Saturday, 26 March 2011

Debian 6 - does it get the credit it deserves? Absolutely not!

Since becoming interested in Linux I haven't really paid much attention to Debian. My first ever encounter with Debian was with Debian 5 and on a very old Mitac Laptop with an AMD Athlon Mobile processor. That was a positive experience because unlike the releases of Fedora, openSUSE and Ubuntu at that time it was the only distribution that worked on this laptop. However, it was a very brief experience.

So here we are with Debian 6 which I have been waiting to try for a long time.

Debian is a 100% community project, there are no corporate sponsors with their own agenda behind Debian. Just volunteers giving up their time to make a free operating system. Therefore unlike Fedora, openSUSE and Ubuntu, Debian can genuinely claim to put the priorities of their users first.

Debian has a reputation for creating very stable distributions which is often attributed to their long testing periods, strict requirements for labelling software packages as stable and the fact that they avoid using the latest and greatest software.

Their distribution is also being used by a number of vendors as a base for their own distribution, most notably by Canonical Ltd who use Debian as a base for Ubuntu. Had Canonical Ltd used something else would they have been as successful as they are today?

Canonical Ltd's choice to use Debian has undoubtedly benefited the Debian Project but I think Debian are where they are today because they produce a good solid 'no nonsense' distribution with the user in mind.

Many of the other big distributions have further goals which in turn have a detrimental effect on the users needs. As a user I want stability, a well supported product, something that is easy to use and well documented.

Compare that to Fedora, its very nature to be a show case for the latest and greatest can affect stability, it rapidly changes in order to meet that aim and therefore lacks long term support and is hard to maintain documentation due to its continually changing nature.

Fedora is a great product that strives to lead the advancement of FOSS and does a superb job but the Fedora Project have to be careful on how they portray Fedora. With the release of Fedora 14 I noted a change in Fedora's marketing which is very appealing to new users. I understand the need for Fedora to attract new users but they have to be careful not to attract the wrong type of user or at least prevent certain expectations from occurring.

Back to Debian 6...

As with all operating systems, the starting point is to install it and on that note Debian has a very easy to use step-by-step installer that gets the job done. It is a good example of how simplicity can be effective.

Having a working internet connection does help when installing Debian but since Debian decided to remove firmware that may pose an inconvenience for some users. Personally I like the stance Debian have taken concerning the removal of non-free firmware.

During the install I was quite impressed with the fact that Debian explicitly asks the user whether or not they want to install grub, most distributions make the assumption that you do. For me this is a clear example highlighting the very fact that Debian places an emphasis on its users and understands that some have different requirements.

Initially I was disappointed with the lack of ability the Debian installer has to customize what software packages are to be installed. Instead Debian allows you to select from a list of software categories which include desktop, laptop, web server and others. I say initially because after booting into Debian I was very happy with the default packages installed. It seems like the categories available to select during the install provide a good choice of common and essential packages.

What really got my attention immediately after booting into Debian 6 was the font rendering. Out of the box Debian 6's font rendering is not only excellent but has to be one of the best I have seen. I take my font rendering very seriously and Debian tops my list for providing great font rendering.

When using the system, viewing files, folders and opening programs, the system response in Debian 6 could be better. This may be due to several reasons, Debian 6 uses kernel 2.6.32 and Gnome 2.30 which are many versions behind the latest. The significance being newer versions often include bug fixes and performance increases but also looking at the kernel config for the Debian 2.6.32 kernel reveals a timer frequency of 250Hz.

As an experiment I recompiled the kernel with the timer frequency at 1000Hz and did notice an improvement to the system response. I further compiled a more recent kernel, 2.6.38 which improved the system response even more and I would put this down mainly to the more recent nouveau driver.

So there are drawbacks to using older software, has Debian got the balance between software version and stability too much towards older software?

Overall if you are familiar with Ubuntu then you should be quite comfortable with Debian, enabling all the non-free repositories and installing multimedia codes is straightforward but not on the same level of ease as Ubuntu.

Iceweasel Annoyance

Due to branding issues Debian uses a version of Firefox with different branding. Essentially it is Firefox but because the browser identifies itself as Iceweasel to websites this can cause problems.

The fix is easy and documented by the Debian project, other annoyances include Gnash, an open source flash plugin installed by default that doesn't work well. Remove, install Adobe Flash, done.

