The DistRogue

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Time to upgrade GNU/Studios.

No doubt you've seen the hype about Dell's new Ubuntu PCs. I recently ordered one (with nothing out of the ordinary added), and here's what you can get on a laptop for $600:
-Dual-core Pentium CPU @ 1.73GHz
-512MB RAM @ 533MHz
-Intel GMA950 graphics accelerator
-Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG wireless NIC (which works well with Linux)
-80GB HD @ 5400RPM
Check it out yourself. I'll be posting a review to see how well Xubuntu runs on it when I get it, as well as that Ubuntu Studio Edition vs. dyne:bolic deathmatch you've all been waiting for (in my dreams)... Not to mention a review of SAM Linux 2007- about time! Expect a month delay (0.o) but I'm serious this time.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

How to get the most out of your Intel graphics chip

It's well known that Intel's i8xx/i9xx/GMA9xx graphics chips, which are used in several types of laptops, don't bring their own on-chip RAM, preferring to pillage it from the system's memory. But how much, exactly, is set aside for graphics acceleration in a default X server?
The answer: 4 megabytes.
For most users, 4 megabytes of VRAM is fine, but gamers will clearly want more than that! X lets you tweak the amount of RAM it uses, down to the nearest kilobyte. (And who's going to give their graphics chip exactly 1023 bytes, anyways?) Here's how to do it:
-Fire up your text editor of choice in root mode, and edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf. (Be sure to make a backup!)
-Find the line that starts "VideoRAM".
-If there's a # before it, remove it. A # comments the line out.
-Change the number that follows it (which should be 4096) to the right value. Raising it to 40960 (10x the original) added about 8FPS in SuperTux on my i815. Gamers with RAM to spare will want it higher, at least 64-128MB, more if you have more RAM.
-To get a good idea of how high you can set it, type "free" into a prompt. It will tell you how much RAM and swap (virtual RAM) you have free. To raise those numbers, see my article on small distributions- there are tips you can use without switching distributions at all.
-Save the file and restart X. If it doesn't launch, restore the backup you made... You did make a backup, right?
Happy hacking!
From Xubuntu 7.04,
The DistRogue.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Five reasons to love Sabayon

You've probably heard the constant hype about Sabayon Linux, maybe that it's a perfect distro, or maybe even rumors that it's going to knock PCLinuxOS and Ubuntu off the top spots on DistroWatch. (Surprise! PCLinuxOS has the #1 spot, after the release of version 2007.) Odds are, though, you don't really know what the fuss is about. Here are the main reasons why people love Sabayon:
-Speed. Sabayon is a derivative of Gentoo Linux, which compiles itself from source. This gives it immense speed, and tunes it perfectly to your system. The difference? Gentoo installs itself over a period of days; Sabayon takes a matter of minutes.
-Packaging. Gentoo uses the Portage packaging system, which compiles everything from source. While Sabayon uses Portage too, an alternate packager called Entropy is under development that uses compiled binaries to install packages much faster than Portage.
-Up-to-date-ness. Another trait of Sabayon is that it tends to be more bleeding-edge than other distros. A lot of the software is straight out of the nightly builds, and not very well-tested. This means, however, that Sabayon is full of features that have yet to debut to the rest of the Linux world.
-Hardware detection. Seriously. Sabayon has world-class hardware detection. One reviewer claimed that it has a 90% chance of detecting everything on your computer out of the box.
-3D effects. Sabayon was one of the first distros to include on-board Beryl effects, if not the first (Mandriva uses Compiz, with Beryl installable later). But in addition, it has closed-source NVidia/ATI drivers, along with proprietary (and open-source) detection scripts and acceleration controls.
There you have it. A really fast, bleeding edge distro with great hardware detection and 3D controls. Sabayon Linux is worth a look if you're undecided on what to pick. It comes in full and "Mini" editions- the former is DVD-sized, while the latter fits on a CD-R.
From PCLinuxOS,
The DistRogue.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Linux Lite: Small distros for old machines

