Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The *buntus are for wusses

Ok, part of the thing running Linux... is finding out what the cool kids run, and going with that. Right?

And when you're doing it for fun, easier is not always best. I mean you want a bit of a challenge right? Then you think you're really solving problems and such.

While it's true what I said earlier... about not wanting to have to work so hard to get things working. It's also true that I want to learn. Increasing my knowledge is definitely one of the main goals in running Linux.

I was recently following a discussion thread in the Xfce forums about which distribution was the favorite of the folks (who presumably all ran the Xfce desktop environment like I do). A number of people did prefer Xubuntu... because it just worked. But those are the folks that just didn't want the hassle.

For people who know, and think the hassle is totally worth it... they seemed to prefer Debian, Arch Linux, and Fedora. I think Debian was the clear winner.

So all the *buntus are based on Debian. One guy says... if Debian is the father of all these distros, why not just run that? On a similar note, Fedora was the original heavy hitter (starting as Red Hat). And that development team has been and still is responsible for a lot of innovation and new technologies that are later adopted by the other distributions.

But in one aspect, Debian and Fedora are like night and day. Debian is well-known as the most conservative distro out there. In terms of... they don't put something into the distro until they've tested it for like two years. While that means it's rock-solid stable. It also means they make it pretty inconvenient to get recent versions of the various software components.

Fedora on the other hand, seems to be pretty well-known for being on the bleeding edge. A ZDNet article I referred to earlier indicated that Fedora was for people that really know Linux. As opposed to the *buntus or Mint which are oriented toward newcomers or people who don't want to hassle with a larger learning curve.

So I figured I'd give Fedora another try. I installed it last night and it's working just peachy. For now I'm running Xubuntu on my laptop and the Xfce spin of Fedora on my desktop machine.

But I think I'm going to want to play around with the network installer disc for Fedora. I used the live Xfce spin for my desktop installation. That gave me a pre-selected set of software designed for the Xfce desktop environment.

I think the network installer disc makes all the software available. It lets you chose each component and only choose those pieces you want. And it downloads all the pieces on the fly rather than having stale versions on a pre-built disc.

So I intend to give that a run. Maybe even tonight. We'll see. I didn't get much sleep last night.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Xfce "save session" option

I think the "save session" option on the logout screen in Xfce is dorky. So I found a way to remove it. Here are the steps:

sudo mkdir /etc/xdg/xfce4/kiosk

sudo vim /etc/xdg/xfce4/kiosk/kioskrc

Add these lines:

[xfce4-session]
SaveSession=NONE

Done. You can also do this to clear out any previously-saved sessions:

rm -r ~/.cache/sessions/*

Monday, July 29, 2013

20 years of Linux and supercomputing

Just ran across this article on ZDNet about 20 years of Linux and what it's done for super computing.

It seems the impact of Linux has been very consequential. Even in the scope of what it's done for society as a whole. Perhaps it doesn't own the desktop. But hey... it can own yours if you want.

Weekend fun

Ha! I had some more Linux fun over the weekend. On Saturday I wiped my two machines and put Lubuntu on. Although Ubuntu was pretty smooth... it had a lot of "features" that I just didn't want.

So I played with Lubuntu for the rest of the day. It's big feature is that it's light weight. It runs LXDE and has very little overhead when compared to other distributions. It is pretty plain. But, I've never viewed eye candy as being that important. I like functionality and efficiency. So that made LXDE pretty appealing.

After messing around most of the day I had things set up pretty well. That's when I started thinking about Fedora. Not only are there different flavors of Ubuntu, there are also different "spins" of Fedora. And there is an LXDE version of Fedora. In theory it should be fairly similar to Lubuntu.

That's when it occurred to me that there was no reason why my two machines needed to be running the same distribution. So I proceeded to wipe my laptop and put the LXDE spin of Fedora 19 on it. I figured that it would very similar to Lubuntu.

Well... it was similar but different. I would say that the installation program for Lubuntu (which is essentially the same as for Ubuntu) is better. But it was really no problem.

