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February 16, 2007

SUSE 10.2 on Dell Optiplex 320

I installed SUSE 10.2 on my bosses machine like I had talked about. It was a slightly bigger pain in the ass than I had expected. I should have checked it out before buying it, but I figured something shipping with openDOS was going to be pretty compatible. There are some known issues getting Linux on a Dell Optiplex 320. Otherwise I think the machine is pretty cool. It is very quiet.

The SATA hard drive was not recognized during the install. As I found suggested elsewhere, this is fixed by using the kernel parameter linux pci=nomsi. I read that another problem was that GRUB wouldn't work. I wanted to try for myself, and sure enough during the first boot grub $hit the bed. So, lilo it is. Those were the only two problems I ran into during the install and neither were too hard to fix.

After the install I had my usual problem with Samba, but that was about it. My boss will be back in the office Tuesday and will be able to play with his new SUSE machine. I'll have to wait and see how he does.

February 8, 2007

SUSE 10.2

I downloaded the 6 SUSE CDs last week in preparation to upgrade my machine at work. It was running 9.3 and had problems synching with my Treo 650 (like all my SUSE machines), bluetooth wasn't working with my dongle, my fluxbox startup file wasn't working, odd cursors in Firefox and Thunderbird every time I rebooted until I played with gnome-control-center, and a few other minor things I hoped a fresh install of the latest and greatest from SUSE would fix.

I was busy last week and was unable to get around to installing SUSE 10.2 at work. However, a woman I have been tutoring in web development mentioned she's been wanting to try Linux on her Dell machine she just got back from getting repaired with a clean HDD. I suggested a dual-boot with Windows, so we installed Windows first and then tried to install SUSE 10.2. I say tried because we got an error that her machine didn't have enough memory to run YaST. It asked to mount a swap partition, but since this machine only had windows installed, there was no swap partition yet. Her laptop had 256 MB of memory, which is SUSE 10.2's minimum requirement.

Some Googling turned up similar errors for people installing it in a VM. The fixes they used didn't help me. I decided to download DSL, burn it, and use it to resize her NTFS and give her a swap. Unfortunately, I couldn't get two separate machines to boot off of two separate downloads of the newest version of DSL, 3.2.

These shenanigans left the woman with a poor impression of Linux, especially compared to the almost thoughtless process involved in installing XP on the same machine. I told her we'd try it again next time when I brought an older version of DSL with me. The next time I saw her I didn't bring up Linux and neither did she.

I also recently had a conversation with the CEO of the company I work for. He was running Windows ME (he resists change, especially technology) on his desktop at work and has noticed how one-by-one he is losing support for ME from Microsoft, Symantic, ZoneAlarm, and others. I agreed and told him that he would really need to upgrade to something newer to protect his data and our network. We talked about how expensive Vista was and how he'd be in the same dwindling-support situation in a few years with XP. He asked me to tell him again about that "thing" I have on my computer. I told him again about Linux, how it's free, secure, and can be modified so that each new update does not mean he has to re-learn how to use it. I told him I wasn't pushing it on him because I know how much he hates change. He told me he knew he had to change to something so he was willing to give Linux a try.

He's been using the same hardware for about 10 years, so I talked the holder-of-the-purse-strings into letting him get a new computer. They've leery of the "pieced-together" machines I'm famous for because they have no warrantee, so I checked out Dell. I was able to get a respectable 3 GHz Celery, 1 GB of RAM, more storage than he can use, a 17" monitor, DVD-RW, 3-year warrantee (heavy on the fine print), and FreeDOS shipped from Dell for about $700. My plan has been to install SUSE 10.2 on it. I can ssh into it and handle any updates and new software he needs from my desk.

Unfortunately, I've had more than a few headaches with SUSE 10.2 on my own work machine. So many, that I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't just install XP for my boss. Blasphemy from a Linux advocate, I know. The problems I have run into when installing Windows for non-geeks can usually be fixed by the average introverted male teenager. The problems I run into when installing Linux often involve compiling a new kernel module, copying a binary, and some other CLI stuff that seems like wizardry to the bystander.

