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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Mon, 15 Jan 2018

Giving Ubuntu 17.10 a try (don't worry, it's one of the new ISOs)

I'm doing my Linux due diligence by trying out Ubuntu 17.10 now that Canonical has issued new ISOs that won't brick a BIOS. That's a bit of nasty business, to be sure, but it's not enough to put me off of Ubuntu for good.

It's unfortunate that Canonical/Ubuntu made the kind of mistake that would brick a computer, and I can't see Fedora doing this kind of thing, even though the Red Hat-sponsored distro is closer to the bleeding edge.

Not coincidentally I just tried Fedora 27, and I liked it. I don't see much different in Ubuntu 17.10. Both distros use GNOME 3, feature Firefox as their default browser (good because since FF 57/Quantum, it's also my default browser) and offer the LibreOffice suite.

Sure there are major differences in package management (dnf vs. apt) and firewall (firewalld vs ufw), but it's still more similar than different.

The distros both look fairly similar on my 1920x1080 screen, and the fonts seem about the same in both, though Ubuntu features its own font in places where Fedora offers Cantarell. Both are interchangeable, so it's horses for courses, as they say.

The GNOME-ified Ubuntu made its debut in 17.10, so there will be no GNOME-powered Ubuntu LTS until 18.04 (which, now that I look at the calendar, is due in 4/2018, which is only a few months from now).

Until Ubuntu dropped GNOME 2 for Unity back in 11.04, all of the "top" distros shipped GNOME as a default. By that I mean Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, Red Hat/CentOS and Suse. So there was a great deal of uniformity that made the distro "wars" seem kind of stupid since the desktop is such a major part of a user's experience, and every major distro pretty much offered all of the major desktops (GNOME, KDE, Xfce, Cinnamon, Mate, LXDE). It was notable that only Ubuntu shipped (or even offered) Unity (to the best of my not-comprehensive knowledge).

Now that Unity is dead and Ubuntu is back to GNOME, I hope that there will be more emphasis placed on not just tweaking GNOME but actually developing it to have more of what "power" users want (like actual knobs, levers and buttons to tweak to get the behavior we want).

Hey, as I write this in the Ubuntu 17.10 live environment, my screen keeps momentarily turning upside down and blanking for a moment. This is on an HP Envy with an Intel i7 processor. Hmm. Hopefully that's a byproduct of the live session and not something that will persist in a full installation. I hope not. I didn't experience that behavior in Fedora 27 or Debian 9.3.

To sum up, I'd say that Ubuntu 17.10 and Fedora 27 are more similar than different, with six-month upgrade cycles unless you opt for the Ubuntu LTS in a few months' time. Both are much more "polished" than stock Debian, with less setup pain, though probably more maintenance pain, as Debian Stable is exactly what the second word in its name says it is.

It all comes down to how new you want your packages to be. This really only matters (to me) for the purposes of software development. I think you can either run Fedora, or Ubuntu (possibly the latter with PPAs), and have things be acceptably new. If you need a newer stack, you'll probably be managing it outside of distro package management anyway, so it all comes down to personal preference and what works.

Sat, 13 Jan 2018

Fedora 27 on my HD-screen HP Envy laptop

I just booted into a Fedora 27 live system on my HP Envy laptop with an HD screen, and already the fonts in Firefox look better than stock Debian, which is to be expected.

Just like with Debian, I'm astounded that everything works in Linux out of the box. This laptop is about nine months old, and I have been avoiding running Linux for that whole time, choosing to explore Windows 10 (which is not bad at all, in case you were wondering).

I'm very happy that Fedora (which I ran for pretty much the entire "run" of my old HP Pavilion g6 laptop, which is running F27 as we speak) is so good on what, for me is new hardware.

The improvement in font rendering on this HD screen (1920x1080) is enough for me to say that I could definitely make the switch from Windows 10 to Fedora. I'm not ready just yet, but it looks like I am able.

Maybe it's the new laptop talking, but GNOME 3 looks more polished and usable than ever. The first thing I did in the live environment (after pumping up my Firefox magnification to 140%) was installing GNOME Tweak Tool and changing to the Adiwata Dark Theme.

True for both Debian and Fedora: The laptop is running very cool, too.

Next up: A test of the new non-BIOS-bricking Ubuntu 17.10, where I hope the GNOME 3 experience will also be a good one.

Tue, 01 Aug 2017

Upgrade to PHP 7.1 on CentOS

I manage a CentOS 6 server, and I have a request to replace PHP 5 with PHP 7.

Here is a solid and mercifully brief tutorial on how to do it.

Sun, 18 Jun 2017

Debian 9.0 Stretch is the new Stable

I don't keep up with Debian, though my sentimental feelings for the pioneering Linux distribution remain strong. My days with Debian were late Etch into Lenny, Squeeze and early Wheezy. For the release of Squeeze, I used SVG files from the desktop's awesome artwork and made a custom T-shirt that I still wear.

