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Archive for the ‘Linux’ Category

The New Laptop Has Arrived (aka, More Wireless Problems)

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It’s been too long since my last blog post. I’m afraid the time and motivation had temporarily escaped me. But I am back now, with what I hope will be some handy information for someone out there in cyberspace.

I recently ordered a new Toshiba laptop, an L305-S5933, from newegg.com. It was really a great deal; I couldn’t pass it up. Upon initially recieving the laptop, I spent a few hours removing all of the pre-loaded crap software (and let me tell you, there was quite a bit), preventing annoying things from running on startup, and installing the latest and greatest Windows updates. After that, I promptly installed Kubuntu 8.10. I have to note, I found it quite humerous that there is now a Windows installer on the Ubuntu install CD. My what a long way we’ve come from the earlier days of RedHat 5.x when I first got started with Linux.

Actually, I lied, I promptly booted into the Kubuntu live CD so I could give things a go before committing to this distro. And of course, without fail, I immediately noticed my lack of an internet connection (so I guess, more appropriately put – with fail?). Anywho, this is a sticky situation I’ve found myself in a number of times before. I’ve discovered Linux + wireless = a recipe for disaster. That’s one formula I’ve had no problems remembering. There are often issues with proprietary drivers/firmware, etc… So we end up with terrible incarnations like the ndiswrapper and so forth. In this case it turns out the currently released version of the wireless driver for my wireless card was not up to date enough to handle my card. This laptop has an Atheros wifi card, identified as AR242x by lspci, which has the AR5007EG chipset. The driver for this card is the madwifi driver. The project seems to be in a chaotic state, with the stable madwifi driver lacking resources, and apparently two newer versions in the works (ath5k and ath9k, neither of which are stable).

Fortunately, the good folks at #madwifi on freenode tipped me off to a newer version of the driver. Unfortunately, this “newer version” has never been released and therefore must be built from source. You can either get the source of this driver from git (which I’ll leave to you to figure out), or you can find the most up to date snapshot here. I’ll first mention, this process involves a reboot, so it is not possible to get wireless working in the live CD environment. Before we begin, you’ll need to make sure you have both the “build-essential” and “linux-headers” packages installed on your system. Start off by extracting the driver files from the archive:

tar xzf madwifi-hal-0.10.5.6-r3931-20090125.tar.gz

Be sure to substitute the correct file name here. Next “cd” into your newly extracted directory and run:

make
sudo make install

When you “make install”, this should remove the old drivers from your system and install the new drivers. Once you reboot, assuming you are running NetworkManager, you should be good to go. If you ever get a kernel update available via adept or apt-get upgrade, you may want to consider not installing it. If you do, you will have to rebuild this driver in the new kernel.

Do not blacklist the Atheros driver that comes with kubuntu, or you will find your computer will lock up during boot. If this happens, simply use the switch on the front of the laptop to disable the device until you have installed a new driver.

Hopefully I will be back soon with a review of KDE 4.2, which releases tomorrow.

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Written by Kris Wong

January 26, 2009 at 5:04 pm

The Current State of the Gentoo Project

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I have been using Gentoo Linux for over 2 years now. Let me start by saying, I like Gentoo. I don’t know that I would ever again want to use a distro without a rolling release cycle.  It’s great to have almost immediate access to all the latest and greatest. But therein lies the problem. Portage used to packed full of bleeding edge software. Sometimes software that hadn’t even been released yet. But this no longer seems to be the case, more often than I’d like.

Portage is Gentoo’s package management system. It is a build from source system, based on BSD’s ports system. Many who oppose Gentoo oppose it because of the idea of build from source. Let’s face it, it takes a while to update something like KDE in a build from source system. It could be quite painful on an older machine. But after living with it for 2 years, I can say it’s really not that bad. I feel the advantages of portage greatly outweigh the disadvantages.

  • Access to multiple versions of every package – I can install the latest and greatest, or easily rollback to an older release if I am experiencing some sort of problem. This is very handy indeed.
  • Easy command line search of all packages.
  • The use of USE flags to enable or disable certain parts of a package. For instance if I don’t want GTK on my system, I can still use gvim.
  • Effective dependency system.
  • Complete control through well documented configuration files. This paradigm is present throughout every part of Gentoo.

The problem is, lately, it has been taking a while to get updated ebuilds in portage for many popular apps and libs. Some examples:

  • KDE 4.1 – released 7/29, ebuilds available in portage approx. 2 months later
  • Boost 1.36.0 – released 8/14, no ebuild in portage
  • Boost 1.35.0 – released 3/29, still hard masked
  • GCC 4.3.2 – released 8/27, available in portage 10/4

This varies by package. Some package maintainers are good about staying on top of new releases, some are not so good.

Now, the lack of KDE packages for 2 months caused quite a ruckus, but all in all, things aren’t too bad at this point. Some distros, such as Arch Linux, are a bit more responsive, but that’s Ok. I believe this is the beginning of what will be a larger problem, though. Gentoo without a responsive rolling release cycle is likely bound to fail. I’m a firm believer in identifying problems, and subsequently fixing them, when they are small rather than when they are large.

So what is the problem? On the surface, it seems to be lack of manpower. It was actually described on the Gentoo homepage as a “severe lack of manpower”. Open source projects have to be rooted in a strong community of volunteers. A diminishing community will certainly lead to the demise of a project. But why is the community diminishing? What is the root of the problem? The answer, I believe, is twofold – organization and marketing. Both have suffered in recent years.

This is exemplified in many package maintainers either leaving the project voluntarily, or being asked to leave. In fact, this is what happened to the KDE release team. Distrowatch.com has highlighted the cons of the distro as: “the project suffers from lack of direction and frequent infighting between its developers”. I am not in any way involved with the Gentoo project as an organization, so I can’t speculate as to how to solve this problem. All I can say is, they need to get themselves out of self destruct mode while they still can.

The other major, and also related, problem is the recent degradation of the Gentoo “brand”. Gentoo was once considered a “sexy” distro amongst hardcore Linux users and other geeks. This was due to its highly configurable nature and rather demanding installation procedure. But their brand image has diminished. Partly because of the organizational issues mentioned above, but partly because Gentoo needs to stay true to the philosophies that made it popular in the first place. Always remember who your target user is, it has not changed. It is still the same Linux fanatic that doesn’t want to deal with the bloat or generalized nature of most desktop Linux distributions on the market. Give these people what they really want.

Written by Kris Wong

October 20, 2008 at 2:48 pm