Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reviving Old Hardware

Alan D. Moore has written an excellent series on reviving an old PC with Linux.
Part I:  Defining  Expectations
Part II:  Hardware Compatibility and Prep
Part III:  Understanding Linux Distros
Part IV:  Fully Lightweight Distros
Part V:  The Remixes
Going through all of these will give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect trying to revive old hardware, and what you can do.  He's done a lot better on this than I would ever have.

Monday, October 22, 2012

OpenSUSE 12.2

I've bought myself an EVGA GT630 GPU. It was a close call between that and a 9800GT, but the GT630 won on two points: it has openGL 4.2, vs 3.1, and it only draws 20A on the 12V rail, vs 26A (my PSU provides 28A). So now I can try all those distros with current and perhaps even cutting-edge versions of Xorg. My first? OpenSUSE 12.2 32 bit edition.

I downloaded i686 Studio MATE edition from OpenSUSE's susestudio 12.2 gallery. Click the CD/USB icon to download. You'll have to log into one of six online social networks; I used Google.

The browser for the appliance is Chromium. Fonts are TERRIBLE. The installer is in System > Administration > Live installer ... one of 53 menu entries. It brought up YasT2 (which I am going to render yast2 from now on), which searched for license information and did not find it. I presumed GPLv2 or 3, and accepted blindly. It was so SLUGGISH!! It could not mount my HDs, which made me a little wary; I like to look at the partitions I am using before installing. I remembered that I like to do installs with my data disk unpowered, aborted, and decided to use the netinstall version, which I had previously downloaded and burned to disk, instead.

I considered Luna OS from susestudio but it's Greek language. I also considered Aurora, which could have been faster than the net install. I spent a while browsing the suseStudio gallery searching for those links, and just about anyone can post just about anything there. There's stuff there that looks like it was posted on facebook (one of the social networks that can be used to authenticate for downloads; others include Twitter, Yahoo!, OpenID, and Novell). The suse studio gallery looks interesting, but there's a lot of garbage remixes there, and I'm not willing to spend my time sifting through whatever errors get included in whatever remix I might get. Next time I install opensuse, I'm going for the DVD.

Before I found a new susestudio appliance I was interested in trying, NetInstall was already downloading installation components. The yast2 installer is fairly comprehensive, and allows you to be as granular as you need fairly granular. System Probing took absurdly long, at least 30 min. I had to leave for a few hours before the install could complete, but as I expected the install to need at least two more hours to finish, I saw no issues. My screen was shut down when I got back, and I could not bring it back up. I had to do a hard shutdown.

I got opensuse updates: first, ran install/remove software (yast2, no packagekit included, huzzah) & grabbed ONLY pre-marked yast2 zypper updates. When they finished, yast2 automatically restarted. Then I could download the larger updates. The most annoying thing: NO estimated time to complete either downloads or installs. I then grabbed nvidia drivers from this page. Bear in mind that openSUSE uses Xorg v. 1.12, which ATI does not support, and the 3.4.11 Linux kernel, configured for i586. Some of those appliances posted on the Suse studio use i686 kernels, but I am content.

Then I added Wine. This involves going to this page here, getting the URL, pasting it into yast2, refreshing the repos, and downloading & installing wine (the largest part of which was wine-mono, big surprise, followed by wine-gecko). Annoyingly, yast2 closed entirely after finishing. That's not the only annoying thing about SUSE's package management. When patching or installing, it usually does not tell you how much you will download, how much you have downloaded, how much remains to download, or how much time remains for the downloads to finish. It still downloads one package (or delta) at a time, installs it, and then moves on to download the next. That's one thing I dislike about openSUSE's package management, especially in comparison to APT, which connects to the repos, downloads everything, tells you how long downloads will take, and then installs everything.

Then I went to get other software I wanted: conky, chromium-browser (called chromium in openSUSE, and prone to overlaying graphical flash video content from one tab or window onto others, even on different desktops; see updates below), irssi, pidgin, kpat (had surprisingly few new kde dependencies), leafpad, xscreensaver-data-extra, midori. Ace of Penguins, nethack, and mousepad weren't in the repositories. Libreoffice, w3m, galculator, and abiword 2.8.6 were already installed. I couldn't think of anything else at the time.

I ran gnomesu nvidia-settings and put in my preferred resolution, 1280x1024, which worked. I tried to save my configuration to file, which did not. I created the file in my home directory, which was a poor solution. I finally remembered what the better one is, when there is no Xorg.conf file, which is to run nvidia-xconfig as root.

I discovered that PCmanFM was not configured to use the only included text editor -- beaver -- to open .txt files! Nano was not installed either; I used zypper to do so from the command line.

