Fedora, Mobile Broadband and Conky

It was over 12 months ago that I blogged about using my Optus mobile broadband with Fedora. I’ve noticed there have been a few searches on that subject recently so I thought it was about time I updated.

With Fedora 11

When I first plugged the 3g modem in it generated a SELinux error and I had to set SELinux to permissive to get it working. That is no longer the case with Fedora 11. Nor does it load the modem as an usb drive. It is recognised as a modem and Network Manager just handles it.

I must add that this seems to apply only to Fedora. I have tried it in Mandriva and Ubuntu derivatives like Gos and only Mint has worked.

This will improve in Fedora 12 with a new feature that will automatically set up the requirements for each provider. Looks like a great feature for those who need to change the default settings.

Working with Conky

Conky is a very useful system monitor. I have often thought of doing a post on Conky but in the interim I’ll just talk about monitoring the Mobile Broadband.

When I first  set up the Mobile Broadband I couldn’t get Conky to report on it. I tried “dmesg | grep usb” and it reported that the modem was using ttyUSB0, ttyUSB1 and ttyUSB2. However none of these would report any activity. Searching around I found that these were redirecting to ppp0. I can’t remember where I found this but it has been consistent across multiple Fedora versions and computers. I can now see the current activity on the Internet connection.

If it is useful here is the code I added to my .conkyrc to get it working

${color0}INTERNET $color(${addr ppp0}) ${color0}${hr 2}$color
${color1}Down:$color  ${downspeed ppp0} KB/s${alignr}${color1}Up:$color ${upspeed ppp0} KB/s
${downspeedgraph ppp0 25,120 color1 color2} ${alignr}${upspeedgraph ppp0 25,120 color1 color2}$color
${color1}Downloaded: $color${totaldown ppp0} $alignr ${color1}Uploaded: $color${totalup ppp0}

Hope that helps.

Fedora and KDE 4.3

KDE 4.3 was released a few weeks ago and the update has finally made it into the Fedora Updates repo a few days ago. It had been in Updates Testing for a while. The update was worth waiting for, 4.3 is another improvement.

The release notes list hundreds of bugs that have been squashed and although most apparent changes are cosmetic the work done beneath the skin is obvious from the improved performance. I’ve noticed a speed increase to the extent that KDE isn’t much slower than Xfce on the same hardware. This is a condemnation of Xfce as much as a bouquet for KDE. I found Xfce 4.6 to be slow compared to previous versions while KDE has made big strides forward since 4.0.

The only small problem I had was I needed to change my startup script for Conky as it lost its transparency. It appears the config file that contains the wallpaper setting has changed. That fixed everything is back to normal, well a better normal.

KDE 4.3 is another (big!) step forward for KDE. It is now well and truly ready for everyday use. If you haven’t tried KDE for a while now is the time for another look.

More on Fedora 10 and KDE 4.2

I recently posted about updating to Fedora 10. After using it for a while on a couple of computers I have some more comments to share.

Desktop Managers

I have been switching between Xfce and KDE and so can offer a few comments on the differences. Much of the time I have been using KDE 4.1 while waiting on the update to 4.2 to appear in the repos. I updated as soon as it appeared and am pleased I did.

Xfce in promoted as a lightweight desktop and that it is noticeable as KDE uses around twice as much memory when doing something simple such as having just Firefox open. I have similar set-ups in both desktops so they are comparable in that way. I have their native desktop effects active not Compiz. KDE’s in more involved with a lot more options, similar but not as extensive as Compiz although with 4.2 it is a lot closer.

One good thing in KDE, actually there are quite a few, but the multimedia buttons on my laptop work after setting them up in Amarok. In Xfce the volume and mute buttons don’t work.

I like the quick launch bar in Xfce, setting that up in KDE is more difficult. I have my favourite apps in Favourites on the menu but that isn’t the same, two clicks instead of one. However with 4.2 the menu shortcuts are working again and so I can set them up as I used to have them. Using the keyboard to start my favourite apps is so much easier and quicker.

KDE is much more configurable, selecting colours and other options is so much easier then Xfce but still not as good as KDE 3.5. Again 4.2 is much better with more options available.

One feature of Xfce (and Gnome I believe) that I missed in KDE was the ability to switch desktops using the mouse wheel. Well 4.2 has introduced this feature.

Suspend

Suspend to Disk works once I installed Kpowersave and set it suspend on lid close. It resumes without problem but I noticed a few things. Memory usage seems higher after resume and that is the only time Swap is used. I have 3 gig and as I rarely use more than one (its on 1.1 at the moment and I have OO Writer and Firefox are open and Amarok is playing, Miles Davis’ Walkin’ since you asked,) so Swap isn’t needed. Also the processor is more likely to run at full power. It usually sits on 1 gig and jumps to 2 gig when needed. After resume it sits on 2 much longer.

Apps

Along with the development of KDE4 most of the KDE apps have been updated. Just like early versions of KDE4 this has not been without pain but that is improving now. The new version of Amarok is great. I also like Digikam’s new upload to Picasa Web option. This means I no longer need Picasa as that was the main thing I used it for. I’m starting to sound like a broken record (is that saying out of date now?) but 4.2 introduced many improvement both to apps and widgets.

As you may have gathered I am very pleased with the update to KDE 4.2 and am using it most of the time now. It isn’t perfect but is much better than earlier versions and now has regained much of the functionality we were used to in 3.5. If 4.2 is this good just imagine what is coming in future versions.

Fedora 10

Having installed Fedora 10 I thought I would share some of my impressions. First some comments on installation and setup with a few problems and then some general thoughts.

Installation

I installed from a dvd which is the way I usually do it. I couldn’t use the update option as I was replacing a 32 bit Fedora 9 system with a 64 bit Fedora 10. I had used 64 bit before with F8 but when I updated to F9 I had a 32 bit dvd so I used that.

My only gripe with installation was the lack of an option to install Xfce as my desktop. My memory may be going but I think that was an option in earlier versions. So I installed the Kde version which gave me 4.1. 4.2 has just been released and I understand will be available via the regular Fedora update very soon. As usual I selected, and deselected, several packages. You must select customise now to do this during installation otherwise you will just get a default Gnome system.

Once installed I couldn’t get the internet working on my 3G modem. The Network Manager applet wasn’t appearing in the panel, neither was the Bluetooth applet. I had to reinstall a couple of times. It finally worked after I re-activated wifi in bios. Network Manager was in the panel and when I plugged in the modem I could activate it.

That done I started the update. There were nearly 300 packages to be updated and it took several hours. Not sure if it was an internet problem or slow mirrors, I have had problems with slow mirrors since then and that may be the cause.

Getting things working.

Next was to get things set up the way I like. Although I could select many of the packages I wanted during installation there were still many more to install afterwards. First I added the RPMFusion repos so I could get the good stuff like codecs that are not in the standard repos.

One of the first things I did was install Yumex, the graphical front end for Yum. It is the best package manager for yum systems, much better than the standard “add remove software”. Don’t why it isn’t used as the default.

Next I installed xfce. I have been using it as my desktop for a while now. I have KDE4 but can’t get used to it. It works much better than the F9 version but still doesn’t feel right.

At this stage I had a couple of problems, no sound and no bluetooth. The second was the most of a nuisance as I use a bluetooth mouse all the time and hate the touchpad on my Dell laptop. After some searching I found the command “hidd –-search”. If I pressed the reset button on the mouse as I ran that, as root, the mouse was recognised and worked. It didn’t remember after a restart so I had to do it everytime. Later I added the applet to the panel using the Launcher option in xfce and set it up that way. This seems to have solved the problem as it is remembered after a reboot now. Now I can disable the touchpad. I added gsynaptics to the panel and it works but isn’t remembered after a reboot.

The sound problem I’m not sure about. I tried playing with the settings, checking nothing was muted and the usual things but nothing worked. Then when I restarted one time it gave an error about not finding the sound system and resetting and everything started working so I left it alone after that. Amarok is working fine at the moment so that is all that matters. Almost, next I tried You Tube.

