linux n00b

PCLinuxOS 2007

Posted in Distributions by downforce on May 31, 2007

I recently stuck PCLinuxOS 2007 on a 3rd partition on my system, mainly as a test for my fubar’ed video card.

First impression: I really like it.

I never felt comfortable with Kubuntu’s KDE, it installed SOO much crap and you can’t uninstall it because of the kubuntu-desktop meta -package and it tries to uninstall the whole of kubuntu-desktop if you remove some component. PCLinuxOS you can uninstall components that you want with no ill-effect (that I’ve found so far!). Like why do I want Synaptic Touchpad on a desktop PC?

PCLOS07 has inspired me to give KDE a real go, where Kubuntu made me favour GNOME.

Other features I do like is the apt-get/synaptic based on their rpm repo’s. That’s a nice touch as I didn’t like adept and synaptic is good.

I also decided to PCLinuxOS on my laptop and configuration for the wireless was sooo painless. It autodetected the ip2200 wireless card and configuration of WPA2-PSK was so smooth. Huge kudos for that! It was a nightmare under both Elive and Debian. Didn’t try under *buntu.

I haven’t been able to give it a good run, due to the video card, but love to test out pushing it in terms of gaming and memory/cpu usage.

I really like that Yamatku (sp?) console… the dropdown is nice, use it all the time now. I find it better than alt-tabbing between a konsole window. For some reason I don’t really like konsole as a terminal app. Gnomes gnome-terminal is better featured. I really want to terminal client to work like puTTy where selecting auto-copies into system clipboard, not the screens clipboard. Unfortuately konsole doesn’t even auto-copy into konsole's clipboard and there is no keyboard shortcut 😦

Not everything is perfect though. Some of the things I don’t like are:
* The menu structure – God damn what’s with the 19 million sub-menus that have 1 item? Took me a cpl minutes to find Synaptic (I deleted it off the taskbar .. waste of space!)
* The default bash config (.bashrc etc) is pretty basic. I ended up taking some items from the Ubuntu install.

The installer needs a bit of work. For the most part it’s fairly painless and asks some basic questions to get you up and running, however:
* Cancel isn’t obvious – there is an OK button but to cancel you have to use the X, not so intuiative.
* The partitioning/format feature – I accidentally wiped my /home drive. It was my fault really, I forgot I moved data around, getting rid of some NTFS partitions in favour of one big ext3. I would prefer it to be more like GParted where you make all the changes then apply at the end rather than make each change live as you choose it. Luckily the only thing I lost was my settings. It wasn’t a huge deal except loosing .firefox and .opera which had my bookmarks, oh and a couple of custom scripts. Everything else is on my fileserver, mounted with samba on start to subdirectories with a root directory I call /data.

That does remind me to include in my backup scripts a remote backup of my /home/.* directory & file to the file server too!

So far not overly impressed with the repo’s like Ubuntu/Debian … but for general desktop use I’d imagine it’s more than adequate, but finding some less popular or specific applications weren’t there, mainly for development/server features. I tried looking for k3d, an app I tried out for an hour the other day for 3D modelling and that wasn’t there either.

Which leads me to say, it’s most definitely not for a server environment or really a development environment. It does have apache2/mysql/postgres/php5 but no sign of lighttpd which I like to use for localhost testing as it’s nice and light and quick. I couldn’t find eclipse which I’ve just discovered as a pretty decent IDE. I haven’t really taken this part past installing the LAMP components. Nothing is configured and TBH I didn’t even see if http://localhost worked.

I didn’t test any multimedia functionality as I haven’t got the sound working yet. Also I use my MythTV frontend for all videos/DVD’s.

I have 2 sound card, on-board and PCI and it defaulted to the on-board. I havent’ looked into changing it around, but when I did I somehow killed the sound server and get an error on boot up.

Well that’s my recap of PCLinuxOS after 2.5 days.

I seem to have listed more complaints than good features, but it’s more that what it does it does very well and there isn’t much to say. It’s quick and easy to figure out. The control center is a nice feature for system administration and anyone who can use Control Panel in Windows can use the Control Center in PCLinuxOS.

I’d dare to say that PCLinuxOS is more user friendly than Ubuntu and would make a better transition distro for a Microsoft user, well once they sort the partitioner out anyway!

As I said earlier, it’s good enough for me to want to continue using it … I’ll keep you posted if I change my mind!

Video Card …. RIP

Posted in General by downforce on May 31, 2007

Sad to say but my XfX 6600GT AGP has given up the ghost. After about a week of testing I’ve come to the conclusion it’s something to do with 3D acceleration.

Testing under Linux has been difficult. Most games I’ve found that are ‘free’ aren’t very intensive so it was hit and miss if/when it failed.

Eventually the other day though, it finally failed as soon as it started loading into GNOME. This was under Ubuntu.

