Category Archives: Ubuntu

Azulejo: Quick window tiles

It’s an odd coincidence, but I got an e-mail a day ago asking about making the leap from Gnome to a tiling window manager.

Late last week there was a thread on the Ubuntu Forums mentioning Azulejo, a little utility that allows you to tile windows in Gnome or other desktop environments.

It works much better than the old tile package, which isn’t really around any more, it seems.

Basically there are four or five main window arrangements, and you can bounce between them at the press of a key … or two, if you’re willing to count the Super_* key.

You also have the option to stretch and expand windows, and rotate them through the arrangement. In a small way it sort of reminds me of dvtm, or maybe Awesome.

It’s not a true-blue tiling window manager by any stretch of the imagination, but it does give you a taste. And it comes at a very light cost, in terms of dependencies.

Of course, if you’re running this up against Gnome, the dependencies probably won’t bother you. :roll:

EasyTag 1, Apple 0

A short note today, to mention that EasyTag, the audio file renamer tool, won another fan recently — this time, an iPod owner.

I have to say up front that I know next to nothing about iPods, and I intend to keep it that way. There is no joy like being able to deflect iPod questions, by virtue of not knowing anything about them. :roll:

In any case, the iPod owner, who is also an Ubuntu user, wanted to move the entire collection off the iPod without having to rely on the iTunes utility.

Something about the utility arbitrarily deleting music files in the process of “synchronizing” with the owner’s list of approved titles. Again, I don’t know how those things work.

Apparently Ubuntu would mount the device and the files could be pulled off, but the file names were scrambled — renamed to a number sequence, and out of the original folder structure.

How inconvenient. Steve Jobs strikes again.

In any case, that’s where I suggested EasyTag as a mass renamer, using the tag information embedded in the files to restore them to their original state.

And apparently, after a little experimentation, everything is back to the way it was. EasyTag to the rescue.

I suppose I should close with brief tirade against proprietary music players and any machine that transfers control of your product to some corporation … but that would be overkill, now wouldn’t it?

Let’s just leave that last part unsaid. Suffice to say, I never had that problem with this player. :twisted:

A gold smiley for EasyTag: :D

Quit means quit

I’m either getting old or getting young, because it takes more concentration than I can afford to wade through this semi-interesting novella about the Ubuntu design meisters taking an axe to the “quit” function.

I really only have one thing to say in reply: Quit means quit. One thing that always irritated me about Windows programs over the years was that some of them seemed to hang in memory until forcibly removed.

Even Skype, which I use only rarely, drives me batty because clicking the giant X in a box in the upper right corner, which on most planets means “Your work here is through,” only causes it to sink into the system tray.

If I actually want to rid the running system of it, I have to use the even more brutal right-click-quit-and-confirm command. Rubbish.

Quit means quit, and if the logic behind removing quit functions is to keep programs running silently in the background, count me out.

When I say stop, I mean stop. When I say close, I mean close. When I say quit, I mean quit — with extreme prejudice.

Furthermore this is not a new perspective for me. I hated it when AT-style hard-switch power systems, circa 1998, made the move to power systems that required you to hold down the button for the system to turn itself off.

There was never anything quite so satisfying as hearing the snap and click of an old-style power switch, viciously and unequivocally severing the system from its power source, in the space of an instant.

I want the same behavior from programs. Quit means quit, and chances are I’ll seek out applications that follow that rule.

Of course, most of the computers I use couldn’t run Ubuntu if their temporal existences depended on it, so the chance that a quitless program and I might cross paths … well, it’s pretty slim.

In closing I’ll say that it’s altogether possible that I completely misunderstood the point of that missive. It was quite long, you see. And while that’s sometimes a sign of a well thought-out argument, this time it only meant more words to string through my brain.

And in the end, for me, the issue is simple: Quit means quit. That is all.

Those interviews, years later

A 14-hour work day kept me from making a note yesterday, so here’s the link I wanted to post, just a little bit late.

It’s nice to think that the community interviews idea I borrowed from aysiu almost four years ago is still rolling. And it’s also nice to see new and unusual faces in the lineup.

And the questions are more or less the same too. I guess good ideas can take on a life of their own. :)

Ubuntu 8.04.4 to 9.10 Desktop i386 USB images

I don’t use vanilla Ubuntu much any more. It generally requires more powerful hardware than I am willing to provide, and is generally headed in a direction I don’t want to go.

It is occasionally useful though, as a live environment in certain situations. It’s rare, but it’s true. I sometimes fall back on it.

In most situations though, all I want is a way to quickly boot into the live environment from a USB stick, and discard it when I’m done.

