Update 20110723 – CentOS 6, Sabayon, Slackware, NetBSD, Etc.

Long time no see, haters. Since my last update earlier this year, I’ve been pretty busy. Usual stuff: family, work, and sports injuries.

I have a shiny new Lenovo laptop. One of the reasons I chose this one is because I was able to get a list of the hardware and checked it against lists of supported devices. It’s all supported very well under Linux and the BSDs (Net, Open) I looked at.

First thing I did was reduce the very large NTFS partition someone formatted it with (I never have booted this into Windows 7) so that it’s actually quite small. Then I installed a release candidate for Scientific Linux 6 on it, as that was the first available RHEL6 clone. I’ve since changed that over to CentOS 6 using a net install. And since I have no interest in booting the pre-installed OS, I changed my grub menu.lst to no wait, no options, just load that one in a freaking hurry.

As usual, I found some nits to pick about how certain other things were configured and I had to make some changes to get simple things to work. This goes for software as well as hardware.

First the hardware side of it. I thought the inkjet printer I keep in my room was supported out of the box despite noticing the printer would “eat” up paper upon finishing the job — not fully ejecting it before pulling it back in to the printer. It was only the past few days, though, I realized there was more wrong than met the eye. I needed to make some quick scans and xsane reported back I had no scanner. Hmmm. I checked it via scanimage and it was detected. I also double-checked the drivers and saw that the sane backends for hp and usb were there. I decided to see if the hplip site had a newer RPM than is available in any of the repositories I’ve enabled. I entered the relevant information and downloaded an up-to-date RPM with new drivers. Installing it required removing old RPMs. Then I had to set some permissions so I could use the scanner without escalating my privileges to root. The new hplip RPM also resulted in better printing and no more “eating” paper.

There was a variety of software I installed from the normal as well as third-party repositories. Most of it has been without any trouble — only a couple things from a more bleeding edge repository (EPEL) have conflicted with packages from others. Some of the configuration issues have been simple and straightforward. I’m coming around to accepting pulseaudio, especially as it makes some things easier. My Bluetooth headphones work fine and are able to remotely control playlists in totem. Haven’t tried yet in rhythmbox but mplayer (from rpmforge) needs remuco to work.

Even though I’d be exaggerating to call RHEL6 or its clones bleeding edge, it’s still new enough that repositories lack certain packages that I wanted to install. One solution (other than “wait”):

sudo yum groupinstall 'Development Tools'

I’ve recompiled things that bugged me as well as things that were either unavailable or that I wanted to update. I wanted liferea so I had to compile it myself. Dittos sylpheed (NOT claws) and mew (emacs e-mail client). I also wanted an update of org-mode for emacs, but I’ve also played around with compiling other emacsen. This morning, I decided to try sxemacs.

I wasn’t impressed with the clunky xaw widgetry, let alone the faces available on my laptop (trust me, terminus looked only a little better), and I decided against installing GTK1 headers just to see if that would look any better. Not even some minor color changes helped. I usually run emacs from console anyway because it’s easier to run it in screen and then shell in and out, locally or remotely, as needed. The faces (fonts) bother  me a lot more than the widgets — it’s not about the aesthetics as much as if I can clearly see what the hell I’m doing.

I’m going to try this for a while and see how much work it’ll take to get it working the way I use GNU emacs. Just remembered I forgot to change EDITOR=emacsclient to EDITOR=gnuclient. Also, this (last line!) has to go in the init.el to keep from opening a new sxemacs GUI instance:

(require 'gnuserv)
(gnuserv-start)
(setq gnuserv-frame (selected-frame))

Sheesh! Recompiled –without-x. Much better, too, after removing background color (transparent terminal over black wallpaper).

Now the fun of getting my other emacs stuff to work correctly with this.

I also converted my previous laptop over to CentOS 6. I did a minimal net installation, installed xfce from EPEL, and then added some of my own packages (including dwm and jwm because I decided I don’t care for xfce). My ridiculous Acer Aspire One is still running SL6 and still having issues with the fucking Atheros wireless card. When it starts to flake out on me, I pop in a zyd-based USB wireless adapter. Voila. I should blacklist the module for the Atheros card but, honestly, the AA1 has been such a pain in the ass that I seldom use it. I recently updated XP (30-something packages!) after not even booting it for like half a year and suffered some USB-related issues as a result. The good news is under the RHEL6 clones, all the other AA1’s hardware — including both internal card readers — work properly, without having to boot one side with a card inserted.

Okay. The headline mentions other distros and NetBSD. I’m considering some changes on the other laptop because a lot of stuff I’ve compiled for it would be just as easy from scratch instead of using source RPMs or new source. I tried to get a measure of how many packages are installed by default on a minimal install of various distros. I figure RHEL clones will have the most, followed by Debian, and on the other side of the scale will be Slackware and Gentoo (I haven’t used Sabayon before but I like the option of using a binary or portage depending on my tastes — this is why I’m also considering a BSD and pkgsrc).

There are certain distros I’ve taken off my radar list despite having a fondness for them. As I now use laptops, netbooks, and other portable devices — including portable USB storage — about 90% of the time, encryption is very important to me; one of my parents’ was a victim of identity theft in the past couple years and I was already a bit paranoid about what kind of information could be found in plaintext on my computers. On all my computers, I like the option of installing to, or easily setting up, one encrypted LVM which includes at the very least my /home, /var, /etc, and swap. I used to think it was adequate to encrypt just /home and swap but I’ve changed my mind after auditing “identifying” information available elsewhere on an unencrypted system. For example, plaintext wifi passwords in /etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf (or elsewhere on a “non-standard” system) or stuff stored in /tmp. I also think it’s not enough that the “core” of the operating system be protected from threats, such as over the Internet; the biggest vulnerabilities usually stem from applications and user choices, and you can’t reboot those problems away — they’ll still be there if (or because) /home and /usr/local are RW, not read-only. When storage is measured in GB and TB and speedy multi-core processors, it’s harder for me to choose to run my OS in some “embedded” style.

Still on my TODO list is my post about what I use instead of OpenOffice.org. Also, I’ll try to write a post about the minimal install I did with more specifics (need to edit my gnote version of it — wish I could import that into this without reformatting) in the near future. As usual, no promises on time lines.

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