IPFire Install and Configure for Home on 32 Bit Hardware

ipfire grub

I started searching for an edge device solution for my home I could put on x86 hardware after my Linksys E2000 started giving me problems. Initially, I was going with pfSense and set a machine up for that purpose but I came upon 7 32bit Dell Optiplex GX620 machine so I looked for a suitable solution. I wanted to make one of these an edge device. After all, they have more horsepower than any consumer based MIPS or ARM Router / Firewalls. After some searching, testing, more searching and testing, my solution is IPFire. IPFire, in short, could be considered the Linux version of the FreeBSD based pfSense. An Open Source firewall based on Linux that is easy to use, high performant and extensible which makes it usable to a large audience.

The documentation on this project needs some help, it took me some trial and error along with muddling my way through areas I didn’t fully understand to get it set up exactly as I want. Also note, immediately before starting this IPFire project, I set up a pfSense box so my expectations were now set. This is not a comparison to pfSense; that is another project of which is in progress.

This will hopefully help bridge some of the knowledge gaps you may have should you decide to try IPFire and an example of what works for me.

Preparation

To begin the process, I downloaded the IPfire from here:

https://www.ipfire.org/download/ipfire-2.21-core126

Should you be viewing this at a much later date, as in after a new version release click here and select Download from the menu.

I chose the flash image, I could have used the ISO, if I would have removed the drive and written the image directly to that drive. I think I may end up using this method for a future project. More on that later.

To match my hardware situation, I downloaded the 32 bit version of the Flash Image

Once downloaded I verified the image checksum

sha256sum ipfire-2.21.2gb-ext4.i586-full-core126.img.xz

Which gave me the output

0f8dc980103c733c7e236967ed35a3ce5cf847448f2b4e7c848220b334fddd38 ipfire-2.21.2gb-ext4.i586-full-core126.img.xz

Next I extracted the archive.

tar -xf ipfire-2.21.2gb-ext4.i586-full-core126.img.xz

In order to write the image to the flash drive, I had to check to see what drive I used the dd command as I would have done with pfSense. The instructions for installation where a little light and perhaps I need to help out with it.

In order to flash it to the drive, I first checked to ensure that I wrote it to the correct drive, I plugged in the drive and ran in terminal.

dmesg

In the last few lines, I was able to identify the drive.

/dev/sdd

Once extracted, I installed it, using

sudo dd if=ipfire-2.21.2gb-ext4.i586-full-core126.img of=/dev/sdd bs=16k

In only a few moments, the drive was ready for me to begin the installation.

Hardware Setup

ipfire hardware testingUsing 32bit Dell Optiplex GX620, I added an additional Ethernet Card. All I had on hand was a 100 Mbps device. The built in Ethernet Interface is a 1 Gbps so I decided to make that my internal side and the 100 Mbps NIC the external facing side as my max speed is around 60 Mbps.

My modem did make it known that it was not connected to a Gigabit device but until my speeds increase beyond 100 Mbps, I have no intention on changing it out.

The other work this computer needed was a new clock battery a CR2032 lithium button cell. I learned that the Dell Optiplex GX620 will not even boot with a dead clock battery

I had to make a few changes in the BIOS. One is to boot on AC restore so that should I lose power, it would boot as soon as power is restored.

Installation

The installation is fairly straight forward, so long as you have a basic understanding of what you want from your Local Area Network. Once your hardware is set, basically any computer with two NICs. The installation can commence.

Just a note, there is a mixture of camera photos of actual installation and VM installation. I should probably invest in a capture card at some point.

ipfire-01-1-boot screen

The first step is to install the Firewall Solution. You start with your language selection than to start installation.

You have one option on each of the next two screens, to agree to the license agreement and to delete all the data. Pictured below is the “VBOX” hard disk but I had a similar situation with the actual hardware.

In this process, you really only have one decision to make, to choose your file system. I chose ext4, because I know it is well tested and since it was first on the list, I wanted to start there.

After the system is installed you need to reboot to begin the configuration process.

ipfire-01-8-reboot

This is a very minimal Linux distribution… is it s a distribution? I don’t know if you call it that but it is a desktop-less interface so there is not much to install.

Basic Configuration

After the installation you have to complete the basic configuration. What took me a bit to understand was some of the IPFire-isms. For my two NIC setup, there is the Red and Green networks. More on that in a bit.

To start off, set your keyboard and Timezone.

Then your machine Hostname and Domain name.

You will have to set your root and admin passwords. From my experience in using it, the root user is for anything you do in the terminal and the admin is for the web interface. I am not able to ssh using the admin, nor am I able to log into the web interface with root.

The Network configuration menu portion of the install was a bit confusing for me at first. Here is where you must understand what the Red and Green networks do. If I had more than 2 NICs I would have played with the other settings.

The next section is the Drivers and card assignments. It is here that you will decide what NIC is Green and Red.

First I set the Green Network hardware. In my case, I wanted to use the Gigabit NIC on my internal network with my slower 100 Megabit NIC facing the modem to the Internet. This card is not going to be my bottle neck, my provider is still the bottle neck.

ipfire-14-card assignments

The Address settings will define the properties of your NICs.

I started with the Green interface, my internal network. I set the IP address and Network mask here.

The final bit to the Address settings is the Red interface, facing the Internet. My provider requires I set up my device to receive a DHCP address.

The last step is the DNS and Gateway settings. The only setting I filled in was the Primary DNS. Which, to my understanding, needs to be set for local hostname resolution. My primary DNS server is also the address of the IPFire device.

The last step is to Configure the DHCP server. In my case, I set the DHCP range from 192.168.10.100 to 192.168.10.200. My domain name, which was given earlier, was set already filled in.

That is it. Once rebooted, I could now further refine the configuration through the web interface.

