I turned off automatic Windows updates

I’m not in Windows 8 so often (except for the past two days) that on the rare occasions when I do load it up I am at all happy to wait a half-hour or more for the machine to shut down because it’s downloading and installing dozens of updates.

I turned automatic updates off. When I have time, I’ll boot into Windows 8 and do the updates manually.

With dodgy broadband on dodgy apps via Citrix, I turn to Windows 8

I had a pretty good day yesterday running the dodgy over-Citrix apps I need for my $Dayjob. But when bandwidth is poor and I keep getting disconnected, the only way I can manage to keep working is to run the Citrix apps in Windows (in my case Windows 8, not even 8.1 because that update went pear-shaped when I tried it months ago).

What happens is the bits on my DSL connection stop flowing for a minute or so, and I get disconnected from my Citrix apps. In Windows, there’s an option on the Citrix page in my browser to reconnect to my “paused” resources. That option doesn’t exist on the web page in Linux. Could it be because I’m using a slightly older version of Citrix Receiver / Wfica / ICA / Whatever the hell it is in Linux?

All I know is that it’s a pain in the ass. When I’m on a “strong” networking connection with a ton of bandwidth, this isn’t a problem, and I can probably run the Citrix apps in Linux. But with my not-so-great home “broadband,” I need the extra cushion of being able to easily reconnect to my Citrix apps in order to stay working.

So that means a Linux-Windows dual-boot, which I’ve been doing since I first installed Linux on this laptop in the Fedora 18 days, is something I’ll have to continue.

So how did Windows 8 perform? I had one hard crash where the screen froze in place. I had to hard-boot the machine. My daughter closed the lid on the laptop, and that was another crash that required a hardware reset (pushing the power button down until the laptop turns off, then restarting with the same button). After the second crash, the CPU didn’t seem taxed (I run a CPU/fan monitor utility in Windows to keep an eye on these things.) But the fans were blowing like crazy, and the laptop was very hot.

I’m done with Citrix for the day and back in Fedora 20 / Xfce 4.10 / AMD Catalyst 14.4 via RPM Fusion’s F19 packages.

Ever tried to make a Windows 8 recovery image? ‘Pain in the ass’ covers it

So I have this new HP Pavilion g6-2210us laptop that shipped with Windows 8.

It runs with Secure Boot over UEFI. And the Windows product key? Embedded in the firmware.

Back in the Windows 7 days, which for me were last month, I had an ISO and could (and did) reinstall from it with my product key.

Now I don’t see ISOs and don’t know if they’ll even work.

So I set about trying to make “recovery” images from the D: partition on the hard drive.

I used the HP Recovery Manager, which as far as I know is a wrapper for what Windows uses to do this same task.

I had a choice: six DVDs or a 32 GB USB flash drive. I got a killer deal on the flash drive, and who wants to burn six DVDs?

Anyhow, three failed tries later (at 2 hours each), I gave up on putting the Windows 8 recovery image on the 32 GB flash drive. Fail. After fail.

I buckled, grabbed six DVDs, and now I’m on the fifth out of six.

Then I’ll start torturing Windows 8 proper. I’ll be dual-booting with either Fedora 18 Xfce or Xubuntu 13.04. I’d love to run GNOME 3, but the 3D acceleration needed for that and this HP laptop’s AMD video hardware (part of the combination CPU/graphics chip called the APU) aren’t playing well at all right now.

Eventually the Linux kernel, Xorg and the AMD/Radeon drivers will catch up (and I prefer the open drivers because the closed-source ones are hard to maintain and often, in my case anyway, fail to work at all).

I even had a not-so-spirited Twitter exchange with Microsoft over this. When you’re used to sub-1 GB Linux distributions that include a full range of applications, having to make SIX 4.7 GB DVDs to restore Windows WITHOUT almost any applications seems so very, very wrong.

I’m one DVD away from being done with this “recovery” operation. It can’t be soon enough.

