pfSense Box Setup for Home or Small Office

A piece of hardware that is often overlooked in many homes and businesses is the the “edge device” or often just called a router. Many Internet providers will supply their own edge device. This is the first line of defense from those that would do you harm from the Internet to your home or business. I look at it as your first line of security to protect yet give you access to the machines or devices on your network.

I have two reasons for setting up a pfSense box. Since I have heard great things about it, I wanted to try it for myself on my own network to give me confidence to set it up for use in a small office setting. Nothing too large, just a moderate size.

Hardware

I had to start with an adequate piece of hardware to run pfSense. Since it requires a 64 bit system, I am using one of my newly inherited Dell Optiplex 745 machines. As far as specifications go, it is at the bottom end of the recommended specifications to run pfSense but the plan for this isn’t anything real intense.

Specs That Matter

  • CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 6300 @ 1.86Ghz
  • 2.0 GB of DDR2 SDRAM
  • 160 GiB HDD

 

Since this machine only comes equipped with a single Ethernet port, I had to purchase a half-height Gigabit Ethernet adapter to put in the one available PCI slot in this machine. The slot will only accept a PCI or PCI-X card which was actually more difficult to find than I originally anticipated. Full height, easy, half height, not so much.

ethernet card 1 gb

This particular unit came with two plate options. Changing out the plate consisted of removing two screw, separating the plate from the card and replacing it with the other plate. There wasn’t a bit of complexity to it.

 

The machine has one PCI slot in it but there was a card with a COM port and PS/2 port on a card attached via ribbon cable to the main board that had to be removed first. I inserted the card, started it up and jumped in the BIOS to make sure it was recognized.

ethernet registered in pci slot

Since it was recognized, I was ready to move on to the software portion of this little tech adventure.

There really wasn’t much to do in configuring the hardware. The only major change I made to the configuration, outside of adding the second Ethernet card was to ensure that the machine would boot upon being powered. This is assuming that should the machine loses power due to power failure, it will boot upon power being restored.

Downloading the Software

From the pfSense download page I chose the AMD64 memstick version to put on a Dell Optiplex 745. It should be noted that the memstick version cannot be written using SUSE Studio Imagewriter. For more information on writing images:

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/hardware/writing-disk-images.html

Conduct Checksum on the Downloaded Image

Since the the time of installation, the version I downloaded to install was: pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz. The key point here is it is the amd64 version to correspond with my hardware.

Next I downloaded the corresponding sha256 file from here so that I could do the appropriate checksum action and ensure that it is a good download. I have noticed on most sites, it seems as though that is just an expected understanding without much explanation, outside of the openSUSE download page, that is.

I Put the downloads in the same folder and ran this:

sha246sum -c  pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz.sha256

The response was:

pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz: OK

Which means that it was good to go. I haven’t seen anything other than OK so I couldn’t tell you what it’s like to not have an OK. Then either your image or the sha256 is not right and need to be downloaded again.

Writing to USB Drive

The instructions recommended erasing the disk partition table before writing. I haven’t done this step before writing to a flash drive but who am I to argue with the developers?

sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdX bs=1M count=1

In my case, the drive is sdd, be very, VERY careful to not wipe out any of your other drives so pay close attention to what you are doing. To find out what the device name is of your USB drive, insert the drive into a USB port and run in terminal

dmesg

Look for the latest entry corresponding to the USB device you just plugged in. It should read /dev/sdb or something of that nature. If you are unsure, ask somebody. There are plenty of helpful folks out there. Feel free to contact me directly and I’ll do my best to help you out.

The next thing to do is to install the image onto the USB drive.

sudo gzip -dc ./pfSense-CE-memstick-2.4.4-RELEASE-p1-amd64.img.gz | sudo dd of=/dev/sdX bs=1M

Replace /dev/sdX with the appropriate drive identification. Also note the version of pfSense is a moving target, so an exact copy from above is probably not going to be valid for long.

