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Fedora, Linux and Stuff

Microblogging

June 1st, 2009 ~ 8:25pm by Mauriat Miranda

I finally got around to signing up with the microblogging site Identi.ca. Apparently it’s where the true geeks are! I used the handle mjmwired to make this more specific to my site and technical stuff. For the time being, unless I know someone, I am subscribing only to Linux and Fedora related people and groups. I hope to change that.

I am currently following a group of Fedora developers and contributors that have participated in mailing lists or have a blog, etc. Most are above my league, but my intention is only to silently listen to the traffic there.

If you’re on Identi.ca let me know and I’ll subscribe to anyone who visits my site, reads my blog, has sent me an email or wants to communicate. I honestly would like to better connect with my readers. I’m hoping this will be fun and interesting!

* As always if you want to send me any message, I appreciate any and all comments through my standard contact form.

Installer Formats and Adobe Reader

May 20th, 2009 ~ 9:22am by Mauriat Miranda

While open source PDF readers have significantly improved, many people still use Adobe Reader. While Adobe has had a mixed history of supporting their software in Linux/Unix, recently they have significantly improved.

There is a well written post about installer formats on the Acroread Unix blog. I recommend just reading over the post, even if you do not use Adobe software. They have a simple list of the most popular formats (BIN, RPM, DEB, PKG, TAR.GZ) as well as minor pros and cons of each. The information really is not specific to Adobe.

When software is not open source (specifically when users cannot repackage in whatever format they like), it is good to provide information like this to educate users (customers) who may not be admins.

My Early Linux History

April 27th, 2009 ~ 12:55pm by Mauriat Miranda

There was another useless post on Slashdot asking what did you first do with Linux?. I thought it would be interesting to recollect that experience. Sorry for the detail, my memory produces lots of random tidbits.

I was fortunate enough to attend an engineering school with the latest technologies that were available in the market. Which basically means we had Sun Ultra Workstations, running Solaris Operating System using CDE. So for me “Unix = Sun”. That was 1997 and I was incredibly impressed. I never even knew of Linux till 1998, when one incredibly over achieving colleague mentioned he was going to use an old 386 to run Linux. I immediately thought he meant “unix”, so my first question was: “Don’t you need a more powerful computer?”. Keep in mind the Pentium MMX was the state of the art consumer desktop at the time. And that’s when I first heard it on a bus, in the winter, heading to the engineering campus: “Linux can run on anything! Even really old hardware!”. So began my interest.

Later in 1999 when my programming classes got more involved, I was finding that Borland C++ 5.0 on Windows NT 4.0 was not sufficient compared to GCC on Sun. A co-worker of my brother suggested Linux but warned me that I need to be very careful to make sure I check the video card support under the X-server (XFree86 at the time). Ironically that warning still holds true to this day! Luckily my Matrox Mystique 4MB was in the “supported list”!

In the late 1990’s you could find the most popular linux, RedHat, on shelves at your local Best Buy retailer. I had seen version 6.0 on sale, but by the time I got around to purchasing it, sure enough version 6.1 was there. As I recall it was only 1 CD and 1 CD full of source code (I think I still have those CD’s somewhere). By the time I figured out how to repartition my hard-drive and actually get linux to work (I think the 3rd installation I got it right), I was told version 6.2 was available! This (sometimes annoying) trend still persists today as well.

Due to my experience with CDE on Sun, I immediately thought KDE was the same thing. So I just started using Gnome. Everything was foreign, but since it was so much easier than Solaris, I liked it a lot. Not long after I became comfortable with Redhat, I heard that Pogo Linux was giving away free linux CD’s. This was great since finding someone to make me a copy was impossible and copying at school a big pain. I got copies of Caldera, TurboLinux, Mandrake, and maybe others? I don’t really remember all the versions I tried from them. The only one that stood out was Mandrake and I loved it for its cool selection of software and included niceties (especially “color gcc” - which made cryptic C errors fun again!). Unfortunately all those little additions came with their price. I found Mandrake incredibly unstable compared to RedHat (it could have been my inexperience) so I switched back. I stuck with RedHat till Fedora, but that’s another story altogether.

