The DistRogue

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How to pimp out your Ubuntu desktop

Yeah, another of *those* tutorials. If you use Ubuntu 7.10, and you want those wobbly windows and Avant, read on and get a shiny, bling-filled desktop with convenient controls to turn everything on and off.
The first step is to edit your sources. As of version 7.10, Ubuntu's repositories come with Compiz Fusion, so just add the avant repo. First, launch a terminal and use this command:
gksudo 'gedit /etc/apt/sources.list'

Then, add this line to the end:
deb feisty avant-window-navigator

Close GEdit and run these commands:
wget -O- | sudo apt-key add -
rm 8434D43A.gpg
sudo apt-get update

Next, you'll need to install some packages. You can do this in one of two ways. You could open a terminal and run this command:
sudo apt-get install compiz emerald avant-window-navigator-bzr subversion

Or, if you're afraid of the command line, launch Synaptic and install compiz, emerald, subversion, and avant-window-navigator-bzr. Finally, run another command:
svn ls
When it asks, accept the certificate permanently.
Now, you have Compiz and Avant on your system. Next, go to System > Preferences > Emerald Theme Manager. Under the "Repositories" tab, click "Fetch GPL'd Themes". This gives you a ton of themes for the window border. Choose the one that looks the coolest under the "Themes" tab, and remember that you can come back here later.
Now, on to the controls. Make two files on your desktop called "" and "". They should have the following contents:
compiz --replace
killall avant-window-navigator
metacity --replace

Double-click Nothing happens. To fix that, launch a terminal and use these commands to make the files executable.
cd ~/Desktop
chmod 755 ./bling-*.sh

Now try it.
Next, it's time to add some programs to Avant. Go to Applications and find a program you want to put in Avant's launcher. Instead of launching it, though, drag it to Avant and drop it there. Do this for all the programs you want on there.
Use the file to turn on Compiz, then Avant. Compiz has to be running, or Avant will look all ugly. turns them off and runs Metacity (GNOME's default window manager) in Compiz's place. Running either of them will keep all your windows intact.
The last step should be pretty easy: Annoy the hell out of anyone who uses Windows Vista. ;-)

From Ubuntu 7.10,
The DistRogue.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Myah OS 3.0: Remember them? No?

I mentioned Myah OS briefly a few months ago in a tutorial on making live CDs. I mentioned that it was basically a faster version of SLAX, and not much else, and made a good base for a live CD. As of today, the development cycle of the 3.0 series started. They upgraded a lot of packages, added a better software selection, and plan on adding an installer.
Obviously, a live CD isn't the best choice for gaming, but once installed onto a hard disk, that changes. Myah OS is i686-optimized, making it even faster. Add in a lightweight desktop, and you're looking at some seriously high FPS rates. (And the lead developer says that kernel 2.6.23- with CFS- will be available for download after the installation.)
But gaming isn't Myah OS's only purpose. It could make an ancient (but not too ancient- Pentium II or later) machine run like new. If installing Ubuntu onto an old machine makes it usable again (like so many proponents of Linux claim it does), then imagine what Myah could do to that Pentium II 400 box sitting in your attic.
From Xubuntu 7.10,
The DistRogue.

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Monday, October 22, 2007

Xubuntu 7.10: Solid as usual

In Linux-land this week, it was pretty much Ubuntu Gutsy, Ubuntu Gutsy, and Ubuntu 7.10. (And KDE 4 Beta 3.) Nothing else was on Digg, and little else on Tuxmachines, on October 18. As usual, the GNOME side of Ubuntu got all the new features (and the hype that comes with them), but the new additions, Gobuntu and Fluxbuntu, didn't seem to receive as much attention. As is tradition, neither did Xubuntu.
But Xubuntu is still a solid system for people with older hardware. It still runs lightweight, GTK-based software and can still (supposedly) run off as little as 64MB of RAM. It still includes most of Ubuntu's features (except Compiz Fusion, which is a big downside), with XFCE as its (capable but underrated) default desktop. It still doesn't run amazingly fast, but it still balances speed and friendliness. The biggest change in this release might seem superficial, but it's a very welcome improvement- a new theme based on the Murrine engine. Add in the usual updates, and you get another solid release.
But one thing troubled me as I booted off the live USB. GLXGears only reported 260FPS, and the lowest score I'd seen so far was 800 (for Fedora 8 Test 3). Hmm. The past Ubuntu releases had hovered around 1000. Everything else seemed to run snappily (except games, which had the same bizarre problem)... After looking around a bit, I found the problem. Gutsy is missing a package vital to 3D acceleration, and to fix the problem, just run the command;
sudo apt-get install libgl1-mesa-dri