First Run and Testing

The Web interface is quite straight forward. It will take some time of clicking around to become acquainted with all the options and once you think you have figured it out, you will find that you forgot where you just found the options you wanted. Not due to any lack of organization but rather due to the great number of options.

ipfire-25-system home

There are many, many, many features to highlight with IPFire. I will just show the bits that I find interesting. Even though I have 17 devices connected in my network with quite a few intrusion detection rules. The 16 year old 32 bit CPU doesn’t seem to be under any kind of stress.

ipfire-26-cpu graph

It is also worth noting that

ipfire-27-memory graphipfire-28-network utilization

Local Name Resolution

My most important feature of a Firewall, Router, etc system is that I have local name resolution. I spend a lot of time in the terminal and I also use Secure Shell for file transferring so it is important that I can address my computers by hostname and not have to figure out what the IP address is. Here is how you do it.

Under DHCP Configuration, ensure that the Primary DNS is set to the the the IPFire device… which is also your DHCP Server as well. It must also be noted that it did take a little while for IPFire to build the IP Tables for me to address the computers by hostname.

ipfire-29-dhcp configuration

DHCP Forwarding from the Access Point

I had no intention of discarding the Linksys E2000 that had been faithfully running my home network. I have chosen to keep it on the wireless as an Access Point.

This was done by setting the Access Point IP, Netmask and the DCHP Type is DHCP Forwarder to the address of the IPFire machine.

linksys e2000 network setup

That was literally all I had to do and my network was functioning the same as before but more efficiently. Interestingly, if I plug into the AP Ethernet Ports, it acts as a switch or wired access point. Very handy.

Intrusion Detection System

The features that I wasn’t looking for that made me pretty excited was this system of rules you can activate to harden your firewall.

For more inormation about it, you can navigate here and read away.

ipfire-30-intrusion detection system 1

There are some options as to which rule sets you choose. You can go with community rules or registered rules. I chose the EmergingThreats.net Community Rules. I don’t know yet if they are working as expected but I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.

ipfire-30-intrusion detection system 2

Future Project

Though I don’t have any performance issues with this aged 32 bit hardware, my only issue is the age of the SATA drive sitting in its bowels. It has passed the SMART test but I want to replace it with an SSD before it fails. It will also be interesting to see if I can properly backup all my settings and restore the configurations to the new drive when I make the upgrade.

For now, I am satisfied with my network as it is but I am also considering getting another NIC upon which to put all of my IoT devices. I generally distrust IoT and segregation is good for these useful yet potentially troublesome machines.

Final Thoughts

Looking back, I started to have problems with my Linksys E2000 in early fall of 2018. I wasn’t sure of the trigger but the router eventually required an intervention shortly before Thanksgiving. Things seemed fine for a while until I added my Kitchen Command Center in December. I would periodically have buffering and network slow downs. I was especially noticeable when I had guests. Running CAT5 to several machines did help somewhat but it pretty obvious the router was operating at levels slightly beyond it’s capability. The router’s average load was high, and that poor little device was doing just a bit too much. Firewall, router, DHCP Server, DNS Server and wireless access point was just a bit too much for that MIPS16 powered device. I didn’t eliminate this router, I reduced its responsibilities to just being an Access Point and now my home network functions fantastically well.

This was a very satisfying project worth every penny I spent on it… which was about 1 gallon of diesel to pick up the hardware. I am not a network guy but I can muddle my way through. If I have made any obviously egregious errors, feel free to let me know by commenting or sending me an email so that I can learn a little and not steer anyone else wrong.

Further Reading

IPFire.org Home

EmergingThreats.net General Intent

pfSense Project

Flashing Linksys E2000 Router with DD-WRT

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Umix OS | Review from an openSUSE User

umix review title
I tried the Unity Desktop several years ago in its early days, it didn’t do anything for me as I didn’t care for the layout. When Ubuntu announced they were going to cancel the Unity project I thought it unfortunate mostly because it meant an end to their mobile phone efforts. Regardless of what your opinion is on the Unity project, it is an easily recognized desktop at just a glance. Unity is a desktop environment that is still liked by many and due to that appreciation for this desktop flavor, an Ubuntu spin based on the Unity desktop is now available. It can be downloaded from here. The mini ISO is available for free and the larger ISO is available for $11.

This is my review of Umix, the Unity Remix spin of Ubuntu. This is an objectively biased review of this Linux distribution as a very happy user of openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. I have grown to prefer a specific work flow. I don’t necessarily think my work flow is the best but it is the best for me. I also think it is a healthy practice to travel and experience other desktop cultures.

Installation

I am immediately glad to see that there is a option to “Install Umix” from initial boot. This is most certainly a welcomed feature. I do think that the wording needs some updates on this screen, “…directly from this CD” should probably be changed to “…directly from this media” or something similar.

umixos-01-welcome dialog

An immediate bit of subtle eye candy that I really enjoyed were the shadows under buttons when you hover over them. It was a smooth and fantastic looking effect that deserves a mention.

Umix uses Ubuntu’s Ubiquity installer so it is a quick and painless setup for a simple installation. You start out with the Keyboard layout and if you are connected to the internet, an option to download and install updates and third-party software for additional drivers and media formats.

 

When selecting to install the third-party software, I became acquainted with another bit of eye-candy, animated, rotating Check boxes. It was another small, subtle and super pleasant effect that just screams, “finely polished.”

umixos-04-disk partition

For installation type, you can keep this simple and say to “Erase disk and install Umix”, which is what I did when installing it on a VM. As a word of caution, the default partition scheme for Umix is to have a single Ext4 partition for root, home and a swapfile. I think that this particular drive layout is unwise and especially problematic especially if you decide to switch or try out other Linux distributions. Should you bork your system and be forced to reinstall Umix, you could be in a world of hurt unless you backed up your data or know how to remove the drive and hook it up to a working system. I do not recommend this method at all.

For the actual hardware that I installed it, I chose “Something Else” where I used more sensible defaults. I separated root, home and swap partitions on a designated distro-hopping machine. It started out running openSUSE Leap 15.0 wtih KDE Plasma as my baseline for comparison. Since I am distro-hopping with this machine. I want a separate home partition so that I can keep the data I accumulate in my testing.

The tool for using existing partitions was a little rough. There wasn’t a click through option to just use the partition. The partitioner knew my home folder was an XFS partition, but I had to explicitly tell it that it was and specify the mount point (which I am fine with). It really should have already had that file type selected. This is just a papercut issue. I was just a bit slow in figuring out what the interface wanted from me.

