Monday, January 7, 2008

Hello Ubuntu... again.

A dual 600MHz Pentium III with one gig or RAM and 64MB of video on a PCI slot are just not enough to pull the latest eye candy popping out of open source community these days. Lack of power was the reason I had gone away from ubuntu 7.04 (feisty fawn) to openSUSE 10.2 and subsequently 10.3. I was really after KDE, and even though I had a liveCD of kubuntu downloaded, I wasn't sure I wanted to try it. I wanted to try something else, so I went with openSUSE. My openSUSE experience was decent but filled with many frustrations. While the distro is highly acclaimed by many individuals, and it is truly a well-designed OS, its greatest shortcoming and source of my personal frustrations with the system was YaST, the package management software. I was about to smash my 21" CRT monitor through the wall after an installation took nearly two hours on 10.2. Luckly for openSUSE, the 10.3 came out with SIGNIFICANT improvements in YaST speed. But while a significant improvement over YaST in openSUSE 10.2, it still sucked when compared to Synaptic/Adept used in Debian distributions. Having used Feisty Fawn (Ubuntu 7.04), I got really spoiled with the speed and ease of sofware installation. The apt-get is just phenomenal. Other than download and installation, there is no other "processing time." YaST took up to one minute just to open up. With apt-get, I can download and install several packages in one minute.

Recently, I made a switch back to the Debian territory. I installed Feisty Fawn right over my openSUSE 10.3 (preserving the home directories partition). Then I upgraded to Gutsy Gibbon (ubuntu 7.10) right off the update manager. That was really sweet--it updated the system and then upgraded it all through update manager app. When Gusty Gibbon upgrade was complete, I followed up almost immediately with kubuntu-desktop package, which installed all of the KDE options. I like the look and simplicity of Gnome better than KDE, but for some reason KDE runs faster on my machine. I also tried xfce and was very impressed. I would choose X -Force desktop if I were starting from scratch. The xubuntu offers many cool decorations and the desktop isn't only simple, it looks really good too. To avoid the complications of managing xfce and KDE control panels, which would undoubtedly argue between one another, I got rid of xfce and ubuntu (gnome) desktops and stuck to KDE alone. I'm heavily invested in Kontact and don't want to go through another data migration headache.

I'm getting new hardware on Wednesday. It's going to be a quad 2.4GHz Core 2 with 2 gigs of RAM and a 256Mb video card. I am really interesed in the Debian distro, so I am considering it for the new PC. The existing PC will become my kids' computer. It's time to retire their old PowerPC machine and replace it with something that can actually connect to the Internet so my kids can play games. I have three to four days to decide which distro will end up installed on my new system. It certainly will not be openSUSE. It will not be Fedora, even though some people were impressed with Fedora 8. It might be Ubuntu, Debian, or one of the smaller distros like Sabayon. I'm not sure if I'm ready for hard-core linux like gentoo-based Sabayon. But I would be willing to at least give it a shot. What is the worst that can happen - me running away screaming?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 - Impress Who?

Is Impress a serious application in creating powerpoint-like slides, or is it essentially just a viewer? I was trying to create slides tonight and working with this application is horrendously difficult. Are you kidding me? It is a pain in the ass to format text, move it, or... well, just about anything. If this is what I always had to contend with when creating presentation slides I think I'd opt for an overhead with a transparency and a marker. I think the Writer is a much more useful application, and it works decently. But Impress.... please. They couldn't have been serious in intending this application to be actually used for creating presentation slides. I'm either missing something, or the Impress is missing something. Please offer your suggestions.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

How to make Java Runtime Environment 1.6 (JRE plugin) work on Firefox

In a nutshell: Do not use an official package from Sun. Use your package manager to update your system with latest Java package.

I had run into an issue getting Java Runtime Environment to run on openSUSE 10.3, using Firefox I have arrived at a solution and wanted to share what I had encountered and done.

