Going Gecko

Using Linux has always presented me with a lot of choice as to how I want to use it and how it can work for me. I started my Linux journey with Gentoo and stayed with it for many years. But over time I found it didn't fit with my workflow, it was fun to use and I learnt a lot but it required hands on tweaking.

I took the plunge and moved over to Fedora. Not having to compile software at install time or rebuild a lot of packages when a library changed was easier and has saved me time not having to go through packages that failed to compile. Fedora has been a stable system; well it is about a month after a big version update. Having a stable system has allowed me to use the system for actual work. But this stability has also brought a few problems. Stable packages are not always the newest. System packages this isn't a problem with as it's the solid foundation for everything else to run on. But the applications like Libre Office and in my case the Arduino IDE are not guaranteed to be up to date.

The Arduino IDE is in the Fedora repos, it is however 2 releases out of date. I have been trying to use it and have found myself struggling against a few bugs that I know to be fixed in a later version. Looking at the bug tracker for Fedora the version bump has been noted. If the package was in the testing repo allowing me to install the later version at my own risk I would be happy. But it isn't. The alternative option is for me to manually download and install the software. I have no objection to doing this, I often do it for software that is not in a repo. But it is irritating that a package that is in the repo is not keeping pace with upstream even as an unstable package.

The next irritation from Fedora is experimental improvements that make it into a release. Fedora 18 updated my machine with Firewalld, this is a daemon to run a dynamic firewall. This is all well and good but I had written my own firewall script and whilst I like some of the ideas that Firewalld brings I don't feel it should have been forced upon me. Firewalld is a Fedora project and reading up on it development is still ongoing and features being added. I am not happy about placing my faith in this package for security until it has matured. I am all for newer versions of existing packages but not radical changes like this. Fedora was also the first distro to use Gnome 3. The initial release was basic to say the least but it has improved over time. I get the feeling that it is possible to be too near the cutting edge for comfort.

So where does this leave me? Well one options is to go back to Gentoo. What is stopping me doing so at the moment is the changes going on in the background of several distros. Systemd is becoming the standard init system replacing a legacy system. Most distros have moved over to this as a default. The two which don't have this as a default are Gentoo and Debian. Gentoo does support it but this would require some tweaking which I was wanting to get away from. It also rules out Debian.

I had considered Arch Linux. Whilst it seemed to offer the flexibility of Gentoo without the compilation it was not without issues. Certain packages would install without all the dependencies, if I can't guarantee that then its another distro to avoid for a desktop. I'm not ruling out Arch for a very minimal server/netbook installation but for day to day desktop it's not for me.

Linux Mint is an option but it is based upon Debian. Whilst this is not a bad thing I prefer a distro to have it's own base and not be reliant on another distro. Ubuntu is a no go area, it has changed focus to be a testing ground for new ideas and I don't like the direction Canonical are taking it. Mageia has had more uncertainty over the years than I care to remember so it's out. Slackware is a no as its not a Gnome supporting distro. CentOS & Scientific Linux are based off RHEL & Fedora so they are out. So out of the big distros I am left with OpenSuse.

What is there to like about OpenSuse? Well on the face of it quite a bit. One thing that bugged me about Fedora was the fact it's forms were independent of the distro. Gentoo has an integrated community which I liked and OpenSuse seems to have the same. Trying to navigate the Fedora website was a pain. I found myself stumbling over project procedures and guidelines rather than the support and guides which I wanted to refer to. The OpenSuse website by contrast has a link to the forums on the main page and seems more navigable in general.

OpenSuse has better options for software, it makes it easy to search for software in various repos and select stable/unstable packages. The support from forms and wiki appear easy to access. Ultimately OpenSuse may not be as bleeding edge as Fedora but my current experiences suggest this isn't a bad thing. OpenSuse 12.3 is to be released in the next 24 hours. Time to give it a go.

Fixed: Fedora 16 Printing

During my upgrade from Fedora 15 to 16 several things broke, this is nothing new there were alot of major graphical components updated. Those issues were resolved in the week following the F16 release. What I had not expected to break was my network printing setup. In all the years I used Gentoo and upgraded over and over I never had many issues and when I did it was usually my fault.

This time nothing much was apparent aside from printing not working on either the host or client machines. First point of failure was the lack of a running CUPS service on each machine. Ok, so it was stopped during the upgrade and not restarted, annoying but not the end of the world. Still no joy. In the end I found I my previously set sharing settings had changed. With all the other changes in config files being highlighted allowing for manual updates this had slipped through the net. Sharing my printer again in the settings and bingo, everything works as before and auto detects. It has only taken a few minutes of fiddling around to fix but it has been finding those few minutes and being in the right mood to fix it. Hopefully the next upgrade will go a little more smoothly.

Fedora 14 – One Month On

It has been just over a month since I switched my Linux computers from Gentoo to Fedora. I am happy to report that all is going well. There have been a few issues but these are minor annoyances rather than major problems.

