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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Tue, 13 Nov 2012

On 13-year-old hardware, Debian Squeeze with Xfce performs better than Wary Puppy 5.3

I periodically check up on my Compaq Armada 7770dmt, the 1999 machine running a Pentium II MMX processor at 233 MHz with 144 MB of RAM and a 3 GB hard drive.

While I'm still partial to Puppy 2.13 -- a very, very, very old release, I wanted to see how this old Compaq performed on a new Puppy. I do have a 20 GB laptop drive floating around, and if I find it, I could either use it entirely for storage with Puppy, or install something like Debian without the constraints of a mere 3 GB of hard drive space.

Today I did an update/upgrade of the Debian Squeeze installation on the Compaq. Then I burned a Wary Puppy 5.3 CD on another machine and proceeded to try it out on the 233 MHz laptop.

In the unlikely event that you have this exact same ancient laptop and want to run a modern Puppy live system, know that when configuring video, Xorg doesn't work. Choose Xvesa instead.

Anyhow, I don't know if it was the nature of modern Linux, a growing "heaviness" for the Seamonkey web browser, or something else. But Wary Puppy 5.3 was slower than Debian Squeeze with Xfce. Using the web browser at all made the rest of the 144 MB system pretty much unusable.

About a half-hour into my Wary Puppy session, no apps at all would start. I could've rebooted and tried again, but I didn't. I know that using a Mozilla-made browser on hardware this old is painful.

In Debian I use Chromium, which is a quite a bit lighter than Firefox/Seamonkey, and that makes this old machine much more pleasant to use.

And Xfce is a very usable desktop on hardware this ancient. It's all about which applications you use. If you avoid heavy browsers like Firefox/Iceweasel, stick to text editors like Mousepad and Geany (OpenOffice/LibreOffice is not something I'd recommend at all) and keep things simple, even a 13-year-old computer can have some utility. This is a great machine for writing (as I'm doing now with Mousepad).

You can't go wrong with Xfce staples like the Thunar file manager, Mousepad text editor, Ristretto image viewer and Xfce Terminal. To that I add selected extras like the gFTP client, mtPaint image editor (thanks to Puppy for introducing me to it), Geany IDE/editor (thanks again to Puppy) and Ted word processor (introduced to me in Damn Small Linux and no longer in Debian but available as a .deb from the developer).

There's a lot you can't do with a 13-year-old computer, but there's a lot you can do, too.

Mon, 05 Nov 2012

Lots of Debian Wheezy updates today

Due to my slower home connection, I didn't update my Debian Wheezy laptop over the weekend, and today I have 103 packages about to flow onto this system.

Aside from a new kernel, new Chromium web browser, new LibreOffice and new Java/OpenJDK/IcedTea, there are plenty of other packages coming along for the ride from GNOME, new ffmpeg and libav, cups and more.

Why so many packages at once? Could it mean the release of Wheezy as Debian's Stable distribution is closer than not? I have no answers yet.

All I do know is if you're running Debian Wheezy right now, be prepared for a whole lot of updates.

