Xubuntu Intrepid Ibex DesktopAlpha 6 is the last alpha release of Xubuntu Intrepid Ibex 8.10. I wanted to give it a try on my Dell Inspiron 1150 notebook to see how far it had come along. My Dell has an Intel Celeron 2.4 Ghz processor, 1 Gig of RAM, and 80 Gigabytes of hard disk space. The Ubuntu release schedule states the final release date for Intrepid Ibex is October 30th, 2008.

Software Included:

Xubuntu Intrepid Ibex uses the Linux kernel 2.6.27, XFCE 4.4.2, X.Org server 7.4, and a much improved Network Manager 0.7.0. For office applications you have Abiword 2.6.4 word processor, Gnumeric 1.8.3 spreadsheet, and Orange 4.5.14.0 Calendar. Graphics applications included the GIMP 2.4.7 and image viewer GPicView 0.1.9. In multimedia Xubuntu uses Totem 2.23.91 for video, Audacious 1.5.1 for music playback, and Brasero 0.8.2 for CD/DVD burning. Xubuntu includes two Web browsers, Firefox 3.0.2 and a lightweight newcomer, Midori 0.0.18. Mozilla Thunderbird 2.0.0.16 is used for Email/news while Pidgin 2.5.1 is your IM client. GParted 0.3.8 is included for you to edit your partitions.

Xubuntu trys to keep hardware requirements lower than it’s Ubuntu or Kubuntu cousins by using the lighter window manager XFCE. They also have rejected the Open Office suite in favor of much lighter office applications like Abiword and Gnumeric. This would be a problem for those looking for a powerful office suite, but for most home users they make a decent enough word processor and spreadsheet. I wish they had put in a podcast client though. On Ubuntu you can use Rhythmbox for automatically downloading podcasts. Even the mini distribution Puppy Linux has it’s own podcast client, PuppyPodcastGrabber. So far as I know there is no way to use Xubuntu’s media player Audacious as a podcast client.

First Impresssions:

On boot of the CD I was presented with the same menu options as Xubuntu Hardy 8.04. I had the following choices:

Try Xubuntu without any changes to your computer

Install Xubuntu

Check CD for defects

Test memory

Boot from first hard disk

I went and chose the first option and booted the system into the live CD environment. During this  bootup I noticed that they had an Ubuntu progress bar screen rather than a Xubuntu bar. I assume they will have this fixed when get to the RC version.

Once I got to the desktop I saw the same Xbuntu-jmak wallpaper that is in Hardy. The wallpaper is an elegant purple/blue gradient with waves it. They also have the Edgy, Feisty, and Gutsy wallpapers on the CD if you prefer them. Their MurrinaStormCloud theme goes well with the Xubuntu wallpaper and the desktop looks much better than the Ubuntu wallpaper/theme combination in my book.

I was also pleased with the speed of the system. Programs opened up quickly even though I was running off of CD. I noticed they have yet to change the help documentation on this version. I clicked the help item in the top panel and got a welcome to Xubuntu 8.04 message. I guess the documentation would be one of the last things completed in a new release.

Getting Online:

I prefer to use a Hawking HWU-8DD Wireless G Dish USB adapter to get online. It’s got better reception than my internal Dell Wireless 1350 Mini-card that came with my notebook. On bootup, Xubuntu saw the USB Hawking adapter, and using the zd1211rw module (included in the kernel), Network Manager saw several wireless signals around me.

I had a little trouble getting the Dell 1350 wireless card working. In Ubuntu Hardy when you boot off the CD the Restricted Driver Manager comes up, prompts you to download the firmware, and then extracts it using fwcutter. I did not get any kind of popup messsage like this in Xubuntu Intrepid. So I went to the Applications Menu and chose System>Hardware Drivers (Xubuntu’s version of Restricted Driver Manager) to try and get the wireless adapter working. This gave me a screen showing me the Broadcom B43 driver I needed and a button to install it. After I clicked the button I still did not have a signal showing up in Network Manager. I went to the terminal and saw that I was getting the same dmesg error I got at bootup telling me I had to go to the openwrt.org site and get the firmware myself. To fix the problem was not a big deal. I needed to do a few lines of copy and paste to grab the firmware and extract it, sudo iwconfig eth1 up at the terminal to bring up the card, and then Network Manager saw my Dell 1350 wireless adapter. It would be nice if they could automagically get this to work with just a one-button click though.

Network Manager 0.7.0 Improvements:

There are several major improvements for the road warrior in this version of Xubuntu. Network Manager now supports connections to Virtual Private Networks so you can securely login to a corporate network while out on the road. They have also added the ability to use mobile broadband via GSM/CDMA 3G networks. Unfortunately, I don’t have either a VPN or mobile broadband so I could not test out these features. They also have added a tab in Network Manager to help DSL users get online. I either use WI-FI or Cable modem to get online so I could not test this feature. The NetworkManager page has more information on the updates to the project.

I did have a bit of a fight with Network Manager on my system. Once I had my Dell Wireless 1350 card working, I had the choice to use it or the Hawking USB adapter when I clicked on the Network Manager icon in the top panel. Both were seeing wireless signals. For some reason, Network Manager would keep reverting back to the 1350 internal card when I chose to use the Hawking USB adapter with the radio button. I fixed the problem by turning off the 1350 internal card.

Logon Screen Problem:

I tried to run just about every program from the live CD to test for bugs. No crashes or programs not opening up while I was using the live CD. However, I did see small problem with the logon screen. The username and password text was shifted way over to the left and not aligned properly. Once I did an install of Ibex and booted the system this problem went away. Apparently, the logon screen is only faulty when running the live CD.