I got 46 fps in my normal test spot in Grizzly Hills. I then arranged my addons to suit, added a few, removed some unused addons, and got about 44-45 fps. By comparison, Madbox gives 38-39 FPS, but 25 fps when I alt-tab away from & back to WoW. I can't figure out why that happens. I think the newer kernel (i586 3.4 vs i386 3.2) and the newer Xorg (a consideration I didn't know about before) are the sources of improved framerates. And, of course, nobody runs Linux as heavy as Ubuntu.

My current addons:
  • Auctioneer Advanced suite, incl. BeanCounter, Enchantrix, and Informant
  • BagSync
  • Butsu
  • Cellular
  • ColorTools
  • Cutup - MoP (rogues only)
  • GnomishVendorShrinker
  • LagBar (which has replaced several LDB feeds; I need to try switching between the LDB feeds and LagBar, to see which provides better framerates)
  • LDB_PitchSpeed
  • LoadIT
  • LonnyCastingBar
  • NinjaPanel
  • OmniCC
  • OmniCC Config
  • Peddler
  • PeskyText
  • RepairGear
  • Status Bars 2 (I use the thick version)
  • Stubby
  • Swatter
  • TargetClassButton (something I find VITAL for PvP)
  • TasteTheNaimbow
  • teksLoot
  • TomTom
  • tullaRange
  • tullaRange Config
  • xanAutoMail
  • xanDurability (which has replaced another LDB feed)
  • alDamageMeter
I may reinstall focusframe, if I start playing DPS in instances. It's important to keep track of the tank.

My wife bought me a Dell N5110 laptop for about $500 last year. It has a 2 GHz Intel quad Core i3 Sandy Bridge CPU, 3GB of onboard RAM shared with the Intel onboard graphics, and Windows 7. Since use of Windows captive software is sometimes required to pass classes (and just about impossible to avoid in my chosen field), I've kept Win7 on the lappy, dual booting with Linux Mint 13 "Maya" 64 bit, with both Cinnamon and MATE desktops. The laptop also has 4 USB ports and a VGA port. This allowed my stepson to play World of Warcraft on it, using a real keyboard, monitor, and mouse when his desktop PSU died recently. I've taken to doing the same. WoW under Win7 with DirectX 11 on the laptop underperforms WoW in Wine with OpenGL under openSUSE on my desktop system (specs in the sidebar), giving 41FPS at my benchmark spot in Grizzly Hills. This is a loss of only 3-4 FPS, and WoW under DirectX11 in Win7 doesn't have some of the graphical issues that crop up for me using OpenGL under Wine.

Here's what they are: I don't get a pointer for my character on the world map; I have to guess where I am. There is not one ingame 3d model viewer that works under Wine: not those on quests, not the character UI, not the dressing room, not the mount journal, not some of the unitframes I've made the mistake of trying. Similar issues eventually cleared up for me as Wine 1.1.x got better and better through BC and WotLK. Will Wine 1.5.x (currently 1.5.15) get to that point? I don't know, but I hope so. In the meantime, I spent some time on the AppDB making sure I'm configuring correctly. According to comments on the WoW 5.x page on WineHQ's AppDB, it appears that these issues apply to the OpenGL implementation of WoW, which the WoW devs really only use for debugging (and the MacOSX client, because OS X doesn't have DirectX support). I had a complete lockup immediately after completing the 3d & final objective of a quest, so bad I couldn't even change caplock/numlock. I had to hold down the power button to shut down. With further testing, this happened 2 more times, on the same toon and on a different one, generally after a couple hours of questing. I edited /etc/sysctl.conf to add vm.swappiness = 0. Disabling swap in this manner has done my framerates good before, and I can believe that Wine's handling of swap could be problematic. At the same time, I changed my graphics API in ~/.wine/drive_c/Programs/World of Warcraft/WTF/ to SET gxapi "D3D9". This cleared up the graphics issues, and I haven't had a lockup since. In D3D9, the framerate at the test spot in Grizzly Hills is 36 FPS or so. This isn't as fast as my laptop, and quite a bit slower than OpenGL, but it's fast enough for me. Right now, openSUSE 12.2 is my desktop distro of choice for playing WoW or word processing, as it still have the stable and sane version of Abiword, 2.8.

Next distro? I've considered Kororaa 18 and Salix OS 14. One day I'll try an Arch derivative again. Upgrading Madbox to Quantal Quetzal (which is here, though Madbox 12.10 is not) went poorly; I have two instances of my networking interface in the panel, and while they both CLAIM eth0 is connected, nothing loads). Or I might go for stripped down Debian Wheezy, in the form of CrunchBang Waldorf. Right now, I have #! 11 Waldorf & Lubuntu 12.10 downloaded. I think the idea of a lean, clean Debian system appeals to me more. But I'll have to get caught up at school before I install any new distros. If anyone wants to suggest something else, I'd love to hear about it.