and that should fix it. GLXGears jumped to 900FPS.
Nothing has changed in the install since last release, so I won't go over it. Well, actually, one thing did: The install froze at 86% when downloading language packs. Just like on Kubuntu. Beta. Wow, since someone already filed a bug on Launchpad, I thought it would be fixed for the final release, but nooo... Not good. Like last time, taking the system offline during the install fixed the problem.
From a blank install, I had a working desktop that could do all the things an average user would want to do: work with spreadsheets and documents, browse the Web, play music... The boxed application set is minimalist as usual, but still functional. It uses Totem for all audio playback (may I suggest adding Exaile?), AbiWord for word processing, and Transmission for BitTorrent downloads, along with the usual app set. MP3 codecs aren't boxed, but just like with last release, can be installed with a few clicks when needed. (It even has a wizard! :-) And since it came with ipw3945 drivers, I didn't need to worry about wireless.
The thing that really struck me about this release was the artwork. Xubuntu uses the new Murrina-StormCloud theme, along with an XFWM theme from XFCE 4.5-svn. The resulting system looks sleek and runs fast. And the wallpaper is an immense change from past releases, using a new steel-gray color scheme to replace the previous blue. Awesome. Of course, with my custom settings, I didn't get to experience the wallpaper after the install, but the live desktop looked sweet. (In the screenshots, all of the eyecandy can be added with XFWM's built-in compositing, a special font for XFWM titles, and WBar 1.3. No Compiz, Avant, or anything special.)

But Xubuntu's goal isn't to just sit around and look pretty. Even without CFS, scores in Sauerbraten and GLXGears were solid, but it isn't a gamer's OS. (Especially if that "gamer" forgot to order a laptop with decent 3D acceleration... x.X) The lightweight desktop remained responsive with Firefox, GIMP, and a handful of other GTK apps open, but slowed down when I added Azureus into the mix (Java programs are slooow...). This is why I use Deluge for BitTorrent downloads...
Xubuntu Gutsy marks another solid release from the Xubuntu team. It's not supposed to be a full Ubuntu release, but a more watered-down version for older machines, which explains why it's missing a few things (coughcoughcoughCompizcoughcoughcough). If you don't like the default package selection, just add more programs in Synaptic. The new artwork, along with the changes common to all versions (new kernel, GIMP moved to 2.4-rc series), make the upgrade worth it.
-New artwork
-Package upgrades
-GIMP 2.4 (worth it alone)
-No new ground broken
-Still not fast enough
-Installation issues
Friendliness: 4.5/5-
Almost on par with the main Ubuntu.
Performance: 3.5/5- It's supposed to be fast, but it could be a lot faster...
Features: 3.5/5- A basic desktop, but a complete one.
Packaging: 5/5- Top of its class again.
Artwork: 2.5/2.5- Nowhere to go from here, the artwork is superb.
Community: 2.5/2.5- The Ubuntu community remains helpful, enormous, and diverse.

Overall: 4.3/5
I'm still trying to decide where to go next. My biggest candidates are Arch and Puppy, but Arch's installer keeps crashing. I had this problem back when I tried 0.72... And Puppy is... well... Puppy Linux. Since I have a new computer, I can't find any uses for it other than gaming, and it doesn't come with libSDL. Too bad, it would make an awesome gaming platform...
From Xubuntu 7.10,
The DistRogue.
PS: A word on that chart. I've made another PHP image generator to make little charts comparing the strengths and weaknesses of various distros. The numbers on the left side represent ease of use, while the right side focuses more on practicality. Here are some more:
Mandriva 2008:

openSUSE 10.3:

Wolvix 1.1.0 "Hunter" Edition:

PCLinux OS 2007:

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Exaile: The most underrated media player for Linux