I want a new version of OpenOffice

Keeping with tradition, Debian 6 has an older version of OpenOffice. I attempted to remove it but apt-get was automatically pulling in Abiword as a replacement. After going through synaptic I found the culprit,  a package called gnome-office. Once that was erased I could successfully remove OpenOffice without Abiword being pulled in as a replacement.

Debian 6 for a desktop user?

After using Debian 6, I can only conclude what others have already. There is no point using it over Ubuntu if you are a desktop user who wants something that requires minimum effort out of the box. Many users are not confident enough to setup the multimedia codecs or compile a kernel a more recent kernel to improve hardware support.

That said, I do not like some of the customizations Ubuntu provide. Apparmor, the social integration to Gnome, the kernel supports more hardware (more bloat), the font rendering is slightly different.

Debain in many ways reminds me of Fedora, out of the box it is very simple. I like that. I also do not mind taking the time to setup Debian. So for those reasons I personally would use Debian 6 over Ubuntu, with a tweaked and more recent kernel of course :-)

"Don't be afraid to try compiling the kernel. It's fun and profitable"

8.6.1. Kernel Image Management -

Debian is a true community project that lerks in the shadows of Ubuntu and Mint, does it get the credit it deserves? Absolutely not!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Long time openSUSE user vents frustration with 11.4 mess

If you have been monitoring the openSUSE forums, 11.4 has caused a high number of problems compared to previous releases. News posted by openSUSE suggest more people downloaded openSUSE 11.4 compared to 11.3, so perhaps we could conclude the higher number of reported problems are a consequence of that.

Or we could conclude the news posted is very misleading and unreliable.

openSUSE 11.4 made a splash

A total of 90844 requests for ISOs were reached via our download redirector at during the first 24 hours, a nice bump compared to 49599 for openSUSE 11.3! Note that we can not count who accessed a mirror directly instead of using the redirector on, so there are more downloads than that. Moreover, we have been emphasizing the possibility of upgrading openSUSE 11.3 over the web instead of by downloading an ISO and these are not tracked either.

It counts requests for ISO's but perhaps more people resorted to downloading 11.3 via BitTorrent. They further state they are unable to monitor direct mirror downloads and conclude downloads of 11.4 are therefore higher.

But given that very fact, we could also say the figure quoted for 11.3 downloads should also be much higher, and / or more people went directly to a download mirror with concern to 11.3

Did more people download 11.4 or is someone trying to play the numbers game?

Jos Poortvliet, as a Community Manager you should be more truthful. Try and gain our trust, not spin us with crap.

Regardless of whether or not more people are using openSUSE 11.4 compared to 11.3, the forums are being overwhelmed with problems concerning 11.4. Some people couldn't really care but is this an indication that the openSUSE project is starting to crack?

Interestingly a long time and what appears to be a committed openSUSE user has vented his frustrations about 11.4.

11.4--someone in Novell, Attachmate, or

imho, someone in Novell, Attachmate, or influential with the board of openSUSE or the Community in general should grab up a bunch of developers and force them (since most have sworn to *never* come here) to look at the pandemonium caused when 11.4 is hyped to the unwashed masses and then delivered as broken as it is..

i remember lots of discussions about a new openSUSE Strategy, but i do not remember a single time anyone proposed causing the level of despair among Windows and other Linux distro users (and even LOTs of long time SuSE/SUSE/openSUSE users) who RAN here for the magic we sold....

sure, some folks are very very happy, and i'm sure there are lots and lots of happy folks we are not hearing from in the forum...but, wow!
the number and level of problems thrown up by 11.4 is really amazing...i don't think i've seen this level before....well, maybe 11.0 was close...

trouble is i do not feel any better after that..
and, THAT is a problem..
a problem for me to deal with, somehow.


For examples of hype just browse the openSUSE news articles. As well as the above news post relating to the download statistics others include,

openSUSE 11.4 and KDE

openSUSE is the home of many KDE developers and contributors, which shows in the polished KDE products and the latest KDE updates which we make available for all supported openSUSE release


openSUSE 11.4 – A New Hallmark For The openSUSE Project

We are proud to announce the launch of 11.4 in the openSUSE tradition of delivering the latest technology while maintaining stability.....