Not to bury the lede too far, the news of the day is that Debian 9.0 Stretch has been released as Stable. For more on Stretch, read the installation manual and release notes.

I still have an old IBM Thinkpad R32 that runs Debian -- I can't remember if it is still on Wheezy, though it probably is.

For my laptops, I started running Fedora when I got a new laptop in 2010 -- a Lenovo G555 with an AMD processor. Since I was using the proprietary Catalyst video driver, I eventually broke the installation and moved to Debian, which I ran on the laptop until it died in 2013. I began again with Fedora on my next laptop, an HP Pavilion g6, and it is still running that version of Linux (and I'm using it right now to write this post). I now have a new HP laptop, an Envy, that is still running the Windows 10 it came with, and I added the Windows Subsystem for Linux/Bash so I can have a fairly functional Linux command line.

So I'm not a current Debian user. Especially on the desktop, I want newer versions of just about everything, and I find it easier to get that in the twice-yearly releases of Fedora instead of Debian Testing or Unstable. Debian Stable, which I've used and loved, is just too "stable."

But if you think about it, I could easily run Debian Stable and add newer versions of Node, Java, Ruby and NetBeans. When a laptop is new, I find Fedora to be the easiest, quickest and best way to get the most hardware working, but after a couple of years, Debian is a very attractive option.

With newer hardware, there's always the Liquorix kernels, which I used to run so I'd always have the latest on my Debian installations.

For my programming needs, Node is certainly part of Debian Stretch, but this part of the release notes is a little worrying:

5.2.2. Lack of security support for the ecosystem around libv8 and Node.js

The Node.js platform is built on top of libv8-3.14, which experiences a high volume of security issues, but there are currently no volunteers within the project or the security team sufficiently interested and willing to spend the large amount of time required to stem those incoming issues.

Unfortunately, this means that libv8-3.14, nodejs, and the associated node-* package ecosystem should not currently be used with untrusted content, such as unsanitized data from the Internet.

In addition, these packages will not receive any security updates during the lifetime of the stretch release.

I checked the v8 package in Fedora, and it appears to be updated about every month, though not at all for the past three months. I'm not sure what to take away from this. I'd have to look at the upstream v8 before making any judgments on how well Fedora is doing with the package, plus I'd need to see how Ubuntu handles it.

Back to Debian. The Debian Project is the code that goes into it and the volunteers that make it happen. Debian is not owned by any corporation, individual or group. It'll pretty much always be there and be free.

Does Debian benefit from work done by corporations like Red Hat? Yes, it does. Free software in general and Linux in particular are coded by individuals all over the world, some of whom are paid by companies to make their contributions.

However it finally goes together, Debian is a special project.

The short version: If you can make Debian Stable work for you, it's a terrific operating system that really is stable and will last you a couple of years without a major upgrade. If you're interested, it's worth a test on your hardware before committing to a Linux distribution. On my computers, the "contenders" are Debian, Ubuntu (mainly the Xubuntu version with Xfce) and Fedora.

Fri, 24 Feb 2017

'Big Bang Theory's' Stuart wears Ubuntu T-shirt

Am I the only person to notice that comic book shop-owning Stuart (Kevin Sussman) on the "The Big Bang Theory" is wearing an Ubuntu T-shirt on the episode airing Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017? (It's Season 10, Episode 17, if that information helps you.)

The T-shirt appearance isn't as overt as Sheldon's mention of the Ubuntu Linux operating system way back in Season 3 (Episode 22, according to one YouTube video title), but it's an unusual return for Ubuntu to the world of "Big Bang."

What does it mean that the show's most loserly character is a Ubuntu fan?

Mon, 20 Feb 2017

Fixing Fedora 25 upgrade issue with iptables

Are you having the same problem I've been having with Fedora 25 updates and something having to do with iptables?

I found the answer in the Fedora Forums:

You need to get rid of this old package first, then do the software upgrade:

$ sudo dnf remove system-config-firewall-base

Then do your usual upgrade, either in your favorite GUI (Whatever GNOME is using or yumex-dnf) or dnf in the terminal:

$ sudo dnf upgrade

This is very likely only an issue if you've been upgrading the same system since Fedora 21 (and I have).

Wed, 11 Jan 2017

Preloaded Linux laptops are probably not encrypted

Even though preloaded Linux laptops like Dell's new Precision 3520 are a great thing -- and can save you $100 in this case, I'd probably have to reinstall because a factory image of the operating system most likely doesn't take into account one thing I want in any desktop Linux system: full disk encryption.

From the days when I ran Debian, through today's Fedora 24, I opt for full disk encryption in the installer. It's the right thing to do. If your laptop falls into the "wrong" hands, your data is encrypted and away from the prying eyes of whoever gets your gear.

