Category Archives: Linux

Revisiting the tabbed desktop

One of the things I had time to try, but didn’t have time to write about, was a revisit to someone else’s idea. I do that quite often, now that I think about it.

This time it was urukrama’s tabbed desktop from a couple of years ago. Things like that tend to roll around in my mind, and then bubble up after a while.

I caught myself thinking the other day that screen’s status bar, while it doesn’t seem to like to be pushed to the top of the display, could do some reverse-text codes, and make it look like tabs.

You might have to use your imagination here, but if the active “window” is set to the same color as the terminal background, then if you squint really hard and hold your breath, it looks like a tab. See? See? :P

Playing with that for a few minutes sent me back to urukrama’s desktop, which did a better job with tint2 and Openbox than I was doing with screen alone.


That’s rather rudimentary, and not really much of an improvement over the grace and style of urukrama’s original work.

And most of it was slapped together with tint2′s onboard wizard (the aptly named, which makes things much, much easier. I’d like to find something along those same lines for Openbox itself.

But I haven’t saved the configuration files here because it wasn’t much of an accomplishment, and because it only took a few minutes to arrange what you see.

And really, if I’m going to rely on a tab-like interface to a long string of terminal programs, then there are better ways to arrange it. Probably. :)

Dark, light and Openbox

I have suffered an inordinate number of real-world issues over the last week or so, which is why I am doing such a poor job of keeping this page updated.

I apologize for that. But in the little free time I have, I have not been idle. Here are two distros that both focus on lightweight desktop arrangements with Openbox.


On the left is CTKArch, and on the right is MadBox. I believe I heard about these when someone left notes about them here; I apologize if I failed to keep note of who said what.

CTKArch (as you might have guessed) is Arch-based, and is both stylish and well arranged. Many of the tools you would need to manage its look — like panel controls and configuration — are wired into Openbox’s menu, for convenience. I like that.

Similarly, Madbox has a very smooth feeling about it, incorporating everything from conky to network managers and similar tools.

Madbox is Ubuntu-based though, and I don’t see a version beyond 10.10. So that might be on its way, if you are patient.

It’s nice to see Openbox desktops as full-featured distros, mostly because for a long time lightweight window managers had the reputation of being some-assembly-required.

The popularity of things like Crunchbang and company did a lot to change that. No doubt there will be more of these in the future. ;)

The Weird Sisters

It’s definitely very strange having so many powerful computers in the house. In the space of about a week, I went from a low-end haven to a mid-range fleet.

To anyone else it probably looks a bit primitive still, but either of the two P4-era Celeron machines is capable of handling anything I’m used to doing, alone and by itself.

Not that that’s saying much though. I have made the same claim against 120Mhz Pentium machines. :roll:

But with two high-end (to me) machines around the house, and with a flaky wireless router which is invisible to some machines and blatantly obvious to others, and with one or two with very good networking jacks, an unusual arrangement has unfolded.

One Celeron, the VersaPro, is sitting in the other room, at close range to the router, and connected by cable. That one is catching torrents, and using its connection to download and seed at better speeds than PCMCIA wireless usually offers.

Of course, this is not the first time I’ve allowed the full Ubuntu desktop to take over that role.

The other, the Satellite, is on my desktop, and is working as an entertainment station, hooked into these speakers and showing my meager collection of DVD rips on its Big Fat Screen. Quite nice, really.

Which means the only other two — the Mebius, which is command central for all practical purposes, and the X60s, which is guinea pig — are standing by, waiting for action.

The oddest part of this entire arrangement is that both Celerons are using Ubuntu 11.04. I know: Crazy, isn’t it?

I can’t offer any rationale for that, other than it was the way things panned out, when I decided to put them to work together. The VersaPro has a large drive in it, seeds ISOs with Transmission and serves up the web UI to anybody listening.

The Satellite is hooked into it via nfs, and I can stash music or ripped DVD files there, and stream them over the wireless connection.

Ordinarily, Ubuntu’s desktop is the less-than-ideal choice for either of these roles, in my opinion.

Both machines can run it, but not the Unity desktop (thank goodness). Logging in with the traditional desktop with no effects makes them quite perky though.

And while the tools are there (meaning, in the repositories) for these machines, it’s a wee bit odd to be using a behemoth desktop like that, and relying on only a few small tools on either one to do the job.

I don’t think this arrangement will last much longer; I find it a little unnerving to use Ubuntu on either machine, even if it seems to be working. Every day, something new, I guess. …

A serious reminder

You’d think, as a person who relies on ancient hardware on a day-to-day basis, that I wouldn’t need to be reminded about some of the repercussions of this effort.