One of the primary differences between Fedora and the Ubuntu derivatives is that Ubuntu derivatives use the Debian package system and Fedora uses RPM (from the original Red Hat). Shortly after I installed Fedora I ran into an installation issue with the VirtualBox application. It makes use of custom kernel modules. This was no problem at all for Ubuntu and such. But in Fedora the installation process for VirtualBox errored out with some cryptic errors regarding kernel header source.

Come to find out... Fedora updates that I had run earlier updated the version of the kernel. But because I hadn't rebooted, the installation process for VirtualBox was looking for the old version of the kernel source, causing the problem. Not a big deal. Once I rebooted, all went well. But it was an illustration of differences regarding ease of use.

It didn't take long for me to realize that Fedora was a different beast. There are a number of things that I typically get working when I initially do a Linux installation. I've had a lot of practice doing them lately. And with Fedora many of those were more difficult to achieve than they should have been. Things that just should have worked didn't. So because of that I decided against continuing on with Fedora.

In spite of the article I had read on ZDNet about Fedora being for people who "knew" Linux... I think I'd rather use a distribution that I don't have to work so hard at. In the exploration of why things weren't working properly, I ran across bug reports explaining that a number of these things were known issues. That didn't leave a good taste in my mouth.

I also ran across threads in the developer's forum that indicated discord among the team with regards to the direction Fedora will take into the future. Now I'm sure all open source projects experience that to a certain extent. But reading it did not give me a lot of confidence. With Ubuntu the deal is about their recent focus on mobile devices and touch screens. A case could be made that they are losing their focus and diverting their resources away from desktop Linux.

At any rate... I figured what the heck... and on Sunday morning I wiped both my systems and installed Xubuntu. This is also somewhat light weight flavor of Ubuntu like Lubuntu. But a little better in the departments of visual appeal and functionality. It uses the Xfce desktop environment.

The Xfce environment appears to be a bit more integrated than LXDE. More of a complete experience. So far I really like it. And I have both machines completely set up and purring.

I think Xubuntu is where I will stay for awhile. Time to relax and enjoy.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Linux is indeed fun

So, I've been playing with Ubuntu proper for the last few days. It certainly has polish. But I realized this morning that it was just too full of annoying crapware. I found myself inundated with "features" that I didn't want. With no easy way to remove or disable them.

I've always believed that Linux is about having it your way. Being able to customize most of the facets of your operating system is the huge selling point (or would be if it cost money).

Along those lines... I wiped Ubuntu off my machines and put Lubuntu back on in about an hour this morning.

And as far as the fun part of Linux goes, it certainly is the customizability. But it's also the freedom and convenience of being able to wipe the operating system and install a completely different flavor in less than an hour. All the while retaining my data, the user settings, and configuration for virtually all the software that I run.

In looking back at the last two weeks with all the installing, wiping, and installing again... to an outsider it might seem like a lot of hassle. But it was not nearly as bad as one might imagine. As a matter of fact... it was not difficult or inconvenient at all. And I learned a bunch by doing it. I don't imagine that I'll be doing full wipes and re-installs on a normal basis. But it certainly isn't a big deal if I do get the whim.

With every iteration I get closer and closer to what I'm after. And I discover what it is I really am after a little more each time. When it comes to functionality... pretty much any of the setups I've had will do the job. So really it's all just about having something to play with. There are much more expensive hobbies to have.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An excuse to try Ubuntu

In my process of installing several different Linux distros over the last week or two, I found out a few things.

First, the idea of using LVM and having a separate partition for /home is great. I was able to wipe Linux Mint off my machines and put on Lubuntu with no problem at all. No data loss. All my user settings remained intact.

But... my partitions were a little wonky. And after installing Lubuntu on my desktop machine which is designed to boot in UEFI mode I was having some trouble.

Turns out that the newer PCs that shipped with Windows 8 use a different method of booting. No longer do they use the old PC Bios... but instead they use UEFI. With UEFI, you have a special partition on your hard drive (about 256MB) that contains the first-stage boot files. Macs have been using this for awhile.