Installation

The installation is very straight forward on pfSense. Just like any Linux distribution, once you have it on the USB media, and the machine boots from the drive, follow the directions. In this case, I am getting a warning about my system battery voltage which I will address later. Once it boots into a nice ASCII art menu, select 1 to Boot Multi User, which is default.

On a kind of funny note, the legal notice, pfSense is a federally registered trademark of Electric Sheep Fencing LLC.” I’d like the background story on that LLC name. After you accept you are given 3 options. Install being the key option here.

Next you will set the keymap and you will be asked how you would like to partition your disk. I chose to use the Guided Disk Setup because it’s my first time and this is a reasonable course of action.

Since I have no reason to use the disk for anything but pfSense, it was reasonable to select to use the entire disk. Graciously, you are warned that this will erase the disk and wants a confirmation to proceed.

Next you are asked for the partition scheme of which I chose MBR as this is “Bootable on most x86 systems. You are then given another opportunity to review the disk setup and make any modificaitons. Since I have no experience with pfSense and altering any preferences. I left the defaults be.

Once you select Finish you are given one final warning to Commit with a clear warning of your actions.

The installation will proceed, first, “fetching” the distribution files than extracting them.

After the installation is complete you are asked if you want to make any further changes, the selection defaulted to No so I just proceeded from there and rebooted.

I was again reminded about my low voltage system battery before the boot screen to which the default works perfectly.

The boot process is much like what I am used to seeing in Linux so it was interesting to watch and see the slightly different syntax.

On the initial boot, you are given a series of questions to define the interfaces. One which faces the scary internet (WAN), and the other that faces the internal network (LAN). The first question is to set up VLANs, I have no need for such a thing so I entered, N.

Next I selected the interface I wanted to be the WAN. Since I know the hardware I installed, I selected the appropriate NIC. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter on this setup. If I had more than one NIC for the LAN, that would change things.

Next, I set up the LAN and confirmed the configuration.

When that is complete, it will write the configuration to disk.

When the configuration was completed, I decided I wanted to change the LAN side IP address. This can be done by selecting 2. You are then asked which interface you want to configure, in my case, the LAN is option 2.

I set the IP address then the subnet mask per my network preference.

I didn’t set an IPv6 address because… why? Then the DHCP Range. In my case 192.168.10.51 to 192.168.10.200. 150 DHCP addresses is more than enough for my purposes… for now.

pfSense will ask if you want to reroute the webConfigurator protocol, which YES to that seems like the most reasonable answer. Then you will be dumped back into the main menu.

I reset the Admin password for the webConfigurator, mostly because I didn’t remember setting it to begin with and wanted to get into it.

pfSense-37-Reset webConfigurator Password

My first order of business when logging in to the web configuration utility was to change the theme to a dark theme. I just don’t care for how light the default theme is. Of course, this is just my personal preference.

pfSense-41-Dark Theme

That’s it, you now have a functional pfSense box, but there was one more bit if business in order to be satisfied with the system. Local DNS name resolution.

Configuring DNS

A feature that is absolutely required for me is the ability to have local hostname resolution within my network. All my machines are named something I can remember so I can easily access them ussing SSH for remote access or file transfer. It is not quite as straight forward to do in pfSense as it is with DD-WRT but here are the resources I used to figure it out:

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/dns/dns-forwarder.html

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/dns/unbound-dns-resolver.html

There was some fiddling to get it to go but here are the take aways:

pfSense-40-Disable DNS Forwarder

On the General Setup page, you have to Uncheck Disable DNS Forwarder. Save your changes. Then navigate to Services > DNS Forwarder.

pfSense-39-DNS Forwarder

There you need to Enable DNS forwarder and Register DHCP leases in DNS Forwarder. Be sure to save the changes. If not you will have to repeat your steps.

I was able to test that the local DNS name resolution worked as I would expect and was thrilled that something I touched actually worked and without banging my head against the wall.

pfSense-38-Testing Network

Adding a Wireless Access Point

A working edge device is great but who wires anything up these days? I had to put in a wireless access point. I took the previous edge device my Linksys E2000 and set the device to DHCP Forward to the IP address of the pfSense box. I plugged the ethernet port from the switch into one of the LAN (not the WAN) port of the E2000 and it worked as expected. You can turn the WAN port to be on the same VLAN within the Linksys E2000 but that is a discussion for another blathering or you can search that one out yourself.

