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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Wed, 06 Aug 2014

Installing the AMD Catalyst driver in RHEL or CentOS 7

Hey everybody, it's not just Fedora users who have no RPM-packaged AMD Catalyst (aka fglrx) proprietary video driver.

RHEL/CentOS 7 is also out in the cold.

(Note to all developers who have anything to do with Fedora or Red Hat: Recent AMD-running laptops with all-in-one APU chips (CPU and GPU together) tend to RUN LIKE CRAP without Catalyst.)

So RHEL/CentOS 7 users are stuck with AMD's upstream installer. To that end, here's a guide from the CentOS Forum on how to install Catalyst with AMD's .sh installer.

Sat, 02 Aug 2014

Lubuntu craps out, and I'm now auditioning Debian and Fedora for an ancient Thinkpad

I've been running Lubuntu on my daughter's ancient IBM Thinkpad R32 for as long as I can remember. The upgrade from 12.04 to 14.04 was anything but smooth. I wasn't offered a straight 12.04-14.04 upgrade and instead went through the steps (12.10, 13.04, 13.10 and finally 14.04) when I probably should have just reinstalled with 14.04.

Now there's another problem. Wireless networking doesn't work. I even checked with the Lubuntu 14.04 live CD. And two different USB Wi-Fi adapters.

The system sees the networks, but it won't join them. And none of the "help" I found online was very helpful.

I could go back to the long-unsupported Lubuntu 14.04. Since this laptop has a CD drive only, that limits the live images I can try because many have climbed over CD size.

Lubuntu has not. And as I say above, I have tried it.

Fedora LXDE is also still CD-sized. I'm trying to download a torrent now. I'm doing the same with the Debian 7.6 netinstall image, from which I can whip up an LXDE system. Unfortunately Debian is a bit crapshootish because the Debian Live images are, again, too large for a CD.

I'd rather not go with Fedora, as this is OLD hardware. Debian's extra speed really shows in this situation (namely a Pentium 4 with 768 MB RAM).

I'm fairly confident I can return the Thinkpad to wireless-running usefulness. But I remain disappointed with Lubuntu (and maybe all of Ubuntu) for whatever it's doing to this old laptop's ability to complete a Wi-Fi connection.

Fri, 18 Jul 2014

One year, two months with Fedora this time around

I looked back in the archives and found out that I've been running Fedora on this particular laptop (HP Pavilion g6-2210us) for a year and two months.

Since this el-cheapo, about-$400 AMD laptop is NOT a top-of-the-line Intel-running Thinkpad, it hasn't gotten anywhere near the same level of love from the Linux kernel and driver developers.

But things have gotten better and better over time. And excepting the relentlessly rolling Arch Linux, things improve more quickly in Fedora than anywhere else. New kernels, drivers and applications, for the most part, fly onto Fedora systems via regular updates.

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Wed, 16 Jul 2014

Debian Developer switches to Mac, doesn't look back (and yes, we should be worried)

Debian Developer Jon Dowland writes about switching from Linux to the Macintosh with OS X:

It appears I have switched for good. I've been meaning to write about this for some time, but I couldn't quite get the words right. I doubted I could express my frustrations in a constructive, helpful way, even if I think that my experiences are useful and my discoveries valuable, perhaps I would put them across in a way that seemed inciteful rather than insightful. I wasn't sure anyone cared. Certainly the GNOME community doesn't seem interested in feedback.

It turns out that one person that doesn't care is me: I didn't realise just how broken the F/OSS desktop is. The straw that broke the camel's back was the file manager replacing type-ahead find with a search but (to seemlessly switch metaphor) it turns out I'd been cut a thousand times already. I'm not just on the other side of the fence, I'm several fields away.

What can I say? With the Macintosh seemingly left for dead by Apple while the iPhone and iPad shovel in the revenue, Mac laptops have quietly become the platform of choice for developers everywhere.

Meanwhile, fragmentation in the Linux desktop space and what appears to be not just a lack of attention to detail but a willful rejection of it haven't helped.

That said, I'm firmly in the "buy cheap, run Linux" camp, and I figure that the Microsoft-driven laptop price war to combat the Google Chromebook will provide a whole new class of sub-$250 machines on which to run the Linux distribution of your choice.

Since I don't have $1,500+ for a laptop that won't accept OS updates in a few years and generally don't need to run the Adobe Creative Suite, I don't have the opportunity/burden of trying to figure out how much free (as in freedom) software I could shoehorn into a Macintosh OS X environment.

But I can see how developers who aren't Linux distro developers want to go for what's "easy," if not at all cheap.

While Ubuntu has in the past tried to court developers, the current direction in which they're taking Unity is more about mobile compatibility than desktop productivity. And I don't see any advantages for the average developer with GNOME Shell. Maybe GNOME Classic in an environment with a whole lot more configurability out of the box would work. I know that a more polished Xfce with a lot of the rough edges smoothed out could be popular.

But it's the fragmentation ...

I'd love for Fedora Workstation with its (I think) target audience of developers to fill this gap. But without a long-term support release, that won't happen. Maybe a CentOS "developer desktop" spin could do better.

The elephant. In the room. It's the same thing it always was: Preloads.

It's going to require a major hardware vendor to commit to developer-centric laptops in a variety of price ranges with dedicated, in-house developers making sure the hardware is 100-percent supported in Linux and on the Linux distribution shipping with that hardware. I'm not saying it will never happen. I hope it does.

Until then, Apple is going to eat everybody's lunch, including Microsoft's. And desktop Linux's, too.

I'm not saying that choice on the Linux desktop is bad. What I am saying is that a stable, functional, not-scary desktop with some heavy development attention and (dare I say it) substantial corporate support could turn the tide and bring not just developers but others (back) to Linux.

Wed, 09 Jul 2014

AMD Catalyst packages for Fedora 19 still work with 3.15.x Linux kernel in Fedora 20

Probably the best "solution" I've found for the lack of AMD Catalyst packages in RPM Fusion for Fedora 20 has been to use the packages that are still being maintained in that repository for Fedora 19.

But as always with proprietary driver packages, there is a question as to whether or not they will work with a new Linux kernel.

Kernel 3.15.3-200 moved recently into Fedora 20, and I decided to make the leap into installing it today.

I can report that akmod-catalyst handled it perfectly. Catalyst works in 3.15.3, and everything is running as it should.

One of the touted features in kernel 3.15 is faster suspend/resume. Does using a proprietary video driver negate this speedup? I don't know.

I do periodically test suspend/resume with the open Radeon driver to see if I can ditch Catalys, but at this point I'll wait for live Fedora 21 (and Ubuntu 14.10) media for my next foray into the free driver.