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Arch linux – not just for geeks?

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Well… I’m back after a lengthy respite from this here blog. Hehe, seems my last post was a tirade of sorts against the general state of linux; suffice to say that shortly thereafter I saw the error of my ways and have been 99% Windows free for the last several months. Today I’d like to share a few thoughts on one of my favorite distros, Arch, and along the way say a few things about KDE – my favorite DE. As I’ve written before, I’m no techie/guru/geek – just an average joe that has accumulated a fair amount of experience installing and troubleshooting linux distributions, so as always, this will be from that perspective.

Arch linux has the reputation of being for the hard-core linux enthusiast, and this is largely accurate. It can be a pain to install in particular, but the documentation is insanely detailed and helpful, so anyone that can read and follow instructions should be able to handle it. That said, Arch is remarkably simple to maintain once installed, and there are several reasons that even the relative newcomer to linux may want to give it a try. The first and perhaps most compelling reason to try Arch is that it is a true “rolling release”. What that means is that once you install it, you should NEVER have to reinstall it, as is necessary for most other distros, especially those aimed at the linux newcomer (Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, etc). Your entire system – kernel, DE, tool chain (yeah I know – that makes me sound like a geek) and all applications are regularly updated to the newest possible versions. That touches on the second reason to maybe try Arch: bleeding edge software. You will get the latest version of Firefox, GIMP, Chromium, KDE, Gnome, whatever almost immediately upon its release into the wild. Days or weeks before other distros get ‘em – if they get ‘em at all. The third reason to love Arch is its package manager (pacman). It’s immensely powerful, easy to use (once you learn it), and FAST. The only thing it lacks currently is delta updates – the ability to save bandwidth by downloading only the difference between the old and new package. Fedora’s yum package manager uses delta extensively and it can cut your download bandwidth significantly. My understanding (I could well be wrong here) is that pacman has the capability to do it, but it hasn’t been implemented widely as of yet.

My adventure with Arch began after growing bored with the sameness of the major distros. I started reading the Arch wiki pages and soon downloaded the install iso. From there I followed the infamous Beginner’s Guide almost to the letter. I was stymied somewhat by the internet setup step, as I rely on WPA-encrypted wireless, and the guide wasn’t entirely clear as to how to deal with a provider name (essid) that includes several words and numbers. I did eventually figure it out, but I’d hate to have to figure it out again. So I had it installed, and I now had it connected to the internet, but I was (as is the Arch way) left with the choice as to what to install next. Let me back up a bit. A fresh install gives you a command line interface – no nice pointy clicky windowy goodness. This is by design. You are left to choose which desktop environment (DE) to install (if any), as well as which programs to install. Before I chose my DE, I installed the wonderful wicd – a program that greatly simplifies connecting to the internet. No more fighting with my provider’s name via command-line trickery!

The choice of DE was a rather easy one for me. After a few years of being a Gnome person by way of Ubuntu and Mint, gnome decided to morph itself into something I found – and still find – less usable. This would be the infamous switch from gnome2 to gnome3 – or more accurately, to gnome-shell. I hated it then and hate it now. I had dabbled with Xfce and kinda liked it, but it seemed a bit limited. KDE had always seemed a bit intimidating to me up to this point. I’d used it and liked it, but there was just so MUCH of it. And OMG – every little detail of every included program was configurable to a degree that was… well, it just seemed like a lot is all. I can’t actually recall the distro that finally opened my eyes to the greatness of KDE. It was most likely either Mepis or PCLinuxOS. Or maybe openSUSE. Anyway, by the time I was installing Arch I was just over the learning curve of KDE and really liking it. Again, the choice of DE for me in Arch was easy: KDE, and since I had a fairly big partition to devote to Arch (20Gb), I installed the whole freakin’ KDE kit and kaboodle.

It should be noted here that there were several steps that I had to go through before my behemoth download of the entirety of KDE was up and running upon each boot. These steps are very clearly explained in the hallways of the extremely well maintained Arch wiki – any question I had was easily answered with copy-and-pastable clarity. It’s basically a matter of editing a surprisingly few files. I mean like 3 or 4 files. Easy as pie, and it really gives you the feeling that you are in control of what your operating system is up to, as opposed to wondering why something runs at boot time (or when – or if – your DE starts) or not. All part of the “Arch way” – simplicity, but not simple as in click-click-done. More like simple as in “here are the files that control everything – and here’s what’ll happen when you do this… or this… to them”. Within a very short time I was up to speed with the basics of the Arch way and into taming the beast that is KDE.

