Replacing Google

The last few weeks, Google is getting some very negative attention. Google’s privacy policy, its total domination and its lack of collaboration with the Open Source community are raising some questions:

Do we really want this, depending on one single company for so many features? Do we accept that one single company knows so much information about millions of users all over the world? Do we accept that a company creates more and more features, officially because they want to help the world, but which in reality give them more sources for collecting private data and thus more power? For me the answer to these questions is definitely no.

For this reason, I will not install Chromium on my or anyone other’s computer. I strongly recommend people to use another browser, such as Firefox or one of the many webkit browsers in Linux, which are making great progress now, such as Epiphany, Midori or Arora. For similar reasons, you do not want to use Chrome OS: it basically does not add anything to a standard Linux distribution. Quite on the contrary, there is not much more than just the Chrome browser which is installed, so it forces you to use all of Google’s online services to get anything done. I recommend Moblin as an alternative operating system on netbooks.

I had some kind of "trash" GMail account which I used for some mailing list. I have unsubscribed from those mailing lists and evenually I will resubscribe with the e-mail address of my ISP or a GMX FreeMail account. Or I will just read those lists online or with a news reader via GMane.

As default search engine, I currently switched to Ask.com. In some corner cases, it is lacking a bit compared to Google, but the majority of searches yield good results, so it is perfectly fine as default search engine for me. Be sure to enable AskEraser for a privacy level much better than what you get with Google.

Noteworthy changes 30 November – 20 December 2009

Lots of important changes happened in Mandriva Cooker during the last few weeks. Here is a quick summary:

  • GNOME has been updated to the development version 2.29.3. There is a new game, called LightsOff, Empathy has improved IRC support, Evince supports PDF file attachment annotations and opens each document in a separate process, more and more applications support Seed and more applications have been ported to new APIs such as GtkBuilder.
  • KDE is now at version 4.4 beta 1.
  • Amarok 2.2.2 beta 1 brings improved podcast support, custom track labels and other improvements.
  • Linux kernel 2.6.32 is now used in Cooker. Per-backing-device based writeback gives better writing performance under many workloads, kernel samepage merging gives huge improvements in memory usage when running many virtual machines with qemu-kvm, CFQ low latency mode will provide better interactivity for desktop workloads when there’s background I/O activity. There are more improvements to KVM virtualization, power consumption reduction and of course hardware support improvements.
  • Glibc 2.11 brings many performance improvements, especially in combination with STT_GNU_IFUNC support in the new binutils package in Cooker.
  • Firefox 3.6 beta 5 is now available in main/release. This means all users will be updated to this version now.
  • Mono 2.6 and MonoDevelop 2.2 bring performance improvements, a better user interface and a new debugger.

Noteworthy changes in Mandriva Cooker 15 November – 29 November

  • The QT and KDE development snapshots have been updated to the latest versions: QT 4.6 RC 1 and KDE 4.3.77. Desktop effects are now enabled by default in KDE and Nepomuk is now using Virtuoso as its back-end to store data, which should give faster tagging and indexing.
  • OpenOffice.org 3.2 beta 1 is now in Cooker. A very noticeable change is that its start-up performance has improved. Expect also better OpenXML files import and basic docx file export.
  • Firefox 3.6 beta 4 is now in main/testing. Developers are focussing on bug fixes and a release candidate is expected very soon now.
  • For the first time, a development snapshot of Google’s Chromium browser is now available in Mandriva Cooker. Note that it only builds on i586 for now. x86_64 users having configured the 32 bits main and contrib repositories, should be able to install this i586 version on their system too though.
  • The Sysklogd system log daemon has been replaced by rsyslog. Rsyslog is a very modern system logger with very active development. It includes advanced features such as storing logs in SQL databases, e-mail warnings on certain log messages, support for sending syslog messages over TCP and many more. Users of sysklogd will be automatically migrated to rsyslog.
  • Mandriva Cooker now includes version 2009.11.14 of the ntfs-3g driver. This is a major upgrade with support for file permissions and sequential writing to compressed files and performance improvements when using NTFS file systems.
  • Munin, an advanced system monitoring tool, has been updated to version 1.4. It provides better scalability and many new plug-ins for monitoring MySQL, PostgreSQL, Asterisk and others.
  • From now on, all packages will be linked with the -Wl,-O1 linker options. This can be beneficial for the start-up performance of applications linking with many different libraries.

