A Mind Lost

Anything and everything.

Category Archives: Linux

Entware-ng on TS-251+

I’ve had a bit more time to mess around with my NAS as I try to make it less just a storage device and more a private home server.  Most of the included server software works just fine, and is even fairly up to date (PHP’s only a few minor rev’s out of date, while Apache is the latest 2.2.*).

I’m still a bit annoyed about the SSH daemon restricting logins to the admin account only.  Like most *nix users, I’m not overly fond of the idea of working in the root account, where one typo can hose the system.  While it somewhat makes sense given the nature of the device, I’d still prefer the ability to log in as any user I like.  Assigned to the proper groups, and with the appropriate security considerations and judicious use of account elevation, there’s no reason not to allow it (although neither su or sudo seem to be available in the default firmware).

Enter Entware-ng.  I feel like I’m more than a little late to the party, but from what I understand there have been several methods of getting software onto QNAP hardware outside of the QNAP provided Applications installer – Qnapware, Optware, and now Entware-ng.

Entware-ng is a “software repository for embedded devices like routers or network attached storages” that uses the OpenWrt buildroot to bring many (about 1,800) software packages to numerous Linux devices and architectures.

Installing Entware-ng on my TS-251+ was as simple as downloading one package and installing it via the QTS App Centre.  The TS-251+ runs x86_64 Linux, but I grabbed the autodetect package and let it do it’s thing.

Entware-ng installs to the /opt directory, which ends up as a symlink to /share/CACHEDEV1_DATA/.qpkg/Entware-ng/ (CACHEDEV1_DATA is the root of the internal storage on the NAS).  Beneath it, we have all the usual subdirectories like bin, share, etc and so on.

Once installed we can shell into the NAS and manage packages via the opkg package manager (*sigh* another bloody package manager to become familiar with).  There’s a list of available packages one can peruse, and it seems to be quite exhaustive.  If you need a SSH client, and are on Windows, PuTTY is highly recommended.  I usually just use the SSH client available as part of MSYS2.  Cygwin also includes a SSH client, as does pretty much every Linux distribution.

At this point I’ve only installed a few packages to test things out, like Midnight Commander and sudo, in preparation for having an unrestricted SSHd.  I feel like I’m playing catch-up on the last few years of (embedded) Linux stuff.  I haven’t really used Linux outside of running a few VMs here and there (I’ve just setup an ArchLinux VM to try it out) for a number of years now, and beyond occasionally opening up an MSYS2 or Cygwin shell to use some *nixy command, my *nix-fu has become quite weak.  Plus, I find that as I get older it gets harder and harder to learn and retain this stuff, or even remember things that I remember knowing!

Next up I’ll have to figure out how to get the Entware-ng SSHd running in place of the stock QNAP version.  I’d also like to set the NAS up as a DNS server with dnsmasq servicing requests for my home network, and maybe even a web proxy with squid.  I’m also planning to check out the OpenWrt buildroot system, as I know just the very basics about cross-compilation.  For the time being, it’s back to the forums and wikis to wrap my head around this stuff.  If the process is complicated, I’ll follow up this post with another detailing what steps were necessary.  Then again, I might just be thick and making this out to be harder than it is.

Getting old sucks, btw.

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QNAP TS-251+

A while back I picked up my first NAS, a QNAP TS-251+. I’ve been wanting to set up some sort of network storage for years now, but never really had the means (read: money) to do so.  I had considered repurposing an old computer to run something like FreeNAS, but ’round here they’re usually handed down to family members as I upgrade to newer hardware.  The other problem, of course, is that desktop-class hardware is overkill for such a job.

The TS-251+ is a slight upgrade over it’s predecessor, featuring a quad-core 2.0 GHz Intel Celeron processor capable of bursting up to 2.42GHz (the older TS-251 features a dual-core part clocked at 2.41GHz that can burst up to 2.58GHz), 2GB of RAM, and supporting up to two drives.  I upgraded the RAM to 8GB with a pair of Corsair Vengeance 4GB sticks, which is the maximum amount of memory the unit supports.

For storage, I bought a pair of 3TB Western Digital ‘Red’ NAS drives, configured to run in RAID 1 (mirroring).  As I’m primarily using the NAS as a backup solution, redundancy is particularly important.  While it would have been nice to load it up with the biggest drives it can handle, the 3TB drives were at the sweet spot between price and capacity.  I also have a 3TB Western Digital MyBook that, once I get everything organized, I’m planning to wipe and use to backup the NAS, just in case.