And yet, after watching this quick 20-minute Frontline video, I am ashamed at my dismissive comment the other day, about ecology not being at the forefront of my concerns.

It’s bad enough that I know or have been to some of the places mentioned in the video, and was unaware of what had happened since my visit.

But it’s equally scary to think that even legitimate efforts to properly and safely recycle discarded computer hardware are often hijacked and become, again, an environmental nightmare.

So perhaps holding back a couple of Pentium laptops from the garbage can deserves more of my attention … or more emphasis than I occasionally give it.

Because a computer just gathering dust in my house is still better than one poisoning the lungs of a young Chinese woman, or being burned into a toxic puddle by slum children somewhere in Ghana.

And so long as I — or you, for that matter — can keep using something, then it’s not even gathering dust. For as ignominious as that sounds. :|

RIP, Dapper Drake

I was going to wait to write my kind words for the (soon-to-be) dearly departed Dapper Drake, but I have the time and inclination right now. I’m feeling nostalgic, and at the same time, I’m feeling benevolent.

So long, Dapper Drake.

Dapper was the first true and complete Linux desktop for me, even if by the time it was released I had already made my first forays into Arch Linux — the path of the Dark side, so to speak.

And Dapper was no picnic. I’ve written before about the Dapper-era desktop — half “just works,” half “just works with a little nudging.” Depending on your hardware, which is always the case.

At the same time though, Dapper had all the right parts and pieces, and due in a large part to the fact that I did have the right hardware, it solidified my emancipation.

More recently I’ve mentioned that Dapper had its mind in the right place though. At a time when function was premier, Dapper had already started collating things that worked, to make Ubuntu work … most of the time, of course.

But those are done days, past and gone. I don’t hold Ubuntu to the same standards any more, mostly because Ubuntu has become something different altogether.

And also because I just don’t use it any more, and the reasons for that are … well, you read them in the last sentence.

I occasionally hold a grudge, and I apologize for that. I critique Ubuntu even now, because it’s a front-line contender and because I have fond memories.

And among those are full-blown desktops that boot on 75Mb of memory. :twisted:

So long, Dapper Drake.

A note of thanks: vim-stripped

A small note, to give credit where credit is due: I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was trying to rewrite the vim PKGBUILD for Arch.

My goal was to avoid the x11 and GTK2 dependencies that appear in the ConnochaetOS version, for a framebuffer-only system. I wasn’t having much luck.

But Barthalion mentioned vim-stripped in AUR, and that seems to do the trick for me. No need for git, et al., and still handles most of the major chores I have.

I had to adjust the patch level variable slightly before it would run through (I think I set mine to 170, but I expect that will change), otherwise it gave me a cheerful error message.

In any case, thank Barthalion and thanks again AUR, for showing me how things should have been done. As opposed to my battered, fruitless attempts. :)

Ubuntu 11.04 Desktop i386 bootable USB image

It’s that time again. I know it’s not terrifically popular with everyone and might only appeal to people who are comfortable working with the command line.

But if you’re tired of burning CDs and just want a single image you can write straight to USB with dd and without an intermediary bootup, this might appeal to you.

The standard disclaimers apply. You’re overwriting your USB, of course. There are no special tweaks in place. It’s all default, and only for i386. I’ve just saved you the step of booting a CD and clicking on “Startup Disk Creator.”

Or in the case of Unity, scratching around through the gigantic buttons, finally searching for “USB” and finding the application button hiding somewhere. Or at least, that’s what I ended up doing. :roll:

Poor man’s SSD: Confusion and disappointment

I don’t know whether I should be embarrassed, worried or amused. For the greater part of a year I’ve been pushing CF cards as a method of rehabilitating out-of-date hardware.

They’re cheaper than full-size drives, vastly cheaper than SSDs, and in all the time I’ve used mine I haven’t had a single error.

Technically I still haven’t had a problem. But I realize now, that until yesterday, I had never put a CF card into a “new” machine.

In fact, the fastest machine I’d ever used one in … topped out at about 150Mhz. :oops:

So you can probably imagine my confusion and disappointment when I put one in a 2.2Ghz Celeron, and wondered why in the heck it was taking so long to do its thing.

Yes, it’s sad but true: It appears that my savior for sub-200Mhz machines is the bane of the supra-1Ghz bracket. I should’ve guessed.

I say I should’ve guessed because I knew full well that the bottleneck on a system running with the card and the adapter is the connecting IO hardware.