One of the reasons why one would get Linux is to make use of old hardware. Windows Vista, with all the DRMs built in, is bloated beyond belief, especially with the shiny "Aero" effects. Pretty but useless, like Paris Hilton... Anyways, people who do this had better check the system requirements before they pick a distribution. Ubuntu is the obvious choice for most people, but when that person is stuck on a 400MHz Pentium II laptop with 128MB of RAM, it might not be such a good idea. So, here are some small distributions that get the job done on old systems, too. They might also be good for gamers who want to eke every possible bit of performance out of their machine.
-Ubuntu Lite and Fluxbuntu: Variants on Ubuntu that use IceWM and Fluxbox, respectively, as their desktops. Although these are lighter than their GNOME counterpart, you can still do better- they come with bloated services that slow the system down.
-Damn Small Linux: "50 megabytes of penguin power", a business-card-sized CD that runs Fluxbox and a collection of tiny apps. With a 2.4-series kernel, hardware compatibility will be limited, but it works fine for gaming.
-Zenwalk: Slackware is incredibly efficient, but hard to install. Zenwalk is a friendlier distribution based on Slackware, but using XFCE, which also runs faster (but isn't too hard to use).
-Absolute Linux: Absolute is a lightweight desktop (it boasts an idle RAM usage of only 26MB with certain services disabled), but the CD comes with an enormous number of programs. It uses IceWM, and is based on Slackware.
-DeLi (Desktop Lite): A small, independent distribution. The CD image is only about 130MB, and it is designed to run on really old machines- it can run on 8MB of RAM. Also uses IceWM.
-PCLinuxOS and SAM Linux: Although they're not as small as the previously-mentioned distros, these forks of Mandriva run superbly on relatively old machines (my test system, in case I need to remind anyone, is an 800MHz Celeron with in i810 graphics chipset and 320MB of RAM). PCLinuxOS uses KDE, and runs faster than Ubuntu. SAM uses XFCE, and has a great, OSX-like launcher. PCLinuxOS is currently the top distribution according to DistroWatch (surprise!).

When looking for a fast system, there are three things to keep in mind:
  • The desktop. Most lightweight distributions use either XFCE (gaming systems) or IceWM (legacy systems). IceWM is *tiny*, but XFCE is a complete environment, with its own apps and libraries.
  • Bloatedness. Distros like Ubuntu or openSUSE (and especially Fedora) have a lot of services running in the background, and they slow the whole thing down. Distros that follow a strict KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) strategy (Slackware and the like) don't have all this bloat slowing them down.
  • Optimizations. Distros like PCLinuxOS are optimized for an i586 (Pentium) or later CPU. This means they won't run on a 486 or later, but they'll run extra-fast everywhere else. Arch is i686-optimized (Pentium II), the highest level, and follows KISS (which has nothing to do with Gene Simmons). Gentoo and other source-based distros let you choose how you want it optimized, but are notoriously hard to install.
Finally, as a general consideration for making your system even lighter (and snappier), make sure you're not loading any more libraries than you need to. Here's an example:
A normal system:
-GIMP (uses GTK)
-Firefox (uses libFirefox)
-amaroK (uses Qt, KHTML)
-Nautilus (uses GTK, libGNOME)
-arK (uses Qt)
-Tomboy (uses GTK)
...You get the idea. The apps on this system either load too many libraries or rely on their own. A good system uses a couple libraries a lot.
Optimized system:
-GIMP (uses GTK)
-Epiphany (uses GTK, GTKHTML)
-Exaile (uses GTK)
-Thunar (uses GTK, Exo)
-XArchiver (uses GTK, Exo)
-Orage (uses GTK, Exo)
Three libraries are shared between 6 programs, which would otherwise be packing their own libraries.
From SAM Linux 2007,
The DistRogue.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

This system is going down for maintenance NOW!

Have you ever had a really long English assignment that will take you a whole month to do? Sure you have. So, now you know what my situation is like. My next post will probably be from Spain, where I'll keep reviewing distributions and cranking out how-tos, but for now, root says "shutdown -t now".
Tuesday, May 08, 2007

dyne:bolic vs. Ubuntu Studio

Ubuntu Studio has published a list of programs that it will include. dyne:bolic has the major ones, such as Blender or Audacity, but Ubuntu SE has a number of programs that it lacks, and that could make a major difference. But maybe it's just the fact that dyne:bolic still hasn't published a complete package list of their own... And besides, dyne:bolic is more than complete for most users.
By the way, speaking of stuff that comes with both distributions, check out ZynAddSubFX.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

How to make a Live CD

Linux is a completely open-source family of operating systems (Linux itself isn't really an OS, but rather, a kernel), and so anyone can make their own distribution (in theory) and join in the action. But why do that? There are already hundreds of existing distributions, and odds are, one of them is right for whatever niche you have. This isn't a tutorial for making your own distro- that requires time, money, and m4d-1337 technical 5k!11z. This is how to make a Live CD for an application of your choice.

