RAM usage worked better than what Unity did in the same machine. Since OpenSUSE uses the RPM package management system, it is not as streamlined as the Debian based distros with APT! On the whole though, I am quite happy with OpenSUSE 12.3, even though there are niggles which makes it look more like a side project by a small company, compared to coming from industry giant Novell.
One of my personal favourite distributions of Linux, Ubuntu had launched day before yesterday, and being the Linux geek that I am, I wanted to try it out first hand. While I did not enjoy the Unity interface when it launched a few years back, being too alien to my Window-Task-bar-Start-Menu centric thought process, I had certainly warmed up to it, and surprisingly, it is quite apt (forgive the pun) on small screens with low resolutions such as my Asus EEE PC. Unfortunately for me, the experience was not what I had expected…. at all!
Running this Operating System on a netbook, I had no other option but to boot the downloaded ISO file from a USB drive. I used the old and trusted UnetBootin application, and hit a snag from the very beginning….. before Ubuntu had even booted! The UnetBootin process went well, no hitches there. It did its job and showed my the now-familiar Black and Blue Boot Menu….. I selected Default, and lo behold, it could not find any kernel! I mean seriously??? No kernel??? The third Option of “Try Ubuntu without Installing” worked well, and I was finally logged in to the graphical Unity Desktop. The Ubiquity Installer felt the same as 12.04 and 12.10 editions, with updated slides.
Coming from Ubuntu 12.10, I decided to install it afresh, leaving no remnants of my previous installation. The system has certain cosmetic changes, compared to the previous version, but it very aesthetically pleasing….. The Unity Icon has subtle accents, enhancing the overall look. The icons are mostly the same, though Nautilus, the file manager gets a fresh icon. I disliked the default icons and pimped up my system with the beautiful Faenza icons giving some much required Jazz! Unfortunately, the Unity Lens has some buggy code and has ugly flickers in the new Background Blur Mode, especially in my Intel GMA 3150 system. Nothing major, but definitely distracting. As in 12.10, the Unity Interface is deeply integrated to Amazon search and shows titles selling everything from books to CDs when used for searching apps, which is a serious eyesore. The shutdown dialogue is nice, maybe a bit too flashy, but definitely innovative.
The file browser Nautilus had changed too. It did not carry the usual upper menu bar, but had a single button to access various features, placed on the right hand side of the location bar. It reminds me severely of Google Chrome Browser and the new Epiphany browser for Gnome 3! Why everyone is aping the “latest hot product” is in fact beyond me! It looks like the only ones going ahead with genuine innovation is Mozilla, especially with Firefox and Thunderbird.
The default Ubuntu installation does not come with the requisite multimedia plugins installed, so no MP3s, H.264 and other fancy multimedia stuff was enabled out of the box. However, similar to previous editions, but both Totem and Rhytmbox downloads the requisite packages when faced with the an unknown codec. Similarly, one has to download the Flash plugins to view YouTube videos too.
I had read about Ubuntu going social and stuff, but I did NOT realize things would be bad, almost to the point of insanity. I decided to set up Empathy the chat client for some Facebook chat. It simply asked me to configure my account and so I did. After the username and password page, this cropped up….. Now WHAT THE FUCK IS SUPPOSED TO MEAN BY THIS??? “Ubuntu would like to post to your friends on your behalf.” This does not look cool. In fact it reeks of Marketing and User Control at best and phishing and social engineering at worst. Moreover, not agreeing to the above state does not configure Empathy for Facebook Chat. Who is Canonical to hijack my Facebook or social media account and use me as a billboard?!? Unfortunately, this We-Know-Best-and-you-all-can-Fuck-Off attitude makes not just me, but most people mad. And this comes not from the small players but the leaders in business! Case in point – Microsoft and that hideous Windows 8 interface; the new Gmail compose which boils the formal aspect of sending emails down to inane web chat and finally this! I am not a 15 year old who needs to regurgitate his nondescript life through Failbook and Tw@tter posts! My message to the big players out there (Google, Microsoft, Canonical)…. These kids ARE NOT your core buyers. They might be a sizable one, but if you piss off the core users, you are basically ignoring your best customers.
