Archive for the ‘damn small linux’ Category

Delay and Site Update

May 27, 2009

Today was much more hectic than I anticipated so I didn’t get to finish the update on my resolved hardware issues under Linux on my AA1. I’ll try to finish that before this weekend. Most of the text is ready, need to take a couple screenshots, etc. I just need a little time to finish it and get it all together and uploaded. Not sure if I can get it posted by tomorrow, but should have some time Friday.

I also have a post coming soon that takes a look at how people are finding this blog. This interests me because I’ve not done much SEO or whoring this blog with links everywhere I visit. It also didn’t help that I was unable to blog much during those three or four months when I was caring for my family. I won’t give anything away here now, but some of your search terms make me snicker. (Hello to the person searching “dynebolic fucking help.” Nice to see I’m at the top of Google with those words.)

I also was asked a few months ago to do a printable version of the DSL hard drive page. Let me quickly address the future of DSL. DSL is dead; I don’t think John Andrews is going to be able to get it updated/freshened up or maintain development on his own. The old DSL ISOs don’t have expiration dates on them even though DSL is dead and I realize a lot of people continue to use DSL for older hardware. I’ll finish the printable page (PDF) with some revisions and additions by this weekend and get it linked. The PDF link will be on the right side of the home/front page (click on the lucky13 logo at at the top if your search engine brought you to a single entry) in addition to making an entry here and adding a link on the hard drive page itself.

Speaking of the right column, I see I have some broken feeds and links to clean up. I’ll get those straightened out in the coming days. Sorry, I didn’t get some of those messages in elinks.

Finally, I’ll probably have another post or two about what I’ve been doing while I consider running Fedora 11 when it’s released next week, Tiny Core, Slackware, or whatever.

Stay tuned…

UPDATE 28 May 2009 06:15 US/Central: I didn’t run this morning so I had some time to edit a few things. After going through the DSL hard drive guide to get it formatted for the PDF (the old USB stick with the org-mode version is FUBAR so I’m doing this in instead of emacs), I’ve decided to make some serious revisions. I’ll probably get rid of the online version rather than edit in the changes I make. May have more time later but probably will be tomorrow before I get everything finished and posted.


UPDATE: 30 May 2009 12:16 US/Central: Delayed again due to other commitments (work, family, etc.) and wifi problems. Looking at ath5k-related problems and bug reports now to see if it’s software or hardware. This is from dmesg before it gives up:

ath5k phy0: gain calibration timeout (2412MHz)
ath5k phy0: unable to reset hardware: -11

The reason I’m concerned it’s hardware, even though lspci shows the device, is because I was unable to detect any wireless signals in either Linux or Windows. I also thought it might be the router but my network printer is working and I can still connect with other devices through it.

Ironic that I was about to post a lengthy list of what’s working and how well under Linux and then here comes a big problem with something that hadn’t given me any trouble before today. Really pisses me off (now I need to read the fine print to see if I’m still under warranty after installing Linux).

Anyway. I’ll get the stuff mentioned in the original part of this post up ASAP.

Gnome RAM Use, LXTerminal, Tiny Core 2.0, FLWM, and a Long Frigging Rant About It All

May 27, 2009

Rebooted into Gnome this morning after giving the latest Tiny Core release candidate I’d downloaded over the weekend a quick spin. I wanted a quick and dirty benchmark for where my AA1 is on a clean boot using Gnome so I can compare to other environments. This is with networking started along with a bit of stuff I could probably slim down a bit (e.  g., I could only start cupsd when I intend to print).


See, LXDE guys, this is how a terminal should behave; yours doesn’t work right. My shell is running as it’s intended to and I don’t have to force the terminal to read my profile settings to get my prompt or my aliases or any other settings I have (in my .mkshrc). Kind of stupid to have to set up a shell wrapper to invoke the LXTerminal to read ~/.profile (and from that .mkshrc) when it starts so I don’t falsely presume my aliases and other settings are loaded. My complaint last night (in the screenshot) wasn’t about the prompt, which serves as a marker or symptom that a particular file has been properly read, it’s about an application that ignores what should be considered a standard — read particular environment setting files (not just a fucking bashrc because not everyone uses bash) so the proper environment is available to the user. Does that make any sense?

Okay, now about my thoughts of the changes in Tiny Core 2.0. I’m not able to do much with it yet because I didn’t load the modules I need for the AA1 (not close enough to an ethernet cable to connect to the Internet). It’s what I expected: spartan. It’s like an empty canvas just waiting for the artist to express himself. Only instead of painting a few pieces of fruit or a barn or something, users get to add only what they want or need to it. No pretenses, no clutter, just what you need. Alas, people confuse desires with needs and vice versa.

I know there will be lots of bitching about FLWM. I saw some already last week at Distrowatch and also in the TCL forums — some of it was the drawa queen “you’re killing your distro” kind. I don’t know why that’s such a hard thing for users to accept since there are other window managers available in the repository and they’re not limited to what’s in the base. The window manager is only there to manage windows, not to be admired. If you want to admire your computer screen, turn it into a picture frame and don’t bother using applications. You can dress it all up however you want. Seriously, why should aesthetics be a show stopper?

Let’s contrast it with Moblin, which has all the sizzling sexy eye candy but has things that either don’t work yet or that crash over and over again. Every reviewer writes like he or she had multiple orgasms from using it despite the fact that it’s advertised as beta-level (haha, what an overstatement — try alpha) and buggy as hell. Reviews and feedback about stable little Tiny Core (and DSL before it) are filled with complaints that it’s not flashy enough compared to everything else out there. Okay, it may not be the fanciest distro but it doesn’t crash and repeatedly pester you with notices about them so you can decide if you want to e-mail the developers.