Some issues have cropped up. There's a flash bug I can't screenshoot. My best guess is that flash content is drawn to the root window, because it will show up inside any other window that's at the same spot on the screen, regardless of what desktop you are using, or what tab you have open in your browser. Maybe I should try installing Windows versions of FF &/or SRWare Iron, to see what happens.

Speaking of Firefox, my default sans serif font got ugly. I changed the default font to Liberation Sans, and the issue cleared up.

Update II

Not that Madbox (ie, Ubuntu 12.04 w/ an openbox DE) doesn't have its flash issues; the flashplayer (and in fact some PDF readers) reverse red and blue values. That at least doesn't happen in openSUSE. And, I've added a flashblock extension to Chromium, and I'm not having the issue with Flash any more.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Kororaa 17 "Bubbles" 32 Bit

I've been interested in Kororaa, as it intends to be to Fedora about what Ubuntu is to Debian (or perhaps as Mint is to Ubuntu). The developer takes Fedora, adds and configures RPMFusion (and perhaps other 3d party repos) to enable easier access to captive software, like drivers, codecs, and so forth.

I chose 32 bit because even though Mists of Pandaria has both 32 and 64 bit clients, I want to stay with the more mature and stable 32 bit branch of Wine. I chose GNOME in the hope that it would be lighter than KDE. I could not find a torrent, so I downloaded it with wget.

Kororaa boots to a clean desktop with icons for Computer, Home, Help, Install to Hard Drive, Trash, and a README.pdf meant to guide new users. It has a dark blue wallpaper featuring a stylized Kororaa logo, different from the penguin logo on Distrowatch. The logo owes to the Fedora logo, taking the infinity-symbol cutouts and rearranging them. The readme includes instructions for installing captive video drivers from ATI and nVidia, flash support, and skype, as well as instructions for getting help and solving problems.

The default desktop is pretty much vanilla GNOME 3.4. The user menu includes a "Power Off" option. Windows include a maximize button, but not a minimize button. They can still be minimized by hitting alt-space to bring up the window menu, and N to minimize. There is a menu editor, but I don't know how to access the menu it edits. I'm guessing it's for either Cinnamon, Cinnamon 2D, or Fallback mode.

The default activities menu is opened by either hitting the Super/Windows key on the keyboard, clicking Activities in the upper left corner, or mousing into the most upper left pixel, and includes Firefox (at v13), Empathy IM client, Evolution (for email), VLC, shotwell for photos, libreoffice writer, files (the Nautilus file manager), and Install to Hard Drive. It also shows all open windows. Nautilus is configured to mount any internal drives when you click on them in the side pane, and automatically mounts any USB drives.

Other applications can be brought up by clicking on "Applications" when you bring up Activities. The icons are large, clear, and attractive, except for a couple having to do with SELinux. There is a lot of software installed by default, including most of the default GNOME desktop apps. Kororaa mostly favors GNOME native apps over other GTK apps for the same thing, eg Empathy rather than Pidgin, Evolution rather than Thunderbird, and so on. The obvious exceptions are web browsing and office, and given the atrocious bugginess that is Abiword 2.9 and the annoyance that is Epiphany (now called Web). I've successfully used Firefox, Chromium, Midori, Dillo, Iceweasel, Iceape, and opera, but never Epiphany. I don't doubt that I could, but why bother?

I could not get a terminal to launch in the live session. Post-install, I used "sudo yum update" to get all updates, and there were a lot. Delta downloads were only available for about half of the updates; I wound up downloading about 300MB of the 500MB that I would have had to without delta RPMs.

Jockey wasn't able to fetch fglrx/Catalyst, the ATI proprietary GPU driver. Instead of doing research, or re-reading the readme, I used yumex to install it, ran aticonfig, and borked X. Further research showed that ATI's fglrx/Catalyst driver only supports X up to version 1.11. According to Distrowatch, Kororaa 17 has version 1.12.2, so Kororaa is not going to work for me unless I get an nVidia GPU. For that matter, neither will openSUSE 12.2, which has xorg 1.13.0, or anything based on Debian Wheezy (xorg 1.12, apparently includes MEPIS), Sabayon, or Arch. This doesn't leave me with too many options.