So ideally, a live environment that I can boot straightaway would be ideal. For example, the Arch Linux ISO just needs written straight to a drive with dd, and it will boot perfectly.

Ubuntu ISOs won’t do that. From the live environment there is a way to create a bootable USB disk, but to do that I’d need to install Ubuntu or boot the live environment from CD.

And that’s more or less what I’m trying to avoid. I don’t want to burn a CD, or install it … just dd, boot and be done.

So that’s why for the past year or so I’ve put up plain-jane USB sticks written from live Ubuntu runs. These are identical to the results you’d get if you used that same tool yourself, and wrote it to a 1Gb stick.

With these, you can download the file, write it straight to a device with

dd if=ubuntu-x.xx-desktop-i386.img of=/dev/sdXY

where X and Y are your drive assignment labels, and reboot. You don’t need to install Ubuntu, or burn a CD of it, or rely on a third party tool like unetbootin (which is awesome stuff, by the way).

Just for fun, and because I wanted to, and because it’s a free world, and because I wanted them, I made images in the same style for Ubuntu 8.04.4, Ubuntu 8.10, Ubuntu 9.04 and Ubuntu 9.10. The image for 10.04 is here, and for 10.10 is here.

These have all been tested in the same style, and worked fine for me. Just for the record, they were all made with the creator’s option to discard files on shutdown, rather than allocate space for saving.

So there you are. Enjoy. :)

P.S.: I have rotten luck working with LinuxTracker. If for some reason you can download the torrent but see no traffic, leave me a note and I’ll try again in the morning. :roll:

Mint vs. LMDE: Sudden weight gain

I’ve only had this Celeron M for about a week now, but I’ve already put four different distros on it, eradicated half of those again, reconfigured, tweaked and wiggled it so many times I almost lost track.

Now it is living out its existence as a remote media player. And it seems well suited to the task. :)

I did find a pair of screenshots from late last week though, showing a clean boot in both Linux Mint 10 and Linux Mint Debian Edition 201012, on that same machine.

 

Linux Mint Debian, left, and Linux Mint

Not surprisingly, the Debian version of Mint comes in a full 30Mb lower on the startup, taking into account both the screenshot tool and the system monitor there.

Whatever heft is added to Ubuntu when it leaves Debian is inherited in Mint, but to be fair there are a lot of twists and turns in the road from Debian to Ubuntu and Debian to LMDE.

It does beg the question though, at least from my point of view: What’s the advantage in using the Ubuntu rendition, if LMDE comes in lighter at the startup?

And is, presumably, lighter throughout … ? :|

Back to Openbox

I became a little disenfranchised with my pretend Windows XP Classic desktop almost a month ago, and switched gears slightly.

Soon afterward I realized my disappointment with the desktop was rooted in IceWM, and not just in the theme I had built up around it. So I’m back to Openbox now.

And because I was feeling a little nostalgic, I put that together to mimic a desktop I was using about four years ago, also at Christmas. The machine has changed, the distro is different, but the look is similar.

I still have a little bugs to iron out, here and there. I haven’t relied singularly on Openbox for the better part of a year, and there are some shortcuts and configurations to learn.

And it has been even longer since I tinkered with conky. I know: What I have there is rather primitive, compared to what it can do.

But this will suffice for now, and should keep me fairly busy over the next few days. My real-world obligations peak today and then I should be able to coast into a nice, long, well-deserved end-of-year holiday. And I have a few things planned. :twisted:

Stay tuned. ;)

A companion for the CLI

Now this is something very very cool.

That’s CLICompanion, and probably one of the coolest tools for Xorg-plus-CLI I’ve seen in a while. At least since screen-plus-yakuake.

This is great if you have a lot of console commands, you’re tired of working with a shell history, or you’re trying new applications that need long strings of flags. Or you have a library of favorite commands, or you’re comparing configuration files, or … or … or …

You get the idea. If you like the idea of command-line life, but you prefer a full graphical desktop, this is a good starting point.

If you’re new to console commands, this will give you a two-click library to run them from, plus a gaggle of tabbed interfaces to experiment with.

It’s not purist, you’re not taking much of a stand for minimalism and it’s not going to win you any geek points from the office IT staff. Those guys and girls will always know more than you, and they won’t let you forget it. :twisted:

But it’s ridiculous fun, easy as pie to manage and doesn’t require much more effort beyond point-and-click to get started.