So that’s my brief exposure to Linux from 1999 to 2001. It was all caused by a requirement to use gcc for school work but ended with a lot of random discoveries. I never saw it in day-to-day activities - so instead I went and found it myself.

What was your first linux experience?

Evince and Acrobat PDF Form Edits

April 10th, 2009 ~ 5:47pm by Mauriat Miranda

Newer versions of Adobe Acrobat Reader have provided the feature for users to edit the contents of form fields in a PDF file. Depending on the permissions set by the author of the PDF file, Acrobat Reader will allow or deny the ability to save the file with the form edits in place. The United States IRS has allowed for this functionality in recent years in its official tax forms, which is great for people who might otherwise need to fill out forms with pen. This way a record can be saved entirely electronically.

Adobe in the past has had a hit or miss record of providing up to date versions of Acrobat Reader for Linux. (Although as of late the support has significantly improved). Open source PDF readers have typically missed some feature that Acrobat Reader supported - in this case the form field editing - which is why I still install Acrobat. However the one thing I always forget about open source applications in general is that they often rapidly improve. I just tested Evince (a PDF reader) in Fedora 10 Gnome and sure enough form editing was working fine!

Ever since I have been doing tax forms with PDF files, the nuisance I’ve had was that the State of Michigan Treasury provides their tax documents with editable fields - BUT saving the file is not permitted! Needless to say this is quite frustrating! Acrobat Reader warns the user that edits should be printed since they cannot be saved. I was using Evince when I realized that the application ignores these restrictions and saves a copy of the file with field edits in place. And the best thing: Acrobat Reader will read them and still complain I can’t change them, which is fine since my edits are there already. I was truly impressed with the open source reader, even the PDF alternatives in Windows did not do this for me.

Anyways, I was pleased with the improvements, I have been telling people for the past 2 years that I don’t use open source PDF readers since they have missing functionality! Even though the permission issue was bypassed I will still be writing to the State of Michigan to complain about the restrictions (if you are in the same position as I, please do so as well).

ps. KDE users: I tested Okular as well but the interface was a little quirky when it came to the field editing and I found the application a bit unstable. I will re-test a little later, but the basic functionality seemed to work just like Evince.

Change of Direction

April 3rd, 2009 ~ 9:41pm by Mauriat Miranda

In certain scenarios I am a little skeptical of Linux and open source applications as worthwhile competitors for closed source or proprieraty alternatives. This is not to say I do not think that there is any lack in potential. In my opinion I do disagree with some choices made by open source projects or linux distributions. In any event the point of this post is not to argue any of that. I was reading a post claiming that Linux needs critics, and I do agree with this. The nice thing the author points out is there is a difference between a complaint (negative) and criticism (positive).

I don’t think I have ever really made any constructive criticism of Linux or Fedora. Unlike the author who wrote the above post, I am a software developer. I could try to help more instead of complaining. (I have complained a lot.) I have never submitted a patch or even filed a bug report. I have probably spent more time trying to get an older unsupported version of software working than I have trying to help with the shortcomings of the newer version. This, I will admit, is quite counterproductive.

For the things that I feel are important I plan to try a bit harder - slowly but surely.

Personally I still feel that Linux and open source will never be a complete solution for all my needs, but whenever possible I hope that with some effort it will be.

CentOS 5.3 Released

April 1st, 2009 ~ 10:11am by Mauriat Miranda

For those who might not be familiar with enterprise linux distributions, CentOS is a rebranded free version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). For enterprise usage Red Hat supports each release for 7 years, while carefully updating packages for backwards compatibility. Each .1 “point release” is an Service Pack update. RHEL 5.3 was released at the end of January.

Typically it takes a few weeks for the CentOS team to repackage, build and distribute the source of RHEL into a CentOS release. Last night CentOS 5.3 release was announced. The seemingly long delay was due primarily to some personal issues within the CentOS team.