steven@lenovo:~$ sudo aptitude upgrade
Resolving dependencies...                
The following NEW packages will be installed:
  linux-headers-3.2.0-4-amd64{a} linux-headers-3.2.0-4-common{a} 
The following packages will be REMOVED:
  linux-headers-3.2.0-3-amd64{u} linux-headers-3.2.0-3-common{u} 
The following packages will be upgraded:
  chromium chromium-browser-inspector chromium-inspector cups cups-bsd 
  cups-client cups-common cups-ppdc evolution-data-server 
  evolution-data-server-common ffmpeg fonts-opensymbol gdm3 
  gir1.2-panelapplet-4.0 gnome-terminal gnome-terminal-data 
  google-talkplugin icedtea-6-jre-cacao icedtea-6-jre-jamvm kdelibs-bin 
  kdelibs5-data kdelibs5-plugins kdoctools libav-tools libavcodec53 
  libavdevice-extra-53 libavdevice53 libavfilter-extra-2 libavfilter2 
  libavformat-extra-53 libavformat53 libavutil51 libcamel-1.2-33 libcups2 
  libcupscgi1 libcupsdriver1 libcupsimage2 libcupsmime1 libcupsppdc1 
  libebackend-1.2-2 libebook-1.2-13 libecal-1.2-11 libedata-book-1.2-13 
  libedata-cal-1.2-15 libedataserver-1.2-16 libedataserverui-3.0-1 
  libglib2.0-data libgtkhtml-4.0-0 libgtkhtml-4.0-common 
  libgtkhtml-editor-4.0-0 libkcmutils4 libkde3support4 libkdeclarative5 
  libkdecore5 libkdesu5 libkdeui5 libkdewebkit5 libkdnssd4 libkemoticons4 
  libkfile4 libkhtml5 libkidletime4 libkio5 libkjsapi4 libkjsembed4 
  libkmediaplayer4 libknewstuff2-4 libknewstuff3-4 libknotifyconfig4 
  libkntlm4 libkparts4 libkprintutils4 libkpty4 libkrosscore4 libkrossui4 
  libktexteditor4 libkutils4 libmozjs185-1.0 libnepomuk4 libnepomukquery4a 
  libnepomukutils4 libpanel-applet-4-0 libplasma3 libpostproc52 
  libraptor2-0 libreoffice-common libreoffice-filter-mobiledev 
  libreoffice-help-en-us libreoffice-java-common libreoffice-pdfimport 
  libreoffice-report-builder-bin libreoffice-style-galaxy 
  libreoffice-style-tango libsolid4 libswscale2 libthreadweaver4 
  libxenstore3.0 linux-headers-amd64 linux-image-amd64 linux-libc-dev 
  openjdk-6-jre openjdk-6-jre-headless openjdk-6-jre-lib 
103 packages upgraded, 3 newly installed, 2 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
Need to get 177 MB of archives. After unpacking 112 MB will be used.
Do you want to continue? [Y/n/?]
Tue, 16 Oct 2012

Iceweasel 10.0.09 ESR update for Debian Wheezy

The "fast" pace of Iceweasel/Firefox and Icedove/Thunderbird releases over the past couple of years has really thrown longer-term Linux distributions for a loop.

The Mozilla-coded apps quickly get very old, and it's harder and harder for Debian developers to patch those older versions with the latest security fixes when the upstream code leaves the distro's original version further and further behind.

And enterprises, educational institutions and people who like things to stay the same aren't terribly excited by applications that change versions from month to month, regardless of what actual changes are happening in the code. Never mind that those changes are often significant enough to break things built for a platform that is moving too quickly for many tastes.

Enter the Extended Support Release version of Firefox and Thunderbird. After seeing its Mozilla applications get really old really fast in Squeeze, Debian picked up on the ESR releases of Iceweasel and Icedove for Wheezy. That's what I see in CentOS, Scientific Linux and Stella as well, so it appears that even Red Hat Enterprise Linux has opted for ESR.

Sure there are features in the "consumer" version of Firefox (which Ubuntu follows even for its LTS release) that users of ESR will miss, but between stability in terms of functionality and knowing that these web-connected applications are fully patched, the peace of mind is well worth it.

Iceweasel 10.0.09esr just rolled onto my Debian Wheezy box. I'm glad to see it.

Fri, 28 Sep 2012

Lots of updates today in Debian Wheezy, plus when I think it will go Stable and why I stick with Debian as my distro of choice

Quite a few updates moved for Debian's Wheezy testing branch today. I got a lot of GNOME bits and, for some reason, qemu-kvm.

The Debian Project is pushing Wheezy ever closer to release. The way things are going, counting the number of release-critical bugs and comparing it to roughly the same period before the release of Squeeze (the current Stable release), there are now 243 release-critical bugs remaining to be solved before Wheezy's release can happen. In September 2010, there were 126 RC bugs remaining to be solved.

