I think I’ve fixed my Ubuntu 8.04 screen/keyboard/mouse-freeze issue … but should I upgrade to 8.10?

Every time I write about Ubuntu 8.04 LTS, which I’ve been running on my Gateway Solo 1450 laptop since its release in April, I mention that it’s the only GNU/Linux distribution I’ve used that successfully suspends and resume the computer.

And I’ve made that feature — suspend and resume — the bar over which other distros must jump to “beat” 8.04 on this platform.

Make no mistake, I’ve “enjoyed” a working suspend/resume capability. But I haven’t enjoyed returning to the laptop after a while to find the screen looking normal but the keyboard and mouse completely dead. CTRL-ALT-backspace won’t kill X. CTRL-ALT-delete won’t reboot the machine. I need to do a hard boot with the power button to get things working again.

I’ve had X issues in many distros, most severely with Debian Lenny, my preferred distro for this PC, which has serious problems with refreshing the screen, leaving the upper panel in GNOME and many graphical elements of various applications virtually unrecognizable after about a half-hour of use.

I appeared to have a similar X issue in Slackware 12, which I installed only briefly (and too briefly to make a determination, especially since I never got a “perfect” X configuration), but other systems, including CentOS 5, Fedora 9, and Puppy 3.00 had none of these issues.

Nor did Ubuntu 8.04, which automatically wrote an xorg.conf that was much different — being way more spares — than any other I’d seen before. But X performs flawlessly.

Even though suspend/resume works in Ubuntu, I’m now about 80 percent sure my intermittent keyboard/mouse freezesare caused by whatever daemon is responsible for automatically checking whether or not to suspend the system.

I pretty much arrived at this point through the process of elimination with the addition of a little bit of logic. Since no other distro appeared to be freezing like this, and since I only have automatic suspend/resume set on Ubuntu, that seemed to be the most likely cause.

So I went into the GNOME Power Manager utility and turned off the “put the computer to sleep after XX minutes” feature.

Since then, I’ve had no freezing whatsoever in Ubuntu 8.04. A month from now, I’ll be sure.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to figure out the problem with screen refresh in Debian Lenny. I’m considering wiping it from the laptop and trying another secondary distro, maybe CentOS or Fedora. Even Sidux — a more “tame” version Debian Sid — is something to try just to see if I continue to have the screen issues.

Or I could just stick with Ubuntu 8.04. I’m not thinking about upgrading to 8.10, which not coincidentally is available for download today.

Click that last link to see the major new features in Ubuntu 8.10. I’m very unlikely to need 3G wireless, but if I find that 8.10 supports my Airlink 101 AWLL 3028 USB wireless adapter, I would strongly consider doing the upgrade.

I’m sure all of the Ubuntu mirrors are straining mightily with everybody trying to download the whole 8.10 image or upgrading their current installations. I’ll be waiting at least a couple of weeks before I try to download the ISO and burn a live CD. If that loads and then the wireless works out of the box (I won’t be holding my breath), I’ll go forward.

Otherwise, I’ll stick with 8.04 LTS — the long-term-support edition of Ubuntu that will be supported until 2011 on the desktop.

But with suspend/resume off the table, Ubuntu has lost its edge over every other GNU/Linux distribution (and even FreeBSD/PC-BSD) on this laptop.

I’ve been sticking with my installs much longer than usual — I’m still using a now-year-old installation of OpenBSD 4.2 on my $15 Laptop (and OpenBSD 4.4 will be released on Nov. 1).

See tomorrow’s post for a breakdown on what I’m running on every machine.

Microsoft Office comes to the cloud — and through your browser

Microsoft’s aim to bring applications like its flagship Office suite to the cloud, making it — in one form or another — accessible through Web browsers and other interfaces is still too new (and not actually available) for anybody to see exactly what it means.

But to get a start on the new Microsoft push, start with this CNet package, Windows and the Cloud. Specifically, look here for Office and how Microsoft is trying to compete with Google’s already established Docs offering.

From Ina Fried’s Beyond Binary:

Microsoft will offer browser-based Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in two ways. For consumers, they will be offered via Microsoft’s Office Live Web site, while businesses will be able to offer browser-based Office capabilities through Microsoft’s SharePoint Server product.

The company has been pushed into this arena by Google, which has been offering its free Google Apps programs for some time. In competing with Google, Microsoft is touting the ability to use Microsoft’s familiar user interface, as well as the fact that all of the document’s characteristics are preserved.

Elop said that not all of the editing capabilities of the desktop products are in the browser versions. “The editing we are characterizing as lightweight editing,” he said.

Although Google Apps has seen most of its popularity among consumers, it has started to attract attention from corporate customers. Google Apps got a strong look from Procter & Gamble, which only decided to stick with Office after a strong push from Microsoft.