Ubiquity installer:

Given the system seemed pretty solid, I decided to do an install on a spare 5 gig spare partition I had on my hard drive. The first 3 screens of the Ubiquity installer looked the same to me as they did in Hardy, but when you set up your partitions on screen 4 Ubiquity gives you this pretty color coded meter that shows you your partitions. One thing I didn’t like with the meter was the way it listed percentage space available rather than amount in Gigabytes. The absolute space in Gigabytes is far more useful to me in making sure I have alloted enough space for the install. The other problem was, like the logon screen problem earlier, the text was not aligned correctly. The percentage space available icons are sitting on top of the text partition names. I didn’t see a bug like this in Launchpad so I filled one under bug #274115. Other than that small gripe everything worked fine in the installer. Setup of the paritions, formatting, and the migration assistant did it’s job. When I booted the system I saw the it had set up my GRUB entries correctly. The whole process took about 30 minutes to get Xubuntu on the system and this is while I was using the live CD during the install.

I did get one crash on the system. The first time I ran the installer I needed to do something else and I opted to quit the installer.  Fortunately, it was minor and did not lock up X server.  Xubuntu uses a program called Apport to send in system information about a crash to Ubuntu. I submitted a crash report to them so hopefully that helps them out.

Encrypted Folders Added:

Encrypted private folder support is now built into Xubuntu using a package called ecryptfs-utils. Installation and directions can be found here. I followed the instructions and had no problem setting up an encrypted folder on the system. For now, encryptfs-utils is only a command line based project. Since Ubuntu/Kubuntu/Xubuntu are newbie distributions, I wonder if they will come up with a GUI frontend for this.  I suppose you could argue that when people start messing with encryption they are going beyond newbie status and should know some command line stuff.  Either way, it is still nice having this feature built into the Ubuntu distributions.

Conclusion:

With VPN, 3G GSM/CDMA Broadband, and encrypted folder support the road warrior has some real reasons to upgrade to Xubuntu Interpid Ibex. However, unless you use DSL, for the average home user I did not see any major changes in this distribution. It is worth a try out though. As I said earlier in my post, it functions well with the ocassion (it’s still an alpha folks) crash.

   Xubuntu Intrepid Ibex DesktopInterpid Ibex GDM logon screenXubuntu Intrepid Ibex 8.10 GamesXubuntuOfficeGIMP Version 2.4.7Xubuntu XFCE Settings ManagerThunar 0.90 File ManagerUbiquityInstallationUbiquity partioner second screenUbiquity PartionerUbiquityCrashApport Bug Reporting

gOS Screenshot DesktopThis weekend I decided to take the Linux distribution known as gOS 3.0 beta for a spin. The gOS is an Ubuntu 8.04.1 derivative that shows some promise with it’s integration of Web applications. Although they are not affilated with Google, gOS has incorporated many Google online tools into their desktop.

First Impressions:

Like it’s Ubuntu Hardy base, gOS lets you boot your system off of live CD. It took a couple minutes to get to the desktop with my 4 year old Dell Inspirion 1150 Pentium 4 notebook. This is about the same with a stock Ubuntu Hardy boot. My notebook has a slower Celeron processor and not a lot of memory, so I didn’t expect a blazing fast boot time. However, once the system booted it was pretty snappy.  gOS has swapped out the Enlightenment 17 window manager for LXDE in this version. LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) uses the same gtk+ 2 toolkit as GNOME and it’s desktop looks very similar to the GNOME desktop on Ubuntu Hardy Herron.

Once you get to the desktop you are presented with a pleasant (in my view) varigated green theme.  You access the menu on the top left corner and you are given two virtual desktops on the top taskbar. There is a Macintosh like dock bar on the bottom of the screen with ten applications. gOS calls this bar the wbar. The wbar is rather slick looking and zooms in to give you a better view of it’s icons when moused over. There is a wbar utility located in the Applications>Accessories Menu if you want to add/remove applications to the doc bar. Firefox 3.0.1, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Documents, YouTube (button did not work) , Pidgin, Skype,  Open Office Writer, Open Office Spreadsheets, and Open Office Presenations are included in the wbar by default.  These applications on the dock bar use a program called Mozilla Prism to give them a more desktop look to them. Prism enables you to use your Web applications without using your browser so you feel like the application is on your system rather than the on the Web.

I found one problem with the top panel settings on the desktop. They have it set to 18 pixels by default. This cuts off part of the Network Manager applet so I upped it to 24 pixels to fix the problem

Another Mac-like feature is the placement minimize/maximize/close window buttons placed on the top left of your windows. This is a little frustrating for someone like me who has rarely used a Mac and used to the buttons being on the other side of the window. I couldn’t figure a way to change the placement so I guess I will have to live with it. It would be nice if this were adjustable.

Software Included:

gOS has jammed a lot of software on one CD. For office applications you have the Open Office 2.4 Suite (Presentation, Spreadsheet, Drawing, and Word Processor). For graphics editing you have both the GIMP 2.4.5 and Google’s Picassa. Mplayer is included for your multimedia and Brasero if you want to burn CDs. Skype is available for VoIP calls and Pidgin is the IM client. For image scanning they have included XSane.

Google Gadgets Added:

Now the reason I wanted to try this distribution is the addition of Google Gadgets. Gadgets add little applets to your desktop that can be shown or hidden with a simple hotkey switch so that they do not clutter the desktop. Clicking on the Google Gadgets button and selecting add gadgets will bring up the the Gadget Browser. Here they have hundreds of gadgets available. Some written by Google and others by community developers. Most of the ones I tried worked without a hitch.