After actually trying out Songbird, I have a lot more respect for it, and amaroK has always been an excellent audio player, but my favorite media-management program for Linux is still Exaile.
If you've never heard of Exaile, give it a try. It's a lightweight, Python-based media player for GNOME and XFCE. It's supposed to be the amaroK of GTK-based desktops, and it's designed to be lightweight and fast.
One of Exaile's biggest advantages is that it can be extended via plugins, Firefox-style. Just go to Edit > Plugins, check the plugins you want installed, and click "Install/Upgrade". These plugins include an iPod manager, an Avant plugin, and Shoutcast/Streamripper integration.
Other than that, it's pretty much like amaroK. It has the same vertical-tabs-along-the-side interface, and it supports music collections (both on the hard disk and on external devices and MP3 players). It also can work with multiple playlists at once, something amaroK can't do. Yet.
Again, if you use GNOME or XFCE, but like amaroK, check out Exaile. It's starting to catch on in lightweight distributions like Wolvix, and it's full of features.
From Xubuntu 7.10,
The DistRogue.

eLive 1.0: Turning a laptop into a l33t machine

I reviewed eLive 1.0 a while back, saying that it made a great desktop. When I played some Tremulous as part of my review of Xubuntu 7.10 (still coming up), I was disguested by how low my FPS rates were- they dipped below 6FPS on a medium-sized map (Nexus 6). So, I installed eLive with E16 as the desktop and tried it again. This time, the numbers were more like 20-30FPS- playable even with a lot of players in the same room.
Now for the shocker- I was using an Intel graphics chip, which is notoriously useless when it comes to gaming. Usually, I tweak xorg.conf to give it 128MB of VRAM from the system memory, but I didn't do it this time. And Tremulous ran playably anyways.
Sweet. I guess eLive is my gaming system from now on.
From eLive 1.0,
The DistRogue.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Nightmare over!

Mad props to mantra for this. Taking out the RTC battery for a few minutes did the trick, and I'm now writing this from my own laptop, now happily running Xubuntu 7.10 "Gutsy Gibbon". And rest assured that a review is coming right up. I already love the sleek artwork. Hint to XFCE/GNOME users: Use Murrine-based themes for good-looking GTK2 artwork that supposedly runs 30% faster than the Clearlooks engine.
From Xubuntu 7.10,
the DistRogue.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Just great...

This is a first. This time, I can't even get to the BIOS screen, or even boot into a live USB. All I get is a message that says "Time-of-day clock stopped."
Here's the situation:
I'm working with 3 volumes. SDA is my laptop's 80GB internal HD, partitioned as follows: two 10GB ReiserFS partitions for Ubuntu 7.10 (just out today, w00t!) and Mandriva 2008, one 10GB ext3 partition for Linux Mint 3.1, and a 40GB shared /home partition. SDB is a 512MB USB key running SLAX 6.0-rc6 and NimbleX sub-100. Finally, SDC is a 1GB USB key with Puppy Linux 3.01.
I downloaded the DVD image to Fedora 8 test 3 and used the bootloader (images/diskboot.img) to load it from SDB1. The install (over Ubuntu) went successfully, except that I accidentally installed GRUB onto SDB. DoH! Three (successful) reboots later, I set up the bootloader to boot my other two OSes. Neither of the options worked. Great... At least Fedora still worked (sans Web connecton).
I rebooted into Puppy (on SDC) to fix the problem. I did some browsing, and at some point, it locked up and I had to reboot.
At which point my laptop turned magically into a shiny, $600 brick.
From Windows XP,
A very annoyed DistRogue.
(PS: The laptop I'm on has a faulty 'A' key, so I may have missed some 'A's.)

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Online Desktop: Holy ^&*@!!!

Imagine life without a hard disk. (Or USB- sorry!) Or better yet, imagine life with a hard disk only being used for temporary storage and really big files (ISOs, music collections...). You use the Web for everything- word processing, image editing/storage, etc- and can access your data from pretty much anywhere via the Intertubes. Life is good, huh?
There are lots of people that do that. Must rock to be them... And soon, there are going to be more.
Meet the Online Desktop. It's a project sponsored by Fedora and Red Hat (and, to an extent, Google) to move settings and documents onto the Web, and have them available with a few clicks. It's possible. Here are some demos of it in action (surprise! it's already been implemented in Fedora 8 Test 3).
This is the next step forwards in how we work with our computers. What goes on the Web can instantly be shared with anyone, not to mention used with all sorts of services. Open source will be at the cutting edge of the revolution (for once), and odds are that when Microsoft jumps in the game, they'll pump up their prices for similar services, driving more people to Linux. And integrating everything with the 'Net could start a "Web 3.0"- one where everything is online and integrated tightly with online services.
From Ubuntu 7.10rc,
A very bewildered DistRogue.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ubustu repo merge: You don't care now, but...

One of the less-touted changes for Ubuntu 7.10 is the merge of the Ubuntu Studio repositories into the main ones (hosted by Canonical). This means you'll be able to install entire categories of multimedia software (audio, video, graphics) with a single command (or via Synaptic, as usual). You don't care, right?
Okay, let me put it another way.
A while back, I stacked up Ubuntu Studio versus dyne:bolic, a rival multimedia distribution. My biggest complaint was that dyne:bolic could run on as little as 64MB of RAM and a Pentium (i586) with satisfactory results, while Ubustu couldn't come close because it used GNOME. Well, say hello to Fluxbuntu, the latest addition to Ubuntu's growing armada of forks. It uses Fluxbox as its desktop environment, and in addition, according to Wikipedia:
As well as using the Fluxbox window manager, Fluxbuntu has removed many packages and daemons from Ubuntu which makes it even more lightweight.
This remedies one of the reasons why Ubuntu is so slow: it runs a lot of unnecessary software in the background, making it bloated. The opposite is the reason other distros, such as dyne:bolic, leave it in the dust at the benchmarks.
What does this have to do with the repository merge? It means that Ubustu can now run on pretty much any base system. If you like KDE more than Ubustu's default GNOME, you can install Ubustu packages over Kubuntu (but please read my previous post first... 0.o) But more to the point, you can now run a complete Ubustu studio over a lighter-weight base by installing Fluxbuntu and adding the Ubustu packages manually. And it's not that hard. Just use these commands:
sudo apt-get install ubuntustudio-audio
sudo apt-get install ubuntustudio-video
sudo apt-get install ubuntustudio-graphics

Or just install those packages via Synaptic.
From Ubuntu 7.10,
The DistRogue.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Kubuntu: Nothing much has changed in 2 years

If you're reading this on Kubuntu, then I honestly feel sorry for you. It's not that I hate KDE (in fact, I love it, even v3.5), it's just how badly misused it is in Kubuntu.
My first experience with Kubuntu dates back almost 2 years, when I tried out the Kubuntu version of Breezy Badger. Now, I've decided to give it another try and see how far it's come in the past 2 years. I downloaded and installed the 7.10 Beta image, keeping in mind that the development branch is less stable than the main one.
The installer crashed at 86%. I'm not the only one with this problem, and after asking around on the #ubuntu+1 IRC channel, I learned that taking the live system offline during the install solves the problem. Okay, not Kubuntu's fault. It's not the install that annoyed me so much as what came after it...
I booted into a system running KDE, KDE apps, and nothing but KDE as far as the eye can see. This is exactly the problem that a lot of people have with Foresight, the zealous KDE- (or, in Foresight's case, GNOME-) centricism is absolutely crippling. I couldn't find Firefox or Synaptic on there, both of which are included in rival KDE-based distro PCLinuxOS.
The artwork has improved drastically since Feisty, but it's still not top-notch. The wallpaper is the biggest step up, using a more blueish color instead of the purple of previous releases. The controls now use a Polyester style, complete with animations. The window decorations, however, are the same old (non-transparent) Crystal windeco as always, and the buttons are still woefully in need of an update.
Performance? What performance? GLXGears reported in the 800s out of the box. That would be because the Strigi Desktop Search is turned on by default- not a smart move. Turning it off raised the number to 900, still not quite acceptable.
If you absolutely need a KDE-based desktop, my answer is still PCLinuxOS.
-KDE-based :)

-Package selection needs refining
-Artwork still needs improvement
Friendliness: 4/5-
It's still an Ubuntu variant...
Performance: 2/5- Not impressive.
Features: 3/5- A narrow selection of programs at best. The Kubuntu packagers seem to have their own agenda.
Packaging: 3.5/5- Adept? Why not Synaptic?
Artwork: 2/2.5- Still needs work, but a step in the right direction.
Community: 2.5/2.5- Again, Kubuntu is based on Ubuntu.
Overall: 3.4/5- Kubuntu needs some major work done before it can be considered equal to Ubuntu.

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Theme reshuffle

Just thought I'd let you know that my blog is now under construction. It shouldn't affect your ability to browse my posts, and it shouldn't last very long. I'm working on upgrading the look to one of Blogger's new line of templates, and, keeping your eyes in mind, I'll try not to make it very different from this one.
Thursday, October 04, 2007

And the winner is...