The openSUSE Project is a worldwide community that promotes the use of Linux everywhere. It creates one of the world’s best Linux distributions....

What we have here is a proud loyal user watching the mess and wondering what happened to the stable, polish and usable qualities openSUSE once had?

Its not just forum users that are noticing the lack of polish with openSUSE, take for instance Linux enthusiast Chema Marti who recently blogged,

OpenSUSE 11.4 Review

Let me be clear here: I can't recall testing a major distro release with as many issues as OpenSUSE 11.4. Hardware support problems, application installation issues, lack of stability and consistency... It's taken me many hours just to get some basic things working.

He is right, I can't either. (Good review by the way)

Jos Poortvliet was quick to bark openSUSE is for people who want to get things done but it certainly isn't looking that way.

With all the drama surrounding Novell / Attachmate and worries that openSUSE may die you would expect a decent effort to make 11.4 successful from the outset. An effort to restore and boost confidence within the openSUSE community and outside observers.

Granted there will always be problems just after release but 11.4 has stepped over the mark this time. It is full of problems.

In other news,

Novell, Attachmate Acquisition Delayed until April

Article date: Mon, 14 Mar 2011 09:46 GMT

Novell has confirmed that the Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation into the sale of patents to the Microsoft-founded CPTN Holdings will delay the company's acquisition by Attachmate until at least 12 April.

The news came in an 8K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the US. CPTN Holdings was created by a consortium of companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Oracle and EMC, to purchase Novell's patent portfolio for $450M, as part of the deal which would see Attachmate purchase Novell for $2.2 billion.

A second request for information from Novell was made in February after the OSI and FSF asked the Department of Justice to intervene over the effect that the purchase of the patents could have on free and open source software developers and vendors.

It is unclear whether the DoJ is investigating that issue or examining other patent issues, such as WordPerfect related patents.

Novell says in its 8K that it and CPTN "certified as to its substantial compliance" with the second request and have agreed to not attempt to close the patent sale until 12 April.

The Attachmate acquisition is dependent on the patent sale going ahead and the patent sale itself will also require antitrust approval in Germany.

Looks like openSUSE 11.4 is an accurate reflection of Novell's current business affairs, a mess.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

How to safely remove in Ubuntu 10.04 LTS

You may be aware of some guides on the internet telling you how to do this, mainly using one of the following commands,

sudo apt-get purge*
sudo apt-get purge* 

If you run either of the above commands the following packages will be REMOVED:

aspell* aspell-en* dictionaries-common* hunspell-en-ca* hunspell-en-us* language-support-en* language-support-writing-en* myspell-en-au* myspell-en-gb* myspell-en-za************** python-uno* wbritish*


If you do, programs including Firefox will lose its ability to spell check because the above commands will erase some very useful packages (all those in green).

Fortunately you can easily reverse the damage by reinstalling the packages highlighted in green.

How to fix the damage

sudo apt-get install aspell aspell-en dictionaries-common hunspell-en-ca hunspell-en-us language-support-en language-support-writing-en myspell-en-au myspell-en-gb myspell-en-za wbritish

Lesson for next time, be cautious when following guides on the internet. Including mine, I am only human and sometimes can make typo errors or due to a lack of knowledge post garbage.

However, if you feel I have made a mistake please post a comment or email me.

So how can I safely remove in Ubuntu 10.04 (LTS) ?

sudo apt-get purge uno-libs3 ure

At this point I would assume you wish to install a newer version of OpenOffice from

How to install 3.3.0 from

Ubuntu 10.04 (LTS) 64-bit users

Open a terminal

cd Downloads


tar -xf OOo_3.3.0_Linux_x86-64_install-deb_en-GB.tar.gz

cd OOO330_m20_native_packed-1_en-GB.9567/DEBS

sudo dpkg -i *.deb

cd desktop-integration

sudo dpkg -i *.deb


Ubuntu 10.04 (LTS) 32-bit users

Open a terminal

cd Downloads

tar -xf OOo_3.3.0_Linux_x86_install-deb_en-GB.tar.gz

cd OOO330_m20_native_packed-1_en-GB.9567/DEBS

sudo dpkg -i *.deb

cd desktop-integration

sudo dpkg -i *.deb


How do I then erase the version of 3.3.0 at a later date?