Making your mixed KDE and GNOME desktop look cool

Most people use a mix of QT/KDE and GTK+/GNOME applications on their Linux system. Because both QT and GTK+ use their own widgets (which are all GUI elements, like buttons, toolbars, menus, checkboxes, etc…) and theme engine, QT and GTK+ applications look different from each other. This is especially bad if you use KDE in Debian: in that case by default no GTK+ theme is configured, making GTK+ applications, like Firefox, look like ugly Windows 95 applications. Mandriva on the contrary does use a common graphical theme for both GTK+ and KDE applications (called Ia Ora), but it’s not easy to change the GTK+ theme if you use KDE or the QT/KDE theme if you use GNOME.

Here’s a howto for Debian and Mandriva which explains how to make your desktop look nice if you’re using a mix of KDE and GTK+. Because Ubuntu is based on Debian, this howto might also apply to Ubuntu, but I have not verified this.

Pre-requisites

I assume that you are running either Debian Squeeze (testing) or Mandriva 2010.0 or a more recent version of these distributions. For Mandriva 2010.0, you also need to have activated the Backports repositories. You can activate them in the Mandriva Control Centre – Software Management – Configure media sources.

Using GTK+ applications in KDE

If you want to use a unified look for KDE and GTK+ applications, then I recommend using the QtCurve theme. Just like Mandriva’s Ia Ora, it consists of a theme engine for KDE and another one for GTK+ which looks exactly the same.

In Mandriva you install the kde4-style-qtcurve package. If you have urpmi’s “suggests” support enabled (it is by default), then this will automatically pull in both the KDE 4 and the GTK+ theme, and also systemsettings-qt-gtk, a tool which lets you choose the GTK+ theme to use in KDE.

In Debian you need the packages qtcurve and also system-config-gtk-kde to set up the GTK+ theme.

Once you have installed all packages, you can start KDE’s System Settings and go to Appearance. In the Style page, you can choose the theme to use in KDE applications, while in GTK+ Styles and Fonts, you select the theme used by GTK+ applications. If you choose QtCurve in both, KDE and GTK+ applications will look very similar and even use the same KDE icon set.

The QtCurve theme comes with different pre-defined styles. If you don’t like the default look of QtCurve, go to System Settings – Appearance – Style, and click on the Configure… button next to the QtCurve widget style box. Under the button Options there, you find the list of predefined styles.

Of course you can also further fine-tune the theme by going to the Colors and Windows pages in System Settings – Apperance, where you can choose a colour set and window manager theme to your liking (QtCurve has a matching colour set and window manager theme, but of course you can choose something else if you want).

Using QT/KDE applications in GNOME

If you are using GNOME and want to make QT and KDE applications look like all GNOME applications without using Ia Ora, you have to run the qtconfig application. In both Mandriva and Debian, you need to have the qt4-qtconfig package installed. Then in qtconfig you select GTK+ as the GUI style to use. If you run KDE applications, you will also need to set the KDE theme to GTK+. This can be done by running
$ kwriteconfig --file kdeglobals --group General --key widgetStyle gtk
in a terminal window. Before executing this command, you will need to have the kdebase4-runtime package installed in Mandriva or kdebase-runtime in Debian.

Debian Squeeze running KDE with the QtCurve theme.
Debian Squeeze KDE 4.3 running Dolphin and Iceweasel (Firefox) 3.5 with the QtCurve theme (Shiny Glass style), Slim Glow Plasma theme and desktop effects enabled.

NetworkManager in Mandriva

Already for some time, I experience some annoyances in Mandriva’s wifi configuration tools especially when moving my laptop from one to another location with a different wifi network where I connect to. The list of inaccessible wifi networks is not cleaned up in the network applet when moving the system, the network applet says it connected to network X, while in reality it connects to network Y and it only reconnects automatically to the last SSID you were connected to but not to a previously known SSID.

Other distributions (Fedora, Debian/Ubuntu and also OpenSUSE if I am not mistaken) are using NetworkManager for some time. When working on these other distributions, I always had the feeling that NetworkManager was actually nicer than Mandriva’s tools: not only did not it have these little annoyances, its GUI also looked much less cluttered. Another advantage is that lots of applications can make use of NetworkManager’s status. For example, Evolution will nicely switch to off line mode when there is no connection instead of starting to annoy you with error messages in its status bar. Once NetworkManager reconnects, Evolution will switch back to online mode again.

So I was interested in trying out how well NetworkManager worked in Mandriva. I updated the networkmanager package (which actually was already available in Mandriva), and I created a Mandriva package for networkmanager-applet, the GUI front-end.