On the software side, the NAS runs a 64-bit Linux… sorry, GNU/Linux, underneath QNAP’s interface.  While it’s set up a little differently from what I’m used to (Slackware, primarily), it’s familiar enough that I’m not too lost.  There’s a decent selection of server software available, including Apache, ProFTPd, and SSH.

One annoyance, however, is that only the admin account can be used to connect via SSH.  There’s no easy way around it as, from what I’ve read, this behaviour is hard-coded into the server binary.  Digging through old forum posts and the QNAP wiki did yield some ways to bypass the restrictions of the SSH server, but no sooner would I look deeper into what was suggested before I’d come across information that would render the suggestions moot.  Turns out there’s been a handful of methods of getting 3rd party software onto QNAP’s devices (Optware?), but the ones I looked into had been deprecated in favour of something called Entware-ng.  I haven’t really had time to look into it further, but it seems like it should be possible to install a SSH daemon that’s not restricted.

Other than slowly starting to migrate my media collection to the NAS, I haven’t done a whole lot else with it yet.  All my music and a handful of videos are on it, and play fine over Samba, although occasionally my computer loses connection with the NAS.  I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I suspect it’s my router; I’ve got a shitty Bell Connection Hub that’s a combo modem/router.  The routery part of it is not that impressive.  Unfortunately, when I tried putting it into bridged mode to run my own router, I ended up getting lower throughput than running everything through the CH.  Why, I don’t know.  The modem has Gb ethernet ports, as does my ASUS router, so there’s no reason the speeds should be lower.

But I digress.  The NAS supports a bunch of neat features I’ve yet to experiment with like on-the-fly media transcoding and virtualization.  I did set up a wiki with DokuWiki to make it a little easier to share some stuff. I went with DokuWiki because it supports flat files for content storage.  Although the NAS includes an SQL server (MariaDB), flat files are ideal for my needs.

My family’s not all that used to things like SMB shares and network drives and all that, but a web page is something they can understand.  It’ll be tedious, creating pages for the stuff they want, but I’m sure there’s some bit of software out there that can make the process easier.  If not, it’ll be a great excuse to brush up on my shell scripting, or maybe learn Python, to hack together some sort of a tool that can be autorun from a cron job to automate pulling data out of info files to generate content accessible through DokuWiki.

First, though, I’ve gotta finish dumping several gigs of content onto it.

I wish I had something more informational to post, rather than just rambling on about some piece of hardware I bought, but I don’t.  I need to find something interesting to say, instead of leaving this blog to languish.

Linux Mint 13

Haven’t really had much to say lately.  Windows 7 has been surprisingly obedient, and without any issues I haven’t had much to complain about.  I even finally managed to get Service Pack 1 to behave, after every previous attempt ended in inexplicable bluescreens!

As for Windows 8, I’ll be giving that a pass.  The new UI doesn’t appeal to me at all, and with a smooth-sailing 7 x64 installation I see no reason to upgrade.

What this post is really about, as the title indicates, is Linux Mint.  I tried Mint 12 way back in January, and was not particularly impressed.  Well, a few weeks back I decided to scrap the Slackware install on my notebook, an aging ASUS F8Sn-B1.  Within is an Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 clocked at 2.1GHz, 3GB of memory, an Nvidia Geforce 9500M GS with 512MB of dedicated memory, and the only upgrade I’ve made to it, a 640GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue drive.  Originally I had upgraded to a 500GB Scorpio Black from the stock 250GB Toshiba drive, but after just a few hours of power-on the BIOS started reporting S.M.A.R.T. errors.  RMA’ing the drive required jumping through a few hoops as the drive’s serial number didn’t match where I had purchased the drive from (I’m in Canada).  Western Digital eventually sorted it out with no problems, and I did get an RMA, but in the meantime I had picked up the 640GB drive.

As with my previous try with Mint, the installer went smooth as butter, this time without stalls.  I selected the Xfce version of Mint as I wanted something light yet functional.  After a month of use, I really had no complaints whatsoever, and while I missed Slackware due to my familiarity with it, the ease of software installation and dependency resolution assuaged both my yearning and my guilt.

Unfortunately, I am ever the tinkerer.  The replacement Scorpio Black drive, which had seen infrequent use as an external drive, was taunting me to swap it into the notebook for its better performance.  Don’t get me wrong, the Blue drive has worked great (I also put a desktop Scorpio Blue in the desktop I gave my Dad), but I just couldn’t resist.

