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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Fri, 30 May 2014

Where my head is on my next Linux distribution

In looking to replace Fedora and get out of Catalyst hell, the distribution I choose depends on whether I will continue to dual-boot with Windows 8 (which I almost never use) or swap in my 320 GB drive and single-boot Linux.

Now that my hardware is "maturing," I can start considering distributions that aren't as aggressive as Fedora in terms of their updates.

Bleeding edge isn't something I'm looking for.

I'm leaning toward continuing with Xfce, though I will consider the GNOME and LXDE desktops. I'm even considering Ubuntu's Unity.

Musts

  • Packaged audio/video codecs and AMD Catalyst/fglrx
  • Lots of desktop packages in the repository, including the OpenShot video editor
  • A decent period of support (would prefer LTS length at this point)

Linux Mint is conspicuously absent from my list. Maybe I should consider it.

The recent move to continue supporting Debian Squeeze as an LTS, and the expectation that the same will happen for current and future releases, has me looking more closely at Debian than I otherwise might. I have a lot of fondness for Debian. For one reason or other it generally runs "faster" than just about anything else.

But as "bleeding edge" as Fedora is, I probably had to do more hacking/scripting to get things working the way I wanted in Debian Squeeze/Wheezy than in Fedora 18/19/20, Fedora's Catalyst driver fiasco excluded, so that's something to think about.

My daughter's aging IBM Thinkpad R32 laptop runs Lubuntu, and I'm fairly impressed by it.

But Xfce remains my workhorse DE. Especially when it comes to running my company's proprietary CMS over Citrix, Xfce seems to play "better" with this sorry arrangement than other DEs. In Xfce I have to be "disciplined" enough to stay on a single virtual desktop. Changing desktops cuts my Citrix connection and locks me out of my apps. (Thanks, Citrix ... or thanks, CMS vendor who will not be named).

In GNOME 3, changing windows at all cuts the connection, so I need to keep Xfce around for this reason alone. I haven't tested this behavior in Unity because I can bring GNOME onto my Fedora system, but Unity is Ubuntu-only, and I haven't set up a full Ubuntu system with Citrix and done a test with this particular CMS. (That's the trouble with a desktop environment tied to a single distro.)

Top candidates, in no particular order, (with notes) are:

  • Debian Wheezy (doesn't handle UEFI, but won't change too much -- good if it works)
  • Debian Jessie (SystemD integration pending, chaos could ensue before freeze)
  • Xubuntu (very few negatives, handling of PulseAudio volume from panel is superior to other Xfce systems)
  • Ubuntu (Might be time to sample Unity)
  • Ubuntu GNOME (I'm back and forth on GNOME 3, more forth than back these days)
  • Lubuntu (I like it, but can LXDE measure up to Xfce?)

Fedora 21 won't be released until October, and if my AMD Catalyst solution continues to hold up, there's a very, very good chance I'll stick with Fedora 20 until the whole thing falls apart.

Thu, 29 May 2014

AMD Catalyst 14.6 for Linux is out

AMD released a new beta of its proprietary Catalyst driver for Linux, version 14.6.

You can download it directly from AMD, or wait for it to enter your distribution's packaging system.

For the past week or so, I've been using RPM Fusion's Catalyst packages for Fedora 19 on my Fedora 20 system, and this update hasn't come through that channel just yet.

If/when this particular method blows up, I could always go back to using the upstream AMD .run installer.

There's also a good chance that I will move to a distribution that regularly packages Catalyst and isn't as aggressive in offering kernel updates so I don't have to deal with this on a continuing basis.

Tue, 27 May 2014

Fedora is remarkably stable despite a constant flow of new

Mat Enders of Sunday Morning Linux Review put it very well in the show's most recent episode.

Fedora is very stable, especially given how much new code gets pushed during the entire release period.

Nobody tells you that before you start running Fedora. The desktop environment tends to linger, but kernels, applications and lots of other components are new, new, new.

Just now I got a new Xscreensaver.

I'm not using Mirall to sync OwnCloud at this particular moment, but I am using Fedora's packages instead of those direct from OwnCloud due to dependency problems on the non-Fedora repositories. And there is a new Mirall today as well.

Every once in a while, a bit of catastrophe enters Fedora. There are SELinux issues. In my case there are AMD Catalyst issues (which can be solved by NOT running AMD Catalyst, which I do from time to time).

Right now Google Chrome kills X. That's my "issue" of the week, you might say.