Robert and the Tiny Core team are putting out a rock-solid little distro. Why can’t that shine on its own without being all dressed up in Web 2.0 shite shine? Distros are about more than eye candy — at least they should be. What should count most is their efficiency and stability. Tiny Core has that. It’s not the easiest thing to set up and use, but once you get a few concepts down it’s easy to manage and won’t give you much grief because it’s stable.

I tried to help other DSL users who whined about the lack of sex appeal see how they could change JWM from “boring” to “fancy.” In one ear and out the other. As if DSL and Tiny Core are about window managers.

If FLWM is a deal breaker, you’re trying the wrong distro anyway so keep your thoughts to  yourself. Go back to Ubuntu and its sloppy Netbook Remix with the ever-crashing desktop menu. Or go ahead and use Moblin’s preview even though it’s not intended for production (and lives down to that!). Or use some other bloated piece of shit that looks fantastic and awesome and will make you cum all over yourself from the sensory overload. Just remember that there are more stable options available when you get tired of the system failing, breaking, or doing odd things because more concern was given to gussying it up than making it run right.

The irony: people now demand JWM back in the base. Wonder how many of them were complaining when JWM was made DSL’s default window manager over fluxbox.

Can’t please everyone. Can’t please some people at all.

Thoughts on PCLOS Schism, Tiny Core on AA1

April 3, 2009

First, sorry to hear about the shake-ups in the PCLOS community. Unfortunately, the Linux world is filled with people who would rather make rinky-dink changes to things and “fork” trivialities. I realize some of the issues relating to the PCLOS schism are a bit deeper than that and go to the expected pace of development, but that’s hardly new to anyone who’s been involved in similar situations where a certain (lower!) class of user clamors for the latest versions to the point that you get forks based on developmental branches of distros — such as all the freaking Ubuntus and sub-Ubuntus, Sidux, etc. Fewer and fewer users appreciate stable releases and there’s an ignorant dash to anything featuring the newest — and least tested — verisons of every possible package. I’ll have another entry about this problem shortly, including something I read about PCLOS in particular.

This “if it’s not the latest version-number it’s too old” issue again came up in the context of the latest Distrowatch Weekly which was kind of dismissive of the version numbers in Tiny Core’s repository even though the review was positive. It’s as if “old” software is like food past its expiry dates and either won’t run after a certain date or should be thrown out.

how old is your software?

how old is your software?

Alas, such drivel is what seems to drive Linux distro releases nowadays. Too much shite clutters sites like distrowatch, where there’s increasingly less novelty let alone good ideas. Rather, someone takes a popular distro, switches a few things around like enlightenment in place of Gnome and slaps a ton of bloated eyesore wallpapers propagandizing the “new” distro, and gets some face time on distrowatch and similar sites. In reality, the “new” distro is just the old one — all too frequently with only minor changes. It’s all about control and version numbers anymore; gone is the whole esprit de corps that open source was supposed to be about where people cooperated. So now Ubuntu has fractured into countless little fiefdoms, some of which are run by the most clueless of the serfs. It’s now all about competition — not the kind that matters or makes things better but petty contests over who has the newest stuff whether it’s safe or stable or even usable.

This is why I quit tracking what other projects were doing: they’re often too predictably stupid and almost always way too much style over substance. There’s been very little (if any) innovation among new distros for some time. The few rare exceptions don’t get the same press that some sub-sub-sub-sub-Ubuntu version gets; instead, the real innovators are treated as minor curiosities worthy of a quick glance, but quickly forgotten if they can’t (or — damned heresy! — won’t) match the bloat and eye-candy of the masses of distros.

There were more novel changes a few years ago, when Klaus Knopper took Debian and created a live CD based upon it. Or even how others could take such a product (Knoppix) and innovate upon it in some unique way, such as happened with DSL or Knoppmyth. Those kinds of projects added real value beyond the originals, they didn’t merely change graphics or window managers.

Today’s distros’ lineages read like generational lists from the Pentateuch, where this bloke begat that one and so on down the line. Fortunately, there are  no sheep, cattle, or servants to ennumerate. I suppose it would be worthwhile if the third generation twice removed from Debian were actually doing something differently other than mucking around with untested software releases that require users to update software on schedules that make Windows users wonder why anyone would use anything so unstable. Or, even worse, that only changes the window dressing of the second generation twice removed merited an acrimonious fork (let alone a fork at all).

Among the more novel approaches today is Tiny Core Linux. I have to qualify what follows because I was initially involved with the development and I happen to like a lot of the people still developing it. Unfortunately, my schedule precluded doing much with the development team beyond burning a couple early ISOs and running it from USB. I also created the logo for the project. I dropped from the development team because I just didn’t have much time to work with it. I don’t now, either, but I’m making more time for it (if it comes down to a choice between pkgsrc in either Linux or BSD, Gentoo, or building from scratch, I’d just as soon use this as a modular starting point since I share a common vision with its developers — I’m giving up on finding a “ready to roll” option).  

I decided to boot Tiny Core on my Aspire One this morning. I mounted the latest release image and copied the bzImage and tinycore.gz to the root of the 4GB former swap partition PCLOS set up for me (that’s the last freaking time I’ll let anything automatically set itself up). Then I edited my menu.lst so I could boot it and rebooted. Since I didn’t have any extensions for anything else, all I got was a fast X session with jwm and wbar (which is something I would’ve lobbied vigorously against including in the base).