Right now I'm looking at Stella (CentOS 6.3 with extra repos pre-congifured and captive codecs included) and Salix 13.37 (the lazy man's Slackware), and perhaps a Debian Squeeze distro. Stable takes us all the way back to xorg 1.7.7 (for example, Saline OS 1.7, CrunchBang Statler). The first to occur to me was Solus 1.2 (xorg 1.10). Other possibilities include:
  • antiX (if I can find an M11 ISO)
  • Litrix (if I'm willing to use a Brazilian Gentoo-based live distro and the Gentoo documentation)
  • Papug
  • Overclockix (based on Squeeze; I may actually overclock now!)
  • PCLOS (one of these days, I have to learn to compile stuff from source, so I can have up-to-date Wine on PCLOS)
  • Resulinux
  • SnowLinux
  • Ututo (a Spanish gentoo distro)
  • Vector Linux
  • Zenwalk
So if it weren't for my long-standing desire to try CentOS by way of Stella, I'd probably try something based on Debian Stable, Slackware, or Gentoo.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bodhi Linux 2.0

Bodhi Linux 2.0.0 32 bit

I've been looking forward to trying Bodhi Linux for quite some time. My preferred environment for playing WoW is generally an Ubuntu-based distro with as light a GUI as possible, since Ubuntu makes getting things like captive drivers for my GPU, the captive Adobe flash plugin, and captive codecs so easy, and lightweight because my hardware is so far behind the curve. GUIs don't come much lighter than Enlightenment (e17 henceforth), the environment used in Bodhi. It was considered outrageously featureful and bloated with eye candy back in 1997, when my brother-in-law the linux guru first demonstrated it to me. It remains featureful and beautiful. But by today's standards, it is airweight. Typically, only window managers not noted for aesthetics, like Fluxbox (the ugliest GUI I've ever used), manage to be anywhere near as light as E17, only without all its features.

Jeff Hoogland builds Bodhi only on LTS releases of Ubuntu, which seems reasonable to me. However, Lucid's version of X doesn't support a more advanced version of fglrx than pre-9, so I had to wait until he got his Pangolin-based version released. The download links on Bodhi's site were all broken when I got there, so I joined the IRC channel (#bodhilinux on, got a link to the torrent seed from a friendly person in the chat, and read Bodhi's get started guide for E17 while downloading and burning ISO. This turned out to be a very good idea, as we will see later.

Live System: Not for the faint of heart

My system is built on an ABIT KN8 Ultra v1.1 motherboard, running an AMD Athlon dual-core 3800 socket 939 CPU, with 3GB of RAM and a 512 MB ATI Radeon 4670 PCIe GPU. I tried the Radeon safe boot first. Errors scrolled past faster than I could read, except that they strobed to where the same error was in the same spot often enough to form some continuity of vision:

Failed to allocate
size: 7680000 bytes
alignment: 0 bytes
domains: 2

After that, more highspeed error scrolling, something about drm:radeon_ttm_backend_bind, if I recall correctly. It eventually stopped after about 45 seconds.

The system eventually got to a tty, but startx wasn't installed, so that was a no-go. Same errors and results for the xvesa boot option. The standard live boot did eventually reach a desktop--sort of (while also scrolling the failed to allocate and drm:radeon_ttm_backen_bind errors). I got a message: "Enlightenment crashed early on start and has been restarted. All modules have been disabled and will not be loaded to help remove any problem modules from your configuration. The module configuration dialog should let you select your modules again." In practice, this meant I got an empty panel (shelf, in e17 speak) and a dialog box to add modules. There were eight tabs, with 5 showing. I added the menu, task bar/window list, system tray, pager, and clock. I couldn't find the installer. But I haven't been messing around with Ubuntu and its multitude of derivatives for years without learning anything of use. For example, Ubuntu's default installation program is called Ubiquity. So I started the Everything module (which has functionality rather like Gnome-Do and Beagle, as well as acting as a run dialog) and started typing "ubi" and there it was: "Install Bodhi Linux." The Run Everything module is bound to Ctrl-Esc and Win-Space, rather than the Alt-F2 or Win-R bindings I'm used to. I later found the installer in the Enlightenment menu, at Settings > All > System > Install Bodhi 12.04

After selecting language and ticking the "download updates while installing" box Ubiquity asked me if I wanted to unmount the mounted partitions on my disk. I did, as it is not possible to create, edit, or format partitions on a disk with any partitions mounted. If I recall correctly, this is the first live CD to mount my partitions by default. This behavior of mounting everything carried over into the installed distro. I installed Bodhi into my Lynx partitions. Ubiquity was flawless, as usual.

Leafpad had picked up a quirk or two (or rather, there are some quirks in e17 that affect conventional GUI text editors). I could not use ctrl-shift-left or ctrl-shift-right to select words of text. Ctrl-left and ctrl-right worked as expected, as do ctrl-shift-up and C-S-down. Alt-f4 shifted me to the 4th virtual desktop instead of closing the app with focus. Using E17 was clearly going to involve either lots of reconfiguring, or re-training myself. My first impression was that having mouseover focus was going to be bad, as I run WoW in a 1280x960 window on a 1600x1200 desktop. My second reason for disliking mouseover focusing is that anything that requires me to use a mouse costs productivity.