I wanted to use an applet at school from Blackboard. In order to use it, I needed to download and enable JRE. When attempting to load the applet on Blackboard, Firefox let me know that a plugin was missing. I clicked on a button to install the missing plugin, but an automatic installation was not available. I was directed to Sun Website to obtain the latest JRE, which was 1.6.0_03 (release 6 update 3). I downloaded the file jre-6u3-linux.i586-rpm.bin and extracted it in the recommended location /usr/java using root priviledges. The autoextracting rpm file installed without errors. Following the directions I made a symbolic link to the plugin, which came with the JRE package. I placed the link in /usr/lib/firefox/plugins - where I also found a null plugin I linked the recommended Mozilla 1.4 or higher plugin by executing ln -s /usr/java/jre1.6.0_03/plugin/i386/ns7/

I launched reloaded Firefox, but the applet at school did not load. I went to Sun Website <> to verify the installation. The verification took over a minute and failed. So I thought maybe I could use a different location for the plugin link. I tried /usr/lib/browser-plugins and /home/voitek/.mozilla/plugins location without much luck. I looked at the Firefox plugin registration file pluginreg.dat in the Firefox directory in my home folder at the following location: /home/voitek/.mozilla/firefox/. I saw that the plugin was registered, and it looked something like this:

Java(TM) Plug-in 1.6.0_03:$
Java(TM) Plug-in 1.6.0_03-b05:$

I made certain that Java was enabled in Firefox by going to Edit menu > Preferences > Content tab. I had disabled it and tried verifying the installation using the Sun website. The Webpage informed me that I should enable Java and cookies before trying to verify it. At least I knew the OFF switch on that Content tab was working properly. I re-enabled the Java option by checking the checkbox and verified the installation again using the Sun Website. Verification failed again.

I hit the Web in search for answers and came up empty many times. I just could not think of a set of keywords that would get me some information. It had seemed as if I were the only one with this issue. Then finally I got lucky and found a reference on a Mandriva discussion forum somewhere. Someone had a similar issue. In one of the replies to the original post someone suggested that he download the Java package using the Mandriva package manager. I decided to give that a try on my openSUSE 10.3 using YaST. I found JRE 1.6-sun and -plugin packages. So I dumped the /usr/java directory and installed Java from the package manager.

Installation proceeded without issues. My new Java Runtime Environment package installed to /usr/lib/jvm/java-1.6.0.u3.sr2-sun-1.6.0.u3 along with the other Java packages. I had at least two, but neither one had the plugin I needed for Firefox. When selecting the Java download from YaST I also selected the plugin package. This installed the plugin to /usr/lib/jvm/java-1.6.0.u3.sr2-sun-1.6.0.u3/jre/plugin/i386/ns7 directory. I linked the .so library file to my home directory ~/.mozilla/plugins, launched Firefox, and voilla - everything worked fine.

This is the second time openSUSE community taught me a lesson on using the package manager. I had once tried installing the .docx converter for openoffice, and even though the installation files and instructions came from a Novell Website, the converter did not work. I never got this feature to work manually. Then finally I used the openSUSE updater, and it found an openoffice update with this .docx format converter, installed it automatically, and openoffice was able to read and write .docx Microsoft Word format going forward.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Installation of openSUSE 10.3 (10.2 to 10.3 upgrade)

So openSUSE 10.3 came out, I checked it out and liked it, and wanted to upgrade my 10.2 system to the new distro. I started by hitting the Web in search of information about how to do this and whether it is possible. I found several articles about upgrading from 10.2, but the options discussed were not available on the liveCD I downloaded. I had booted into the 10.3 four or five times, and I couldn't figure out how to upgrade my system. I really didn't want to start from scratch by formatting my partition, which was the only apparent choice available to me during the 10.3 install setup.

Then it dawned on me. When I was installing 10.2, the setup was asking whether I wanted to create a separate /home partition. I am the kind of guy who does not like to create many partitions, whether C: D: E: on Windows or elsewhere. I thought creating /home on a separate partition was dumb, but I went along with what openSUSE 10.2 suggested, which was to create /home on a separate partition. Staring at the 10.3 install screen it occurred to me why in the hell anyone would create a separate /home partition. It is precisely for situations like the one I was just sitting in. I could format my root partition and keep all my files and settings on my separate /home partition.

Interestingly, openSUSE 10.3 auto partition config wanted to format my /home partition and not format anything else. I had to choose manual setup and told the system to format only the root and leave the other two (swap and home) untouched. I had actually initially specified not to format anything, but openSUSE complained that it might not work; that is, installing a new OS onto an already existing partition OS might not work. I thought about this for a minute and agreed that would be pretty messed up. So I chose to format the root and leave the other partitions as they were.