I’ll try to work with this some more this weekend and get it set up right (meaning reconfiguring my Linux partitions to more sensible sizes). I’ve not checked yet to see how many people are using Tiny Core on AA1s or if there are hardware issues beyond those I’ve encountered in PCLOS. If  it’s no worse, I’ll probably stick with Tiny Core and try to get around to submitting extensions again (not to mention more artwork I promised RS).

Snobbery + Ignorance = Linux Advocacy

March 8, 2009

I’m not big on snobbery, especially when it’s packaged with an unhealthy dose of ignorance. I think that’s one of the reasons why I’ve always been put off by the lists put out by advocates of Linux — seems more often than not the lists contain things you can do in Windows, and often much more easily. To the Kool-Aid guzzling, true-believing advocate who gets a priapism when he sees a penguin, Windows is some maimed and dysfunctional computing ecosystem adopted through laziness and it, its creators in Redmond, and its users are to be mocked at all times. Never mind that Windows is every bit as capable of doing everything they say it can’t or doesn’t do, or that the applications they use in Linux also run in Windows. Linux advocacy suggests it’s contending against FUD when, in fact, it’s based entirely on FUD.

Linux advocacy is fundamentalism. The heretics and infidels continue to buy PCs with Windows licenses, so the jihad continues. And along with it is all the bullshit snobbery that “I can do this but you can’t.”

Oh really? 

The latest victim of my wrath example is Andrew Gregory at TechRadar, which is a site which bills itself as “deep into technology.” I was curious when I saw a feed truncated down to “Hack your Aspire One…” so I clicked it and saw the ellipse hid “Linux netbook interface.”


Oh joy. Not only do we get to see how easy it is to change appearances of the interface, we get a healthy dose of “can’t do this in Windows” bullshit. But you actually can, it just takes a little more effort because most Windows users use computers rather than cum all over themselves from playing with eye candy.

This article would be bad enough if it were just a how-to. Unfortunately, it includes fucking retarded crap about neighbors from Vista Manor asking questions about their Linux-based netbook after an asinine statement about “They just want something that works, and when they try [Linux on netbooks], they like it.” If it works, why are they asking you?

Right, it just works. Like when I ordered my Aspire One, the internal mic didn’t work in the Linpus model but it worked in XP; or how the multi-card reader worked in XP but not Linux; how suspend and hibernate worked flawlessly in XP but had some serious issues in Linux; how the XP model worked perfectly with external monitors and projectors but the Linux model was rather crippled to say the least; etc. Guess which model I ordered? Yep, the one that just works: XP.

Don’t give me that fucking bullshit that “Linux just works.” If it had, I wouldn’t be using XP on an Aspire One right now. The few problems the XP models had, such as issues with the Atheros wifi (which thankfully haven’t affected me), pale in comparison to the crippled-from-the-factory woes of those who bought Linux versions of the AA1. I don’t know why Acer would ship non-functional hardware or choose it without appropriate drivers, nor do I understand why people would buy it. Guess that’s reason #24 “why Linux rocks and Windoze sucks” — you can see the source and write your own fucking driver. Riiiight.

And if people really want Linux, how the hell do you explain the higher return rates for Linux netbooks or how Windows XP has so thoroughly eclipsed Linux on netbooks sold? I’ll have another entry shortly on that latter point. Suffice for now, XP models now account for 90% of US netbook sales. There is no momentum for  Linux on desktops or netbooks; no, sunshine, there’s tremendous momentum away from it with fewer and fewer Linux models being offered in large markets like the US and UK. Just as I wrote last summer would happen as the niche matures. That won’t stop the Kool-Aid crowd from toasting Tux.

Speaking of which, Mr Gregory eases the reader into the complexities of Xfce settings with the calming assurance that “you’re not a newbie: you’re a Linux guru in the making.” WTF? Can one really get the Platinum Certified Linux Guru (TM) card just by tweaking a few window manager controls now? I think they give you that for misspelling “windoze” or “micro$haft” and other signs you’re sipping the Kool-Aid with them.

Mr Gregory suggests, “If you’re used to Windows you’ll probably be surprised by the extent to which you can change the way the system works, but that’s part of what makes Linux so powerful.” If Mr Gregory could pull his head out of  his arse long enough to use Windows, he might be surprised to the extent to which Windows can be changed. It might also surprise Mr Gregory that what he’s configuring isn’t even Linux. It’s a friggin’ window manager that runs on the X Window System and, accordingly, isn’t a Linux hack.

So this is his lame idea of power? Changing an interface so it’s more aesthetically pleasing, which is a personal preference and has ZERO to do with how the system (Linux, GNU, or anything else) actually functions? (Another warning about upcoming posts: I’m going to add another video to my youtube account shortly — hopefully — to demonstrate at least another of many Linux advocacy fallacies about resource use. “How the system works” goes far beyond tweaking user interfaces.)

I’ve been working with Linux for over a decade — servers, embedded, desktop, you name it. Before that, real Unix; currently, I’m using BSDs more than Linux distros. Prior to getting an Aspire One (XP model), I hadn’t done very much work with Windows since the late 90s with NT 4.01 (server and workstation). We have another XP computer, but I’ve rarely used it in the six years or so we’ve had it; it’s slated to become a file server in the near future. My beloved has a Vista laptop which she loves (she hates all Unix-like operating systems), but I’ve only used it a few times. But one of the things I’ve always appreciated about Windows is that it’s scalable and flexible and configurable — and very easily so despite the mindless FUD from little wankers who think Windows is preconfigured and you’re stuck with its defaults.