Debian patches OpenOffice

Upon seeing 17 software updates waiting for me on my Debian Etch box this morning, I hurried over to the Debian security site and learned that the Debian security team issued a flurry of patches on Oct. 29, 2008, for all versions of OpenOffice.

On my system, this is a relatively huge 101 MB download.

The details are available at Debian.org and in the debian-security-announce mailing list:

Several vulnerabilities have been discovered in the OpenOffice.org
office suite:

CVE-2008-2237

The SureRun Security team discovered a bug in the WMF file parser
that can be triggered by manipulated WMF files and can lead to
heap overflows and arbitrary code execution.

CVE-2008-2238

An anonymous researcher working with the iDefense discovered a bug
in the EMF file parser that can be triggered by manipulated EMF
files and can lead to heap overflows and arbitrary code execution.

For the stable distribution (etch) these problems have been fixed in
version 2.0.4.dfsg.2-7etch6.

For the unstable distribution (sid) these problems have been fixed in
version 2.4.1-12.

For the experimental distribution these problems have been fixed in
version 3.0.0~rc3-1.

There are some cases when a security patch will go to Debian’s Testing branch (currently Lenny) at the same time as the other branches, but in this case, it appears that the patches will be “tested” in Sid and will shortly flow into Lenny (the usual path for software in Debian.

As always, in a default Debian desktop installation, the updates will be pushed to the system in the Update Manager. Otherwise, you can use Synaptic in a graphical environment, or at a console apt or Aptitude to apply the patches.

While Ryan Naraine of ZDNet says that the vulnerabilities don’t affect OO 3.0, but Debian appears to be doing patches to that version anyway.

More on Debian security:

‘Blu-ray is dead,’ says blogger

ZDNet’s Storage Bits blogger Robin Harris says he never predicted back when HD-DVD and Blu-ray were duking it out for supremacy in high-definition video playback that both would lose. Blu-ray has only 4 percent of the market, and it’s not looking good.

But that’s what he’s saying now.

Among other things, Harris cites licensing fees that are huge both in number and size, high production costs for discs and my favorite — cheap up-converting DVD player-recorders that make standard-definition video look extremely good on high-definition television sets.

Adding Java to Debian Etch

I’ve already repeated myself enough about the Flashplugin-nonfree being taken out of Debian Etch and relegated to Debian Backports. and I’ve decided NOT to install it for the time being mostly because a) I don’t really need it and b) Flash runs like crap on this rig (blame the ECS EVEm motherboard).

But I do need Java. Since Java is not a totally free program, you must agree to the licensing terms before the plugin for Iceweasel/Firefox will install. And with that in mind, it’s not in Debian’s default “free” repositories.

To get Java, first edit /etc/apt/sources.list. Use su to root or sudo (and if you don’t have sudo set up, now is a good time to do it).

Here’s how to do it using sudo with the Gedit text editor (substitute your favorite editor for Gedit, and ignore the word sudo if you used su to root):

$ sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list &

Once you’re in /etc/apt/sources.list, change these lines to include the contrib and non-free repositories:

deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ etch main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ etch main contrib non-free
deb http://security.debian.org/ etch/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://security.debian.org/ etch/updates main contrib non-free

Then save and close /etc/apt/sources.list.

While you still have the terminal window open, update your package lists:

$ sudo aptitude update

If you want to stay in the terminal, do this to add Java:

$ sudo aptitude install sun-java5-plugin

Or use the Synaptic Package Manager. Instead of using aptitude to update your package lists, after making your changes in /etc/apt/sources.list, start with Synaptic and click Reload. Then search for the Sun-java5-plugin package and add it that way. Even though I’m a big fan of using aptitude instead of apt at the command line, if I’m in a graphical environment I use Synaptic more often than not.

Then close and restart the Iceweasel browser. You should have Java. To check it, I learned from TomCort.com that you can try to play the Java game Jpong. If it works, you have Java.

I needed Java for a variety of things, but the one that prompted me to actually get it was LogMeIn. Without ActiveX (in IE) or Java (in everything not IE), you can control a Windows or Mac OS X computer remotely via “any” Web browser (and do it free with LogMeIn Free), but you can’t actually type directly in an application window without ActiveX or Java installed. And instead of LogMeIn actually prompting me about this omission, I was reduced to typing into a little “Send Keys” window to get actual screen input.

I can’t imagine that LogMeIn cares at all about the non-Windows and -Mac market. I get that, since a product to remotely control a Unix-like desktop would be a bit redundant with X over SSH and other technologies that are easy to use in a GNU/Linux or BSD environment.

