Fix bad performance with NVidia 177.80 drivers

Since I upgraded to Nvidia’s beta driver series which were supposed to improve performance for KDE 4 (including the now stable version 177.80), my GNOME desktop on my system with a Geforce 6600 GT graphics card, felt a lot slower. It was most noticeable when browsing the web with Firefox. When quickly scrolling a web page with my mouse’s scroll wheel, X started eating 100% of CPU time and the image on the screen started lagging behind a lot. Also just rendering a page seemed to be much slower. Disabling smooth scrolling in Firefox, did not help at all.

Searching on the web, I found out that I’m not the only one with this problem. However, setting the InitialPixmapPlacement to 0 made the Compiz/Emerald window manager crash. I found out that setting InitialPixmapPlacement to 1 also seemed to fix the problem, without compiz/emerald crashing.

So if you also suffer from bad performance in GNOME with the proprietary NVidia drivers, create a script called in /usr/local/bin with contents:

/usr/bin/nvidia-settings -a InitialPixmapPlacement=1

Then go to GNOME’s System – Preference menu and start up Sessions. In the startup programs tab page, click on Add, and choose /usr/local/bin/ as the command. Save the settings, and restart X. Firefox now works a lot faster for me: web pages now appear instantaneous and I can scroll web pages without my CPU getting overloaded.

Thanks to NVidia for bringing me such great performance with their new drivers. Out of gratefulness, I’ll make sure my next graphics card is an Intel or ATI one.

Hiding failure thanks to photo editing

Today, there were two funny pictures in the newspaper. You’ve surely seen the picture of 4 Iranian missiles which were launched recently in Iran. It appears that the pictures have been edited to hide the failure of one of the missiles: on the original picture one of the missiles is still on its launch pad. Apparently on the Iranian TV, yet another edited version was shown: on that picture the launch pad with the missle has been removed completely. This and other funny photo editing failures can be found in the Photoshop Disasters blog.

Getting nice anti-aliased fonts in Debian

Since about a year I’m using Debian on an Apple Powerbook G4 PowerPC laptop. Mandriva does not have an active PowerPC port anymore, I don’t really like Ubuntu (and their PowerPC port does not get the same priority anymore as the x86 ports), so Debian was an obvious choice for me, and I have never regretted this.

One of the things that annoyed me however, was the default looks of fonts. Some fonts (especially in Firefox) did not look anti-aliased, while those that were, did not look as nice as I’m used to from Mandriva. At that time, I did not found anything better than compiling a more recent version of freetype (just standard ./configure, make, make install, no patches for enabling any patented stuff) and replacing the contents of /etc/fonts/conf.d by the one from a Mandriva system. And installing the Liberation fonts from Red Hat’s tarball.

Today, things are a bit easier: a Liberation package is now available in the Debian repository as are up to date packages of Freetype. And I learned a bit more about Debian’s Freetype configuration, so I was able to tweak the default settings now, instead of just replacing everything by Mandriva’s.

Here’s a quick howto. I assume you are using Debian Lenny, and have the unstable/sid repositories added to apt’s sources.list (use apt pinning so that testing is preferred over unstable).

  • Make sure you have the basic font packages installed: apt-get install ttf-dejavu ttf-liberation (the latter currently only exists in unstable)
  • Make sure you have a recent version of freetype installed. Run apt-cache policy libfreetype6 to see which versions are currently available in Debian. I installed version 2.3.6 from Unstable: apt-get install -t unstable libfreetype6
  • Install a recent fontconfig version. Run apt-cache policy fontconfig to see which versions are available. I installed version 2.6.0 from unstable: apt-get install -t unstable fontconfig libfontconfig1 fontconfig-config
  • Go the the directory /etc/fonts/conf.d. You’ll see that it contains all symbolic links to /etc/fonts.conf.avail which contains some more interesting configuration files which we’ll activate by adding a symbolic link. Especially I want to use the autohinter, enable RGB subpixel hinting and don’t want to use bitmap fonts:
    ln -s ../conf.avail/10-autohint.conf<br/>
    ln -s ../conf.avail/10-sub-pixel-rgb.conf<br/>
    ln -s ../conf.avail/70-no-bitmaps.conf
  • Now in GNOME go to the menu System – Preferences – Appearance and go to the Fonts tab and play a bit with the settings until you are happy with them. I used Deja Vu Sans Book 9pt for desktop and application fonts and Liberation Mono 9pt as fixed width font. Rendering is set to subpixel smoothing, and in the details panel I chose suppixel (LCD) smoothing, full hinting and RGB subpixel order. If you are using KDE 3, you can make similar settings in KDE’s Control Center under Look & Feel – Fonts (make sure anti-aliasing is enabled and click on the Configure button).
  • In Firefox/Iceweasel 3 go to Edit – Preferences – Content and click on the Advanced button in the Fonts & Colors section. Configure the fonts you like best (I chose Liberation fonts, and set sans-serif by default) and play a bit with the default and minimum font size (I chose 15 pt as default size, and 9 pt as minimum).

Enjoy your nice fonts!

Apple forcing its own web browser to iTunes users

It seems that recently, Apple started pushing its Safari web browser to all Windows users having iTunes installed. I’ve never been an Apple fan: I think the OS is certainly not more userfriendly in contrast to what some people say, and although it is somewhat Unix based, they removed and re-implemented half of it (I’m thinking of things like launchd, broken NIS support and others), which is terrible for people used to *nix. And I have my doubts about the hardware too: apparently the latest generation Macbook Pro still come with way too less USB ports to work comfortobly, the international keyboards are different from standard PC keyboards, and I’m still not sure it is really that cheap, or at least the “Pro” stuff).