I know a thing or two about tweaking interfaces — I don’t consider it hacking at all because it’s so bloody fucking superficial. It doesn’t affect productivity (sorry, Nathan, it really doesn’t). It can be a fun diversion, but that’s about it. 

One of the biggest sources of hits to this blog is searching related to themes (not to mention links from DSL for the same) because I posted quite a few for jwm. Why did I do that — because I have some sick predilection for gussied-up user interfaces? No! I did it to shut people up by showing:

  • aesthetics is a very personal and subject area;
  • accordingly, no single distro can please everyone;
  • window managers aren’t inherently “beautiful” or “ugly;”
  • any window manager can be configured to please any user, from colors to controls;
  • people who whine about user interfaces are the very people distros should avoid welcoming to their communities because they tend to value style above substance;
  • most distro reviews are about two things: aesthetics and the incessant dick measuring contest of versioning numbers (“this distro has foo 4.3, which is behind the times because that distro released the same day includes foo 4.4rc2”); and
  • it doesn’t matter whether a distro uses fluxbox, jwm, openbox, kde, gnome, e16 or e17, or whatever else because it can all be gussied up to look pretty much the same but they ultimately provide the same or similar functions.

I was fucking tired of reading in the DSL forums that jwm was ugly. Or that it presented a barrier to wider adoption. So I did a lot of those themes to at least open minds, if not to change them. Some had even balked at the move from fluxbox as the default window manager to jwm, as if that’s what DSL was all about. So I showed how to set it up so it looked and worked (no menu on taskbar, only on right click) like fluxbox. Etc. The window manager doesn’t define what’s  under the hood. Nor does the way it’s painted.

Computers are tools, machines. It’s how they perform that should count. Not how they look. Or, a big peeve, when people try to tell me how something “feels,” as in, “this feels more {stable,vanilla,____(fill in the freaking blank with nebulous drivel)}.” How does “stable” or “vanilla” feel? Compared to what benchmark? Short of crashing or stuff not running correctly, I don’t know what the average user would notice about stable/unstable. Vanilla? That’s usually ascribed to Slackware to denote that it’s not filled with patched binaries or marked up with logos like other distros.

Which was more important with DSL 4: that it marked  a paradigm shift from previous versions’ focus on applications to being more data-centric with MIME-type associations on the desktop and with the new file manager OR that it had a certain “look”?

Every fucking review I read either skimped over the nuts and bolts or mentioned a lot more about the paint job (while occasionally mentioning the aforementioned dick-measuring version numbers for everything, of course) than the change. I usually stop reading or listening to reviews as soon as default aesthetics come up — that tells me about the reviewers sense of aesthetics, not qualities about whatever’s being reviewed.

So the same useless goddamn bickering starts between Linux advocates about Windows. More Linux advocacy lies to crush.

I’ve played this game before, and I win it every fucking time. There was the asshole who said that Linux rocks because it has tools like cron and a shell like BASH. So I showed him a batch script that accomplished the same thing, and that it can be run from Scheduled Tasks. Then there was the fucking idiot who said that Linux was superior because of the wide selection of open source applications; he was left stammering when I showed him that they all — every single one of them — also ran on Windows. Or the blowhard who prattled about proprietary software while I helped him configure ndiswrapper so his blob could run in his pure and  unadulterated open source operating system (I politely nodded my head; he was paying me to set up his certified easy-to-run and free-as-in-beer-and-speech distro).

So now ya say Windows XP can’t be dressed up? Yeah, it’s XP. I can’t take credit for it, even though I have several of my own themes. I did the background myself — all 40.1kb of it. The theme itself is genuine Microsoft, available if you search for it (“signed embedded theme xp” seems to work), signed and all so it didn’t require any DLL hacking.


I need to throw in an image showing window decorations. Because we all know how important that “Piranha” look around all your windows is to getting things done.

Guess that’s what separates me from Linux advocates. I actually use my computer to get things done, whether it’s while using Windows, Linux, or one of the BSDs. I have digital picture frames for when I want to admire pretty stuff.

You know what, I think I’m like most people that way. Maybe that’s why Linux advocacy isn’t working.

Edit: Here’s the lowly window decorations for the embedded theme. Maybe not spiffy enough for l33T Xfce-tweaking Linux gurus, but it does clear up the lie that Windows can’t be themed apart from the classic or XP looks. Twats.


edit 2: Here’s Microsoft’s Zune theme (also signed — no dll hacking required — and available if you search for it) on my netbook, again with a quicky homemade background (I’ll tweak the colors later). Also edited content above.


Linux Audio versus Everything Else

October 4, 2008

I had a chance yesterday to read Linux Hater’s post about problems with Linux audio drivers and APIs. The post is about pulse audio’s inclusion in Fedora, which led to broken audio for many Fedora users. Like lemmings, other distros decided if it’s good enough for Fedora then it’s good enough for them. Tumbling dominoes…

The issue reminded me of problems I’ve had at various times with applications in Linux. Pulse audio is hardly alone in issues related to Linux audio. One of the things that’s caused me more trouble than it’s worth has been getting mplayer to play nice with ALSA. The mplayer front page says ALSA is supported so I didn’t know what the problem was:

A little background. I hadn’t bothered to use mplayer in Linux at all; I stuck with default apps — typically XMMS, xine, etc. — that shipped with the distros I used. I first started using mplayer in FreeBSD a couple years ago and grew to appreciate it. So much so that I decided to use it when I switched back to using DSL last year. I also installed it in a few other distros I tried on both laptop (before ditching multimedia altogether on it) and desktop.