Fedora 18 with Xfce on the HP Pavilion g6-2210us — all systems are very, very ‘go’

Just a quick post to tell you that my Fedora 18 with Xfce installation on the HP Pavilion g6-2210us is doing very well indeed.

Unlike Xubuntu 13.04, Fedora 18 WILL run under Secure Boot after installation.

I’m using full disk encryption and working on a separate hard drive (not the Windows 8 drive that shipped with the laptop).

Also unlike Xubuntu 13.04, I had no trouble with sound in Skype. Yep, I already installed Skype in Fedora. And it’s working perfectly.

Like Xubuntu 13.04, overall sound levels are fine once volume is upped via the Pulse Audio Volume Control.

In addition to Skype, things I also added to Fedora 18 without incident included the RPM Fusion repositories, the Adobe Flash browser plugin, gPodder and Xchat. I also found a new kernel and installed it (you’ll see why below).

All went smoothly.

So far Xfce in Fedora looks great. It runs great. It’s super-fast.

The only problem with this laptop and its new AMD APU (CPU plus graphics) is video. The 2D video in Xfce runs with no problem. GNOME 3 is a total mess. Unity is workable but has artifacts (though there was some improvement in the final release of Ubuntu 13.04 that I saw with live media).

And what all of these systems have in common — Ubuntu and Fedora included — is that suspend doesn’t work.

The laptop does go into suspend, but there’s no waking it (i.e. resume is broken). That’s bad because I’m a huge user of suspend/resume. The new kernel I tried from Fedora’s Koji service didn’t help. Eventually Linux, X, radeon and catalyst will catch up to this HD 7000-series video chip. It just hasn’t happened yet.

But I can say right now that Fedora 18 is good enough, configurable enough with proprietary bits, and stable enough for my daily use.

This is the first time I’ve used the Yum Extender for package management, and it’s a terrific, exceedingly quick tool.

What do I miss most not running Linux? Easy, usable FTP via the file manager and text editors (I can’t believe this is so f’d up in Windows8), and easy management of my old, old iPod, which I’m shocked is pretty much impossible to do in Windows without iTunes. I’ve tried a half-dozen music-manager/podcast manager apps, and none of them in Windows can do a damn thing half well.

Getting back to Linux’s gPodder (the Windows version doesn’t do iPod) and Rhythmbox will solve all of my Windows problems. For almost everything else I have mostly free open-source apps that just happen to run on Windows.

But a pure Linux environment would make my life better and easier. That and working suspend/resume and I’ll be a most happy camper. If I were confident that a dual-boot with Windows 8 wouldn’t fail, I’d do it today.

Update: It’s been about 2 1/2 years, and I’m still running Fedora on this laptop. Now I’m on Fedora 22, so that means four in-place upgrades without it blowing up. And I should upgrade to F23 soon.

Now I don’t need the Catalyst driver. The free Radeon driver works great. I don’t even need any hacks for suspend/resume, though I did have one for quite some time. And there are no sound issues — switching between HDMI and native laptop sound is seamless with the pavu (aka PulseAudio Volume Control) application.

My experience is that with new hardware, Linux can be difficult at first, gets better in a year, and now I can say it’s very solid after two years. While that’s a nice thing for people with 2-year-old hardware (like me now), we really need to get to the point where things are pretty good out of the box and totally locked down in six months.

What constitutes totally locked down?

  • Boots from ISO with no issues
  • Installs with no issues, especially no EFI/UEFI problems
  • Installs in dual-boot with Windows with no issues
  • Boots from disk after installation with no issues and allows boot to Linux by default
  • Video works perfectly with free drivers, including HDMI
  • Audio works perfectly, including HDMI
  • Suspend/resume works without any hacks
  • CPU heat and fan usage is comparable to what hardware achieves in Windows

Linux on the HP Pavilion g6-2210us — today’s tests: Debian Wheezy and Xubuntu 13.04

I swapped an old hard drive into the HP Pavilion g6-2210us and gave a few Linux distros a spin today.