This time I decided to give a different flavour of Mint a try.  I started with the KDE version, which is my preference over Gnome and its relatives.  After installing and updating, I set about to tweaking.  One of the features I love about KDE is its customizability.  One of the things I don’t like, however, is its apparent performance.  KDE 4 has always felt “laggy” to me.  Opening windows, moving them, closing them, the interface just feels sluggish.  I don’t remember KDE 3, which I loved, suffering from this.  While it’s not a deal breaker, it is an annoyance.

Then I came across a problem with fonts.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the fonts in KDE’s application launcher to look right.  Everything else was fine, desktop, taskbar, tray, and application fonts all looked ok.  Even GTK applications looked great!  Being near-sighted, I find I am sensitive to fonts that don’t look right (and bits of dust and hair on the screen, my laptop’s screen is like a magnet to such), and blurry/fuzzy fonts are just unacceptable.

So with the fonts driving me nuts, something inside me broke for a minute and I decided that since the GTK app fonts looked great, I’d give the Cinnamon version of Mint a try.  Download, wipe, install and update again.

Yes, I realize I could have just grabbed everything via Synaptic and done an in-place change to Cinnamon, but I reasoned that if I was switching to Cinnamon I wouldn’t need the bulk of the KDE stuff, and that it was just easier to grab a different .ISO, rather than tediously going through all the installed packages and removing the unneeded ones.

So, Cinnamon.  The Mint guys have done a great job making Gnome 3 usable, so much “props” to them for that, but it’s still Gnome and I really just don’t like it.  I haven’t used Unity, and probably never will as I don’t like the direction they’ve taken with it as a user interface (much the same as I don’t like Windows 8’s Metro).  But no matter the work they put in to Cinnamon, it’s still Gnome, and I find there’s just not enough options to make me feel comfortable with it.  And the application launcher is horrible!

There were other little things that bothered me, such as the Alt+F2 launcher not offering suggestions, but the final straw came when X crashed in the midst of opening a window and dumped me back to the login manager, a problem I did not experience in either Xfce or KDE.

I didn’t try the Debian edition of Linux Mint, because after KDE, then Cinnamon, I was frustrated and had had enough.  So, I’ve come full circle and reinstall Linux Mint Xfce.  My notebook feels snappy and the interface offers enough customization to make me happy (though to be honest I like Xfce’s out-of-box experience).

The TL;DR is Linux Mint 13 Xfce gets a definite two thumbs up from me.

Something else I want to mention here regarding the Western Digital Scorpio Black drive.  As with many drives from WD, it seemed particularly aggressive about parking the head.  Every 8 seconds without activity the drive would emit a loud clunk as it moved the head into the landing zone.

I also experienced this with the Scorpio Blue, and worked around the issue by adding a call to hdparm within the local rc startup script (/etc/rc.d/rc.local in Slackware, and /etc/rc.local in Mint):

hdparm -B 255 /dev/sda

This completely shuts off power-management for the drive.  I did the same with the Black drive, but this had no apparent effect!  After Googling, I came across the WDIDLE3 utility on Western Digital’s website.  This software cannot be run under anything but DOS; fortunately, I happen to have a bootable USB drive with a copy of FreeDOS on it.  Keeping a bootable FreeDOS USB stick has been incredibly useful, as I also used it to flash the firmware for my motherboard’s Asmedia USB 3 hardware.  Also, I nostalgia’d hard upon seeing a fullscreen bare C:\ prompt.  Oh the memories.

However, even after using the software to completely disable the idle timer, the drive was still merrily clicking away as it parked the head.  After another reboot in to FreeDOS, I decided to set the timer to its maximim value of 300 (that’s 5 minutes).  Since the drive is touched in some way in much smaller intervals than 5 minutes, this has effectively worked to eliminate the head parking.

Note that the head parking is, in general, a good thing.  However, for my usage scenario it’s not necessary.  I don’t carry the notebook around while it’s running, or often move or jostle it.  I’m fairly delicate with my computers.

Also note that although the drive (I don’t have the exact model available atm) wasn’t listed on the WDIDLE3 page, the program did work just fine.  YMMV, just be aware that messing with low-level stuff like this can render your hardware useless.

Linux Mint 12

I have an old computer that was gathering dust in the closet that I decided to try the recently released “Linux Mint 12” on.

Specifically, it’s an Athlon XP 2200+ clocked at 1.8GHz, with a GB of whatever RAM I could throw in it, a 120GB hard drive and an ancient GeForce3 Ti200 with 128MB of memory.  Not a powerhouse machine but it should easily be more than enough to run Linux, even a fairly modern distro.