What do the applets do? Well, you can add Google RSS news feeds, a Weatherbug report, memory monitors, Google Calendar, quote of the day, and many more. As a Doom player, I particularly liked the Doom memory monitor. They have a picture of Green Marine that shows him taking damage to his health as you use up more of your system memory. They got a lot of silly things like that in there. The virtual flower pot is another one. You have to water the plant by hovering your mouse over to add water to the pot. The health of the plant and if it grows depends on you remembering to water it.  The wireless signal strength meter, newsreaders, regular battery/memory/CPU monitors, and weather applets obviously have more of a practical purpose. All of these gadgets can be moved and resized to customize them to your desktop.

Adding Google Gears:

OK, so what if you are not online? Does all this Web integration do you any good? Well, with gOS you can install Google Gears as well. It available in the menu at the top left. Gears allows you to continue using Web applications offline. According to their site, “Gears was designed to be used on both Google and non-Google sites. A number of web applications currently make use of Gears, including two Google products: Google Reader and Google Docs. Additionally, Zoho and Remember the Milk have been using Gears since its original launch. If you’re running Windows Mobile on your cellphone, Picasa Web Albums also makes use of Gears.” They are working to add Google Mail and Google Calendar so that you can use these tools offline as well. This will defintely help those who don’t have a permanent connection to the Internet.

Will gOS Become Google OS?:

Personally, I would not be surprised if Google comes out with their own OS within a year. John C. Dvorak of PC Magazine and the CrankyGeeks podcast has claimed this is what they are up to. Let’s see, so far they have released Google Mail, Documents, Calendar, Picassa, Spreadsheet, Reader, Gadgets, Google Gears, and now even their own Web browser, Google Chrome. They are not missing too many components for their own OS. A free (hopefully in speech as well as beer) OS based on Linux with an ad supported revenue model, hence the necessity of taking the user into online applications.  Who knows? Maybe gOS will be it some day.

Some Hardware Issues:

Getting online was a problem with gOS. I have a Dell Insprion 1350 WLAN card in my 1150 notebook. The card needs to use a properitary driver from broadcom.  When I boot into regular Ubuntu Hardy the restricted driver manager pops up and asks me if I want to download the firmware and extract it using b43-fwcutter. Once I say yes it goes out to openwrt.org site and pulls down the firmware, extracts it, and automagically I have my wireless card working. I did not get any pop up message in gOS to do this and so the wireless card was not working.

To fix the situation I had to download b43-fwcutter myself. I went to packages.ubuntu.org and this page to get the package. I installed the .deb package and ran it. Just like in Hardy, it pulled the down the firmware from openwrt’s site and my 1350 wireless card was now working. Fortunately, for me this wireless problem  was only a minor nuisance.  Maybe it is because this is a beta release, but since this is a newbie distribution I hope they get this fixed before final release.

I had more luck with the wireless using my Hawking HWU-8DD USB network adapter. This was autodetected and loaded using the zd1211rw module which is included in the kernel gOS uses, version 2.6.24.

Including WINE 1.0:

One interesting thing I found with this distribution was the inclusion of WINE 1.0. Now that it has finally reached the 1.0 mark I hope other distributions consider it. Many users are going to have one or two “can’t live without” Windows applications on their system. With WINE being as mature as it is I think it would help move some people over to Linux if it were included in more distributions. gOS is targeted at new Linux users, people who are most likely coming from Windows, so I think the inclusion of WINE should be helpful to their transition to Linux.

Conclusion:

In conclusion I think gOS has some merits. Trying to free some of the Web applications from the browser sometimes (like in RSS newsreaders) makes sense. Adding WINE is also a plus for new Windows switchers. Having MP3 playback and Flash working out of the box is also helpful for newbies. Other than the YouTube button not working and the wireless issue noted above I didn’t have any problems running the system and I greatly prefer the theme over what Hardy has. Give this distribution a try and see what you think.

gOS Screenshot DesktopgOS Screenshot with GadgetsgOS screenshot with Firefox 3.0Open Office 2.4 Screenshot

XFCE 4.4 DesktopZenwalk is a Slackware based distribution that is aimed at giving it’s users a fast, stable, and to easy to use machine. It has been ranked 18th on Distrowatch for the past 6 months. Zenwalk 5.2 was released this month so I decided to give it a try on my Dell Inspiron 1150 system. This notebook is few years old so it is a good machine for an agile distribution like Zenwalk. The 1150 has a Pentium 4 2.4 Ghz Celeron processor with 1 Gigabyte of RAM. It runs pretty well under Ubuntu provided I don’t turn Compiz on. Being that Zenwalk is based on Slackware and uses XFCE window manager I was hoping it would run faster. Their site claims Zenwalk has very low system requirements. Their manual states that it will run on a Pentium II with 128 MB of memory and 2 GB in hard disk space. By the way, the manual is very well done. It is something you could give to someone who has never used Linux before. They go through the basics like how to burn and ISO in Linux and Windows. Screenshots and complete explainations of the whole install process are also included.

Installation

Zenwalk has 4 different editions: Standard, Core, Live, and Server. I chose the Standard Edition since I wanted to do a hard disk install on my machine. I did not realize this until later, but even with the Live Edition you can still use it to do a hard disk install. The Core Edition is a minimalist install with no X components. Server is, as you might expect, optimized for running a server.

Zenwalk has a nice looking framebuffered installer. After choosing your keyboard map type, you can use Cfdisk manually set up your boot and swap partitions. If you can devote an entire hard disk over 3GB in size Zenwalk has an automatic installation too. For file systems choices you can format your partitions in ext2, ext3, reiserfs, and xfs. Cfdisk is not as pretty as, say Gparted, but it does get the job done and is not difficult to use.