And when things do go catastrophically wrong, there is usually plenty of help on the mailing lists and in the forum.

Mat's point, more specifically, was that he has less trouble with Fedora than he did with Debian Sid, the "Unstable" release that gets new packages all the time.

What's notable is that Fedora is almost always ahead of Debian Sid when it comes to newness. (It's not ahead of Arch, but what is?)

And that Fedora newness isn't in something called "Unstable," but is in the regular releases. There is no Fedora "Stable."

But for the most part, it works.

Fri, 23 May 2014

The latest Google Chrome browser is segfaulting in Fedora 20

I don't run Google Chrome all that often in Linux, though I run it all the time in Windows.

But I do keep Chrome, via Google's repository, on my Fedora 20 system.

So I try to run it today and it segfaults (I know because it kills X and I see "segfault" in the console messages).

I searched (yes, using Google) and couldn't find anything on this.

I can't remember if I've used this particular version of Google Chrome successfully before my most recent reinstall of AMD Catalyst (via the Fedora 19 packages in RPM Fusion).

Right now I'm unwilling to uninstall Catalyst just to test Chrome, especially because I'm primarily a Firefox user on this machine.

The easiest, best way to get a packaged AMD Catalyst driver in Fedora 20

(This is what the Fedora 19 AMD Catalyst packages look like on my Fedora 20 system when seen in Yumex. Click the image above for a bigger version.)

Who better to tell you how to find and install an RPM package for the AMD Catalyst driver in Fedora 20 than the very person who ophaned the driver for that very release?

That's right, Leigh Scott, who had every right to drop the packaging of the AMD Catalyst driver in RPM Fusion for Fedora 20, is still maintaining it for Fedora 19.

He has an easy recipe for using the F19 driver on F20 systems. I can confirm that his method works. As is, this RPM of the Catalyst driver does not work with GNOME 3 (due to previously mentioned Wayland code that GNOME is now including). It does work with Xfce and KDE (and everything else that isn't GNOME 3, I presume).

Here are the instructions, originally from Leigh's post on the Fedora Forums, with my annotations:

First, make a directory and cd into it. Leigh suggests calling it 'catalyst':

$ mkdir catalyst

$ cd catalyst

Grab the needed Fedora 19 packages with yumdownloader:

$ yumdownloader --releasever 19 xorg-x11-drv-catalyst-libs.i686 akmod-catalyst.$(uname -m) xorg-x11-drv-catalyst.$(uname -m) xorg-x11-drv-catalyst-libs.$(uname -m)

Use yum to install the packages (shown here using sudo, though you can also su to root if you wish):

$ sudo yum --nogpgcheck install *.rpm

After this installation, I rebooted and had a working Catalyst/fglrx driver on my system. As I said above, it doesn't work with GNOME 3, but neither did the upstream AMD package before it stopped working altogether with the 3.14 kernel.

Configuration note: I did NOT need to do this, but if you have problems, you might want to use the aticonfig utility as suggested here:

$ sudo aticonfig --initial

Again, I did NOT need to do this.

Also, I'm not sure if these Fedora 19 packages will be updated with when I run Yumex or yum update. I do know that it's a good idea to keep an eye on the latest packages in RPM Fusion (in this case the non-free F19 updates repository) to make sure that you don't install any kernels before a new Catalyst is ready for them.

I will update this post when I have more information on how long this fix continues to work.

I'd like to thank Leigh both for his work on AMD Catalyst in RPM Fusion until now as well as for this temporary Fedora 20 fix.

At the same time, I once again call attention to how the lack of an RPM package of AMD Catalyst for Fedora takes away choice and functionality from the distribution and its users.

As much as I love Fedora and its community, if you have a newish AMD-running computer, I really can't recommend Fedora because of this continuing problem. Sure, the open Radeon driver for AMD graphics chips/cards is better than ever, but I can't get suspend/resume with it. Once that starts working for me, I'll shut up.

So what do you do if you need AMD Catalyst? Distributions that haven't fallen into this rabbit hole include Debian, Ubuntu, and every single other one I can think of.

I'll ride this fix as long as I can, but you can bet I'm thinking of where I can go in terms of a new Linux distribution in order to have my choice of video driver.