SO, the problems I've had with SUSE 10.2:

  • I really dislike YaST online update and Software Management. Really subjective, but it seems to have gone from fairly straightforward to a bunch of whizzing progress bars. Progress bars that pop up and shift focus away from what I'm working on.
  • It's been difficult for me to add software repos in YaST, they often hang or fail. I try to mark the CDs not to be refreshed, but YaST asks me to insert them anyway. I haven't tried deleting them as a repo yet.
  • I get an error that says another process is accessing the RPM database when I try to open Software Management, Online Update, rpm -i or right-click on an RPM to install with YaST. It seems this happens only after I successfully install an RPM by right-clicking on it. This error persists until I reboot, sometimes fixed when I kill every process grepped for krpmview and zmd. Possibly related to this reported behavior.
  • If I try to install a local RPM, YaST looks at the repositories to try and find a newer RPM and if one exists, installs that instead. This has been a frustration.
  • Getting Fluxbox to work has been a pain. This is likely a problem with my config or Fluxbox, but it was working fine in 9.3.
  • I can't get Aterm's transparency to work. I'm really stumped here. Again, just dandy in 9.3.
  • rdesktop isn't working. I haven't had time to troubleshoot this yet, but it worked fine in 9.3.
  • I'm having this problem, which is not too unlike the X cursor I was getting in Firefox and Thunderbird.
  • I get an error when I log in to fluxbox about a problem with the geometry and it suggests I try some terminal foolishness to figure out what the problem is. I haven't looked at this problem yet.
The Fluxbox and Aterm issues are probably not SUSE's problem and nothing I would face when installing for a new Linux user, but the YaST stuff is unbearable.

"It's free, stop complaining and go fix the problems." Well, my skills aren't quite there. I'll keep using Linux (and likely SUSE) until hell freezes over, but I may not be able to recommend it to my less-technically-inclined friends.

To be fair, I found a lot to like in SUSE 10.2. The default KDE desktop is really cool (though I only use it until I can get Fluxbox working). Kerry was nice. The search bar in Konq is cool. I haven't tried bluetooth or syncing my treo yet, maybe that will give me something else to rave about.

Anyway, I'm just surly because of the frustrations I've been having. I'm sure things will start to look sunny soon.

December 10, 2006

SUSE 10.2 Reviews & an XP Install

A couple of SUSE 10.2 reviews; DesktopLinux and JonRob's Blog. Both were glowing, each mentioned only a couple of minor concerns.

The only incentives I have to upgrade from the 9.3, 10.0, and 10.1 versions I run on my various machines are my problems with Kpilot choking on my Treo 650's Java and the perpetual issues I have with Samba. I haven't checked for new versions of these packages in a while, so maybe I'll just check that. Anyway, I've learned the hard way that upgrading for the sake of seeing the version number increase is tempting Murphy's Law, so I doubt I'll be going to 10.2 until I have to.

I've been reformatting and reinstalling XP on my wife's PC all evening. What a pain. This ancient OS needs a few hundred MBs of updates to bring it back to life and DirecWay's "'Fair' Access Policy" means that they slash my bandwidth after about 125 MBs of downloads. Cool, I got to complain about DirecWay and Microsoft in the same sentence.

One amusing thing happened while reinstalling XP for her. I watched it get owned about 3 minutes after connecting it to the interenet, lol. I had dozens of popups poorly disguised as security warnings asking me to visit various websites to install patches or risk permenant data loss. I literally could not install the updates fast enough. It's crazy because I did not visit any websites besides Microsoft.com. I downloaded AntiVir while I was installing updates and started running it. It found three trojan files, something like DA/Something.Agent.xhl.1. Insane.

June 19, 2006

SUSE Wiki Improved

A few days ago, Liam contacted me with some well-founded complaints about the state of the SUSE Wiki. We exchanged a few emails and since then he's been completely reworking the SUSE Wiki. He's known as Kamatsu over there and he's doing a lot of great work.

The site can always use more help!

May 10, 2006

SUSE, rdesktop Update

When I posted about about remote desktop with XP and SUSE I was having problems with the sound. I couldn't get so much as a peep out of the remote XP box. Well, last night I went to the XP box, logged in with the account I use for remote access with SUSE and started Winamp, as expected, it played music. I then went back to my SUSE machine across the room and opened rdesktop and logged in. By logging in with the same account, it kicked the screen on the XP machine back out to the login screen. I could now control Winamp from SUSE (mostly) (progress!) (apostrophes!!).