Final Thoughts

pfSense is a really quite easy to set up and use. I will say,the hardest part of the project is writing the installation media. I have power cycled and added other users as administrators and it all works fantastically well. This truly is a fine BSD based operating system distribution.

If you have home or office networking requirements that a consumer grade edge device cannot handle, this is a low cost way of implementing one. I didn’t end up using this device for my house. After using it, I saw a greater need for this to be at my church and I ended up using IPFire for home, which is also quite good but I think in many ways, pfSense is a more polished and professional product and possibly better suited for a larger environment. I am not a network professional so take that opinion for what it’s worth.

This project has spurred on a few other future projects for the network in which it sits. More to come on that.

Further Reading

https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/hardware/writing-disk-images.html

https://files.pfsense.org/hashes/

https://www.pfsense.org/download/

Flashing Linksys E2000 Router with DD-WRT

IPFire | Open Source, Linux based, Firewall, Install and Configuration

KDE Plasma 5.15.0 on openSUSE Tumbleweed

There has been quite a lot of buzz in the news about the first stable release of Plasma in 2019, version 5.15.0, released on 12 February 2019. It came to openSUSE Tumbleweed a few days later and a few days after that, I started updating my various systems running Tumbleweed. I am not going to cover all the changes and improvements, there is plenty of that available to read. Instead, this is my experience with the upgrade process on the first three Tumbleweed machines.

My primary machine isn’t generally first to get the latest updates, because I am using it nearly all the time so I will begin the updates on other machines, incidentally, all of which are Dell. The first machine that I performed the updates is a Dell Latitude E6440. There isn’t a whole lot of software on this one as it’s primary focus is for educational related activities. There aren’t any community repositories on this machine so the update required no intervention at all. The next machine, a Dell Inspiron 20 3048, does do a lot for me but doesn’t have too many community maintained repositories. It too went without incident. Lastly, my primary machine, also a Dell Latitude E6440 but with more memory, storage and a dedicated AMD GPU.

This machine has quite a bit of software on it. I do try things out but I don’t always remove the applications or community maintained repositories. It took it as an opportunity to start trimming out some additional repositories, thankfully, zypper makes that process easy. My primary machine was trimmed down to 36 repositories. Then I performed the update.

sudo zypper dup

Zypper ran through, did its thing, asked me about a couple python packages an one package I installed that I already knew was “broken” by not having a dependency. After Zypper calculated everything out and I agreed to the update. Just as every other Tumbleweed update goes, this one proceeded without incident.

All three machines had but only one small issue. They didn’t want to leave Plasma to reboot, specifically, selecting “reboot” or “halt” and even “logout” did not actually perform those actions, Instead, I ran in terminal:

sudo systemctl reboot

There may be a better way of doing a reboot, if you are aware of such, please let me know. A few moments later, the machine started up without incident and what I may be most excited about is that, everything still, just works.

KDE Plasma Upgrade 5.15.0 KInfoCenter

I did receive one pleasant surprise, my Bluetooth keyboard, for the first time communicated that it was low on power instead of just going unresponsive. I was able to see a “10% Warning” pop up notification. I thought that was pretty slick. I have been enjoying the status and warnings with wireless Logitech devices for years but this was the first for Bluetooth. Very well done.

Final Thoughts

Nothing is ever perfect but my experience with using openSUSE Tumbleweed has been pretty fantastic for the last two years. I don’t have to worry about an update breaking my system or crossing my fingers when the operating system base iterates to a new version. Not a single piece of software has broken or had any regressions. The two applications I check for issues, Kdenlive and the Open Broadcaster Studio, continue to work just the same. I experienced zero appreciable downtime with this update which is another tribute to all those involved with openSUSE, KDE Plasma and ever other application so many graciously pour their energy into and permitting me the use of this finely engineered, fantastic distribution of Linux.