Windows users can take advantage of disk encryption ... in some cases. While the Home edition of Windows 10 doesn't offer it, the Pro/Enterprise edition does have an option to encrypt your data.

It's nice that the installers of many major Linux distributions, including Debian, Fedora, CentOS/RHEL and Ubuntu (and its many flavors) offer full disk encryption (not just user files, though Ubuntu does offer a user-files encryption option) -- and any user can take advantage of that protection for the low price of $0.

Thu, 01 Dec 2016

I tried to tweak my Fedora settings in KDE Plasma, and it screwed up everything in GNOME and Xfce

The morale of this story is that the KDE Plasma settings can screw up your Xfce and GNOME settings. So if you're using multiple desktop environments on a single system -- like my Fedora 25 laptop, or any other Linux system -- you could be in for some pain.

What I was trying to do is configure a dark theme for KDE Plasma (easy) and also use dark themes when running GTK3 and GTK2 apps on the Plasma desktop.

It looked pretty good in KDE Plasma, but things went pear-shaped in GNOME 3 and Xfce. My fonts were screwed up, Menus were gray type on a gray background, and icons were messed up -- with KDE icons bleeding into Xfce.

And then I had trouble logging in with Plasma at all. Blame the Fedora 25 upgrade (and KDE Plasma in general) for that one.

I first tried using the many Xfce configuration utilities to make it right. That didn't do much. I finally was able to log into Plasma (only after a reboot) and attempt to undo the damage. I was partially successful.

In GNOME 3, I had a lot of success with the GNOME Tweak Tool (which should be preinstalled on every GNOME system). I was able to use the Xfce Adiwata Dark theme to make even my GTK2/GTK+ apps look better in GNOME. The whole dark-themed GNOME experience is pretty much better than ever. So that's a win.

And I finally got Xfce looking right. I'm still having display font issues, but everything is more than good enough, and figuring out how to make dark-themed GNOME look better than ever is a bonus.

Thu, 24 Nov 2016

I did the Fedora 25 upgrade

I upgraded from Fedora 24 to 25 today. So far, so good.

Update: I've had periodic Google Chrome freezes. I've had to kill it and start again a few times. I just had one while writing this post with Ode's EditEdit plugin. Not sure if this is a Google Chrome thing or a Fedora thing. I do have Fedora's version of Chromium to test.

Another update, a day later: No Google Chrome freezes today. I just had my first Google Chrome freeze of the day. Before that I replaced RPM Fusion's Audacity 2.1.2 with Fedora's own Audacity 2.1.3, and my GTK3 rendering issues are now gone. And for some reason I can still output an MP3 even though this isn't the "freeworld" version.

Trying Chromium: I am trying the Fedora-packaged version of Chromium to see if I experience the same freezes that I have been getting in Google's version of the application.

Chromium update: You know what's not crashing? The Fedora-packaged Chromium browser.

So far today, I have replaced the Chrome browser hosted on Google's server and Audacity from RPM Fusion with versions of both from Fedora's own repository. I always like using as many packages as possible from a distribution's own repo (generally a point in Debian and Ubuntu's favor), and it's nice to get closer to that ideal in Fedora.

I have been meaning to write about the coming of Chromium to Fedora for a long time but never got around to it. It installed on my computer automatically as the dependency of another app, the name of which escapes me at the moment.

I also should write about MP3 support (decoding, not encoding) coming to native Fedora (i.e. without RPM Fusion). While I do have RPM Fusion repos active on my Fedora desktop installation (I'm sure there are people who don't ...), I'm not sure if that's the reason my now-Fedora-supplied (and non-"freeworld") Audacity is able to output an MP3 file. All I know is that I'm happy to have my Audacity rendering issues (which have been problematic for a couple of months) and Chrome freezing issues (only a problem since the Fedora 25 upgrade) both solved in very short order.

More info on Fedora's Chromium package: https://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Chromium

Possible clue on why Google Chrome is freezing in Fedora 25: From a Fedora mailing list exchange

GNOME 3.22: As dozens of entries on this site will tell you, I periodically try GNOME 3 and usually abandon it because I get more work done in Xfce. In Fedora 25 -- for the first time -- Wayland is the default display technology for GNOME. When I try to run that on this 3-year-old AMD-running laptop (HP Pavilion g6-2210us), it freezes. The Xorg version, still available in the GDM choices, does work.

Chrome in GNOME: It seemed to be working fine. Once again, time for a GNOME test.

A ton of updates means Wayland is now working: All the video drivers updated just now in Fedora 25, and I can now run GNOME in Wayland. That was a quick fix.

Sat, 05 Nov 2016

This Fedora install still kicking after SIX upgrades

I started this laptop on Fedora 18 before a fairly quick upgrade to F19. I've kept it going all the way through Fedora 24.

So far that's six "major" upgrades. And it still works fine. Not that it shouldn't, but I don't remember things ever going this smoothly for this long.