I could not control the sound using Winamp's dial, nor from the speaker icon in the system tray. Also, each time the tracks changed, I got a popup box that said something about not having drivers installed. I logged out of the XP machine remotely and logged back in. I could now launch Winamp with results similar to those mentioned above; not ideal, but I was patting myself on the back.

Today I started playing with rdesktop again to see if I could make it better. Well, now trying the -r sound:remote option made the sound work as expected! I tried this before with zero luck, so I'm thinking that the little "procedure" with opening Winamp locally, then controlling it remotely "fixed" something. I'm not real sure what did it, but I can now play whatever I want on the XP machine's "good" speakers from across the room. The command I'm now using in my Fluxbox menu is: rdesktop -u remote -g 90% -a 16 damian -r sound:remote.

I've also run several updates on two XP machines I used the multi-user hack on and it still works.

April 25, 2006

Remote XP Desktops on Linux

Like many enthusiast I've got several computers in various states of functionality in my house. Most of them run some flavor of Linux, but one has to run Windows because crappy DirecWay requires it for use with their old hardware. DirecWay will sell you their new hotness hardware that lets you run the OS of your choice, but DirecWay is right next to Microsoft on my list of companies I hate to give money to. Plus my wife appears to be one of those people who likes Windows because it's what she knows; so she uses the XP machine that serves my house's internet connection.

Due to the order in which our computers were acquired XP is installed on the "cool" computer: best monitor, best graphics card, fastest proc, severely overclockable, etc. Because I'm such a good husband, she also gets the "cool" desk chair, but that's beside the point. The "cool" computer also has the best speakers, nothing an audiophile would love, but it's a Creative setup with a subwoofer, so compared to the machine I use, the "cool" computer also sounds good.

After a couple of the CDs I love (Short Bus and October Rust) were recently destroyed by my children (whom I love somewhat less now) I have been going through and ripping any CDs I consider priceless. I've been using ogg, I know it's lossy and not the best way to archive music, but it's good enough and I have yet to meet anyone who can tell the difference between a CD and a good ogg rip when given the Pepsi challenge. So after a couple day's work I've got a few gigs music on my computer. Many of these songs I haven't heard in a long time and have been looking for a way to play them and control them on the "cool" computer from my linux machine across the room. A CLI mp3 player like mp3blaster would be great if it ran on XP.

So off I went to see if I could find something to fit my needs and somehow ended up with the idea of using remote desktop to run Winamp to play the ogg files. I thought this sounded cool because I'd also be able to use IE from my linux machines (for those damn sites that require IE and switching the user-agent doesn't work) as well as perform any maintenence on the XP machine (I'm always asking my wife to run Windows update, change the file sharing properties on something, etc.). So while this may not be the easiest way to play music on a nearby XP machine from Linux, it solved some other problems and I wanted to try it.

XP's Remote Desktop lets you have visual access to all XP's features. It's as if you're sitting at the machine. It's like a remote X session for Linux (I wouldn't know because I always feel less manly at the thought of accessing a remote Linux machine without using the command line) Scott Morris has some information about running GUI apps remotely with SUSE. So XP acts as the server and you just need a client to pull it off, you can use this on your LAN or elsewhere if you've got an internet connection. To set up the XP machine, just follow these instructions (except the "The remote computer must be running Windows 95 or later" thing is nonsense, we're going to do it with Linux). To set up the Linux box (client), you'll need rdesktop (RPMs available on the SUSE CDs or common YaST sources). Rdesktop is a CLI app, so if you want a GUI, you can try tsclient or GNOME-RDP. I tried the generic RPM on the tsclient site and it worked on my SUSE 10.0 machine, but complained of a dependancy issue that I could never fix on my 9.3 machine, I didn't try any other GUI's because I just set up a menu item in my Fluxbox menu that launched rdesktop with all the options I wanted (run man rdesktop to see what's available). Do some googling and I'm sure you'll find a GUI that suits you if you must.