The first problem was with my laptop. Having started using it with Fedora 13 and all being well it focused my mind on moving over to Fedora 14 when it was released. The upgrade was simple and initially all was working perfectly. Over time though the back-light control has stopped working. I can hit the key combination to alter the brightness and the on screen display shows a reduction in level. The back-light brightness itself doesn't change. So currently I have to force the level I want it set to using the command line. This is an issue for me as I tend to type more on the laptop and its easier on the eye to have a screen that is not brilliant white glaring back at me.

The second issue was with my new server. I had selected an AMD/ATI graphics card to use for its low power consumption and had checked its driver compatibility before purchasing. The open source drivers would do 2D only but the closed source drivers would support 3D. Setup notes for using the proprietary driver for older versions of Fedora were easy to find. However notes on setting the driver up for Fedora 14 have only recently been made available. This was a little disappointing as I would have expected something as vital as a graphics driver being updated a lot sooner.

My third issue is more an observation on the structure of the Fedora community. There is an official website but the forums are not officially linked to the project. There is a link on the site indicating its existence but for me the two need to be brought together and make it a central point of information in the same way Gentoo has. The Fedora wiki is more focused on the running of the project rather than the unofficial Gentoo wiki which is a great source of setup guides and instructions. Fedora has its documentation project but form my point of view isn't very useful once the system is up and running with the major services setup. Having tried to find things on the Fedora wiki I quickly gave up. A simple keyword search resulted in pages of irrelevant information. Using Google suddenly becomes the better way of searching it.

So to summarise my experiences with using Fedora have been generally positive. Updates have been easier to apply and fewer things have gone wrong. The result is I have spent more time using my Linux machines and less time trying to fix them. The minor issues with the software will be resolved at some point but I can work around them. More of a concern long term is the community structure. This I believe may cause me at some stage to begin looking around for another distro to try. Gentoo was difficult to leave having used it for so long. Now however, distro hopping is alot easier.

No More Gentoo

Over the past month I have been getting to grips with using Fedora 14 on my Laptop, Netbook and Desktop. The install replaces the previous Gentoo installs. My primary reason for switching distribution has been updates and time. To keep machines upto date with security patches Gentoo needed to recompile alot of packages in some cases. This for some things could take time to compile and compile errors would sometimes occur. When things didn't compile it sometimes broke the system in such a way that it would be unusable until it was fixed, this could mean waiting a day or so, especially with the compiling errors. So enough was enough, Fedora with its pre-compiled binary packages was the answer.

Fedora by comparison still updates most days but the packages, being pre-compiled, only take as long to update as it is for them to download and install. This can be in 10-15mins rather than hours for Gentoo. This means I can have my system upto date and still be able to get on with an actual task rather than trying to find fixes. Fedora 14 is not without its flaws, currently my laptop which had been running Fedora 13 has lost the ability to dim the LCD, not a big flaw but its nice to have reduced glare with tired eyes. On the desktop the proprietary AMD/ATI still isn't easily installed without possibly breaking the system this means I lack 3D enhancements to the desktop. That said on install it chose a 2D driver, set the screen resolution correctly and otherwise was the easiest install of an operating system I have ever done.

The community side to Fedora is a little alien, having been used to the focused Gentoo community forum and a handful of 3rd party websites. Fedora likes its wikis but they don't seem to contain the information that I need to use. Maybe this is something I can contribute to in the future but for now its a minor annoyance.

On the netbook Fedora has been a real success, no major issues, it just works. Removing the need to do lengthy updates and compiling on the atom processor has made it easier to use more regularly.

Niggles aside, I like Fedora. I miss some aspects of Gentoo but that might be down to having spent so many years using it and having configured it alot myself. So I'm going to give Fedora a good chance, any distro that can setup a fingerprint scanner automatically and tie it into authentication for applications is a winner in my book.

OpenSUSE, Fedora, Debian & Gentoo – Experiences

Over the past month I was having a little trouble with Gentoo being difficult to maintain (too many things broke at the same time). I decided to try another distro and after some initial reading decided to try Fedora 13 (64bit). The install on my server went smoothly and I had a working machine in no time. Some minor annoyances however caused me to switch back to Gentoo. The main problem was with Fedora introducing a bug somewhere resulting in my mouse cursor disappearing on resuming from the screen saver. Only a reboot could solve that one. The Fedora forums indicated a problem with my integrated graphics chip but didn't offer a working solution. Added to this was the problem with Firefox plugins. Fedora seemed to get in the way a little and prevent them from working normally. So my server is back on Gentoo and running fine now.

A week later my laptop in Gentoo update hell had been neglected and I had ended up with two big updates causing me dependency issues all over the place. Spending several hours compiling only to find yourself back where you started is not good. So it was time for another distro on the laptop this time. Fedora after my previous experiences was put aside and OpenSUSE 11.3 (64bit) selected, the installer was pleasant enough up until the point where it had installed the packages but hung at the point of configuring the system. Several attempts using difference settings all resulted in the same problem not having a working install. So I cant really say anything about OpenSUSE other than that for such a mainstream distro its very disappointing to not even install. A command prompt at least would have been an acceptable result.