Further Reading

KDE Plasma 5.15.0 Announcement

Tumbleweed Snapshots News Announcement for 21 February 2019

Makulu Linux 15 | Review from an openSUSE User

MakuluLinux review title

The latest in the BigDaddyLinux Community challenge is Makulu Linux. This distribution is very different from anything else I have used. It does use XFCE as the desktop but it is very customized. It some ways, it reminds me of Pantheon but without the top bar and less Mac OS-like.

Makulu Linux seems to have a lot going for it. Without having to fiddle around with the system, you can install from a large array of software from the Debian repositories, Flatpak and Snaps. As I used it, it is rather apparent that their target audience is not me and that is perfectly fine as this is my rather biased review as an openSUSE user.

Installation

As is common with a lot of distributions, Makulu boots to a live media session of the operating system. It’s a good way to “dip your toes” and see if your hardware is going to work well enough with the distribution.

MakuluLinux-01-ISO boot

While the system is booting up, I did notice, as the torrent of text is flying by the screen, a change in font. I think I’ve seen such a thing before, it just happened to catch my attention this time.

You are initially prompted to select your theme which is a first and quite appreciated. It only changes the window decoration style and color but still, very welcome. More on that later.

After I selected to install the operating system, I was prompted to select the kind of installation as well as a a few other options. I didn’t explore much here but one item on the list seemed just a bit out of place: Set Your Download Server Location (recommended). Everything else selected the type of install and it may have made more sense to put that option on another page of the setup. Also note, I didn’t actually do that. It only said “recommended” so…

I selected the Home Environment. I don’t have a slow internet connection so there was no concern in that area. Unfortunately, I was stuck for quite some time on the Home Environment Notice window. There weren’t any buttons to press so I waited… a long time. I had other things to do while setting up the install and since I like to multiplex my time I did so and let the system just sit. I was told to be patient so I decided to be patient.

After a while, I just gave up and closed the screen where the installer started. I felt a little stupid but I think for users that do actually read these dialogs, it would nice to either have a Next button or some sort of instruction to close that window.

Makulu Linux defaults to British English as opposed to American English. I would agree that British English is quite possibly more proper than American English but I still went with my native English version.

In a very familiar presentation, you are asked to set your Location and Keyboard. Just as a note, this is the first Distro where I had to set it to my timezone. Not a big deal as it was easy to do–point and click.

I selected to use the entire disk and have a Swap space with Hibernate. Not that I was going to use the feature, I just wanted to select it as it is also the first time I’ve seen that as an option. Usually, I calculate that in my head so bravo development team on that.

The User input is what you would expect. Nothing difficult here. It’s very nicely straight forward for pretty much anyone.

After you are given a very nice summary of changes. The installation will commence. There wasn’t a details option that I could nerd-out watching so I watched the obligatory distribution commercial slideshow instead.

After the installation was completed, I selected to reboot but it got hung up on the process of doing so. That could be as a result of how I set up Qemu. Let’s blame that one on me. Ultimately, I had to force the Virtual Machine off and start it again.

First Run

I really enjoyed the bootsplash screen of Makulu. It has a neat spinning effect and I would have included a screenshot of it but I just didn’t like how it turned out. You’ll just have to install it yourself to earn that smile.

Upon the first login, you are given a quick introduction to MakuluLinux and you will once again select your window boarder style and color. The first time was just a practice run, it seems.

In my time of clicking around and exploring, I was presented with these Web applets. Similar to what I experience on PeppermintOS except instead of being in the menu like a typical application, this is like a quick access toolbar on the top of the screen. It was nice and all until I opened up the browser, which happened to be Opera.

I of course had to visit one of my favorite web sites, certainly not my favorite but just a bit self-serving. After messing with the Web Applet bar for a while, seeing how you can easily set up other quick links, as it were, I ultimately turned it off because of how it covered up much of the screen.

The application menu on MakuluLinux is activated with a Right-Click on the mouse and a middle-click activates the Workspace selection. A nice feature of Makulu is the ability to dynamically add another virtual desktop.

