Update Time

Every six months when the new version of Fedora is released I start to wonder if and when I should update. The release of Fedora 10 a couple of weeks ago started the decision process all over again.

I have been using Fedora 8 and that is what I am using as I write this. I do have a Fedora 9 system that I mentioned in my last post. It is running well and I have settled on Xfce as my desktop on that system. It is much more stable than the test F9 system I had a couple of months ago. It still has a couple of issues I haven’t solved though.

I have been following the forums and there seems to be less complaints with F10 than there was with F9. No setting of new forum records with the number of people on line trying to find answers to their questions this time. Not that it has been completely problem free of course. Several people have issues but nothing like it was six months ago.

There is a theory, or is it an urban legend, that the even numbered Fedoras are the good ones and the odd numbers are well odd and better avoided. Recent history seems to support this with F8 being the best Fedora so far, at least in my opinion. I had problems with F3 and F7, don’t remember trying F5. I didn’t start using Fedora as my main system until F8 but F6 was OK.

I’m not expecting much from KDE4 though as it uses the same version as F9 (4.1.2) although some reports are that it is a little better integrated in F10. Most other changes are evolutionary rather than the major changes that came with F9. Probably explains the smoother update this time.

So will I take the chance and try F10? Well I may set up a test system sometime over the holidays if I get a chance. If it goes well I will update my other systems. There is a temptation to always try latest but it must be balanced against the time taken to get the system set up as I like it and working. Although that is usually only a couple of days.

Testing Desktop Managers

As I have mentioned here before I have been predomiantly using KDE 3.5 for my main desktop for sometime now. The last couple of days have seen me experimenting with some alternatives. I installed Fedora 9 with KDE 4.1.2 and Xfce 4.4.2. This isn’t the first time I have used KDE 4 and I have used older versions of Xfce. Neither have previously tempted me to move away from KDE 3.5 though.

KDE 4.1.2

My earlier experiences with KDE 4 had me deciding it wasn’t ready for everyday use. It is difficult to pinpoint particular issues that support this but it is the general feeling from using it. A good desktop manager will disappear, at least to the extent that it doesn’t get in your way when you are working. However if you are spending more time trying to get past the desktop than you spend in your apps there is a problem. So here are a couple of the issues I found.

The new menu format feels slow and clunky. I found using it with a mouse difficult and with the keyboard it was inconsistent. I had set up shortcuts in my Fedora 8 KDE 3.5 system and found the way to set them up here was similar. However they didn’t work. There were saved and could be edited but there was no response when I tried them. In 3.5 there was an extra step to use multiple keys which doesn’t seem to exist here so that may be the problem. After a short time I had reset the menu to the classic menu which helped a little. The help screens still refer to the previous versions too.

I didn’t like the look of Firefox and found a post on the Fedora Forums which describes how to make Firefox use the current KDE theme. This helped a lot. Open Office had a strange problem where icons on the toolbar disappeared unless the mouse was over them. I haven’t got around to look into that yet.

I found KDE to be a bit slow too although it is faster than the 4.0 I tried sometime ago. It is also much more stable. Maybe 4.2 will be more usable.

Xfce 4.4.2

Xfce is a light weight desktop that is quite minimalist when compared to KDE and Gnome. It certainly runs faster and uses less resources. This makes it useful on older computers and when you want to run resource intensive apps like video editors. I had used older versions and found them a little too basic for my liking. Also Xfce is less customisable than KDE. They always seemed stable and fast but I never kept them as my default desktop.

After using KDE 4 Xfce looked very simple and that isn’t a bad thing. Everything I have tried works with little attention. I haven’t worked out how to set up shortcuts yet. Also I haven’t found a theme I prefer but that is a small concern. It seems stable and is the fastest I have tried on this computer. My early impressions are that I could live with Xfce which is something I haven’t thought of older versions.

So Where Does That Leave Me?

My preferred desktop manager is still KDE 3.5. Undoubtably this is partly due to being familiar and therefore comfortable with it but even more due to the fact it is mature. KDE 4.1.2 is not quite there. Maybe 4.2 will do it for me. I look forward to trying it sometime soon. Xfce has come a long way and could become my choice when I update my everyday system from Fedora 8. I will install Compiz on it soon and see how that goes.

