Sunday, November 25, 2007

Postcard from the edge

This past Thanksgiving has been ... unique. I've spent a lot less time doing what I planned because of its uniqueness. Regardless, I managed to tinker a bit with some of the latest offerings.

NetBeans 6 RC2

RC2 was released right before Thanksgiving. I've got it installed on Windows XP 2 (algol) and Ubuntu 7.10 (europa, shown below). On algol, with its 2GHz Core Duo processor, RC2 runs smooth as silk. It should considering the processing horsepower. On europa, with its single-core 2GHz Athlon XP, it runs a little rougher, especially at startup. To make the NetBeaners feel a little better, Eclipse 3.3.1.1 has the same problem on europa (see below). It takes about 20 seconds after the main window has appeared for responsiveness to be useful. And this only occurs the first time you start it up. Of course, for many people such as myself, you start it and leave it running for long periods lasting days at a time.

Regardless of the initial startup lethargy, RC2 shows considerable polish and is a reasonable overall advance from NetBeans 5.5.1. If nothing else recommends its use, then the fact that all the key plugins are available from the primary installation package should make NetBeans 6 a much better choice than earlier versions. I know that there are going to be users out there who will discover that NetBeans 6 is broken in some key way for them. It never ceases to happen when a new version of anything is released. For those folk I suggest they file a bug report and continue to use 5.5.1 until their bug is fixed in some future release of 6. But for everybody else, step up and enjoy.

The NetBeans 6 Options screenshot above illustrates a problem not just with NetBeans but with any Swing-based application running on Ubuntu 7.10 and using Java 6. The buttons on combo-boxes are not drawn. I checked the demo application SwingSet2 to see if it was a Java problem, and it is, but only if you're using the Gnome look-and-feel engine. I've seen this problem with both the version of Java 6 provided by Synaptic (Java 6 Update 3) as well as with the latest snapshot version of Java 6 (1.6.0_10-ea-b07). In the great scheme of things it's worth noting but otherwise it's No Big Deal.

Eclipse 3.3.1.1 and Google Android

That other free Java IDE, Eclipse, has been blessed with a plugin for developing applications on with Google's Android Open Handset Alliance. The documentation, from what I've read and tried, is complete, and the tools are dead-simple to use.

Following the Android instructions I was able to download and install the Android SDK, then install the Eclipse Android plugin, then write a real simple hello-world style application and run it in the plugin's emulator. NetBeans has equivalent (many would say superior) capabilities, but there is no NetBeans support currently for Android. That's a bit odd considering that Eric Schmidt, current Google CEO, was a Sun employee and executive from 1983 to 1997. I would have thought, based on that significant tie, that equivalent support would have been released simultaneously for NetBeans along with Eclipse. I have yet to really try to write anything non-trivial using the Android tools on Ubuntu. Perhaps after the first of December.

KDE 4 Live 0.7 is a bust

Distrowatch carried the announcement of the KDE 4 release candidate along with the availability of a Live ISO to try out the bits. I dutifully downloaded the ISO, burned it, and ... discovered it wouldn't boot. Not any machine I could reach (two desktops and two notebooks). So I loaded the ISO again, double-checked the checksum (it was correct) then used an alternative burner. And created a second coaster. Oh well. The live ISO was built on top of openSUSE 10.3. I guess the universe was making sure I wouldn't be tempted into using openSUSE again.

Firefox 3 Beta 2 pre-1686

I grabbed a development copy of Firefox 3 to see if the Blogger editor problem I discovered while using Beta 1 was fixed. It wasn't. Nothing else unusual happened and it was as well-behaved as you would expect. With regards to memory leaks I have Firefox 2 running with 17 open tabs, one of them obviously while I'm writing this. And top shows Firefox running with 138 MB resident and 593 MB virtual memory. I'm curious to get a working copy of Firefox 3 so I can run it for days on end with dozens of open tabs and see if memory consumption really is down.

Final words

Lord knows Ubuntu isn't perfect, but it's Good Enough for me. You can get a lot of useful work done with Ubuntu running on fully-amortized hardware. As long as the job gets done well enough that I get paid regularly every two weeks, I don't mind the occasional bump in the road. Yes, I know there are jobs out there that demand Office and .Net as the platform and tools for development, so it won't work everywhere. But then that's the choice I make and live with. There are far more important issues besides what distribution you run. Except, perhaps, keeping my distance from all things Novell. Novell, which seems to be growing ever closer to Microsoft.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Firefox 3 Beta 1 now much better behaved

When I first tried FF3B1 I'd posted that it's memory consumption went through the roof. After less than 24 hours and an apparent fix on the server side, and using the exact same binary, I can now start up and use FF3B1 without the same issue that caused it to crash yesterday.

My experiences so far while limited have proven to be pretty positive. I've had it up and running over the night (well, since past midnight local Orlando time), and it didn't crash or run up memory. I can't accurately determine if memory usage is less, since right before I stopped it and re-started it it had a memory footprint of 140 MB. Right now, with 11 tabs open, it's at a little over 90MB. I do know that every time I visit Google Mail that the first time that page is opened it immediately jumps a good 20 MB.

Page rendering is the most notable feature of FF3B1. Pages just seem to snap into existence, and the simpler, the snappier. I don't see pages half-render while the busy icon swirls. The pages are briefly busy, then they're there in front of you.

I run with Adblock Plus and Filterset.G Updater. Adblock plus still runs (thankfully) while Filterset.G is disabled (having stopped, oddly enough, at 3.0a9). On the theme side, the only theme I had outside of the default was nuoveXT 2, and it's disabled. I guess if there's a complaint about plugins and themes is that when a change takes place with Firefox (and it's been a long running problem) that renders a plugin or theme incompatible, that it takes a long time to never to get it updated to the latest Firefox release. It makes me wonder why someone in the Mozilla group hasn't produced a process and a tool for migrating plugins and themes from one architectural change to the next. If the original owner wouldn't do it I certainly would.

Of course, being a first beta, this is a bug shake down, and the first bug I ran into is using Blogger's editor. Inside the Blogger editor it appears I can't use the Link tool to add links to text. I tried it twice, then switched back to Firefox 2 to finish this article. There may be other little bugs out there, but this problem with blogging tips me immediately back to Firefox 2. Maybe Beta 2 will be better.

ATI releases new video drivers, and I install them

Unable to leave well enough alone, I found out that ATI released new versions of its drivers today for all platforms including Linux. The latest version for Linux is ati-driver-installer-7-11-x86.x86_64.run, or 8.433. I followed the standard --buildpkg procedure and then installed the deb files.

The performance appears to be a tad better (a tad being about 5% faster, with smoother operation overall). I can enable more Compiz Fusion eye candy, but I can't run OpenGL applications or movies if Compiz Fusion (Appearance Preferences | Visual Effects) are enabled. I have noticed that playing movies, without Compiz enabled and using VLC as the player has cut CPU loading nearly in half compared to using 8.42.3. And with Visual Effects enabled, the desktop is really beginning to look nice.






Now, if it would just all start magically working together without one feature trampling on another. I still have the hard choice between desktop effects (Compiz) or OpenGL and smooth video playback, but not both.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Firefox 3 Beta 1 takes me on one wild ride

Always a patsy for the New and Shiny, today I decided to believe what I read about Firefox 3 in the press. I downloaded the tarball, unpacked it, and ran Firefox 3 Beta 1 on my Ubuntu 7.10 system. Loads of fun!

One of Firefox 3's touted 'features' is its supposed cutback of memory usage. I use Firefox on every OS I touch, and over the course of many days it can consume quite a bit of memory, especially if you have loads of tabs open like I do. Well, after shutting down Firefox 2 and starting Firefox 3, I noticed that its memory footprint was around 60 MB, and this was after loading with all my open tabs. Then, in a blink of an eye, Firefox 3 Beta started consuming memory like a Santa Ana fanned wildfire consumes a California forest. As you'll note above Gnome's System Monitor is clocking the increase of physical and virtual memory at a rapid clip, with physical memory being pegged pretty quickly. It wound up consuming over 900MB of physical memory.

I'd also like to point out that during this period of out-of-control memory growth that desktop responsiveness went to hell in a hand basket. This is the first time in a long time that any Linux desktop has ever done that on this rig. Desktop responsiveness has been rough with Ubuntu 7.10 under load, such as ripping DVDs and certain video playback. Other loads, such as running a full make on ACE/TAO 5.6, don't effect responsiveness at all.

And of course, after finally getting control of the desktop and killing a runaway Firefox 3, resource usage crashed back down.

For the curious none of my plugins transferred. I did have nine previously opened tabs plus Google Mail. Here's a list of the links in the order they were open (minus my Google Mail account).
  1. Ubuntu Unleashed
  2. Dvorak Unveils New OS
  3. Yahoo! Finance: Why Multitasking Wastes Time And Money
  4. The Code Project: If Only We'd Used ANTS Profiler Earlier...
  5. Mauricio Freitas: AMD Spider platform video
  6. NetworkWorld: Vista worries lead IT pros to consider Linux, Mac alternatives
  7. NetworkWorld: Disappearing Gmail messages baffle users
  8. NetworkWorld: AT&T calls teleworkers back to cubicle life
  9. CNN: Ex-White House aide: Bush, Cheney involved in misleading media
I had started Firefox 3 in Gnome Terminal. Here's a list of the messages from start to finish.
wbeebe@europa:~/Beta/firefox$ ./firefox

(gecko:6641): Gdk-CRITICAL **: gdk_screen_get_display: assertion `GDK_IS_SCREEN (screen)' failed

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: invalid (NULL) pointer instance

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_signal_handlers_disconnect_matched: assertion `G_TYPE_CHECK_INSTANCE (instance)' failed

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_object_ref: assertion `G_IS_OBJECT (object)' failed

(gecko:6641): Gdk-CRITICAL **: gdk_screen_get_display: assertion `GDK_IS_SCREEN (screen)' failed

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_object_get_data: assertion `G_IS_OBJECT (object)' failed

(gecko:6641): Gdk-CRITICAL **: gdk_screen_get_display: assertion `GDK_IS_SCREEN (screen)' failed

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_object_get_data: assertion `G_IS_OBJECT (object)' failed

(gecko:6641): Gdk-CRITICAL **: gdk_screen_get_display: assertion `GDK_IS_SCREEN (screen)' failed

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_object_get_data: assertion `G_IS_OBJECT (object)' failed

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: /build/buildd/glib2.0-2.14.1/gobject/gsignal.c:2180: invalid unclassed object pointer for value type `GdkScreen'

(gecko:6641): Gdk-CRITICAL **: gdk_screen_get_display: assertion `GDK_IS_SCREEN (screen)' failed

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_object_get_data: assertion `G_IS_OBJECT (object)' failed

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-WARNING **: /build/buildd/glib2.0-2.14.1/gobject/gsignal.c:2180: invalid unclassed object pointer for value type `GdkScreen'

(gecko:6641): GLib-GObject-CRITICAL **: g_object_unref: assertion `G_IS_OBJECT (object)' failed

(gecko:6641): Pango-WARNING **: failed to create cairo scaled font, expect ugly output. the offending font is 'DejaVu Sans 0'

(gecko:6641): Pango-WARNING **: failed to create cairo scaled font, expect ugly output. the offending font is 'DejaVu Sans 0'

(gecko:6641): Pango-WARNING **: shaping failure, expect ugly output. shape-engine='BasicEngineFc', font='DejaVu Sans 0', text='English Hello'

(gecko:6641): Pango-WARNING **: pango_font_get_glyph_extents called with null font argument, expect ugly output
Killed
Well, back to plain old Firefox 2 for me. I've had enough excitement for one day.

Update

Well, the 'emergency' has passed. Read about it here.

Achmed the Dead Terrorist

If only they were this silly and harmless in real life...

Disabling Blogger backlinks to disable blog spam

I had to go into Blogger settings (Settings | Comments) and disable (Hide) back links. I got up this morning and went to check certain articles in my blog, and as I scrolled down to the bottom I noticed odd back links to stories that had no contextual link to the posts. Turned out that all of them pointed to a 'blog' somewhere in China that looked to be built from ripped-off content from other blogs. I started to remove them, one by one, until I hit one of my posts that had over a dozen of them. That's when I went into Settings and just disabled the feature. It's a real shame, too, because there are actually some good back links worth preserving. But the overwhelming majority seemed to be spam links to other bogus sites, so I just disabled the entire feature.

And as usual, Google shows I'm not the only one: Another Layer of Blog Spam: Backlinks. There are others, you can find them all yourself. But this guys comment at the end of his post gets to the point: retain tight control of every element of your weblog. If you don't then be assured someone else will.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Europa boots Mandriva 2008.0

Well, I took the Mandriva "challenge", downloaded the "One" Easy Linux CD ISO, burned it, and booted into the latest release of Mandriva 2008.0. It came up cleaner and faster than just about any other version I've every tried to date.

During boot Mandriva allowed me to select between Compiz and Metisse. Not knowing what Metisse is I selected Compiz. Within a very short time Mandriva booted into its graphical desktop with Compiz up and running. It turns out that this version of Mandriva automatically choose to use the ATI driver that came bundled with it (8.40.4). This is the first major distribution I have booted that provided this feature. The screen shot below shows off the signature Compiz Fusion 3D cube supported by the ATI driver.


Quick and Dirty Itty Bitty Review

I've avoided Mandriva in the past because it simply would not boot on europa. That problem appears to be long gone. There are, however, other issues.
  1. Mandriva uses KDE, and I still like KDE quite a bit. I like the KDE Kickoff menu due to my exposure and use of openSUSE and SLED. When Mandriva boots it's using the older KDE menu system. When I changed to the Kickoff menu (by right-clicking on the K-Menu button and selecting Kickoff), it caused a crash of the windowing system. I was able to quickly fix it by resetting the X windowing system ([Ctrl][Alt][Backspace]), and log back in as guest.
  2. Good news is that the default browser is Firefox. The bad news is that while writing up this entry, the version of Firefox supplied (2.0.0.6) insisted on underlining every word in red, signally that every word is misspelled. I know my spelling can be atrocious but not every single word. Fortunately Blogger's spell checker caught the real misspellings.
  3. In Configure Desktop, the Display panel shows the correct display settings. It was broken under openSUSE 10.3. Display settings allow you to set key desktop features such as resolution and refresh rate. Under Mandriva it's locked (on europa's hardware) at 1280 by 1024, which I find a bit peculiar.
  4. When Compiz Fusion is enabled you get all the goofy effects such as wiggly windows. I tried to disable that 'feature' with Mandriva's Control Center, Configurre 3D Desktop effects. The only thing I could do was select betwen no 3D, Metisse, and Compiz Fusion. Under Compiz there was an advanced settings selection that only allowed the selection between native and Xgl.
  5. As usual, because of the version of the ATI driver and Xgl, OpenGL support was problematic. If I were to install this distribution I'd have to go to the problem of installing the latest ATI driver (8.42.3) and disable/remove Xgl in order to see if the Compiz Fusion effects would work with the AIXGL support available in 8.42.3. Or else just turn off Compiz Fusion and disable Xgl to get full OpenGL support.
I won't be installing Mandriva 2008.0 on europa. I've been through more than enough installation woes lately. But I must say it's improved considerably from its last release. It comes with the necessary drivers for hardware graphics acceleration, and many codecs along with Flash 9 are installed and ready to go, making it a solid choice for the beginner and the pro. And my favorite nit to pick, the selection and rendering of screen fonts, is excellent, the best I've seen so far with the current crop of releases.

Mandriva 2008.0, in my limited testing, shows great polish and potential. If I were in the mood to switch distributions (and I still am) then I'd want to wait and evaluate the next release after this one to see if Mandriva can continue to maintain 2008.0's high level of quality while advancing the distribution. If they can, then Mandriva is not only worth installing but worth paying for.

Comments on the latest Distrowatch

I try to hit the Distrowatch site on a fairly regular basis, usually once every week. That's so I can read the Distrowatch Weekly. This week's issue carries another review of Fedora 8. While the review is interesting in and of itself, it carries within it other little nuggets about several other distributions the author has tried along the way.

The author was running Sabayon 3.4 before switching over to Fedora 8. I tried Sabayon on my machines, so it was interesting to read about his experiences. He offered this interesting observation:
It [Fedora 8] is considerably less buggy than Sabayon Linux 3.4...
Ouch. Another key observation pro Sabayon is the time the author spent configuring his desktop. He noted that while he had to go and hunt down media codecs for Fedora 8, Sabayon "comes pre-configured with all the media goodies and browser plugins a desktop Linux user could possibly need."

I've read similar observations with regards to Sabayon; buggy in many ways, but the inclusion of all the "restricted" codecs makes it a easier to enable many media features out-of-the-box. And it follows my own experiences as well. I hope Sabayon remains viable and grows more successful in the future. Sabayon, along with Mint, are moving in the right direction with regards to the inclusion of needed drivers and codecs on the distribution media.

Monday, November 19, 2007

CORRECTION: NetBeans 6RC1 has serious performance issues on Ubuntu 7.10

In the earlier post I reported that NetBeans 6RC1 had serious performance problems. After installing the latest ATI graphics driver and disabling XGL, NetBeans' performance was enhanced to levels seen in the past with older releases and is now quite acceptable. My only comment (and concern) is how XGL could have had such an adverse impact on NetBeans' performance.

Again, as I mentioned in the earlier post, Eclipse 3.3.1.1 did not have this performance problem. I hope it isn't due to the fact that NetBeans depends on JFC while Eclipse uses its own widget toolkit, SWT. I did run some of the simpler JFC examples from the JDK (SwingSet2 and Java2D) and found no performance issues running them. I wonder what special features NetBeans is now using from Java that might cause this?

A simple suggestion for enhancing Gnome

During the process of configuring a modern graphical desktop any number of tools are required to configure its operation and aesthetics to suit the tastes of the user. The Gnome desktop is no different. The Gnome developers, having built an excellent desktop, have produced a number of tools that support the configuration of the Gnome desktop. Four of them are shown below.

My recommendation for future versions of Gnome is to combine three of them (Screensaver Preferences, Screen Resolution Preferences, and Screen and Graphics Preferences) into the forth, Appearance Preferences. One of the tools, Screen and Graphics Preferences, also needs to be configured so that it doesn't require root permissions to operate (after all why should it?).

The idea is to bring all the tools that allow for desktop configuration into one convenient location.

The problems with ATI graphics and Ubuntu 7.10

I've had a Sapphire ATI X1950 Pro video card for over 30 days now, and it's crossed my mind more than once to send it back to Newegg and get an nVidia replacement. The greatest annoyance with ATI are the drivers, and considering that this graphics chip (R570) and the card itself have been on the market for over a year, there is essentially no excuse for the continuing problems trying to get the card to do its best either under Windows XP or Linux. That's not to say the card is particularly bad. When it works it works beautifully. But getting it to work is a royal PITA. Trying to get it to work under Linux, either openSUSE 10.3 or Ubuntu 7.10, only adds insult to injury.

I finally got the latest Linux ATI driver (8.42.3) installed, built and running by following (for the most part) specific Gutsy instructions on the Unofficial ATI Linux Driver Wiki. I'd like to make one thing perfectly clear. Do not, I repeat, do not install the default ATI drivers via the restricted repository. In fact, using Synaptic, uninstall linux-restricted-modules-2.6.22.14-generic if they're on the system at all. Completely. Then follow the second half of the instructions linked to above. That was the only way that I could get the latest ATI drivers to work. The problem with this striction is if you have a system that depends upon another 'restricted' driver (such as for wireless networking). I have no helpful suggestion for you there.

One more warning. Steer clear of Envy. It may work for older versions of Ubuntu, but it's nothing but trouble for 7.10. It knows nothing about the latest version of the ATI driver. In the process of foolishly using Envy it corrupted my driver installation. In order to recover I had to re-install the ATI DEB files and re-run the driver build process from the command line before I could get back to a graphical desktop.

After finishing installation and after properly configuring the system I was able to enjoy all the pretty eye Compiz Fusion candy you see on YouTube and other locations. I then started to do some basic OpenGL testing and ran into immediate problems. The example below compares glxgears running without and with Compiz effects.


As you can see there's definitely a problem with OpenGL. Not only with glxgears, but fgl_glxgears, Google Earth, JOGL-based apps (WorldWind Java, for example), even OpenGL-based Ubuntu screen savers such as Skyrocket. Incredible corruption and application instability hits when effects are enabled, and when the screen saver fires up, the whole desktop becomes unstable and literally unusable, requiring [Ctrl][Alt][Backspace] and a re-login to get things back to near-normal.

As you've guessed by now I have effects disabled. I can live without Compiz. The few features I'd really like from Compiz, such as the nice shadowing around the windows, I can really live without if I have to. I've gone to the trouble to install Nodoka from Fedora 8, and that gives me a nice UI, much nicer than what comes stock on Ubuntu. Nodoka 'compensates' for the lack of enabled Compiz effects. Maybe, between now and the release of Ubuntu 8.04, the ATI drivers and the upstream windowing manager will mature further, especially when using advanced ATI graphics boards.

A Proposal

If the Debian/Ubuntu developers are going to continue to insist that the restricted modules system be used, then they should extend it to make it easier to know about alternative drivers, especially latest-and-greatest. A good place to start IMHO would be to add a new keyword to the linux-restricted-modules-common file in /etc/default. For example, consider a new keyword, ALTERNATE_drivername, and how it might be used:
ALTERNATE_FGLRX="/lib/modules/2.6.22-14-generic/misc/fglrx.ko"
In this hypothetical example I've told the restricted module manager where to find my specific driver, and to use it instead of the default in volatile. Yes, it breaks on updates, but it's a start and far simpler than all the fruitless gyrations I've read about in forums and via Google trying to get an alternative driver shoe-horned into the system.

Now before you comment, right now, under Ubuntu 7.10, there is no way to just drop the latest fglrx driver into the volatile folder (/lib/modules/2.6.22-14-generic/volatile) because the volatile folder gets wiped and rebuilt on every reboot. Oh, if it were only that simple. That's why I propose the ALTERNATE_ keyword. Who knows. Maybe somebody will think it's a good idea, too, and act on it.

Update

An older story by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, "ATI releases Catalyst 7.10 drivers for Linux desktops", talks about the current driver release and in particular states the the following:
The AIGLX support isn't quite ready for prime time. "We've still have to do a bit more testing before we officially support AIGLX in Catalyst, but in the meantime we wanted to provide the Linux community with a preview, to let everyone know that it is coming soon," said a developer for ATI, headquartered in Markham, Ontario.
They're right about one thing. I don't have the xgl server running, and I'm quite happy for that. And I can attest to the drivers not being "quite ready for prime time." So I guess I'll wait until the next release, which I sincerely hope is before the end of the year. And I can vouch for the performance of the latest drivers. I'm getting the fastest graphic performance under OpenGL I've ever gotten on old europa.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Making K3b rip DVDs on Ubuntu 7.10

I've complained repeatedly that K3b supplied via Ubuntu 7.10's repositories can't rip DVDs on Ubuntu 7.10. It worked for me on 7.04 as well as on every version of openSUSE I cared to try it on. I tried everything I could think of to get it to work short of installing Kubuntu, which I will never do. I have an abiding dislike of Kubuntu, stoked in part by its silly insistence that Konqueror is the default web browser, not Firefox.

After repeated attempts to find a solution on forums and via Google, I solved my problem the old fashioned way; I downloaded the source to K3b 1.0.4 and built it myself. And you know what? I can rip DVDs now with K3b on Ubuntu 7.10.

The key to getting K3b to compile is to install, via Synaptic, the packages for Qt3 development (qt3-apps-dev, libqt3-headers, libqt3-mt and libqt3-mt-dev) and KDE development (kde-devel). These provide all the tools, headers, and libraries necessary to build KDE/Qt3 applications.

Other development versions of libraries are needed to build key features and plugins for K3b. To give you an idea of what you need, here's the final configure output from K3b:
K3b - Include libdvdread (Video DVD ripping) support:
K3b - yes

K3b - Resmgr support: no

K3b - Compile HAL support no
K3b - You are missing the HAL >= 0.5 headers and libraries
K3b - or the DBus Qt bindings.

K3b - Audioplayer available (alsa) yes

K3b - FFMpeg decoder plugin (decodes wma and others):
K3b - yes

K3b - FLAC support: yes

K3b - libsndfile audio decoding support: yes

K3b - Mp3 decoding support (libmad): yes

K3b - Musepack support: yes

K3b - Ogg Vorbis support: yes

K3b - Lame Mp3 encoder plugin: yes

K3b - Audio meta data reading with Taglib: yes

K3b - Audio resampling:
K3b - using version bundled with K3b

K3b - Audioplayer available (aRts) yes

K3b - Compile K3bSetup 2: yes

K3b - Tag guessing using MusicBrainz yes
I didn't keep a list of every '-dev' library needed. What I did do was to hunt, via Synaptic, the developer version of every feature listed above. For example, for libdvdread (libdvdread3, which was already installed) I made sure to install libdvdread-dev. After finding and install I'd do a 'make distclean' (just to make sure) and then re-run ./configure. Where-ever a 'yes' appears, I satisfied K3b's configure requirements. The only 'no' I wished I'd satisfied was with HAL/DBus support. I tried a number of packages but never found the right one. For my use it didn't matter, so I didn't waste too much time trying to satisfy the requirement.

Why not use another tool? I tried that, specifically with K9Copy. I installed and tried that tool, and after three consecutive unsuccessful attempts to rip the same movie, I removed it completely and then went off and built K3b. The less said about K9Copy the better, but from my perspective it can be described in one word as 'horrible'. Don't use it unless you're desperate.

I have no idea why the version of K3b (1.0.3) won't work as a DVD ripper while my re-built version (1.0.4) will. I don't believe that it's due to the minor point difference, since the same version supplied via Synaptic (1.0.3) works just fine under openSUSE 10.3. I can only assume that the build system for this application is broken. I did nothing other than install the necessary support packages via Synaptic, run ./configure, make, and make install.

The grizzled veterans will shake their heads in bemusement over my complaining about having to rebuild an application to get a specific feature to work. But that's my point. Why would anybody, especially now, have to go to this much trouble to get a major feature to work on a major application? The answer is they shouldn't, especially when at least one other distribution shows that it works out-of-the-box. And especially on a distribution such as Ubuntu that strives "the best" Linux distribution of them all. The one saving grace to this minor fiasco is the Synaptic system that allowed me to quickly find and install the necessary tools. And to be honest it's a feature from Debian, not from Ubuntu.

It's situations like this that make me wonder again and again if I shouldn't front my own distribution, where unnecessary bits are stripped out and what's left Just Works. But then, that's just what the Linux scene needs; Yet Another Damn Distribution.

Friday, November 16, 2007

NetBeans 6RC1 has serious performance issues on Ubuntu 7.10

I've been running Ubuntu 7.10 on europa, with basic 3D hardware acceleration via the native ATI drivers and some of the eye candy turned on. I have been pleased with just about everything except where noted.

I decided to install the latest NetBeans 6 release, RC1. I downloaded it and installed it, and then fired 'er up. The first thing I noticed was the performance. It is, in a word, abysmal. It starts up slow and it runs slow. And I do mean slow. Up to this point developer releases of NetBeans 6 have not had such drastic performance slowdowns. And this performance slowdown is only observable on Ubuntu 7.10. NetBeans 6RC1 runs just fine on Windows XP SP2.

The problem presented an interesting opportunity to compare NetBeans 6 RC1 with the version available on Ubuntu via Synaptic, NetBeans 5.5.1. Using Synaptic I found and installed that (current) version of NetBeans and started it up. The screen shot shows both running on the desktop. Version 6 RC1 is on top and version 5.5.1 is running in the back. In order to level the playing field I added a configuration switch to netbeans.conf: --laf javax.swing.plaf.metal.MetalLookAndFeel


With both IDEs using the Metal Look-and-Feel, NetBeans 5.5.1 ran rings around NetBeans 6RC1. I have no idea why. In the mean time I'm going to use the NetBeans IDE provided by Ubuntu, along with the Ubuntu provided version of Java, Java 6 Update 3. Talk about a nice combination.