It had always worked fine in FreeBSD — and also in OpenBSD (which has become my operating system of choice) — but it totally sucked in Linux, especially synching audio and video. I thought it was maybe due to the binary packaging of the distros on which I’d tried it. I decided to compile it myself and got the same wretched results. Then I wondered if my hardware was the problem, but I reinstalled my BSD hard drive and quickly knew that everything was fine in BSD. So I looked for help on the mplayer site to see what the problem was with using it in Linux.

One of the first things I looked at was the following section in the documentation:

Ahh, well, that first sentence certainly clears it all up: “Linux sound card drivers have compatibility problems.” No shit? I’d run into problems before with the OSS driver in DSL playing single-channel audio at double speed. I’d also noticed other anomalies — at least I thought they were anomalous — using ALSA in other distros. Not only that, the problems weren’t always isolated to mplayer. One of the reasons I wanted to use mplayer in DSL was because XMMS was butchering things.

So I had plenty of reason to take the mplayer developers at their word. Things that “just worked” in Solaris, Windows, and the BSDs could be a total abortion in Linux. Different drivers. Solaris and BSD have Sun audio, Linux doesn’t.

The next section notes that ALSA 0.5 has buggy OSS emulation and causes mplayer to crash. That’s not fun.

Yes, both of those documentation sections provide workarounds. They also explain the reasons why workarounds are needed: immature, buggy, and/or shoddily-written drivers and emulation layers. In short, the problem is on the kernel side and not the application side. I know the application “just works” in BSD; I also know it doesn’t in Linux, at least not as it’s supposed to (why should I have to maintain two sets of scripts, one of which only employs workarounds for buggy drivers, to use the same app?).

I’d presumed — quite wrongly — that Linux would have better audio support than the BSDs on the dual grounds that Linux development tends to be more cutting-edge than the BSDs and Linux has been promoted harder as a desktop system. Lesson learned.

the smarter solution

the smarter solution

This isn’t isolated to mplayer and pulse audio, offerings in which users may expect a little imperfection due to the ever-changing nature (or is it chaos?) of open source development. It also affects how things like Flash, which isn’t open source, operate within Linux. Many users fault Adobe for the unpredictable performance (i. e., crashing) of Linux Flash. The problem, which Adobe has pointed out, lies in the diversity of APIs (ALSA versus OSS, which ALSA has won as far as Adobe is concerned) and UI tools in the Linux universe — qt versus GTK+, etc. Things are much easier in a proprietary environment like Windows because the libraries and drivers are unified and homogeneous. Microsoft doesn’t have myriad distributions with unique configurations. What works right for one Linux distro often doesn’t work across the board — something which has been true for a lot of things beyond audio because there’s no standardization.

There are many things Linux does exceptionally well. Audio processing really isn’t one of them. This is one area in which the bazaar isn’t going to supplant the cathedral anytime soon. Where Windows users take audio performance for granted, Linux users take audio bugs for granted. It’s yet another reason I doubt Linux will make a significant dent in Microsoft’s desktop market share.

It’s Linux, Not GNU

August 19, 2008

I’m not a fan of using additional syllables where they’re not needed. I’m sick and bleeping tired of twits who insist I call every Linux distro “GNU/Linux.” Not every Linux distro uses GNU utilities. And many users’ experiences center on X, KDE, and other parts in userland that aren’t GNU or even GPL’ed.

I think one of the reasons people like Richard Stallman are so insistent on this point is to cover up the shortcomings of the GNU part. GNU is Not Unix — not by a mile. GNU is Not Usable, too. GNU is also not an operating system. It’s a half-assed, half-finished implementation that’s been hamstrung by the very people who insist on inserting “GNU” before Linux. Rather than embracing “free” software that already existed, Stallman, et al, chose to reinvent the wheel. They haven’t gotten very far and instead have wasted a lot of time in pissing matches about freedom and issues that are unrelated to free software (e.g., anti-DRM measures which are content- or data-centric rather than related to software, per se). Were it not for Linus Torvalds and his kernel, GNU would be even less Unix and usable and useful than it is now.

Some words take on meanings that are either broad or narrow. In the narrow sense, Linux is a kernel. In a broad sense, though, it encompasses a lot more than that — the broader ecosystem transmitted in the form of a distribution. In a way it’s analogous to trademarked names that become increasingly generic because of prevalence and familiarity. I know I’ve been given plenty of “xerox copies” from non-Xerox printers. I think Linux is like that and can be safely and accurately used in a broader sense to encompass not just the kernel but the full system of any given distro.

As I noted above, most users don’t experience the kernel or GNU utilities directly but rather through interfaces that are definitely not GNU. Without X, without desktop environments like KDE or window managers like enlightenment, Linux adoption would be even less than it is now (especially on desktops). But we don’t hear the X or KDE people insisting that it be called X/KDE/GNU/Linux. Thank goodness.

Moreover, not every distro uses the GNU utilities. Some use busybox  to replace GNU utilities and leave out a toolchain, but they still most definitely use the Linux kernel. This is where the arrogance of the FSF types and GNU/kooks prevails and cons developers into calling it GNU/Linux despite the lack of a GNU toolchain or utilities. I’m singling out Slitaz for using “GNU/Linux” when they’re really just Linux. Or busybox/Linux (which is even dumber than prepending GNU). How much GNU software is in Slitaz’ base? X isn’t GNU software. Neither is jwm or Xfce. Nor openbox. X isn’t even under the freaking GPL.