RPM Fusion Now Available

While Fedora has many applications available in its own repository its strict adherence to free software only means there are many packages that aren’t there. That includes many important proprietary video and wifi drivers we need until the free versions can offer the same features. Fortunately the 3rd party repos have stepped in to fill the gap. However this can lead to problems with incompatible versions and dependencies across the different repos. New comers have often been advised to enable only one 3rd party site. A solution to this has been in development for sometime and it consisted of the simple (at least on the surface) act of combining the more popular repos into one central place. This has finally been achieved and the new RPM Fusion is now in operation. This is a great step forward for Fedora and we can only hope that more repos will become involved. Congratulations to all those involved. Now if only someone would package Kdenlive for Fedora.

Below is the announcement from the Fedora forums, as you can see if you already have Livna correctly enabled you wont need to do anything. You will receive an update that will enable RPM Fusion and then you will receive several new updates from the new site. You probably wont need to keep Livna enabled after that.

“The RPM Fusion team is proud to announce the public availability of
our repositories that provide software which the Fedora project cannot
provide as easy-to-install RPM packages.

== What applications can be found in the RPM Fusion repositories ==

The RPM Fusion project provides a variety of different applications:

=== Sound and Video / Multimedia applications ===

We have all that is needed to play all kinds of media files, such as
MP3 or unencrypted DVDs
and ship additional multimedia applications such as MPlayer, VLC and Xine.

=== Kernel Drivers ===

We offer the ATI and Nvidia closed-source drivers in a
Fedora-compatible RPM package
for users whose video cards are not yet fully supported with the stock
open source drivers.

=== Games ===

We offer couple of games such as:
* Bub’s Brothers
* Secret Maryo Chronicles
* UFO: Alien Invasion
* Wörms of Prey, xrick
* GLtron
* and lot others !

=== Emulators ===

We offer emulators for most retro platform:

* VICE for Commodore 64 and other vintage Commodore 8 bit computers
* E-UAE for Amiga
* Nestopia and FCEUltra for NES
* ZSNES and Snes9x for Super NES
* and many many others!

== More Information ==

RPM Fusion provides packages for all Fedora releases that are
supported by Fedora project, which includes the development branch
“rawhide”.

We have two separate repository lines:

* “free” for Open Source Software (as defined by the Fedora Licensing
Guidelines) which the Fedora project cannot ship
* “nonfree” for redistributable software that is not Open Source
Software (as defined by the Fedora Licensing Guidelines); this
includes software with publicly available source-code that has “no
commercial use”-like restrictions

Please read our wiki page about how to enable these repositories:
http://rpmfusion.org/Configuration

RPM Fusion is a project started by the Dribble, Freshrpms and Livna
teams. It aims to bring together many packagers from various 3rd party
repositories and build a single add-on repository for Fedora and Red
Hat Enterprise Linux. We hope to attract new Fedora packagers and hope
that other 3rd party repositories will join us.

Are you interested? Do you want to help? Don’t hesitate and subscribe
to our mailing lists at http://lists.rpmfusion.org or meet us in the
#rpmfusion channel on freenode.

==== Do you find problems? ====

Fill bugs at https://bugzilla.rpmfusion.org/

=== A note for Livna users ===

All users that installed Livna properly (e.g. by installing the
livna-release package) will get RPM Fusion free and nonfree
repositories enabled automatically. All packages in Livna that are
superseded by packages from RPM Fusion will soon be removed from the
Livna repositories.”

Wireless Broadband on Fedora

I decided it was time to add broadband to my mobile setup. So I have signed up with Optus (Australia’s number 2 phone and internet supplier for non Aussie readers). As part of the package they supplied a Huawei E169 USB modem. It uses the 3G/GSM network to provide wireless broadband across much of Australia or at least the settled parts.

So how to get it working with Linux? As usual the phone companies deny it will work but what do they know? First I set it up installing the supplied sim card. Next after turning off wi-fi on the laptop I plugged the modem in. It recognised it as a USB device and asked what I wanted to do with it. I elected “do nothing” and then clicked on the Network Manager icon in the panel.

Network Manager showed the GSM device and offered to connect. I clicked and SELinux gave an error and blocked the action. After setting SELinux to permissive I tried again. The light flashed encouragingly and I opened Firefox and surfed away. It was literally that easy.

I expected to fiddle for a while but no it all worked boringly easily. I’m using it to post this now. Only “problem” so far is getting Conky to display the connections details. If only everything was that simple but then I wouldn’t have much to talk about here would I?

Managing Applications

One of the great things about Linux is the almost limitless range of applications. Name a requirement and someone has developed an application for it. The hardest part is probably selecting what you want / need. Each distro includes some way to manage the apps it provides, they are known as Package Managers, most have several. A Linux user has a choice of command line or graphical Package Managers.

One of my complaints when I started using Fedora was the default package manager, Pirut, found on the menus as “Add/Remove Software”. I found it slow and not very friendly. Oh it worked I can’t complain about it but like most Fedora users I quickly found the command line option yum was easier. Yum is fine if you know exactly what you want to install but what if you need to search. There are command line options but a graphical interface is so much easier. That is where Yumex comes in.

Yumex, the Yum EXtender, is a gui for the yum command. It has all the power of the command line including the feedback on what it is doing, but with the ease of use of a graphical interface. Why it isn’t the default for Fedora beats me. It seems to be a secret you only find out about on the forums, one of the good reasons to be a member of the forum for your distro of choice.

Yumex can be installed from the standard repositories in your preferred way but soon your preferred way will be yumex, highly recommended.

Refining Desktop Effects

I’ve written a couple of times before about desktop effects and the how to set them up. I won’t cover that again but will add a couple of things I have learned since then.

There are options

First is Compiz Options. These are found by right clicking on the Fusion Icon in the Panel. There are two options and one I use is Loose Binding. Not sure how it works but it does make a difference to performance, at least with my nVidia card. When it wasn’t selected performance was slow and X was working flat out, taking up around 30% of the cpu. With Compiz using about 15 – 20% that was quite a load. Now compiz is about 25 – 30% and X rarely over 1%.

There were other benefits too. I often found the screen totally messed up when resuming from Suspend. The only fix was to reload Window Manager, again using the Fusion Icon. Now that problem has disappeared.

I guess the lesson here is test the options, the other one is indirect rendering, and see if they improve Compiz on your computer.

Pager

The second thing is the pager. I use KDE 3.5 on Fedora 8. That is the bar that shows the number of desktops you have and allows you to click on one to bring it to the front. The standard pager refused to show the four desktops, it was stuck on one. I removed it and installed the KDE one designed for compiz, kicker-compiz. After adding it to the panel I had four desktops showing again.

As an aside there is a great option in Compiz called Window Preview. You will find it in ccsm under Extras. It shows the contents of a window in the Pager as well as when you hover over the application name on the Taskbar.

Fedora 9

I guess everyone in the Linux world now knows Fedora 9 was released earlier this week. The feedback has been mixed. While there are the usual bouquets for some great changes there are also a few brickbats for some problems. To be fair Fedora is and always has been a bleeding edge distro and so from time to time will suffer the effects of having the latest but not yet greatest features. One result of this is that the forums have broken all records with the most users on line at one time almost topping 14,000 in the last 24 hours. The record before F9 was a bit over 11,000.

Two examples of the issues early adopters face are the lack of nvidia drivers due to the decision to use the latest beta of xorg. This alone has caused a fair bit of traffic on the forums. The use of KDE 4.03 as the standard KDE desktop has sparked some discussion too with many saying it is not ready for day to day use and should be considered a beta until 4.1 arrives in July.

Fedora is and will remain my distro of choice but I have decided to stick with F8 for the time being. Support will continue for F8 until F0 is released later in about six months. Although some of the new features of F9 look attractive I can’t afford to have my main system unusable. However there is a old copy of Ubuntu on one of my hard drives that I haven’t used for some time so it may go and be replaced with a F9 test system.

Don’t think I am criticising Fedora for its way of doing things. I appreciate having an up to date system and support its aim of pushing development of Linux. It is the Fedoras of this world that keep things improving for everyone else. Sometimes that can be painful for those involved but the end result is worth the pain.

My advice to anyone thinking of trying F9 or any new distro is if you use your computer for anything important don’t replace your existing system. By all means install a test system as a dual boot but keep a working system going too. Or get the Live CD version and have a play with that. If it works and all your hardware is operational then install it. If you are fortunate to have a computer you can test on then go for it!

Fedora on Dell 1520

In a recent post I outlined my purchase of a new laptop, a Dell Inspiron 1520. It came with XP Pro which I need for a couple of applications. However for some time now my operating system of choice has been Linux and specifically Fedora 8. So after checking everything was working on the new machine and installing the Windows apps I would use it was time to install Fedora.

When I ordered the laptop I had selected options that I believed would work without much trouble with Fedora. A search of the Fedora forums and a couple of other sites like Linux Laptop wiki and Linux on Laptops helped with that.

Installation

I partitioned the hard drive giving XP 100 gig and Fedora the rest of the 250G drive. First I had to remove the Dell Media Direct partition they put on the very end of the disk. For some reason this causes problems but can be recreated after the installation of Fedora. I left the Fedora area as free space and let Anaconda, the installation program, set it up. I just selected the Use Free Space option and left it at that.

I used a Fedora 8 dvd I had on hand. This saved downloading a newer copy but didn’t save much as we will see. The installation went without any problems. I followed my usual procedure of selecting just KDE for the desktop environment and also customised the applications to be installed. There are some I wanted that are not part of the standard selection including OpenOffice Base and Krusader.

I left it to do its thing and after a short time I came back to find it was ready for the final stage which includes rebooting and setting up the user(s). After that I had a working system. I proceeded to check what was working to see what I needed to do manually. But first I did a full update, this is where the decision not to download a new dvd image came back to haunt me as there where several hundred updates to get and it took more than a couple of hours on the slow broadband we have here in Oz.

That done it was time to get everything working. Let’s look at each area individually.

Graphics

I had selected the nVidia GeForce 8400M G card with its own 128m ram. It was working but with a default driver so I installed the nvidia driver from the Livna repository. It recognised the card and included a control application. The correct resolution of 1440 x 900 was set automatically. It looks great and works well.

WiFi

The Intel 3945ABG adapter was recognised during installation and the correct iwl3945 driver installed. I simply activated the NetworkManager and NetworkManagerDispatch services and it asked for the passphrase for my WPA2 network and proceeded to link without a problem. I wish I could say the same for XP. I often use the laptop in an area that is on the edge of the router’s range and Fedora works (nearly) every time but XP often refuses to link when the signal is weak and it drops out from time to time.

There is a small problem with the wifi. It will not reconnect after returning from suspend. It did initially but then an update broke it. It is a known problem with the current kernel and iwl3945 driver. A bug report has been lodged by several people so hopefully a future update will fix it. There is a simple workaround just right click on NM applet and remove the tick from Enable Wireless, do it again and put the tick back and finally click on the applet and select the network to connect to.

WebCam

I wouldn’t have ordered a webcam but it is a standard fitting. I was surprised to see the light flash during startup and decided to check it out. Using kdetv it works without a problem. Chalk up another one for Linux.

Bluetooth

I have not found the touchpad easy to use, I am used to the Thinkpad joystck type controller, so I purchased a Logitech Bluetooth mouse. The bluetooth service was already activated but there was nothing to control the devices. After installing KBluetooth the mouse was recognised and I added it as a trusted device and now it works as soon as it is turned on.

Keys

The keys that work with the Fn key all seem to work, at least the ones I have tried which include the brightness and the suspend keys. The Multimedia keys on the front don’t work at this stage but I have read some reports that they can be made to so that is a future project.

Desktop Effects

Using the procedure I outlined in a previous post I soon had Compiz-Fusion working . Just a strange thing with the Pager. It only shows one desktop while there are four. Compiz-Fusion controls these and the pager is usually set to one but shows four. It shows the correct amount on my desktop with the same version so I’m not sure what is happening. If I change the Pager setting to something other than one and then change it back it shows the correct four but it doesn’t stick when I restart. This hasn’t really been a problem as I use Ctrl+Alt+Left(or Right) Arrow to change desktops.

Sound

I had sound working in Amarok and Firefox but not system sounds. This has been a problem on all my machines and is a common subject on the forums. Pulseaudio is standard in Fedora 8 and it seems to be the problem. There are several places I have seen possible fixes (just do a search on the forums) but I have taken the easy (and dirty) method and removed it altogether. This worked for me.

Are there Problems?

It wouldn’t be fair to say there were no problems. I mentioned a couple of issues above plus there is one other that really concerned me for a while. There was a regular clicking noise. A search brought up a few mentions that it is a problem with Powersave and the hard drive trying to park too often. I found details of a script and after installing it the noise has disappeared.

The Result

I now have a working and usable system with minimal setup required. I am pleased with the result and find I use it more than my desktop. If it wasn’t for some special hardware needs I could probably survive with just the laptop. This was the result of carefully selecting the hardware that I knew could be made to work. Unfortunately this is still a necessary step if you want to avoid the hassles of unsupported devices. Although Linux hardware support is improving, thanks to the efforts of a few hardware manufacturers and the hard work of developers within the Linux community, it can be difficult to get some computers, particularly laptops, working.

In summary if you want to run Linux especially on a laptop do your research first and you won’t be disappointed.

Putting On the Fedora (for Real This Time)

Previously I posted about setting up a test Fedora 8 installation to see if it could work as my primary system. I was intending to replace my existing Ubuntu Feisty system and had to decide between Fedora and Gutsy. Well the decision was easy and now Fedora 8 is now my main system.

