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.

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.

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

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.

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?

Living with Ubuntu – Part 2

This is a follow up to the previous post which covered my initial reactions to Ubuntu. This time I will look at the additional software I installed.

One of the great things about Linux is the wide range of software available. It is often said Linux is about choice and one of the choices to be made is what software to use. Most of this software is FOSS (free and open source), indeed there is few reasons to consider non-FOSS solutions.

After installing Ubuntu I found there were some further programs I needed. Either they were specialised applications or I prefer some of the alternatives available.

Organisation of my photo collection is an important task for me. While I looked at other programs I have been using digiKam for some time and version 0.9 adds some great features such as the ability to edit metadata. Many of my photos are scanned from film and slides so I have wanted to add the appropriate metadata as part of my scanning process. Now I can. It also has a facility to add a geotag using Google maps. I do have some problems with transferring files from a digital camera. I can’t access the preference tab on the camera interface so I need to rename after transfer but that is such a small inconvenience I haven’t looked for a solution yet. The tagging and organisation functions suit me.

On an associated subject, scanning film and slides is an important job and I find Vuescan the best solution. It is the exception here as it is a commercial product but I have yet to find an open source program that produces scans of the same quality. When it comes to image quality that is the only real criteria.

Burning cds and dvds is an important form of backup and so k3b is a must. I can’t think of anything else to say about it. It compares well with software available at high prices on other operating systems. I’ve always preferred specialised programs rather than file manager based actions. It just works.

Music players are not an important matter for me. I have used Amarok and it would probably be my choice. However an unsolved problem with my usb audio card means only Rhythmnbox currently works. It didn’t default to search for new tracks and I had to add them manually until I found it in the preferences.

I have previously used iPodder to download podcasts. Rhythmnbox can do that too but it a less sophisticated option. It doesn’t include links to podcast directories for one thing. iPodder sorts the downloaded files better too.

I use Nautilus and find it an adequate file manager for simple jobs but I have always preferred Konquerer. However my file manager of choice is Krusader. A powerful classic style tool, I find its two pane interface the easiest to use. Especially the directory compare and similar features.

Thunderbird has been my email program of choice almost since it appeared. I just install it and copy the profiles and data over and it works. A simple tool that does well what it is designed for.

The other programs I use nearly every day are standard in most Linux distros, Firefox, the Gimp and OpenOffice. So really they fall outside the scope of this post.

One thing that stands out is that I generally prefer KDE programs to the Gnome alternatives. This is not a deliberate preference just the result of trying various alternatives and settling on the ones I find myself using. I have both desktops installed on this computer and switch between them as the mood takes me. I have edited the menus on both to include the applications I use all the time and I have removed the ones I never use. I find the programs are more important than the desktop so really it doesn’t matter which one I am running.