If it’s not GNU, why the stupid blanket insistence by the GNUtards that it be called what it isn’t? Dumb, dumb, dumb.

So this got me to thinking about how much of the GNU bloatware I might be able to replace. I already ditched bash for the free-er and more nimble ksh — mksh  to be precise. I considered the Linux port of OpenBSD’s ksh but the guy who ported it reflexively slapped GPL on it. I really hate that kind of thing but that’s an article for another day.

My latest de-GNU’ing came last week when I installed libarchive (from FreeBSD) and symlinked bsdtar and bsdcpio to be my de facto tar and cpio. I also added OpenBSD’s pax (with Debian’s patch). Can never have too many archiving utilities, especially when considering replacing one operating system (or one distro) with a better one.

I know I’m mostly stuck with GCC, which is unfortunate because it typifies the kitchen-sink bloat mentality of the GNU types. And there are some things like screen that I know I’ll continue to use whether it’s GNU or not — but that’s separate from the base utilities. I’m looking for more anti-GNU replacements for this just to see how little GNU I can have in my Linux. That way I can correct any lamer GNUtard who stupidly tries to correct me when I intentionally and willfully — and quite happily — leave GNU off Linux.

Miscellaneous Thoughts: DSL, OpenBSD, ‘core

August 6, 2008

This is fairly DSL-specific, but the generalities apply to other distros and operating systems. I was going to address something earlier today as a rambling, separate tangential issue apart from the broader issues (and a specific one) raised in a post about updating and upgrading the bits and pieces in DSL.

There’s a catch-22 between supporting newer hardware and supporting older hardware and keeping it “damn small.” I think one negates the other to a large degree unless drastic compromises are made. Those kinds of compromises seem to be off-putting to many users — the ones who show up and say “this used to work when ____” or “but it works when I run ____ so you suck.” People take it personally when support is reduced in one area even if it’s at an extreme in new or old, such as removing certain modules or applications. It doesn’t matter if you make the modules or applications available so users can still use it, they demand things be just as they were but better.

Other compromises also include doing things that are suitable for newer hardware and unsuitable for older hardware, like certain compression protocols. Some distros do this and claim they’re suitable for older hardware when their compression decisions really aren’t suitable for those with slower CPUs or less RAM. To DSL’s credit, it hasn’t jumped on the “compress the shit out of it” mentality and still delivers utility in its 50 MB. So while other “small” distros pack as much or more in a similar ISO, they do it in a manner that makes it an unwise choice for certain hardware.

The question always boils down to, Which user base are you willing to give up? Will you give up those who have newer hardware or those who have older hardware? Or are you willing to make other compromises like increasing the base size from 50 MB to 50+N? Or just remove that limit and make it as “small as possible”? If so, where do you draw the line between what you add and why?

Not easy choices.

The days of “easy” one-size-fits-all distros are over, no matter what size. You can either stay on the bleeding edge so every new fangled device is supported or you can fill a niche and do what all these advocates say Linux is good for — extend the life of older hardware.

It was easier to fill everyone’s needs in one distro when there was a lot less to support. Debian Woody (upon which Knoppix 3.4 and DSL were built) was “approachable” by most hardware of its own era as well as what preceded that hardware because there was less technology to deal with. That’s why DSL was, and to a large extent remains, “approachable” to a lot of hardware up to a certain point.

A lot has changed, for better or worse, since that time frame when Debian Woody, Knoppix 3.4, and DSL were concurrent with those vintages of hardware. The kernel has a new version, a lot of new processes are thrown into the mix, hardware has gotten faster and fancier, and all software has grown very bloated. The demands of users have changed right along with the abilities of their hardware to absorb the resource demands of bigger kernels, more powerful hardware, and GB wallpaper to fill GB RAM.

DSL was suitable for hard drive installs while Woody was supported by Debian. Not anymore. There’s too much that needs to be fixed and updated, and that’s not even getting into changing kernels, while the world has moved along with bigger, faster computers.

I’d thought about re-engineering and updating DSL so there could be a separate traditional hard drive version. That would serve two purposes: it would allow DSL to focus on its intended use and it would also “freshen” up things so those wanting a traditional install would have a bit more security and a system that’s really designed for hard drive installs. I’m not dissing DSL in this respect at all, it’s just getting long in the tooth with respect to available security patches and the “Debian -> Knoppix -> DSL -> pseudo-Debian” process could use a bit if fixing so it’s more like “Debian -> pseudo-Debian.” Not to mention the issues with using extensions that are intended for nomadic rather than static use.

I think the age of the base alone is reason to discourage hard drive installs, short of users taking time to manually patch up the base (which I’ve done to a large extent and can attest is a very time-consuming proposition). You can’t reboot into a fresh state if something has been corrupted on your hard drive install, and you can’t un-do someone’s data being compromised if a computer is breached because of the age and security state of the software included in the base. At least with a frugal install, the damage can be restricted to /home and /opt (and possibly MBR or other mounted partitions if you’re using rewritable media). I realize not everyone has hardware that is suitable for frugal installs, which is why I’ve considered freshening and tweaking things to make a legacy install version.