You are given a final warning before writing the changes to disk. Although I do believe it is a good thing to have this warning, it really should have a, “hey, don’t use one partition unless you don’t love the data in your home folder” warning…

umixos-05-disk partition confirmation

Next you will have to identify where you are in this spinning dirt clod out in space.

 

The final step before package installation is the user information. Another straight forward test and come to think of it, I like it that they have you specify the computer name here as such. As I noodle it around in my head a bit, it is probably more intuitive for a New-to-Linux-User to put the name here rather than in the “hostname” section of the network configuration section… just a thought.

As Umix installs, you are given a series of quotes by presumably famous people. Some of them were interesting, others not so much. It was a nice change from the almost obligatory commercials most distributions spew out.

 

Upon completion, reboot and begin your Unity Remix journey.

Umix Experience

The first thing I wanted to play with was the menu. I don’t like being negative about things, critical yes, but negative, not so much. With that laid out, I have to say, the menu in here was by far the worst menu I have every used in a long time.

 

It is strange that it can’t find anything on my desktop under the menu until I clicked on one of the monochromatic buttons at the bottom of the menu. I don’t really understand the logic behind that, maybe just recent or favorites, regardless, I don’t care for it. There is a second, more traditional menu toward the right of the top panel which seems redundant but it is by far a better menu.

When I hopped into the terminal, I could not SSH into my other machines. Local DNS resolution didn’t work. I checked /etc/resolve.conf and it was pointing to 127.0.0.53 which was odd. This made using ssh in the terminal with host names not possible which I found very irritating.

The way Unity handles multiple monitors is pretty decent. It is almost as nice as how KDE Plasma handles it. The interface for configuring the screen placement is pretty close to what you see on KDE Plasma and very intuitive. By default, the side panel menu was repeated on both screens. It is easy enough to remove.

umixos-17-multi monitor

The Fn+”Monitor Switch” hotkey is not nearly as nice as what you get on KDE Plasma.

kde plasma monitor switching
KDE Plasma Monitor Switcher

Unity toggles between Laptop Screen only, external screen only or both displays. KDE Plasma has a great dialog box that pops up that lets you choose what configuration you want with the mouse or arrow over on the keyboard.

The file manager in Unity is frustratingly limited. It is incapable of basic file manager functions like, typing in a file path or remote location address. You are forced to have to click through to “Other Locations” and then select whatever machine it can see on the network.

umixos-20-file manager

The Unity Tweak tool is a fine application. Specifically the window hot corners configuration. This is much like what KDE Plasma has but with fewer options (comparison pictured below).

 

Pictured above is another irritating feature of the global menu. Rather than having the menu in the window you are working, it is at the top of the screen. This is okay in full screen mode but having multiple non-fullscreen windows can make navigation clumsy.

The update tool, like so many Linux distributions required authentication to proceed. The update process was rock solid and although I don’t like requiring authentication for updates, better to over authenticate than under authenticate.

 

I didn’t have time to play with all the default applications but the only change I would have made would be to not have Chrome by default. Firefox would have been preferred. Mostly because Chrome is way too bloated and not as capable. Chromium would also have been preferred.

What I Like

The theme and overall look of Umix is fantastic. The little bits of eye candy in Unity is great, specifically the smooth shadowing effect under buttons and the spinning check mark upon select. I also like the usage of the wobbly windows. I had largely forgotten about visual effect. Overall the interaction with Unity has a very modern feeling and looks very pleasant.

The option to install Umix is also a welcome option. Trying than installing is very… trying. The installer is typical Ubuntu Ubiquity installer you find on most Ubuntu based distributions. I think it is still quite satisfactory and has held up well over the years.

Monitor handling is quite satisfactory. Not as good as KDE Plasma but on par. There are some refinements needed to get it to Plasma level of usability but overall, this is pretty great.

What I Don’t Like

Sigh… I don’t like being negative but there are lots of irritating features of Unity. For starters, the default resolv.conf has made accessing other computers on my home network through terminal an exercise in frustration.

The default file manager in Unity is just not acceptable. I would describe it as frustratingly limited. Adding one feature would move it from unacceptable to acceptable, the ability to type in a file path. Just that one feature would make it good enough. This file manager is is absolutely no comparison to Dolphin or Konqueror on KDE Plasma. It is a big stinker.

The firewall is turned off by default which I think is unwise unless you never plan on leaving the confines of your home network. The bundled firewall application is Gufw which is a very user friendly configuration experience.

The top panel, I think called the global menu is unnecessary use of screen real estate and having it repeat per screen is incredibly undesirable, especially with multiple monitors. I was unsuccessful in finding a way to turn it off, at least for the additional monitor but I was unsuccessful. Admittedly, I didn’t look very hard but it wasn’t obvious to me through the tweak options I scanned through.

Final Thoughts

I feel like I have been far too negative with Unity, I really didn’t want to be annoyed by it. It looks good and has some nice features to it but the lack of flexibility just makes it unusable for me. Since Unity is a “full featured” desktop environment, I am going to be more critical of its features as compared to MX Linux or BunsenLabs Linux.

Would I get along happily with Ubuntu + Unity? No, I really wouldn’t. There are so many other and better options out there for a better desktop experience than what Unity provides. I don’t think it is a bad desktop but it is just not good for me. I would still encourage anyone to try it out and see if it works for them but it just doesn’t work for me. When I compare it to openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma it just has more features for a lower memory foot print than Ubuntu + Unity. Both at a vanilla install, post updates, KDE Plasma 380 MiB of RAM, Ubuntu + Unity uses 712 MiB.

I think that it is great that there is an effort to preserve Unity, for all those that enjoy using it, I hope they continue to enjoy it and that Unity continues to get developer love. It’s a fine desktop environment for many and I hope they continue to have the option to use it for years to come.

Further Reading

https://teejeetech.in/2018/12/10/introducing-umixos-unity-remix/

 

My Platform for the 2018-2019 openSUSE Board Election

CubicleNate-openSUSE Board Campaign-2019.png

Introduction and Biography

I started my Linux in 2003 back when you could go into the local software store and buy a boxed set of SUSE, Redhat or Mandrake. So, I started on Mandrake, later Mandriva. About 2005, I gave openSUSE my first spin due to better hardware support with dial up modems and sharing the blazing 56 kbaud speed with the other computers on the network. I shifted to openSUSE full time in 2011 after some distro hopping because the structure and layout just made sense as compared to the other available offerings.

I started contributing to openSUSE in 2013 when I had a need to document the process to set up using the smart card system for openSUSE Linux. I compiled the works from several sources to make a repeatable process to properly set up the smart card. Not long after, I had to start understanding how install Oracle Java, updated those instructions on the wiki and it kind of snowballed from there. I discovered at that point I started to really enjoy documenting processes of getting things working and rather than just keep my instructions for myself only, I used the fantastic openSUSE wiki to share my knowledge.

My day job is working for Whirlpool Corporation in the Advanced Design and Innovation department. I primarily work with CAD. I have worked on proof of concepts in utilizing Virtual Reality systems for design validation and am moderately experienced in utilizing 3D Printers.

As far as hobbies go, beyond playing with anything Linux, I enjoy retro tech; especially the Commodore 64, well, pretty much anything Commodore but the 64 was my first computer. I also enjoy baking and thanks to openSUSE and its many tools, it has made my kitchen life much more efficient.

Why I am running for the openSUSE Board

In my incredibly biased opinion, I think openSUSE is the best distribution of Linux but not just for Leap and Tumbleweed, for everything else that goes along with it: the Open Build Service, openQA, Kiwi and YaST. There is an incredible story to be told about what makes openSUSE great. Whether I am on the board or not, I make it a point to tell this story and share it with whomever is interested. I would like to continue the tell and further refine that story.

The impact I would like to make as a member of the openSUSE Board

As an official member of the board, it will be my mission to be an ambassador of the project to as many communities of which I am able and share what makes openSUSE great. For reasons that don’t make sense, openSUSE is often not in the broader conversation and it needs to be there. All the fantastic innovations and refinements to Linux and the related open source software need to be told.

My second mission is to do my best to network within the community to the best of my ability to continue to improve and refine the openSUSE documentation through wiki to make openSUSE even more accessible for anyone interested. It is my ambition to assist in understanding how to work with openSUSE as clear as possible. I want to make the learning process of the openSUSE project as enjoyable as possible. openSUSE should have the best, clearest, easiest to understand and approachable wiki out there.

My third mission is a selfish one. It is to make openSUSE the go-to distribution for all things in the engineering and manufacturing industry. Linux has been creeping into the industry more and more and it only makes sense that openSUSE should be the distribution of choice for the home hobbiest, small and large businesses alike. Not only is Leap and Tumbleweed technically very sound distributions but the additional components, OBS, openQA and the Wiki make it the ideal ecosystem to deploy a targeted spin of the distribution or series of meta packages to bolt onto Leap or Tumbleweed to serve the industry.

Why should openSUSE members vote for me

I will be open and accessible to openSUSE members and the community. I will remain positive and highlight all the good in the project and the people within it. I will make a concerted effort to improve training and empowering users to learn, grow and own their hardware through openSUSE and it’s tools. As a board member, I will do my best to network with the right individuals to bring about further improvements to the project. I will make it a point to uplift and edify the many contributors and make sure they know how grateful I am, along with the community for their time and talents. I want to ensure that openSUSE is the open, welcoming and grateful community of which to be a part.

Whether I am elected to the board or not, this entire process is a win for me. I am thrusting myself in front of the openSUSE community and in this process, I hope to get to know as many of the wonderful contributors as possible. My hope is that I become more known so that I may better contribute to documentation and make working with openSUSE even more enjoyable and individually empowering for all.

One thing people would find interesting about me that is not well known

I have not made it a secret that I am a fan of old tech and especially Commodore. As a teenager, I made a game for the Amiga in the 1990s called Gator Mania. It is a 2D platform side scrolling game. I spent well over a year programming in AMOS Professional where I had to create my own method of displaying the screen tiles with the limited graphics memory, file format for the game levels, level builder, did the pixel art (with the help of and artist friend) and animation and for the time, created the best (in my opinion) character physics I had experienced at the time. I wanted to do more with the game but the Amiga fizzled out on me and I sort of moved away from the platform.

Contact information

email

me@CubicleNate

futureboy@opensuse.org

IRC

CubicleNate on Freenode or irc.geekshed.net

Telegram

https://t.me/CubicleNate

Webpage

CubicleNate.com

Twitter

CubicleNate on Twitter

Further Reading

https://en.opensuse.org/openSUSE:Board_election

Sony Vaio VPCEB23FM E-Series Laptop with openSUSE Leap

openSUSE on Sony Vaio PCEB23FM-sm.png

I seem to be one of those individuals that is gifted old hardware from time to time. Most people… normal people… just don’t need or even want an old piece of hardware and generally just toss it. As payment for setting up a laptop with openSUSE for a friend I was given this old bit of hardware that I really don’t need but you just never know when a something might arise to make use for an old piece of kit. Since I didn’t want it just sitting around with a broken installation of Windows 7, I decided to put openSUSE Leap 15.0 on it.

I already had the ISO downloaded and written to a USB Flash drive but in case you want it you can get it here.

Preparing for Installation

Initially this machine was a bit of a tough nut to crack. I was unable to get into the BIOS, it seemed that none of the directions I found would work. On a whim, I decided that I would attach an external keyboard to see if by chance there was a keyboard problem with the laptop; and so it was.

To access the BIOS, upon booting the system, press F2 repeatedly during the “Vaio” Logo splash until you enter into the the important bits of the system. Since this machine is too old for secure boot and only has the legacy boot, I only had to change the boot order to seek the USB Drive first.

Specs that Matter

Not that it really matters but for the edification of those interested:

  • Intel Core i3 350M @ 2.27 Ghz (1st Gen)
  • 4 GB RAM, 3.5 GB Available after shared video usage
  • Graphics Card Intel Core Processor Graphics
  • 15.6″ 1366 x 768 Glossy Screen
  • 3 – USB 2.0 ports
  • 1 – eSATA / USB 2.0 port
  • HDMI
  • SVGA
  • SD Card Reader
  • Memory Stick Pro Reader
  • and some other things…

Mostly a decent system.

Installation

The installation of openSUSE was rather trivial. I booted up the machine with the installation image, began the process and mostly just clicked through. The only customization I did on the install was to set the partitions the way I wanted:

  • Root: 25 GiB
  • Swap: 4 GiB
  • Home: 264 GiB

I selected KDE Plasma as being my desktop of choice, because, is there really another option?

For more on the installation process, you can go here.

Once the machine was up and running, I installed the multimedia codecs, the terminal way, Falkon Web Browser and I was off to the races. The reality is, for a rather old laptop, it is not too terrible at all. It ran Plasma Desktop rather nicely with only a few moments of lagging here and there due to disk access.

It is probably not far from needing a replacement drive but I will wait until it burns out. This machine isn’t slated for any sort of “production work” in my  house. It’s seemingly a fine machine but just doesn’t excite me at all.

I used this machine to help set up my new Edge Device in a kind of test environment for a couple days to test functions with another machine so it very much came in handy to have.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how this machine stacked up against my old, trusty, faithful Dell Latitude D630. From cpubenchmark.net, I compared the two CPUs. I am perfectly aware that the CPU is not the only factor in a system’s performance but I was curious.

core2 duo vs core i3-350m

Interestingly, the Dell Latitude D630 feels more performant than the the Sony Vaio, perhaps due to Dell having more memory or running Tumbleweed, regardless, it was just an observation of which I have to actual empirical data to back it.

So, then I thought, since I have no intention of using this machine as a regular, in production, type machine, I have decided to make this laptop my distro hopping machine. I now have a performance baseline, what I should expect, based on running openSUSE Leap 15.0 with KDE Plasma. It runs much nicer than the Windows 7 it had previously and better than many brand new machines with Windows 10 I have used. I know how a rock solid, sensible, Linux distro feels and now I would like to compare it to other distributions and maybe I can learn something from it.

Final Thoughts

It’s always fun acquiring new hardware, even old busted up hardware is great too. There is something indescribably fun with installing Linux, specifically openSUSE Linux on old or discarded hardware, not to mention new hardware but that doesn’t happen as often.

I am not expecting the hard drive in this machine to hold out very long since it is about nine years old and I plan to do a lot of reading and writing on it. The screen looks okay, the keyboard mostly works and it is just an okay machine.

I am grateful to have received this machine as I now have a purpose for it, my distro hopping machine, I have a good base to which I can make more biased reviews of other Linux distros. I know how this “feels” so now I can compare how other distros “feel”. In my clearly biased view, nothing will be as good as openSUSE, but it’s fun to play.

Further Reading and links and things

https://software.opensuse.org/distributions/leap

https://www.cpubenchmark.net/

Dell Latitude D630

Multimedia Codecs and VLC Player

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

CubicleNate Biased Reviews

LinuxMint 19.1 | Review from an openSUSE User

LinuxMint review title.pngLinux Mint is a very popular distribution and has seemingly been so since the start. My first look at Mint was in 2010 about the time I went through my second season of distro hopping. At the time, ultimately, openSUSE won out but it was close. I am taking another look at Mint, not due to any dissatisfaction of openSUSE but because 19.1 came out and the good folks in the BigDaddyLinux community decided to try it out.

This review is not going to be a comparison to previous Linux Mint versions. I have mostly stayed on top of it. I have even contributed a bit to the project in my time and talents for setting up the smart card reader. Linux Mint has been know for it’s being a well polished distribution. I would say that release 19.1 keeps in this tradition. I will be evaluating Mint strictly against what I use today, openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. This is a biased review but with a mostly open mind.

Installation

I didn’t test Mint on actual hardware, for my purposes, that wasn’t necessary, my evaluation is about the user experience, interfacing and ease of use. At this point, pretty much all Linux distributions run great on main stream or older hardware and Linux Mint is known for just running well.

When booting from the installation media, there wasn’t an option as to what to do. It just did an automatic boot. I see this good for some users but not my preference.

linuxmint-01-live media boot

The media boots quickly and you are presented with a great looking desktop and I was even given a warning that it is using software rendering. It brought a smile to my face to see how the desktop looks friendly yet, “cool” and approachable. Often approachable has to be bright in color but this is not.

linuxmint-02-live media first run

The installation is is the standard Ubuntu Ubiquity installer that I have grown to appreciate with so many other distributions. It is a well done installer that is easy for even the non-technical to navigate.

You start with your language and keyboard settings. Then if you want third party software and how you want to install Mint. In this case, I just went with to use the entire disk.

I should have explored my options further but did not and regretted after more exploration into the depths of Mint. More on that later.

After partitioning the hard drive you are asked to create the user and off it will go writing your new Linux experience to disk.

I appreciate how Mint gives you  a “commercial” that is very relatable to a typical user. I do agree that Netflix is quite useful these days and rather expected. It’s just interesting to see that in the installation process. I also can’t help but think about the days I had to do a hacky work around to get Netflix working in Linux… oh, those were the days…

After the installation is done, you are asked if you want to continue testing or reboot immediately.  Of course, I chose immediate reboot.

First Run

The welcome screen on Mint it is a most certainly a well crafted and well thought out entrance to this desktop experience. This is a well done and very welcoming, especially for someone new to Linux.

linuxmint-13-welcome

The different sections of the welcome is clean and laid out very logically and not overwhelming to go through. This is a great crash-course for a new user to get going with Linux Mint.

It gives you a point to spring board into what is truly important to a user. From here you can set up a lot of the specifics for you hardware and whatever requirements you may have.

Should you have problems, help is a click away and I also like that they have a click for contributing to Mint as well. I really hope that its users do take the time to throw them some bucks because all the thought and effort they put into it really does deserve it.

Theme

The first order of business was to see how, if available, the dark theme would look on mint. The window borders and controls can be set separately. I set mine to be Mint-Y-Dark on both.

I give it 3-thumbs up. It just looks so pleasing on the eyes. I really believe that this should be the default theme for Linux Mint

Default Applications

Linux Mint has all the basic application installed to do whatever you need to do on a computer. LibreOffice for document creation. Firefox web browser, HexChat for IRC and Thunderbird for email.

The menu they have put together for it is also really well done. I do like that have it set up nicely organized and have an “All applications” listing as well. Not that I find that as useful, but I see the utility in it if you are just looking through the list of installed applications. It also has a search function that works well too.

linuxmint-21-menu

The default Firewall is also very approachable. This is the same as MX Linux and many other distributions out there, Gufw. It looks good and is pretty easy to use with a very nice help section too get you started. Interestingly, it was disabled by default.

linuxmint-20-firewall

System Snapshots

The system backup / snapshot utility has two options, RSYNC and BTRFS. I was excited to see the BTRFS option and wanted to see how close this would be to openSUSE.

linuxmint-22-snapshots

After hitting finish, I was given a sad dialog box that said it was not supported. Here is why I wish I would have looked at the partitioning options more closely. Maybe next time.

linuxmint-23-btrfs not really an option

Upgrades on Mint are about like what you would experience on seemingly any other Debian based distribution. I did have one issue of not being able to fetch some of the packages but the system still hummed along quite fine after a reboot.

linuxmint-24-updates

My only real issue with the installer was even after authorizing the upgrades, I had to do further authorizations in the same session. It was a bit odd but better to be safe than sorry.

What I Like

The dark theme on Mint is top notch. I am partial to the dark theme with green highlights, as that is how keep my desktop with openSUSE. Green is just a great color. Kermit was wrong, it is easy being green.

Cinnamon looks real nice and is very approachable for a new-to-Linux user. The menu is nice the icon theme is nice, it is all, real… nice. There really isn’t much to complain about with the appearance and usability. It does what I would expect, it feels clean and the system settings all feel very nicely integrated. Linux Mint feels like a complete experience.

The default applications are sensible basics that I am perfectly fine with. I don’t get hung up on default applications, so long as I can get what I want. I could get my work done in Linux Mint just fine.

What I Don’t Like

I didn’t care for how Mint automatically started a live media version when booting from the downloaded media. I do prefer having the option to install directly not just force me directly into a live media session. Perhaps the audience that Mint is catering to, this is indeed a good solution. Not my preference but I see its utility.

It is common in many distributions to require authentication to do updates. What I didn’t notice with other distros was without closing the update application, I had to enter my password again to attempt updates. I guess better safe than sorry but it is a bit of a paper-cut issue from my perspective.

The default partitioning is not my preference. I would prefer separate home and root partitions. I have played around with Linux to “configure” it my way or get something else working and have messed things up beyond repair. I have also spent enough time working on systems to know that there are times that a nuke-and-pave that is required periodically. I really believe that it is unwise to have one partition.

I was real excited to see BTRFS based snapshots as a way of backing up the system but that option was given to me after the installation. I would have had to know ahead of time to set it up as such but I didn’t see that immediately in the installer as an option.

Final Thoughts

Linux Mint looks great and I see this as a good distribution for the uninitiated into the Linux world. I would gladly recommend it to anyone, especially if you can’t be there in person to help them out with it and through it. The welcome screen is a great and seems to get a newbie right to where they have to go.

I think Cinnamon is nice desktop and would be satisfactory for any casual user but it is not exactly what I like. I still prefer the flexibility of KDE Plasma. Would I be happy on Mint? I really don’t know if I would. It was all real nice but I just don’t know. I think I would have to play around with it some more to be able to answer that. I certainly prefer it to many other distributions of Linux and I would take it over the Windows or Mac experience but as a daily driver on my main machine, it wouldn’t be my first choice. I very much prefer what openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma gives me, it satisfies those varied itches I have. Mint is not a bad place to be, it just doesn’t happen to scratch all my itches.

Further Reading

LinuxMint Downlaod

BigDaddyLinux Community

http://gufw.org/

 

KDE Connect CLI | A gift to Future Self

terminal-icon

KDE Connect is an application that I use on a daily basis between my mobile and my desktop or laptop Linux systems. Most of my systems are openSUSE machines running KDE Plasma and the mobile devices are running LineageOS (Android). Up until I decided to run a non-KDE Plasma desktop.

​I was given the distinct pleasure in getting to know the KDE Connect Command Line Interface application when pairing devices to a BunsenLabs and MX Linux installation. The main reason for this was to be able to share clipboards and use my HP TouchPad as an input device for the machine.

The commands are mostly easy to use. This is a guide for me, if it works for you, fantastic. If you have no interest in this, that is perfectly fine too.

Installation

Install using your favorite graphical package manager or in the terminal.

openSUSE

sudo zypper install kdeconnect-cli

Debian Based

sudo apt-get install kdeconnect-cli

Process to Pair Device

There are two ways you can go about doing this. From the terminal on the non-Plasma system to a system with either Android KDE Plasma or the reverse. I am going to demonstrate this the fun way, which is from the terminal to the GUI systems.

Assuming that you have configured your firewall to allow KDE Connect communication, in short 1714-1764 for UDP and TCP connections, check with your distribution for firewall instructions, or here for the KDE Community instructions. Optionally, here for the openSUSE Instructions.
In the terminal run this to find KDE Connect enabled devices:

kdeconnect-cli -l

That will give you output something like this:

– TouchPADD: device_ID (reachable)
– SkyHigh: device_ID (reachable)
– Icarus: device_ID (reachable)
– Nexus5X: device_ID (reachable)
4 devices found

Now that you have identified the devices you will need to pair the device

kdeconnect-cli -d device_ID --pair

On the device you are attempting to connect to, you will see the notification that the a device is attempting to connect
kde connect pair notification

Accept it and move on to the next device you that you wish to connect.

How I am using it

I am using my TouchPADD as another input device for the non-KDE Plasma system, I am also using it to share clipboard contents between machines as well, usually URLs.

Final Thoughts

There are many more function of KDE Connect you can do in the terminal. You can play around with KDE Connect in the terminal by running.

kdeconnect-cli --help

The only other command I have used is to ping another device

kdeconnect-cli -d device_ID --ping

Since I couldn’t find any resources that plainly explained how to use the terminal commands so it was fitting to jot it down. Hopefully you find this useful.

Further Reading

https://community.kde.org/KDEConnect

https://en.opensuse.org/SDB:KDE_Connect

KDE Connect – Mobile and Desktop Convergence

MX Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

BunsenLabs Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

https://lineageos.org/

Ultimate 64 | A New Commodore 64 main board

i heart commodore-64

I am a Commodore 64 enthusiast. It is still my favorite computer system ever made. My childhood initiation into the computer world was through this machine. I dreamed of making an “Ultimate” Commodore 64 with sketches and specs with all kinds of nonsense. Today, my Commodore 64 sits beside me in my SuperCubicle with an SD2IEC drive from TheFutureWas8bit.com and an Ethernet adapter from Individual Computers. There is a back-burner project that has been on going with my C64. I hope to be able to get all that to a point that it is worth talking about.

 

Recently, I stumbled upon this very interesting bit of hardware. It is a replacement main board for the Commodore 64. It’s called the Ultimate 64. According to the site, it is a hardware implementation using FPGA of the entire C64 and it includes the Ultimate-II+ solution so a kind of all-in-one machine with the latest “enhancements” as it were.

ultimate64-motherboard-sm

Features

No more is there an RF modulated output. The original component remains but now there is an HDMI output. There is even a mode to emulate the CRT feel on a modern screen. That probably won’t be how I’d use it but most certainly the HDMI output will be used.

An upgraded yet compatible audio system is built in. It has an 8 voice SID implementation as well as 7 voices of sampled audio in 8 or 16-bit samples of up to 48 kHz sample rate. There are open slots to put in original SID chips if you so choose.

ultimate64-sid-sm

It still accepts cartridges and you can set the machine to have the RAM Expansion Unit (REU) of up to 16 MB. How they get that to work is a mystery to me since the 6510 can only address 64KB of RAM. Some sort of bank switching… I guess… according to this. How they do that sounds like some magic to me.

A bunch of C64 cartridge emulations to include the Epyx Fastloader, Retro Replay and many others.

Flexible Freezer menu that allows you to select, mount and create D64 (the native Commodore 64 disk images).

Most importantly, are the little upgrades that make me smile, 3 USB ports, Ethernet and even Wifi. I am interested in seeing what fantastic software creations will come of these little upgrades, especially those that would make use of Commodore 64 networking.

ultimate64-ports-sm

It can still make use of the original disk drives, if you so choose. Also note, there is no userport on this board. There are headers, however so that you can either create a cable to userport or eventually one will be released.

Commodore 64 Unix

Although it hasn’t been updated since 2004, there is a project on Sourceforge called LUnix, meaning, Little Unix. It is a preemptive multitasking operating system for the Commodore 64 and Commodore 128 with dynamic memory management. It supports TCP/IP networking has a terminal with basic support for shell scripts and quite a lot more. It gives me pause to think, there is much, much more than my C64 can do, especially if you were to run it on a modernized implementation like the Ultimate 64.

I did try running the latest version, v0.21 but I got a kernel panic. Due to a lack of time, this is something I will revisit at another time.

IMG_20190107_161808.jpg

Final Thoughts

I am really excited to see this rather fantastic bit of innovation for the Commodore 64. This certainly keeps the platform alive much longer and maybe even see it morphed into something that is even more capable without losing the charm of the original machine. I will be interested in seeing what new and wonderful creations will come of this enhanced breed of Commodore 64s. Today, I have two disabled machines due to hardware failures I cannot diagnose. I am thinking the Ultimate 64 might be my course of action to get one of those machines operational once again. Every house needs at least two functional Commodore 64s, right?

Further Reading

https://ultimate64.com/Ultimate-64

https://www.thefuturewas8bit.com/

https://icomp.de/

LUnix Project Site on Sourceforge.net

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_REU

Commodore 64 CubicleNate Page

PeppermintOS | Review from an openSUSE User

peppermintos review title

PeppermintOS is a bit of a different distribution that I have become aware of in recent months. Peppermint is built with the LXDE interface that is very nicely customized. It can be downloaded from here in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The latest version, Peppermint 9 Respin can be downloaded in both to see how they would perform on both old hardware and in a virtual machine.

So it is understood from the very beginning, I am a huge openSUSE fan and a member of the project. I am fantastically satisfied with the distribution, nothing is perfect, but this distribution and its culture fits me well. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other fantastic projects that work fantastically well for other users. I also primarily use KDE Plasma as my desktop. There are many other fantastic desktop environments out there but Plasma just happens to work best for me by catering to my preference. With my biases clearly stated, I will now get into my experience with PeppermintOS, as an openSUSE user.

Installation

Using the SUSE Studio Imagewriter, I burned a 32 bit image onto a USB flashdrive and installed it into a Dell Inspiron 10 with 1 GB of RAM. It was stated that Peppermint will work with older hardware, so that is exactly what I used. I also installed this on a Virtualbox Virtual Machine so that I could capture some better images.

For starters, I really appreciate that I am able to install Peppermint right from the boot menu. This is one of those features that is important to me when I install a Linux distribution. I am glad that they give the option to try it live but that particular feature is not as important to me.

peppermintos-01-installer boot menu

The next two steps are basic but necessary questions of your language and keyboard layout. It’s good to knock this out immediately.

Next you are asked to specify the installation type. In this case of this Dell Inspiron Netbook, I chose to erase the entire disk and let the the defaults reign. Next you asked if you would like additional software such as downloading and installing updates immediately and to install third-party software for graphics, wifi hardware and such. I did notice a minimal installation option, I did not try this out but from my experience, distributions often offer a ‘minimal’ set of applications. I wanted to see what I was specifically given with Peppermint.

