Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mandriva 2009 One KDE 4 Edition

I installed Mandriva 2009 onto an SD card, booting from an Asus EeePC 701. It takes over 2 minutes to boot to the desktop & is simply unusable on such a small screen. The panel is way too huge & if you try to reduce it, the tray icons get screwed up. The Folder view thing is really stupid & the widgets provided are totally useless. I moved it to full sized 13' laptop & gave it my usual runover.

So basically, KDE 4.1 is still pretty much useless as an everyday desktop. Nice to play with, but not something you want to use daily. I think Mandriva made a bad move moving to KDE4 so soon. Especially when they have not put too much effort into making it work well. OpenSuse at least managed to make KDE4 somewhat usable, so Mandriva has no excuse. They really should have offered KDE3.5 on the One CD. If they wanted people to test out KDE4, then they should have release 3 versions of the One CD.
1. KDE 3.5
2. KDE 4.1
3. Gnome

Removing KDE 3.5 is a very bad move. Even PCLinuxOS 2009 will come with KDE 3.5 as default because it simply works better.
I won't be upgrading to Mandriva 2009 at all. I'd wait for 2009.1 & see how that goes. For now, Mandriva 2008.1 is an extremely good release & I suspect will remain so for some time until KDE4 reaches feature parity with (at least) Gnome.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dell Inspiron Mini 9 with Ubuntu Mobile Edition

I got my hands on a brand new Dell Inspiron Mini 9 a few weeks ago & couldn't wait to test out the pre-loaded Ubuntu on it. What it came with surprised me somewhat & it certainly will surprise anyone expecting it to be the stock Ubuntu with some minor Dell tweaks.

The Ubuntu pre-loaded was very far from the standard Desktop edition. It is actually a heavily customized version of Ubuntu Mobile Edition (ume).

What does that mean exactly? It does not use standard Ubuntu packages, all the packages are compiled for the Low Power Intel Architecture (lpia). This also means that it does not utilize the standard Ubuntu repositories for packages. Dell provides a custom repository for updates & software. This means adding any 3rd party Ubuntu repositories is not possible. This is not a big issue as the Dell repository proved to be quite complete in providing all the packages I usually use.

The advantage you gain from using ume is the incredible speed. From power button press to a fully loaded desktop took just under 40 seconds. The desktop was also very responsive & application performance was great. The battery life is also quite good at about 3 hrs 20 mins. (in comparison, my EeePC 701 running Eeebuntu Netbook Edition took over 70 seconds to boot & only managed 2 hrs 40 mins despite having double the capacity)

Dell has designed a nice looking 'Easy Mode' style interface to run on their desktop. It's surprisingly customizable & looks awesome with it's flowing animated transitions. This is nice, but may annoy those who prefer a more traditional Ubuntu desktop. So they have thoughtfully provided an easy way to switch back to the standard desktop.

There are a few other notes that I'll simply list out:
- It uses a squashed root. Which reduced the footprint to just over 2GB.
- Compiz has been removed completely. It's not even possible to install it. (trust me, this is a good thing)
- Fluendo Codecs & Codeina provides for all your media playback needs. Java & Flash pre-installed.
- Incredibly good Bluetooth support. Even works perfectly with A2DP headsets.
- The 8GB SSD version I got certainly isn't enough for me. Invest in a 16GB Class 6 SDHC card.
- The SSD is pretty slow at 15Mbps write. Checkout RunCore's SSD for an upgrade.

Finally, what do I think about the Dell Inspiron Mini 9? Recommended. But I'd wait for the 32GB version. ;)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

CPU Frequency Scaling on the EeePC

If like me, you are thinking about extending the EeePC's battery life by turning on CPU frequency scaling support, I can tell u now to forget about it. It doesn't work.

After turning it on & testing the temperature & battery life, I am very sure it does absolutely nothing for the EeePC. In fact, the only thing it did was make the system lag every time you click on something, this is because the CPU will scale to max for almost every single task. The system takes a second to scale, this is what causes the lag.

After reading in various forums & opinions on it, it's clear that frequency scaling does not improve the battery life or thermal performance of the EeePC 701 which uses an already sluggish Celeron M. In some tests, it even makes things hotter.