KDE is indeed a huge pile of stuff, with an even huger pile of ways to configure it. No other DE even comes close in this regard. One look at the System Settings app can be unsettling to say the least. Workspace Appearance, Desktop Appearance? There’s a difference? Huh? To say nothing of  Window Behavior and Workspace Behavior. I’d played with all these before, but now I was determined to actually understand and make use of all the gazillions of settings. It’s all second nature now, and I can have any KDE distro set up to my liking within a few minutes, but to the uninitiated all the options may seem – ummm… like too many questions. I’m not gonna go into detail here because there’s just too much to cover, but I will recommend a few things. First, if you want to speed things up a bit and use fewer system resources (memory mostly), turn off Desktop Search entirely. Along with that, disable the dreaded akonadi server. Instructions as to how to do both of these are strewn amongst the fora of almost any linux distro, and probably somewhere in the Arch wiki as well. Many folks also like to disable Desktop Effects as well, but I like ‘em and I find they don’t really slow me down even on my little HP Mini netbook (1Gb RAM). Also look into Startup and Shutdown under Service Manager and disable stuff you don’t need – for me there are 6-7 things to disable here. All these will result in a far snappier KDE using less memory than even your typical Ubuntu or Mint install.

Which brings us back to Arch. Because you have so much control over what runs (or not) by default, Arch with KDE tends to be among the fastest KDE’s around. On my old Compaq sr5510 with 4Gb RAM and Nvidia GE 240 video, 64 bit Arch/KDE idles at around 280-320Mb RAM usage. That’s lower (for me) than the big boy distros with KDE, and only my Gentoo/KDE install does better. But that’s a story for another day. To sum up all this rambling, I guess my point is that with a bit of reading and determination, anyone can have an Arch/KDE setup that will never need to be reinstalled/upgraded. A simple “pacman -Syu” every week or so will keep you using the latest and greatest linux software that your Ubuntu-using buddies will be ever-so-jealous of. Or something…

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July 5, 2012 at 3:50 am

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Nobody’s reading this, but…

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Yep, I am a throwback. No Facebook or Twitter for me. Add to that no skills as to promoting this blog in any way. That said, I’ll continue as follows. Natty (Ubuntu 11.04) is complete tripe, maybe useful on smartphones, but completely useless as a desktop OS. Mint 11 has corrected issues with my wireless (as has Ubuntu, and all variants, to be fair), yet openSUSE and the latest Fedora (gnome3) still remain laughable. The latest Slackware refuses to find my wireless usable, while PCLinuxOS (antiquated at best) and Mepis are good with it, yet lacking in ability to use any sort of compositing, regardless of which driver used (I have both nvidia and ati machines).
Only a year ago I had 30+ installed distros all working perfectly, with wireless and desktop effects fully usable. Right now? Only Mint really… And since Mint is grub2, it doesn’t see PCLinuxOS or any other older stuff.
My main gripes here are grub2 and regressions in ALL distros other than MInt regarding desktop effects and proprietary drivers. Sure, Natty will grab the drivers, but it will not boot (nor will Mint) any legacy grub OS. Zorin, Pinguy, etc just add further ketchup to this mess, with varying degrees of success and mostly failure.
Once again I must admit to booting W7 9 times out of ten. At least it doesn’t break after every round of updates, as has happened to me with almost every linux flavor for the past several months. What was once promised as “easier and more secure” is now just more secure. I defy anyone to “easily” get an nvidia card working with Fedora’s latest RC or even openSUSE’s stable release… let alone getting wireless to work (especially with openSUSE or Slackware).
It didn’t used to be like this. Perhaps Unity and Gnome3 need to be dropped completely in favor of much of what Mandriva/Mageia have done with KDE, with a commensurate kicking of grub2 to the proverbial curb, in lieu of a standout graphical app to seriously configure it reliably.
In summation, grub2 and ubuntu’s recent efforts to become the mac are darts to the heart of linux usability. Can it be fixed? Of course. Will it? Almost certainly not. Winner? Bill (holy crap am I lucky my opponents ain’t lactose-intolerant).
I dunno… call me a cynic…

