gOS may not have a GUI network-configuration utility … but it does have Gparted

And I am using gOS’ version of Gparted to partition the hard drive on which I will eventually install gOS. I haven’t yet used the Gparted from a Ubuntu-derived live CD, since I have Puppy for that purpose. But since the version of Gparted on the last few versions of Puppy Linux have taken up to a half-hour to read the partition table, I’ve since turned to the Gparted and Partition Magic live CDs to do my partitioning.

But since this is gOS test, I figured I’d use it’s version of Gparted. It’s as lousy at reading the partition table in a timely manner as the version in Puppy. Has nobody but me noticed this? It makes Gparted all but unusable.

Not that commercial applications don’t have soul-killing bugs in them, but Gparted has been screwed up for so long now, won’t anybody fix it already? It’s the same thing as the Ted word processor in Debian. I’ve checked — all the dependencies are there. But you can neither open nor create a file in Ted. The RTF word processing app works fine in Damn Small Linux (where it’s the main WP app) and in Puppy (where it is an easily-added package). But it’s useless in Debian. Like Gparted in … just about everything.

But the bright side is that I discovered the Gparted and Partition Magic live CDs. I heard that development on PM is going to cease, and that would be a very bad thing, indeed. Hopefully somebody else will take up the mantle and either continue Partition Magic or start their own live CD focused on partitioning hard drives. That’s the beauty of open source: out of the ashes, a new project can always arise.

Anyhow, I deleted all the partitions from my drive, and I’m waiting the <em>next</em> half-hour for Gparted to scan the drive again so I can create new ones.

P.S. Even though Gparted takes so long to scan the drive, it makes changes to the partitions as quickly as it ever did.


BSD — it’s better with books

After my less-than-successful forays into BSD, I’ve come to the conclusion that before installing, configuring and working with a BSD distro — whether it be FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and even DesktopBSD and PC-BSD — it pays to read up on in.

With Linux, you can fake it easier. Most Linux distros ship with everything you need, and even setting up a server can be as easy as clicking the right boxes during an install.

But BSD is a different animal. The hardware support is nowhere near as comprehensive as it is for Linux, but it is possible to get it working with the hardware you have (wireless notwithstanding — BSD and wireless is something I know very little about but want to know much more).

One thing people say about BSD — it can be faster than Linux for many tasks. I don’t know how that plays out on the desktop, but for servers and other processor-intensive tasks, BSD is an attractive alternative. And the security of OpenBSD especially is legendary. So for a server, I can totally understand it.

And the BSD that went into Apple’s OS X seems to be working very, very well — multimedia is probably better on the Mac than anywhere else, so for BSD and Linux, it can be done and can perform better than Windows by far.

But when rolling your own BSD system, I think a ton of reading is what’s required. And there really isn’t a book out there that focuses on BSD desktop systems, even though there are two distros that focus on just that.

FreeBSD is the most popular BSD, from what I gather, and that’s due in no small part to the excellent FreeBSD Handbook, a free 900+ page manual that is one of the best examples of FOSS documentation I’ve seen.

And new from NoStarch Press is “Absolute FreeBSD, 2nd Edition,” by Michael W. Lucas. Check out the PDF of the table of contents. At $59.95 retail, you better hope for a deep Amazon discount on that one. From No Starch parent company O’Reilly — and for $9.95 each — are two PDF-only books, “The FreeBSD 6.2 Crash Course” and “The OpenBSD 4.0 Crash Course,” both by Jem Matzen. Both of these PDFs promise some guidance on using BSD as a desktop OS.

As I’ve written previously, OpenBSD is the only BSD to install on my Maxspeed Maxterm converted thin client (VIA C3 Samuel processor), and while I was far from getting it set up for the desktop — there was just too much to do with ports and configuration — I now look favorably on OpenBSD as a great system on which to learn BSD. The OpenBSD FAQ is quite good, though not as extensive as FreeBSD’s Handbook . I was able to do the OpenBSD installation with no problems whatsoever by consulting it keystroke by keystroke. It’s also available in text form.

I’ve been warned away from BSD by people who know more than I do. And other way-smarter people swear by the use of BSD, even on the desktop.

From my point of view, having not just one OS alternative (Linux) but many — including the various BSDs — is vitally important to all of us, both on the server and the desktop — as we go forward. I hope the people behind the various BSD distributions keep the desktop user in mind more and more in the near and far future.

Slackware 11 — could it work on the $0 Laptop? Not that it doesn’t respond well to Debian, Ubuntu and Puppy

I’ve had trouble with Slackware 12 and the $0 Laptop (Gateway Solo 1450). Something happens when services load that prevent it from running. I’ll have to take a much closer look, but I’m ready to try Slackware 11 just to see if that makes a difference.

I see in the Slackware security page that patches are still being doing for version 11, and even 10.2 for Firefox issues, and back to 8.1 for things like CUPS.

But Slackware 11 is pretty well covered, and I recall having a better time with Zenwalk back in the 4.2 days when I was first getting into Linux.

Even so, Debian is running pretty well on the $0 Laptop. I don’t have Xfce installed, so I don’t know how much better it will do than GNOME. And in Ubuntu 7.10, I can actually make the touchpad do what I want, which is to run at the right speed and NOT tap-to-click unless I want.

And I have been running Puppy 3.00 from live CD (compatible with Slackware 12 packages), and now that I’ve managed to control the noisy fan with a few modeprobes set to run at startup and a cron job, I just might stick with it for … everything. It’s so fast. No tap-to-click in Puppy, but since I don’t want it, that’s fine.
I installed the SFS file for OpenOffice on one of my other Puppy setups, but not this one. I’ll have to try it. I actually like the way Damn Small Linux adds things like the GIMP and AbiWord — the filesystem in DSL (and, by extension Knoppix, which I’ve also been running on the $0 Laptop) seems more flexible than Puppy’s. I don’t think you have any size limitations. I think Puppy’s pup_save can only be 1.5 GB, but that still doesn’t stop you from mounting other filesystems and working with them, so it’s a six-of-one situation anyway.

And Damn Small Linux runs like crap on the $0 Laptop. I just can’t get the X configuration right, no matter how many different ways I try it. Puppy, of course, is perfect.

KDE showdown: Slackware vs. Debian

After not being in love with Debian Etch under KDE, I wanted to boot into Slackware to see if it was just me.

It’s not just me.

Since I never ran Debian with KDE before (nor had I run Slackware 12 in GNOME, with such an install being way beyond my capability at this time), I was surprised to see KDE running so much better in Slackware. I knew that Slack was quicker at just about everything than most distros out there, but I had no idea that it was so much quicker than Debian as well.

At this point, and on this slower-than-average box — the VIA C3 Samuel-based converted Maxspeed Maxterm thin client (256 MB of RAM) — I wouldn’t run KDE on anything but Slackware.

But … Slackware with KDE compares very nicely to Debian with GNOME. Makes me wonder how Slack would run with GNOME …

Zenwalk Live 4.8

I’m a sucker for a Linux or BSD distro with a live CD. Even if you can’t do an install directly from the disc, at least you can figure out whether the damn thing will boot and how your hardware will react when it does.

One of my favorites, ZenWalk, just released Zenwalk 4.8 Live. Both Zenwalk and Vector — the top Xfce-based, Slackware-derived distributions — are very good, but I like the way Zenwalk looks and works just that much better. I was dismayed when Zenwalk 4.6 wouldn’t install properly on the $0 Laptop (the Gateway Solo 1450). Slackware 12 and Vector Standard 5.8 wouldn’t run once installed  either (I think I need to pass some boot parameters … which means I’ll either have to figure out how to do it in LILO or try to do it in GRUB), so it’s more than likely something that begins in Slackware that the other distros don’t clear up. I have my money on PCMCIA or SCSI services, and it is worth a try.

Anyhow, whether or not an Xfce-based Slack-derived distro can really “save” really old hardware remains an open question. One thing I do know, however, is PCs that do “OK” with standard distros like Ubuntu really do fly with Zenwalk or Vector (and more so with Puppy and Damn Small Linux, but that’s another story).

Before I continue, let me remind you about Zenwalk Live’s root password (you’ll need it if you want to do any configuration in the very-well-thought-out ZenPanel app):


And yes, it is case-sensitive (as are all Linux passwords).

Right now, in the live CD environment, I expect more speed from Zenwalk, but I don’t want to make a full judgment until I’ve done a complete install.

One thing (and it’s a big one) that Zenwalk does have going for it is the Net-Pkg package manager. It makes dealing with packages that much easier. And overall, Zenwalk’s ZenPanel is better in just about every way than Vector’s VASM tool.

And if you want to run Slackware but don’t want KDE — and want easier package management, you should test both Zenwalk and Vector before making any decisions on a permanent install. For me, the relative lack of time between releases for both distros — and what looks like the abandonment of updates for the older versions — gives me pause. Nothing a separate /home partition couldn’t cure, but I prefer the ability to stay up to date as long as possible without a full reinstallation of the operating system. (This is an area in which Debian and Ubuntu excel.)

Another thing before I go: Slackware, Vector and Zenwalk all run exceptionally well with the Fluxbox window manager. It’s included in the initial installs of Slack and Vector (the latter doing it the best, I think) and is readily available in the Zenwalk repositories. With Fluxbox, you get a lot more speed, and if Xfce doesn’t give you the level of performance you seek on an older box, any of these distros just might do what you need with this lightweight window manager.

Debian Etch drama

I know … Debian Etch is old news, but I wasn’t about to let my first Debian KDE install go quietly into the night:

I thought it was time to add KDE to my Debian Etch install. So I went to Debian’s KDE maintainer page and found the easy instructions. What they didn’t tell me was that my root partition was too damn small, so I had about half a KDE install when / filled up. I guess when the Debian installer auto-partitions a 14.4 GB drive, it doesn’t leave enough room for GNOME and KDE in the / partition. Live and learn.

If I didn’t have a separate /home partition, it would’ve fit easily, but since the whole thing was pretty much screwed up, I figured I’d start again. I didn’t have much on this install (it’s the Maxspeed Maxterm thin client, VIA C3 Samuel processor, 256 MB RAM) — it’s one of three IDE drives that I can easily switch in and out.

I used the Etch 4.0r1 network install disc and wanted to start with KDE and use the installer GUI. I passed the following boot parameters:
installgui tasks=”kde-desktop, standard”

The graphical installer is nice, and since my $0 Laptop has trouble with the standard Debian text-based installer (the screen looks like a fuzzy Dali painting for some reason), the GUI installer just might be better. On my converted thin client, the text-based installer works great, but it’s nice to see the graphical installer do its thing. Never mind that it’s counterintuitive to NOT have the GUI installer as a menu choice when starting a Debian install. Having to enter installgui as a boot parameter is kind of NOT what having a GUI installer is all about. At least let those who don’t know about the GUI have the choice of using it.

But I quibble. I’ve always thought that Debian had one of the best installers out there, and it’s no hardship to use the text version. I’ve said it before, and I still believe that Debian’s installer is both better and easier to use than Ubuntu’s. And that’s saying a lot. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I’ve never had a serious problem with a Debian install; not so with Ubuntu and Xubuntu.

The Debian KDE install went as flawlessly as every other time I’ve thrown Debian on a box. When you do a KDE install of Debian, you don’t get KOffice. I thought doing apt-get install kde-extras at a # prompt would get me KOffice, but for some reason it didn’t do much. No problem. I just typed in

# apt-get koffice

And the suite started flowing.

One thing that’s pretty nice about KDE in Debian and Slackware — they stay true to what KDE puts out, so they look pretty much the same. Sure, there are differences, but they’re more alike than different at first glance. I understand why Debian includes OpenOffice by default and Slackware doesn’t, but that’s nothing you can’t fix in either distro. Apt is obviously easier than finding a Slackware package for Koffice, but in either case, it’s easily doable.

Yes, the initial “typographical quote marks” in KWord are STILL facing the wrong way (why did they get it right in the older version of KWord but screw it up in this version?). Fix that, as I’ve said a hundred times, and I’d never need OpenOffice, which takes an age to start in comparison to, say, Abiword (and maybe twice as long as KWord takes to load).

Otherwise, opening the Kedit text editor is a tad slower than Gedit in GNOME. The KWrite editor takes WAY too long to load, with Kate falling somewhere in the middle.

As always, the best part about KDE is Konqueror, which loads in a third of the time that it takes Iceweasel (aka Firefox) to start up. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that Konqueror is an integral part of KDE: Besides being the default Web browser, it’s also the file manager, the interface for configuration … and a pretty great FTP program as well. If only GNOME’s Nautilus were as versatile.

The next day: I tried to use KPackage, and I’m not very impressed at all. I never used it in Slackware — I don’t even know if it works in Slack — because of the great pkgtool utility. In Debian, on this marginal hardware, KPackage is slow and barely works. I was able to add individual packages, but “marking” a bunch at once and then clicking “install marked” didn’t work. I’ll have to look into it. At any rate, it’s not as quick or easy as Synaptic.

And is there an equivalent of GNOME’s Update Manager in the KDE version of Debian? I’m not sure I’ll even be notified when there are updates. This is definitely a situation where apt in a terminal window is more necessary than not. I could be missing something … but.

And I’m getting a lot of warnings that a Java script is slowing down KHTML in Konqueror. Why is that happening? I’ll have to try Iceweasel on this same install and see how it reacts.

Nothing’s different here from my other forays into KDE. Yes, the Debian implementation is mercifully quicker than SimplyMepis’ rendition. Yes, I really like a lot of the KDE apps and tools. And yes, the better system you have, the more you’ll like KDE.

But thus far, I have to give Slackware the nod for best KDE implementation. It’s set up the best, has the quickest response. Most distros work better with their main window manager. That’s true for Ubuntu (GNOME), Slackware (KDE) and Debian (GNOME).

I suspect that if I did a GNOME install of Debian and added KDE later, I’d be in a better position. Especially in Ubuntu and Debian, if you’re thinking of running Xfce or Fluxbox, I’d start with the standard GNOME and then add the subsequent window managers. That way, when you want to configure or tweak something, you’ll have the GNOME tools — slow as they might be in comparison — at your disposal. That’s if you have the room for all of it.

That said, I’m probably going back to a GNOME install of Debian when this is all over. It just works that much better. But before I do it, I’ll give KDE in Slackware a spin for comparison’s sake.

Ubuntu runs hotter than Debian

Now that I’m religiously checking CPU temperature on the $0 Laptop (the Gateway Solo 1450) and found out that Knoppix 5.1.1 runs cooler (about 50 to 55 C) than Ubuntu (55-65 C) in preliminary tests, I thought I’d test Debian Etch. Temps for Etch are the same as Knoppix, which follows, since Knoppix is based on Debian.

A great-looking Ubuntu WordPress blog

I don’t know the first thing about making a WordPress blog look as good as All About Ubuntu, but I’d sure like to learn.

The RSS feeds and tag cloud on the side I could probably do. The theme Digg 3 looks good enough that I just might use it here. I don’t know how he did the graphic at the top, but I’d like to roll my own and do that, too.

So far, the positives about WordPress are the built-in statistics, ability to import and export from other blogs (and save this blog in XML format), and general good looks for the blogs as they are.

Negatives: The 50 MB photo limit. As I’ve calculated before, that means 1,500 JPGs, which is a lot of images, but if I ever wanted to do video or audio, I’d bump up at that limit pretty quick. If I was using the system that heavily, paying $20 a year for more space might be worth it … but Blogger doesn’t have such a limit.

Also, it may just be my lack of familiarity with WordPress, but it seems a little bit clunky when compared to the Blogger interface.

But seeing a nice-looking blog in any system is the thing that makes me want to go with one or the other. Since both Blogger and WordPress work on what I think is called a “flat-file” database, entries are saved almost instantly, and you never have to “rebuild” a blog Movable-Type style.

WordPress’ killer app

The ability to import posts and comments from other blogs is what sets WordPress apart from Blogger

But does it get images, too?

The ability to bring in all my old Blogger posts … and maybe my Movable Type ones, too, would be huge.

I’ll check into the images situation.

You can also export a WordPress blog as XML. That’s a great way to make backups as well as potentially move WordPress blog content to another platform. Blogger doesn’t have that, I think.

I conquer the fan

I finally did get my fan under control in Puppy Linux. It involved modprobe commands for both the fan and thermal modules (I configured them to start on boot) and getting a cron job running to check CPU temperature at 5-minute intervals and turn the fan on or off depending on temperature.

I’m working on writing the whole thing up. But first I want to thank the Gateway Solo 1450 owners and Puppy Linux users whose expertise I drew on to get it done.

Even with the cron job running, I think the fan runs less under Debian and Ubuntu. There must be a different set of parameters for determining fan status. Perhaps cron’s check every 5 minutes of the CPU temperature is a much longer interval than those other systems use. I’ll have to look into it.

Another thing I’ll be looking into is what my “trigger” points for the fan are. I currently have it set to start at 50 C and stop at 40 C. Maybe I can shift those numbers a bit to have the fan run less but still keep the CPU at an acceptable temperature.

While I’m giddy as shit at being able to run Puppy without the fan blasting the whole session, I’m still not as satisfied as I would be if it were managed as well as Debian does in EVERY Linux distro I use. But at least I can take what I learned in Puppy and try it in other distros that don’t control the fan on this laptop. I’d love for this to work in BSD, too, but who am I kidding? I’ll have to try my shell scripts and modprobe commands in BSD and see what happens. Probably nothing.

One thing bothers me, though. If I were running a fanless PC, this wouldn’t be a problem. It makes me want to build a fanless mini-ITX VIA box with parts from the Damn Small Linux Store or Logic Supply. And why can’t their be a fanless laptop? If only I had enough skill, time and crazy-in-the-headness to build my own laptop. (I know this one has a fan, but I’d do it sans fan.

Still, I’ve got the fan saga, more on the Debian Live CDs, my problems with image editing and IPTC info and more in the near future.