So, I've reverted to running the system at the standard 630Mhz with no scaling. I'm currently averaging about 170 minutes per charge with wireless on, which is not too shabby for an 8 month old battery.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tweaking eeebuntu

I've been running eeebuntu on my EeePC for a week now & I've done quite a few things to improve the overall experience.
Here's a quick list of things (that I can remember) in no particular order:
- Disable unused services. User services-admin to weed out all the pointless services such as: anacron, atd, apport, lm-sensors, avahi-daemon & cupsys.

- Disable unused startup items. Under System -> Preferences -> Sessions, turn off, Conduit, Evolution Alarm Notifier, Print Queue Applet, Update Notifier & Visual Assistance.

- Install much needed games. Get yourself zsnes, armagetron, planet-penguin racer, crack-attack, circus, pinball & wormux.

- Run sudo apt-get clean after every update.

- Remove unnecessary panel applets. cpu meter, temp meter & window picker (window list is more practical)

- Install lock-keys-applet to display the status of numlock, capslock & scrolllock.

- Fix the Fn+ key volume control. Goto System -> Preferences -> Keyboard Shortcuts. Press Backspace to remove the shortcut for Volume up, down & mute. This leaves only asusosd running & supplying only 1 set of controls. The volume being adjusted is Front, so set gnome mixer's primary volume to it.

- Setup some ramdisks to reduce disk writes. Add these entries in /etc/fstab
tmpfs /var/log tmpfs defaults,noatime,mode=0755 0 0
tmpfs /tmp tmpfs defaults,noatime,mode=1777 0 0
tmpfs /var/tmp tmpfs defaults,noatime,mode=1777 0 0

- To reduce some more writes. Add in the mount options for / in fstab "noatime, nodiratime, commit=30". Like this:
UUID=xxxxxxx-xxxxx-xxx-xxxxxx-xxxxxxxxxxx / ext3 noatime,nodiratime,commit=30,errors=remount-ro 0 1

You'll need to do the same in /boot/grub/menu.lst.
On the line "defoptions=quiet splash" line add "rootflags=noatime,nodiratime,commit=30" Like this:
defoptions=quiet splash rootflags=noatime,nodiratime,commit=30

Then run $sudo update-grub.

- If you don't mind losing all your browser cache every boot, you can do this put all your disk cache in ramdisk:
Open firefox
Goto about:config
Look for "browser.cache.disk.parent_directory"
If it's not there, create it (type string) & set it to "/tmp"

- Optimize the boot readahead cache by reprofiling. Here's how to do it:
Setup the system in exactly the way you want it before doing this.
Press Esc at grub
Edit the kernel line & insert "profile" at end. (without quotes of course)
Press b to boot
Let the system boot normally to the desktop. (It will take much longer)
Once completely booted, do a reboot. (The next boot will be quicker than ever)

Next I'll be experimenting with cpu frequency scaling to improve battery life. I'm still apprehensive about this since this machine is slow as it is. But I'll test it out & we'll see.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

eeebuntu Netbook Remix on the EeePC 701

A few days ago I decided to install eeebuntu permanently into the SSD of my EeePC, I've been running it live off a USB stick & increasingly found it far superior & far more flexible then the Xandros that came with the system. As u can see, I'm cautious about this step as I want to make sure that eeebuntu could effectively replace the Xandros. In this respect, I think the eeebuntu folks did a really great job.

As I increasingly discovered, Xandros did not afford me much flexibility & was in fact not performing well at all on my modest EeePC 701 4G. In operation, eeebuntu was much more responsive due to (I suspect) it's realtime kernel. The drawback though is obviously the boot speed, which I timed at about 1min 9seconds, this was far longer than the 34 seconds it took Xandros to boot. But compromises had to be made if you wanted a modern OS. eeebuntu is based on Ubuntu Hardy 8.04.1.