Written by claudecat

May 22, 2011 at 7:34 am

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Another try…

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Well, I have attempted another egress into linux via linuxMint KDE. It did not work. After downloading the ISO and then updating/upgrading it as seemed logical, it exhibits the same “drop my wireless connection every few minutes, and then just plain refuse to connect” as all other linuxes have done in recent months. I am a saddened yet still hopeful and reluctant Windows 7 user at this juncture. I am still downloading and attempting to find joy in each and every new linux distro, only to be beaten down and disappointed by even such former stalwart and workable distros as openSUSE. Mint 10 gnome works but craps out internet-wise frequently, and then becomes frozen upon finally being able to apply all updates. Fedora works but is unable to cope with Compiz and Flash (64 bit) no matter what I do. Ubuntu with Unity? Complete trash.

At this point I am not ashamed to declare myself a W7 convert. As much as I want them to, no version of linux works on my hardware, and that is just plain sad. It’s not like my system is all that unusual (Compaq sr5510f desktop, upgraded ram and nvidia 240 video card). My wireless is an Atheros based TP-Link  USB deal, and worked really really well with almost all distros as of about a year ago.  The fact that all Debian based distros drop my wireless every few minutes is disconcerting. The fact that all other distros (aside from Puppy, Fedora and a few others) refuse to boot or work at all is just plain ridiculous. “Just plain works”?!?!?!? Yeah…. right. I’ll admit that I had to download some stuff to get W7 to work fully, but it was really simple and required NO command line magic.

Once again, I WANT linux to work! I do not enjoy using Bill’s inherently insecure software regularly. But almost every distro  of late is not worthy of consideration. Again, Grub2, Gnome3, Unity, and pure laziness are to blame. At a time when linux is making serious inroads on little bitty smart phones, desktop linux is eating its own hippo in so many ways. I’m gonna call it quits for this night… but comments are welcome (like anyone is reading this).

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April 14, 2011 at 5:47 am

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What is linux becoming?

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Ok… I’m a dude that has had as many as 33 distros installed and usable at a time, albeit without ANY coding skills. Recent happenings in the linux world have shot all this to hell. At this moment, only Mint, PCLOS, Fedora and OLDER versions of openSUSE, Slackware, et al work without geek quotient z. And Mint (and all other Ubuntu clones) drops my wireless (atheros something) every few minutes. This is not good. As a human that just wants stuff to work, I am an unhappy linux camper lately.

As a bit of background info, let me admit that I installed Windows 7 a few months ago. Just as a lark! I fully expected to continue using linux as my main OS, but there have been issues. First off, W7 works pretty great. I use AVG Free and common sense and feel secure. Second, and the point of all this: linux distros have regressed in so many major ways of late (and into the foreseeable future) that I am no longer willing to be a fanboi (I apologize if I spelled that wrong). Grub2? It sucks in so many ways and spells the end of any hope of “linux on the desktop” being anything more than a pipe dream. Gnome 3? Unity? Really? Just when linux has come to some level of usability by just plain folk, a complete revision of the user interface? This is just plain utter fail. The assumption that Mint will probably use some of this crap in its next iteration makes me extremely doubtful that any linux distribution will ever “get it”. What users want is something not terribly different from what we already use, yet inherently more secure, and easier to upgrade/add new software to. Exactly what linux was 2 years ago. I’m posting this in W7 ffs… I would have been ashamed to do so a few years back.

The main point here is that linux has taken many steps away from general usability in recent times/near future. While many many users will settle for social networking and flash, many of us demand security, stability and yes, a user interface that can at least be configured to be better than Unity/Gnome3/KDE4.what. The fact that I currently spend most of my time in Windows 7 is a spike to the temple of what was once a viable linux opponent.

Written by claudecat

April 13, 2011 at 4:07 am

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Sprint Mobile broadband is really awful here in the USA

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Ok… so I decided to upgrade my 3G modem to whatever they (Sprint) recommend. Total fail… even with Windows 7 this did not work. I must wait until Sprint is open for business for support…  All I did was upgrade to the next better modem. It did not work with Windows 7, and even Mint so far seems recalcitrant.  I’m thinking complete fail on Sprint’s part.  I mean, if you are gonna sell me on being able to at very least upgrade Windows 7 to get some joy, and then grab all possible upgrades… it just plain does not work. I am utterly unable to connect my desktop using the new modem, and the old one only works if I disable it in more than one way. I know I am not all that knowledgeable, but seriously….  I am only connected now because I know how to uninstall what doesn’t work and reinstall what does. In other words, the old modem works, this new piece of crap does not. One more gigantic thumbs down for Microsoft, because only a downgrade of software allowed me even to connect.