Run the following command,

sudo apt-get purge ooobasis*


Thursday, 10 March 2011

openSUSE 11.4 - not just disappointing but the final nail in the coffin!

So its out and already being labelled as the best openSUSE release ever. The same was said about 11.3 and every other previous release...

In terms of visual appearance the openSUSE team have done an excellent job, the new spash screen, desktop wallpaper and installer together have a very consistent and professional look. It gives the impression of a quality product.

Don't judge a book by its front cover!

These minor elements aside, I am disappointed with openSUSE 11.4.The previous release, 11.3 got a reputation for being the worst distribution for nvidia users and you would have thought they would not make the same mistake twice.

32-bit nvidia users, this is for you -

Monitoring the forums, there could even be a nasty surprise for AMD/ATi users. Other issues surfacing include problems resuming from suspend/hibernate, borked systems when using the upgrade feature and lack of sound.

In any event I am a 64-bit nvidia user so the 32-bit nvidia bug is of no relevance to myself but I am still disappointed with the performance of 11.4.

The boot speed is slower than 11.3 and KDE seems to have a long delay at start up making the system unresponsive. I have tested this on 3 different systems, all exhibit the same behaviour.

Adding a new Wi-Fi connection using knetworkmanager seems a bit buggy, logging out and back in KDE resolved this issue.

With concern to the system response, KDE 4.6 in 11.4 just doesn't feel as fast as it should be. Maybe I am being unfair when judging performance as a result of using KDE 4.6 in Gentoo but on the very same system the difference is a world apart.

Memory consumption in this release has also has taken a dive for the worse, its not as friendly as previous releases.

Maybe after a few updates 11.4 will become more refined but it hasnt been as polished as I was hoping for.

Its also quite interesting that they decided to ship 11.4 with a beta version of Firefox 4.

Personally I am struggling to think of a reason to use openSUSE 11.4. If you are a die hard KDE fan Gentoo will provide you with a blazing experience and whilst I have not tried Arch I am sure it will be better than openSUSE 11.4.

And if you are a GNOME fanatic, Fedora, Ubuntu and Debian provide a leaner and meaner experience.

Sure enough not everyone wants to spend the time setting up Gentoo / Arch but openSUSE comes with a lot of bloat and is the most bloated distribution I have used. Holding itself out to be a multipurpose distribution, you could say this is by design.

At the end of the day I am just an ordinary average desktop user looking for a Linux based operating system that will satisfy my simplistic needs. I was drawn to openSUSE because of KDE 3.5 and my great experience with version 10.3. Despite such a great experience I have never liked YaST, the idea of a central application to manage and administer the system is a great but its implementation (via YaST) seriously sucks. I can use YaST but I find the layout illogical. Its often a case of tab after tab, scroll here and scroll there.

Setting up a Samba server, modifying the firewall rules, managing a network card, it is all easier without YaST.

Since then I have never been completely satisfied with openSUSE and have spent a lot of time distrohopping back and forth between openSUSE and other distributions.

Well openSUSE 11.4 is the final nail in the coffin.

The reason I distrohop back and forth from openSUSE is because there is always something better. But if you are wondering why openSUSE in the first place, 10.3 was the distribution that changed my view of Linux. It opened my eyes and made me realize that Linux on the desktop was a perfectly viable and real option.

You could say I continued using it simply out of loyalty.

Unfortunately it is time to accept the fact that openSUSE is not for me.

If I want a GNOME distribution I will always pick Fedora. If I want to use KDE with the best user experience possible then Gentoo delivers. If I want to setup a dedicated samba server, FreeNAS. If I want a low maintenance distribution for a family member, Ubuntu.

And that's the end of that, the hammers down and the nails are in.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

openSUSE 11.4 in 6 days, screenshots look very professional

In 6 days time openSUSE 11.4 will be released and I am already impressed with the screenshots from

openSUSE has always had a very polished feel but 11.3 with its horrible default wallpaper and splash screens lacked that professional touch. Well it looks like 11.4 will remedy that with its striking new professional looks.

openSUSE 11.4 with Gnome -

Just look at that wallpaper!

openSUSE 11.3 with KDE -

KDE, with a greener version.

I can't wait for openSUSE 11.4, I hope the user experience is as good as the looks.

This also goes to show that sometimes the small things (like a different desktop wallpaper) can have a big effect.