Archive for the ‘PCLinuxOS’ Category

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).

Netbook Status: Everything on Hold

March 31, 2009

Not much time to make much progress. Freed up that 4GB of swap space from letting PCLOS set itself up on my free space. I said I might do something kind of extreme/radical. Think I will in my spare time — if I can find any.

Tired of trying to “clean up” stuff and recompiling apps so they fit my own needs (again). No offense to the PCLOS team. I’m sure many people find it quite nice and useful. Binary packaging, though, irritates the hell out of me. For example, I decided to see what would happen if I tried uninstalling all kinds of KDE stuff. It insisted on installing all kinds of Gnome stuff in its place.

No thanks.

So I either have more work ahead of me fiddling with this or I can start over from scratch. Either way, I was hoping to find something (besides Windows) that would work for me with minimal fuss and configuration. I’m still having issues with resuming from suspend, the microphone isn’t working, and the card readers are too much freaking hassle to even mess with right now. It’ll have to wait a couple weeks. Too busy here.

My Global Blog: Views on Vista

March 27, 2009

I started another blog a few weeks ago beyond the scope of this one. Originally, I was going to use it for content centered on the Aspire One but decided to make it a more general topics blog — a global blog. Mostly I’ve written about issues related to politics, the economy, and finance. When I’ve had time.

Today I’ve written about my latest experiences with Vista and my opinions of it now that I’ve had a little more time with it. I was never on the hate-Vista bandwagon. That’s because I didn’t have enough time with it to make a reasonable and rational decision.

Let me also reiterate: I’m fairly agnostic about operating systems even though I favor Unix-like systems (discounting OSX, which is an abysmal piece of beast excrement). I don’t think there’s a single solution for everyone and for every need. I also believe very strongly in freedom of choice. That choice includes — not excludes — Microsoft Windows. That’s why I don’t dismiss it out of hand. Many people use it, many people like it. More power to them. More power to those who prefer Unix-like systems.

I’m not a Microsoft fan, but I’m also not a Microsoft hater. They do a lot of things right and they occasionally get something wrong. I think their detractors get a lot more wrong than Microsoft does. That includes groups like FSF who spew lies (and offer an “alternative” operating system such as GNU HURD that after 25 years of development doesn’t and probably won’t in another 25 years suit most users’ needs) as well as nations who’ve sued a company for daring to succeed at the level they have (Linux distros are even more guilty of bundling software than Microsoft is but the EU won’t sue Ubuntu for including a browser or media player or office software in any given release).

I think Microsoft gets a lot of things right with Vista and — from the sound of things since I haven’t tried the betas yet — Windows 7. Whether and how soon they can recover from distorted public perceptions remains to be seen. I’m increasingly impressed with what Microsoft is doing and am seriously considering Windows 7 for my Aspire One. Enough so that I’m willing to reallocate the space taken up by PCLOS to try the new Windows 7 release candidate when it’s available.

De-Bloating PCLOS on AA1

March 23, 2009

I’ve been a lot busier today than I was supposed to be so I didn’t have time to make a bigger dent in the overhead that’s part of a PCLOS install. That didn’t deter me, though, from setting up a very nice and light runlevel 3. Still have a lot left to unbloat, but I’m making a little improvement on a daily basis.

The pay off for my efforts? I’m only using about 50MB at boot into console with ksh as my shell. It’s a bit over double that after startx into ratpoison, starting aterm, and executing free. That sets me up using about 10% of my RAM at the start of a session, which is similar to my old DSL setup on my desktop

This is likely all for naught. If I can get more than a few minutes here and there, I’d really like to install something that gives me a clean slate to buld upon rather a bunch of extraneous stuff for me to remove, shut off, or recompile. Can’t wait to see how screwy things get when I start removing KDE stuff. I’m still considering  FreeBSD and NetBSD, but leaning more towards Slackware-current. Wish I had more time now but morning will be here too soon.

Edited 20090324: Boring screenshot.

screenshot-20090324041208

Added Smaller Window Managers on Aspire One

March 21, 2009

Continuing to configure PCLOS on my AA1, still some hardware issues to iron out. Still trying to reduce system overhead. Had one total lock up earlier when trying to get the card readers to work; also failed to successfully recover from suspending last night. Way to go, Team Linux. Wankers.

Oh yeah, I also found a newer toy of mine that will not work under Linux. I’ll have a separate post about that tomorrow or Monday. It’s a Windows world, baby. Get over it.