After you confirm the updates and other software, you are given a warning about how the partition tables are going to be written. Maybe this is better than what I am used to with openSUSE but I do prefer stepping through and setting all my options before I am given the final warning. Peppermint warns you in the middle of the install. After the whipping of the drive, you are asked to identify your location. I am puzzled by the sequence of steps here a bit.

After you enter your user information and set your log in preference, the installation begins.

I have to give much credit for the Peppermint team in their theme and graphics with the installer. I do believe that this is the first distribution of Linux I have ever installed that I didn’t have to fuss around at all with the theme. The installer just looks great and the logo fits right into the color selection. Fantastic!

peppermintos-10-installation complete

Once you get the happy message that the installation is complete, the computer will restart when you give it the push.

First Run

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint looks pepper-minty fresh. It has the kind of dark theme I can work on that doesn’t cause me undue stress on my eyes. The coloring the soft lines, just looks great.

peppermintos-11-login screen

Immediately upon starting Peppermint, I had to look at some of its included tools. One particular tool that I found particularly useful was sakura. It gave me a very thorough listing of system information about the installation, the machine, state of the battery, hardware information and package repos. It can be run it on a machine to get a detailed snapshot of a system configuration. I also was glad to see neofetch was included by default with the option of turning it’s output on and off from the Peppermint Settings Panel upon opening the terminal. This tool not only gives you another detailed snapshot of the system but gives you some fantastic ascii art of the distribution logo.

Ice Web App Integrator

A fine feature included with Peppermint that may also be somewhat of a hindrance to its adoption is a tool called Ice. If you are unaware of this, it is a web application integration kit that allows you to easily integrate web applications into the menu as though they were native applications. I have been doing this with Chrome but as of late, with the Chrome bloat, just haven’t been using those menus I have previously created. This is a fantastic way to use some of those “web apps” like native apps without being tied to Chrome.

I was so enamored with this, I had to try it out. I decided I would see if I could create a “Netflix App”. As I could see this very handy in possibly using this as a media set-top box distribution. After all, the theme is already fantastic looking. It has that “theater ready” look about it.

What is nice about Ice is that you can specify, right from the dialog, where you want the application to live on the menu tree. In my case, Netflix is a multimedia app… maybe it should be in the Internet section… In any case you can put it where you want

peppermintos-17-star trek on netflix

Default Applications

I wanted to see what kind of applications are installed by default. Upon doing some clicking around, I thought it to be rather lean but that is really a non-issue as far as I am concerned. I actually would prefer that for several use cases.

What I found particularly interesting was the choice for office applications. This is a first, as far as I have ever seen, Microsoft Office 365 is your default office suite. I would never have thought I’d ever see Microsoft Office products by default in any Linux distribution.

peppermintos-18-office suite

It’s a different world we live in these days…

PeppermintOS-21-Microsoft Word.png

The updater tool on Peppermint is everything I want in an updater tool. Nice and verbose. Although, I do seem to prefer doing it all the the terminal these days, this gives me a find blend of the friendly approach of a GUI with the verbose readout of the terminal.

It should also be noted that doing updates does require a password. I have come to the conclusion that this is the norm for Linux distributions.

Logout

Lastly, after you have had all your fun and want to put your PeppermintOS machine to sleep, you have some options when you go to log out. It’s nice to see it laid out so incredibly clear. A well branded dialog with the Peppermint logo, typeface and reminder of what version of Peppermint you are running.

peppermintos-14-shutdown.png

All-in-all, in my short time on Peppermint, I truly enjoyed it.

What I like

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint OS has the best theme and installer graphics for those, like me, that are not happy about light themed interfaces and bright lights. The tone this distribution sets with me is that it understands my struggles and knows they are real when it comes to bright lights. It gets me.

The menu in Peppermint is laid out very well. and is snappy, even on old hardware. It looks good, works well and thankfully has a “recent applications” and and “Favorites” section.

The Peppermint Settings Panel is a great tool that has just about everything I would need as a desktop user. The System Information Tool, sakura gives me more than what I need but will happily accept. Interestingly, one of the tools is a system wide Ad Blocker that you can set. Sure, that’s not so good for cubiclenate.com but since there are so many websites out there that, in my opinion, misbehave in their advertisement exposure, this is good to reduce a lot of that unwanted traffic and distractions.

Ice could possibly be my favorite PeppermintOS feature that I wish I had on openSUSE. Everything else is basically there but I haven’t come across a “Web Apps” integration outside of using Chrome. I wanted to not emphasis this but I really can’t help it.

Lastly, I was able to install from the boot menu. That is a huge win for me. I do appreciate this as an option.

There are a lot of great features of PeppermintOS, like many distributions, this is put together very well and I can see many use cases for it. In an effort to not turn this into a novel, I will leave it here as my top likes.

What I don’t like

I prefer to to have the final commit button at the end of the installation, just as openSUSE does it. From my estimation, once you commit to the writing of the disk partitions, you have already committed and there is no turning back. I could go through the entire process on openSUSE and still back out at the very end after I am given a rollup of all the changes and such. Truly, this is not a criticism of the Peppermint team in choice of installations steps, this is purely a preference. In the end, this really doesn’t matter much.

I am not sure how to think about having Microsoft Office 365 as the default office suite but this can be easily changed. I shouldn’t put this under “What I don’t like” as it is something I just don’t know what to think about.

Final Thoughts

Peppermint OS is certainly with giving a try. I need to take some more time on it and I am putting this distribution of Linux as one of my top, smile-producing Linux distributions. It is certainly worth the time to try out, especially on older hardware. Was fascinated by the inclusion of Office 365 as the office suite. This could almost be the antithesis of a Chromebook, which is nice to see.

For more on what other Linux enthusiasts think of PeppermintOS, check out this meeting of the minds from the BigDaddyLinux community.

I thank the team that has created Peppermint for the effort they have put into this, there has been a lot of time taken on the look and feel of Peppermint and it shows.

Further Reading

https://peppermintos.com/

https://software.opensuse.org/package/imagewriter

neofetch | Command-Line System Information Tool

VirtualBox.org

BigDaddyLinux Community Chatter

BigDaddyLinux.com