Once you get your drives set up Zenwalk asks you what you want your fstab to look like. The fstab file controls what partitions are mounted and where they are placed in the directory structure. I chose to add both my Ubuntu ext3 and Windows XP NTFS partitions. I had NTFS read/write support out of the box with Zenwalk using ntfs-3g. After I finished setting up fstab the installer started putting packages on the hard drive. I like how they list each package name with a description as it is being installed. I don’t believe in hiding useful system info for the sake of aesthetics.

Just like Slackware itself, Zenwalk uses LILO for the boot loader. If you want it will automatically setup your LILO configuration during the install. I am more used to and prefer GRUB, so I elected to skip this step and configure the bootloader myself later on. To configure GRUB, you use the menu.lst file in the /boot/grub directory. Basically, you need to edit the file and tell GRUB where the kernel and init.rd image is. One thing slightly different I found with Zenwalk is that the init.rd image is called initrd.splash, not initrd.img. I am used to running Ubuntu as my primary system, so I was perplexed when I could not find the .img file anywhere. A trip to the forums and I figured out it was just a difference of names.

After setting up your hardware clock the installer asks you what services you want to run on startup. The default choices are ALSA, Avahi, CUPS, Inetd, Pcmcia, and Syslog. I left these choices as is and added the selection Wicd Wifi manager since I have a wireless card in my notebook. You can change your startup services later on if you need to by going to the Zenpanel. Zenpanel is the place to go to configure the system post-install. Adding modules, users, packages, services, video configuration, and network settings is all done from this control panel. You can get there by going to System menu on a right click. Once I finished choosing my startup services the install CD ejected and I was told to reboot my system using Ctrl-Alt-Delete.

GRUB succesfully found my kernel and after boot up I was shown the GNU license and asked to accept an Adobe and an Intel wireless card license. This is one problem I got into with the installer. I accidently chose not to accept the Adobe license (licenses bore me and I was careless), insuring that Flash would not work out of the box. The installer has no go back key in it, so if you make mistakes, there is no going back and fixing them. I did not know of a way of accepting the license post install so I just re-ran the installer.

First Impressions

Zenwalk uses the latest release of XFCE version 4.4.2 for it’s desktop. I found the simple blue wave theme to be pleasing to the eye. The Tango icons are really sharp looking even when they are made to look big. A bottom XFCE panel provides easy access to browsing (Iceweasel), email (Icedove), multimedia (gMplayer), shell (Terminal), file management (Thunar), system configuration (XFCE Settings Manager), and volume settings (XFCE Mixer). You can autohide this panel if you find it gets in the way by going to Settings>Panel Manager.

Hardware Detection

Videoconfig, the Zenwalk Xorg configuration tool, managed to detect my 82852/855GM integrated graphics card and setup xorg.conf to use the Intel driver. I had a 1024×768x24 resolution screen working right out of the box. I turned on the compositor in XFCE and got some nice effects. No, I couldn’t paint my screen with fire using Compiz, but I got some nice transparent windows and shadowing effects. One side note on using the compositor. I also tried their live CD out on my old Compaq P3 Deskpro with 256 Megs of RAM. Everytime I had the compositor running X would crash if I opened up a terminal window. Some older graphics chipsets don’t play well with the compositor and my card was one of them. Once I turned off compositing the system worked flawlessly and was actually pretty fast for an older machine.

I had no issues with sound or Ethernet networking. Both were working on start up with no problems. The Synaptics touchpad was also detected, it’s driver loaded using xorg.conf, but I had some problems with it. I would get a random clicking action even though I had not touched either buttons. I dug around for a fix for it in the forums. By changing Option MaxTapTime to 0 in /etc/X11/xorg.conf, I was able to shut down the buggy tap to click function of my touchpad. Now it works fine and I really don’t care about not having that feature. I had no problem with USB autodetection. I plugged in my 4 GB PQI Flash drive and it automounted and showed as an icon on the desktop. I also plugged in my Fuji Finepix A700 camera to see if I could pull files from it. Although gtkam did not have a driver for that specific camera (it does for many others), I was able to see and pull down my JPEG pictures using Thunar file manager.

My Dell Wireless 1350 Mini-PCI card was the biggest problem I had with the system. This card works out of the box in Ubuntu, Mint, and even little Puppy Linux, but with Zenwalk I ran into a little trouble. The last couple lines of dmesg revealed that that the firmware could not be found:

b43-phy0 ERROR: Firmware file “b43/ucode5.fw” not found or load failed.

b43-phy0 ERROR: You must go to http://linuxwireless.org/en/users/Drivers/b43#devicefirmware and download the latest firmware (version 4).

So I went to linuxwireless.org and grabbed the latest firmware using these directions for fwcutter . After doing this, I got a number of wireless signals when I fired up Wicd, Zenwalk’s Wireless Manager. Zenwalk also has a nice GUI frontend to Ndiswrapper if you want to use the Windows drivers for your card to get wireless working. In my case I chose to use fwcutter instead. The linuxwiress directions for fwcutter vary depending on what kernel you are using. Zenwalk uses the Linux kernel 2.6.25 so I just followed this part of their page:

Follow these instructions if you are using the b43 driver from linux-2.6.25 or compat-wireless-2.6, or from any current GIT tree.

Use version 011 of b43-fwcutter.
Download, extract the b43-fwcutter tarball and build it:

wget http://bu3sch.de/b43/fwcutter/b43-fwcutter-011.tar.bz2

tar xjf b43-fwcutter-011.tar.bz2

cd b43-fwcutter-011

make

cd ..