Moving on from the failure of OpenSUSE it was Debian 5.0.5 (64bit). The installer although graphical was a little more basic and not quite as intuitive as Fedora or OpenSUSE but it got the job done and I ended up with a working system. What struck me about Debian was the age of packages included, Gnome being several versions behind most of the other distros. Being mindful of the fact that Debian is designed to be more stable than upto date I was satisfied with it as a distribution and I am considering for my next server box. But for a laptop its not exactly what I was after.

I gave Fedora another chance by installing it on the laptop rather than the server. I was more impressed, no cursor bugs and I managed to sort out my issue with the Firefox plugins. Being more satisfied I had a play about and managed to get the fingerprint reader working. All that was required was a few clicks and a few finger swipes. This was a feature I had never enable with Gentoo due to all the extra hassle of having to set it up manually. So far my experiences with Fedora have been good, its especially good if you just want a working system rather than one which is heavily customised.

The Rodent Confusion

For the past few weeks I have been having some performance glitches with the way my mouse interacts with my Linux machine. The mouse would move and the buttons operate normally except for when trying to press and hold the left button for example. The action would appear to terminate after a few seconds and reinitialise. This behaviour was making it impossible to move windowed applications around the desktop. Today however I have solved the problem, which is good from the point of view that it solves the issue and also it means I don't have to spend the next 48hrs recompiling Gentoo and all my applications.

The fix is a simple one. x11-drivers/xf86-input-evdev-2.3.2 was causing the problem, x11-drivers/xf86-input-evdev-2.4.0 solves the problem but is marked as unstable at time of writing. The upgrade from xorg-server-1.6.5-r1 to xorg-server-1.7.6 seems to have been the reason the evdev driver wasn't working as expected, possibly handing the input devices slightly differently from the previous version.

I can happily say the rodent has ceased to be confused.

Mailserver – Another Stage Completed

Over the past couple of weeks I have been moving the mailserver project closer to being ready for actual use and another milestone has been passed. I have now reached the stage where my hotmail and gmail accounts are collected onto the server and made availiable via IMAP.

This has not been without problems, I experinced a problem with mail not getting through the spam filter when sent from the local machine but working fine for the exernally received mail. This has now been resolved, although I have to admit I'm not sure how, mainly because I never fully isolated the actual cause of the problem. I suspect it was the system calling the spam filter multiple times whilst processing a single email. Now the next stage is to test how things work for a week or so and watch out for any more bugs.

There is plenty more documentation to write, every thing about the mailserver configuration is full of options to configure it and I want to make sure I have a reference for the future. I still might be on target for having all my other email accounts on the server by the end of the year.

Kernel Upgrade Day

It has been a long time since I last updated the kernels on my linux machines. I had managed to keep the software up to date but the kernel upgrades are always a little more involved. Today is the day that they were all updated, all the software updated and rebuilt. Optimising the kernels is a little more time consuming and it may take another attempt on my main machines to get rid of any extra drivers and features that are not required.

I wont be suprised to see another kernel released any moment to undo my hard work, its just the way it goes.

Quick Mailserver Update

I have at long last done a little more work on the mailserver project. The latest thing to report is the addition of dspam to filter out spam. In addition to this clamAV is also integrated.

The next step will be to do some more testing and then plug in another application which should make training and using the spam filter a little easier.

The documentation surrounding the addition of dspam and antivirus to the setup I am working on has been very hard to come by and in some cases is conflicting. Having made significant progress recently I am hoping to eventually have my setup production ready by the end of the year*. *Might as well give myself plenty of time.

Xorg-Server Upgrade Nightmare

Recently when applying the updates to my Gentoo Linux machines a new version of Xorg-Server was presented. Normally package updates are straight forward, this one on the other hand needed a big change in drivers and config files. My main issue with the upgrade is the poor upgrade documentation, there is a lack of detail surrounding the conversion of the old config file into the new config file. Now I can see the reasoning behind the change in config file syntax, it now provides fine grained control of options on a per device basis whilst allowing for common options to be applied to mutiple devices.

I found myself booting one of my laptops and discovering the keyboard and mouse wouldn't work. This meant I could not login and change the config files. My way around this was to boot into a rescue shell, disable the xdm service running the graphical login screen and editing the config file from the command line where the keyboard worked.

My second laptop was not as much trouble but proved a little tricky by insisting on giving me a US English keyboard layout instead of GB English. This was partly my fault in that I had had missed out a set of quotes on one line of the new config file. I discovered that if a set of attributes were added to the section of the config that dealt with my mouse and they were not recognised it would not process the entire file resulting in the correct keyboard settings not being processed. This leads me back to my initial problems with the quality of the upgrade documentation not outlining common issues.

Lets get on to another issue now, getting my mouse buttons to work, previously I had specified some options in the old config to remap the forward and back buttons onto the hozizontal movement of the scroll wheel. The upgrade documentation lead me to believe I could transfer the options across to the new config, but this lead to the problem I described previously with the options not being recognised. Instead I have had to specify my button map in the .Xmodmap file in my home directory. In someways its a better place to put it but it would have been handy if the upgrade guide had given me a pointer that this was the way to achieve the result.

I now have 1 of my 4 machines fully upgraded, the rest can wait until the weekend.