Fight for the Internet 1!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Linux Irks: Things in Linux that Irk You

An Open Question to Users

So this post is a bit different. This question goes out to all Linux users (casual, professional, full-time/part-time, whatever).

"What are your Linux irks? What are the things in Linux that irk you?" Just to clarify, this isn't a feature request thread. Not a "I wish feature X-Y-Z was in Linux." Mostly I am thinking of things like "I can live the situation; the workaround I have functions okay, but I wish they'd fix it or it was better." I'll start as an example (see below).

Can be big, small, significant or insignificant. This isn't a flame thread, so if you please, try to be polite and rant-free. (I know I rant sometimes. I try not to...)

Side Comment

I read the Phoronix news posts daily and semi-daily. There's a fair bit of graphics related Jargon to get used to and if you aren't a graphics enthusist, that website may not be for you. However they do cover much more than just graphics, though that seems to be their big passion.

I really love Linux, but I have to admit it's not perfect. There is a recent article about the state of much of Linux hardware support and honestly I think the poster did a good job of politely pointing out serious shortcomings while also presenting triumphs. Read it here if you are interested in getting a fairly realistic and well supported opinion on the state of Linux hardware support.


Not many things irk me about Linux (or my Linux experience), but:

1) EDIT -- A friend of mine kindly pointed out the solution to this problem a few weeks ago (on a day when I was particularly angry too, so it was very nice). The short version is: I needed to enable "USB Keyboard support and also USB mouse support" in my BIOS. So if you are having this problem, please poke around in your BIOS or google for the solution to your particular BIOS.

Legacy Post (SOLVED): One recently that continues to bite me is GRUB's USB-wireless keyboard support. My usb-wireless keyboard "Logitech DiNovo Edge" works great in Linux/KDE (after a simple one-time tweak for each Linux distribution update/install.) It works on boot-up in my BIOS, which is awesome. It works in Linux rescue disks in the basic consoles. It works in KDE/Gnome/Fluxbox/KMS/VirtualBox, you name it.

But when GRUB loads to ask me a question (sometimes after I install or remove kernels, or swap around harddrives), my usb-wireless keyboards STOPS WORKING. Rage.

Sigh... I've dealt with this problem for literal years now. I still keep a PS2 keyboard around to fix the problem. Though I should check if GRUB2 now supports just play non-wireless USB keyboards.

2) Missing out of the box multi-button mouse configuration. (I assert this must be a graphical configuration tool, since mice are fundamentally graphical.) I understand that not everyone will have a multi-button mouse, but I wish KDE, Gnome, or Debian/Ubuntu themselves made an officially supported project to handle these. I know it probably couldn't work for everything, but if someone started it as an officially supported project, people could build plugins for it and then it would be a widespread well supported project covering much of the FOSS and Linux world.

I use a Logitech multi-button mouse and I use BTNX to configure it. This works very very well, and I'm quite happy. However occasionally the BTNX package has been unavailable in versions of Ubuntu. One time it disappeared because of Kernel driver API changes, but several months later this was adjusted for. Another time, just recently with Ubuntu 12.04, it wasn't available for a month until a third-party library dependency issue could be resolved and BTNX could be made available for the latest Ubuntu version.


I'm in a somewhat privileged position... (maybe?) I don't play video games so the lack of game support on Linux rarely impacts me.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Leaving Ubuntu or Staying Ubuntu?


This is a thought piece, related to my choice of Linux Distribution Ubuntu. Recently I thought about moving from Ubuntu to some other Linux Distribution.


Some of what brought on these thoughts are as follows (in no particular order):
  1. Firefox kde support being dropped.
    I personally loved this package and would really struggle to live without it now.
  2. Kubuntu being dropped by Ubuntu
    I have never liked Gnome, either versions 1, 2, or 3. I have always felt that with rare exception KDE was a superior desktop environment. (The biggest exception being the initial development and release of KDE 4, which was a colossal debacle to even its staunchest supporters. Why KDE? Just WHY!?)