Generally I was pleased with Ubuntu but it had some problems as I detailed earlier. The only problem that was fixed in the upgrade from Feisty to Gutsy was the OpenOffice Base issue. USB sound and the scanner problems still exist. To be fair usb sound is a problem in most Linux distros and still exists to some extent in Fedora. And there are fixes for the scanner problems on the forums.

Installing Fedora went well, my hardware was mostly set up correctly. There were a couple of things to sort but I was generally happy. I selected all of the applications I wanted at installation and didn’t include what I didn’t want (like games). I selected to install both KDE and Gnome. After installation I had to run the updates and  force it to detect my second printer.

The usb sound problem exists in that I don’t have system sounds although they work when tested. This is no real loss as I usually end up turning them off. More importantly I have sound in all the applications I have tested including Firefox which is something I couldn’t get with Ubuntu.

The most serious problem was the operation of my Wacom graphics tablet. It worked fine with Ubuntu and was recognised but not configured correctly under Fedora 8. Although it worked it was jumpy and couldn’t access the whole screen. I searched the forums and found a fix and after editing xorg.conf it appears to be working as it was previously.

Ubuntu wins in terms of package manager. The default Synaptic is without a doubt the best package manager out there. The Fedora option is slow and clunky by comparison. Adding support for mp3 and similar codecs is more difficult in Fedora too. Unlike Ubuntu it doesn’t give you the option, you have to find and install them yourself. Fortunately the forums and other sites have all you need. The Fedora8 Tips and Tricks site was very useful for this and similar issues.

I have been using both KDE and Gnome and now seem to have settled on KDE. This is probably not surprising as many of my default applications are KDE ones. Krusader and digiKam are good examples. They work well under Gnome so it probably shows I prefer the KDE way of doing things.

So is that the end of Ubuntu for me? Well no as I have installed Gutsy as a test system and intend to install KDE 4 on it and give that a try. Wonder where that will lead?

Putting On the Fedora

As I have been having a few problems with Ubuntu on my desktop and I had read some good reports on Fedora 8 I decided to install a test copy. I used Fedora for a while some time ago, FC3 if I remember right and although I liked it it had some stability issues and it soon was replaced.

What problems do I have with Ubuntu? I have purchased a Canon lide25 scanner and there is a known problem with it under Ubuntu but there are work arounds in the forums. Also I never solved the USB sound problem. While it works under Rhythmnbox it doesn’t in Firefox and other programs. The OpenOffice Base problem mentioned a few days ago seems to be only in version 2.2 under Ubuntu. I have Feisty but none of these appear to have been fixed under Gutsy.

So I have installed a test Fedora on the same computer with Ubuntu (and XP). Here are a few first impressions.

I like Anaconda,the install program, as it gives me options for what will be installed. I can select to install only those things I need and not everything. This is how install programs should be. Why should someone else who doesn’t know what I want to use the system for select the programs I will have? The installation proceeded without any problems and it finished with an initial boot of the system and final configuration which included creating a user login.

It had recognised most of my hardware without problems. The display adapter and monitor were correctly set up and at the proper resolution. The desktop effects work as they do under Ubuntu. Both my scanners were available and working. Only one printer was detected, an old Epson inkjet which connects to the parallel port needed to be set up manually but only to the extent of making it autodetect then it was fine. The internet connection (not wireless) worked. So far so good.

To be fair it wasn’t perfect. Although it added XP to Grub the Ubuntu installation, which is on a second hard drive, was not included. I had to edit the menu.lst file. It then was accessible without problems. This was probably the most serious problem as Ubuntu is still my main system.

Another problem was during boot it was looking for ata3 and ata4 and would retry a number of times before failing. Once it was past there it ran fine. We will get back to that one.

OpenOffice Base was not part of the original installation for some reason. I added it and it didn’t have the problem I experienced with Ubuntu. I was able to create a new table and form easily.

The USB sound card appears to work everywhere as it should.

The update manager reported there were a large number of updates available and I wasn’t going to install them. This is only a test system and either way it will be removed after a short time. If I like it it will be installed as my main system. If not it will just be gone. However the update included a new kernal and the forums reported that fixed the boot problems (see we did get back to it!). So I installed the updates and a couple of hours later I had a working system that booted without problems.

So where to now? I will use it for a while and try out all the things I regularly do and see how it goes. So far I am impressed but we will see how it is after being used for a few days. I will report back.

Fedora 8 runs well and everything appears to work and without the fixes I had to do under Ubuntu and isn’t that how it should be?