Pine A64 Set Up and First Run

Some time ago, a coworker convinced me to get in on a Kickstarter for the Pine64. It’s the only Kicksarter I have ever backed which makes 100% of my Kickstarter experiences successful. Not many can say that.

IMG_20181121_210911

When I first recieved the machine, I couldn’t get the thing to boot. Not a single image I tried would work. After a few weeks, on and off of working it, I was frustrated Early images for it. I couldn’t get anything to work. I tried several SD Cards and it even lead me to this F3 application (solid state media checker) to make sure my flash media was functioning properly. It all was, I got busy with another project, so I put it away.

Recently, I heard about the Pine Phone a budget Linux phone that is said to run KDE Plasma that  and did a little research. I am pretty excited about a KDE Plasma focused phone showing up on the market. The best part is, it is a budget phone which is how I like to do mobile. On principle, I won’t spend much more than $100 on a phone. They are disposable and trivial devices that I almost wish I could do without. After reading this on It’s FOSS. I remembered, that I had a Pine64… someplace…

I find the prospect of a budget Linux based phone pretty exciting, especially since it is going to be based on Plasma Mobile. Also, since I have had some recent fun with Plasma Mobile on the Nexus 5X, this grabbed a hold of my interest as hard as a panicked window washer grabs the safety harness, 78 stories high on the John Handcock Center during a mid-October gust of wind. Consequently, I looked for and set up my 2GB Pine A64-LTS so that I could become “Pine Smart” and pretend like I know a thing or three about the thing. You know… should it come up in conversation around the water cooler.

Installation Medium

My previously wasted attempts at getting this to work lead me to use the official tool this time around. I downloaded the AppImgae of the Pine64 Installation Tool. It is essentially Etcher with a menu that allows you to select what version of Pine64 you have and the corresponding compatible images. In my case, I have a Pine A64+ with 2GB.

Pine64-01-Installer Etcher Fork

The first choice on the list is Xenial MATE. I was not interested in any of the Android versions and as much as I wanted to use the openSUSE image, it required some work to get fully functional. There were several others but I ended up going with the Xenial MATE which is Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.

Pine64-03-Installer Flash.png

I loaded it onto a 32 GB Card, When I popped it in the Pine64, it booted and I was beside myself in excitement. Finally, after years of sitting, it is alive and functional.

Pine64 Setup

I order to get this thing going, I scraped together the needed bits to get it going. I didn’t buy a Pine64 power supply so I ended up using the Power Supply from my HP Touchpad, because it is big and beefy and not at any risk of under supply, used a Wireless Keyboard with touchpad and since I don’t have a monitor that supports HDMI in my SuperCubicle I used a little HDMI to VGA adapter. Take note, the documentation says that the Pine64 “works best” on a 1080p screen. It should actually read. “Only Works” on a 1080p screen. If you use something else, it will not automatically adapt the output accordingly. You can see the screen but not all of it.

Lenovo ideapad-02-screen size

Now what?

I now have this ARM based computer and I am not sure where to start, what to do first. There are a lot of great project ideas out there and since this has 2GB of RAM there are a lot of possibilities. For starters, just as a basic desktop computer, this will do just fine for many tasks. Looking at this particular board (snapshot from the pine64.org site), it is loaded with geeky accessibility.

Pine64_board

There is an active community around the Pine64 and seeing it has the Pi 2 Bus along with an expansion and Euler Bus (bunch of cool additions in addition to the Pi 2) there are more things you can do with this than what I really know what to do. I have a couple fun ideas that will take some time to flesh out.

Really, I am happy I was able to properly image an SD Card and get it up and running after having it sit in a box at the bottom of a drawer for about three years.

Final [for now] Thoughts

This appears to be a fairly decent piece of kit. I have to decide what I am going to do with it. I have Ethernet and the Wifi card on it along with the case when I contributed to the Kickstarter Campaign. It runs Ubuntu MATE extremely well but because it is an ARM based system, I am going to shy way from doing any real regular desktop use. It does a fine console based openSUSE and as much as I like the command line, it’s not really where I like to live 100% of the time. It seems like when you go ARM, officially supported kernels are always lagging by years and although it may be fine, I would prefer such machines not be too heavily relied upon or have a limited scope of access to things. I like for my kernels to slip comfortably into a piece of hardware like my foot does in a new pair of fuzzy house-slippers. ARM seems to require some kind of break in period, which consequently, makes ARM devices just not relied upon for anything critical… yes… that’s all of them. They are fun toys.

Regardless of the ARM shortcomings, I like competing CPU platforms and tinkering around with them. I am going to continue to explore this fine contraption and hopefully come up with something that will adequately utilize it.