Get to work importing your library of favorite commands. This will probably make them a little more fun again. Or at least give you another tool in your ascension to text-only Nirvana. :D

P.S.: That’s the AUR version, which seems to hide the executable in an odd place — /usr/share/applications/clicompanion/clicompanion. Or at least it was odd for me. I believe there is an Ubuntu version; no hints on where that executable is. :)

Twenty-ten: The picks of the litter

Two-thousand-and-ten is almost over. I’ve done more than my share of distro-hopping this year, and not because of a fickle character, but because of a curious streak.

This year's judge and jury.

That curiosity is bent toward very low-end computers though, and it’s not enough to me to just show a pretty desktop at 150Mhz if the overall experience feels like your head is being pressed through a bowl of mashed potatoes.

To that end, some distributions stick out in my mind more than others this year, as good options for low-end machines. A few more I tried are just good options, for any kind of machine.

And some I mention because they are ingrained in my lifestyle now. Maybe I didn’t discover them this year, but in 2010, they became essential to my workflow.

So I have a few end-of-year “notes.” These are not awards so much as recommendations, since I am hardly qualified to award anybody anything. :|

The wake-up call: KolibriOS. In a world of multi-DVD distros, of thousand-dollar operating systems in a half-dozen flavors, of operating systems that require multiple processors and double-digit gigabytes of memory to use, KolibriOS hits you like a ball-peen hammer squarely in the forehead.

KolibriOS: Pocket-sized powerhouse.

It’s hard not to find something to like about a full-featured desktop replete with games, applications, hardware tools and even networking support that sits in a meager 1.44Mb of space.

And thus it’s hard not to include it in a list of things to love about 2010, considering that KolibriOS in its latest rendition is a stern lesson in software design and how to put together a truly ultralight desktop.

Granted, this is minimalism to the nth degree, lightweight to the point that you can’t conceivably pit this against any other “modern” desktop without feeling almost foolish.

But let’s be frank: Why is lightweight and conservative software such a crusade — in Linux and in other operating systems — when KolibriOS stands as such a stark counterpoint?

Why does the search for a lightweight operating system begin and end with racks and racks of desktop environments, window managers and alternative desktops, and page after page of lighter upon lighter applications, toolsets and support libraries?

Why is it such a carnival to say out loud, “I have a machine that dates back a decade, but still works great and I’d like to find modern software that will run on it”?

I’ll let you decide, but deep down I think we all know that software demands push hardware upgrades, and upgrades in turn allow for bigger, fatter software. In that way, everybody makes money.

It’s a vicious circle, but it’s hard to reach any other conclusion when I can hold up a decades-old floppy with a complete operating system on it. It’s not for lack of skill or ability or time or even desire.

KolibriOS is proof that it’s possible. Just as much as it is proof that perhaps everyone else is going about things the wrong way. Probably so they can take your money. :evil:

A chicken in every pot: Slitaz base. I’d love to say that I have a Slitaz CD perched at the ready, any time I need to jump into a live environment on any machine in the house.

But that would be a half-truth, since I don’t use the standard Slitaz ISO to do that. I stick to the base version.

Slitaz base: What it looks like inside your computer, with the lights turned off.

You won’t like it. You’ll be dropped at the command line without a stitch of help from a mouse or a pointer, and feel rather cold and naked and alone. Welcome to the underbelly of your computer.

But you’ll get there on a meager 12Mb of RAM or less, meaning that this disc can get almost anything with a working CD drive up and running and with a minimum of resources. It’s amazing.

And what you do from there is up to you. Install Slitaz, or use that hovering OS to transfer files across a USB port (or entire operating systems), or repair or recover a dying hard drive.

True, there are other distros that offer these same tools on bigger and better and more complete CDs, but the resources they will demand and the time it will take to get them moving is likewise bigger. And not necessarily better.

So for a lightweight tool that I keep coming back to, and for a full-featured console environment that will fit inside a sliver of memory, it’s tough to beat the Slitaz base version. I can think of no higher praise. :|

Knight in shining armor: Clonezilla. Clonezilla is crack for the distro hopper.

Clonezilla: So yummy, it should be illegal.

Clonezilla is going to eat your life away in small pockets, leaving you with dozens of archived systems, waiting on an external hard drive.

Clonezilla will save your life, when calamity strikes.

Clonezilla makes it too easy to backup and restore entire systems, and isn’t afraid of anything.

Clonezilla turns on a dime, needs less than the average memory available to a Pentium III to get started, and even comes in a i486 flavor, for weirdos like me.

Clonezilla boots from USB, boots to memory, boots to anything with a keyboard and an LCD attached, and won’t quit until you tell it to.

And what it does is free up your life to think about other things. New things. Fresh things. Knowing full well all the time that you can always go back to your old way of thinking.