I might as well just stop blogging right now, because it might be over. I've found the perfect distro for me, and it was right under my nose the whole time. I'm writing this from Mandriva 2008, and so far, I don't see any reason to look beyond it (at least, for me to look beyond it) for a main distro.
Really, nothing much has changed since the 2007.1 release. The MCC is still one of the best Linux control centers around (for almost anything), balancing a keep-it-easy-for-the-user philosophy with flexibility and a policy of not requiring the whole base system to be contorted in all sorts of ways (unlike openSUSE's YaST). The winning combination of i586 optimization and parallel booting ensures lightning-fast performance, a trait Mandriva passes on to its evil son, PCLinuxOS, and without the bloat of some other optimized distros (coughcoughcoughSabayoncoughcoughcough), it makes a solid gaming distro.
But there were still some minor improvements this release. As is now tradition, Mandriva moved a step away from their corporate past by abolishing the "Mandriva Club", their VIP service for paying users. Version 2008 also comes with fresh applications and artwork, including, as always, a bleeding-edge GIMP version (2.4-rc2 this time). Compiz Fusion is now included by default, continuing the tradition of excellent 3D effects. Under the hood, Mandriva is now running Linux kernel with CFQ I/O scheduling (not to be confused with CFS). There's a full list of changes for anyone interested.

Installation and... bells?

The installation and post-install configuration took about half an hour. I installed Mandriva right off my hard disk, but did a full KDE install from the enormous Free image, which didn't include iwlwifi drivers. I downloaded and installed them, and thanks to MCC, I had the system up and running in minutes.

I ran into a pleasant quirk: My system bell/beep never sounded. Turning it off had me tearing my hair out on openSUSE, and it was mildly annoying on Mint, but Mandriva shipped with it turned off. It's the little things that make Mandriva such a red-carpet distro.

Performance aka pwnage

GLXGears reported about 1150FPS, which was surprisingly low, but still better than most distros I've tested. I couldn't try out Tremulous because my ISP was apparently having a bad day, and it only works for online play.


As usual, Mandriva ships with cutting-edge 3D effects. Last release introduced Beryl and Metisse. This time out, Mandriva ships with Compiz Fusion replacing both Beryl and Compiz. The drak3D wizard remain easy to use, with only 3 options: No acceleration, Compiz Fusion, or Metisse.

Other areas/Overview

Mandriva included both a traditional KDE menu and a shiny, usable (tabs switch when moused over- w00t) Kickoff menu, a la openSUSE and with a custom configuration and artwork.
Speaking of artwork, Mandriva shipped with a noticeable amount of polish on everything. The KDE panel has the now-ubiquitous "glossy" feel to it, and the new wallpaper, usplash, and login splash artwork gave it a distinct feel of continuity. The Kickoff menu had the same artwork as the default KDE menu, giving it a much more professional feel. Finally, although Mandriva is mainly a French-developed distro, the English translations were flawless, unlike *some* foreign distros I could mention...
Installing the task-kde4 package in RPMDrake gives you a complete KDE 4 desktop.
I don't know why I overlooked Mandriva as a distribution before. It's cutting-edge, friendly, fast, and respectful to hardcore Linux geeks. In other words, it's just like PCLinuxOS. :P Really, the only difference between Mandriva and PCLinuxOS is that Mandriva is more bleeding-edge and PCLOS is a tad faster. If you want a simple, often-updated, and cutting-edge desktop, Mandriva is worth a look as much as it was back in 1998.
-Friendly without disrupting the traditional Linux setup
-Relatively fast
-Cutting-edge 3D effects
-MCC is as useful as it gets
-Ubuntu is still better-supported
Friendliness: 5/5-
As I remarked earlier, red-carpet service.
Performance: 4/5- By cutting down on bloat and optimizing for an i586 architecture, Mandriva is as much a gaming system as a workstation.
Features: 5/5- Bleeding-edge features, and a complete desktop out of the box.
Packaging: 4/5- RPMDrake is second only to Synaptic, which PCLinuxOS uses.
Artwork: 2/2.5- The artwork uses interchangeable color schemes, and is polished as usual.
Community: 2/2.5- Combine the Mandriva and PCLOS communities together and you get a hell of a lot of (relatively) happy tech-support for free.
Overall: 4.4/5- Mandriva's rise from their corporate ashes has been overshadowed by Ubuntu, but they're still very much alive.

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