Installed System

Post-install, I needed about 25 updates totaling about 17MB, not bad. Bodhi really is minimalist. The Bodhi Linux Appcenter is a set of web pages, and as with the Mint and Ubuntu app centers, you have to provide your password to approve every installation request. I despise that sort of behavior, which is why I continue to prefer Synaptic. So I started Synaptic back up, and went to get my "must have" apps: ace-of-penguins, chromium-browser, conky, firefox, galculator, the GIMP, irssi, LibreOffice, mousepad, nethack, pidgin, xchat, ubuntu-restricted-extras, and w3m. Bodhi's default file manager was PCManFM. I did not find Enlightenment file manager on my system or in Synaptic.

Then I installed Wine 1.4, the stable version in the Ubuntu repositories. It will probably break when Mists of Pandaria launches, but I want to see how it compares, and I want to have a different version to use in case the development branch breaks again, as it did in 1.5.5. That's about 147 MB of download. Starting RAM use with Conky and a second shelf carrying the cpu, mem, and net gadgets was around 150-160MB.

E17 first impressions

I chose the A-miguel theme to start. It provides a very fine green line around the sides and bottom of the title bar of the window with focus, and green vs. grey window control buttons. Menus used fuzzy effects on the text, blech! Of those provided in the default installation, my preferred theme was bodhi-detourious. One of the really handy things in e17 is the ability to lock windows so that I cannot accidentally resize or move them. Such locks are usually removed when I change themes, but no big deal.

So here's what I think a good theme has: Good contrast between text and its background, regardless of whether we're discussing title bars, app windows, buttons, menus, disabled options, or anything else; light text should be on dark backgrounds, and vice vera, and backgrounds should absolutely NEVER be both bright and dark. (This is the primary reason I miss the Varmint Vapor Vestry, absolutely the worst offender ever on this count.) Sharp-edged text using legible fonts. Very obvious differences between the window decorations of the focus window, and other windows (or at least between the title bars of the focus window and other windows). Fairly bright, cool colors. I like combinations like green and white, green and gold, red and gold, purple and white, and (though it's not easy to get the sort of contrast I like) gold and white or gold and black. One of the great things about e17 is that it's been around a good long while, and its community LOVES designing themes. Just check out for some idea. I just have to figure out where they should go.

The AppCenter has a metapackage with about 320 MB of e17 themes. Agust, who builds most of these themes, differs from me in that he tends to make unfocused windows darker and more legible than focused windows. He thinks that slight changes in saturation are all that are needed to make it perfectly clear which window has focus (or else he adds a shiny gradient, which I like better). He probably works with a lower resolution than I do (or has sharper eyes; I'm starting to get presbyopic), as a number of otherwise serviceable themes have title bars with fine print text. But some of the effects he throws in, like the animated red "zing" that zips across a menu item when you select it in the A-Red-Night-Bodhi theme, are so cool that it's almost a crying shame not to use them. Or the animation that flashes across a titlebar left-to-right when a window gains focus in some of the Apple-esque themes. There are a lot of them I would really, really like if the text wasn't so tiny. Or so close in color to the background. Or both. Who would have thought that there would be disadvantages to a 19" 1600x1200 monitor? No doubt all of this is configurable, but I haven't drilled down enough into e17 to figure out how. (Edit: The fonts module WAS able to assign new fonts, once I ticked the box for custom font classes. Unfortunately, elements like buttons and title bars do not resize themselves to accomodate.)

Conky annoyed me. The own_window_transparent part did not work. Neither did some other settings when launched from the everything module. But you can set up an e17 shelf with clock, CPU, memory, and networking gadgets. You can't get the graphs you can in Conky, though. Getting good contrast can be an issue. I absolutely despise text on a varicolored background, but apparently a lot of gadget designers don't.

Captive Drivers

According to a conversation with Jeff Hoogland in #bodhilinux on, Jockey doesn't work in Bodhi, which does not use the default Ubuntu kernel. There's a howto for installing fglrx on their forums (see, and a script for installing the nVidia drivers. But Synaptic told me otherwise; the only kernel installed was the generic kernel from ubuntu's repositories. So when the manual install method resulted in fglrx v8.97.100, I decided to install Jockey-GTK and use that. It too installed fglrx v 8.97.100, which turns out to be the version I'm using in Madbox. I am now officially annoyed with myself for having overwritten my install of Lucid Lynx. Next time around, I think I'll try the open source radeon driver first. It does at least let me run my preferred resolution properly.