Further Reading

Pine64.org Main Site

Pine64 Installation Tool

KDE Plasma Desktop

Etcher

Advertisements

NeptuneOS | Review from an openSUSE User

I am not a “distro hopper” but it is good to experience some of the other Linux distributions out there. It gives you a good understanding of what you like and what you like less and keeps things colorful. This time it is NeptuneOS, a Debian based distro. Most of my Debian experience as of late has been with the Ubuntu and its variants. As far as I am concerned. Linux really is Linux and they are all, for the most part, good.

Installation

I am doing all my evaluations in a Virtual Machine. I am using my current favorite, for such things, VirtualBox. When I downloaded the ISO, I took quick attention to the system requirements for how very specific they are. I wanted to try them at their minimum.

1 Ghz Intel/AMD 64Bit CPU, 1.6 GB RAM, 8 GB HDD

I didn’t scale the CPU but I did set the RAM to down to 1.8 GB because I do have a machine like that and the HDD just a bit bigger to be realistic to what I would get form an older netbook or current, cheap, laptop in a dual boot scenario.

For starters, I must say, I am a bit confused as to why there isn’t a direct install option, that you have to use it as a “Live CD” to start. I am not sure why Live CDs are really a thing anymore. If I am going to try a Linux Distribution, you can’t get the full benefit out of it in a kind of Read Only environment, would rather just install directly.

When the Live CD version boots up, you are greeted with a fine looking desktop. Very pleasant and simple. A great way to start.

I am not going to be too critical of the choice for a Live CD being the only option but it does seem like a bit of a waste of time to have to go that route, just to install.

Installation

The installation process was straight forward. With only six steps required to get the install going, seven if you count the confirmation to perform the install and eight if you count rebooting as part of the install.

The first two steps are pretty easy… what language do you speak and about where do you live. If only most questions life were this simple…

The keyboard selector is the best I have ever seen. Although I do not have a Dvorak keyboard, nor have I ever seen one in the wild, it was great to not only see this as an option but to see that the keyboard layout is what you are expecting. Very nice!

This really inspires me to want to get a Dvorak keyboard. The practicality is still in question as I don’t need one and it would likely just be a novelty.

I left the default partitioning scheme in place. This is not going to be a regular machine else I would have set a separate /home partition. I like for those home things to be separate should I have a desire to “nuke and pave” my system (clean install). The user set up was also nice and clean although, I like to be able to specify my own user ID.

My only criticism to the installation process is that it is just a series of commercials, I suppose that is fine but I like to watch and see what is actually happening, such as packages being installed and the like.

Step Eight, reboot. Interesting that it would be a check mark option.

First Run

Upon reboot, I happen to like this Grub screen; Big Chunky Red Bar to boot Neptune OS. It boot rather quickly, especially since this is happening in a VM. Time to boot is not something I would score real heavy on unless it is painfully slow like pre-systemD era Linux.

There is something about a fresh smelling, clean, un-customized desktop in KDE Plasma. It is like a sand box waiting for your own personal creation to take form.

I am going to give NeptuneOS points on their default menu selection. It is not my personal preference but for a new user, this is a great, comfortable menu that is clear and gives you some great starting points. Well done!

Personally, I prefer the “Application Menu” Alternative but that is the simply awesome thing about KDE Plasma, if you don’t like the default or have a different preference, there is an option for you.

For a light theme, I think the default desktop theme is pretty great. It looks clean and simple and I do like the shadowing effect. The NeptuneOS dark theme is also very nicely done. So theming wise, this is a great distro out of the box. No reason to hunt for a new theme.

Discover is basically what you would expect on a KDE Plasma Desktop. I must say, I am not used to the light theme for this application and I maybe like it better than the dark theme.

I am not really sure why you have to enter your password for updates but again, not a big deal. Maybe you don’t want an unprivileged user to be able to perform updates.

Plasma Vault

I may have been living under a rock but I haven’t seen this application before. I haven’t taken the time to research it at all but wanted to see how intuitive it would be to use knowing nothing about it.

The one thing I don’t really understand is why they would include Encfs as an encryption system by default if it is knowingly less secure and easily compromised. I can see having it available for legacy reason but installed by default seems just a bit silly.

After choosing your encryption system, you are prompted for your password to which it tells you how “secure” it is, a location for the vault, the mount point, and finally the type of cipher you wish to use. I chose the “default”.

Another nice feature was the option to limit the vault to specific activities. Plasma will close that vault if you goo to an activity to which it is not permitted.

To try it out, I created a text file in the vault to experience the process of interacting with mounting and un-mounting vaults.

When mounted, the vault acts like any other directory on the file tree. When you un-mount the vault, the contents of that vault disappears in much the same way you would expect from un-mounting a drive.

When mounting the drive, you are prompted for your password and the vault auto-magically becomes available once again.

On a side note I liked this so much, and to shoe-horn in my preferred distribution in this review, I installed it in openSUSE to play with it some more.

sudo zypper install plasma-vault plasma-vault-backend-cryfs plasma-vault-lang

What I Like

The general feel of NeptuneOS is great, from the Installation process to the menu selection and default theme selections, it was all quite fantastic. If I had to use NeptuneOS as a daily driver, I would be quite comfortable here. NeptuneOS is based on Debian 9.0 (Stretch), I could probably add a PPA or download the tarball or some other deb package of Telegram to get going with it. The same goes for Discord or any other application I regularly use. I am already familiar with the Debian way of doing things so living in the terminal here is not much different elsewhere.

NeptuneOS-31-Smart Card InstallationI used my directions for installing the Smart Card system for Ubuntu and derivatives and it all worked just as expected. I was a bit surprised that they worked. I did have to set it up for Chromium, which worked just fine. This tells me I need to make some adjustments to my page to spell out what I have tested. Something to think about…

The system requirements specified on the Download page are accurate. They are not just theoretical. For everything I tested, it all just worked.

What I Don’t Like

Telegram, Discord and Firefox was not available in the repository. Iceweasel was available, which I know is a re-branded Firefox but to a new-ish user that doesn’t know what Iceweasel is, that could be confusing. I am sure I could find Telegram and Discord but I wasn’t particularly inspired to do so.

I haven’t tested memory usage between Chromium and Firefox but based on my Chrome experiences, it seems like Firefox might be a better solution to meet that low system memory requirement or better yet, have Falkon available even though that is not a full featured browser.

It doesn’t have Zypper, the openSUSE package manager… but I wasn’t expecting that. I just happen to prefer it over Apt*.

Final Thoughts

NeptuneOS is a very clean KDE Plasma distribution. It looks good out of the box and since it is based on Debian 9.0, it has potential to have quite the extensive software library available to it. The experience is clean and well thought out with sensible defaults. Not all the defaults are my preference but that can be fairly easily adjusted to suit my needs. There are some applications that are not available by default which can be a bit frustrating but there are not many distributions that have everything you want upon install.

Over all, NeptuneOS is a winner, from an openSUSE user’s perspective.

Further Reading

NeptuneOS Home Page

VirtualBox.org

DoD CAC Reader | Ubuntu, Derivatives and Linux Mint

3 Ways to Install Telegram Messenger on Debian 9 Stretch

Other Distributions

 

 

 

 

Flashing Linksys E2000 Router with DD-WRT

No Network.png

When it comes to home networking, I have lost some “Geek Points” in the last few years. In general, I don’t find all the bits that go into networking all that interesting, I know the basics, have had my network doing what I want it to do and have basically neglected it for some time. If I need real help I will lean on my brother in-law to help me sort out the netmasks or routing tables or whatever else by which I am less excited. To the level I have come to understand I have gotten what I needed working so why think about it… That was until my router, already running DD-WRT, started to give me some problems.

Using Speedtest.net I was only getting 12 Mbps on the Wireless and around 70 Mbps on the wired Ethernet. This was becoming increasingly annoying as most of my work requires reliable internet connection so I started running CAT5 to each computer in my SuperCubicle plus one extra for a future project.

Productivity had been restored, so long as I was wired. Then one morning the wireless just stopped altogether. The wired Ethernet was still routing but the traffic on the wireless just stopped routing traffic all together.

Hardware

Linksys E2000.png
Linksys E2000

Not a very complex network and would have been something great 8 years ago for a home network but today, the idiom “long in the tooth” would be an understatement. I have a DOCSIS 3 Modem, which is new and trouble free that is connected to a Linksys E2000 router running DD-WRT. Attached to that is a Linksys 16-port EZXS16W switch. From that switch there are about 10 ports used up.

 

Linksys EZXS16W
Linksys EZXS16W 16-Port Switch

In order to bring the wirless back up, I tried to adjust some of the settings and nothing seemed to save. It was like it was working and not working in the same stroke. Rebooting the router didn’t change anything, it was still in a kind of undead state. I was unsuccessful with everything I tried. I saw only one option, factory reset the router and upgrade the firmware.

Firmware Flashing Complications

Using the DD-WRT Router Database I searched for the Linksys E2000 and downloaded the latest “Mega” firmware. Based on my understanding and referencing the wiki page, I just needed to update the firmware with the latest “Mega”. I did the initial attempt at flashing the firmware with the Falkon browser, it didn’t take. I got the “Flash Failed” error. I did it again but disabling the Ad Blocker thinking that might have been the problem but it still didn’t work. I tried Firefox and the Konqueror browser. All failed.

I downloaded the “Big” version and tried it again but with no success. What finally worked was upgrading with the DD-WRT: Factory Flash dd-wrt.v24-37305_NEWD-2_K2.6_mini-e2000.bin (at the time of writing, November 2018).

This flash was successful a since I didn’t need any of those extended features, the Mini was plenty good for what I need to do with it, at least for the short term.

Features I use

I don’t have a whole lot of requirements for my router at this time. What is important to me are the following features less common in typical consumer wireless router / switch / firewall / gateways:

DNSMasq

DNSmasq is a local DNS server. It will resolve all host names known to the router from dhcp (dynamic and static) as well as forwarding and caching DNS entries from remote DNS servers. Local DNS enables DHCP clients on the LAN to resolve static and dynamic DHCP hostnames. This is especially important when communicating with computers through the terminal or doing SFTP transfers. Rather than typing out the IP address, I can just type the computer’s hostname.

DHCP Static Lease

I have a few devices on my network that it is important that the IP address doesn’t change, specifically my HP OfficeJet All-In-One printer and my server.

DHCP LAN Domain

I like to set a LAN domain, not really a necessity but I like to have one for fun and fashion.

Next Steps

My home network hardware is aging and needs several upgrades. I think I am going to start with a pfSense Box probably use some sort of older x86 machine with a couple NICs, use the current router as a Wireless Access Point then look at changing out my 16-port switch to some sort of Gigabit Switch with about the same number of ports. Judging by my cursory review of the setup and features, I will have to make a significant time investment.

Network Cable Nest.jpg

Final Thoughts

It is remarkable how quickly one’s morning priorities can change when the network becomes largely inoperable. It is also remarkable how quickly it seems like your network components age when you are not thinking about it.

This little “breakdown” has inspired me to begin making the changes to my network. Future blatherings to come from this as I make the upgrades and figure out what works best for my home network.

Further Reading

https://wiki.dd-wrt.com/wiki/index.php/Linksys_E2000

Linksys E2000 DD-WRT Wiki page

https://www.pfsense.org/

 

Lenovo ideapad 110S Repair | UEFI Partition Currupted

Lenovo 110S Title-broken

For several months, I was happily using my Lenovo ideapad 110S running openSUSE Tumbleweed. I have had few complaints about the device, other than a lack of RAM (but I knew that going into the purchase). One day the thing just stopped working; on boot up it left me a sad looking, blank screen. No combination of key presses did anything to change its state. All I could do was hold the power button down and forced off the laptop. No matter how many times I power cycled the machine, it was the same thing, no splash or error message, not a single bit of useful information. It was a busy time for me so I just put it away in a drawer thinking I’ll get back to it and maybe dissect it for it “secrets” or something… but I really just forgot about it.

Three Months Later

I was listening to some discussion about BIOS issues and how it is possible for it to become corrupt and require some sort of reset. My mind wondered from the conversation to that misbehaving Lenovo ideapad and I thought that maybe I was having some sort of BIOS or UEFI issue. I am not sure why I didn’t think of it sooner but I thought, is it posssible that the UEFI boot partition may have possibly been corrupted?

Using my previous blathering about installing Linux on this machine, I tried to hit F2 rapidly on startup to find that it initially didn’t get me into the BIOS. I tried it a few times, all with no success. Then I remembered that this has one of those silly keyboards that defaults to having the media keys as primary. I tried it again, this time, holding the Fn key down plus F2. The trick is, just keep tapping immediately as you turn the computer on. Once it displays a black screen it is too late.

When I was able to get into the BIOS. I reordered the boot sequence to look for my USB drive but that didn’t work. It still booted into the back screen. Going into the BIOS for the second time, I switched the Boot Mode to Legacy Support. It is still set to look for UEFI first but when that fails, look for a Legacy Bootable device. This change allowed me to boot from the USB Drive.

Lenovo ideapad-01-BIOS.jpg

Using the latest openSUSE Tumbleweed snapshot, I performed the install, formatting UEFI ( /boot/efi ) and root ( / ) partitions. I figured, leave nothing to chance and just wipe the machine. The installation was uneventful and didn’t require any further intervention.

Now that I have the system back up and running, I can use it as my “go machine” once again. The 2 GB of RAM makes things a bit tight but maybe it is good for me to only have 5 or 6 tabs open at a time but as many terminal applications as I want.. It is unfortunate that I wasn’t smart enough to try this sooner as it would have been a better machine to take with me through the summer. The nice thing is, my drawer of electronic bits and bobs is slightly lighter. Thankfully, there is no need to make any effort to fill it with more junk as it seems to do that on its own.

Final Thoughts

I learned that just because a screen goes black on a computer and it becomes entirely unresponsive, doesn’t mean it is garbage. I wish I had thought of doing this to recover this laptop sooner, I would have been regularly using this machine. Not sure if this is a common problem or not but maybe, just maybe, this might somehow wind up helping someone else out with a similar issue.

Further Reading

openSUSE Linux on a Lenovo ideapad 110S Laptop

openSUSE Tumbleweed

openSUSE Tumbleweed installation media

Terminal Applications

 

Pop!_OS | Review from an openSUSE User

PopOS Logo

As part of a kind of challenge, I have decided to kick the tires on Pop!_OS Since I don’t have the extra hardware to install it on “bare metal” so I have chosen to put it in a Virtual Machine. Pop!_OS can be downloaded from here. I chose the 2GB sized Intel/AMD version for this test. The Requirements are on par with nearly every other 64-bit distribution out there. It requires 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage.

Installation

The installation process Pop!_OS is a fantastic experience. The instructions are clear and  the presentation is uncluttered with a clear course of action. Very good for a new user to Linux.

After the installation and reboot of the machine, you are prompted to set up your user. It’s all pleasantly straight forward and easy to understand.  It is at this point you can choose to encrypt or not encrypt your home directory.

First Run

After you log in, you are greeted with this friendly, multilingual, interactive welcome dialog. Like the installation experience, clean and simple.

PopOS-09-Welcome

Your First task is to set your privacy settings

PopOS-12-Privacy

Nothing confusing, simple wording and asks you questions very simply; Do you want to allow applications to know your location. No techno babble, no long winded explanations. Plain, simple and clear language.

Next your asked if you want to set up any online accounts. I was not particularly interested in this feature so I did not test it.

PopOS-13-Online Accounts

Should you skip this step, it is easy to get set up accounts later. This is in the settings menu. Searching “Online Accounts” in the menu will bring it up.

That is all that will be needed to get started.

PopOS-14-Ready

And you are ready to get Pop!_OS-ing

PopOS-05-Splash Screen

Adding Software

The cleverly named Pop!_Shop which is a re-skinned ElementaryOS App Center, not the Gnome Software Center, which I originally thought.

PopOS-06-Pop Shop

I searched for and installed Telegram with the expected outcome. I searched for specific libraries to install what is needed for the Smart Card but nothing would show up. When the GUI doesn’t do as asked, there is still terminal to bail you out. Using my instructions here to make the installation.

PopOS-07-Set Up CAC.png

The process of going back and forth became a bit irritating but more on that later. Installing and testing out the Smart Card system was successful. It worked just as my instructions specified for Ubuntu and its derivatives.

What I Like

PopOS-16-Lock ScreenFor starters, this is an Ubuntu derivative, so I know I have access to… basically everything. Also, knowing this is built on a well tested base, plus the extra polish from System76, I would have no distrust of any system running this.

The installation interface is beautiful and friendly. It has fun artwork, straight forward installer. The look and the artwork in Pop!_OS is absolutely stellar. It has a fun, clean and modern looking interface. The contrast is perfect and give the Environment the same kind of welcoming, pleasant, here is a hot cup of coco, go sit by the fire and warm up, after shoveling the snow off of the sidewalks.

The Pop!_Shop is not only cleverly named but looks great. The care and attention to detail made by the designers make this application fit into their finely crafted desktop environment is noticed and appreciated.

The base set of applications chosen by the designers is a nice fit. It has all the basics you need without having to install anything. You can get by just fine with what’s available and not be burdened by the confusion of excessive application selection.

What I don’t like

I want to make it clear that I have a pretty huge bias as I am entrenched in a particular workflow and I happen to like, how openSUSE structures itself. I also want to make perfectly clear that I think this is a very fine piece of art and technology for which I have great admiration in all those involved.

PopOS-17-Extra ClicksFor starters, I do not like having to click on “Activities” on the top of the screen to do pretty much everything. It is my opinion that this exercise is nothing more than unnecessary wear and tear on my mouse button and a general waste of time. This particular design choice is clunky and inefficient. The lack of buttons on the window and the lack of any way to add them, at least one that is not obvious. It would be a fantastic feature to minimize the screen at the click of a button or maybe keep windows above others with a single-click of a button. Much like the additional unnecessary clicks to do anything through the “Activity” button, I have to add a right-click than select what I want to do with the window.