During setup, my session switched to a tty terminal twice. I thought if I didn't know how to return to the graphical interface, I'd be screwed (ctrl+alt+F1, F2... F7... etc.). The setup progressed fairly quickly without any other issues. The system rebooted properly and noticeably faster. However, I did not get a GUI. Instead, YaST started in text mode. There, I was presented with some choices of repositories and downloaded several packages. When the process completed, I was kicked out into a terminal session with no GUI.

Well, I was there before (after 10.2 installation), so I learned how to recover from it. Interestingly though, the liveCD correctly identified my video cards and started X on the right one without any issues. I wonder why this couldn't be repeated on my newly installed system.

I started Sax2. It did not start. I punched in sax2 -p to see which chip was which, and my NVIDIA card was 0. Thus, I restarted sax2 with the option -c0. It took off that time. I was presented with a default 1600x1200 resolution and saved settings to xorg.conf or whatever the configuration file was.

Back at the terminal, I typed rcxdm to start the X server session. It came up with no issues, and even some of the apps I had open during my last 10.2 session opened up when I logged in. When OpenOffice opened itself, it complained that user (me) from another machine was accessing the file. The other machine was, of course, the removed 10.2 system. I just thought it was cool how it remembered the file was being accessed, even thought the machine no longer existed.

Pretty much right after the installation I opened YaST. I heard it was supposed to be faster, and it was. It seemed "lighter." I searched for several apps I had installed on 10.2, and YaST found them faster than it would on 10.2. I installed those and went for a reboot to see if everything would completely and properly start up. The machine booted up again, noticeably faster, and this time it went all the way into the KDE session. Sweet!

I already mentioned some of the improvements of 10.3 over 10.2 in my previous post. What I didn't mention was the mutli-column display in Konqueror. It works much nicer in that the entire filename is displayed. The thumbnails also load faster.

All in all, the upgrade from openSUSE 10.2 to openSUSE 10.3 was by far the simplest, fastest, most pleasant and satisfying upgrade I've ever done on any Linux distro, still despite few small issues encountered. I was up and running in under an hour, which was absolutely fantastic.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Six Reasons to Upgrade to openSUSE 10.3

I am really excited about the Shift Switcher plugin for Compiz-Fusion. It is more fun to use than the cube, and much more practical too. I also just discovered a ring switcher plugin (not pictured in this post). The ring switcher basically places all windows from the front cube face against the desktop image and arranges them in a ring. Super+TAB rotates the ring--kick ass.

Compiz Fusion screen shots on openSUSE 10.3

I also wanted to mention why I upgraded from 10.2 to 10.3. It's been almost a year since 10.2 release, so naturally when 10.3 was released I hit the Web in search of reasons to upgrade. All of the reviews I found gave no good reason to upgrade. If it ain't broke, don't fix it type of mentality. I just couldn't believe there wasn't a single good reason to upgrade, so I downloaded the liveCD and booted it to see for myself.

After 30 seconds of using openSUSE 10.3, my mind was made up to upgrade as soon as possible. Immediately, several of the annoyances of 10.2 that I tried so hard to ignore and work around were addressed. There were numerous small improvements that caught my eye and took to my liking immediately:

1. Mouse pointer--it just looks awesome. It's the same pointer style used in Ubuntu and probably many other new distributions. What I disliked most about the pointer in 10.2 was the hand. It was just fugly. In 10.3, the hourglass, the hand, arrow and the rest are very nice looking.

2. Open office sheet view is c e n t e r e d when the application is maximized. In 10.2 it was hugging the left side of the window, which was absolutely annoying.

3. I thought I saw smaller system tray icons during my boot session. I am always up for higher information density on the screen; however, after I upgraded I didn't notice the icons getting any smaller. Oh well.

4. Boot time is noticeably faster.

5. There are many improvements to YaST. Holly cow, it is so much faster. I would say on average, on my machine, the entire process takes about a fourth of the time it took on 10.2.

6. One click install. Not only is it there, it actually works! I installed several apps and plugins using this feature, including my NVIDIA video drivers.

openSUSE 10.3 Compiz Fusion Screen Shots

Here are a couple of screen shots of openSUSE 10.3 running with the new Compiz/Beryl blend: Compiz Fusion.