I'm going to try to detail my experience installing eeebuntu 1.0 NBR (Netbook Remix):
(Check out eeebuntu's Homepage)
- Installation went well without a hitch.
- Post Install, run the sndfix701.sh script in /eeesupport/scripts
- Sound should work fine now, but be careful when adjusting the volume with the Fn+hotkeys, for some reason it adjusts both Master & Front volumes. Adjusting it with the normal volume control works fine. For this I found that by setting the master channel to PCM (instead of Master) helped the volume control become smoother (still doesn't help the hotkeys issue though). In the volume options, I recommend to only enable these items: Headphone, PCM, Front, Microphone & Capture. Set Master & Front to the max & control all volume using only PCM.
- Due to a bug in the installer, the custom repositories used are not in the installed system. This is easy to remedy, simply boot the LiveUSB again, copy out the last 3 entries from /etc/apt/sources.list & put them into the installed system.
- The default ume-launcher has some issues of overlapping text on the 701. After updating to the new ume-launcher, the issue is resolved.
- SD cards will not mount because the system thinks they are optical drives. This is solved by commenting out the /dev/cdrom0 line in /etc/fstab
- I use zsnes to get my doses of old console games. zsnes will start with no sound at first, this is resolved by setting the sound sampling rate to 48000Hz & restarting zsnes with the parameters $ zsnes -ad sdl

Next time, I'll talk about optimizing the OS to boot faster, run faster & write less to the SSD.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

How's Mandy so far?

Been running Mandriva 2008.1 Spring Free for well over a month now, there have been many updates coming through rpmdrake. Most of the obvious bugs were ironed out by the 2nd week, so things are looking good. Here are some random observations:
- I figured out how to disable the annoying meta file download in rpmdrake.
- I found out that compiz works much better with EXA rather then XAA on my intel chip.
- I discovered that Flashplayer will crash Firefox every 2nd youtube video I watched. I later found out this is because Flashplayer 9 is not playing nice with PulseAudio. I have since disabled PulseAudio so I can watch youtube. I'm a freedom hater. I know.

I've had very little chance to hack around & get to know this new Mandriva release. This is in part because of my current work schedule, but it's also because Mandriva & Linux in general has matured to a stage where it almost requires no hacking to make everything work well. Linux is getting to a stage where it could almost just get out the way & let you use the computer. I feel as if a tipping point is near & I'm almost afraid to see what's over the horizon...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Finally upgraded to Mandriva 2008.1 Spring Free

I finally did it today! Got around to backing up all my data & installing a fresh copy of 2008.1 Spring Free.
Just started to play with it a little & already I managed to kill Konqueror once. (by dragging files around)
It's ok, I'm installing Dolphin anyway.

Lets start with some first impressions:
- Multimedia keys on me Tosh are working perfectly, it even has the much needed OSD.
- Rpmdrake has been improved tremendously in speed & reliability, downloading & setting up repos automatically. However, I don't like the behavior of it downloading the info headers every time I click on a package. On my slow line, this takes a good 2 minutes per click.

Haven't had any time to play more with it. So I'll save any more comments till my next post.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

OMG! I'm too busy for Mandriva!!

Mandriva has release 2008.1 Spring, but sadly I've had very little time lately to explore it in any depth. I've just spent the entire March training "How to provide Tech Support for Ubuntu" and the last month attending a course on Solaris 10 Administration. So my head is now full of Ubuntu brown and a lot of old school UNIX unfriendliness.

Well, both Mandriva and Ubuntu have recently released their respective April update. Both releases are significant in their own way. For Ubuntu, it's finally time for their 2nd LTS release. Their last one was 2 years ago.
For Mandriva, this release marks their first Manbo Labs base system release that was developed in collaboration with Turbolinux. I see this as a great move for Mandriva since I personally found Mandriva to have very effective support for eastern languages, their partnership Turbolinux will only strengthen their position in this area.

In the last 2 months haven't spend any time hacking my EeePC, just using it as it was intended & I must say that it's been serving me well. It's been very good to my back & no more aching shoulders lugging a 10 lb laptop.

Well. gotta go back to studying my Solaris books & get ready to deliver training to the support guys. :(

But first, I gotta catch up on my BSG. Season 4 is out man... ;)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Getting hooked on Linux Podcasts

Been really bz with work lately. March & April are hectic months for me. I've been asked to learn-up and deliver training on a couple of topics that are complete new to me. Out of bunch, 2 of the more interesting topics are Ubuntu Desktop & Solaris 10 on x86.