The installation was painless but time-consuming.  There seemed to be some sort of a problem where the system would stop doing anything until I jiggled the mouse.  Then it would continue installing for a bit before pausing again.

Finally, after installing and performing a first time update (which again required some mouse jiggling… I can’t help but wonder if there’s a problem with the USB port), including switching to the proprietary NVidia driver for the display adapter, I rebooted and logged in to play.  Almost immediately both the top and bottom panels, as well as the window decorations, disappeared, along with the greetings splash screen.  After a short time they all came back up, but bringing up the menu and mousing over an entry caused everything to crash again.

Switching to tty1 and checking the system log, I found that gnome-shell is segfaulting in “libGLcore.so.96.43.20”.  Presumably this is a part of the NVidia driver, as the version number looks the same. There’s another segfault in “libcogl.so.5.0.0”, but I don’t recognize that shared library.

I have run Slackware on this machine, complete with the old NVidia blob, without problem.  I wanted to switch to Mint for ease of updates (I already run Slack as my main OS on my notebook, and while I thoroughly love it, it is time-consuming to update and keep running smoothly).

Switching to Gnome (Classic) from the login manager appears to have fixed things, so something is evidently going wonky in the new Gnome.  I don’t know, I’m not familiar enough with Gnome to make even an uneducated guess.  I have never been a Gnome fan, preferring KDE, xfce, and Openbox (in reverse order of preference).

I should also note that for whatever reason the NVidia X Server Settings display shows the graphics card’s Bus ID as ?@?:?:?, with an unknown PCI Device and Vendor ID.  Strange to say the least.

I think for now this’ll go back into the closet for another couple years and I’ll limit my testing to a virtual machine.  I’m not planning to replace my notebook OS any time soon, especially not after I’ve spent so long getting it to work just right.  I’m sure the Mint developers work very hard to make Ubuntu usable, but it’s just not for me.

And now, a moderately amusing picture:

Reinstalling… again

Back in March I picked up a Western Digital Scorpio Black 500GB drive for my notebook to replace the Toshiba 250GB 5400RPM drive that came with it.  After the initial setup and installation of a dual-boot Windows 7/Slackware system, I barely touched the machine until two weeks ago.  Away on vacation with my kids, I fired up the notebook and, during the BIOS POST, received an error.

Specifically, it was a SMART error from the now four month old (technically about 6 months, from the manufacturing date) drive complaining that there was an End-to-End error (184).  I had to look it up, but found that this indicates a mismatch between data in the drive’s cache and what it actually found on the disk.

Western Digital’s warranty support site marked this drive as being “Out of Region”, which makes no sense to me.  I live in Canada, I purchased it in Canada, and it’s never left Canada.  The only support option open to me is to take advantage of their Customer Loyalty Program and “upgrade” the (brand new) drive to a Scorpio Blue of a larger capacity (640, 750 or 1TB).  Unfortunately, this is neither cost or performance effective.  It’s roughly $100.00 to “upgrade” the drive, and while the sizes are larger, the reason I bought a Scorpio Black in the first place was for the faster rotational speed and larger buffer size.

I did e-mail their support folks, and received a reply in which the respondent claimed he was going to elevate this through the proper channels to get the region status of my drive changed.  When that goes through I should be able to get an RMA.

In the interim, I first switched back to the 250GB drive and reinstalled.  Then I picked up a 640GB Scorpio Blue anyway (the price was right and cheaper than what Western Digital was offering) and reinstalled yet again.  I swear I could probably do this in my sleep with both hands tied behind my back.

Setting up Windows is so mind-numbing now.  Install drivers, reboot, install drivers, reboot, hunt for drivers because ASUS never put out anything for 64-bit versions of Windows.  The notebook is an ASUS F8Sn-B1, sporting an Intel Core2Duo @ 2.10GHz, 3GB of DDR2, and an nVidia GeForce 9500M GS with half a gig of memory.  Certainly not a powerhouse by today’s standards, but it gets the job done.  Unfortunately, it shipped with Vista, which I was quick to replace, and finding drivers first for XP and later for Win7 X64 has proven to be an annoying task.

Not so with Linux.  All the hardware works just fine, wireless (Intel 4965AGN), wired (Realtek 8111 GB Ethernet), Bluetooth, sound; I even recall managing to get the webcam working at one point, though I don’t bother with it any more.