So far so good? You should now be able to launch rdesktop or the GUI front-end of your choice. If it does not work it might be the GUI you're using, so try rdesktop by itself to if that's working. If you're still having problems, your next step should be checking all the firewalls between you and the host machine. Then make sure you set up XP correctly; I think the XP machine will need to have a password associated with the account you are trying to use. rdesktop

The problem with this is that whenever you log in you'll kick the local XP user out to the login screen. This is because Microsoft only wants one user on there at a time. However, the whole reason I decided to make this long-winded blog post is that today I happened across a Digg story that explains how to hack XP Pro to allow up to three users at once. TFA explains that this is done by installing an old dll, changing some options, and making some registry tweaks. In the comments I also found this post that provides an .exe that does all the installing and hacking for you. In any case, you'll have to offer a certain amount of trust to the authors because you're installing a dll that could have been potentially modified to do "bad things". I've tried both methods mentioned above and have yet to find any problems. Also, you'll need to set up a second account on the XP machine because two people can't be logged in as the same user at the same time, if you try it the first user will be kicked to the login screen.

I have no idea if this hack violates the XP EULA or any laws and these things cary a certain amount of risk, so you're on your own if you end up in jail or with a broken machine. Additionally, the next time you install any MS patches, your hack may be undone or break the hack alltogether.

Did this solve my "music-on-the-'cool'-computer" issue? No. Though you can specify if you want the sounds to come from the server or host, for some reason that's still not working right now, but I'm convinced the theory is sound (forgive the pun), so I'll keep working on it. Update: Sound works now.

January 28, 2006

Official openSUSE Forums?

Joseph Gaffney, Pediatric Cardiologist, Author, and dead Irishman (no, I'm kidding, this is him) sent me an email about a discussion on the openSUSE Mailing List about whether or not to create an "Official" openSUSE forum. He linked to some notes that recap some of the discussion that has already taken place here.

The idea is that an Official forum would make things easier for new users, better utilize Novell resources, and improve integration with existing Offical resources such as the mailinglists, Bugzilla, and openSUSE Wiki.

I replied to his email and he was kind enough to share it with the list. My response wasn't especially insightful so I'll spare you the repost. Instead, I'll try to repackage my thoughts into a somewhat more digestable format. I can see both sides of this issue, but come down somewhat on the side of not creating an Official forum. The reasons:

  • Pascal's point that there are some legal "gray areas" which warrant discussion that Novell can't allow on anything with their official stamp on it, such as **GASP** us crazy F/OSS people watching DVDs on our computers.
  • I'm a SUSE and Novell fanboy so, gentle reader, please don't interpret this as disrespect or ungreatfulness, but openSUSE is a community project and I don't think Novell needs to be in final control of every aspect of it.
  • Two popular English-speaking SUSE Linux forums already exist: SuSELinuxSupport.de and SUSEForums.net (SUSEForums.net is down right now as they transition from shared to dedicated hosting) both are great and very newbie-friendly; they have served the SUSE community very well so far. Least of all, I think it would be an insult to their respective mods, admins, and users to create an "Official" forum when theirs already exists. I have the strong feeling that if a new "Official" forum is created users will start to migrate from the "old" to the "new". But more importantly, both forums already have experienced moderators and established communities, why disrupt that?
I would suggest looking at what can be done to raise the visibility of the mailing lists, openSUSE site, and Bugzilla on the existing forums and vice versa. Maybe choosing 2 representatives (possibly Novell employees) to be a moderator at each of the existing forums (assuming the existing forum leadership agrees).

Then give it a trial period to see what works and see what we learn. By making attempts to fix what we have before setting up a new official forum we can avoid most of the "negatives" people are afraid of without alienating anyone or uprooting whole communities. If this doesn't sufficiently address the issues then we can look at the situation again later and consider the possibility of a new Official forum.

The huge problem with all this is that there are two popular competing forums. They split some time ago over some "differences of opinion". Most of the talk you see today is how they don't compete, they work together, or there's no bad feelings. Well, this may, or may not be true, but there were bad feelings. I saw the public threads and the drama whirlwind that occured when they split. Both forums seem happy enough to be split and this is their choice. However, I don't think it's a good thing to have two sets of forums. Some say choice is good, and for the most part, I agree, but in this case, I don't see the two forums as being different enough to justify the duplicated efforts.