Use version 4.150.10.5 of Broadcom’s proprietary driver.
Download and extract the firmware from this driver tarball:

export FIRMWARE_INSTALL_DIR="/lib/firmware"

wget http://mirror2.openwrt.org/sources/broadcom-wl-4.150.10.5.tar.bz2

tar xjf broadcom-wl-4.150.10.5.tar.bz2

cd broadcom-wl-4.150.10.5/driver

sudo ../../b43-fwcutter-011/b43-fwcutter -w "$FIRMWARE_INSTALL_DIR" wl_apsta_mimo.o

Note that you must adjust the FIRMWARE_INSTALL_DIR path to your distribution. The standard place where firmware is installed to is /lib/firmware. However some distributions put firmware in a different place.

Software

Zenwalk has the philosophy of “one application per task”, a good part of the reason the install CD is only 505 Megabytes. For your office applications you have an excellent word processor (Abiword 2.6.3), spreadsheet (Gnumeric 1.8.3), calendar (Orage 2.4.2), graphics manipulation (Zen Gimp 2.4 ), Email client (Icedove 2.0.0.14), Web browser Iceweasel (2.0.0.14), and an IM client (Pidgin 2.4.2). While there is no Open Office here (you can add yourself with Netpkg), the applications included are probably sufficient for most desktop users. The Zenwalk Companion wiki page at their site is good guide to what software can be added to your system. I know it goes against the “one app per task” rule, but I really wish they had chose to include a second command line based editor on the install CD. They have opted to go with Vim which I understand is an awesome tool if you code for a living, but I can’t code my way out of a paper bag, so something simple like Nano works better for me. If X breaks and all a new user has is a terminal prompt he will have an easier time editing configuration files with Nano. Personally, I need a cheat sheet to get anything done in Vim. I don’t think they should drop Vim, I know Zenwalk is used by alot of coders, just consider adding Nano, Gedit, or the like. Just my two cents.

If you need to add applications Zenwalk makes it real easy with their package managment system. That is where Zenwalk shines. You are running a Slackware based distribution, but like using apt-get in Debian, you don’t have to worry about managing dependencies to install software on your machine. A huge range of packages can be added to your system using Netpkg. Just go to System>Netpkg to get there. I like how Netpkg gives you a nice display of package description along with telling you what dependencies are installed or missing. They also have useful New, Installed, Upgrades, and Downgrades filters to sort your repositories.

File Management

Zenwalk uses Thunar for it’s file manager. With the Tango icons it is a sharp looking on the desktop. You have a lot of features available with a right click. Zooming in and out to make icons bigger is great for people with vision problems. You can also search a folder, turn on Samba browsing, create an archive, and open up Brasero to burn files to CD. Zenwalk has an interesting tool called Catfish for file searches. It’s a GUI front end where you have the choice to use find, locate, or slocate to search files. You can also select to search specifically for documents, images, music, or videos by clicking one of the four icons in the program.

Multimedia

I fired up youtube to see if I had Flash working out of the box. Flash worked in the Iceweasel browser with no problems. I also had Mp3 playback working out of the box too. I popped in an encrypted DVD movie to see if Mplayer would work with what Hollywood puts out. No luck. Mplayer would not even open, let alone, show me any errors messages. You need to grab two packages using Netpkg to get this working. The files are libdvdcss and libdvdread. Zenwalk does not include them on the CD because of copyright issues. Some distributions like Mint include these codecs out of the box, but I can appreciate Zenwalk’s stance by not doing this. If you are not concerned about the legal issues getting the files is not big deal. They can be found in the Zenwalk repositories using Netpkg. The legal issues are also the reason why Zenwalk ships with Iceweasel and Icedove rather than Firefox and Thunderbird.

According to this Wikipedia article, “The Mozilla foundation requested that the Mozilla standards for use of the Firefox trademark be complied with by the Debian Project when it redistributed the software. The Debian Project then rebranded the Mozilla Firefox program, and other software released by Mozilla, so that Debian could continue to distribute the software with modifications permitted, without being bound by the use of trademark requirements that the Mozilla Foundation had required.”

Conclusion

I’ve been running with Zenwalk for about a week and am really liking it. I have tried both the Standard and Live versions and they each have impressed me. The Live version has a CD ISO remastering tool so you can make someone your very own custom version of Zenwalk. Hardware detection and configuation was very good with this distribution, the wireless and touchpad issues only being a minor problem. Configuring the system using Zenpanel is a breeze. I like the use of compositing in XFCE. It is used sensibily, rather than turning your desktop into a toy. The thing that most impressed me was the package management. Netpkg is what makes a Slackware based system useable for the masses. Managing dependencies yourself has it’s merits, like understanding your system better, but as more and more software is released for Linux doing this yourself is too time consuming for most people.

XFCE 4.4 DesktopIceweasel2 Web browser.ZenPanel tools to manage services, users, and add remove modulesThunarBraseroTransmission Bittorrent Client and GRsyncBackupZenPanel - The control panel for ZenwalkGood selection of office apps. Gnumeric and AbiwordXFCE has compositingNetpkg Zenwalk packagingHardware info and Ndiswrapper toolWicd WiFi Network ManagerMplayer playing the Open Sourced Movie Big Buck Bunny

Joe’s Window ManagerDSL 4.4 was just released on June 9th, so this past weekend I installed it on my Compaq Deskpro Pentium III 800 Mhz machine. It only has 256 megs of RAM, so a lightweight distribution like DSL is a good choice for it. Their site claims you can run DSL 486 DX with 16 megs of RAM, so even my old Compaq should fly with what it’s modest specs. A link to the release notes is here.