Because this is so new, a lot of Linuxes are having trouble with it. I messed with the UEFI thing for quite awhile last night. I had the machine booting... but it would not do so without this weird error. So I set my machine for legacy boot. This tells it to boot using the old PC Bios way. That meant I could delete the EFI partition.

That's also when I decided that my LVM volume groups needed to be renamed. Having them named "mint-vg" just would not do since I was no longer running Linux Mint. I figured, better sort this all out now rather than later. Since I had just done a fresh install, it was a good time to re-do it before I had too much time invested into it.

Unfortunately, in the process of renaming the volume group on my laptop... I rendered the machine unbootable. Yes, there are many ways I could have fixed that. But... I used it as an opportunity to make yet another change. I'd experienced Lubuntu for a day or two. I thought... hmm... maybe I should just load Ubuntu proper on these?

So... I wiped both machines again... and installed Ubuntu on them.

Parting thoughts on Lubuntu... I liked it a lot. It actually seemed quite a bit more polished than Linux Mint. And it's probably way more my style than Ubuntu is. So if I get sick of Ubuntu, it will probably be the one I go back to.

So far, it seems to me that the biggest negative with Ubuntu is all the crapware they put on there. Stuff that gets in the way. Little "features" that are just annoying and make you think "how can I disable this" when you first encounter them.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Giving Lubuntu a whirl

I've been contemplating what to do about potentially messing up my Linux Mint installations by changing repositories for the MATE desktop environment. I was not having any trouble, but the idea that I totally strayed from the official accepted practices by adding a foreign repository bothered me.

I was also questioning if Linux Mint was really the best choice of distributions for me. Ubuntu is the most popular. So running something based on that (as Linux Mint is) seems like a smart idea. But I was contemplating running one of the other distros that I felt were probably even more closely tied to Ubuntu like Lubuntu or Xubuntu.

I settled on Lubuntu. So this morning I wiped Linux Mint off of both my machines and installed Lubuntu.

Lubuntu is light-weight, but still has a fair amount of polish. The main thing I care about is functionality and compatibility with the Ubuntu base. Unlike Linux Mint... Lubuntu uses only standard Ubuntu repositories. I think this is a big plus.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

LVM and partitions

One thing to consider when installing Linux is hard drive partitions. The default for most Linux distributions is to have one big partition for root and a small swap partition. That's it.

This is less than ideal. It's particularly inconvenient for those that have a lot of user data and like to experiment with different varieties of Linux. With one's user data being in the same partition as the OS... you end up having to backup and restore all your data whenever you want to wipe your OS and install something different.

It's super nice to have a separate partition for /home where you park all your user data and settings. Then you can wipe /root anytime you want and install a new OS without your data being affected (of course you would never do that without some sort of backup, just in case).

This is why I chose to use LVM when installing Linux Mint. Logical Volume Manager (LVM) is a partitioning scheme with an abstraction layer that makes resizing partitions a pretty straight forward thing.

Unfortunately I had trouble with the Linux Mint installer. It would allow me to use LVM, but it would not allow me to configure the LVM via the installation interface. (I have since learned... it's best to boot into a live Linux DVD and setup LVM before doing the install)

Anyway, so I installed Linux Mint into a single LVM volume on both my machines. I then tracked down an excellent article on how to resize LVM volumes and the file systems within them.

In order to do this I booted my machine off of a live Linux DVD, because you can't resize these partitions while they are mounted. Once booted off the live DVD, I issued the command "sudo su" in order to gain root access (there is no password on a live DVD).