The first thing I usually do is grab the latest kernel source and roll my own.  Slackware’s default kernels are great – I’ve never had one fail to boot a machine – but since they include just about everything (mostly modules, of course) they tend to be large and slow to boot.  I prefer a lean kernel that only provides for the hardware in the machine or could possibly be plugged in to it.  I also like using uvesafb to get a console in the display’s native resolution of 1280×800.  The smudge effect the console suffers from when it’s scaled it very hard on my eyes.

After the kernel comes X, which is also fairly trivial to configure.  I’ve kept my xorg.conf between installs, so it’s simply a matter of grabbing the latest nVidia driver for notebooks and letting its installer work its magic.  I’ve only once had a problem with the nVidia driver, a few years ago, when there was a change in the kernel that caused an error when compiling the blob (a structure had a member renamed, if I remember rightly).

With X I forgo the usual desktop environments in favour of OpenBox and tint2.  I used to like KDE, but these days I prefer the simplicity and flexibility OpenBox offers. I let wicd handle my wireless connection.

Finally, I follow the excellent tips provided by Dugan Chen for further tweaking Slackware, including rebuilding the various font rendering components for a nicer appearance.  He has made this fairly trivial, and I appreciate the work he’s put in to it.

While fully configuring Slackware (13.37-current) to my tastes usually takes a few days, compared to Windows’ few hours, it’s much more enjoyable and educational.  The only thing I haven’t got working yet is suspending/hibernating, but otherwise everything works perfectly.  I just need to figure out why coming back from suspend leaves me with a blank screen.

UPDATE: Suspending while X is running works fine, from a console it does not resume properly.  I believe this is caused by the video mode not being properly restored upon resume.  I believe there’s a program, vbetool, that can be used from by the scripts which manage suspension/hibernation to save and restore the proper video mode.  However, since I usually have X running I haven’t bothered looking in to it further.

Behind Slackware

Immersing myself in Slackware again lately, I came across a journal/blog “Human Readable” written by one Darrell Anderson. Mr. Anderson bemoans the features he thinks Slackware is lacking, so much so that one is left wondering if, in spite of his professed dedication to Slackware, he actually gets Slackware.  What follows are retorts to his long-winded rant about Slackware’s supposed deficiencies:

I am not wedded or bonded to Slackware. Most of the time I find the operating system useful for the way I like to maintain my computers. I discussed elsewhere why I would migrate away from Slackware. My reasons focus primarily on supporting other people who use a free/libre software operating system. Slackware is good enough for me and tends to stay out of my way. Slackware is not a good choice for “mom and pop” and non-technical users.

Perhaps this lack of bonding is the reason for his lack of “getting it”.  And by it’s very nature Slackware is not a good choice for “mom and pop”… or “grandad and gramma”, or “crazy aunt Bertha and her twelve cats”…
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Xen and the Art of Patience

I’ve spent the better part of two days trying to get Xen working properly.  It’s been a frustrating exercise in futility.  I’ve tried the official 4.0.1 tarball as well as unstable and testing checked out via Mercurial.

Every time I try to build Xen, it barfs part-way through with the following:

...
make[1]: Entering directory `/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-remote/i386-dm'
 CC    i386-dm/kvm.o
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c: In function 'kvm_arch_init_vcpu':
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c:47:5: warning: implicit declaration of function 'cpu_x86_cpuid'
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c: In function 'kvm_has_msr_star':
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c:159:49: error: 'MSR_STAR' undeclared (first use in this function)
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c:159:49: note: each undeclared identifier is reported only once for each function it appears in
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c: In function 'set_seg':
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c:219:27: error: 'DESC_TYPE_SHIFT' undeclared (first use in this function)
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c:220:29: error: 'DESC_P_MASK' undeclared (first use in this function)
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c:222:25: error: 'DESC_B_SHIFT' undeclared (first use in this function)
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c:223:23: error: 'DESC_S_MASK' undeclared (first use in this function)
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c:224:24: error: 'DESC_L_SHIFT' undeclared (first use in this function)
/usr/src/xen/xen-4.0-testing.hg/tools/ioemu-dir/target-i386/kvm.c:225:23: error: 'DESC_G_MASK' undeclared (first use in this function)
...

Using Google to try to figure out what’s screwed is equally frustrating.  The only “answer” I’ve managed to find are that Xen is attempting to include something that really shouldn’t be included any more.

http://lists.xensource.com/archives/html/xen-devel/2010-09/msg00156.html

I think the bug is that the Xen build system is failing to disable KVM
support in ioemu.  There is no point in that support and it will only
cause trouble.