Framerates were lower than in Madbox. My benchmark spot in Grizzly Hills (29.7, 50.2, facing north, with the base of the falls lined up with my shoulderpads) gave me a framerate of 27-28 fps. (Madbox's framerates are also lower than they were at 27-30 vs 32, but I have more addons now. And yes, I'm still running around in Northrend. I want some heirlooms, and I'd rather get them through the tournament.) I can't say for sure whether the lower framerate is due to e17's endemic animations, gradients, and other eye candy taking more RAM and processor cycles, or that up to date development versions of Wine have an edge over stable versions. I also need to double check if it's due to some weird graphical options settings reset.


Bodhi is a suitable distribution for playing World of Warcraft in Wine, and the stable version of Wine works well for World of Warcraft. But be prepared to either play fullscreen, or change a LOT of settings in e17. And alt-tabbing into and out of fullscreen can be problematic.

Things to try in the near future: Kororaa 17 "Bubbles" (Fedora plus codecs & Jockey), Stella Linux 6.3 (CentOS configured with third party repos for codecs, flash, & other captive software, for doing real work), and openSUSE 12.2 (delta updates, something I really wish they'd put into apt).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ubuntu Lucid Lynx 10.04.4

Just for the heck of it, I went and grabbed the latest i386 ISO for Ubuntu Lucid Lynx, 10.04.4, to see just how well the old workhorse works for WoW, what with Cataclysm's appdb page suggesting that one should use Wine Stable 1.2 for preference. End of Life for the desktop is going to be April 2013, not far away. But then, I'm used to installing a distro every month or two, so I'm hardly going to go that long without finding something better. And even if I don't, I'm sure some community will step up to keep Lucid going, the way there are communities still supporting Dapper Drake (6.06).

Installation was with Ubiquity. The idea that one should specify partitions first and configuration and account information second, while the system is being copied over, came after this release. There were about 200 GB of updates to download.

This was the release where Canonical moved the window controls to the left from the right, something that annoyed a lot of people. This can be corrected by the simple expedient of selecting System > Preferences > Appearance and selecting any theme besides Ambiance or Radiance. This was the first thing I changed. The second was to start getting some of my favorite packages: abiword, ace-of-penguins, chromium-browser, conky, galculator, gnome-colors, the GIMP, midori, nethack, pidgin, xchat, and ubuntu-restricted-extras. The third was to change the desktop setup from two panels to one.

Gnome 2.30.1 is very RAM-efficient. It starts out using perhaps 120 MB of RAM, better than MadBox 12.04. Even more amazing, it returns to that when you kill all your open apps. I remember other reasons why I liked the Gnome 2.x: it's so easy to set up window decorations, widgets, keyboard shortcuts, the panel, and everything else to suit my preferences. Openbox has OBConf and the GTK appearance setting app to do most of these, but keyboard shortcuts are hacked into the appropriate XML file at ~/.config/openbox/*rc.xml.

I've also installed Mint 13 Maya 64-bit Cinnamon on my laptop. Compared to getting new window decorations in Cinnamon (Cinnamon Settings > Themes > second tab the name of which escapes me > choose a window decoration theme from the appropriate dropdown > go to the Cinnamon control applet in the panel > select Troubleshooting > Restart Cinnamon) it was very straightforward. The keyboard shortcuts manager is equally straightforward. I still have no idea how to effectively set up keyboard shortcuts in Cinnamon, as the GNOME settings manager doesn't seem to do the trick. Perhaps restarting Cinnamon will do that for me as well. I may also install MATE and see how it works.

I understand making the move from GTK+ 2 to GTK+ 3, as it is able to do so many more things, but does the resulting DE (Gnome-shell) have to take up so much more RAM? Does it really have to have compositing? I have yet to see compositing do anything useful. Animating window opens, closes, resizes, moves, desktop transitions, etc. does not count. Having previews instead of mere icons as you alt-tab may be one candidate of something useful that comes from compositing, but only if it doesn't confuse you as to which window you're choosing, or require you to pick one with the mouse. That is something KDE 4.x has done well -- the record flip window switcher is especially intuitive, as is the one that looks like a casement window.

Some apps are kept much more up to date than others. The office suite is OOo 3.2 (well behind LibreOffice 3.5, the current version) while Firefox is current at 13.0.1. Chromium lags back at 18 (as it does in Precise Pangolin; Google has released 22 stable for Windows and OSX).

