How Many Bits? 32 or 64?

What is 64 Bit?

It seems strange but while most of us run 64bit computers we are using 32bit Operating Systems. Of course there are good reasons for this if you use Windows. Microsoft has not shown a great deal of support for 64 bit systems although it has provided them for some time. The level of driver support is reported to make Vista look good. However with Linux the situation is very different. Many distros offer a 64 bit option. While the level of support varies between distros they are mostly valid options.

So why would you use a 64bit version in preference to the standard 32 bit? The answer is as varied as why do you use Linux? There is a performance advantage but how much and whether it is discernible will depend on the applications you use. Those that manipulate large amounts of data will benefit the most but only if there are 64bit executables available. There is also the issue of addressable memory. 32 bit systems are limited to 4 gig of ram.
There is a good post of the Fedora forums with more information much of which is applicable to all Linux distros and not just to Fedora.

Having read that post and others I decided to give 64(x86_64) bit a try. I obtained a Fedora 8 x86_64 DVD and installed it on my Dell Inspiron 1520. I covered the 32bit(i386) installation earlier and so won’t repeat that except to say I had to follow the same basic procedure. The setup went as well as last time but with a few differences.

What was Different?

To have Flash in Firefox it is necessary to use nspluginwrapper and the i386 Flash plugin. This is covered on the Fedora forums where there is an area especially for x86_64.

The other pleasant surprise was that PulseAudio worked for me. Once I found that Kmix didn’t have Output enabled, the green light was off, I enabled it and I had audio. Note to self, when playing with Audio settings have the volume control on the desktop so if it suddenly works you don’t deafen everyone and have to fumble around to turn it down. Occasionally it fails to load on bootup or resuming from Sleep but that is much rarer than with i386 and the sound quality is much better. A restart of X usually fixes the problem anyway.

There were no other issues I hadn’t already faced with the original installation and so I am pleased with the change. There is a small performance improvement in things like image editing and I haven’t found any disadvantages.

I did mention in the previous post that my multimedia controls on the front panel weren’t working. Further investigation showed they were recognised but not assigned so I set up Amarok to use them and they all work fine.

Is It For You?

If you are using Windows, don’t bother. Unless you switch to Linux of course. For Linux users, if your favourite distro has a x86_64 option and your hardware is compatible and most PCs sold in the last couple of years are, see the link to the Fedora forum for info on that, give it a go. If your favourite distro doesn’t have a x86_64 option ask why or give Fedora a go.

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!

New Laptop

After posting so much about my old Thinkpad now I must report that it has died. Well maybe, the screen turned all white one morning and has been that way since. I know the computer itself is ok as it works on an external monitor without any problems. I decided it was time for a new machine. I have since found some info through Google that suggests the problem may just be a loose or faulty connection to the screen. I will get it checked out at some stage and see if it is worth repairing. Fortunately I didn’t have any data on it that hadn’t been backed up.

With the decision to buy a new one came the big choice, what to get? I looked around and found that there are some end of model specials at good prices and was tempted. First though I made a list of my requirements. For an operating system I wanted to run Fedora and the choice of buying one already installed was very limited. There are a couple of people that will sell systems with any operating system you request but they charge a premium over the regular retail price. A few suppliers have a Linux option if you search deep enough on their site but that is nearly always Ubuntu and at least one stated “not all drivers available”. So my option was a Windows system and self install Fedora.

If I was going to get Windows I wanted something I could use as a dual boot. That meant XP as some of the Windows software I use isn’t available for Vista and besides I have used Vista and was glad to get back to XP. That also meant a reasonable size hard drive so I had room for two systems. If I was going to spend some money I wanted something that wouldn’t be out of date straight away, I wanted it to be a while before I need to write another “New Life for Old Laptop”. So I set a budget of around $A1500 and started looking.

I found only a few places would sell with XP but several offered a downgrade option if you bought Vista Business. I looked at the Dell site but the weekly specials didn’t interest me and there were limited XP options. Later in the week I went back to the Dell site after the next week’s specials were listed and found many more XP Pro options and some large discounts. Several models that had been outside my budget now became available to me. They were the only place to charge a fee for supplying XP instead of Vista but it was only $29. My mind was made up.

I ordered an Inspirion 1520 and selected the options that a search of the Fedora forums told me would work with F8. I got the Intel 3945 wireless card and nVidia 8400 graphics. It also has 250 gig Hard drive. plenty of space for dual booting and 3 gig ram, plenty of space to run a virtual system if I get around to setting it up. With a 2 Gig Core 2 Duo processor I knew it would run at a reasonable speed. It had other features that weren’t really needed but they’re free, e.g. a web cam and MS Office 7 license were included. All for less than my budget.