Enough of my rant! Overall, the Operating system is responsive, and uses only 370 megs of memory, even in 64 bit. There are no hiccups as such and everything gels with each other nicely. The boot time has also reduced considerably, even on my SATA HDD Based setup, so no complaints there. Canonical decided to reduce the support from 18 moths to 9 months, forcing anyone not using the LTS version to upgrade to the next version. In the end, this is rock-solid, stylish and stable implementation of a Linux Desktop.
I do not know why, but the world is slowly moving towards smartphones. Ever since Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, we have seen a whole gamut of devices combining a cellphone, a touch-input based computing device along with some other bells and whistles based on a similar premise. While Apple, as usual, did not create anything new – touch screen phones were already there prior to the iPhone (Palm anyone?), the iPhone gave it mainstream popularity, smartphones became cool. Apple did the same thing to smartphones as it had previously done with the GUI in Macintosh or the portable media player with the iPod. Android was Google’s answer to the iPhone, with some heavy dose of open-source niceties.
I wont rant about the origins of the Android operating system – since a quick look through this article would give you a fair share of it. The biggest advantage of the Android OS, other than the fact that it is open-source is that it uses the Linux kernel – and given the propensity of Mr. Torvalds’ operating system, we are seeing this OS run on a whole slew of devices, even a (God forbid!) toaster!
Android was originally developed for the mobile platform, using the highly efficient ARM processor architecture to run it. As a result, the OS and its binaries were incompatible for the x86 architecture which Intel, AMD and other PC manufacturers use. Some nice people successfully ported the Android OS on to the x86 architecture, calling the project Android for x86 or Android-x86 in short. Currently these guys maintain a Google Code page where you can download the latest ISO to install on to your system. They provide stable as well as RC (run-time candidate) builds plus daily night-time builds. At the time of writing, they latest version is the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich RC2. Instead of generic ISOs though, these guys currently provide ISOs tuned for specific hardware like the Asus EEE PC family or the AMD Brazos system.
Installing Android was really very simple, if you have some idea about Linux distros – just download the ISO file, it is under 200MB; burn it on to a disk or write it to a USB thumb drive with UnetBootin and you are good to go! Like most modern Linux distros, the Android ISO file has a live-mode as well as a text-only installer mode.
I downloaded the Asus EEE PC tuned ISO to try it out on my three-month old Asus EEE PC 1015PX with 1GB RAM and an Intel Atom 570 Dual Core processor.
Just after the initial boot process, the Android system will ask you to log in with your Google user-name and password. Rest assured that like all Google services, the Android system is tightly integrated to the Google world – one single user-name/password combination is enough to let you access Android, Google Play Store, Gmail, Picasa etc. On the other hand, the Google sync automatically syncs my netbook Gallery with Picasa. So, if you have any naughty pics on your Android phone or tablet, it is already synced to Google Picasa! Moreover, if you want to buy paid apps from the Google Play Store, you have to provide your credit-card details too!
Most of my hardware on the Asus EEE PC worked right out of the box, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the multi-touch touchpad. The screen resolution was maxed at 1024×600 pixels, which is the greatest for this netbook. Surprisingly, accelerated graphics also worked out of the box.
What was missing, and it is in my humble opinion a HUGE loss of usability is the lack of support for USB Modems. My Huawei EC159 simply refused to work on the system. Other than that, Android could not view my hard drives, especially the NTFS ones. It could detect FAT32 USB drives, but they were mounted at an obscure location at /mnt/USB.
The Android-x86 successfully transformed my Netbook screen to a tablet look-alike sans the touchscreen. On the top left corner is the prominent Google branding – which also acts as a search bar. The bottom left has three buttons; Back, Home Screen and Last Used Apps. The bottom right houses the notification area with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Cellular Strength, Current Downloads, Currently playing Tracks etc. The top right corner has the App-Page menu button.