Tired of hardware issues — thankfully, XP works fine — so I’m moving on  to less serious things. I really like KDE but I think it’s a bit much. PCLOS doesn’t have much besides KDE, Gnome, Xfce, fluxbox, windowmaker, and OpenBox in their repositories. Gotta take matters in my own hands. I installed X lib headers. Compiled jwm, dwm, ratpoison. Added kdm desktop session files for each. Need to make jwm menu and add some of my old tweaks. Running ratpoison now. Freaking COOL — ratpoison on an Aspire One with its puny keyboard:

screen-20090321173903

Also compiled emacs, naim, and tmux (BSD-licensed alternative for GNU screen) from source. I have to say tmux is more than a BSD-licensed alternative to screen — it seems to better execute the whole multiplexing concept and it’s a lot smaller.

I’m using pdksh from the repositories (because I saw it listed). Default terminal in ratpoison is Eterm (also from repositories). What else? Dillo from the repositories is going to be replaced by dillo from source and patch for tabs.

I mentioned my aggravation at the way this was configured via the automatic set up and that I could end up doing something drastic. I’m not going to add much more since I have the things I want and need (OpenOfffice.org, mplayer for multimedia, browsers, etc.), and I’m probably going to start removing a bunch of stuff in the interim. Longer term, I’m leaning towards a much leaner install of Slackware or NetBSD. That will have to wait at least another week. Just not enough time to deal with it now.

Edit20090322: Just have a minute to update this. I ditched Eterm for aterm, recompiled ratpoison accordingly (it allows compile-time setting of default X terminal). Here’s a shot of a tmux session and a ratpoison window listing.

screenshot-200903220738351

One of the cool things about tmux is that it automatically updates its bottom title bar with the current process’ names. So I could stop top in the fourth (3) instance and its title would change back to ksh.

I compiled elinks unstable branch yesterday. I’ll probably revert to stable sometime this coming week.

BTW, I really hate the wallpaper (five minutes wasted in GIMP) and that font sucks. I’ll install terminus when I get a chance. No time now.

Never Never Ever Trust Auto-Installers

March 19, 2009

I should’ve known better. Bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep bleep.

This is from cfdisk of my AA1’s hard drive, measured in MB.

cfdisk-never-let-something-install-itself-again

I’d issued the free command while in middle of some work this afternoon to see how this poor thing was faring with KDE on top of it with myriad applications running and stopping and running again. I was a bit stunned to see the size of my swap — all unused, of course, since I have a GB of RAM — so I looked with other tools like fdisk -l and cfdisk to confirm it.

I was reluctant to turn the installer for PCLOS loose on my hard drive last night but went ahead anyway. Now I wish I hadn’t. I should’ve set up my own partitions and seen if it would set them up correctly.

I mentioned in my previous entry (and replied in comments to another) that I’m going to post reviews of other Linux distros. That’s based on my ancient ThinkPad, not the AA1. PCLOS wasn’t going to be among those. I wanted to look at things from a “light” distro perspective and compare them with respect to ease of installation and system management on lesser-able hardware.

Without giving too much away now, I think a lot of “easy” distros are way overrated. I’ll use this install of PCLOS as an example. Its first boot was rather slow. It was hard not to notice samba and cups and everything else starting even though I’d not even configured networking. I realize PCLOS doesn’t target older, slower hardware but it does make pretenses about ease of use. I don’t think ease of use boils down to starting nearly every possible daemon without good reason or the user’s approval.

And, giving a bit more away, the same goes for loading every damn module possible. PCLOS didn’t do that, but Xubuntu — one of the three in my forthcoming small distro shootout — did. While loading modules and starting processes means the user doesn’t have to, it does give him or her more work if performance is a bit sluggish and he or she is savvy enough to kill some bloat.

Undoing stuff is just as much work as getting it to run in the first place. Maybe more work.

I chose PCLOS because I’m at a point where I don’t have time to put together the “perfect system” myself — I let it install itself because I trusted it would be sensible in its settings. I wanted to do minimal tweaking and configuring, yet I find myself changing defaults like crazy to reduce the initial load and increase speed to get to a usable desktop. Here I am burning my candle at both ends with work and trying to fix some BS I shouldn’t have to mess around with. Hell, if I hadn’t wondered how much RAM I was blowing with KDE this afternoon I doubt I would’ve noticed how much swap this thing has set up until at least this weekend.

This is better than Windows? Please. I’ve spent very little time sorting through what works and not, and I’m just scratching the surface.

Maybe I wouldn’t be as disillusioned if I’d manually set things up — insofar as PCLOS’ installer allows. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a well-built distro. It uses a stable version of KDE instead of seeking to be on the bleeding edge. It’s not overloaded with tons of crappy software like other distros often throw together. It may not be perfect for every user, but what is?