When I placed the order they gave me a expected delivery time of 10 working days but I soon got a message to say it would arrive in 5 and it did. I checked everything was as described and working and proceeded to install the Windows software I use. After years of using a Thinkpad with their stick control I found the touchpad difficult to operate but as that is my only complaint I’m not unhappy.

Next came the Fedora installation. But that is a story for another day.

On OSes

Over the last couple of weeks I have used a number of different operating systems. This may be normal for many people but for me it is a little unusual. I have a couple I use regularly and that is about my usual limit. It got me thinking about OSes and the impact they have on our computer use.

It would be easy to argue that operating systems should be invisible and in fact for many people they are. I am surprised by the number of people who don’t know what they use. But maybe that is how it should be. After all it is the applications that we use to accomplish what we want to do. I think in an ideal world we would have an OS that perfectly matched the hardware it was used on and be able to run the applications that will do what we want to do without worrying about the type and version of OS. Of course that is heresy to many people.

I mentioned I had used a few different systems and they left me with an impression I didn’t completely expect. I used a Vista Business system, a couple of XP Pro and an XP Home as well as a few Linuxes including Fedora 8 and a couple of Ubuntu based live CDs. The Vista impressed me with its total lack of speed, even some of the live CDs felt faster. The XP systems all seemed adequate. They ran efficiently and did what was asked of them without too many problems but they seemed to lack character.

The Ubuntu based Live CDs were at a disadvantage as Live CDs will always run slower and don’t support the hardware as well as when they are installed. They were different systems with different agendas and did what they were designed to do. They generally were as good or better than any of the Windows systems.

My preferred systems were the Fedora 8 KDE installations, not surprising as they are my computers and are set up to suit what I do. But so are a couple of the XP systems, both my computers are dual boot Windows XP and Fedora. What surprised me was that when I switched the computers on I wanted to run Fedora even when I needed to run XP.

New Life for an Old Laptop – an Update part 2

After gettng Fedora running successfully as I covered a couple of days ago I decided to see if I could improve it a bit. I know from previous experience that memory usage is probably more important to performance than many people realise. One of the easiest ways to improve performance no matter what type of computer or OS you have is to make more memory available. When I upgraded the memory on this laptop it felt like a new machine.

The first  thing I did has no direct impact on performance but if done carelessly can have a negative affect. I customised the appearance of the desktop. While trying out different themes I discovered some activate “Enable GUI Effects” under the effect tag of Style. This can have a detrimental affect as I discovered so I made sure that was off. I also changed the Background to use colour instead of an image. Choosing the wrong (ie. a large) image can make a big difference so I played it safe.

With the desktop looking better, to me anyway, I looked a bit deeper. I found this page of Fedora 8 services. There is details on earlier versions on the site as well as lots of useful  general Fedora info. All operating systems include a wide range of services which are small programs that run automatically and handle such things as networks, interaction with hardware and all that “behind the scenes” stuff we take for granted. While they are essential often there are some included that aren’t required. Eg. no need to have Bluetooth running if your computer can’t handle it or you don’t use it. Following the guide here I turned off quite a few services I don’t need. I didn’t do a comparision of memory usage before and after but there was a small improvement in speed.

Sites like this are available  for all Linux distros and are worth the effort. At least you will learn a little about how your system works. If you follow the advice here there is little chance of doing anything terminal to your system. At worst some piece of hardware may stop working. Just restart the service and it should be OK again.

New Life for an Old Laptop – an Update

I detailed in the original article how my Thinkpad T20 was given a new lease on life. With a small investment in hardware upgrades, memory and hard drive, plus a new operating system, Ubuntu 7.04, it was proving useful again. As so often happens with these projects they are never over. So here are some details of the current state of progress.

Time for an Upgrade.

Ubuntu has served me well on this machine and although Gnome is not my favourite desktop manager it was working ok. I was aware that it was an older version and would soon be two releases behind so it was time for an upgrade. The question was what with.

I had a copy of a version of Xubuntu (Ubuntu with the lightweight Xfce desktop) and being aware that it used less memory than Gnome thought it might be a good idea. It lasted a couple of days. Not that there was anything wrong with it. Everything appeared to work, wifi worked “out of the box” as I have come to expect from Ubuntu. It had a few strange things , eg. the splash screen wouldn’t resize to my screen so it was off centre. It didn’t affect operation as it was only there while it booted and then it was fine. But it didn’t “grab” me. Not very scientific I know but didn’t feel it was better than what I had previously.