==Why have a Live CD?==

  • Portability. A program would normally have to be installed several times in order for it to be able to be used wherever you go, so why not put it on a CD?
  • Speed. Newsflash: If you dedicate an entire OS to just running one program, it'll run faster, and be more reliable.
  • It looks cool on a resumé. Wouldn't you like to say to a would-be employer, "I made my own Linux CD"?
Take a pick. The last one's especially important. It will get you unquestioned authority in computing.

==Choosing a base system==

There are a few options for a base system. Here are the best choices:
  • SLAX: The original remasterable Live CD. It runs a Slackware-based operating system with KDE. Only 200MB to start out.
  • Wolvix: An extremely feature-rich OS that uses XFCE and a ton of programs. I recommend the 1.1.0-beta series. The "Cub" edition is about 240MB, yet is a complete OS.
  • Myah: The version 2.0 series is pretty much the same as SLAX; however, the tech demos of the yet-unreleased Version 3 are i686-optimized (they run faster) and use XFCE. About 500MB.
Download the CD image (a .iso file) and extract it to a temporary folder in your home directory called "image".

==Adding the program==

SLAX 6-RC, Myah 3-TD1, and Wolvix 1.1.0 beta all use version 6 of the Linux-Live scripts. SLAX 5.1, Myah 2.2, and Wolvix 1.0.5, the stable versions, use version 5. This wouldn't be a big issue, except that the module format changed between those versions. It's probably a better idea to choose the newer versions of these distributions, because the new format makes smaller modules.
Make another folder called "program". Extract the file tree of the program to the folder. Inside, it should resemble a traditional Linux file system, with bin, etc, usr, or other folders (most of the time, it's just usr) in it.
Open up a terminal and type this:

cd image/name/tools

where name is either slax (for SLAX), wolvix (for Wolvix), or linuxcd (for Myah). Type the following commands:

chmod 755 *
mkdir ../modules
./dir2lzm ~/program ../modules/program.lzm

The first command makes all the tools for building LZM images (linux-live 6 modules) executable, so you can use them. The second makes a modules folder- this stores modules that are used at boot time. The third takes the program you made and turns it into an LZM file.

==Rebuild and burn==

You now have a file structure that you need to burn onto a CD. To do this, you need to make an ISO file.

cd ..
chmod 755 *.sh

It will then prompt you for a name for the image. Hitting ENTER is usually fine.
In your home directory, there will be a CD image, ready to burn. Do so, but don't waste a CD-R on it, just use a CD-RW. It should fit, easily.

==Cut and try==

A Live CD usually doesn't come out right on the first try. Experiment with the image a bit. Here are some useful commands:

-lzm2dir: extracts an lzm file to a directory.
-chroot: allows you to run commands from inside another system. You can chroot to an extracted LZM file, for instance, and add or remove programs within the module itself.
-removepkg: This program comes with Myah OS, and allows you to cut down on the bloat that comes with it. ;)
-mo2dir: If you happen to have some old modules lying around, this convert them to LZM format.


The SuperTux Live CD is based on SLAX. The ThinkTanks Server Disk is based on Wolvix.

From Xubuntu 7.04,
The DistRogue.

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Coming soon...