And the efforts are being duplicated. When SUSEForums is back up, go take a look at them both and see if you can count how many matching Topic titles you can see. There are brand-new SUSE users having to go back-and-forth between the two forums to get a wide variety of answers to their questions; this is duplicated effort on the part of the experienced users who enjoy helping and fielding questions, this is requiring undue effort by new users to find the information they need.

Again, I like both forums, I've exchanged emails, or participated in forum discussions with many of the Mods and Admins and they're all great people. I wish we could get these forums back together, but from everyting I've seen, this doesn't seem likely.

So if this were a survey, and the statement were, "There should be an Offical openSUSE Forum right now", I'd check the "slightly disagree" box. I just wanted to raise awareness of this topic. If you have a strong opinion about the subject, I'm sure the mailing list guys would like to hear it, just do them the favor of reading all previous discussion on the matter before posting to prevent re-covering old ground. If you'd just like to see what's been said so far, you can see the arcives at http://mbox.mewes.tv/mbox/opensuse/2006/daily/2006-01/. They are in mbox format, but appear as plain text in Firefox, and I assume in other browsers, as well.

November 14, 2005

Fluxbox on SUSE

In the past I have suggested using the "checkinstall" method for building Fluxbox RPMs for yourself. I recently installed one of Pascal's Fluxbox RPMs found here and have found it to be much better.

It installs a few directories inside your ~/.fluxbox directories and a script that makes launching apps at startup much easier. I had previously used .xinitrc, but this had the side effect of launching them when booting into KDE (for example) and Torsmo did not play nice.

So this is a (another) case where building a simple RPM using checkinstall for yourself may not be the best method.

If you have your own checkinstall RPM installed, I suggest:

  • Exiting Fluxbox and logging into a different window manager/desktop environment
  • Downloading Pascal's Fluxbox RPM
  • Renaming your ~/.fluxbox directory
  • uninstalling Fluxbox
  • Installing Pascal's Fluxbox RPM for your version of SUSE
  • Logging back into Fluxbox
  • Integrating your "old" (renamed) ~/.fluxbox with the "new" one
I've updated my Fluxbox page to reflect this suggested method.

November 13, 2005

SUSE 10.0

Because my laptop had been sent off for repair, I was a little late to the SUSE 10.0 party. Within days of getting it back I sat down, backed up all my important stuff and installed away. I had three reasons for upgrading from 9.3: I'm an "ooohhhh new version" kind of guy, Firefox and Thunderbird recently started using the simple black mouse pointers, and all my GTK apps had menus with black text on black backgrounds (until I hovered over the menu item, then the text would go white).

To work around the Firefox/Thunderbird problem I had added gnome-control-center to be started when I log in, I would then go to "Mouse" and choose a different cursor theme, then back to the crystal theme that worked everywhere else. Understand I did not make any changes, it just seems my preferences weren't being recognized by Firefox/Thunderbird until I did that.

I suspect that my GTK menu problem came from the GTK/cairo issue I had before and I was never able to get it right. It made working with The GIMP, Acrobat Reader, and the handfull of other GNOME apps I frequently use much more difficult than it needed to be.

I am having the same Firefox-Thunderbird-cursor issue on my 9.3 desktop at work, but not the black menu problem.

Anyway, installing 10.0 on my laptop solved all these problems.

Props to SUSE and the openSUSE community for cranking out yet another fine version of SUSE. However, I have to say that if it weren't for my interest in running the latest stable version of SUSE, I'd still be happily running 9.1. When I went from 9.1 to 9.3, I didn't see many new features that noticeably effected me. I had the same feeling when I went from 9.3 to 10.0 (one exception is mentioned below). Again, SUSE 10.0 is cool as hell, but if you're happily using 9.1 and wondering if you should upgrade, I'd suggest looking closely to see if there are any new features you really need.

