Dec 022008

My home machine, as I’ve said before, runs Bluewhite64 with KDE4.1.3, it’s basically a bit of a preview of what Kongoni is being built from. My work laptop however runs Kubuntu Intrepid also with KDE4.1.3. Now overall I’m actually quite happy with this kubuntu release, it’s certainly the first one that shows polish even remotely comparable to it’s gnome counterpart so that’s a good thing.
Unfortunately, it has one seriously annoying bug. Selecting and dragging text in firefox is a CPU killer, I know this is neither a firefox nor a kubuntu bug since the problem doesn’t exist on my home machine. It’s something specific to this machine, or this release of Kubuntu.
What happens ? Well select some text and drag it – you don’t even need to drop it anywhere – just letting go of the mouse is enough, the system freezes while the CPU works incredibly hard for several minutes and then finally drops the text (if you didn’t drop it somewhere else, back where it was) before returning to normal.
During this time, the rest of the system is completely unresponsive, you can see the text moving incredibly slowly over the path the mouse followed before finally dropping and then the system recovers. Now just why exactly this is slow I haven’t been able to figure out conclusively – but I have a theory.
This machine, unlike the home machine, has full XRandR1.2 support and really good XRender support, and I think firefox is using XRender to draw the text when it’s being dragged – and I think it’s buggy with the way it does that. It doesn’t happen at home because nvidia’s xrender support sucks so bad that firefox doesn’t even try to use it. But if firefox is using it this badly – it would have been better not to use it at all.
So by my theory, the problem is with firefox on intel graphics cards that support full XRender. By that logic – the problem needs to be fixed either in firefox or in the i915 driver. Since both are FOSS code – this should be doable. Hence my decision to post it here. It would be good to know if anybody has similar problems, and on what video cards – if it’s happening for you on something that doesn’t support XRender then it suggests the problem is confined to firefox, if it happens for you in other apps – it means it’s something at library level in Kubuntu. The most likely combinations are similar hardware but other apps, same apps on different hardware or same apps on same hardware. Getting some feedback on which scenario’s are out there will help track down who to file a bug report with at least.

Oct 022008

Today I installed Kubuntu on my new work laptop (have I mentioned that I have taken a new job ? I’m now the new Unix administrator at Intec). The laptop is not a latest and greatest but still a pretty nice buy. Of course Del’s come in all flavors and sizes, this one has an Intel 965 graphics card and about 3Gb of RAM on an 80Gb hard drive.
The only major hurdle was that ubuntu refused to recognize the intel card, turns out that the Xorg driver for it wasn’t installed but even after installing it, it still only detected VESA support – that made it impossible to get dual-display support working well at all (especially since the laptop has a widescreen 1280×800 screen and the LCD external at work does not – it does 1280×1024) it would clone but then half the image on the left screen was cut off at the bottom.

I spent some time in various places on the Ubuntu forums and found no working solution, though I did get a hint that let me get another document that worked. I found a very good howto at Intel Linux Graphics which helped me to get a fully working setup using xrandr rather than xinerama for the dual display. KDE4 works fine on it, though the OpenGL support is flakey (not just in KDE in general), right now XRender based compositing with kwin is working well but I would like to see if I can get the OpenGL to work better (I am guessing that like many Intel cards you can adjust the video memory in the BIOS but I haven’t had a chance to look yet).
One nasty bug was that when I tried to enable OpenGL based compositing it crashed the system, and despite me not being able to click on the “keep this setting” button, it also trashed the settings and I had to remove my .kde4 directory to make it work again.
I do need some windows apps as part of my job, so I loaded virtualbox and stuck windows XP in there, works perfectly (for the limited use I need it for anyway).

Right now it seems that sound isn’t working, but I found some mention of this online so I will look at those pages (it wasn’t important today and I had work to do) later on and report on the results.

Jul 292008

Well KDE4.1 is available, and it is a sweet. For a lot of people, this will be the switchover point, the rest of you – KDE4.2 should do it :)

I would like to suggest looking at Bruce Byfields excellent review for a good idea of who should be switching yet.

I, I’m sold. Despite the slowness of my NVidia card natively, I can work just fine using XGL. However, I also found that XGL conversely made my KDE3 installation almost unusably slow (ditto KDE3 apps I still use – even though inside KDE4 I can hack-launch them to run on the native screen with a few tweaks).
So I split out XGL to only run for KDE4 for now. To do so I rm’d /etc/X11/xsession.d/98xserver-xgl_start-server
then created a new script in /usr/bin called startkde4-xgl with the following content:

XGL_OPTS=”-nolisten tcp -fullscreen -br +xinerama”

$XGL_START $XGL_DISPLAY $XGL_OPTS –execute /usr/lib/kde4/bin/startkde

Gave it execute permissions and added a session file for it in /usr/share/xsessions.
Please note: These instructions arethe short-version and they are for kubuntu, other distros handle XGL in very different ways.