So I decided to go in the opposite direction and install Fedora 8 with KDE. This is what I use on my desktop with all the bells and whistles, Compiz-Fusion etc. I knew that wouldn’t work on the old laptop but I wondered how a basic KDE installation would run. I have used KDE most of the time I have used Linux and it is still my preferred environment. I look forward to KDE 4 in Fedora 9 but that’s a story for another day.

Installation

I installed from a dvd copy I had on hand and all appeared to go well. I had the system running with the correct video set up without any of the tweaking needed in Ubuntu. One serious issue, no wifi. I connected up an ethernet cable and had the internet working that way and left it to do an update. In the meantime I did some research on the Fedora forums. As usual the answers were all there just need a little patience to sort through all the information.

With the update done I installed the madwifi driver from the Livna site following the information here. My Netgear WPN511 (Atheros chipset) was now recognised but couldn’t link to the router using wpa2. I turned on the NetworkManager and NetworkManagerDispatch services in System – Services and now after setting up the passphrase etc. it all worked.

The Result

I now have a usable Fedora 8 system on hardware I doubted would handle it. It is slower than the desktop of course but no slower than the Ubuntu system it replaced. It is used primarily as an internet terminal with occasional office document editing or photograph viewing. I wouldn’t like to do much photo editing on it but for everything else it works great.

There are still one issue to look into. The hard drive has a partition I use for archives. It has an ext3 Linux filesystem and Fedora recognises it but any attempt to mount it produces an error. I’ll look into it further when I get some more time.

Updates

Over the last couple of days there have been updates to all of my Linux systems. All the updates have included new kernels. No doubt this was due to the recent discovery of a few security holes in the older versions.

Doing similar updates on different distros allowed me to compare how they are handled. I have 3 systems I use regularly and all received updates. I still run Feisty on my laptop, no special reason but it works and I haven’t bothered to change it. It requires a little customisation to the Grub menu to run correctly eg. acpi must be forced to load. Every time the kernel is updated I must redo the changes.

My main machine triple boots Fedora ( my main system), Ubuntu Gutsy (to play with KDE4) and XP (because I occasionally need it). Fedora is on a separate  hard drive and XP and Gutsy share the other drive. Although Gutsy recognises XP it refuses to acknowledge the other drive exists and won’t include Fedora in any Grub menu it creates. I have to edit menu.lst and do a grub-install to be able to get to my main system. Fortunately I keep a copy of Fedora’s menu.lst on an XP drive and just copy and paste.

So where is this little rave going? Well Fedora needed to be updated too and it created a new Grub menu but it kept all the changes I had made to the existing one. Why can’t Ubuntu do that? It would make life so much easier.

Enabling Desktop Effects

Here are some notes on enabling and using Compiz Fusion to add desktop effects in Linux, more specifically Fedora although most comments will apply to other Linux distros.

Why would you want too?

It goes without saying that desktop effects have a real wow factor. When you first start using them you may find yourself just playing, sorry experimenting, just for the fun of it. However if you need a further reason see this Lifehacker article on the efficiency gains you can achieve. You may even make up for the time you spend “experimenting”.

Some Useful Information

For some interesting details on installation and operation of Compiz Fusion on Fedora 8 including keyboard shortcuts to make the best use of your new features see here. The same page has links to HowTos for other distros including Ubuntu. However don’t install the packages listed there. They are from the Fedora repositories and have some problems and some features are missing. The Fedora forums have a link to updated packages which don’t have those problems.

Update: One of the problems referred to above seems quite common. That is the titlebar disappears after enabling effects. The updated packages solve this problem.

A search on Google for your distro and Compiz will probably turn up many more pages. However view quite a few to make sure you are getting the right information. Initially I was under the impression that my low end video card wouldn’t work. I have an ATI Radeon 9250 which was recognised by Fedora and uses the radeon driver. Following the above links I was able to get it working in KDE and Fedora 8. No doubt it would work on other distros and with Gnome.

Starting Fusion Icon on Reboot

Actually this will work for any application you want to start automatically when your system starts.

Fusion Icon starts Compiz as well as putting an icon in the System Tray that has options for changing the Window Manager, setting Emerald and Compiz options. Once you have it set up you will want it to start each time you log in. In Gnome this can be done in the Sessions Manager. Type fusion-icon as the application to start.

In KDE open Konqueror and select Go from the menu bar. Go to Autostart, this puts you in your Autostart folder. Anything in here will be run when KDE starts. Right click in any blank area and select “Create New”“Link to Application”. Under the Application tab enter fusion-icon in the “command” field. When you leave that screen a new entry will appear. Restart to make sure everything is working.