I mentioned the other day that I was expecting my new Sprint Treo 650. It came in and it's pretty cool. It's not as great as I'd hoped, but there have been a few pleasent surprises that have kept me interested. Anyway, the Treo has bluetooth and I had heard that it is pretty Linux-friendly. I have had very little success with the Treo on my SUSE 9.3 desktop; not much love using the sync cable or bluetooth. However, it has been practically plug-and-play on my 10.0 laptop using the sync cable, and about half-functional using bluetooth. I'll blog more soon about the Treo and SUSE, but I just wanted to point out that it seems bluetooth functionality has been improved in something used in 10.0.

So I think I'm going to keep SUSE 9.3 on my work desktop. Asside from the bluetooth issue, there just isn't anything new I need in 10.0. I've actually considered downgrading it to 9.1 as a challenge to see how long I can keep it running on 9.1. 10 years from now, it would be awesome to be able to proclaim that my desktop box runs SUSE 9.1. But then I realized that I'll have upgraded hardware a few times by then; and again, I am an "ooohhhh, a new version" kind of guy

October 7, 2005

Group Calendar

I'm at one of those phases at work where tasks are piling up faster than I can ever complete them. Two words: Triage. In the WEEDS, baby! I'm having to organize tasks by which will get me in the most trouble for being late. I'm a caricature of an office worker with past deadlines on sticky notes around my monitor. My co-workers are in a similar situation.

In an attempt to bring sanity, I'm getting everyone on board with a group calendar. I needed a calendar that could be edited by anyone from any of their computers and was cross-platform ('cause I'm up to my wedding tackle in Windows users). My first choice was Hula. It didn't work out because:

  1. I couldn't get it to work on my local machine for testing (latest dev build). I could never get it to connect, even from the local machine
  2. I don't really have the bandwidth here to support it when users from outside the office use it, and my webhost doesn't support it right now.
  3. I didn't need the email, web services, juice squeezer, and other (awesome) features that come with Hula; I realized it was my first choice because it would be the most fun to play with; killing a fly with a shotgun
  4. I saw the download of SUSE 10.0 happening, in front of my SUSE wallpaper, on my SUSE machine, and decided I needed to stop drinking the Novell Kool-Aid for a while
So while I really want to play with Hula in the future, it will have to wait until I've got more disposable time.

So I moved on to Sunbird. This was the right tool for the job. I had attempted to get Sunbird working in the past, but my WebDav service at my web host wasn't playing nice, so I had to abandon it. This time, being surrounded by little plastic inboxes groaning under the increasing strain, I found my motivation to make it work.

So far, I've just installed it on the SUSE machines, but the Windows boxes are next. The issues I've had so far are:

  1. Whereas with Hula, all you need is a browser and an internet connection to edit the calendar, you need a full iCal-compliant client with this setup. There are some web-based, PHP-scripted options out there, but the ones I've seen haven't thrilled me so far. I may bolt-on something in the future, but for now, I'm just going to go with clients on all the desktops and notebooks.
  2. As mentioned above, getting Sunbird to play nice with WebDav was a pain. Some documentation I've seen said you should use "http://" paths to publish and view; others said "ftp://" was needed. I've only been able to get ftp to work, which is fine. This confusion is no ones fault; Sunbird is still pretty new.
  3. I installed an RPM via PackMan. Running sunbird didn't work. I got a segmentation fault. Some Google searching turned up this blog post where the author found a SuSELinuxSupport thread that indicated that running sunbird -calendar fixed the issue. I'll also point out that if running sunbird -calendar still results in a segmentation fault, you should check in your ~/.mozilla folder to see if there is already a sunbird folder; if so, delete it and run sunbird -calendar again. This worked for me.
  4. ...and finally: You can secure your remote Sunbird/WebDav directory with .htaccess, but this means users will need to input or confirm a username & password each time they run the client and modify the calendar. This isn't a huge issue, but something to be aware of. I opted for the less-secure option of putting the .ics file in a somewhat unlikely directory and uploading a blank index.html to prevent someone from seeing the contents of the WebDav directory. So someone would have to know the full path to the .ics file to view it; because my meetings and travel plans rarely rise to the national security-level of secrecy, I figure if they can find the file, they are rewarded with knowing gems like when my incident reports are due or when my dry cleaning will be ready.
Of course there's KOrganizer and other iCan clients available, too. I haven't ever used them, I'm sure I'll be checking at least some of them out in the future.
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