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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Tue, 21 Oct 2014

The Debian Jessie installer: first impressions -- desktop choice (yay), encryption fail (boo)

I did a Debian Jessie install last week. This was a traditional install on "real" hardware, more specifically a different drive on my daily (HP Pavilion g6) laptop.

As much as I've praised the Debian installer in the past, and I'll praise it a little bit right now, I will also drop it in a hole and throw a shallow layer of dirt over it just because.

First of all, the Debian installer experience seem much the same in Jessie as it was in Wheezy and Squeeze before it. I don't remember it being much different in Etch. That was my first Debian installation, so my memory, hazy as it is, ends there.

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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.

Fri, 17 Jan 2014

Buy Debian merchandise from Debian France (and it helps if you can read French)

Debian France now has an online store where they sell Debian-related merchandise: hats, shirts, even umbrellas, pocket knives and those "buff" things that losing "Survivor" contestants throw into the fire on the show's Redemption Island (which probably tells you too much about my recent TV viewing).

The currency is Euros, the language French. May the European force be with you.

Tue, 31 Dec 2013

When life hands you lemons, go back to Debian

Update on Jan. 16, 2014: Since I originally wrote this post, I succeeded in installing Catalyst with AMD's script in Fedora and buying myself a whole lot of time with that distribution. I also tried Debian Wheezy with live media containing nonfree firmware, and that is looking even better than Jessie if I don't want/need an EFI-friendly installer. My original plan was to stick with Fedora until the Debian Jessie freeze and then make the move (sometime late this year). But if Wheezy works out, I'd want to go to it sooner rather than later and avoid Jessie for as long as possible (or until suspend/resume somehow returns to my neglected AMD APU chip.

Update on Feb. 4, 2014: I have suspend/resume working in Fedora 20 with the fglrx/Catalyst driver, and I'm very confident that the same technique I used to get it working there will also work in Debian Jessie, so that means if I do want to run Debian in the near future, I can get working fglrx video, working suspend/resume and EFI booting with Testing/Jessie and don't need to use Wheezy unless I absolutely want to. The only thing that makes me nervous about installing Jessie now is the uncertainty over which init system Debian will end up with -- both in the Jessie and Jessie+1 cycles. But since I have everything but printing to my crappy HP USB printer working in Fedora, it's likely that I'll stick with it for the near (and maybe farther) future.

To keep a short story short, the maintainer of the proprietary AMD Catalyst (aka fglrx) driver for the Fedora-focused RPM Fusion repository doesn't want to do it anymore.

And he made this decision not before the release of Fedora 20 with lots of notice -- and not after with lots of notice BUT PRETTY MUCH DURING THE RELEASE with no notice.

That means my Fedora 19-to-20 upgrade left me without Catalyst. And that means much poorer video performance, higher heat and more fan noise for my newish AMD APU chip -- the Trinity series A4-4300M model with AMD Radeon HD 7420g graphics.

And while the open-source Radeon driver has gotten a whole lot better in the 3.12 Linux kernel, the Catalyst driver is much, much better for this hardware.

I already mentioned the slow video. I can barely run GNOME 3 with the open driver, and THIS LAPTOP ISN'T EVEN A YEAR OLD.

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Wed, 23 Oct 2013

After six or so months with Fedora, I'm looking for something new

These things happen in predictable patterns. Due to hardware issues I land in Fedora, and after six months it's time for something else.

Not that Fedora 18 and now 19 haven't been great, because they have.

But I'm wary of my AMD APU-based HP laptop's trouble with suspend/resume and 3D acceleration. I had both working for a very short time during the AMD Catalyst 13.6 beta's brief run.

But before that I had neither, and now I have decent 3D with AMD Catalyst but seemingly no hope of working suspend/resume with this AMD A4-4300M APU and its AMD Radeon HD 7420G graphics.

And I'm getting tired of new kernels coming into Fedora, some with Catalyst support, some without. And it's past time that this AMD GPU (I think it's the Trinity family) get better support from the kernel and the free and proprietary drivers.

What I'm saying is that if the hardware support I need is not going to come soon, I'd like something more stable while I'm waiting.

So I started auditioning new Linux distributions yesterday.

And when Debian 7.1 and 7.2 Live DVDs both allowed me to successfully suspend/resume my HP Pavilion g6-2210us laptop, I was firmly pulled back into the Debian camp. To my "home" distro.

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