I’m weighing other options very seriously right now. I’m regretting my rush to go ahead and install when I didn’t have time to set it up myself and better weigh my options.

Let me deal with one of the myths I’ve read about Linux on netbooks: battery life is about the same as for Windows if you run a similar kind of set up. That means you’re going to drain your battery pretty fast using wifi and other processes regardless of OS. Wasn’t that the whole point of netbooks? Hard to go mobile when the battery life is a couple hours. Prepare to always carry the cord whatever OS you prefer.

This will require a lot more work to get it on par with XP’s configuration. I’ll screw with it later and figure out what I’ll do with all that swap.

Update: GRUB Fixed but More Issues Remain

March 19, 2009

I have a list of issues to sort out between PCLinuxOS 2009.1 and my AA1. I’ll edit this entry later with a chart or start a new topic or page with that.

For now, the issue with GRUB is resolved: I was right and it did install to the wrong device — and I didn’t need to look at the install script(s) to verify it because I found elsewhere that my MBR had no bootloader installed. That’s why I freaking HATE automatic installers like that which don’t require the user to contemplate and dictate what he or she is doing, let alone presumes that devices will be the same on reboot.

As it was, I booted from the USB stick which was mounted /dev/sda and my SATA hard drive was installed to as /dev/sdb. GRUB was installed to /dev/sda instead of a $TARGET partition or device; that’s increasingly important with the fact SATA drives are supplanting IDE drives. It would be nice, too, if such scripts explained the options so users can choose between installing GRUB/LILO to MBR versus to partition. I realize some distros, including this one, are designed to take as much guess work out of the equation. PCLOS isn’t alone in this regard — wait until I post my review of another distro in coming days (or, at this rate, weeks).

nobootloader01

The “fix” was super easy. I opened PCLOS Control Center (PCC) and selected the “boot” option. I got the above notice when I hit “set up boot system.” Not a big surprise since, as noted last night, I went from the Acer splash screen straight to XP. After setting up GRUB, now I go to a text GRUB menu and can select whatever I want. And now I can remove GRUB from my USB stick (so I can boot something other than this machine’s menu) and use it for something else, like Tiny Core. Yea!

So far I know the following are working with PCLOS: Synaptics touch pad, Acer Crystal Eye webcam, Atheros wifi with WPA2. I’ve not yet tested wired ethernet (never on this thing).

I know I have the following issues to address: blacklisting modules, reducing the number of services that start at boot (made a small dent earlier on that), fixing the audio so the speakers mute when earphones are plugged in, internal mic, wifi LEDs, suspend and hibernation, VGA out, multi-card readers. There’s probably a lot more to do but that’s what comes to mind immediately. And that doesn’t include anything related to apps.

More when I find time to work on this…

Couldn’t Resist: Linux on my Aspire One

March 18, 2009

I couldn’t wait so I went ahead and installed PCLinuxOS tonight from my USB pendrive. All seemed to go well until I rebooted and removed my USB stick from which I installed.

Rather than being greeted by a GRUB menu giving me the three options I’d seen set up, I saw the old Acer bootsplash with the function keys to hit to edit BIOS settings or change the boot order. No, that’s not right. I went straight to XP.

WTF…

I ended up rebooting with the USB stick inserted again. That’s when I realized something wrong happened along the way: the new GRUB from the installation was installed to my USB stick.

I know how this could happen, if it did happen the way I think it did. I don’t know for sure because (a) I was never prompted where to install GRUB and (b) I haven’t gone through the install script or scripts to figure out if that’s indeed where the “problem” is. The first point is one of the reasons I was nervous during the install; I have a fervent distrust of distros that make all kinds of presumptions when it comes to setting things up without user intervention, especially when it comes to writing to MBR without interaction. I’ll deal with  the second point soon enough (I’ll update this entry if I can trace it down to the install script).

What do I think could’ve gone wrong? My Aspire One’s hard drive is SATA and I’d booted from USB. The USB stick from which I’d been running PCLOS before installing was /dev/sda. The SATA drive was secondary: /dev/sdb.  After installation, those went back to “normal” — in which case the hard drive should be /dev/sda and the stick /dev/sdb.

Shouldn’t take long to confirm that’s where the problem lies. Not a major problem. I’ll install GRUB manually or else see if I can remember how to boot Linux from boot.ini (hmm, don’t I need GRUB or LILO installed on the Linux partition to do that?). Or I can boot using the USB stick. Whatever. I just want to make sure I can dual-boot with Windows either way, and I can.

It’s way past my bedtime and the next couple days are going to be hectic. I’ll update ASAP.