One other observation. The latest version of Eclipse, 3.3.1.1, has no performance issues either, and that version I downloaded and installed from the Eclipse site.

Update Nov 21 2007

Please see my update post about how RC1's performance was corrected.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A bad day with Linux is better than a good day with Windows

Back in late October I ranted about the state of Linux and how it didn't operate to my satisfaction on europa, especially with the new ATI graphics card. Pulling away for a while gave me an opportunity to stand back and gain a better perspective of my problems. During that period I re-installed openSUSE 10.3 until I'd had a chance to evaluate a number of issues. Then I made the decision tonight to re-install Ubuntu 7.10.


The biggest change I made in my installation proceedure was to rename my crufty old home directory from /home/wbeebe to /home/wbeebe.old during live CD operation before I installed Ubuntu. After installation I got a brand new home directory without all the cruft from (literally) years of operation under various releases of Suse. With a new home directory I noticed that a number of problems I'd been complaining about magically cleared up. I then carefully moved certain folders from my older home directory to my new one.

Right now I have the restricted ATI drivers installed and hardware acceleration is enabled with the ATI 1950 Pro. I've got Compiz running with custom effects (cube, flipping, etc). I've also noticed that video plays back correctly. The only issues I still have are with some OpenGL features and the fact that K3B won't rip DVDs. This current (re)installation isn't perfect, but it's usable. And I feel comfortably distanced from Novell and Microsoft.

Sooner or later I'll have enough time to get all the issues wrung out and have it all set up to my satisfaction. I went through this same process with Suse. I can certainly do it with Ubuntu.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sabayon 3.4f boots, still has problems

Well, I did what I said I'd do, and downloaded Sabayon 3.4f and booted it on the Gateway M680. Just as before with 3.4e I booted Sabayon into a Compiz-enabled graphic desktop. This time the keyboard worked, but other problems led to a less than ideal user experience.

Gateway M680


Problems
  1. The Compiz 3D effects interfere with the KDE Kickoff menu.
  2. The Compiz 3D effects interfere with (some) USB devices.
Solutions
  1. Boot Sabayon without Compiz enabled. When the system boots into the first selection menu simply choose to boot without Compiz enabled. If you must boot with the eye candy, then when you get to the desktop right-click immediately on the menu button on the lower panel and select the older KDE menu. It works with the older menu. However, switching from the KDE Kickoff menu to the older KDE menu creates a new problem. Look at the screen shot above. Note how the applets in the upper panel (upper right) are little tiny windows immediately beneath the positions they had on the upper panel. Because they're no longer on the upper panel they show up in the task bar. This occurred simply by switching the menus.
  2. The only way I could use my Kingston 4GB thumb drive was to boot Sabayon without the eye candy.
Europa

I booted up in europa just to see if anything would work on even older hardware. Fortunately for Sabayon it did - up to a point. The biggest problem booting on europa apparently was the ATI X1950 Pro video card. The best Sabayon could do resolution-wise was 1024 x 768. But it did come up with Compiz enabled.

As you can see in the screen shot above I opened up Google Earth, which is conveniently on the desktop. That's great if you're trying to create a first impression, but problems dog Google Earth just like everything else within this distribution. First problem is the version. Sabayon ships with 4.0. The current version since June has been 4.2. The big difference between 4.0 and 4.2 is that 4.2 includes the star-field view. The other problem is the eternal conflict with Xgl/Compiz and OpenGL on ATI graphics hardware. The problem manifested itself this time in rendering text on an OpenGL canvas. Those long white and yellow rectangles on the Google Earth map are supposed to be text boxes identifying locations on the map.

After shutting down Google Earth I decided to start Second Life. I have a Second Life avatar named Galactic Condor. I was trying for Galactic Condom but Lindon Labs has no sense of humor. Whatever. The only problem here, as with Google Earth, is the version of the application. In the case of Second Life it won't run unless you have a high-enough version. Oh well.

I'm sure that if I were to install Sabayon on europa I could update to the latest versions, hopefully via a repository, by hand if necessary. This is no way, however, to impress the first-time casual user. Sabayon has got some serious problems to address in the area of its graphic desktop and in the choice of applications. And somebody really needs to be testing these releases just to make sure everything works as intended. Given a choice between Sabayon and Mint, I'd definitely choose Mint.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Booting Sabayon 3.4e on the Gateways

Since I'm in the mood to boot live CDs on notebooks, I decided to continue this little experiment by booting Sabayon 3.4e on both notebooks. While Sabayon booted to a graphical desktop on both machines, the experience was a little better on the M685 than on the M680. I didn't download this, I got it as an insert tucked inside the November issue of Linux Pro Magazine, which I picked up at a local Barnes and Noble bookstore tonight.

Booting

One of the nicest features of this distribution is its opening boot. Rather than watching some fancy artwork you're presented with a first-boot screen that identifies the graphic subsystem and allows you to select graphic acceleration or not. Sabayon correctly detected and identified both notebook's graphics chip sets. In both cases I choose graphic acceleration and when it finished booting into the desktop graphic acceleration was indeed enabled. By the way, not only do you get a very solid indication of successful graphical configuration, but the audio plays a rather funky ditty while booting, giving you a very good check of the audio portion. Audio worked fine on both notebooks.

Running

As I noted above the Sabayon experience was a little better on the M685 (nVidia) than the M680 (ATI). Specifically, the keyboard would not work on the M680. I don't know why. I could use [Ctrl][Alt][F1], for example, to get to a full-screen terminal, and there the keyboard worked just fine. Curious, I pulled the CD out of the M680 and booted the M685 with it. There, the keyboard did work, so I continued looking around.