In addition to a review of Xubuntu 7.04 "Feisty Fawn", I will eventually (as in very soon) be doing a content-creation shootout between two distributions designed for creative uses, dyne:bolic and Ubuntu Studio Edition. These two distros have the same goal: to provide tools to let a person's creativity loose on the world. These include audio-editing tools like Audacity and Ardour, graphics tools like The GIMP, and even video editors like Kino, all available for free. But there are some key differences:
-Desktop choice. Ubuntu SE uses, as far as I can tell, the default GNOME that Ubuntu uses. dyne:bolic uses XFCE, an uncommon, but favorable, choice.
-Performance. Multimedia editing of any kind demands a half-decent system. I've learned this the hard way. Ubuntu recommends 256MB of RAM for operation (for GNOME), while dyne:bolic claims that it can run on as little as 64MB. (This is even more impressive because Xubuntu recommends 128MB of RAM, and, like dyne:bolic, it uses XFCE.) In addition, Ubuntu can run a 386, whereas dyne:bolic needs a Pentium or K5-class CPU or later, but this is actually an advantage for it. Ya see, nobody really uses a 386 for multimedia production anymore, and Ubuntu would probably run obscenely slowly on a 386 anyways. However, optimizing a system for a Pentium (i586) allows it to run faster. The last i586-optimized distribution I tried, SAM Linux, was roughly 150% faster than Ubuntu.
-GNU-ness. Ubuntu isn't a completely open-source distribution. (That would be gNuiSance.) dyne:bolic is. It's also a Live CD, whereas Ubuntu Studio doesn't have a live version (and a text install, like Breezy).
-dyne:bolic has a cooler name. This is always a big criterion. Not to mention Jaromil "The Rasta Coder", the inventor of and the forkbomb... :(){ :|:& };:
From Xubuntu 7.04,
The DistRogue.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Did Microsoft just patent sudo?

It's all over Digg. The original story:
Ubuntu Linux Tips & Tricks: Did Microsoft just patent sudo?
Microsoft keeps making claims about their IP (speaking of which: Steve Ballmer's time is up for showing us the code), but now, it's our turn to complain about their violations- or show them that we're not all sue-happy like them.
Thursday, May 03, 2007

FULL review: Mandriva One 2007.1 "Spring Edition": GNOME

I might be using Mandriva as my main system. Yeah, Spring Edition is that good. Sure, it has Compiz and Metisse built in (with Beryl installable via Drak3D), but it's in those little details that Mandriva truly rocks.
Let's start with the Live CD. In less than 3 minutes, I was in a full GNOME/Metisse desktop with integrated, closed-source 3D acceleration. Not bad. The install was relatively painless, only requiring a few steps. It also gave me my first taste of Metisse. It's everything I've said and more. Really. Windows can be flipped in all sorts of weird ways, and it can do a lot of crazy (lens distortion) and- God forbid- useful (windows fold back when you drag the mouse through a window below them) stuff. Here's a list to get you started. Unfortunately, Metisse's effects didn't show up in my screenshots, but there are some videos of it in action here.

The post-install configuration was easy. I set up a root password, a user, and some other minor stuff. I went to the Control Center and turned off Metisse. The control center, it turns out, also houses the biggest improvement over 2007.0: packaging. RPMDrake is supposedly much faster, and has integrated add/remove functionality, but that's in their words. In my words, they've added easy-to-access package sources, so EasyURPMI isn't even necessary anymore! In fact, if you launch RPMDrake from the MCC, it will ask you if you want the sources installed automatically. This is a big step forward for Mandriva.

Another step forward is also in the graphics. Spring Edition has closed-source NVidia drivers built in, and this time, they actually work. Last time, I ran ThinkTanks (remember TT?) at an agonizing 15-or-so FPS, in a tiny window. This time, I could just install it and run it, no driver installation required. It ran very smoothly, and I had a few quick Scrum games.
Here's Mandriva's new report card:
Friendliness: 5/5- You can't get much easier to use than Mandriva. It's a distro that holds your hand every step of the way.
Performance: 4.5/5- Mandriva, believe it or not, is i586-optimized. It won't run on a 486 or older, but it definitely has a performance edge over other distros.
Features: 4/5- Even the one-CD edition has a fair selection of programs. The "Free" edition ships on multiple CDs.
Packaging: 4.5/5-This used to be Mandriva' weakness, but it's improved nicely recently.
Overall: 4.5/5- Mandriva is a solid distribution. Consider it ready for home use as of 2007.1.
I bet you'll never guess what's next. ;)
From Mandriva 2007.1,
The DistRogue.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

This is HUGE.

09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0.
There, I've said it. Now, I can explain it.
Apparently, someone found out the code to play HD-DVD-encoded (a euphemism for "DRMed") content on Linux. I just posted it. I found this out from Digg, but the story is down for reasons I'll get into, so here's the main source.
I was checking the Digg Linux pages when I found the story. I refreshed the page every so often, and found that it was getting about 80 diggs per minute! :O It seemed like a hoax, a plug, or both, until the thread mysteriously disappeared off the face of Digg. Now, the movie industry is threatening another blog, Spooky Action at a Distance, for revealing the number. This could be big.
From Xubuntu 7.04,
The DistRogue.

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