DSL is an incredibly small distribution, hence the name. According to their site it started as an experiment to see how many useful applications they could fit on a 50 megabyte live CD. Even though DSL is a live CD you still have the option of installing to a hard drive or a USB pen drive. They even have an installation that lets you run DSL virtually using QEMU on a Windows host machine. I chose to install DSL to my hard drive using the frugal install. This creates a Grub menu for you and puts the compressed DSL CD image onto your hard drive. I found it cut the boot time to about 1/3 what is was with the CD.

There are a couple of things done differently in DSL than an Ubuntu or OpenSUSE to get the ISO under 50 megabytes in size. For instance, DSL uses an older 2.4.31 Linux kernel and Gtk1 applications. These use less system resources than a newer kernel and Gtk2 apps do . If you need a 2.6 kernel and Gtk2 applications they have a spin off of DSL called DSL-N.

To save system resources in DSL there is no Gnome or KDE here, either one would use to much memory and computer cycles. Instead you have the choice of Joe’s Window Manager or Fluxbox, either which is a decent windows manager in my opinion. Unfortunately, you will have to look elsewhere if you need spinning cubes or wobbling windows. There is no Compiz in either window manager.

BOOTING THE CD:

When I booted off the CD I was given a prompt with a number of cheat codes that I could use. You can put things in like having DSL load entirely into RAM to increase speed, having the DSL CD copied to you hard drive, or choosing which window manager you would like to use. A list of the cheat codes available are at this wiki. For my first boot I just went with the default and did not use any cheat codes.

Next I was given a choice of what X server I wanted to use, Xvesa or Xfbdev. I chose Xvesa since it supposed to be faster. I used the default resolution and color depth 1024×768x32 and I got a desktop with some funky colors. Fortunately, I could see the screen well enough to navigate to the control panel icon on the bottom. After I clicked the Panel button and then the Xvesa button, I saw that the highest setting I could use was 800×600x16. Once I selected this setting my desktop was normal looking.

I’m going to have to dig around for a better driver for my graphics chipset, the Intel 82815. DSL has other X servers available in MyDSL testing, but I didn’t think any of them would work with my chipset. In both Ubuntu and Puppy my graphics chipset was working at 1024×768 out of the box, but they were using Xorg, not Xvesa.

I booted the DSL CD on my Athlon 3800 X2 System with an Nvidia 7600 card to see if I would get a better result with Xvesa. With the Nvidia card I had a whole range of choices for resolution. The default 1024×768x32 worked right out of the box, so your mileage with Xvesa will vary depending on what graphics card you use.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

Now that I could see the screen I was presented with a nice simple green gradient background with the DSL logo in the center. DSL uses a program called Torsmo, which gives you some handy system statistics in the top right corner of the desktop. How much memory you are using, upload/download speeds, number of processes, CPU usage, and file systems mounted. I was stunned to see that I was using under 20 megabytes of memory while I was running a window manager.

On the bottom of the desktop you get 5 buttons that will give you a control panel, a terminal, the emel file manager, the lightweight browser Dillo, or Firefox 2.0. Your also given 4 virtual desktops in the center, a DSL Windows-like start button on the left, and and a digital clock on the right. You can set the time on this clock automagically by clicking the DSL>Setup>DateTimeSetup>ViaInternetTimeServer.

Even with it’s small size, DSL has a wide range of applications available. You have a word processor (Ted), spreadsheet (Siag), PDF viewer (XPDF), Calendar (XCalendar), paint program (mtPaint), 4 editors (Beaver, VIM, Nano, and Notepad), an audio player (XMMS), FTP client (AxY FTP), Email client (Slypheed), File manager (emelFM), 3 browsers (Firefox, Dillo, and Netrik), a Web server (Monkey Web Server), and a host of other applications.

HARDWARE DETECTION:

First thing I checked was to see if my Ethernet was working. I opened up Firefox and tried to do some browsing. Fortunately, this was working right out of the box. I’ve got a Compaq EtherExpress 82801 network card. I went to youtube to see if Flash was installed. No luck. Flash is not included out of the box.

Next up I tried sound. I went to emelFM and picked an MP3 and clicked on it. Xmms opened up and it played with no problems. I also mounted a NTFS Windows partition on my hard drive and tried playing a MP3 from it. Again, it worked with no problems so I could read NTFS out of the box too. While working with the sound issue, I did notice one problem with the Dmix sound mixer. It has a drop down box where you choose what device you want to adjust. The font they use is so tiny you can’t see what the device is that your adjusting.

Last thing I tried to get working was my printer. It is a Samsung Ml-1430 printer. To get printing working in DSL you need to go and click DSL>System>Printing>ConfigurePrinter. They use a program called apsfilter to setup your printer. In the setup they had a number of printer drivers available, but mine was not one of them. Since I did not know how to add an additional printer driver to apsfilter, I went to MyDSL and pulled down CUPS. I just got my printer working with Puppy 4.0 last week using CUPS so I thought this would work with DSL the same way. Even though my printer is not included in the default install of CUPS, I was able to pull down the .ppd file for my printer from the linuxprinting.org site. I placed the .ppd file  in my /usr/share/cups/model directory. I started setup and typed that directory in the box where it says location. Setup showed that it was using the ML-1430 ppd file so I tried to print a test page. No luck. I didn’t even get a data light blinking on the printer.