One common problem on both machines was the failure of the menu to work. The desktop comes up as KDE (which is just fine by me), but clicking on the lower right to get the KDE menu would not work on either notebook. I finally launched applications by discovering and using the run command dialog. You get a run command dialog by right-clicking on the desktop for its pop-up menu, then selecting the second entry. That's how, for example, I got Firefox, Konsole and KSnapshot.

Of course, with a working keyboard I was able to configure the wireless network to log into my home network. In fact, wireless was properly detected on both notebooks.

The screen shot above is playing a flash video from CNN. Nothing to download or install. It just worked. Note also that the NVIDIA X Server Settings dialog is available. The ATI Catalyst Control Center was available on the M680's desktop, but Sabayon booted the desktop using the Xorg 'free' driver, so CCC would not work. I can only assume that if the ATI drivers were used then CCC would work. Sabayon seems to have the nVidia drivers on the distribution. I saw the classic nVidia boot screen right before the desktop came up.

And just for grins I captured this view of the 'flattened cube' effect with reflections. This is the kind of performance I would have expected Ubuntu 7.10 to provide, particularly when I read all that Ubuntu was supposed to provide from the Ubuntu evangelists.

Warts aside, I haven't had this high a level of out-of-the-box experience since Mint Beta 17, and that was on europa using the older ATI 9700 Pro.

Next

I just checked the Sabayon site, and it looks like the current release is 3.4f. So I will download and burn a new CD to see if any of the problems encountered with 3.4e are fixed.

On My Soapbox

I'm reminded a second time that the real pleasure of using Linux isn't with the majors such as Redhat (Fedora), Novell (openSUSE), and Canonical/Debian (Ubuntu), but with alternates such as Mint (building on Ubuntu) and now Sabayon (building on Gentoo), especially if you've got fairly recent hardware you want to take full advantage of. Canonical and Ubuntu eclipsed pure Debian because Debian would not add contemporary features in a timely manner. History may repeat itself if Redhat, Novell, and Canonical (just to name three) aren't careful.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Europa and Fedora 8

After the last post where I pointed out Fedora 8's inability to boot into a graphics desktop on my two notebooks, I took the CD back and booted F8 on europa. As you can see below it boots and runs just fine.

In fact, F8 booted up with a screen resolution of 1920 by 1440, which was too small for me to read. So I shrank the resolution to my normal 1600 by 1200. An attempt to enable Compiz failed, and being unfamiliar with Fedora these days, I didn't bother to find a way to dig a little deeper as to why.

Notable is the distribution treated the Sapphire ATI X1950 Pro as a 'generic' device, but with enough information to provide the highest resolution with 24-bit color.

In spite of its success at booting on europa I have no desire to replace openSUSE 10.3 with it, in spite of the rough edges around openSUSE 10.3. If I replace SUSE, it'll be with version 10.2, or possibly with SLED 10 SP1. And since rhea is running just fine with Ubuntu 7.10, I'll leave well enough alone there as well.

Surprises
  1. Fedora now recognizes and mounts NTFS partitions. Up to and including Fedora Core 5, I had to rebuild the kernel with NTFS support for this to work.
  2. Performance. Ignoring the pause when an application is being loaded from the CD, F8 is surprisingly snappy.
  3. GCC version. It looks like F8 ships with gcc 4.1.2; at least that's what the kernel was built with, which indicates that's the version that ships with the system. The only distribution that seems to ship with gcc 4.2.1 is openSUSE 10.3. I'm not calling this a problem or a mark against F8, but I am very curious as to why, especially in light of Linus' comments with regards to gcc.

A tale of four distributions

With the final release of Fedora 8 last Thursday, I decided to perform a simple experiment with four distributions. I'd boot them on my two Gateway notebooks. I didn't want to try anything fancy or complicated. I just wanted to see if they'd boot up to their default graphical desktop. The four distributions I tried were Fedora 8, Ubuntu 7.10, openSUSE 10.3, and Indiana (Open Solaris) Developer Preview. All of the Linux distributions were final releases.

The following table compares the notebook models I used and their respective graphics subsystems.




Notebook Model
Grahics Subsystem
Purchase Date
Gateway M680AMD/ATI Mobility Radeon X700
June 2005
Gateway M685nVidia GeForce Go 7800June 2006
Note that these notebooks are between 1.5 and 2.5 years old. So these are not bleeding-edge machines, but they're quite capable none-the-less. Both machines currently dual-boot between Windows XP and openSUSE 10.2.

And to cut to the chase the following table shows the results of attempting to boot each live CD.





DistibutionM680M685
Fedora 8FailedFailed
Ubuntu 7.10BootedFailed
openSUSE 10.3BootedBooted
IndianaBootedFailed
As you can see, Fedora 8 failed to boot to a graphic desktop on both notebooks. In stark contrast the only distribution that booted to a graphical desktop on both was openSUSE 10.3. The surprise was Indiana. Not only did Indiana boot on the M680, but it also recognized the wireless graphics chipset on the notebook and enabled the network. In spite of its rough edges, it wasn't bad at all for a developer's release.

The screen capture shown above is Indiana running on the M680. The odd artifact on the left side of the Firefox window occurred when I performed the screen capture. Why boot Indiana? Just to see what it would do. I was pleasantly surprised by its ability to operate on my notebook and a bit shocked that a developer's release performed better than Fedora 8.

Ubuntu running on the M680. I'd done this before with a pre-release so I wasn't surprised.

And openSUSE on the M680 with Compiz running. I enabled Compiz after using Sax2 to enable 24-bit color as well as 3D acceleration.