To give it a good test run, I decided to install PCLinuxOS2007 on a 3rd partition as I’ve been reading some good stuff on it as a desktop distro and thought it’d give me a good chance to identify where/when/how my video card problems were occurring. More on this in my next post!

Anyway, I eventually established that the problem occurs as soon as the nVidia driver loads. I established this as PCLinuxOS was working fine (most of the time) with the nv driver, installed nvidia through apt-get and then the problems reoccured the same as under Ubuntu.

I thought it might be driver related, but alas, I tried 9755 (repo), 9754 (from nVidia site) and 100.14.06BETA (repo) and all the same.

Finally I caved and booted into Windows and same problem, the desktop loads with the lovely white boxes.

I’m not an expert on drivers, but I’m assuming here that the nVidia drivers must access some part of the card that nv open source or basic vesa drivers don’t but has failed and hence it’s been such a bitch to figure out?

I’m now waiting for XfX to return my emails about RA as the retailer wasn’t interested. The card is 14mths old and they only offer 12mth warranty. 😦

Finding files from the CLI with regex

Posted in Howto by downforce on May 24, 2007

Found a great article by Carla Schroder called Hone Your Scripting With a Regexp Toolbox.

There are some great hints and tips and I know I’ll refer back to this article many times and use it within a script I’m sort-of working on!

Change your default editor

Posted in Howto by downforce on May 22, 2007

DebainAdmin have come through with another great article on How to change the default editor in Debian Etch.

Once again this works perfectly under Ubuntu too.

Tiny Tiny RSS – Web-based RSS feed aggregator

Posted in Administration, Applications by downforce on May 21, 2007 did a great article on Tiny Tiny RSS (“TT-RSS”).

As with all my software, I like my server to run the function if possible. I have my torrents, calender/PIM, knowledge base and now my RSS feeds all accessible via the web from my webserver.

TT-RSS is a great piece of software, it’s AJAXified PHP so the interface is smooth as but nice and responsive.

Couple of great features, it can be single or multi-user, there is a grouping + tagging/label function. This involves setting SQL strings, but I haven’t used it yet. TT-RSS can be set to download in the background or when you load it.

I imported my OPML from Akregator and now I’m up and running, just needed to sort the categories as it only supports 1 level of grouping as opposed to nested in Akregator.

I recommend giving it a go!

EDIT: Added links, some reason I didn’t before .. weird!

XFS Defrag

Posted in Administration, General by downforce on May 20, 2007

I was checking out Micke’s blog post Feisty Performance – “Fly Like A Butterfly” and one of the tips was XFS defrag.

My file server has a 500GB LVM partition in XFS spanned across 3 HDD’s so I thought I’d check how fragged my system was. Here was the result:

actual 352480, ideal 58355, fragmentation factor 83.44%

83.44%! WOW! I’m amazed … I does contain a lot of files I download through TorrentVolve that usually get extracted then moved around so I wasn’t surprised it was fragmented. I’ve left it running now, wonder how long it’ll take?

And of course – thanks for the tip Micke!

Tux500 vs Microsoft (FUD) patents claim – Which is better publicity?

Posted in General by downforce on May 16, 2007

I’ll admit I’m a GNU/Linux FOSS news whore and as such I frequent both (my preferred) and probably 2-3 times a day.

There are two story threads which are hitting the headlines at the moment which I’m following quite closely, that’s the effort and the Microsoft/Linux 235 Patent FUD claim, hereby referred to as the MSPFUDC – cos we all love acronyms.

It got me thinking … the aim of is to raise awareness of [GNU/]Linux and so far, to me at least, it’s gain a lot of awareness in the Linux news circles, a couple of Indy 500 news articles and well, that’s pretty much it. It’s failed to peak the big distro’s interest or mainstream media. OK there was one article (at least that I’ve seen) but that’s it.

On the flip side, MSPFUDC has already had articles published in some 3 or 4 major news sites including Washington Post and plus various announcements by Microsoft. These are sites visited by probably millions of people each day.

From this I’m hypothesising that the MSPFUDC will expose Linux to a greater user base, who WILL actually use Linux then the effort. Why you ask?

I still don’t think Linux is an operating system for the masses, not at least yet. A few distros are making huge in-roads but until manufacturers start releasing open-source Linux drivers at product launch and multimedia codecs/apps become GPL to be included on installation CD, I don’t think it ever will. There are a few other factors but these can be discussed another time. But the point being, the people who are going to get an interest in will probably check out Linux and go “Oh, OK it’s an operating system. I have enough trouble with Windows, why try this?” or “Oh, OK it’s an operating system. Windows works well enough, why learn something new?”. They have a new awareness but wont necessarily do anything about it.

Now the people reading the MSPFUDC will already have some sort of active interest in computer applications/operating systems in first place to even bother clicking on the link. They’ll read the articles and if they believe what Microsoft is saying it might be a thought along the lines of “Hrm, maybe Linux isn’t different from Windows if they are using MS technology” or read the rest of the articles and say “Hrm, if Microsoft is so worried, maybe Linux isn’t as hard/bad/evil as I’ve been led to believe.” From here, continue on and download some LiveCD or whatever else.