PACKAGE MANAGEMENT:

To add applications go to the MyDsl browser by clicking on DSL>MyDSL>MyDSLBrowser. There is quite a range of selections here. Here you can install the files necessary to get Gtk2 applications. You can get the library by downloading and installing the  gtk2-2.10.9.dsl package. Although this will let you use newer flashier Gtk2 applications, you will be using more memory doing so.

I found a small bug with Joe’s Window Manager while using DSL. As I added packages to the system, JWM would sometimes put double entries for the application in the menu. I went over to Fluxbox to see it was doing the same thing. It was listing each installed application once, not twice. I also had a weird problem with Mplayer. I installed it via the MyDSL browser and it locked up running under JWM, but under Fluxbox it looked loaded fine. I had the same problem in Puppy 4.0 with JWM, so it is a problem with JWM and not something specific to Damn Small Linux.

Since DSL is based on Debian, one of the cool things you can do is use Synaptic to download from the Debian Woody repositories. First, you need to go to MyDSL Browser and install dsl-dpkg.dsl. Next, you will need to pull down synaptic.dsl. Now you can go to DSL>MyDSL>Synaptic and you will find a huge range of packages available.

FILE MANAGMENT:

For an icon based file manager, DSL uses the DFM. To mount file systems in DFM you right click on a file folder and go to mount, then click on the square radio button of the file system you want mounted. It’s just my opinion, but I would go with the better looking Rox for a lightweight icon based file manager. The icons in DFM look pretty bad. Rather than use DFM, I took a liking to the included emelFM file manager. It’s a simple two pane old school file manager with a command line at the bottom. I find it’s setup to be the fastest way to get file management done.

CONCLUSION:

In conclusion, I think DSL is a cool little distribution. DSL is one of the two lightweight distros of choice, the other being Puppy Linux. DSL has the advantage in the range of packages available when you consider you can add Debian Woody repository to the mix. DSL also uses slightly less system resources. It also is a multi-user operating system, so your not running as root all the time. If I were going to run a server I would definitely pick DSL over Puppy.

In Puppy’s favor, you are using GTK2 apps, a Linux 2.6 kernel, and Xorg. The use of Xorg and the 2.6 kernel made Puppy alot easier to run on the systems I have tried. For instance, for better Wi-FI reception I like to use a Hawking USB Wifi Dish that needs a zd1211rw module to work. This module is included in the 2.6.18 and above kernel. Flash was also working out of the box with Puppy. Lastly, I also preferred the Arctic Ocean wallpaper and icon set of Puppy over DSL.

The obligitory screenshots:

Joe’s Window ManagerFluxbox DesktopFirefox20DSL Control PanelEmelFMLowMemoryMyDSLofficeapps.jpg

ArcticOceanBackgroundI got a chance to check out the latest Puppy release this week. Puppy Linux is a small Linux distribution (roughly 87 megabytes) that runs off of CD. It is ideal for running on older hardware or for people who just want a lean system. A couple years ago I put Puppy on a Pentium II 233 Mhz computer with 64 megabytes of RAM. I wiped Windows 98 off the 4 gigabyte hard drive and donated the computer to Goodwill. I was sad to see the system go after the Puppy install. The system ran better than it ever had. Not to mention the fact that it was far more secure.

This week I booted the Puppy 4.0 “Dingo” CD on my trusty Dell Inspiron 1150 notebook. The system has a Pentium 4 2.4 Ghz Celeron, 1 gig of memory, and a 80 gigabyte hard drive. I generated a report on the system using Puppy’s HardInfo program. HardInfo is available under the System menu in Puppy. It is nice utility for getting info on your computer.

Here is a snippet of the changes in Puppy 4.0 from the release notes:

  • Puppy 3.01 was built from Slackware-12 binary packages, however to reduce the size 4.00 has been totally compiled from source, using the T2-project. Thus, less dependencies (smaller size) and later versions of packages than 3.01.
  • GTK1 and Tcl/Tk abandoned. The decision was made to go for a totally GTK2-based system. This meant that there could be a consistent user-interface throughout and further reduced the size. It also meant that GTK2 replacements had to be found for some applications.
  • Exciting new GTK2 applications: ePDFView (PDF viewer), Pschedule (cron GUI), Osmo (personal organiser), Pcdripper (audio CD ripper), RipOff (audio CD ripper), mhWaveEdit (audio editor), Pburn (CD/DVD burner), MTR (traceroute), Pnethood (Samba client), Pwireless (wireless scanner), pStopWatch (stopwatch), HomeBank (personal finances), ExpenseTracker (personal finances), ChmSee (CHM help viewer), Gmeasures (units converter), Fotox (image viewer), Gwhere (disk catalogger), Prename (batch file renamer), gFnRename (batch file renamer), Pfind (file search), Pprocess (process manager), Chtheme (GTK theme chooser), HardInfo (hardware information), PcurlFtp (simple network file sharing), Pidgin (multiprotocol chat client), Gadm-Rsync (GUI for rsync), Wireless Autoconnect, Gtkam (digital camera interface), Xsane (scanner interface), Figaro’s Password Manager 2, HotPup (drive icons on desktop). Note, this is not a complete list nor in any particular order.

First off, everything works on the notebook out of the box. I was able to select 1024×768 resolution and X Server started with no problems. My Synaptics touchpad was working with no glitches. I had problems with this touchpad when I installed Puppy 2.14 on this system so I am glad they resolved the problem with Puppy 4.0. My Ethernet adapter was picked up using the b44 module. The biggest concern I had was with the wireless, which can be problematic in Linux because the hardware vendors don’t often support it. Fortunately, Puppy saw the Broadcomm wireless chipset in my notebook and it was able to get the card running using the bcm43xx module. My Hawking HWU-8DD USB wireless dish was also picked up using the zd1211rw module. So I had two choices for getting online wirelessly in Network Wizard. I was pleased to see that the wizard also has an interface to Ndiswrapper if you have a card without a Linux driver.