Alternatives to DSL on hard drive if it’s not freshened up? Unfortunately, there’s not many modern options especially if you don’t want or need a 2.6 kernel. Even minimal installs of Debian come with a bloat factor if one uses apt, and that’s the while idea. DeLi looks like it might fill the niche but it uses ulibc, which really isn’t a 1:1 replacement for glibc, and I haven’t bothered installing it to see how well it stacks up to other distros (I also question the developer’s judgment in porting OpenBSD’s ksh and slapping GPL on it). Slackware still supports down to version 8 (versions through 11 use 2.4 kernels) and has a lot of flexibility in the way its installed, but that requires a little planning and reading documentation — something most users seem unwilling to do. That’s it for Linux, the kernel that supposedly avoids “planned obsolescence” according to all the fanboy sites and their “20 reasons you should use Linux instead of Windoze.” I don’t think the distros have gotten that memo.

I’ve gone in a different direction. I picked up a new hard drive the other day and was going to copy over my last DSL hard drive install and be done with it, even though I want a few things that will require updating a few more things than I already have. Then I thought I’d do a minimal install of Slackware 11 instead and stick with 2.4 and have a fresher base and fewer hassles down the road and an easier pathway to the things I want.

Instead, I installed OpenBSD and updated to 4.3-stable (I may update to -current so I can install Firefox 3, but I may not mess with Firefox at all on my desktop; it’s kind of funny that for my browsing I’m using dillo without SSL and elinks with SSL now).

$ sysctl kern.version                                                                            
kern.version=OpenBSD 4.3-stable (GENERIC) #0: Mon Aug  4 23:17:04 CDT 2008

Besides my familiarity with (and preference for) OpenBSD on my servers, one of the reasons I chose it over Linux and the other BSDs is because its installed defaults are pretty spartan — not that FreeBSD or NetBSD install with excessive bloat, either. Though that’s intended for security reasons, there’s a side effect of shipping something that has few services started by default: it’s excellent for older hardware that should start as light as possible.

The other day I mentioned in the DSL forums the hassles of using Vector, which was supposedly “light” and suitable for older hardware, and having to turn off all kinds of stuff that was enabled by default, changing icons, un-setting wallpaper, etc., just to have a system that was reasonably usable with more RAM available than in use when starting X. And then I ended up recompiling a whole lot of stuff to reduce system demands and dependencies. Light Linux? If so, I don’t care to see the heavy stuff.

In contrast, the one daemon/process running in a default OpenBSD install that I could shut off is sendmail. I guess I could also defer running sshd until I need it, but I seem to use it all the time anyway. There’s no CUPS running at boot (something I wouldn’t have installed in Vector if I’d known it wouldn’t give me a choice about starting it at boot — something else I had to undo to use my freaking computer), no automounters paralyzing the system waiting for devices that may never get stuck into a port, etc. There’s also no 500kb wallpapers (no wallpaper at all! hallelujah!), no slavish accommodations to the fashion Nazis, no blurry fonts, no icons all over the place. For such a clean slate you have to set up X yourself, write your own .xinitrc to suit your own needs and tastes (mine is just a couple lines to set a font path for Terminus, set the background black, and start ratpoison), etc. No big deal.

That’s one of the reasons I’ve been a big fan of DSL, and why I’ve looked forward to tinycore. DSL had no BS and not a lot of crap to turn off so it’s usable. Tinycore has even less to strip — it’s a base upon which to build, not clutter to clean up. It may not be user-friendly (yet), but too much stuff that’s deemed “user-friendly” is friendly to neither user nor hardware.

Anyway, I’ve freed up another hard drive, or a significant part of one, for working on core. I still have my DSL stuff on it and don’t know if or when I’ll delete it. I don’t even know how many users want a 2.4 hard drive install with a freshened base. I still see more posts whining about wanting DSL to work with NeatoDooDad v3.8 (which requires kernel 2.6 and libopendoodad for its driver blob to work — quite crappily — in Linux) and complaints about the lack of eye candy than any concern for re-Debian-izing things, SSL/SSH patches, or UCI-to-tar.gz extensions for hard drive use.

I suspect it’s not something with enough of an audience to even work on it. Please let me know if I’m wrong about that because I could end up trashing those DSL partitions for core development sooner than later.

Open Source Conspiracy Nuts: _OSI, Your BIOS, and You

July 28, 2008

I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories. They exist to give weak-minded, irrational people the extravagant and irrational explanations for irrational events they seem to need — belief in widespread conspiracy is a coping mechanism for the mentally unstable.

Bogeymen, secret societies, remote control aircraft, grassy knolls, UFO secrets, and all the rest.

Now add Foxconn and Microsoft. At least for certain Ubuntu fanboys.

Turns out someone ran into some serious ACPI issues with a new Foxconn mobo. A bit of BIOS hacking revealed something a bit odd — Linux support appears to be broken. Rather than learn more or even wait for answers, the user decided to run to the Ubuntu forums and present this is the latest MS attempt to kill Linux. It gets picked up by semi-coherent twits at Slashdot, snowballs, and before you know it there are all kinds of allegations and insinuations being made.

Uh, what’s the definition of FUD again? Nothing like a conspiracy theory to demonstrate the power of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Especially among the uncritical thinkers who use Linux as some anti-Microsoft fashion(less) statement.

Matthew Garrett delved deeper into the issues, the BIOS, and Linux ACPI.

mjg59: Further Foxconn fun:

Take home messages? There’s no evidence whatsoever that the BIOS is deliberately targeting Linux. There’s also no obvious spec violations, but some further investigation would be required to determine for sure whether the runtime errors are due to a Linux bug or a firmware bug. Ryan’s modifications should result in precisely no reasonable functional change to the firmware (if it’s ever hitting the mutex timeout, something has already gone horribly wrong), and if they do then it’s because Linux isn’t working as it’s intended to. I can’t find any way in which the code Foxconn are shipping is worse than any other typical vendor. This entire controversy is entirely unjustified.