In other words, the card works so well with old-old computers because the computer itself can barely keep up with the card.

Reverse the situation — put the card in a fast machine — and suddenly it’s the card that’s holding things up.

Write cycles were particularly bad; I could probably live with an installed system so long as I didn’t have to save a lot of stuff all the time.

And to be honest, I could probably see myself using one in much the same way I do already — with a built system that I turn on once a day, answer some e-mails, and never do much more than that.

But anything that needs heavy disk access — torrent slave, low-memory system — would be a nightmare. Brr, I shudder at the thought.

Tell me if your setup is working better for you. For me, this is a backup solution at best, and my “supra-1Ghz” comment above is really just a ballpark estimate.

If you’ve actually got something comparable in a 1.7Ghz machine and it’s working well for you with a CF card in it, I’ll assume the best, and figure the error is on my end.

Which it usually is. This time too, it seems. :oops:

The ebb and flow

Lots of changes are afoot in this tiny corner of the planet, which accounts in part for the silence over the past few days.

First of all, one of the computers I was expecting to inherit has arrived on my doorstep. I can properly introduce the NEC VersaPro VY22X/RX-M, or just vy22x, as I like to call it.

This is the 2.2Ghz Celeron I mentioned oh-so-many times over the past year or two. It’s not at all a bad computer — ATI graphics, 512Mb and more is possible, 1024×768 in a nice big size. …

It’s of very similar dimensions and specifications as the Toshiba, although it is obviously a completely different computer.

The hard drive is another ancient creaking wheel though — 20Gb 4200rpm, the omnipresent Hitachi MK2023GAS I keep finding — and will be the first thing to go.

The chassis needs a cleaning, and the previous owner liked to slather stickers on everything in the house. So I’ll need to scrape away some glue and goo.

Otherwise it’s in pretty good shape, and should be fun to experiment with.

But where there is an ebb, there must be a flow … so the 120Mhz and 133Mhz Fujitsu laptops are out of the house now, having moved on to a new owner.

It felt a little sad to see them go — particularly the slower of the two, given as many adventures as I had with it.

I was tempted to convert one or the other into some sort of photo frame or wall clock, but their value was in their completeness and good condition, not their Frankenstein factor.

I did not, however, include the CF cards. Those I intend to use in future machines.

I should also mention, though it’s a lesser point, that I’ve moved everything back to Arch Linux on the fastest machine.

That noisy romp through the Ubuntu betas was instructive, but not particularly productive. It was nice to see how some of those distros do things, but it reinforced where my preferences lie.

So all of this means there needs to be a few updates around this site. A couple of machines are new, a couple more are gone … life goes on. :)

An unlikely hero: Xubuntu

Part of that unfortunate rant from a day ago came about after spending a day or two in Xubuntu, after spending an equal amount of time in Kubuntu.

Originally my foray back into the *buntus was meant to give fair time to alternative renditions of Ubuntu, and avoiding tainting the entire set with tirades against the flagship.

On the one hand, it was important to do that. And it has been a while since I’ve used some of these versions, even if I still feel a tinge of disappointment when I try them.


I’m not going to dwell long on my failed relationship with Xubuntu, mostly because it’s ancient history. I stopped using it, that’s about all.

It appears to be working in a lighter direction though, so I will give it that. The default desktop, unless I am mistaken, is more “traditional” than straight Ubuntu 11.04, and relies only the native XFCE compositor for shadow effects.

It may just be that the desktop “style” is a cycle or two behind what vanilla Gnome does though. Like I suggested, I don’t follow the outlying desktops so I don’t know the plan.

It has a few peculiarities though. The pop-up notification boxes for networking or volume control don’t seem to vanish automatically for me, which means they completely block anything underneath, until it’s explicitly closed. Perhaps I just don’t wait long enough.

The pop-up launcher bar at the bottom of the screen is vaguely clever, in that it uses the standard XFCE panel and adjusts its settings to behave like wbar or AWN.

Speedwise, I can’t tell you if it’s necessarily an improvement over any *buntu, or even a past version of itself. The computer I tried it on is really too fast to make a comparison.

Granted, it’s a carrying a lot of Gnome already. But that just means the way it works and behaves is a little more conventional.

I can tell you that adjusting it to a little more traditional XFCE arrangement, like you see above, did make me more comfortable and make the desktop a little easier to manage.

Which means that ultimately — and it’s strange to say this — if the new Ubuntu desktop proves too cumbersome or counterintuitive for you, like it did for me, Xubuntu might be an answer.

Xubuntu to the rescue. Who would’ve thought? :roll: