Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stoning the Glass Windows, Microsoft's OS

It's been 6 months in my current organization, GrocerMax, an online grocery retailer by veterans in the retail industry. But I could use Windows initially only for a week, then I had to retreat to the cozy comfort of CEntOS whereas the IT infrastructure here been predominantly Windows, except for a few laptops where Ubuntu sits on, in the development bay. Windows, the OS, is no more a means to do some task, it's a road block. Most often I saw people working for the Windows, not on the Windows. Put Windows on how shiny or superb hardware you've, it will soon crawl on the knees. Ours are mostly i5 dominated laptops with (unnecessarily) nVidia 820 gpu for graphics. Forget the heavy-lifting on these machines, most are barely able to use them. I'll explain the reasons for this bad experience, and how we're planning to break open the windows for a greener vista outside. For starters, we've to struggle on spreadsheets ridden with macros and formulae. Follow the run.
  1. Ever-growing footprint: For the sake of compatibility Microsoft has been offering the full stack of 32bit libraries even if you're running a 64bit edition. The result is heavy footprint of several GBs, on the upper side of 30GBs or so. The scenario is so worse that you can't have a pure 64bit experience and get the benefits of performance. Gross! If delve down, you'll know there are thousands electronic waste bytes. A proof - Windows 10 still supports 16bit executables, has a heavy compatibility layer for this architecture.
  2. Vendor appeasement: Microsoft parasites mostly on OEM subscriptions and enterprise copies in this side of the world, south and central Asia, where 90% of the self & retail installations are pirated copies. So, to appease vendors you must have support for their devices, for this get drivers ready in the install base. Take any Windows, 7, 8, 8.1, or 10, you'll find 1000s of residues. Your specific computer may have 10 something subcomponents for audio, video, internet and communications. On the brighter side, Windows won't ask you for drivers if you put on old hardware, say 5 years or more. But on the downside, you have to carry along the truck load of device drivers. Besides, OEMs slug the system down further with their home-brewed bloatware. Take Dell for example, it bundles more than a dozen of its applications in its preinstallations, which nobody uses.
  3. Controversial decisions: Surprisingly Windows XP still sits on 14% of the consumer user base. And has a cult following. It was an insecure shit hole, a virus paradise for sure, however, it opened the world to a trusted paradigm of computing, the start screen and menu, feather-weight install base and almost guaranteed unobtrusive operation, till a virus/malware took the control. Then on, the world has seen controversial decisions starting with Vista, be it the moronity called metro interface of tiled shit that gave a Halloween experience on the press of a start button, or the never ending upgrade trips consuming hours of your productivity.
  4. Insecure by design: Gates offered Windows, sounds punny? Not so if I say, Bill Gates put together Microsoft Windows. His was a good idea, bring an appliance like model to the Unix dominated computing space. He gave passengers the steering wheel, or put them on auto-pilot mode. Yes, that's what you do if you give the user user all the administrative rights including adding/removing software with that click-click-go or bingo pattern. Sadly, viruses and malware are also some software, albeit malevolent or faulty, they take the administrative rights too. Of course, windows has options to create a local user without administrative privileges and changing the accounts to that effect, but average Joe don't know or doesn't care. Do you know Windows is the only OS that requires an antivirus software, and the reason for the boom of many IT companies baking these contentious software? Apple went a different route, re-engineering unix base and building on it. The Mach kernel on your Macbook borrows heavily on Unix. Inherently more stable and safe. And it brims of commercial gloss on the outer layers.
  5. Growing entropy: For the sake of ease and familiarity (not UI, but operations) Windows has been patching here and there. It has become so cluttered that there is almost no way out to fight the devastating Windows rot (a popular term that describes how Windows gets slower with time). In windows world there's no way to uninstall an application fully and cleanly, removing the entries from registry and killing the configurations from the accounts folder (that Applications and Settings directory). Windows updates from one version to another is highly unreliable and take up lots of disk space. After you update it, I bet you'll get orphan bits from previous version at many places. Sadly on Windows 10 most updates are shoveled down your throat, choosing and managing your updates is very tough, though not impossible. And the real safe mode went for a toss in the recent versions. It's there, but nested deep inside. It's really difficult to debug, and Microsoft's operations are so vast that they are not approachable.

What to do?

The Microsoft way: Nliting/Viliting (taking unnecessary bits out from the install image/iso). Deploying that on user desktops/laptops. Administering the machines with proper group policy, moderating the user rights, imposing active directory, filter/saving data through a proxy server.

Or the Unix/Linux way: Success is not guaranteed. But cultural shock is for sure, because most are unfamiliar with this platform. And those in the know use a Toy, Ubuntu (Microsoft wannabe of Linux world). The real tool CEntOS is not that easy though it's a saner alternative that requires blue pills initially. CEntOS install routines and customization is definitely more difficult. Some components are not supposed to work right out of the box like it does automagically (wrong word with a right meaning) on Ubuntu. But once done, you get 10 years of support, painless computing and much goodies on the way.

Be it *Buntu or CEntOS, transition from Microsoft Office to a certain alternative such as LibreOffice or WPS Office is tedius. I'm sure getting a hang of power-user options on these free suits will be time-intensive. And there's a certain amount of FUD if all can emulate their Windows habits.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Linux Desktop - Zealotry does more harm than good

Is Microsoft and/or Apple holding Linux back? May be, to some extent. However, the real problem is the Linux World itself - the platform and the community. The platform, because it is really not ready for the desktop. The community, because it constantly pushes "holier than thou" attitude for itself and the platform.

The Platform

It's great the way it is. But it's definitely not for the majority. And it's not bad in being so. By design it's a diy, modular, reveal-all, extremely scalable and customizable platform. If you love computers you'll love Linux on your desktop too. Hands down, it beats the competition in performance and security (the server space). It powers the web. It is a winner in the mobile space through Android where it's all about UX and apps (millions), no freedom of choice/chaos is there in terms of system components, it's extremey dumbed down, even to the extent that most users don't know it is powered by Linux kernel, let alone their knowledge of the subsystems.

As a Desktop OS Linux suffers from serious problems. They are all well documented by Artem in his herculean compilation: http://linuxfonts.narod.ru/why.linux.is.not.ready.for.the.desktop.current.html
However, it's good as long as it serves some users. Technically, it is better in many respects. But that doesn't mean we'll forcefully shovel it down someone's throat.

It is as different as any other OS is from another. It's rewarding too, if you love to work for your desktop, and don't mind occasional glitches. Forget the brain-fucked "Desktop of the Year" aspiration for the rest of your life. However, arguably it deserves better visibility and more adoption than what it enjoys now. Had there been no zealotry, it would have been sitting on lot more desktops.

The Community

Satisfaction is something that matches our preoccupation or exceeds it. Disappointment is something that falls short of the expectations or preoccupations. It applies to products, people and services. Often the evangelists would say Linux is best in terms of performance, usability, security, stability, beauty and couple other superlatives. Whereas there is no basis to boast that, definitely no quantifiable method to reach that conclusion. Had the evangelists not touted Linux out of proportion and bashed the corporates for no reason, it could have created a better impression. The approach should be - "If you won't mind investing some time, use it and check for yourself whether it fits your needs. It's different than Windows or OS X."

Geeky era has gone. It's not fashionable any more to show the compiz cubes to your girlfriend, if you don't mind losing her. Price and Security don't cut it much in favor of Desktop Linux either, though it's inherently more secure. People work on application software, not on OS. And most popular FOSS software is available for those other OSes too. Bashing of Microsoft, Proprietary software and Corporates is not going to help you, until you create a unified/cohesive experience on desktop. (It reminds me of the 80-90s bollywood masala flicks where most of the protagonists were poor, and the bad guys were always rich. Ridiculously, the climax, the showdown was always staged in a godown. Stereotyped so much -  some took that rich people were always bad... )

When driven by false ego and/or obsession, please get down your high horses, understand it's just another OS.
For fun let's see the tone and approach of the community. Here I'll site some examples from muktware, followed by my comments. Rest it's all up to you to judge.


Will free Windows make Microsoft bleed to death?

The title hides much than it shows. And what it shows is an utterly biased interpretation of the kind told million times before on those FOSS (FUSS) websites, and none saw the light of the day. Please read the post.

Foremost, Microsoft is not going to offer its pot-boiler OS for Desktops and Servers for free. Microsoft did made a statement about offering it's OS for Mobile devices to the ISVs. Besides, desktop is not going to die any time soon. FYI, the corporate is not worried by linux community, because it knows the latter's direction-less approach. Given the current model of linux desktop, every ISV is damn sure that the community will never get its priorities right when it comes to desktop. What worries it is Google. No denying of the fact. If google adds some offline mainstream applications plus some options to window listing/switching, it'll definitely make a huge dent to the MS dominance.


Reasons why Windows XP users should upgrade to openSUSE

It's somewhat OK if you change the title to "Reasons why Windows XP Home users should upgrade to openSUSE". That "Home" in the suggested title is about "Home Users" and not "Windows XP Home".
Similarity in looks is only thing that I could relate to in that post, nothing else. So much QA, bug fixing and years later XP is almost perfect (though reached EOL), it beats OpenSuse in polish, performance and stability. And please don't go by GIMP, LibreOffice, PiTiVi at workplace. A compromising home user may probably switch to OpenSuse KDE. Most of your XP machines can accommodate Windows 7/8 quite well, if you can take some time to nlite/vlite them. Google is your God. Do it to know how.


What are Chromebooks? And why you don’t need Windows any more...

True, only if you're a web-junkie. Else you'll still need Windows for a wide variety of tasks, the author somewhat reveals it at the end. Grossly misleading if you go by the title and lacking substance.


Microsoft to cut on software development, focus on ads

What's newsworthy here? Microsoft is a for-profit organization. Wealth creation is no sin. And around Microsoft millions of people are employed. It's prospering them too. Ok, let's admit the company has done enough development already, and it tries to outdo Google in marketing. What's so wrong in that? 98% of users don't bother what this company does as long as they are happy with its products.

Finally, the world view you have is quite different from the real world.


Indian state drops Windows, switches to Linux

Yes it did. So many others did too. And then some have undone. The rest will follow. For the reasons best described by Artem.


London borough drops Windows, goes with Chromebooks, saves around £400,000

They are considering the options, and it's one of them. But they have not moved yet. Besides, what good does it hold to inflate figures? The calculation also deliberately ignores the bulk licensing and corporate customization part.

That's a few from one website who is SAVING THE HUMAN RACE from certain Microsoft or Apple epidemic. The web is littered with tons such pedestrian FOSS literature.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fedora 20 64bit Mate Review: Sacrificing a Virgin


Once upon a time I gifted one of my friends a Fedora 10 LiveCD. Five years went by. I met him on facebook three days back. Asked him about his Linux experience. Got a funny reply:

I had so many problems on linux
finally I solved them all..............
.......... I installed Windows.

Any kind of review is intimidating. Reviewing an Open Source Operating System is more so. You need to have enough information and knowledge (the two are different) of OS basics and UX. Goes without saying, the reviewer must have flair for writing - should know how to put it all together. The readers expect some precision, grammatical rules and meaningful/practical information. For the reviewer it means pulling out his/her own intestines. In case of Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X any release is an epic event and any review on them is very much mercurial. But most of the Linux distribution reviews are trash - impractical, ego-laden surface-scratching. Sometimes it seems the reviewers are not qualified for the job, other times it feels the releases are non-event owing to their frequency and buggy character. Also changes between successive releases are not so ground-shaking.

Generally a linux desktop review starts with a nice picture of a desktop-cube effect or a pretty login screenshot. That's it. Then the rundown is predictable - the livecd experience, the looks, the install routine, the responsiveness and the resource usage. Plus personal bias thrown here and there. The reviewers have a different (may be distorted too) world-view. For them, every new feature is shinny. They almost always suggest their readers to update for any tiny change in version number. They are unaware of the vast non-Linux user base who update only when there is a real need, only when something is pressing. I've seen people happily using Windows XP even till date. Often the update to Windows 7 was forced up on them via new devices.

Having said that, I must add Linux desktops don't shun me. Because, perhaps I don't mind "working for" a system, whereas most users "work on" a system. I don't bother random annoyances, whereas 98% of users will flee away. Because I know Linux desktop is ridden with bigger and more serious perennial problems. That's why, in comparison, the random annoyances are kind of non-existent.

Let's start our Fedora 20 Mate Spin review. Shall we?

Touching 2014 CEntOS 6 started showing its age. Partly because I bought a new system, and partly because many of my favorite mainstream proprietary applications either did not work, or did very badly. Then some other applications required the latest glibc. I was damn sure such a critical package will never be pushed as an update. Of course, I was flirting with Debian Wheezy and a few other distributions. Sadly, none could offer that gnome2 "usability:performance" combination. Often, it was a trade off with one or the other. Now that Mate desktop has made way into Fedora official spins, I found it's a worthy candidate. Chances were pretty high that I'll be on the bleeding edge of gnu tool chains, latest kernel, glibc, and of course, the application software. On top of all these, there's Mate desktop.

The Test Machine

A Gigabyte H68 board, G2120 proc, Nvidia GTX graphics, Atheros Lan, Huawei modem, Logitech HD webcam, Samsung DVD RW drive, Western Digital 2TB green hard drive.

The Good

Downloading Fedora 20 64bit Mate spin took an hour. Installation was pretty fast. The freshly booted system looked familiar pre-fedora 14 like. The panels, the icon set, control-center and that ugly gnome effects were all there. Then I pulled in my usual application stack - a media player, a screen recorder, a voice recorder, ffmpeg, an offline dictionary, webcam recorder, disc burner, flash and other popular multimedia plugins. With rpmfusion repo configured, the installation of these apps was breezy. That's a good thing about Linux software management. You've a great package manager, centrally managed repo structure, and a fairly large base of software. Installation and removal of software is almost always clean, unlike Windows that leaves so much residues at places you can't sniff or suspect.

All my devices were recognized and configured well. By default the system was using onboard Intel graphics. That was just perfect for everyday purpose. But later I installed nvidia non-free drivers.

Yum in Fedora 20 is a great improvement over Centos 6 and earlier Fedora releases. It does the best use of delta management, and package cleaning. I am falling for systemd, another definite improvement over the traditional sysv. I am surprised by its speed and parallelization powers. It takes much of the process onto itself and does a great job at it. I'm fan of its masking and unmasking safe manageability.

The Bad

So far, so good. But I was not comfortable with the setup. Something was missing. The system was not as responsive as CEntOS 6. That much touted "Mate Desktop", I'm afraid, needed an alien army of other mates, mostly gnome 3 stuff, to keep working. Taming and managing Mate Desktop was tough. There were Gconf and DConf, metacity and marco, nautilus as well as mate file manager, and some other such redundancies. Especially network manager, network applet, login manager, and some application software needed a weird combination of toolkit packages, windows manager, file manager and some bits and pieces from other desktop environments. Not that coherent, unified and prestine like gnome 2. Mate seemed still in early alpha phases. Perhaps the whole environment is caught between gtk2 and gtk3, and gnome2 - mate -gnome3 package resolutions. Mate roadmap says it's work in progress for full wayland and systemd integration. So, expect Mate to be in transition for rather long.

In the broader sense it shows how the UX is badly affected by the plural culture in things as crucial as toolkits such as qt, gtk, wxWidgets, FLTK, AWT/Swing and Tk. An application may look totally different in the presence or absense of one or more of these stuff, as per the case. Quality of the outer layer of GNU/Linux (DEs, Windows Managers, Toolkits, Login Managers, Icon Set, Themes, etc.) shows that it's developed by unpaid volunteers. Because everyone is busy with the "sexy" features galore; and none gives a flying fuck to the usability, uniformity and cohesiveness.

As a workaround I removed all those alien mates of Mate desktop. The side effect - loss of some necessary applications such as brasero, network manager, lightdm, cheese. The next step in the process was to find the replacements of those applications that don't have any such weird dependencies. I went for gtk-recordmydesktop, audio-recorder, mpv, guvcview, xcdroast, artha, cdm. And I'm happy with what I did. Now I'm using the good old Bluecurve theme with Redhat "start here" startup menu. I curated it by adding some more icons, creating a theme file and customizing metacity window manager. The curation was a must as the new notification system, application menus and toolkits have changed a lot from what they were in good old Redhat days. Finally it's worth it.

The Ugly

I started experiencing some intolerable annoyances. Every time I booted the system my mobile broadband would refuse to connect. I had to plugout and plugin on successive boots, then it would connect. Later I came to know the culprit was systemd 208. After I enabled rawhide repo and updated to systemd 211, that problem was gone.

Among other problems, slow boot, high memory consumption and overall slow performance required immediate fixing. After masking unnecessary systemd units and removing unnecessary mate-session startup applications, the system became very fast and responsive. Fresh booted system consumed some 251mb memory. The average boot time from grub selection (mine is a Windows 7 / Fedora 20 dualboot mode) to fully active mate desktop was ~9 sec. Both the results are amazing. Here's some data.

memory consumption:

free -m

                   total    used    free     shared   buffers  cached
        Mem:  7902   418     7483   27         25         142
-/+ buffers/cache:  251      7651

that means, just 251mb for a 64bit OS with 8gb physical memory, amazing!

boot speed:

Startup finished in 2.004s (kernel) + 1.088s (initrd) + 6.190s (userspace) = 9.284s

systemd-analyze blame
          1.682s lightdm.service
          1.608s NetworkManager.service
          1.515s accounts-daemon.service
          1.411s systemd-fsck-root.service
          1.086s polkit.service
           730ms systemd-vconsole-setup.service
           729ms systemd-tmpfiles-setup.service
           716ms systemd-remount-fs.service
           481ms systemd-tmpfiles-setup-dev.service
           408ms udisks2.service
           387ms ModemManager.service
           374ms rtkit-daemon.service
           321ms kmod-static-nodes.service
           254ms systemd-readahead-replay.service
           239ms tmp.mount
           202ms systemd-udev-trigger.service
           152ms systemd-sysctl.service
           118ms systemd-tmpfiles-clean.service
           113ms systemd-readahead-collect.service
            83ms systemd-random-seed.service
            82ms user@1000.service
            73ms systemd-logind.service
            35ms fedora-import-state.service
             4ms systemd-journal-flush.service
             3ms sys-fs-fuse-connections.mount
             3ms sys-kernel-config.mount
             3ms systemd-update-utmp-runlevel.service
             2ms systemd-update-utmp.service
             2ms systemd-udevd.service
             1ms systemd-readahead-done.service
           941us systemd-user-sessions.service

Pleasant Surprises

While updating systemd from rawhide, I had a chance to read the "check-update" data. I could see updates to glibc (2.19.90), mesa (10.1), xorg (1.15) and mate desktop (1.8). Crossed both the fingers and updated these packs. Overall it was a good decision on my part. Full HD movies, and games like Torcs ran very smooth. There was barely any frame drop, if at all.

The problem with open-source graphics on Linux is that the driver stack is not self-contained. The components are scattered in the Linux kernel, DRM library, Mesa, the X.Org DDX and VA-API et al. That means updating to bleeding edge versions can be risky. May be I'm lucky this time around. And it's all playing very nice. DPI scaling, fonts antialiasing and windows shadowing were not that much of a pain. The defaults were good enough.

Current Software Galore

To achieve a pristine just-Mate desktop I had to do much rpm transaction, sometimes nitpicking a few packages from rawhide (Please don't do that!). Right now my install base is touching only 3gb with the following software:

  - Artha dictionary
  - Engrampa archive manager
  - Mate calculator
  - Pluma text editor
  - Mate search tool
  - Mate screenshot
  - Caja file manager
  - Mate terminal
  - Bleachbit disk cleaner

Games (All for my son, Piyush)
  - Gcompris
  - Childsplay
  - Trigger (packages from OpenSuse)
  - Torcs race

  - Eye of Mate image viewer
  - GIMP
  - ImageMagick

  - Firefox
  - Pidgin
  - Uget

Office Suite
  - OpenOffice 4.0.1 (I found it more responsive
                                    than Libreoffice 4.2.2)
  - Audio recorder
  - gtk-Recordmydesktop
  - Guvcview webcam utility
  - Ffmpeg + Winff media manipulation pack
  - Xcdroast disc burner
  - Flash and other popular multimedia plugins
  - Mpv media player (It's more refined, fast and
                   hassle-free than VLC and Mplayer)


So, what's the gain after so much pain? Immense. If you value the theory of freedom as proclaimed by GNU/Linux. In real world scenario, you'll also get some benefits in terms of pure computing. For example, on the other OS you can only dream of the scripting capabilities of bash in combination of linux utilities. I was looking for a practical solution to digitize my favorite VCDs gathering dust. Running a nice ffmpeg batch script I could enhance and convert yesteryears classics into modern h264/aac formats that can be readily playable using any standalone device, smart phones or your desktop computer. In init 3, on a dumb terminal, ffmpeg took some 8 hours (in the night) to process more than 20 vcds.

Among others, I am really surprised at the modularity of Linux, here Fedora 20 Mate. A great kernel, full bundle of productivity suite, multimedia suite, internet suite and some nice system utilities were accommodated in a sub-3gb drive space. The system booted in ~9 sec, and the initial memory foot print was just 251mb. The boot time could still be reduced had I installed it on an SSD. And the entire package base (system software and application software), manuals for each bit and piece and a vocal user/developer community are there on your fingertips. On top of it all, you are enjoying a very secure computing. All that for free, if time is not a premium for you. That's a great feat in any stretch of imagination. That you can never achieve on Windows or OSX.

But the point is, how much these so called goodies concern a lay-user who is addicted to commercial gloss on Android, Windows, iOS and OSX, and who never cares about knowing the system internals, or who never buys your libertarian theories? IMO, none. But the bad UX, bad integration and loose pieces are enough to ward them off. Linux developers should know that an average Joe uses applications, not the OS. There's less benefit in showing bones of an Oh-So-Great OS.


Those who don't agree with me on the "bad integration" of Linux Desktop please have a look at the design of linux graphics and audio stack, see the mess of multiple layers. Then take a fresh look at the incohesive approach to put together the toolkits, desktop environments and notification systems. For proof you may visit various bugzillas (gnome, kernel, xorg, pulseaudio, mesa, kde, the list is endless) and confirm for yourselves about the bugs that should not have occurred at the first place.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

32-bit Ghost Still Haunts on Linux Desktop

People hear something about computers and repeat it mindlessly without understanding the world around them. One such example is the support for 32-bit architecture. For them a home desktop performs better on any 32-bit OS + native 32-bit applications than their 64-bit counterparts, and the user should restrict to it. It's somewhat true if that mythical user never goes beyond web browsers, word processors and media players. That's very much it. If he/she jumps into some database work, media encoding and some other CPU-intensive task, the power of 64-bit shows. It almost revolves circles around 32-bit thingy.

So, what's holding 64-bit arch from replacing everything 32-bit? There are many reasons; the two most important ones are - 1) there are many 32-bit hardware still scattered around, and 2) very crucial of all, people have developed an adamant inertia for 32-bit. They'll keep sticking to it. That's why some popular software come in 32-bit only, such as Skype, Teamviewer (I know there's a 64-bit version, but inside it's still 32-bit, 64-bit is only the wrapper) and AnyConnect. Good news is - on Windows 64-bit one can easily enjoy the mix of 64-bit and 32-bit applications.

 #1 Windows is targeted squarely by all the ISVs at its vast userbase, and
 #2 Microsoft through its skilled developer base is able to feed and keep alive an old dinosaur of 32-bit libraries and compatibility layers inside 64-bit OS versions to support both the arches ensuring that point-n-click usability.

On Linux desktop, 64-bit architecture has it's own set of irritants. And when you try to run a mix of 64- and 32-bit apps it misbehaves. There are some endeavors like multi-arch in Debian, but it's still not there.

On my CentOS-Windows (both 64-bit) dual-boot home pc, it was an uphill task to install some 32-bit-only applications on CentOS, whereas on Windows it was like a breeze.

32-Bit (Un)Success story and some How-To's

Showstoppers: Cisco AnyConnect, Teamviewer, Skype

Unresolved: Cisco AnyConnect. It installs quite well, but doesn't work at all. Looking for a workaround using OpenConnect. You may suggest your fixes, if any.
Installed/Fully resolved: Teamviewer (yum localinstall Teamviewer.rpm or whatever the name of that 32-bit rpm, it will pull in a few 32-bit dependencies)
Partially resolved: An old version of Skype (thanks CentOS Wiki, resolved partially, because you never know when the next update will break it all.

Skype installation procedure:

The latest version doesn't work. Please download a bit older static build (mentioned below) that's still available.

     yum install glibc.i686 nss-softokn-freebl.i686 alsa-lib.i686 libXv.i686 libXScrnSaver.i686 libtiff.i686 glib2.i686 libSM.i686 libXrender.i686 fontconfig.i686 pulseaudio-libs.i686 alsa-plugins-pulseaudio.i686 libv4l.i686

        cd /tmp
     wget http://download.skype.com/linux/skype_static-

        cd /opt
     tar xjvf /tmp/skype_static-
     rm /tmp/skype_static-
     ln -s skype_staticQT- skype
     ln -s /opt/skype /usr/share/skype
     ln -s /usr/lib/libtiff.so.3 /usr/lib/libtiff.so.4
     ln -s /opt/skype/skype /usr/bin/skype
     LD_PRELOAD=/usr/lib/libv4l/v4l1compat.so /opt/skype/skype

That's it!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Debian Wheezy - feather light and rock solid

Question: Why do I like Debian?

Short Answer: It gives me a "Debbie Does Dallas" experience. Addictive like pristine porn - no nonsense and predictive. The rest gazillion other lady-like distributions invigorate you with too much Viagra but don't show up at THAT moment.

Long Answer: Read this review and/or comb the web for so many other reviews.

From early days, sitting on version 4.0, that's right Etch, it flirted me. It was neither too easy, nor too beautiful, but always rock solid. Then followed Lenny and Squeeze only to reaffirm and sometimes spice up that experience.

With that prelude follow the run.

Wheezy from it's very alpha and beta phases put so many Debian lovers into suspicion. Whether it'll default to XFCE or Gnome; why it jumped into that gnome 3 mess; and if it'll stick to the proclaimed "2-years - one release" schedule. With the release of RC1 it certainly proved that it sticks to the schedule. Also confirmed that gnome3 is not that much of a holly mess the jerks make it out to be. Little obsolete as per Fedora and Ubuntu standards, but the latest Debian is very modern and polished.


After cd/dvd drive started behaving mad while still under warranty I didn't go for a replacement. Not wise to add to plastic waste. Better use USB drives - for sharing data and creating bootable media. Debian is infamous for creating USB bootable media. Unetbootin didn't work as expected. But now you don't need it anymore. Bytecopy procedure works like a charm with netinstall images. I picked up a 64bit all-nonfree-firmware loaded netinstall image and created a usb install media with dd. In my case, it was:

dd if=firmware-wheezy-DI-rc1-amd64-netinst.iso of=/dev/sdc bs=4M; sync

Change the device options as per your setup.

Butter smooth install routine, as expected from a Debian installer! I chose my first SSD, an OCZ Octane SIII as / partition and dedicated a donkey 2TB WD HDD for /home. No swap (who needs swap when you've 16GB of RAM). Went for some SSD options - noatime and discard. Then followed the sane default package selection and user account creation, MBR selection, et al. Boring, it may sound, if you're accustomed to ugly surprises during installation.

Install routine completed. Poweroff. Night set in. I went to bed.

Post Installation

Next morning I woke up to a nice Debian Wheezy on gnome-shell. Seductive as they say, but not slutty. Never experienced any crash, gnome-shell nuisance or kernel-panic stuff. There were some minor annoyances which I hope will be fixed with the Final Release. Mind it, it's still an RC1!

Everything worked. Network sharing with Windows 7 on my Asus EEE 1215b, data sharing with my ntfs partition on Windows 7, mac filesystems on a hackintos (never tell mac people), on that same machine. Then some more, bluetooth, WiFi and all.

For the first time, multimedia experience was very smooth. Just install libavcodecs-extra package and you're there. Throw anything at it, it plays. And for those abominable porno stuff with some esoteric format there's always the venerable VLC. In short, the days of bad multimedia experience is over. Basement dwellers and FOSS purists may complain though, for this non-free move.

Resource Usage

Very frugal. No sudden clock ups and downs. CPU stays at ~1-5% throughout till you don't burn it with intensive gaming, program compiling and media encoding.

Very low footprint of memory. Freshly booted system uses ~320MB, with all effects - bells and whistles on and mysql, apache services (and what not) still enabled (for my wife) on runtime.

Do that foreplay. Fix bugs and bad things!

Wheezy at RC1 has its share of bugs and problems. However, none is a showstopper. You can live with them without any fix, cos most of them will be fixed automatically in the Final Release. If you like you can fix them very soon with a few minutes of dirtying your hands in the command line. First fire up terminal and be a root user - use su or sudo, whatever you're used to.

#1 - "cannot set freq 16000 to ep 0x86"

During booting the screen fills with "cannot set freq 16000 to ep 0x86" error messages and stops for around 4 secs (it might vary in your case) and then the login windows appears. This bug is related to Logitech HD quickcam. The easiest fix is to update kernel from Unstable Repository. Enable unstable repo in /etc/apt/source.list. Upgrade kernel and disable, or better delete that entry from the sources.list. Never fiddle with testing and unstable. 

#2 - no sound

While Intel Azalia HD sound card worked nice on first boot, consequent boots were without any sound while the audio mixer button was still showing active.
Permanent fix for this annoyance is to put:

options snd-hda-intel model=generic

at the end of /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf

#3 - enable poweroff option:

Default gnome-shell 3.4 doesn't show poweroff option if you don't press Alt key with still point the mouse to the suspend option.

The easy fix is to edit /usr/share/gnome-shell/js/ui/userMenu.js

Look for "this._haveSuspend = this._upClient.get_can_suspend();" and replace the same with "this._haveSuspend = false;" (don't use those quotes, they're here to distinquish commands/config text from human English)

#4 - [warn] PulseAudio configured for per-user sessions ... (warning)

This pulse audio message is not fatal. But you can fix it too:

edit /etc/default/pulseaudio 

look for 


and change it to


That pretty much ends this review.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Improve KDE4 Performance: Disable Nepomuk and Akonadi

KDE 4.9 (and above) workspace comes as a great relief when the major distributions resort to some fu**ing desktop environments (such as gnome and unity) and/or spin some lame reiterations (such as cinnamon, mate and a ton others). The latest KDE workspace is way too much polished than unity and gnome3 - highly usable, customizable and not so resource-hungry. But you can still make it lighter and faster if you don't rely much on desktop search function and KDEPIM stuff like kaddressbook, kmail and the rest. Amaik, very few people use them anymore, and can be done without them. Just a working set of thunderbird, pidgin and firefox, and you can very well dump kdepim + akonadi + nepumok + strigi.

By "Dump" I mean "Disable", cos you can't remove those packages as they are deeply integrated into the workspace. Here's how you can disable:

#1 Add these lines (if they don't exist, else make necessary changes in them) to ~/.kde/share/config/nepomukserverrc

[Basic Settings]
Start Nepomuk=false



#2 Then add these lines (if they don't exist, else make necessary changes in them) to ~/.config/akonadi/akonadiserverrc


#3 Open ~/.kde/share/config/kdedrc and set "autoload" to false for nepomuksearchmodule


#4 Finally, remove the file nepomukcontroller.desktop and akonaditray.desktop from /usr/share/autostart/, if they exist.

Log out or restart your system to experience the lightness and speed of your sexy KDE workspace.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Linux is Free and it Shows

"Year of Linux Desktop" has always been a delusion of grandeur, or the so called pipe dream at best. It'll remain so for the future n-number of years, cos Linux is free and it shows, feels and works like everything free, with a connotation of "Cheap".

There's no problem in its being free and open source as long as it works for the majority of userbase, which it certainly doesn't. Why? Because it lacks the commercial gloss people are used to. Against popular belief, you won't have to practice closed/proprietary means to achieve that polish and gloss. All that's important is certain orderly and cohesive approach to how software work, in both users' and developers' point of view, and a clear direction. For example, Android is both opensource and free, yet it brims that much desired commercial gloss, courtesy the big G's focus on user experience. The Big G knows what to flaunt, what to hide, and so on.. and on..

On Android you don't bother which bootloader to load - grub or lilo, which DE to choose from - KDE, Gnome, LXDE, Blackbox (there're a dozen others), how to set system initiation - systemd, sysvinit, innserv... how the sound and audio subsystems talk to the rest of the system, bla..bla..bla... Here these ugly system software work under the hood, users are unaware of it for a lot of good reasons. This is how the big G establishes order in an otherwise chaotic open source model of software development.

The prevailing model of linux and the software built around it suffer from three perennial diseases due to its overtly free nature of "Fork everything and Break everything" development:

#1 Shoddy quality of software: Forking model of development that leads to bad testing, rapid release cycle and unnecessary overdo. Users are often forced to fix certain problems where they should not happen in the first place. For example, a certain sound card works out of the box on a certain distribution, needs to do some manual editing of certain config file on some other in order the sound to work, wherein still others the users are forced to remove a certain component and install/build something on their own. Whereas the kernel versions, alsa/pulse components, DEs and the usual software stack are the same across all these examples. Reason? Bad integration! Morever, these type of user annoyances are not restricted to sound only, they are there in network, graphics, power usage, and then some more, in other application software too. The situations/annoyances aggravate further when every distribution puts together certain types and versions of the system and application software different from every other and in a different way, where most of them seem similar on the surface.

#2 Overkill: Forking and freedom to do everything leads to unnecessary overkill of time and efforts and further contributes to shoddiness in software quality. For example, what KDE or Gnome should do? Develop DEs and a few DE-specific tools/appls, right? But that's not the case, they keep constant focus (and ignore the core activities) on things they should not do in the first place. First of all, application software should not be DE-specific, yet every DE, be it KDE or Gnome, has its own set of office suits, browsers, messengers, media players/managers and system utilities and tools. This, more often than not, results in poor duplicates of certain industry standard software. Intrigued? Just compare KOffice with LibreOffice, K3B with Brasero or XCDroast...? Everybody loves to skin a frontend, cos its' tough and boring to squash the bugs out of standard libraries such as gtk and qt, and backends such as cdrdao or growisofs.

#3 Always in transition: Lastly, this forking and chaotic nature of development creates an environment where the platform is always in a state of transition. Consider the period of transition such as hal >> udev, alsa >> pulse, xserver >> wayland, module-init-tool >> kmod. Sadly, it has been so from the very beginning, and it will remain so till eternity. It is a major contributor to user annoyance. How about consolidating various forks, putting enough manhours and creating something that will just work, in stead of forking every which way possible and breaking things on the way.

I'm sure only very few will agree with me. Cos most of the so called open source community members consider free software as a cult than a tool for general well being. For them choice (read it Chaos) is everything. And yet they expect a placebo effect to these perennial diseases of bad quality and performance. They'll poop, fork here and there, make badly integrated incohesive software tank to drive to the nearest supermall, whereas a lean street bike would have been a better choice.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Android is the future desktop

Linux on desktop was a fantasy; it could not gain significant mind-share in last two decades of its existence. And it won't attract any more user attention if the development continues the way it has been so far. Bad integration, fragmentation, in-cohesive development, and the so called freedom to fork (or fu**) warded off ISVs, OEMs and users. Linux as a kernel is great, but the OS build on top of it is a toy thing. X and everything on top of it suck like hell. That bad/breaking approach towards development, design and delivery is not going to change, cos the community doesn't treat it as a tool, or a means to an end; for them, it's a culture, a religion. As a user you need to learn a lot of rules  just to get your daily chore done. It's more so, if you are going to develop something for the linux desktop. General perception now is Linux serves best when it runs headless, i.e., when it's a server.

But I feel, sooner or later, Linux will start dominating the consumer desktops with google power, in a form similar to Android. For quite long I've been following android-x86.org, a community effort to port Android to x86 platform. So far it's been non-yielding. None of the release is feature-complete. However, the good thing is - this project is less fanatic about open-source. I'm sure google will bet on it and make it big by building a consistent development environment wherein the new desktop will consist of highly-integrated subsystems backed by a simple application distribution system. Google will strip as much ugly stuff as possible off the OS, hide the rest from the users, and put a bright layer on top of the customized linux kernel. Of course, the hard, the hobbyist, and the raw fragmented-linux desktop with full of choices will be there for the basement dwellers.

Friday, July 13, 2012

what's value of linux being modular

What's value of linux being modular if it needs so many duplicate and different versions of the same libraries.

I am running debian squeeze which has almost 50% packages from wheezy such as xorg stuff, kernel, drm, mesa and some application software. However, accidentally I found that I've bewildering number of duplicate libraries. It's insane, can't even remove those duplicates as they are  dependencies for a variety of packages. In the normal world a later package should override an older version, but it's different in linux, sadly. Even if I've deborphan and debfoster I see tons of different versions of libraries such as: libavcodec, libavdevice, libavfilter, libavformat, libavutils, libdb, libjpeg, liblzma, libmatroska, libnspr, libntfs, libssl, libswscale, libusb and libx264. Please have a look at the youtube video to know what I mean.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

GIMP 2.8 on Linux: a Story of Pride and Pain

The latest stable GIMP 2.8 is great in many ways such as the sane integration of docks, speed and some nice addons. It installs like a charm on Windows 7 and the aging XP. Getting it to work on the latest *buntu and Fedora is also easy, although both these flavors suck as far as stability and usability is concerned. But if you expect it to play nicely on your reliable CentOS 6.2 or Debian 6.0.5, forget it. Cos you may fuck your entire system just to get it installed.

I was very much at home with my mighty Debian untill I was lured by GIMP 2.8.

I knew Debian Squeeze repo will never have it. So, looked for backports. Nothing there too. Then tried backporting it myself. It is not as easy as:

wget ftp://ftp.gimp.org/pub/gimp/v2.8/gimp-2.8.0.tar.bz2
mv gimp-2.8.0.tar.bz2 /tmp/
tar xf gimp-2.8.0.tar.bz2
cd gimp-2.8.0/
make all && make install

there's much more. Compiling it is really tough, you'll be flooded with errors related to missing packages, flags and lots more. Then I took the easy path of pulling it down from testing repository by adding:

deb http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian/ testing main

in /etc/apt/sources.lst

then configuring apt pin priorities to make testing version as additional to prevent distribution wide updrade by putting:

      Package: *
      Pin: release a=stable
      Pin-Priority: 700

      Package: *
      Pin: release a=testing
      Pin-Priority: 650

in /etc/apt/preferences

followed by:

apt-get -t testing install gimp


Holy shit! It almost installed truck loads of packages from testing. Finally I fucked my Debian Stable. It now feels slow, sound stopped working, it shows tons of boot error messages.

Dear linux distribution enthusiasts please bring out some api/abi that doesn't change every fortnight. 99% users love stability more than the shiny non-working stuff that doesn't bring any perceivable difference to their lives.

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