Technically it’s not an operating system, so you can throw stones if you want. But if you’ve tried it, and you know it, you won’t make that big of a noise if I include it here. You’re a believer. You know you are. :twisted:

Tried and true: DSL. When I peel away the frustration and dismay, I have to admit a solemn reverence for a distro that manages so many convolutions in setting up this computer, and doing it so well, and being about a year or two out of development.

DSL, even at this late date, does things for ancient hardware that my best efforts still can’t. Maybe I’m just not well educated enough (no CS degree on my resume, pal). I am more than willing to admit my ignorance.

DSL: The ghost of Christmases past.

But the 60 seconds it takes this 5-plus-year-old distro to start, configure and announce its presence with authority are more than enough to spellbind me. Audio, video, network and peripherals, all moving at a good clip and with no sense of weariness.

It’s almost infuriating. I’ve been inside and out of the machine, probed its inner recesses and researched everything I can think of in terms of arranging and configuring. And an out-of-service, 50Mb distro beats me, with one hand tied behind its back.

Touche, sirs. For that, a small tip of the hat. I wish I could do as well, left to my own devices. :(

Service with a smile: Debian Lenny. I haven’t mentioned it much, but the Debian server I built to run at 133Mhz has convinced me to keep an otherwise superfluous computer and a network card I thought unworking. And that’s saying something.

Debian: The magical stuff that binds us all together.

Given the chance, Debian will perform back flips at the snap of a finger, and provided you don’t overwhelm a machine — of any architecture — you’re more or less assured of top-shelf performance.

Even so, combining a 13-year-old 133Mhz Pentium with only 32Mb, a RaLink-based PCMCIA network card and a gift-from-god 120Gb 5400rpm hard drive sounds like a recipe for disaster.

But like the rug that pulls the room together, Lenny makes it all work as a file server and torrent slave … with only a small bump in software for complete and perfect usability. No hiccups, no flukes, no spotty hardware performance.

And with uptimes in double-digit days, it shows no sign of stopping. You want a reason not to throw out an old machine? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Debian Lenny.

Not for the faint of heart: Crux 2.7. Source-based distros are not for everybody. That should go without saying.

But of the ones I’ve tried, Crux — and most recently in its 2.7 version for the i586 — is by far my favorite.

Crux 2.7 i586: You too can be an Internet hero.

Linux From Scratch is educational, but becomes esoteric for me. Gentoo seems overcomplicated, when compared with Crux’s spartan arrangement. Of the others … well, I should probably look a little more before saying anything.

Suffice to say that Crux has just enough automation by default to keep it from becoming obtuse. But it also skimps on a lot of other points, which keeps you on your toes.

I mentioned the other day that I learned more about Linux from a 450Mhz K6-2 running Crux than I ever did with any more powerful machine. That’s very true.

But you could probably substitute almost any hardware for that rotten little K6-2, and still learn heaps and mounds more than what Ubuntu or other distros have to offer.

I’m no expert, and your way is always the right way. But if your goal is to figure out what makes your hardware tick, I can think of no better suggestion than Crux.

And best of all, I can guarantee with 99 percent assurance, that any speed improvement you might remember if you moved to Arch from Ubuntu, you will see again if you move from Arch to Crux. Believe you me. :shock:

Up and coming: ConnochaetOS. It’s probably not fair for me to highlight a distro so recent in my mind, because there is an observation bias that can’t be avoided.

But let’s be honest. I have a half-dozen computers I’ve used in the past year, and the majority of those predated the Pentium II. What do I really want out of life? An Arch Linux for i586s.

archlinux-i586.org dried up more than a year ago, but the DeLi Linux project morphed into the latest i586 effort built on Arch. And I am 100 percent on board with that.

ConnochaetOS: A promising future on the playing field.

Any Arch veteran who has an old machine in the house is going to wipe a tear from her eye if there’s a living, breathing version of i586 Arch out there. Time saved in compiling is the first reason.

Simple ease of use, a minimal starting point and an easy-peasy configuration system are others, and are all hallmarks of Arch proper. All three of those are gold to an antique computer enthusiast.

So while there might be a curse attached to i586 renditions of Arch Linux, I’m hoping ConnochaetOS can ride it out, in part with its history as DeLi Linux, but in part because it’s got what Arch users are used to.

My fingers are crossed for this one.

Big toys for big boys: Linux Mint Debian. What I’ve mentioned thus far all has the potential — if not the promise — of running on extremely low-end machines. Pentiums. Maybe even i486s.