There is no Task Bar no way of knowing what is going on at a glance, to look at all your windows open, extra clicking is required by going back to that “Activities” button. Alternatively, the Alt+Tab will allow you to switch windows, which works fine if you only have a few applications running. If you have a lot going on, switching between applications is going to be a mess.

Not a big deal, but I don’t particularly care for the way you have to use authentication to do updates from the GUI. I say this with my openSUSE bias as doing an upgrade through the update tool requires no authentication when using openSUSE Leap. This is a small potatoes thing… really…

Last thing… and this too falls back on my bias… Due to the lack of package selection from the Pop!_Shop, I needed another package manager since as much as I like GUIs, so I installed Synergy to see how it compared to openSUSE YaST Software Manager.

sudo apt-get install synaptic

Synaptic is pretty decent. It has a lot of the great features of which I am accustomed to with openSUSE but there was one glaring missing feature I was not able to find.

PopOS-08-Synaptic

There isn’t any way to select a repository to switch system packages into. Perhaps this is not a necessary feature in Ubuntu based systems but for openSUSE, this is a nice feature. There is value in switching system repositories to a more bleeding edge KDE or Gnome and switching them back, if wanted.

Final Thoughts

Would I use Pop_OS! for a daily driver? As nice as it is, the spectacular polish, the beautiful art, sensible selection of default applications and so much more, I still would not. There are too many user interface issues with it that make it too slow and clunky. The lack of minimize and task bar in the desktop plus the required extra-clicks to get to the menu, although it is not a serious productivity loss, it just feels slower. I am aware that there is a work around for that using Gnome-Tweaks and Keyboard Shortcuts but I just don’t find it an acceptable out-of-box answer.

I am certain that Pop!_OS is a fantastic interface for many and for those in which it works well, they should continue to use it. It looks fantastic and feels incredibly well polished and I have no doubt whatsoever that it is stable and works reliably for the long haul. It just doesn’t fit my needs. Part of the beauty of Linux and the open source is the ability to choose what is best suited for your particular needs, desires and unique flair. Use the best tool for the job and I have no doubt that Pop!_OS is a fine tool for many jobs.

Further Reading

Pop_OS! Download

DoD CAC Reader | Ubuntu, Derivatives and Linux Mint

ElementaryOS App Center

CrossOver Linux Use and Review on openSUSE

CrossOver Logo

CrossOver Linux recently released version 18.0.0 (2018) which was another fine release with no regressions. I have been using CrossOver Linux (at the time CrossOver Office) since 2005. At the time, I imagined that within a few years would Linux be as ubiquitous on the desktop as Windows or Mac. After all, I bought a boxed copy of Mandrake Linux in the store which sat right next to SUSE Linux. There seemed to be a lot of momentum behind it. Now, in 2018, Linux has seemingly infiltrated every other use case, servers, phones, Internet of Things but doesn’t seem to be have as much traction on the Desktop.

This may come as a surprise but there are still 3rd party applications of which I require that I cannot run in Linux. Although, I think there are fewer now than there used to be, I still find I need a Windows compatibility layer. I can do much of in with Wine, but CodeWeavers makes it so much easier to manage.

Installation

There isn’t a repository that you can add (as far as I know), so you will have to download the RPM directly from CodeWeavers. That can be done here:

https://www.codeweavers.com/products/crossover-linux/download

I like to neatly tuck them into an rpms subfolder in my Downloads directory.

sudo zypper install ~/Downloads/rpms/crossover-18.0.0-1.rpm

Your version may vary, of course as updates and improvements are ongoing.

The fantastic feature of Crossover is that every application can be installed in it’s own bottle, the first exposure to “containers” I have ever had on Linux or any system for that matter. It is a great way to test applications without the risk of interfering with other installed applications.

CrossOver Linux-01-Main Window.png

The process to Install Windows Software is easy, intuitive and requires little explanation. If the application is supported by CodeWeavers or a Advocate, it is no more difficult than searching for the application. Selecting the name of it and Continue.

CrossOver Linux-02-StarTrek_Starfleet_Academy

If the application is not supported by CodeWeavers or an Advocate, it’s still not difficult to install; as long as you have a decent knowledge of your Windows application. Keep in mind, it may or may not work at that point.