Squeeze was released in February 2011, and if the RC-bug count is any indication, we won't see Wheezy go Stable this year, even though that was an early goal of the project.

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Sun, 23 Sep 2012

Repartitioning my Debian Wheezy system to make more room

I bit the bullet and did some repartitioning of my Debian Wheezy-running laptop to give myself more space on the Linux side by taking it from the seldom-used Windows side of my dual-boot system.

I had wanted to make my existing Debian partitions bigger, but due to the fact that modifying LVM -- especially with some partitions encrypted -- is a bit too mysterious and difficult, I decided to work with the Windows 7 partitions on the drive instead. Once I shrunk Windows, I planned to use the freed-up space for a new Linux partition. After that I would configure my Debian system to use it.

When I set up this laptop back in 2010, I did a fresh, crapware-free Windows 7 Home Premium installation at the very end of the drive. Windows dumped its main partition and small boot partition right there. At the time I gave something like 100 GB (out of the 320 GB drive) to Windows.

That's where I got my "extra" space for Linux.

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Thu, 13 Sep 2012

Getting rid of doubled Applications icons in GNOME 3 in Debian Wheezy

Remember my recent problem with doubled icons in the Applications view in GNOME 3 on my Debian Wheezy system?

Running the command update-menus every time you boot takes care of the problem, but that's no solution.

It turns out that getting rid of the menus package fixes the problem permanently:

$ sudo apt-get remove --purge menu

This will most likely accomplish the same thing (though I didn't try it):

$ sudo aptitude purge menu

I know that on my system the menu package came along with the fluxbox window manager. Since I was losing the menu package, I opted to get rid of fluxbox at the same time.

Note on Xfce: Removal of the menu package did not affect Xfce, which I also have installed on this Debian Wheezy system.

Note on menu and Debian: I suppose this should be classfied as a bug, because menu and GNOME Shell should be able to co-exist, but I don't see a bug that addresses this issue filed against menu. Maybe the bug should be filed against GNOME Shell. This is one of those (many) situations where I'm at a loss.

Note on menu: If you reinstall menu, will the problem with GNOME 3 return? Yes, it will.

You know your Linux installation is getting a bit old and crusty when ...

While there's always a pack of geeks telling me how they've been running the same Debian system since Potato, I've found that most desktop systems under any kind of heavy use by those of us who do a lot of experimenting and install a lot of software don't last forever.

Or they won't last a long time without a great deal of maintenance and fixing mistakes made along the way.

My current, main Debian desktop system -- running on the Lenovo G555 laptop I bought in early 2010 -- has been in place since late 2010, after Fedora 13/14 died a quick yet painful death and I had a brief flirtation with Ubuntu 10.04. I started with Debian Squeeze while it was still the Testing distribution but well after the freeze that would lead it to becoming Stable the following February.

I upgraded to Wheezy -- the current Testing release that is now frozen -- with very little pain at all and am pretty happy with GNOME 3/Shell. I've installed Xfce for comparison's sake. I'm not using it much, preferring GNOME Shell even though it seems like I'm in some kind of silent minority and in threat of using my geek credibility because I not only don't hate the Shell but actually like it and find that it boosts my productivity on the desktop.

So here's the old and crusty part: You (really I) never know how much disk space you'll need when you set up a system. And since I chose to use Logical Volume Management with a couple of encrypted volumes, I really can't mess with them. Go ahead and send me links about how you shrink and expand LVM partitions. With encryption. It's just too hard. There's not enough real information out there. And for the non-super-geeks out there, attempts to modify encrypted LVM partitions are likely to go pear-shaped damn quickly.

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Fri, 17 Aug 2012

File under 'disturbing': Debian Wheezy doesn't ship with the Synaptic Package Manager

My current Debian Wheezy installation is an upgrade from Squeeze, so I was unprepared for what just happened: I'm doing a bunch of installs in between my other work, and I just got around to a traditional Wheezy desktop installation with the GNOME desktop using netinstall image.