But if you were born after 1992 and you think a single-core machine is sluggish, then your idea of “antique” is quite different from mine.

No matter: I have one more candidate for you, and this one should run on anything from a Pentium 4 up, and suffer no setbacks at all.

And heck, you can even strip the machine down to (a no doubt frightening) 256Mb and still get plenty of use out of it. Put in those hours at Free Geek, because your reward will no doubt perform with Linux Mint Debian.

LMDE: All of the flavor, none of the fat.

Distros like this one should put fear into the hearts of big-name projects like Ubuntu or Fedora or OpenSUSE. Why? Because all the flash (dare I say “Flash”? :lol: ), all the glitter and all the goodies are instantly available for us peons suffering with leftover machines.

How can LMD be doing things so right, and all the others be doing things so … not right? I don’t know.

But spend a week with LMD and you’ll probably never walk back to Ubuntu. And you’ll probably never walk into another computer reseller either, because the machine you use now (I feel safe in saying) is powerful enough to run it.

And Mint’s reputation for making Ubuntu even easier … ? Well, what can I say. Back in August I dropped Mint into a neighbor’s Celeron, with the hopes that it would be easier and cleaner to manage than — but just as speedy as — Arch.

And it ran without a complaint — no, really: without a stitch of attention from me — for three full months. What do you make of that? :D

P.S.: Get yourself some floppies. What is life without floppies?! :mrgreen:

(All right. You asked for it, you got it. :evil: )

Three mediocre attempts

In the space of a few hours this morning I managed to put two or three more distros through the proverbial 150Mhz meat grinder. Results were mixed this time.

Sadly, my rush to install Alpine Linux on my Mebius failed catastrophically, with neither the CD booting nor an emulated system written across USB (in this fashion).

It’s not a kernel panic, it’s a full stop, with no boot action or CD access … sometimes for as long as 20 minutes, or until I get tired of waiting. No juice.

I’m not sure why. If I had to guess, I would suspect some sort of hardware conflict, even though I was fairly certain that I read on the site that Alpine was i586-friendly.

After all a lot of embedded machines are 586-based … or so I had thought. I have a tendency to imagine things though, so perhaps I dreamed I saw “5-8-6″ on the site. :shock:

It could be almost anything though, and I have too many distros to check to chase after nonbooting CDs for one or another. C’est la vie, I suppose I should say. Or perhaps, “Not everything works every time.

And that would be very true.

V7/x86 was another somewhat fruitless effort, although this one was picked strictly out of curiosity and education, not out of any hope of actually adopting it as a working distro.

Really, a Unix 7 port for the PC is worth looking at, even if it’s probably not practical as a full and daily operating system. (Says the person who uses a Pentium for everyday tasks. … Yes, the irony isn’t lost on me. :roll: )

This time both the floppy versions and emulated systems proved too knuckle-whitening. The floppies wouldn’t boot, and the CD image in Qemu seemed to want a partition arrangement I couldn’t satisfy.

(If someone can cue me in on a “type 114″ partition, like the installation file suggests, I would appreciate it. I’ll try the ptdisk utility too, at some point. ;) )

I suppose I could break down and burn a CD of the installation ISO and possibly get it going that way, but I think I’ll wait a little bit. After all, it was only done as a lark, in the name of science.

And curiously, some knob put together a GTK1.2-only version of Ubuntu Linux a few years ago, and I thought I should run it through its paces at 150Mhz.

Out of fairness, I am particularly harsh. :evil: After all, this is amateurish, incomplete and impractical really, even if it did work (mostly) on the first try.

Thirty-two megabytes of memory is probably too little to be functional for this; running more than one application at a time causes swapping and slowdowns.

On top of that, the processor is probably too slow for the core Ubuntu workload. Even after a fresh boot, the system is sluggish to start programs and slow to read from disk.

And on top of that, there is the issue of the trident driver, which doesn’t work well with that video card. The vesa driver worked fine though, which is why you get a screenshot at all.

Screen redraws are slow though, and programs take four or five seconds longer than natural to open. Closing them causes hiccups too, while X adjusts itself to the sudden change.

Networking was up on the first attempt with an orinoco-driven wireless card though, which is the way things should be. And I guess there is a somewhat usable array of programs here.

It definitely could use some refinement though, and considering even just the kernel is a couple of years old, while most of the software is two or three or five years older than that. At least.

So yeah, it worked, much of it without heavy configuration, but it’s still just a curiosity. Not really useful. :evil:

And that’s about all. I have a short list of other distros to try, as well as some that are aimed at faster, newer machines again. Stay tuned. :)