Quite a few apps are installed by default. You have the usual Google apps like Maps, Gmail, Gtalk and Google+. Then there are some multimedia apps such Movie Editor, Play Music and YouTube. The browser is there,which is totally based off Google Chrome. There are developer apps like the Terminal Emulator and Dev Tools and there are some really crappy games too! Oh, I forgot to mention the stupidest app installed, Global Time which just shows the Globe! On the whole it is close to the mobile/tablet experience. The developers have also ported the Google Play Store to let you buy more apps. But currently, there are only a few apps for the x86 architecture. There are a large number of widgets that you can add to the home screen to add some more visual jazz!
As far as look-and-feel of Android-x86, the developers have successfully replicated the Android tablet experience on to the netbook. Though I prefer not to rant about it and be a troll, the system does not feel highly usable. I hate to admit it, but the Android UI lacks multi-tasking, a feature most Windows and Mac OS X users take for granted. (Not to forget GNOME, KDE, XFCE, LXDE users too!) Sure, it can play your MP3s while you browse the web, but the whole premise of “One-App-At-A-Time”is counter-productive on a laptop/desktop environment.
Under the Hood
Everyone knows that Google’s Android is based on the Linux kernel, effectively doing what Apple did quite some years ago with FreeBSD. But the guys at Google just adapted a portion of the kernel. While it ensures a very stable and enriching mobile experience, the same cannot be said for a netbook. Any Windows user opening the file manager for the first time would surely be confused by the hierarchy (Same is true for Linux and Mac OS X!) while any seasoned UNIX/Linux user would feel that the system is incomplete. The Android-x86 ships with a terminal emulator with an ugly blue background, but it lacks even basic functionality of quite a few commands. Let me give you an example: If you type “lspci” or “lsusb” command to view the installed devices on the system, the output is just the bus id, vendor id and product id in hex. Even on the most basic Linux system, the product name is displayed too! Similarly, the C libraries are seriously deprecated too. Google chose Java for application development due to cross compatibility, but then if cross compatibility is present, why isn’t most Java-based games and apps not running on the x86 platform? Google could have developed a separate code base different architectures too! While it would have meant more work for the developer, it would have ensured better app development for operating system. On the whole, system feels like a half-assed implementation of UNIX!
I hate to admit it, but I have to agree with Dedoimedo’s blog post about Android-x86. An OS built for a smartphone does not feel at home on a full-blown desktop-based system. Moreover, looking at the smartphone scenario, the move from feature-phones to smartphones isn’t that smart. A smartphone can never be that hallowed “All-in-One” device, replacing a camera, PSP and iPod all at once! Porting Android to a PC might be good to check cross-platform compatibility, but it robs the essence of a computer. A PC/Laptop/Netbook, whatever you might call it, is first and foremost a productivity device with entertainment add-ons. The Android for x86 makes it an entertainment device with productivity as an add on!
29th October 2009 was one of the most anticipated days in the whole computing and Linux community, with a lot of hype being generated by Canonical for its flagship Linux distro, Ubuntu Linux. With Microsoft’s Windows 7 and Apple’s Mac OS X releasing in the fall along with Ubuntu 9.10, the OS market was in for a 3-way match. Like most others I also waited for Ubuntu to launch, being stuck in my brand new Compaq CQ40 laptop with the ghastly Windows Vista.