I was unprepared for the only GUI package manager to be GNOME Package Kit. No Synaptic Package Manager. Not even the "Sofware Center" ported from Ubuntu that shipped in Squeeze.

Debian Developers, you think GNOME Package Kit is anywhere near as good as Synaptic? It's certainly RHEL-like, as Package Kit is the GUI package manager in RHEL/CentOS.

At least Debian is still shipping Aptitude, unlike Ubuntu.

But no Synaptic? In Debian? Are they kidding? Not counting these five paragraphs, I'm speechless.

Later: The Xfce install of Debian Wheezy DOES include Synaptic. So does the KDE install. I did another GNOME install and confirmed that Synaptic is NOT included. This is quite an omission. The LXDE install of Debian also does not include Synaptic, but that is very much expected.

At the risk of repeating myself yet again, Debian's default installs of Xfce and KDE include the Synaptic Package Manager, but the GNOME install does not. That is crazy.

Given the rumor that Debian is looking at Xfce as the default desktop environment for the Wheezy release, that Xfce seems more "complete" in regard to package management is, in a way, encouraging.

More Debian GNOME install weirdness: Debian has always included the full office suite in just about every default desktop installation. GNOME, Xfce and even LXDE installs have included OpenOffice and now LibreOffice.

What's strange about the current GNOME installation of Debian Wheezy is that it includes not only LibreOffice but also the Abiword word processor and Gnumeric spreadsheet. That's like a double office suite. It's strange to have both.

Debian with KDE: I've done quite a few installs in the last week, and while I'm not sure I could get used to KDE, the desktop in its default installation in Debian Wheezy is very nice. It works great, doesn't require 3D acceleration (like GNOME 3 does), and generally has a lot (a whole lot) of polish.

Thu, 26 Jul 2012

A new version of LibreOffice dropped into Debian Wheezy today

If you're running LibreOffice in Debian Wheezy, you've probably already seen the approximately 30 updates associated with the office suite present themselves on your system.

It's not a major version update, just a newer version of (3.5.4-6 in Debian's package-numbering scheme).

Just moving from Squeeze to Wheezy (and from the squeeze-backports version of LibreOffice to the Wheezy version) fixed my problem with the libreoffice-pdfimport not working. Prior to Wheezy I needed to uninstall that package and manually download the pdfimport extension from an OpenOffice site.

Now Debian's libreoffice-pdfimport package works perfectly and allows me to open and edit PDFs in LibreOffice Draw application.

Not that I understand it, but here is the changelog for this particular update of LibreOffice:

  • debian/patches/CVE-2012-2334-clip-max-entries.diff: add additional fix for CVE-2012-2334 from Florian Weimer which we missed to apply so far..

  • debian/templates/soffice-template.desktop.in: fix Icon= (remove obsolete 3), thanks Miros◈aw Zalewski (closes: #678313)

  • debian/control.in: make -filter-mobiledev Break libreoffice-core (<< 1:3.5~) (closes: #633929)
  • debian/control.mediawiki.in: add missing epoch to -core dependency
  • debian/rules: re-enable -gcj
Mon, 23 Jul 2012

I booted into my 1999-era Compaq laptop running Debian Squeeze

I'd like to report that I fired up the 1999 Compaq Armada 7770dmt with its 233 MHz Pentium II MMX processor, 144 MB of RAM and 3 GB original hard drive. The laptop is running Debian Squeeze, to which I upgraded from a Lenny installation some time after Squeeze went stable.

It's been 240 days since the machine last booted. I updated the installation, and here I am in Xfce writing this quick and painless blog post (using Mousepad and gFTP).

P.S. The SpaceFun theme of Debian Squeeze is so much better than Wheezy's Joy theme, it's hard to overstate.

P.P.S. You can run Xfce on a 13-year-old laptop.