CrossOver Linux Usage

I use CrossOver almost daily, which is in contrast to using it daily some few years ago. I tend to use LibreOffice more now than Microsoft Office but I also don’t really use office products as much as it once had. The application I use most is Rosetta Stone. I have been using it on and off for several years, now I am using it to help with home educating my kids. It’s easy for any of us to use and somehow enjoyable enough to keep us consistently using it.

I tend to use Microsoft Office, mostly for Excel. As much as I like the LibreOffice Equivalent, there are just some usability features that I appreciate more in the proprietary product. I also keep it around for when I am forced to use SharePoint. As far as versions go, I much prefer Microsoft Office 2007 over 2013. The look and interface changes on 2013 feels counterintuitive, specifically when dealing with files. I’m sure it makes perfect sense for someone but just not for me.

Screenshot_20181109_081742

Games

The games I have played using CrossOver Linux, at least semi-frequently has been Descent 3 and Warcraft II Tides of Darkness. Warcraft II takes some tweaking to use as it requires the CD-ROM or at least a mounted ISO for it to load as a form of copy protection but works quite nicely. The game that I am probably most excited about is Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

StarTrek_Starfleet_Academy-01

It runs so incredibly smooth; far better than how I remember it running on that Pentium in the late 90s. And no… I don’t play it in windowed mode pictured above. When playing it again for the first time, it brought a smile to my face when the cut scenes played and provided a kind of choose-your-own-adventure element. Since it has been so long since I have played this, plus other things, it is almost like I am playing it again for the first time!

The next game I am excited to be able to play is Freespace 2. I didn’t purchase it when it came out in 1999 as I kind of fell off the video game train at that time. I did enjoy the previous incarnation, Descent: Freespace. They mostly got me because of “Descent” in the title. Well played, Interplay, well played.

CrossOver Linux-03-Freespace2

I only just started playing this game and I already feel like I am all thumbs trying to remember all the keyboard commands. Regardless, it is as much fun as I remember the first being and I look forward to the time I will be able to unwind playing this.

Overall Reliability

Since the beginning of my time using CrossOver Linux, it has been a fantastic tool for giving me the freedom to run the applications I want on the operating system I want. It hasn’t been without its bumps but the tools they provide help very much to dig in and find out what is missing to get applications working. The supported applications seem to work as well or better than described. Interestingly, when Office 2007 was the current office suite offering from Microsoft. I found that ran better through CrossOver on Linux than it did naively in Windows. Granted, I was and still am a bit biased.

These days, it seems like most of the bumps have been ironed out for many of the applications. At least, the applications I want to run. The only application that seems to provide some difficulty is Microsoft Office 2013, the last version I purchased or ever plan to purchase. It seems to either be a little slow at times or the updater gets stuck. Since I don’t like how it looks or works, I tend to just use the 2007 version instead.

The only application just out of reach each year, forcing me to fire up a VM, is TurboTax. I try it again come tax season. It didn’t work last year or the year before… close but not quite. Maybe this year will be different.

My Involvement in the Project

In 2010 or so, my need for Windows applications increased for job reasons. Initially, I was back and forth between Wine and CrossOver Linux as my solution. It quickly became imperative, for the sake of my productivity that I needed to get and keep specific Windows applications running with high reliability. I became more and more familiar with how CrossOver handled Windows Libraries so I started to learn what was needed and kept notes on the additional software requirements needed by some applications. By 2013, I was all in, now learning how to make CrossTies for applications that were important to me and submitting them for the benefit of other users, rating applications and starting to do Beta reports on newer versions. I learned how to do Beta testing, rate applications and so forth. It is just good fun, really.

What is fun, is that you do enough for them and they give you things and make a big deal out of it.

Final Thoughts

CrossOver Linux is a tool I use regularly. I don’t use it as much as I once did so the original goal set out by the company to be a stopgap has been incredibly successful, from my point of view. I don’t see me stopping my usage of CrossOver anytime soon. If nothing else, for the gaming. It just works better than standard Wine. I am glad I have invested into this company and I am glad they continue to contribute towards Linux and the open source.

If you have any interest in this, I do highly recommend you check it out. CodeWeavers does a fantastic job and has great customer support. It is a finely polished product that makes easy work out of installing Windows applications in Linux (as well as Mac and ChromeOS). It’s certainly worth kicking the tires with a free 14 day trial. At the very worst, you won’t use it but are likely have a good experience in trying it.