Either way, it’s great to finally have KDE4.1 final installed – now to go PLAY !

Sep 152007

Yep, you saw that right. PCLinuxOS has bumped Ubuntu from the top spot on distrowatch. This is the first time since the release of Hoary Hedgehog several years ago that [tag]Ubuntu[/tag] has not held the number one spot. This blogger seems extraodinarily surpized by it, citing all the things which Ubuntu does right and [tag]PCLinuxOS[/tag] does wrong. But he doesn’t mention what PCLinuxOS has done right all along, and Ubuntu never did. See there were basically three generations of Linux distributions in history. The very first generation was largely confined to programmers and consisted of basically building the whole thing from nothing. Technically these were not even really distro’s. Modern source distributions like Gentoo cannot be considdered first-gen btw. since they do have structured install methods and packages. The second generation started with Slackware really, and the main difference was that they used prebuilt packages to install the distribution’s various software pieces. Distro’s like redhat, suse and Debian are still 2nd generation today, and 2nd-gen distro’s are the best server distro’s around. However, since the turn of the century a third generation began to appear.

These are primarily recognizable by one thing: they ship as liveCD’s, which can be modified live while booted, and installed ready to use (with such modifications in place). This has massive advantages for a desktop distribution – particularly as it lets the user verify his hardware compatibility prior to the actual installation. The major groundwork that would lead to 3rd-gen distro’s was laid by knoppix, though knoppix never really considered installation important and therefore never really became a complete 3rd-generation. It could be installed, but this was difficult and even today is largely manual.

To the best of my knowledge, the first true third-generation distro was OpenLab 4.0 – which I designed (due credit, I had a lot of outside influences). This made OpenLab actually a successful contender against the might of Ubuntu’s marketing forces. But OpenLab was just the first, since then a number of other distributions have followed suit. The best known being PCLinuxOS and SimplyMepis. These were true 3rd-generation distros. PCLinuxOS even shares with OpenLab the design concept of having a login screen on the LiveCD where a guest user is just a normal livecd experience, but the root account is used for installations.

Third-generation distributions do not leave the concept of packages behind, they are still used for the user to install add-on software later, but skips the complexity of packages for the basic install, providing a solid set of pre-installed and preconfigured packages right from the get-go.

Ubuntu is still not a true 3rd-generation distribution, although it did copy the basic feature in some later versions this remains unstable and Ubuntu states that it is still not the prefered method of installation.

It doesn’t end there. Ubuntu has a habit of ignoring bugs that aren’t fun, leaving users to struggle with things that (to them) are critical. For the longest time Ubuntu users had no way of graphically setting up a pppoe connection, in fact to do it at all you had to download a package… hold on – that’s right, to get online, you had to be online first (by comparison, OpenLab had this included before Hoary Hedgehog was ever released)

This lack of attention to detail is why Ubuntu never deserved to be in the topspot. Ubuntu was always a lot of hype, never anything else. I couldn’t say this when I was a distro developer, but now, not being one anymore I can give an unbiassed view that Ubuntu was never all that good and in fact the number of newbies who were referred to it probably did Linux growth more harm in recent years than even the Novell/Microsoft deal. I stand by my belief that there is no better desktop distribution available today than PClinuxOS.

Having said that, I don’t believe Ubuntu is always a bad distro, I myself recommended kubuntu to a customer on a major recent project. But, I knew I would be the one setting it up. That changed everything – I knew that no linux newbie would ever have to deal with the first six weeks of life with Ubuntu. Everywhere else, I will keep recommending PCLinuxOS until there is something truly better (which may be just the next version of it).

It took a long time, but finally, people are starting to see through the hype, and PCLinuxOS is holding the postion it should have had all along.

Jan 102007

It’s simply a fact that one needs to do comparisons with other distro’s in my field, frequently.

Since I have two personal machines in daily use, it is easy to try out distro’s on one while maintaing a bleeding-edge OpenLab on the other. Currently I haven’t really made up my mind on what I want to try however. One side of me is tempted to try gentoo 2006.1, another side to try two desktop favorites: kubuntu and pclinuxos.

Especially the last one is drawing me, since I have heard people say “OpenLab and pclinuxos are currently by far the two easiest desktop distributions out there” – if these guys are our match, then I need to see what I can see.

So what shall I do ? I don’t know, I do love the gentoo concept – but it takes a LONG time to do a full install (at least a level 3 one and what’s the point otherwize ?) and it appeals to my geek side- not an easy sell though.
Desktop wise, well it’s between kubunto and pclos…(no I am not and never will be interested in trying gnome as my personal desktop again, I don’t like the basic premise on which it is designed – dumbing down != easier to use) …
I reckon I’ll give both a shot, and keep the one I like best… for a while at least.

Update: I went with PCLinuxOS – and I am very impressed. This distro is shuweet. Kudos from the silentcoder.