I found You Tube sound worked but was very soft. So soft I first thought there was no sound. The tv was on at the other end of the room and only when it went quiet for a moment did I realise there was some faint sounds coming from the computer. I turned up the volume and could hear something. Again I explored checking the volume control in the Multimedia menu. By chance I found there was a volume control under the Settings menu. It was set to 50% or less. I raised that and You Tube was suddenly very loud. Why is there more than one volume control and which one should we use? I decided to set both to full and use the application’s control to set the level for the current track. This is easiest for me.

One interesting thing is initially I didn’t install the Nvidia drivers from RPMFusion. I used nv for a while. I turned on the compositor in Xfce and some effects worked. They are basic just transparency, the shadows didn’t work as nv is a 2d driver not 3d. I needed to install the nvidia drivers to have Google Earth working properly.

Adobe has released native 64 bit flash and I installed it using a thread on Fedora forums. Although some people have had problems it is working well for me.

I added a few applications to the quick launch bar at the bottom of the screen. To find icons and apps I used the existing ones as a guide. I looked at the properties of the Firefox launcher and found what I was looking for in the same folders.

Impressions

Fedora 10 is a good stable release now. Most Fedoras take a couple of months to settle down so I don’t install as soon as they are released. This seems to work for me. I am liking it after living with it for a few days. That doesn’t mean it is perfect as there are a few things to sort but generally it is a good system

Outstanding issues.

Fedora removed dcop earlier and I was using it in a script for Conky to show the current playing track in Amarok. That doesn’t work and I will look into it too.

The settings to turn off the touchpad don’t “stick”. While typing I find I bump it occasionally and find myself typing in another part of the document. If I am doing a fair bit of typing I turn it off using Gsynaptics.

Wireless Broadband Failure

I posted sometime ago about setting up my 3G modem in Fedora. I have a Hauwei E169 modem which I got from Optus. I had no problem setting it up and getting online, it just worked.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the Optus 3G network. I had heard reports of it being overloaded and it seems that is the case. To be fair when it works it work well but that is less than 50% of the time. It is not unusual to have it drop out and then need to reconnect several times while checking mail or the Fedora forums. It wasn’t always like this though, when I first got it it was great.

Thinking it may be a Fedora / Linux problem I plugged it in to a XP box today to give it a run. I hadn’t used that computer for a while and so decided to install Firefox 3. The download took quite a few minutes, 15 at least. I watched the speed in the Optus software and it rarely got up to 50 Kb/s often under 20. It also sat at zero for some time on several occasions although the Optus software didn’t show it as having no signal. It did finally drop out while I was trying to update the extensions I had installed. I couldn’t get it to reconnect.

When I contacted support they were helpful but wanted to treat it like a setup problem and were unwilling to admit the problems is with their system.

My conclusions are it runs faster under Fedora when it runs. The service is probably overloaded and getting worse. Linux’s NetworkManager is more likely to show it as having no signal. My advice to anyone thinking of getting Optus 3G is don’t bother.

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 – an Update

I thought I would add a few more comments after my previous post on setting up wireless broadband. I have had the chance to try it on other computers and have learnt a few things. Both the Fedora systems were Fedora 8 but as the NetworkManager is almost the same in Fedora 9 these comments apply there too.

First it is necessary to have NetworkManager running and up to date for it to work as easily as I reported earlier. I had been using wifi so I had NM loading and updated. On another machine it was necessary to turn on the NetworkManager service and restart it for it to work. The earlier version of NetworkManager did not handle Mobile Broadband, if your’s has the Mobile Broadband tab when you right click on the NetworkManager icon it should work.

Second as I mentioned in the previous post SELinux must be set to permissive mode (or off altogether). It will generate a warning but still work.

That’s really all that is needed.

I did try it on a Ubuntu system too but that was a nightmare. Took downloading scripts and setting up config files but it finally worked. Reminded me why I use Fedora though.

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?