Puppy uses Joe’s Window Manager (JWM) for the default desktop. It is fast and uses very little system resources. Puppy has a free memory applet on the taskbar and even with several programs running it showed that I was only using 200 megs of memory. This is even more impressive when you realize that Puppy loads the entire operating system into RAM.

I like the Arctic Ocean theme and the icons they chose to use. My only gripe would be that the task bar has a Windows 98 feel to it. JWM was intentionally designed to look like this since Windows 98 users with older systems are likely converts.

Puppy 4.0 uses Seamonkey version 1.1.8 for it’s Web browser. I am not sure why this is, but when you go to sites like Yahoo the page does not look completely right. There is some minor overlap in graphics on the page. My own Wordpress blog has some minor overlapping too. I resolved this problem by going to the Puppy Package Manager and installing Firefox 2.0.

A quick trip to youtube revealed that I had Flash videos working out of the box. Flash games also played without a hitch in Seamonkey and Firefox browsers. I tried a DVD movie with the Gxine movie player and it worked. The movie played but the quality was a little lacking so I went back to the Puppy Package Manager and downloaded Mplayer 1.0rc2. I don’t know if it is because it is a release candidate, but it locks up the system when I run it. I can’t close the 2 windows it opens and it forces me to restart X server with CTL-Alt-Backspace. Fortunately, Mplayer does work when running it at the command line so this is just a minor nuisance.

After a little bit of effort, I made a bootable USB key with the Puppy Univeral Installer. You can get to the installer by going to Menu>Setup>Puppy Universal Installer. I had to use the ComboFormat method to get the key to boot. ComboFormat partitions the drive into FAT16 and EXT2 partitions and is an experimental way of making a USB key installation. I tried the standard way using all 5 bootloader choices and Puppy would not boot off the key. So far with the ComboFormat method I have been able to boot off the key and it is saving the changes with no problems. Changes I make to Puppy are saved in a file called pup_save.2fs. You can store this file on a hard drive as well as a USB key. There is a way to secure this file by encrypting it. Puppy also has a way make your own remastered live CD but I have yet to try that feature out.

For whatever task you have in mind, Puppy seems to have a program for it. Abiword for word processing, Gnumeric for spreadsheets, Mozilla Composer for Web publishing, InkLite and mtPaint for graphics, and RoxFiler for your file management. A software firewall is included in Puppy for when you are out on the road and without a router. It is simple to use and only takes a few clicks to get running. It is a frontend to iptables. You can find it by going to Menu>Network>LinuxFirewall. This version of Puppy even has it’s own Podcast client. To run, goto Menu>Internet>PuppyPodcastGrabber. It uses .txt file to store the feeds which is pretty easy to edit. My current podcatcher uses .opml files so I was not able to do an easy export of my podcasts to Puppy’s PodcastGrabber.

In conclusion, if you are looking for something different I would give Puppy a try. This version is all built from source to maximize speed. Every program on my machine seems to open instaneously. Even with Compiz functionality turned off in Gnome, my Ubuntu install is no where near as fast. There are many features in Puppy that are lacking in other distributions. Installation to thumb drivers, remastering your own custom cd, and wizards to aid new users are just a few.

Update to Post:

A couple people have asked me about security in Puppy. Puppy is a single user operating system so you are running as root all the time. From what I have read this was done to simplify it’s usage. Windows 95/98 single user operating systems are the most likely ones to get changed to Puppy. The transition to Linux is made easier since Puppy, like Windows 95/98, doesn’t have multiple accounts and permissions to to worry about.

In the event your system gets compromised you can start a fresh copy of Puppy by booting the CD with the puppy pfix=ram option. This will ignore your compromised pup_save.2fs file and you can start saving your changes to a new one. For more on why Puppy is always root and it’s security implications you can check out this Puppy forum topic on the subject.

I hooked up my Samsung ML-1430 laser printer to see if it would work with Puppy 4.0. To setup a printer in Puppy you need to go to Setup>Cups Printer Wizard. Puppy uses CUPS to configure it’s printers. My printer driver was not included with the installation, but it was no big deal since I was able to add the driver from www.linuxprinting.org. I pulled down the .ppd file for my printer and placed it in the /usr/share/cups/model directory. I started the setup again and typed that directory in the box where it says location. After that, I was able to print a test page using CUPS. Linuxprinting has a wide range of printer drivers available, so I would check them out if your printer driver is not included in Puppy.

In episode 13 of ProductiveLinux, Nathan Hale does a fine podcast review of Puppy 4.0. It is worth a listen if you want to find out some more about Puppy.

AbiWordGunmericNetworkWizard in PuppySeaMonkey Web BrowserPodcatcherPETget Package ManagerPuppyUniversalInstallerOSMOManagerGraphicsApps

NASA Kepler MissionIn February 2009 NASA is going to launch the Kepler Mission. The mission will use a photometer to detect the presence of extra-solar planets in the Milky Way Galaxy. Basically, the photometer works by sensing the change in light as a planet orbits a star. The planet needs to be line of sight from photometer for this to work. According to Wikipedia, Kepler can monitor 100,000 stars simultaneously, giving it good odds that it will be able to find many Earth-like terrestrial planets.

You can get your name sent along with the mission if you like. A DVD is being sent up on Kepler with people’s names and the reasons why they support the mission. You can go to this page at SETI to sign up. In my opinion, this is a great way for people to feel more connected with the mission and NASA in general.