I finally found the link on 30th October. Downloading it took ages, due to all the traffic (an unbelievable 8 hours). Then quickly I downloaded the UNetBootIn program for Windows (2 A.M. in the morning and no blank CD at hand), installed it on my USB stick and booted it. The boot screen it presented was reminiscent of previous Ubuntu versions I’ve used (8.04 and 8.10). Canonical had changed the default usplash theme into a very Apple-esque style, a pulsing white Ubuntu logo. Booting into it, it showed a very cool Orange desktop, and the now familiar Ubuntu installer icon. Most of the hardware worked out-of-the-box, including my bluetooth adapter, the Alps touchpad, RealTek Ethernet, (Debian couldn’t run this baby.) No wireless networking and compositing graphics, though. The “Hardware Drivers” detected it though. And my final hardware test that only Debian could pass, a rare Chinese USB modem was detected by Ubuntu 9.10, though it could not run it through Network-Manager. I had to use pppconfig to set it up. Finally, being satisfied with the hardware options, I installed it on my hard disk. Forgetting that I had only two partitions, one of 11 GB and the rest being approximately 300 GB. I had to reinstall Windows Vista changing my partitions to my preference. (Need Vista, most of my hardware like sound-card and SD-MMC reader has no driver, so XP doesn’t work. Plus Linux still doesn’t run Need For Speed and GTA.) I rebooted my USB drive with Ubuntu and installed. The standard Ubuntu installer is still there, with the added advantage of being twice faster. (Could be due to I’m running it from a USB stick). The installer though has a minor bug. During selecting the clock, the distro changes the setting of my hardware clock, considering the BIOS clock time to be based as USA Eastern. No hitches other than that.
Ubuntu made me realize the potential of my AMD AthlonX2, with 3GB of RAM (standard fare). But still, for me, coming from a PC having only a Intel Pentium 4 with 256 MB of RAM, it looks damn fast. I plugged in my LAN wire provided by my college and quickly installed the Broadcom wireless drivers and the ATI Radeon drivers for my graphics card. Voila, desktop compositing and squiggly windows in a single click! Ubuntu comes with a neat load of features. The audio backend is less buggy than 8.10 (nice work by the PulseAudio team). The audio properties window also has a “overdrive” system, where the volume can be increased up to 150%. In my laptop the function keys also work nice, and the notifications look cool. The default list of programs are well a standard that Ubuntu has set for other distros to follow. OpenOffice.org 3.1, Gimp, Totem, F-Spot are standard fare. The new ones include Empathy IM client, Ubuntu One and Ubuntu Software Center. I don’t know why Ubuntu decided to add Empathy, removing the trusted Pidgin IM client. They could have worked with Pidgin to integrate it better with Gnome. Anyways, Empathy sucks! The help is useless. I could not get onto Yahoo! Chat rooms with Empathy, it asked for servers. Pidgin got that in a flash. Ubuntu Software Center is just a modified version of “Add/Remove Programs” in previous Ubuntu versions. Ubuntu One is a cloud storage support, free up to 2 GB, something that currently Microsoft Windows does not provide (Windows 7 does have such an option though but it’s not cheap.) Time to have some fun!
With the basics set up, it was time to set up my PC the way I like. I installed the codecs for most of the audio/video formats (gstreamer good, bad and ugly) as well as the Avant Windows Navigator, set it up to look cooler, with a MAC OS X style look, and changed some other options. Still I had not yet touched the command line, installing everything from Synaptic. I decided to try the command line a bit,
$ sudo apt-get install vlc dosbox fluidsynth qsynth timidity fluid-soundfont-gm fluid-soundfont-gs
OpenOffice opens Microsoft Office 2007 documents by default, the ‘de-facto’ standard nowadays in corporate places. Feeling a bit sorry and nostalgic about Windows, and the old days, I installed Windows 3.11 (something I found on a certain abandonware site, won’t tell which one. More about that later.) running on top of Ubuntu and Dosbox.
Things I missed in Ubuntu
There is nothing I can say I dislike about Ubuntu 9.10 though I miss certain things that I found better in other Linux distros (their USP I guess). First of all, though it is simplified for a ordinary user to use, it does not have a proper Control Panel, ala Windows. SuSE has their YaST, which currently is open source, so it’s high time Canonical incorporated something like that in Ubuntu. If you need more control in Ubuntu, you have to hit the Terminal, something that scares the hell out of novice people. The RTFM approach might work for Gentoo, but never for Ubuntu. Secondly, the brown/orange theme, though being very cool, looks sickening after some time (personal opinion, nothing to do with Ubuntu!). On a scale of 10 I would rate it 9/10, it is a very cool distro, something I would like to keep on my laptop until Ubuntu 10.4 comes out.