    But I certainly don't think Gnome2 was bad. (I have no opinion on Gnome3, since I've really never used it or 2 enough to know the difference.)
  3. Focused move onto Unity (and thus on Gnome).
    Again, I don't use Unity at all (or Gnome) nor particularly like it. I've even felt it was a hinderance to the Linux Desktop adaption worldwide because Gnome is not as similar to the Windows Desktop as KDE is. But again, that's only my limited opinion.
At the time of these things happening (especially items #1 and #2), I began to worry that Ubuntu might be moving in a direction that would ultimately not support my needs as a user.

Where to go for an alternative?

If I am going to pick a new distro, what are my other options?:
  • Red Hat/Fedora: Not Debian, and possible stability issues compared to Debian based systems. (Again, only possible ones. I'm not flaming here.). On the plus side it does include Firefox-Kde-Support natively, I think. But I would miss the apt-package system, which I love a lot. I also would miss the Ubuntu PPAs, which are darn useful.
  • Debian: Doesn't keep up enough. I have to wait too long for kernel updates with important features that enhance performance and graphics and fix bugs.
  • OpenSuse: Not based on a Debian system, which puts me at a disadvantage. I've been using Debian since I started Linux. On the plus side it does include Firefox-Kde-Support, I think.

The Real Issue

Eventually I realized my alternatives were not what was important. The ultimately important question is what really matters: "What do I want from a distribution of Linux?"

My answers so far:
  • KDE 4 (with desktop effects)
  • BTNX (Button Configuration for my mouse)
  • Firefox (with KDE integration) (latest)
  • Gimp (very recent versions)
  • VLC (very latest)
  • Eclipse
  • Vim
  • Ssh
  • Amarock
  • Gwenview (very latest)
  • Konqueror
  • LiberOffice (very latest)
  • Wine (very latest)
  • Pidgin IM (very latest)
  • Proprietary Driver installation (easy and convenient installation)
  • Wacom Tablet support
  • Synergy
  • Avidemux (very latest)
  • Klipper
  • Workrave
  • Regular updates to keep as current as possible while also maintaining as much stability as possible
A lot these things I want (mostly software packages) can be found in other distributions of Linux.

Some Pro's for Ubuntu

  • Ubuntu Software Center: Great idea and pretty good execution, plus they keep adding more stuff to it.
  • Ubuntu is really really popular: It's a namebrand that third-party software contributors and developers actually account for, more than most other distributions of Linux.
  • PPAs: These are just awesome.
  • Finance Support: Ubuntu is making a lot of money and has a good backing. They are also pushing their technology into new areas and trying new things. Even if I don't always like or care for what they do, that's something to be admired.
  • Ubuntu for Android: Just plain awesome, especially because I so want to use this for my next phone.


I started writing this about two months ago and now as I finish it, I am happy to report all of my issues have been solved.
  • Kubuntu's Future: Kubuntu received funding from another external backer. (I believe they were offered backing by a couple of companies.) They aren't going anywhere, and in fact this may be a better move for them in the future.
  • Firefox kde support: Firefox kde support has been provided by a member of the Ubuntu Community, which is very awesome. This just demonstrates how the Ubuntu PPAs are a great aspect of the Ubuntu community. I was considering whether I should step up to providing a PPA to solve this problem, but someone did it for me.
  • Ubuntu's focus on Unity: Unity has been around for years now and I've been mostly unaffected sitting in my KDE castle. So, why start to worry now with Kubuntu backed by external parties?
Lastly I have seen the Ubuntu community work hard to support various packages and software I care about. People really try to help and support a lot. Just today I found that Ubuntu had added the 'btnx' and 'btnx-config' packages back into their repository, after they had been disabled a few weeks ago due to a bug preventing readiness for OS version 12.04. This just showed me in a small way they are doing a lot of what I want from a distribution.