To my surprise, the packages were immediately functional in Mandriva. The (known) disadvantage is that NetworkManager does not really work together with the standard network configuration tools, especially not in Mandriva because Mandriva’s configuration tools do not take NetworkManager into account, unlike Fedora’s, which let you choose whether a network interface should be controlled by NeworkManager or not. In practice, this means that it is best to remove Mandriva’s standard network configuration by removing the ifcfg files for the network interfaces you want to control with NetworkManager in /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts. I guess removing the connection in Mandriva’s Control Centre might work too, but I have not tested this. If you do not do this, you risk that NetworkManager and Mandriva’s networking tools will both try to configure the same network interface, interfering with each other.

Connecting to my wifi network was dead easy with NetworkManager. I configured it to connect automatically to my wifi network and to make it available for all users. NetworkManager now automatically connects while booting the system.

Its GUI is really a relief. It looks nice and uncluttered. It does not put lots of things in two or three level deep submenus like Mandriva’s applet and does not clutter the menu by trying to show all networks when lots of different APs are available. Also the fact that it does not pop-up another application window when selecting a network to connect to (Mandriva starts up drakroam when selecting an SSID in net_applet) is nice.

I will need do some more testing to really know for sure that there are no new annoyances now, but the first experience is positive. I think that the integration with other applications like Evolution is non-functional in Mandriva however, because these applications need to be build with NetworkManager support. This will most likely not happen, because Mandriva does not want to support this. Also I have not yet packaged the VPN configuration bits for NetworkManager, but I will probably do that in the future.

If you are having problems with the Mandriva network configuration tools, you are welcome to try out NetworkManager and let me know your experience. However, keep in mind that this is totally unsupported in Mandriva and do not expect us to fix bugs you may encounter. It seems useful for me and so it may be for others, but your mileage may vary. But if you do not have any problem with the standard Mandriva configuration tools, do not bother to try this. Especially on desktop systems which are never moved, there does not seem to be any advantage in trying out NetworkManager.

Oh yes, In case you are wondering, I am aware of Mandriva’s criticism on NetworkManager. Honestly, I don not really care about that: I want a tool which works good and looks nice and NetworkManager seems to fulfil this need for me.

NetworkManager's applet in Mandriva 2010.0
NetworkManager's applet in Mandriva 2010.0

Mandriva 2010 Spring development has begun

One week ago, Mandriva Cooker, which will lead to version 2010 Spring in about 6 months was opened again. In 8 days, this has resulted in almost 1100 package updates. Some noteworthy changes:

  • All X.org related packages have been updated to X.org release 7.5. Mandriva now includes xserver version 1.7.1.
  • Development snapshots of QT 4.6.0 and KDE 4.4 are now included. When you add a Plasma widget, you will be presented with a much more beautiful overview of all available widgets. The Ozone and Nitrogen themes have now been merged in Oxygen. There are lots of improvements in KGet.
  • KTorrent 3.3 is now available. The most important change is a redesigned GUI, which should be less cluttered and easier to use.
  • Firefox 3.6 beta 2 is now available in main/testing. Its engine has undergone lots of work to improve the performance. Also included are tab previews when you press Ctrl-Tab (you need to activate this feature in about:config first, look for browser.CtrlTab.previews), and support for Persona themes. This new version will also inform you when an installed browser plug-in is out of date.
  • NetworkManager has been updated to a recent version and it includes now the GNOME notification applet. It can be used as an alternative to Mandriva networking tools, but these Mandriva packages are highly experimental.
  • Cooker’s GNOME has been updated to the latest version 2.28.1, which contains lots of bug fixes.

Migration to virtual machine

I just finished migrating this website to a new KVM virtual machine. The virtual machine is running Mandriva Cooker (2010.0) now with kernel 2.6.31-rc9 and the virtio drivers. The host machine is a HP DL185 G5 running Debian Lenny (kernel 2.6.26) and kvm 85.

During the next days, there might be some short downtime now and then while I continue configuring things

Noteworthy Mandriva Cooker changes (10 August – 23 August 2009)

Two weeks have passed, so it’s time for a Mandriva Cooker update again. There were lots of interesting changes in Cooker during this period:

  • Mandriva’s boot splash is now provided by Plymouth, the same technology used by Fedora. Together with kernel mode setting (currently enabled for Intel graphics chipsets in the standard Mandriva kernel), this will provide a high resolution boot splash and high resolution virtual consoles and seamless switching between virtual consoles and X. Plymouth also makes more complex boot splash themes possible, but for now the Mandriva boot splash theme is the same as the one used in 2009.1
  • A new vastly improved version of netprofile is out. This tool makes it possible to define different network, firewall and proxy settings and urpmi media for different networks you connect to.
  • GNOME 2.28 beta 1 (2.27.90) is now available. It contains lots of bug fixes. People doing a new installation, will now get Empathy as the default instant messaging application. Empathy is a simple messenger based on the Telepathy framework. Telepathy has native connection managers for XMPP (Jabber), MSN, IRC and it can also connect to the networks supported by Pidgin if you install telepathy-haze. There is support for file transfer, audio and video using XMPP, however for more popular IM networks, it’s still limited to basic text messaging support for now.
  • Pidgin has released version 2.6, which is now available in Cooker. The most important change, is that it now has video and audio support for XMPP (Jabber). MSN video support is in the works too and will be included in a future version of Pidgin.
  • Still on the subject of instant messaging, the GTK+ MSN client Emesene has released version 1.5 which also includes experimental webcam support. Of course, it’s available in Cooker already.
  • Firefox 3.5 has moved from the main/testing repository to main/release, which means all Cooker users will be upgraded to this new version automatically.
  • OpenOffice.org now has a new icon set which integrates nicely in the KDE 4 environment.
  • libjpeg was updated to version 7. This required a rebuild of lots of packages in the distribution. Some rebuilds are still left to do during the coming days and weeks.
  • The Vuze Bittorrent client has been updated to version 4.2 and many packaging fixes were made.
  • KDE 3.5 is being removed completely from the distribution. All KDE 3 applications will be removed and replaced by a KDE 4 version if there is one available.

Also Mandriva Linux 2010.0 beta 1 was just released. If you want to help testing, now is the right moment to help testing all these new features. As always: don’t run it on mission critical systems yet, because there will be bugs. Report bugs you discover on Mandriva’s bugzilla.

Flash news flash

A quick update about my Flash rant from some time ago.

Today I wanted to listen to the music tracks on http://www.myspace.com/officialdaan. Because of all the annoyance with the Flash plug-in, I had removed it in May, and haven’t looked back since. Now I heard that there was a new pre-release of the Flash 10 plug-in for Linux x86_64 and some people said that it was working fine. So I thought this was the right moment to give it a try again.

What happened when I try to load the MySpace music player with this plug-in installed? As it did already months ago, my browser completely crashed. I wanted to know the cause of this, and so I ran firefox -g from a terminal. When it crashed, I was greeted with this error: “illegal instruction”. So it seems Adobe’s 64 bit Flash plug-in, actually does not work on all x86_64 systems and requires some newer instructions which my AMD Athlon 64 3500+ does not support (I guess it requires SSE3 or something similar) to work. Hence the browser crash when loading any Flash animation.

Then I tried on another machine, where I have the 32 bit plug-in with nspluginwrapper installed. I click on the FlashBlock icon to start the MySpace music player, but it does not appear at all. The Youtube videos on the same page, load fine though.

So, two systems, and two times Flash is not working as it should. I’ll happily remove it again, because no Flash plug-in is at least better than a non-working and potentially browser crashing Flash plug-in.

Noteworthy Mandriva Cooker changes (27 July – 9 August 2009)

There were a lots of package updates in Mandriva Cooker during the last two weeks, amongst others because of rebuilds of all Perl packages. Currently a complete rebuild of all packages in the Main repository is going on. Here’s a list of some more interesting changes:

  • Pam was updated to stable release 1.1.0 and Hal version 0.5.1 is now in Cooker. Pam_console and Hal won’t take care anymore of setting the right permissions on hardware devices for console users. Instead, udev and consolekit will deal with this.
  • GNOME 2.27.5 is now available. Totem’s YouTube plug-in is working again, and it’s now possible to not to be warned again when a file system is full.
  • Python 3 is now available in contrib. For compatibility reasons, Python 2.6 will remain the default Python version now.
  • F-Spot has been updated to version 0.6.0. One of the nice things is a folder bar which you can use to organize folders to your liking.
  • VirtualBox 3 (more precisely version 3.0.4) entered Cooker. VirtualBox now supports SMP virtual machines and has improved 3D support and better performance.
  • Emacs 23.1 includes many major improvements: UTF-8 support, font anti-aliasing, running text terminals and X displays in one Emacs session, Ruby support and more.
  • urpmi and it’s back-end perl-URPM have seen many improvements which should help resolving complex dependencies, for example when upgrading from an old version of the distribution to a newer one.
  • KDE 4.3.0 final is now available in Cooker. For a nice overview of all the new features since KDE 4.2 from Mandriva 2009.1, read the official KDE 4.3 announcement.
  • The Firebird database pacakges have seen many improvements and should start working well soon.