With the decision to force the installation of Safari on all Windows systems running the Apple updater, Apple is finally showing its real face: just like Microsoft, it does not care at all about its users and will do whatever is necessary to gain widespread adoption.

Updated Serendipity

I just updated Serendipity, the software that is behind this web log, to version 1.3. The update went very smooth: I am using Subversion to manage this software, so a simple svn switch to Serendipity’s 1.3 branch and a few clicks to update the configuration file, sufficed to make everything up to date! I should play around a bit to see what improvements this brought me and whether the multi-language stuff finally works correctly (which I doubt, but one never knows…).

Distribution review progress

Currently I am trying out Mandriva 2008.0, OpenSUSE 103 and Ubuntu Gutsy in the hope of writing a detailed comparative review soon. Don’t expect it soon, as I’m currently still collecting basic information, and I have not started writing yet. And from my experience I gathered with the “What’s new in Mandriva 2008.0” article, I know that the writing alone will take a long time…

Anyway, here already some early observations:

  • The Mandriva installer is by far the best. OpenSUSE’s installer crashes in Virtualbox, and Ubuntu’s live installer requires a system with 320 MB of RAM and the alternative installer is text only.
  • Mandriva has the best support for running as a Virtualbox guest: it will configure the Virtualbox X drivers by default. OpenSUSE is worst here, because it refuses to run at a 1024×768 resolution inside Virtualbox: it just says the VESA driver does not support this resolution…
  • Performance wise Mandriva feels the fastsest, OpenSUSE the slowest. This is very preliminary though as I have not yet tested OpenSUSE and Ubuntu on real hardware yet, but only in Virtualbox.
  • I had hoped Mandriva 2008.0 to be a nearly perfect release and that it would be very difficult to find any real bugs during normal use. Unfortunately, some rather visibile bugs are still present, while several of them were reported before final release.
  • OpenSUSE’s GNOME application menu (originally called Slab) is terrible. Most applications are hidden in a seperate browser window, which actually contains a huge list of applications in a few main categories shown in the left. You can add a normal application menu, but its structure is very bad.
  • At first sight, the graphical presentation in OpenSUSE is the most impressive, with Mandriva being a close second. Personally I don’t like at all Ubuntu’s brown look.
  • Ubuntu seems to have a very limited GNOME installation, with a much more limited amount of applications installed by default, compared to Mandriva and OpenSUSE. All in all, probably a bit too limited.

As there are very early observations, some of them are maybe totally wrong, so take this all with a grain of salt for now.

First looks at OpenSUSE 10.3

I downloaded the OpenSUSE 10.3 DVD to test it out and compare it with Mandriva 2008.0. I was interested in reviewing the current state of this distribution and maybe also get some inspiration for improvements I can propose for Mandriva 2008.1.

The artwork in OpenSUSE is very nice. There are some interesting ideas we should really consider in Mandriva: possibility to read the release notes during the installation of packages, some interesting yast modules (the firwall module is way better than Mandriva’s),… But I discovered already a lot of problems by just quickly testing it out in Virtualbox: the installer (actually yast) just crashes completely when detecting the network configuration, there was no possibility to use a 1024×768 resolution in Virtualbox, some strange choices of default applications (especially in GNOME: Brasero is currently still a bit too buggy, and Skencil is extremely ugly),…

So currently I have a strong feeling that Mandriva 2008.0 will be a better and especially more stable distribution than OpenSUSE 10.3. I’ll continue testing out OpenSUSE a bit and noting my remarks, and I’ll probably install it on an old laptop I have here, to see how it works on real hardware. I’ll do the same with Mandriva 2008.0 and I’ll maybe post a review comparing Mandriva 2008.0 and OpenSUSE 10.3 (and maybe Ubuntu Gutsy too?). Well, time will tell.

By the time you read this, there is much chance that Mandriva 2008.0 final is out and downloadable. Go check the Mandriva download page now to check it out!

Anti-competitive behaviour

Finally Microsoft lost the appeal against the ruling of the European Commission. I heard an analyst say on the radio here that this would be bad for customers: users would receive an OS without multimedia player now, and would have to search for such a basic application themselves. Not so knowledgeable people, would even pay for such software. It’s unbelievable that people who don’t even know what this case is about, are being considered as “experts”. Microsoft is still allowed to sell the version with media player, and actually as history has proven already, almost nobody will be interested in distributing the OS without the media player. The most important thing of this ruling (and always ignored in popular media), is that Microsoft is forced now to publish “interoperability information”, which can be used by for example the Samba team, to better implement things like Active Directory support. This is what matters in this ruling! For those people who think that Europe is only trying to bully a successful foreign commercial company, please read the whole ruling. As you’ll see, this was not a light decision. See paragraphs 807-809 for the decisions related to the interoperability information.

Speaking of anti-competitive behaviour, Apple currently is not much better than Microsoft. The new iPOD generation, protects its internal database with a hash, making it impossible to play any files uploaded with programs other than iTunes. All other alternatives cannot be used anymore, and because iTunes only exists for Windows and Mac OS X, Linux users are completely locked out. A few days later, the hash was already cracked, so this proves once again that all this DRM-alike stuff is not working at all, and just annoying users. Actually this is not the first time Apple is trying to block its competitors. It already has done something similar with the DAAP protocol in the past, also locking out all non-iTunes users. Hello Europe, will you continue accepting this?

If anybody knows of a good alternative for the iPOD, supporting Ogg Vorbis and having a capacity of at least 20 GB, I would like to hear about it. And don’t answer Cowon’s iAUDIO. Owning an iAUDIO M3 for a bit more than 3 years, I know that this player has a very serious hardware design flaw, actually making the whole device almost unusable in the end, and technical support in Europe is almost non-existent. So no more Cowon for me anymore…