That’s what happens when you shoot first and ask questions later. Anyone who’s ever compiled a kernel and taken the time to read the documentation knows of all the hardware-specific kludges (or “bugfixes”) contained therein. It wouldn’t be the first time there’s a problem related directly to a bug in the kernel source or in the way it was compiled. It’s not the manufacturer’s fault when Linux kernel development is often over-ambitious and frequently imperfect. Dittos for the problem of using a default one-size-fits-all (when they don’t) kernel. Usually default kernels are adequate for most hardware. But not for all. Is this something related to Ubuntu’s config?

I have an old board that will not even boot with SMP kernels and, being a fan of older hardware, I also have boards that have other SMP issues. That’s no cause for me to attack the board makers, just compile a non-SMP kernel for them. BFD. That’s why you have the source in the first place — so you can use it as you need it to run and as you see fit. Not so you can whine about MS and hardware vendors.

Now how the hell do these anti-MS zealots and conspiracy-peddling crackpots put the toothpaste back in the tube?

Trimming Initial Resource Drain in DSL

July 8, 2008

This is using the stock DSL 2.4.31 kernel, which is more bloated than my custom per-machine kernels.

Before ensuring extraneous processes aren’t started and extraneous modules aren’t loaded at boot:

Actually, that’s with ntfs and reiserfs removed from /etc/filesystems and (to make damn sure) modprobe -r for each in (DSL’s rc.local hack, made necessary by the fact /etc is ro in a live CD environment — another thing that makes it kind of quirky as a traditional hard drive install). So it was even a little higher — 15 or 16 MB — before with bash and 14 with mksh as my shell.

Now I’m only loading ext2/3-related modules along with vfat and msdos (which are small but I could also trim because I have maybe two ZIP disks that are FAT and the rest are ext2, which is my “shared” filesystem between Linux and BSD). I also have made sure reiserfs and ntfs can’t load by default or during one of hotplug-knoppix’ crazy freaking shotgun module loads. I also found a hefty module that loads by default that my hardware doesn’t require. Here’s the result a minute or so after boot and starting X (using ratpoison):

I know it’s only 4MB trimmed but that’s nearly a 50% reduction and boot time is a little faster with some of the changes I’ve made. I will update the page for DSL hard drive reconfiguration as soon as I get a chance.

Speaking of which, this might be my last DSL HD entry on this blog. I’m leaning towards setting up one frugal install for 4.x and dslcore and reclaiming a few GB. I’m deliberating over what to do with my computers and right now I think I’m either setting everything back up on BSD or a combination of BSD on the ground and Linux in the air (i.e., laptop) at least until I get another wifi card or more improvements are made to the OpenBSD bwi driver (4.4 is now beta and WPA has been added for bwi — one of my criteria). My opposition towards the bloat inflicted upon users by most binary packaging systems is leading me back to thinking ports are best for me. Using something like pkgsrc on one computer will allow me to compile and distribute as-I-see-fit packaged binaries to the rest of them.

Experimenting with mksh in DSL

July 6, 2008

I’ve been experimenting with shells (which will be the subject of my next productivity tip) while playing with DSL and dslcore. I’m looking for something that’s still responsive and “snappy” while providing more features than ash. Nothing against ash. It’s functional. Minimally functional.

If dslcore has a shell with a little more flexibility and power, maybe the project can drop lua and the “GPL plus strings” BS with a certain developer. That would make it even smaller.

I’d installed bash-3.2 on my DSL hard drive install Friday. I compiled it with nearly every option. The result is a large binary. And this is stripped!

-rwxr-xr-x    1 root     root       686912 Jul  4 18:55 /bin/bash

I also made a pretty prompt showing date and time, which is useful since I see shell prompts more often than clocks, etc., in ratpoison (“ctrl-[escape key] a” shows the time). This was a little less slow than zsh, which is my favorite shell except its slower speed — all that function and dazzle comes with a price. I wanted something lighter and faster and, if it can be used in dslcore, without sacrificing too much power.

I also run OpenBSD. Its default shell is ksh. The Korn Shell is a very nice shell. It’s feature-packed yet unbloated. The version in OpenBSD is much improved over versions I’ve used in the past. I installed zsh for a day or two on my server but took it off because it was too slow (MMX 200mhz/64MB RAM) and overkill for the few things I need.

I thought of trying ksh in DSL so I decided to look around at Korn Shell offspring. One of the derivatives of the Korn Shell I found was mksh from MirOS (which is based on OpenBSD and NetBSD). I played around with the build script to see how small it could be made. Even after stripping it was in the 200kb range. Suitable and comparable to the default (older) bash in DSL. The license terms for mksh are very simple and not as cumbersome as the GPL.

I started it from my existing bash shell. It was noticeably faster with the first few things I tried. I decided to check “resource drain” with it set as my default. I didn’t check the original DSL bash so this isn’t a comparison — you can check your default and weigh these results. It’s also not a look at the difference from boot; I have a few hours uptime. As a result, I also had more processes running than a default environment at boot.

These two shots were taken at the same time. The top part is from htop, the bottom is ps aux (with PIDs, etc., removed).

It’s very nice to run a kind of complex one-liner and get an immediate result — something I miss when using zsh and bash on older hardware. I’m going to play around with this a little more later today if I get a chance. I should get around to posting my productivity tip on shells and shell use later this week or next weekend — and more OpenBSD content also coming on my other blog.