In order to get the best possible experience, I decided that I would download and install the very latest from the manufacturer's site and install in runlevel 3, instead of using Jockey-GTK to install two-year-old ATI drivers. Then I did some research and discovered the Ubuntu-X team's PPA... which has an fglrx-installer for Lucid dated 18 December 2010. So that's out. I decided to try these instructions instead. Unfortunately, I was unable to download the 12.6 Beta drivers from for the first few days. Later tries worked. I had to run the file with a ./ prefix to get it to work, and.... it offered to install the same Catalyst driver that Jockey did. The limitation appears to be the version of Xorg installed. Since I have no idea how to upgrade that by myself, my journey ends here.

I'll be keeping Lucid as a working environment anyways, for a while at least. I may also cover it over with some other distro not suited to playing World of Warcraft, like #! 11 Waldorf, Linux Mint Debian Edition, or some other Debian-based distro. I found I actually missed using Gedit, Nautilus, and Abiword, instead of Mousepad, PCManFM, and LibreOffice Writer. I've said (and believed) for years that I can readily adapt to almost any desktop environment, but it appears I really am most at home in Gnome 2.x. I have no idea what I'll do next (though you can bet I'm going to try Bhodi 2.0 when Jeff Hoogland gets it done), but odds are I'll look for a distro based on Debian Testing with either a KDE 4 or modified Gnome 3 environment -- except that I just saw that CentOS has released 6.3, and that is a distro with the same sort of basing (kernel 2.6.32, Gnome 2.28) as Lucid, only with End of Life lots further off, in 2017. I will probably stick with the open source Radeon driver, as it can implement 1280x1024 on my monitor properly.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Madbox 12.04 i386

When I saw that the Wine PPA for Ubuntu had advanced to 1.5.7, I said I'd try a new Ubuntu-based distro to use with it. Lubuntu is my perennial favorite, but I decided I'd go for something even leaner: Madbox 12.04.

A bit of history: After Philip Newborough, the creator of CrunchBang Linux, rebased from Ubuntu to Debian, a number of folks stepped up to try to provide a lightweight distro using OpenBox based on current Ubuntu releases, cos first, that was what they liked, and second, CrunchBang 10 "Statler" was slow in coming. These included UberBang (only one version, based on Lucid Lynx 10.04), Masonux (last version based on Karmic Koala 9.10), and perhaps a couple of others. One of the folks in the #! community that goes by ADcomp also stepped up, and created Madbox. Philip says it is the implementation most like what he originally had in mind, and most true to his original vision. The ISO file is right here, and the md5sum is 34382c7847f51195a12d5884e178af7f. I couldn't find a torrent seed.

The live CD starts with a graphical GRUB2 bootloader, that allows you to choose between Belgian, French, and US (qwerty) keyboards, with Belgian as the default. It goes by VERY fast, in a mere five seconds or so. Don't blink or you'll miss it. The ISO is very lean at 375MB. As you would expect, applications are sparse: lxpanel, lxterminal, chromium-browser, PCManFM, geany for editing, Mirage for graphics, ePDFViewer for office, GNOME MPlayer, PulseAudio Volume Control, HTop, UXTerm, XTerm, GParted, networkmanager, OBConf, and lxde-appearance. If you select "Run" from the panel menu, you get lxpanelctl-run, but if you hit alt-F2, you get gmrun. This is because of an issue I'd seen elsewhere in LXDE; for whatever reason, if you modify the Openbox config file at all (found at ~/.config/openbox/something-rc.xml -- something may be nothing, lxde, or lubuntu), and set a keybinding to launch lxpanelctl-run it launches beneath whatever app has focus, and you have to alt-tab to it. It's the same with PCManFM. Incidentally, I am not currently having that issue with lxpanelctl-run in Madbox. I'm not sure if I set up the keybinding before or after adding lxde-core, but lxpanelctl-run behaves itself in Madbox's OpenBox environment. PCManFM still launches behind whatever app has focus. I will probably install Thunar to fix this.

Which reminds me of something else: when you resize lxterminal, you get some graphical corruption. I've seen this since lubuntu 11.10. Here's a pretty bad example:
Image Hosted by
Shot at 2012-07-02
This is something else I've been seeing for some time. The environment recovers if you move another window over the corrupted area. My solution is really simple: ROXterm.

Installation was with Ubiquity. Downloading and installation took 21 minutes. After you finish selecting your timezone and configuring your account, there is no slideshow, only a progress bar. Post-install, I had to update 313 packages (about 12 minutes of downloads at 200k/s) and add a lot of stuff. The repos were decidedly sluggish, which is odd: I'm in the South of the US, and the downloads from never quite reached 200kb/s, and I know I can get as much as 360kb/s. Maybe it's because I told Ubiquity I was in New York. Further investigation revealed that I'm getting transfer rates no higher than about 200KB/s, regardless of anything. I shall have to contact my ISP.