Apparently the local tech support need to be prepared to provide customers support for these OSs. Due to cost cuts I will not be getting any training on Ubuntu. (They assume that since I know Linux, Ubuntu should be simple) I hope they're right.

As for Solaris 10, I've been given an account to get into their e-learning site & I've been going through all their material for 2 weeks now. Some of this old school Unix stuff is really mind bogglingly boring and unnecessarily complicated. It's surprising for me to see a modern day commercial Unix still looks like something out of the 80s. CDE looks truly horrific, I though I'd traveled back in time to 1985.

To keep myself updated in the world of free software I've been listening to a couple of Podcasts that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in Linux.

My 2 favorites are:
lugradio - It's very European, with plenty of English jokes, biased reviews and profanities galore.
linuxoutlaws - A German accent, modest and lighthearted discussions and light on profanities.

Both are excellent Linux Podcasts. I listen with Amarok and can't get enough.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A decent FPS for the EeePC

Because of the limited graphical performance of the EeePC, FPS choices are rather limited, the best I've come across so far is AssaultCube. It's a modified version on Cube that runs very well right away on the EeePC. In order to get better frame rates, you do have to tweak down some of the graphics, but overall it played very well. So if you're looking for a decent FPS to play on the EeePC, do give AssaultCube a go.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Tips for playing wormux on the EeePC

Due the screen resolution limitations of the EeePC, many applications will have windows taller than the screen. This is typically solved by using Alt+Drag to move the window around, typically so you can click the buttons at the bottom.

This resolution also posed some interesting problems for some games, while most games would happily run at 800x480 or 640x480, games such as wormux expects the minimum resolution to be 800x600. So running wormux on the EeePC has a few problems.

Fist off, it's necessary to modify wormux's ~/.wormux/config.xml file to set the desired resolution:
width 800
height 480
full_screen 1

After this you should be able to start the game nicely fullscreen. In the player selection screen you'll see the first problem crop up. Your ok & cancel button are not visible, they are lower down & can't be seen. You can overcome this easily using the keyboard, Enter for OK and Esc for Cancel.

Finally the last obstacle is in actually playing the game. Your right click weapon selection menu is too large & goes beyond the top of the screen. Making it impossible to choose the topmost weapons (such as the Bazooka which incidentally is the most common weapon of choice). Fortunately this last problem is solved using the keyboard shortcuts F1 through F5, these keys will allow you to cycle through and select a weapon/gadget from the 5 categories.

Enjoy blowing up them gimps. :)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Gaming on the Asus EeePC

I figured out that Asus EeePC worked quite well as a portable game machine. I installed Dgen & Snes9x into it, they work great. Playing Contra on it was excellent. I also installed a host of native linux games that all worked out very well.

Here's a list of em:
- abuse
- armagetron
- neverball
- pinball
- supertux
- wormux

I just can't get enough of wormux, it's excellent.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

My new toy - Asus EeePC

Wow, it's been a while since I last posted. Been bz with work & haven't had much time to hack. Over new year, I decided to get myself an Asus EeePC to use as my blog anywhere machine & Starbuck companion. I already have a Toshiba notebook, but at 14.1" & weighing over 4kg with the adapter, it was just too cumbersome to carry around.

I ordered a 4G 701 Galaxy Black EeePC and it arrived within a week hand delivered to my doorstep. Even YouTube cannot describe how truly small, light & portable this thing is. The first thing that strikes me is how impossibly small the keyboard is. It almost looks impossible to type on, even with my relatively small hands. So I'm typing this post to prove to myself that is does work with a little practice.

Overall the OS works just fine for it's intended market. The PDA like icon interface is fine for everyday use but I find it lacking any depth, so I quickly began hacking it into something more usable. I decided to stick with the Xandros because it's very fast & designed to minimize writes to the SSD. Other distros will no doubt need much tweaking in this area.

So this is what I decided to do for now:
- Activate the icewm start menu.
- Populate it with my preferred menus.
- Added essential firefox add-ons
- Run the system update

Overall I found the EeePC to be excellent for me. I'll definitely recommend it to anyone looking an ultra portable companion to their PC or notebook that has wifi and a decent keyboard. In fact I'm so taken by it that I'm posting my Toshiba up for sale.