I was then able to use the following commands to make this all happen...

vgdisplay mint-vg

(displays the info for the volume group mint-vg. issuing the vgdisplay command without an argument will display all volume groups.)

lvdisplay /dev/mint-vg/root

(displays the info for the logical volume root in the volume group mint-vg. issuing the lvdisplay command without an argument will display all logical volumes.)

lvresize -L 500G /dev/mint-vg/root

(resizes the logical volume root in the volume group mint-vg to be 500GB.)

lvcreate -L 500G -n home mint-vg

(creates a logical volume named home in the volume group mint-vg with a size of 500GB.)

lvresize -l +100%FREE /dev/mint-vg/home

(resizes the logical volume home in the volume group mint-vg to use 100% of the space available in the volume group mint-vg.)

mke2fs -t ext4 /dev/mapper/mint-vg-home
(creates a new ext4 file system in the logical volume home in the volume group mint-vg.)

resize2fs /dev/mapper/mint-vg-root 500G

(resizes the file system on the logical volume root in the volume group mint-vg to a size of 500GB.)

resize2fs -p /dev/mapper/mint-vg-home

(resizes the file system on the logical volume home in the volume group mint-vg to take the maximum space available on the logical volume.)

e2fsck -f /dev/mapper/mint-vg-root

(checks the file system on the logical volume root in the volume group mint-vg for errors.)

I first shrunk my original /root file system using the resize2fs command. Then I shrunk the logical volume that contained it to match using lvresize. I then created a new logical volume for /home using lvcreate. Then I pumped it up to maximum size using "lvresize -l +100%FREE" which expands it to fill any remaining space in the volume group. I then created an ext4 file system in the new logical volume using mke2fs. I then used resize2fs with the -p parameter in order to expand it to fill all available space in the logical volume.

Now comes the fun part. How to actually make the swap? I found a great knowledge base article on the ubuntu web site that tells exactly how to do this.

The main nuggets I got from this article were two commands:

sudo rsync -aXS --exclude='/*/.gvfs' /home/. /media/home/.

(this command duplicates the /home directory while preserving ownership and permissions.)

cd / && sudo mv /home /old_home && sudo mkdir /home

(this actually does the swap by executing several commands in sequence.)

If you're going to do this you should read the article. Because there are some /etc/fstab modifications that need to happen between steps.

Easy peasy.

New blog

About a week ago, I decided I needed to get more in touch with my geek roots. So I formatted the hard drives on my desktop machine and my laptop, and I installed Linux Mint 15 MATE edition.

I've created this blog in order to chronicle my experiences with Linux. There are two primary reasons for this. First, it's possible that others who choose this path can benefit from what I've gone through. Second, if I ever need to wipe my hard drive and start over, this log of the things I ran into might come in very handy when I need to do it all over again.

I'm not new to Linux. Back before I bought my first Mac in 2002, I'd spent a number of years playing with Linux and FreeBSD. I loved FreeBSD! That was largely why I bought my first Mac. It was around that time when Mac OS X came out of the beta/test stage and became a usable operating system. It was based on FreeBSD and became a common topic for discussion in the FreeBSD chat rooms.

Anyway, fast-forward to last week... when I made an assessment of the things I would have to give up if I were to completely dump Windows. I was running Windows 8 on both my machines. But the only Windows software that I really relied on was Quicken and iTunes.

Lucky for me, I've recently spent a lot of time developing a custom budget spreadsheet that totally rules. It actually has enough functionality built into it that it can replace Quicken as my day-to-day financial tracker. Dumping Quicken has been on my to-do list for a very long time. So this was a fine opportunity.

Regarding iTunes. I initially tried the Linux music program that came with Linux Mint called Banshee. But it apparently could not handle the MP3 tags on about 500 of my songs. So after importing all my music there were roughly 500 tracks where it did not know the artist, the album, or the track number. Repairing that would be a pretty big job.

Then my wife came up with a brilliant idea. She suggested I create an account on her Windows 8 machine and import my music into iTunes there. Then I can use that account when I want to sync my iPod or stream to the Apple TV in the front room. Sweet! Problem solved!

I don't actually need iTunes to play my music library on a day-to-day basis because I use Google Play Music. My entire music library has already been uploaded there (for free). I can play anything I own from any web browser or mobile android device (gotta love that).

I also have Oracle's free VirtualBox software installed on both my Linux machines. And each one has a VM with Windows 7 installed. This is just in case I run into something I can't do without Windows. Although I'm pretty sure I won't have that need.