On to watch I guess.

A side issues where I feel the project could ultimately work against Linux is those without the knowledge of forums or user-groups or think of Googling to solve Linux installation/usage problems. They’ll go and install Linux, it ‘breaks’ their system completely, get completely lost and confused, wipe the photo’s of their grandchildren as they now have some “Linux partitioned” hard-drive and haven’t taken backups beforehand. This permanently tainted the Linux reputation for these people, potentially forever.

My Current Projects

Posted in General, Projects by downforce on May 9, 2007

I’ve been a bit quite on the blog postings lately. There are a few reasons ….

  1. I found another ‘linux noob’ blog by a guy who sounds vaguely like me. Got into Linux and started blogging about it. (Sorry I’ve lost the link, it was a week ago!) and got to the point where is was almost an addiction. I could tell I was starting to head the same way and it made me realise and I’ve slowed down a bit!
  2. Learning PHP. It’s something that’s been on the back of my mind for a while now. My programming experience is pretty minimal, just writing huge-ass VBA scripts in Excel and Access ‘apps’ connecting to various datasets (itself, MS SQL and previously Oracle). I took the plunge last week and so far I’ve almost got a working webapp, it’s pretty simple but it does what I wanted it to do and got some (I think) fancy features, like charts!
  3. Other projects …
    • UPS: I’m currently trying to get my Power Shield Defender 650vA UPS to communicate with my Linux server (Ubuntu 6.10 server). It’s causing great grief at the moment. The support emails I’ve received replies too have been less than helpful, the documentation doesn’t relate to the product (it wants RS232 and it’s a USB interface!) plus the whole thing of USB under Linux is something I haven’t got my head around yet. I’m sure I’ll write something about it another time.
    • Mail server: I broke my mail server trying to get virtual accounts setup. It became too hard with the time I had available so I left it broke for a couple weeks. I’ve just got it back working using’s Perfect Server setup.
    • VPN server: Looking into setting up a VPN server on my linux box. Seeing if it’s possible to access my home network from work. So far hit a snag with my router not passing on GRE messages to the linux box. I spent two nights on it and that’s it. Still a WIP (work-in-progress!)
  4. Most importantly, I’ve been spending time with my baby boy and wife. Believe it or not I’ve spent about 1-2 hrs per weeknight and 2-4hr per weekend day doing the above. When you look at it like that it’s pretty productive!

On that, I have a few other projects I’m going to start looking into. These are

  • Using lighttpd over apache2. I’ve been reading good things about it and given the extremely small scale of my server it might work. Just want to make sure the things I run (gallery/wordpress/phpmyadmin/torrentvolve/mediawiki) all work under lighttpd. I’m hoping the setup and config is easier than apache2. I’ve been having serious problems gettings SSL to work under apache and virtual servers/sub-domains are problematic, it keeps dieing when the reloads for the logs to rotate … grrrrr
  • Test out openSUSE on my desktop a bit more
  • Figure out why my PC keeps freezing … stupid white blocks. I suspect hardware, in particular video card, at this stage, but not ruling out some graphical config. It’s a XFX 6600GT which I’ve had just over a year. Need to see what the warranty is on it. Different regions have different warranties, Asia is 2 years, Europe doesn’t say and US is lifetime. I’m not sure what Australia would come under, I would assume Asia but who knows these days!
  • I have about 3 drafts I started and never finished. I just posted one about Google Docs as a Knowledge Base, although I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and I’ll post some follow up.

    My possible knowledge base solution … Google Docs

    Posted in Applications, Knowledge Base by downforce on May 9, 2007

    Another follow-up to my online knowledge base ….

    After my previous post about “GKnow“, I checked out Google Docs ….

    Amazingly (or maybe not so amazingly but logically?) Google Docs actually does a lot of what I want. Here’s a summary:

    • By nature it’s in edit mode, I can still click [most] links in edit mode with Ctrl-LMouse.
    • Every document is private unless I mark it public. I actually like this idea, more than my original proposal.
    • There is an option “Edit HTML”. I can effectively import all my previous documents from Knowledgebasepublisher to Google Docs via C&P’ing the HTML source!
    • There is an extensive list of export options, HTML, PDF, OO.
    • Of course there are negatives otherwise I’d be raving on like a mad man saying I’ve solved the worlds [which is my] problems!

    • Google services do not support Opera [Which leads me to two new articles, My love/hate relationship with Opera and How to get Google Services working with Opera, neither are written yet, but will add links when I do]
    • I’m at the mercy of the Google servers. I did want to host it on my own machine, therefore I know who and what is being accessed when. I have a innate scepticism for Google since they went public. Call it paranoia, but it’s there.

    Well, I’m going to give it a go and see how it pans out until I find exactly what I want.