You'd think, after reading some responses, that Fedora 8 was the second coming in Linux distributions, let alone Fedora releases. But the fact that Fedora 8 failed to boot to a graphical desktop on both of my notebooks underscores Fedora's continuing lack of release quality. openSUSE, the one distribution that everyone likes to beat up on (and call for boycott) boots on everything I have access to. I should note that while openSUSE 10.3 enabled full graphical capabilities on the M680, including full screen resolution of 1680 x 1050, it booted into 1280 x 1024 on the M685 without any hardware acceleration. But at least the desktop on the M685 was both visible and usable.

This year has turned out to be the year of the regressive Linux release, especially with regards to graphic card support. Those regressions are due in part, I believe, to the use of the latest Xorg release. Fedora 8 is based on the latest Xorg bits, while Fedora 7, which successfully boots on both my M860 and M865, does not. If you're interested in Linux for the first time I'd strongly advise you try openSUSE 10.3 first. If you've got an earlier release (such as Ubuntu 7.04 or openSUSE 10.2) installed and running, I'd strongly advise trying out the latest release with the live CD before performing any upgrade. As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A poke at Indiana

Well, never let it be said I can't be easily entranced by the New and Shiny. Especially if it's free. Which is why I downloaded the Project Indiana Developer Preview ISO ("Indiana") and then preceded to boot it on several machines within reach. This is just my initial impression of an OpenSolaris derivative, and can in no way be construed as a review. If you need something deeper then you can mosey over to Phoronix and read what they have to say about Indiana. You have been warned.

Europa

Of course the first machine I attempted to boot Indiana was poor suffering europa. It gets poked and prodded and pulled apart at the drop of a hat. Booting Indiana on it was no exception. This version of OpenSolaris booted the fastest of any I've booted to date. That's actually a good thing. Other derivations have taken longer to too long to boot into a graphical desktop.

What worked:
  • Oddly enough, the screen resolution. Using the ATI X1950 Pro video card, Indiana put up a readable screen resolution of 1920 x 1440. It also had reasonable performance considering it wasn't using the ATI drivers.
  • Gnome 2.20. All the applications I tested (and I did not test every single one) behaved the way I would expect, especially after exposure to Gnome on Ubuntu 7.10 and openSUSE 10.3.
  • Networking. It found my Intel gigabit Ethernet card and enabled it, giving me connectivity to the Web.
What didn't work:
  • Networking and sound on the nVidia nForce 2 chip set. I had to move a cable from the motherboard ethernet port to the Intel ethernet port. That's not to put down Indiana. Linux didn't support nForce 2 networking on my machine until I installed SuSE 10.0. I purchased that Intel network card to support SuSE Professional up to 9.3 when I purchased the motherboard.
  • Screen captures. For some strange reason I could not save a screen capture without getting an error saying it couldn't access the drive. Whatever.
Altair4

Altair4 is one of my work systems. It's built around an Athlon 64 FX-55 processor with 4GB of RAM and an Asus A8N SLI Deluxe motherboard. It currently hosts Windows Server 2003 only.

What worked:
  • The screen. It came up in it's always-limited 1280 x 1024 resolution on the Samsung SyncMaster 740B LCD screen.
  • Nearly all the Gnome stuff as before.
  • Networking. It wouldn't at first until I reached around the back of the box and plugged the network cable into the RJ45 that allowed 'nge0' to be automatically brought up. This was the same event that occurred with europa. I have no idea what hardware is behind the nge0 interface.
  • USB. I was able to plug in and use a Kingston 4GB thumb drive for screen captures.
What didn't work:
  • Gnome network tool. A nice dialog popped up informing me it was disabled as long as 'nwam' was enabled. Rather than read a man page or two and poke at nwam, I just accepted it and moved on.
What follows are a few screen shots with comments taken from altair4.

The ubiquitous screen shot. There's an icon on the right for the Kingston thumb drive. I found out that I'm Jack to the system. I don't know Jack. What would you expect to be a part of a distribution based on Solaris and distributed by Sun? Would you say 'Java'? Guess again. Note to the Indiana developers: you might want to think about distributing the latest version of Java, Java 6, with your next release, and to make sure it's available on the Live CD. After all, Sun owns Java and can do that. Even Linux distributions are shipping it now.

Finally, a comment about fonts. The default fonts on the opening web page are pretty crappy. According to the Firefox preferences panel the default font is Times. Yuck. I changed them to the various Bitstream fonts to get something that looked halfway decent and was far easier to read.


Speaking of fonts I decided to turn on subpixel smoothing (Appearance Preferences | Fonts tab). When I clicked the radio button I got the charming little dialog you see above. Now, I've gotten read the riot act in the past when using Ubuntu and selecting 'non-free' codecs and video drivers, but nothing when I selected subpixel smoothing. *sigh* I don't know what to say; draw your own conclusions, but keep them to yourself.

The End

Not much more to say. From a purely technical perspective I have to admit I'm impressed. Trying to install, let alone run, Solaris/OpenSolaris in the past has never been this easy. It's literally handed to you on a silver platter. But from a practical bent I have to ask 'why bother'? I'm not too crazy about Linux right now and I sure would like an alternative to Windows. The other 'real' Unixes, the *BSDs, are better supported driver-wise than OpenSolaris is right now.

It is, of course, quite unfair to judge Indiana on a Developer Preview. I admit that. But the next releases are really going to have to jump out and grab you by your lapels so to speak to really grab mind-share for itself. If nothing else it's worth the time and effort to download and test boot their distributions. It remains to be seen if it's worth the effort to install it and leave it on once it's installed.

P.S.

This marks my 400th post. I don't know if that means anything, except I've written 400 somethings on this particular blog. Your Mileage May Vary.