Why a separate drive? I’m not at all confident about a successful Linux-Windows 8 dual boot. For those keeping score, this laptop features an AMD A4-4300M APU processor with AMD Radeon HD 7420G graphics. The wireless NIC is by Atheros, and the wired NIC is a Realtek. (I’ll report later on specific NIC chips for wired and wireless Ethernet.)

First up was Debian Wheezy. I had to turn off Secure Boot because Debian doesn’t support it. That was no problem. You can toggle Secure Boot on this HP Pavilion g6, and you can also toggle UEFI and “legacy” BIOS mode. So really I’m only limited by what “works” with the hardware itself. Given my angst lately over video (no GNOME 3 due to shaky 3D acceleration support for this newish AMD chip), that’s cold comfort.

Debian seemed to install perfectly. Except that, early in the install, it wanted me to supply nonfree firmware for the wired networking port (a Realtek NIC) on removable media. I actually got the nonfree .deb package (all Wheezy firmware is here, unpacked it and put the required files on a USB flash drive (formatted as FAT), plugged it in and continued with the install. That didn’t work. Debian didn’t “see” the firmware.

Give what happened later (the laptop stalled during boot), this was strange because the system continued installing from the netboot image — using that very NIC to download all of the required files.

I knew I would have trouble with the 3D acceleration in GNOME 3 (and I later confirmed that the proprietary 3D driver for ATI/AMD does not work on this video card), but I was doing a test install and could always bring in Xfce later.

That wouldn’t matter.

I did the entire installation. But as I hinted above, Debian Wheezy wouldn’t reboot into the new system. It hung during configuration of the wired Ethernet port. I guess I can try again with install media that includes the nonfree firmware.

Later: I did look at the installation guide for Wheezy, where I saw that you need to leave the firmware in .deb package form. I also found install images with the firmware included.

Next up was Xubuntu.

The install went fine with Secure Boot turned on. But on reboot, I had to turn off Secure Boot to get the system up and running. It could have had something to do with the fully encrypted LVM option that I chose during the install. I’ll have to do an install without encrypted LVM to see if it makes a difference in Xubuntu’s ability to run with Secure Boot enabled.

Everything looked good once I was in the system. I installed a boatload of updates. I brought in Skype with the service’s own .deb package. I managed to get audio working in Skype. But upon reboot it was not to be. The audio left Skype, as did the configuration options I had to choose from to make it work in the first place. it might come back on the next boot. Who knows?

Unfortunately I need Skype to work at the moment. I never had such trouble in Debian Wheezy on my now-dead Lenovo G555. Until it died, that is.

Otherwise I was happy with audio. That was a major concern of mine. However, I was able to boost audio levels with the Pulse Audio Volume Control, and audio was every bit as good as it is in Windows 8.

Alas, the day’s experimenting had to come to an end. I swapped back in the Windows 8 hard drive, re-enabled Secure Boot and had a working Win 8 system once again. Yep, it’s as exciting as you thought it was.

Windows 8 fail: All I want to do is print

I needed to print something. I plugged my HP LaserJet 1020 printer’s USB cable into the HP Pavilion g6 laptop running Windows 8.

What do I have a half-hour later?

A Device Setup box with a progress bar that has made almost no progress. The disk light is flashing, so something is happening. Am I downloading every printer driver known to man and beast to get a single printer working?

And no I haven’t printed. If I was running any modern Linux distribution, I’d have been able to sort this in under three minutes.

Big heaps of Windows fail.

Getting used to the Metro interface in Windows 8

I’m coming to grips with Windows 8.

You don’t have a Start button. But your desktop looks just like it does (sans Start button) in Windows 7.

What you do have is the Metro interface, a blocky stream of “things you can click on” that, in the lower left corner, has a blocky link to the “real” desktop.

Some things are downright tricky. Like how there’s a Skype “app” in the Metro interface (I’m sure they still don’t call it Metro, but what they DO call it escapes me), but you can install the “Windows Desktop” version of Skype yand have it … on your Windows desktop.