I started with synaptic, mousepad, jockey-gtk, abiword (v2.9.2, which is a buggy piece of crap that blacks out its rulers and will occasionally kick me out of my desktop session to the display manager when I click on a menu), and ubuntu-restricted-extras, then set out to fix fstab. Problem: blkid didn't work quickly, the way I'm used to it doing. It started and nothing happened, for many minutes. I don't know why. On to other things, like xchat, irssi, w3m, pidgin, and firefox.

Then I discovered that there is another way to list UUIDs: ls -l /dev/disk/by-uuid > uuids.txt which worked like a charm (except for not showing labels). With that, I had no problem editing fstab to meet my needs.

I cannot invoke graphical programs with gksu using gmrun. In every case, I found myself creating a root terminal (use sudo su and provide your password) and invoking graphical programs from those, including synaptic, gparted, jockey-gtk and amdcccle, until I opened the menu item's Properties in the lxpanel-menu and changing the command to gksu [foo]. This worked for synaptic, but not amdcccle or gparted.

Jockey-gtk did its usual excellent job of installing proprietary graphical drivers. Catalyst STILL can't get my Hitachi CM751 CRT monitor to run at 1280x1024, which is one of its native resolutions. Instead, it runs it at 1600x1200, but only uses 1280x1024 pixels, centered. All 4:3 native resolutions work fine. To keep framerate comparisons honest, I run WoW in a 1280x900 window like I did at 1280x1024, but on my 1600x1200 desktop.

Framerates were generally ok, but whenever anything loaded -- a death animation, a set of particle effects, my mount -- the screen froze up for a second or so. Given how often particle effects and death animations go off in combat, this was not acceptable. I investigated. It turns out that my file (location: ~/.wine/drive_c/Program Files/World of Warcraft/WTF/ had lost a setting I'd set along the way:
SET gxAPI "openGL"
No idea why. But that was the issue.

Starting RAM usage in Madbox 12.04 is about 150MB, only about 60MB leaner than with openSUSE 12.1 lxde. But either Ubuntu (compared to openSUSE) or Wine 1.5.7 (vs. Wine 1.5.6) seems to run leaner. openSUSE 12.1 swiftly ramped up to about 65-70% of my 2.95GiB of available RAM while running the game, while Madbox 12.04 took hours of play to reach that level of usage.

Eventually, I added the lxde-core desktop environment, which has overcome pretty much all of the annoyances I had with Madbox's default behavior, while only using perhaps 50-60MB more RAM. The end result? I went to my test spot (Grizzly Hills, 29.7, 50.2, facing north, with the bottom of the waterfall lined up with my shoulderpads) and got a framerate of 30fps. That is the best I've ever had. And when I tried it in the default madbox/OB desktop, I got 32fps. I used to be tickled to get 25FPS there during WotLK. Of course, back then I was playing with a 128MB nVidia GeForce 7100. But now I have to find a suitable benchmarking spot somewhere in the new zones or suitably close to Orgrimmar, with sufficiently demanding water, cos humping out to Grizzly Hills to test framerates is a pain. Some place like 58.6, 32.3 in the Vir'naal oasis, facing north on the small bare rock, zoomed all the way out, with my head lined up with the left edge of the lower falls of the rapids. I'm getting 26-27fps there with the openbox desktop session. And there's also lots of good fishing, for blackbelly mudfish -- excellent tank food if ever there was.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ubuntu and WoW

Turns out I was wrong when I said that nobody in the Debian ecosystem is providing Wine 1.5.6, the version required to run World of Warcraft.  Wine 1.5.6 is prominently listed on the press release for PinguyOS 12.04 LTS, an Ubuntu derivative that emphasizes extra software and features, at the expense of leanness.  The target user is anyone that's really used to Windows and wants to try Linux.  To this end, they've built a customized GNOME interface with a variety of themes meant to resemble various releases of Windows.  They've also included the usual captive software suspects: codecs, drivers, and such.  The ISO is around 1.7 GB

I've never tried PinguyOS. The developer likes a much more featureful (or bloated, from my POV) desktop experience than I do.  But I'm a special case, trying to wring the most performance I can out of elderly hardware that's well behind the curve. 

Pinguy reviews are generally positive, and it is Ubuntu at its heart.  If you have a powerful machine and/or are willing to seriously prune your installation, are used to Ubuntu, and are also disappointed at Wine 1.5.5, give PinguyOS 12.04 LTS a try. The developer claims that system requirements are the same as for default Ubuntu.

I may install and recklessly prune it; I may just see if I can add Pinguy's repos and/or PPAs to an install of Lubuntu or Madbox, or I may just stay with openSUSE 12.1 for the time being.

edit: So of course I post this 26 hours after the Ubuntu PPA moves to Wine 1.5.7.... I'm going to have to try it, and see if it works.