External References

CodeWeaver’s Blog Version 18 Release

CodeWeavers.com Compatibility Rosetta Stone 2

CrossOver Linux Download

GoG.com Freespace 2

GoG.com Star Trek: Starfleet Academy

Nintendo is Suspending Netflix Service to the Wii

Wii No Longer SupportedI received a very unfortunate message on my Wii when trying to play an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation using Netflix — Nintendo will suspend all video streaming services on Wii – including the Netflix Channel – after January 30, 2019. I don’t know how many people out there still use the Wii for Netflix but I have two Wii Consoles that do use Netflix… so there are at least TWO units out there…

Oh, I know, it only supports 480p… the console has been around for over 10 years, blah, blah, blah… I just find it irritating. It is a fine piece of hardware that satisfies my needs quite nicely, it’s still fun to play games on it but now I will have to source a solution fairly soon. I would have preferred to kick that can down the road another year or three.

The other option is that I would have to somehow become smart and create a solution. There is still a lot of good information out there for developing on the Wii. Chances are, I won’t have the time or energy to really understand what to do and I will just cave and put something else in its place.

As much as I like Nintendo and the shear creativity in gaming they have provided over the years, it further underscores the tragedy of closed source, closed ecosystems to consumers. I realize, it is not a viable economic proposition to continue to support the Wii but they COULD turn it over into an open source project to keep alive for generations to come.

Further Reading

https://devices.netflix.com/en/game-consoles/wii/

http://www.codemii.com/2008/08/10/tutorial-1-setting-up-the-environment/

Ceiling Fan Failure | Repair Instead of Replace

ICanFixIt

Not long ago, I had a ceiling fan stop spinning and start making an ever so slight buzzing noise. I thought maybe it was as a result of switching the rotation direction of the fan. Switching it back didn’t change anything either. I just shut off the fan motor to end the buzzing and pondered about how much I dread changing ceiling fans especially since the fan in the living room match this failed dining room fan. I really wanted to repair this Hampton Bay Ceiling fan rather than replace it.

Ceiling Fan Not Spinning-02

After doing a little Internet research, searching “repair ceiling fan”, I got a lot of cruft and useless information. Next I tried to narrow it down to “ceiling fan not spinning” and “replace ceiling fan motor” to only find more non-solutions. Then I stumbled upon this site that identified the capacitor as a possible cause of failure.

Then I did nothing about it until I was gifted a broken fan.

Donor Fan

I had no idea if this donor fan had a compatible capacitor not but it was worth a try. I started out by pulling apart the ceiling fan.

Ceiling Fan Dismantle.jpg

I removed the bulbs, shades then the three screws that hold the light kit in place. Upon removing the capacitor and it was very obvious that the capacitor had failed as it had very prominent bulging on two sides of it.

Bulging Capacitor.jpg

I took note that this is a 280V 4.5µF x 6µF x 5µF capacitor and decided to do some searching on the web for prices, because, I wasn’t sure how much such a thing would cost. I’m sure you can imagine my happy surprise when I discovered that the donor fan had the exact same capacitor my ceiling fan.

Donor Fan Capacitor

This was enough for me to commit fully the project. I removed the old capacitor, marked the switch side gray wire striped the wire ends to ready it for the donor capacitor. The rest of the wires were in the exact same configuration as the original so wiring this in was trivial.

Removing Dead Capacitor.jpg

I used 16-14 AWG Vinyl Insulated Butt Splice and prepared the capacitor to be installed in the ceiling fan. I tagged the gray leg that went to the switch on the donor and checked to see it was the same leg on the crippled unit.

Donor Capacitor Prepared.jpg

I realized that I wasn’t sure if the motor was damaged or not by the failed capacitor but there was no appreciable risk in trying. After crimping the capacitor into the fan, I flipped the switch and pulled the chain to have the desired result of spinning blades.

Ceiling Fan Spinning-01.jpg

I stopped, looked at my success and had a moment of smiling from ear to ear. As much as I liked this look of the light kit hanging down from the fan. I didn’t have any interest in bumping my head into it.

Ceiling Fan Spinning-02

Since the shades were off, I took this as an opportunity to hand wash the light shades, dust the blades and body to shine the thing up before completing its reassembly.

Final Thoughts

I get a lot of satisfaction out of fixing things. I call this project a great success. No money out of pocket and only just over an hour of time invested. How much money did I save? A 52-Inch, 5-blade fan of similar design is about $80 but to have matching fans, I would have had to buy two fans and spend the time removing and installing the new fans. Now, I get to keep my 6 year old fans going just a bit longer and I saved quite a bit of time too. Now, I just have to dispose of the remains of the donor fan in an ecologically sound manner.

Further Reading

Ceiling Fan Capacitors

Replace a Ceiling Fan Motor

Ceiling Fan Capacitor on Amazon

16-14 AWG Vinyl Insulated Butt Splice