But in my case, in which I’m using the browsers in Linux and OpenBSD to control a remote Windows XP desktop, they need to make it clear to users that unless you have a Java-equipped browser, your experience is going to be very frustrating until you add the required software.

Later: After adding the contrib and non-free repositories, installing the sun-java5-plugin, restarting Iceweasel and navigating to http://logmein.com, I signed in to my account.

After the wait for Java to get going, I indeed was able to start a remote session from my Debian Etch box to my Windows XP box and actually use my keyboard to type into application windows on the remote host (is that what you call it?).

Now I have to add Java to the rest of my GNU/Linux installations.

Java is even available for OpenBSD, at least for i386 and AMD64. I believe you have to add the entire developers kit to get the runtime. I’ve seen more than a few messages on the OpenBSD mailing lists from Java developers, so it’s not an unknown platform for that sort of programming.


There used to be a huge rant here about how Flash only runs on PowerPC chips if you are using Mac’s OS 9 or OS X and not in any Linux or BSD. I’m not quite sure what the status is regarding Java on Linux/PowerPC. It seems a bit murky, and I’m looking into it. A cursory Google search indicates that it is available, although not as an actively developed technology.

If you’re running Red Hat or CentOS, you need to know about Dag Wieers

Every time I write about wanting to use CentOS — the free clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux &mash; but don’t know where to find the many desktop applications not maintained by Red Hat, somebody suggests that I use the Dag Wieers repositories.

I have been looking, and there indeed is quite a bit of software that Mr. Wieers, himself a developer for CentOS, has compiled into RPM packages. Things that aren’t easy to find in CentOS, like the video-editing app Cinelerra and the Geany text editor, are right there.

I found it interesting that Wieers suggests Debian’s apt package manager on your RH/CentOS system because of the way it handles dependencies.

OpenBSD link dump

  • This Wikipedia entry has quite a bit of background on the development of and the philosophy behind OpenBSD.
  • There are some useful scripts for things like backups at OpenBSD-Wiki
  • Mailing list messages for OpenBSD as well as many other projects are archived at MARC
  • OpenBSD Support hasn’t posted much lately, but there are some good tips for past versions of the OS
  • OpenPorts follows the vast OpenBSD ports tree
  • OpenBSD 101 helps new users install and use the system
  • OpenBSD Meta-FAQ answers many questions for users

Debian Etch: Three updates today, and how to find out more about them in GNOME

18286-update_manager-thumb-300x419.pngSince I’m keeping my Self-Reliant Thin Client running all the time, every morning that there are new updates to Debian Etch, I seem them right away. We had three yesterday and three more today:

  • libmyspell3c2
  • linux-image-2.6.18-6-486
  • tzdata

When I was in the Update Manager, I learned that clicking the “Show Details” link allows you to see the description of all the packages in the update as well as the changes made.

For the new kernel image, here’s what it says:

Version 2.6.18.dfsg.1-23:

[ Ian Campbell ]
* Fix DMA crash under Xen when no IOMMU is present (closes: #445987)

[ dann frazier ]
* [xfs] Fix attr2 corruption with btree data extents (closes: #498309)

It’s a very valuable thing to know why a package has been upgraded. Maybe now in Lenny, when I get new Xorg packages and drives, I’ll be able to figure out in advance whether anything is being done to help me with my Gateway video-refresh problems.

GNOME vs. Fluxbox in Debian Etch

I decided to start adding apps to the Self-Reliant Thin Client, which is running Debian Etch from an 8GB CF card as the boot drive with a 1 GHz VIA CPU that insists at running at 500 MHz, plus 256 MB of RAM.

I used aptitude to add the Geany text editor and the Fluxbox window manager.

Fluxbox runs great, as usual, but I really don’t see any app-speed improvement with Iceweasel, OpenOffice, Geany or Gedit.

In previous tests, I saw a real advantage to using Fluxbox or Xfce over GNOME, but here in Debian, GNOME is running well enough that I’ll probably use it quite a bit. I’ll continue testing Fluxbox, but I imagine that GNOME will continue to be my main window manager on this box (as it has been when running off of a traditional hard drive).

It definitely depends on the specific box, and especially on the available RAM. I guess that 256 MB of RAM is enough for good GNOME performance. With 128 MB of RAM, Xfce, Fluxbox, Fvwm or other lightweight window managers might dramatically improve performance vs. GNOME.

One thing I have to do is run top when running the same apps in both GNOME and Fluxbox. If the same amount of swap, relatively speaking, is being used in both window managers, that tells me why my GNOME performance is so relatively good. But if there was a lot more swap used in GNOME vs. Fluxbox, then I’d know that the lighter-weight window managers are really making a difference.