When the system told me I HAD to “merge” my Skype account and Microsoft account in order to use Skype in the Metro interface without explaining what such a merger would do — would I keep my “unique” Skype user name, for instance? — I balked and went to the Skype site and downloaded (and subsequently installed) the Windows Desktop version of Skype.

You still have a traditional Control Panel to adjust settings. But there are things you can only get to in the Metro interface — or so it looks to me.

When I set up the computer, my Internet connect was a bit shaky, and the “get a Microsoft” portion of the process didn’t take. I had to reboot.

Then I found myself with TWO accounts on the computer. One with a Microsoft account connected to it, one without. Of course I did all my subsequent setup in the one without the Microsoft account.

It could have gone either way, but after deleting the superfluous account (the Microsoft-connected one), I used these instructions from Paul Thurrott (who appears to be Mr. Windows) to convert my “local” account to a Microsoft-connected account.

Why? WHY??? you ask? Well, supposedly all those Metro apps I’m not using work better with a Microsoft-connected account.

Before I end this entry, I’d like to report that the Internet Explorer browser is still a steaming pile. All these years and they couldn’t improve the font rendering? Everything looks awful. Glad I got Firefox before I did most anything. I’ll get Google Chrome in the near future.

I’ve committed to running Windows 8 for the time being not just for the novelty but because I need to USE this computer. And I’m more than a little befuddled by Secure Boot and UEFI. Luckily I can get the apps I need to run, and many of them are free (as in libre) software.

Welcome, new hardware: HP Pavilion g6-2210us

With the untimely (or just timely, depending on your point of view) demise of the Lenovo G555, I found myself in need of a new laptop. I had some critical things to do that required me to borrow Ilene’s sweet MSI netbook, which is bigger than the classic netbook but smaller than your typical small, non-netbook laptop.

That was OK for a couple of days, but I needed a new laptop. That means watching the ads and getting a deal. That came in the form of this HP Pavilion g6-2210us from Fry’s. South of $400 but north of $350, I got a laptop with the standard 15.6-inch screen that has an AMD dual-core A4-4300M processor, 4 GB of DDR3 RAM, an uncharacteristically large 640 MB hard drive (a big selling point) and … wait for it … Windows 8.

A Linux user (mostly Debian) by habit, I nonetheless have been using Windows 7 on a work-supplied desktop (a Lenovo ThinkCentre that hasn’t died, in case you were wondering), so I’m not unfamiliar with the post-Windows XP world of consumer operating systems.

Both for the sake of expediency and as fodder, I am looking at doing a full test of Windows 8 before I either wipe it or dual boot with whatever Linux distribution will run on this now-new hardware (an always tricky proposition with new gear, especially in this era of UEFI/secure boot prompted by Windows 8).

The initial boot and setup was almost uneventful. I had to reboot before completing said setup, and I gave the login name I wanted to the computer itself (it has a name; like a hostname in Unix I suppose), so the computer is named after me, and I have a different login.

Right out of the box, I’ll just say that I NEED A START BUTTON. This is madness. During setup, the laptop clued me in on the “mouse into the corner to get back to the accursed Metro interface” move.

I’m used to mousing into the corner. I do it in GNOME 3. I’ve done it in Ubuntu’s Unity. But here I have to mouse, then click “search,” then type something in. Also like in GNOME 3, Windows 8 allows you to click the “Windows”/Super key and get back to the Metro desktop. But I installed Firefox, and that’s not on that slate of tiles. Internet Explorer is there. Will I be able to put what the hell I want there, or will I only be able to access non-Microsoft apps from the regular desktop WHICH SHOULD HAVE A FREAKING START BUTTON.

You hit the Windows key and get the Metro tiles, but you don’t get a search box. But it’s “there.” You just start typing and the system starts searching for apps and other bits on your computer.

This is pretty much EXACTLY LIKE GNOME 3. Who would have thought?