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January 19, 2011 at 1:38 pm

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Ok, I must start with a review of Linux Mint 10

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Linux Mint. Now number two on distrowatch’s  list. Is it just another Ubuntu knockoff, or does it really offer something that sets itself apart from the crowd of Pinguys, Zorins, MoonOS’s and untold others? Well, for my money (ok, there’s no money involved), Mint is by far the most advanced and “out-of-the-box” usable distro available. So… you need multimedia codecs, proprietary drivers for your video card or wireless… the best menu system ever? Mint is for you. The install is just as simple as Ubuntu… and since I’m new at this whole blogging thing, I’ll not be providing screen shots. The only hard part for the great unwashed may be disk partitioning… and even here, Mint offers to resize your windows partition and install side by side. It could not possibly be easier. For serious geeks, there is no LVM or entire disk encryption, but seriously, do we need to confuse the yokels with that? When you first boot into the newly installed system, you will see a boot menu that allows you to fall back to your warm and snuggly windows home (which will work perfectly) or maybe actually try Mint. Ok… now it’s possible that your graphics card wasn’t properly configured. You have two options here. One is to wait for the handy behind the scenes wizard thing to ask you to search for the appropriate driver. If you don’t wanna wait, just click on “Hardware Drivers” under the administration menu and you become golden. You just clickety-click and bang zoom, upon a reboot (yes, a reboot, rare in linux, but necessary for this purpose) you will be happy. Now you are a linux user… My first move would be to run Synaptic Package Manager and click on “Status” and then grab all updates. After that, the Mint Software  tool is your buddy. You can search for whatever you might need or want and be satisfied almost always. Me? I prefer Synaptic, but I’ve been doing this for quite a while now.With the Software center you’ll be able to browse by category, read user reviews, etc. Probably best for the uninitiated. Synaptic is superior in that it allows you to update ALL of your software with just a few clicks… but I have probably said enough on this topic.

What can Mint do? Well, upon initial install you will be able to play multimedia content like all get-out, open pdf files no problem, play dvds, surf the web and use youtube thereon. This is a lot, considering that if you install WIN7, some of this functionality will not be there without extra effort. Also, Mint (and any other linux for that matter) really doesn’t need anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-malware, firewalls or anything else of the like. When you install it, it will ask you to create a user account (note… USER account… not an administrative account like is the default even for Win7). If you provide a halfway decently strong password, you need not worry about being pwned by some Croatian or Nigerian dude or dudette. If you need to make serious changes to something that requires administrative privileges, you’ll need to type in your password… not just click something as in windows 7.

What  differentiates Mint from plain old Ubuntu (a word that many even in the windows world may be aware of)? Well, Ubuntu is pretty cool, but seems to want to become OS X (Snow Leopard) aka “the Mac” lately. Also, there are some pretty huge changes coming in the next version of Ubuntu, which will almost certainly break many users’ computers. Mint has committed to stay with what works to a large extent, and may ultimately usurp Ubuntu’s spot at number one on Distrowatch for just this reason.

As further background, I have installed Mint 10 on my main desktop (Compaq Presario with an nvidia graphics card), my laptop (Toshiba 4036 with amd/ati graphics), and my fave little computer, an Acer Ferrari 11.6 inch (netbook, but not really – dual core Athlon processor and 4GB ram, along with ATI Radeon HD 3200 Graphics). It all works with absolutely no command line fiddling, as so many windows adherents will tell you is necessary with linux. And I haven’t even mentioned yet that this is all free… as in you don’t pay, and you are free to improve anything you want (in most cases) and post the results to the entire world of linux geeks… who will more than likely to improve upon your improvements and make program x work better within hours of your suggestion. Granted, most of us (certainly me) don’t have the skill to do this, but it really does happen on a daily basis, unlike windows’ bi-weekly, maybe we’ll fix a huge hole that was opened several months ago a few Tuesdays from now.

In summation, Mint, and even plain old Ubuntu or their rivals Fedora, openSUSE, or even Slackware or Debian all mostly work out of the box. It’s only the fact that windows comes pre-installed and configured by OEMs that makes people think that windows is superior in hardware detection or general usability. The truth is the exact opposite of this. Linux will find and work with more of your hardware than a raw windows install in many cases, and is so much more secure that it becomes a serious question… why would you run the world’s most hackable and insecure OS when there are so many great alternatives? The main one being Mint 10? Mostly it falls back to ignorance, fear, uncertainty and doubt. All keystones to Microsoft’s modus operandi.