So yeah, I'm staying with Kubuntu/Ubuntu. I hope other's experiences are generally as good or better than mine as well. Peace all. :)

MyBookLive SSH

Just a quick story here to share how I regained SSH login access to my "MyBookLive" after doing a firmware upgrade (earlier this week) and randomly losing access. After the reboot suddenly I could not log in via SSH. However the web-page UI was available.

To enable SSH on it, you must first go to: http://mybooklive/UI/ssh, but it was already enabled for me. This was not the problem. After changing all the passwords I could find and trying the default one, nothing worked. I still could not log in via SSH. (It appeared all my SSHD settings were reset to defaults, such as back to default port 22.)

So after making sure all my data was duplicated, I used a paperclip to press the tiny reset button on the back of the machine.
I had done some research and for my MBL (pictured above) this does NOT wipe out the data apparently. It runs a shell script which resets many of the login passwords and I believe some ownership permissions but mostly on the web-interface and SSH.

After doing this, I was able to log in with the default password and change whatever I wanted. As seems normal with firmware updates, any extra programs I installed on the machine (through commandline via remote ssh login) were uninstalled. But thankfully it is a trivial thing to reinstall.

One last word, if you are going to use SSH, please be careful as the commandline is a powerful (but relatively unforgiving) tool. You can screw up your system if you don't know what you are doing. Also, if you are going to leave SSH enabled and you leave your machine on the internet for long periods of time (as most of us do), please consider changing the default SSH settings for safety and security. Choose a non-standard port to run your SSH on. (Anything above 1024 is good. Pick a random number in the many thousands, and stick with it.) I also make a white-list of allowed user names to login and forbid 'root' to login remotely.

Sunday, June 10, 2012




So if you are using KDE and running Firefox, and if you haven't been using the extra-functionality of "Firefox-KDE-Support", you are really missing out. This modifications make use of the truly excellent KDE/QT file-selector dialogs, among some other more under-the-hood changes.

In fact, the KDE/QT file-selector is hands-down the best file open/save dialog in the world, bar none. After using this, I really can never go back to using the GTK file open dialogs for frequent intense use.

(Opinion: I save a ton of files in my browser every day. In my opinion, the GTK file dialog is  just broken on a few key features, like hover previews for images, and auto-highlighting existing filenames in current directory. Small features, yes, but I use them literally every day many times a day.)

Ubuntu/Kubuntu version 11.10 and prior

In Ubuntu/Kubuntu version 11.10 and prior, simply install the package 'firefox-kde-support', restart your firefox and you will be good to go.

Ubuntu/Kubuntu version 12.04 and later

Sadly Kubuntu dropped their Firefox-KDE-Support package. But fear not! I have a solution for you. (though I didn't make it. I'm just passing it along!)

Background on why it was dropped

Concerning the information about the dropping, I know why the support is being dropped and though it saddens me I don't blame the maintainer. Mostly it was a fair bit of work and he didn't want to commit to doing it again for another five-years to coincide with the Ubuntu ultra-longterm release of 12.04. (In fact, on the Phoronix forums thread for the issue, I'm a little ashamed of the rude comments from some people, and I shake my head at some of the kooks who can't live with software where they "didn't compile every byte themselves." Yes, that's an exact quote from a few... sigh. These people are why Linux sometimes gets bad Public Reputations. But I digress.)

Firefox KDE Support for Ubuntu/Kubuntu 12.04 and later

Some awesomely helpful soul has created a version of Firefox with the KDE support bundled right in and created a PPA for the files. Here is the original post from the awesome contributor found on the Kubuntu forums:
I've uploaded both kmozillahelper (firefox-kde-support) and firefox 12 / firefox 13 with KDE patches re-enabled here:
It should be built in couple hours so you can try it if you want.
Tested both packages and everything is working - plasma notifications, file associations, and KDE dialogs
That link again:

Some useful links

Here is the link to where I believe the source code for the modifications in Firefox are. This is mostly just here for reference.