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Thu, 22 May 2014

Thanks, Michael Larabel of Phoronix for turning my AMD Catalyst in Fedora rant into an article

Since Phoronix is the best source of news on Linux graphics hardware (and probably Linux hardware and benchmarking, too), I decided to e-mail the site's Michael Larabel and see what he thought about the fact that there has never been an RPM-packaged AMD Catalyst driver for Fedora 20, and at the moment even the upstream AMD installer won't work with the 3.14.x Linux kernel.

I'd like to thank Michael for turning that e-mail into this article: AMD Catalyst On Fedora 20 Is Left In An Awkward State.

The next day, he followed it up with How-To Install AMD Catalyst 14.4 On Fedora 20 With Linux 3.14.

I'd like to thank Michael for this, and for all the day-to-day reporting he does on Linux (and often BSD) in regard to drivers and hardware.

In a forum post for the last article, I found a different, better way to get AMD Catalyst/fglrx working in Fedora 20.

Ironically (or perhaps coincidentally), this tip comes from the guy who orphaned the Catalyst packages in RPM Fusion for Fedora 20 but still maintains them for Fedora 19 (and it involves using the F19 packages in F20).

I have to do a few more tests of this method before I detail it in another post, but first I'd like thank Michael again for his posts, and Leigh Scott right now for this too-easy way of getting the Catalyst driver working again.

Final word: I don't blame Leigh, per se, for dropping the Catalyst package in RPM Fusion. It's every maintainer's right to quit whenever they want. I'm just continually stunned and saddened that in the many months since Leigh made this decision, nobody else has stepped in to fill this crucial gap in the Fedora/RPM Fusion/Catalyst world.

Thu, 08 May 2014

I think a Mesa update broke my AMD Catalyst driver's 3D hardware acceleration -- here's how I fixed it

I'm only speculating as to what caused 3D acceleration to stop working on my Fedora 20 system using the upstream-installed AMD Catalyst driver.

But I'm pretty sure it is the new Mesa packages that rolled into Fedora a day or so ago.

Even if Mesa isn't the culprit, apps that require 3D hardware acceleration are either throwing warnings about the lack of this particular feature, or just crashing immediately.

Running glxinfo in a terminal gave me the following message:

direct rendering: No (If you want to find out why, try setting LIBGL_DEBUG=verbose)

I suspected that the AMD Catalyst video driver, which I'm installing with AMD own .run installer because there is no Fedora 20 package for it in RPM Fusion, was somehow broken.

When I have problems with the proprietary video driver, I usually uninstall Catalyst, check whatever's broken while running the open Radeon driver and then reinstall Catalyst and check again.

Except this time Catalyst wouldn't uninstall. The error message I received said something about the configuration being changed.

Catalyst wouldn't reinstall, either.

The script output suggested that using --force would overcome the errors in either case -- uninstalling or reinstalling.

So I decided to reinstall AMD Catalyst over the current installation.

Since I was already running the latest Catalyst driver from AMD, I had previously downloaded, unzipped it and installed it, and the .run file was already on my system for the reinstall.

I did this as root:

# ./amd-driver-installer-14.10-x86.x86_64.run --force

Catalyst reinstalled with no trouble, I rebooted, and 3D hardware acceleration was back.

Fri, 02 May 2014

Kernel and other packages I have in Fedora that allow me to install and run AMD's upstream Catalyst driver

You need more than just kernel packages to successfully install the upstream AMD Catalyst driver in Fedora, and you might not need every last one of these packages. But it couldn't hurt to have:

kernel-devel
kernel-headers
kernel-modules-extras
kernel-tools
kernel-tools-libs

Other packages that you need or are helpful include:

dkms
gcc
binutils
make

Then you can go to the AMD Catalyst site for Linux, download a .zip file, unpack it and use the resulting .run file to install the driver.

I wrote up more detailed instructions on how to install the driver in January. Those instructions are probably due for an update. I'll do that soon -- maybe when AMD updates the driver for the 3.14 Linux kernel.

Thu, 01 May 2014

Firefox 29, complete with new look, is in Fedora

The new Firefox, version 29, brings a whole new look to Mozilla's web browser.

I hope it brings a lot of other new things, too. I pretty much run Firefox exclusively in Linux, and I'd love to do the same at my day job, in Windows 7, where I use Google Chrome for the most part. In my day job, I have a whole lot of tabs open, and Chrome seems to handle it better. I would welcome a more robust Firefox in this regard.

Better or not, Firefox 29 is now in Fedora. The image above comes from the Fedora Magazine post announcing the update, which already flowed onto my installation via the Yumex package manager.