I have been running a personal server on CentOS for 1 year now and I could not be more pleased with the results. I plan to update my server tonight when I am at the console. The following are some tips I’ve read online for a smooth (and fast) upgrade:

# yum update glibc

The glibc update is due to a RHEL 5.3 known issue.

After that, I would generally do the following. This basically updates the YUM installation system first to take advantage of any improvements in a newer YUM release. :

# yum update yum rpm
# yum clean all
# yum -y update

Even though past updates have been flawless for me, please do make proper backups, and read the Release Notes for more information.

Fedora 11 Features

March 31st, 2009 ~ 9:01pm by Mauriat Miranda

The availability of the Fedora 11 Beta release was announced earlier today. The beta will be the first real glimpse at the incredibly large number of major changes which will be shipped in Fedora 11. The Fedora Wiki hosts the official status page for F11 features.

Some of the inclusions are quite interesting:

  • 20 Second Startup - The idea is to make it to the login screen in 20 seconds and speedup logging in [to GNOME]. While I think increase in speed is nice, honestly this is probably the least important issue when gauging Linux performance. Even with the speed up, additional services and applications will undoubtedly increase start up after the installation is complete.
  • Automatic Font and MIME Installer - A MIME type basically allows applications to know what to do with certain types of files. So ideally a media player application can determine it needs a codec to play a specific type of audio or video. The idea is a little simpler but similar for font installation. While this already does exist in some applications, this deserves a great deal of attention since one of the major difficulties in Linux on the desktop is finding the right plugins or codecs for media. While I can see this in GNOME, I’m not sure if KDE will have the same support. … This reminds me of when MS Office 2000 introduced an installer that would only install certain components when “first used” or Windows Media Player downloading codecs from the internet.
  • EXT4 File System as Default - Linux has long used the EXT2 as the default FS and later EXT3 which added some features but was backwards compatible. The move to EXT4 is a bit more major as it really is a new FS and for the most part is not backwards compatible with EXT3. While I’m sure that this version will add some added benefits in several uses, there has been some internet debate as to the suitability of EXT4 on the desktop. Unfortunately this is something I will not be able to test until I know all the operating systems on my machine can properly read/write EXT4.
  • Nouveau Driver as Default for Nvidia Video Cards - There are multiple drivers for Nvidia depending on 2D vs. 3D, open source vs. proprietary and modern vs. legacy, etc. The Nouveau driver is an attempt to support full 3D acceleration in an open source driver. Currently Fedora ships with a 2D only driver for Nvidia known as just ‘nv‘ and most users just download the proprietary driver. My last attempt with Nouveau went terrible, I hope it will make some difference with 2D (the nv was very poor), but based on the status page 3D support is a long ways off.
  • DeltaRPM Support - When a Fedora package needed an update regardless of what changed, the whole package needed to be downloaded. Presto is a feature added to YUM that allows downloading only the “delta” (the change). This has been available for some time, but this would be the first time the infrastructure looks like it will be ready. I think this is a really important feature since not everyone has a 6Mbit connection and those who do don’t look forward to a gigabyte of updates. … Binary patching has been available in Windows for almost a decade, I think it really needs to be standard in Linux as well.

There are many other features which are planned to be included in Fedora 11. Most of all them are basic major software revision changes (GNOME, GCC, Python, XFCE, etc.). However if you plan on trying the Beta, I highly recommend looking over all the features and thoroughly testing the ones that you really care about. While new features typically come with many potential issues, there is always room for improvement with proper testing and usage.

NetworkManager and YUM Update Issue

March 11th, 2009 ~ 7:18pm by Mauriat Miranda

As been noted, the NetworkManager update in Fedora 9 and Fedora 10 prevents YUM from performing a regular update. Apparently due to a bug in the Fedora Update system. The following error may be seen:

Public key for NetworkManager-0.7.0.99-3.fc10.i386.rpm is not installed

The solution is coming soon, but for a temporary workaround YUM supports an exclude option:

yum --exclude=NetworkManager\* update

This should ignore NetworkManager related packages and continue on in the update process.

For more tips on YUM usage, run: yum –help.