If you look at "xen-setup" in the qemu tree you'll probably find that
you can just add --disable-xen to the configure line.  If that works
please send us a patch :-).

(The suggestion to add –disable-xen didn’t help).

I know how frustrating it is to find references to the specific issue I’m having, but being unable to find a working solution or even reasonable explanation. So if you’re having this problem, I’ll save you some time and tell you now I spent two days looking for a fix, and didn’t find squat.

So long, Kubuntu…

… hello Idunnoyet.

For Christmas I gave my elder son ol’ faithful, a dual-core Athlon64 X2 4200+.  Equipped with 2GB of DDR2, an EVGA GeForce 8800GTS, and a lone 250GB SATA hard drive, it is hardly a powerhouse but was more than suitable for playing with Linux (Kubuntu, as previously mentioned).

My son’s old hand-me-down from his grandad, an AthlonXP 2200+ with 512MB and a GeForce3 is far too old to play any of the latest PC games that have caught my son’s eye; specifically StarCraft 2 and the upcoming Diablo 3.

Anyway, wipe and install and he’s got XP SP3 flying on it and seems quite happy.  I plan on swapping the 8800GTS for a 250GTS I’ve got kicking around after upgrading my main machine to a 460GTX for Christmas (paired with a 24″ LED backlit Samsung display… sweet sweet 1920×1080 goodness).  I also got him his coveted StarCraft 2 for Christmas, which he’s been thoroughly enjoying.  Hasn’t beat me in 1v1, yet.  The boy needs to learn to hotkey.

But I digress…

This has left me with the AthlonXP  to play with.  Digging around I found some more memory for it that I didn’t even know I had, bringing it up to a gigabyte.  It’s not matched, not even from the same manufacturer, but given how dog-slow this thing already is I’ll take any performance hit for an extra half-gig of RAM.

At first I threw Kubuntu on it, but it didn’t take long to realize that it’s just too much of a strain for the poor thing – everything felt sluggish.  I decided this was the perfect opportunity to give one of the roll-your-own distros a try.  Initially I was going to go with Linux from Scratch, but after a stroll through their docs I was reminded just how time-consuming it is.  Instead I grabbed the latest Gentoo .iso to gave that a spin.

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So Long, Ubuntu…

… hello Kubuntu.

I really wanted to love plain old Ubuntu, but I just do not like Gnome. It looks pretty enough, but there’s too many small things “wrong” that I just don’t find using it a pleasant experience.

First, the two panels, top and bottom.  I know they can be changed, moved and even removed, but the whole idea just smacks of dumb to me, and sets the stage for everything else.

I don’t like the menu layout, the configuration options are limited, and the whole “Applications Places System” setup is annoying. A single menu button with an icon and optional text is what I grew up with, and it’s what I want.

Coming from Slackware, I’m also more familiar with KDE, both in appearance and operation.  I also tend to use more Qt-based apps than GTK (aside from the staples like The Gimp, Pidgin and Firefox). Krusader is my preferred file manager. Yakuake is a nifty drop-down terminal in the style of the Quake console (and better/less buggy than its GTK cousin, Tilda). Amarok’s an okay player, but I prefer the minimalist approach of Audacious (although I prefer foobar2000 over anything else).

Finally, the buttons to minimize, maximize and close a window are in the right places, without having to change any configuration settings.  I don’t know what the Ubuntu devs were thinking when they decided to move them, but let’s just say my opinion of them for that change is not flattering at all.

So Long, Slackware…

… kinda.

I still love you, Slackware, but I’m getting old, and as I get older, I get lazier (if that were possible).  I love your beautiful simplicity.  I understand you.  I know where you keep your configuration files, I grok your init system, and in general I know where to go to fix a problem when you’re misbehaving.  I’ve always preferred KDE over Gnome (although I whole-heartedly appreciate the effort that goes into both of them).

But trying to install software for which there is no pre-packaged version readily available, and (more importantly) for which there are no pre-packaged dependencies, is a real pain in the butt.  I’m lazy, I don’t want to spend hours poking around building (and oft-times, rebuilding, and rebuilding again) a dozen libraries before getting to the program I was after in the first place.

So for the time being you will live on in my heart, and in my virtual machines.  My old box is getting a fresh coat of pain in the form of Ubuntu.  I’ve played with it before, but I’m hoping things will go better this time around (two major releases later).  Someday, in some faraway time, I may even be able to shed my dependence on Windows and move entirely to free software.