Mint 10 is for my money (or lack thereof) the best OS ever. There are limitations (Netflix does not work on any linux, and if you actually need MS Office rather than the pretty decent openoffice, you are mostly locked in to the evil empire… oh, and all you idiots that play games on windows? well, yeah… you deserve whatever malware you acquire, but then, if you can afford sli/crossfire insanely fast machines, you should be prepared to lose it all to some hacker in Algeria with mad coding skills). Just my 2 cents… and I can barely afford that.

I remain – claudecat

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January 6, 2011 at 4:05 pm

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LMDE is not so great

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Ok, for the uninitiated, LMDE means Linux Mint Debian Edition. While Debian is seriously cool on several levels, this version of Mint is flawed. Upon installation and a reboot, I had no wireless, and my graphics card (NVIDIA 240 something or other) was dead in the water. The ubiquitous “hardware drivers” Ubuntu app thingie? Not there. While I applaud Mint for at least attempting to break from Ubuntu, this is pure shiite.

Written by claudecat

January 1, 2011 at 9:22 am

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Ok, I’m here

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I am an ex-musician (mainly acoustic blues, though electric paid the bills towards the end nicely). I am now a working stiff with above average, yet still limited computer skills. I love linux and free software and have been playing with it since before Redhat and Fedora were separate entities. Currently, I LOVE Linux Mint, PCLOS, openSuse, and various other distros (yes, even slack). My aim in this blog is to point the potential linux convert in as easy a direction as possible. Again, I am not a geek, and I always look for distros that make it really really easy for windows users to take the plunge. As of right now, that would be Linux Mint 10.

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January 1, 2011 at 9:00 am

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Who I am and what I hope this will become

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Greetings and a very happy new year to all. Basically, I am a non-geek as compared to so many linux devotees. I have no knowledge of programming, avoid the command line whenever possible, and gravitate towards distros that work “out of the box” with my hardware, which currently includes an aging Compaq Presario desktop with an added nvidia 240 something or other graphics card and maxed out 4GB of memory, a Toshiba mid-range laptop with 4GB ram and nvidia graphics, and maybe my favorite little beast, an Acer Ferrari 11.6″ netbook on steroids that uses ATI Radeon graphics, also 4GB ram. All of these machines “just plain work” with my preferred distro, Mint 10 (not the one based on Debian).

What I’m getting at here is that my perspective on linux may be quite different than most, in that I see myself more as an average joe, with limited technical skills, trying to get the most out of whatever distro I may grapple with, with as little jumping through hoops as possible. Let me add that I have had at times over 30 distros installed, fully working and updated to the gills – all residing on my main two drives. The fact that I have close to 3TB in drive space (1.5TB or so devoted to collected music and video) still makes me agog in wonderment, as my first PC (a Tandy) had a 120MB hard drive and 4MB of ram, along with Windows 3.1.

Speaking of Windows, I’ll admit to actually rather liking Windows 7 Ultimate. I use it mainly for Netflix (when will they finally get their act together with that?!?!?!). But for everything else, I boot Mint or PCLOS or openSUSE or Fedora or Squeeze or Aptosid or… well there are just too many “ors” to fully delineate.

Oh, and for the cognoscenti that may see me as just a bit too dull to be able to, as time goes on here, review and maybe even offer intelligent advice on a given distro? I have and still do use Slackware (current). It’s insanely easy… I can’t imagine why some are still intimidated by it. Just because the installer is not “graphical” doesn’t mean it’s not doable by even a Windows person. And yes, I have compiled a kernel or several in my day. Way back in the RedHat 4 era, but it really isn’t necessary anymore.

Which brings us back to the real point of this blog. While linux may never usurp the evil empires that are MS and Apple, it remains a choice for those that choose not to kowtow to the corporate bullies (let me just add Oracle to that bunch). It is entirely possible to do ALL your computing on linux these days, provided you don’t need some bizarre and proprietary software to design those patterns the Nicaraguan children need to make their 28 cents a day. Oh yeah, and Netflix.

Until next time gentle reader, I remain claudecat.

Written by claudecat

January 1, 2011 at 8:36 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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