I wanted to see if Makulu was using SystemD or not and it is so that is another plus. I started installing software to see how that experience went and that was also quite a seemless experience. You are given a few options on how you want to install software, which is fine, I guess, but I think I would stick with just the Synaptic Software Manager or Gnome Software. Personal preference would be Synaptic because I think that is just a better system over all but obviously less user friendly than Gnome Software.

The only real “issue” I ran into with Makulu was the this error I would get when the screen blanked out.

MakuluLinux-22-Screensaver error

I don’t have anything Nvidia on this computer so I am not sure where this came from. Not a big deal, really, I am sure I could have tracked down the problem and at least made it not show up if I took the time.

Overall, MakuluLinux is a fine piece of engineering and I enjoyed the short time I worked with it.

What I Like

The desktop does look polished, not exactly the polish I like but does look very nice. It appears that it was well thought out and once I got used to the work flow, I could navigate my way around just fine.

The desktop appears to be snappy and the slight translucency of the boarder looks good. The desktop Conky is also a great edition to the background and the date format was also correct putting the date in the order day, month, year and using the 24 hour clock by default.

Snap and Flatpak applications install and work out of the box without having to fiddle with anything which is much appreciated. I do prefer pulling software right from the repositories but the option to use one of the universal packages is fantastic.

I liked this subdued right-side bar that is much like a system tray stacked on its head. It looked good and was very “modern” looking.

A booted and settled system with 4 GiB of RAM it used less than 600 MiB of RAM, which was great.

What I Don’t Like

There isn’t a virtual desktop pager on the bottom bar or on the side. Call me old fashioned but I prefer that over the middle-click interaction. I like seeing, just by a glance what desktop I am on and where my windows are cluttered.

There isn’t really a task manager, exactly. I could see all the applications by a middle click and on what virtual desktop they lived but this is not my preferred method.

The web Applets crowd the top of the desktop. I like the idea of web applets but this wasn’t my favorite way to execute it. Because it was distractingly at the top, I just shut them off which is unfortunate because I could see me using such a feature if it was perhaps in a pop up menu from a panel of some kind, much like I use on Plasma.

When trying to resize windows, it was challenging to grab the corners to resize the window. Maybe there is a better MakuluLinux way of dynamically changing the window sizes but it was evident to me.

When I thought I started the installation process, I didn’t get any active feedback or any kind of instruction to close the a window to get it started. I ended up sitting there for about 2 hours before “giving up” I closed the window to get the installer going. Some sort of instruction to close that window or a Next button would be good for numpties like myself.

Final Thoughts

MakuluLinux is a fine distribution of Linux that looks good, has a lot of unique features but also clearly not targeted towards me. I much prefer the work flow that is provided by KDE Plasma but I can see where the workflow here works for many. The desktop looks great, I don’t fully understand the gestures but it is something I could get used to if I took the time.

If you are jumping around Linux distributions I highly recommend you give this one a spin. The work flow and the unique features may be right for you. It looks good and feels real crisp. It’s just not the Linux distribution for me.

Further Reading

https://www.makululinux.com/wp/core/

http://bigdaddylinux.com/

PeppermintOS | Review from an openSUSE User

KDE Popup Launcher can replace Google Chrome App Launcher

Right-to-Left Script in LibreOffice using KDE Plasma on openSUSE

Text Icon

In case you have to mix right-to-left text into your documents and you aren’t sure how to make it happen, it is super easy to do with LibreOffice when running in concert with openSUSE with KDE Plasma as the desktop environment. You’ll have to check with your Desktop Environment for how to add additional keymaps and how to switch between them.

Instructions in Short Form

On KDE Plasma, open SystemSettings, select the Input Devices Module. Under the Keyboard sub-module, select the Layouts tab. In the Layouts Indicator, activate Show layout indicator and take note of Shortcut(s) for Switching Layout. In my case, it is Ctrl+Alt+K

Toggle the Configure layouts, then +Add the desired layout. From there, open the text editor of your choice, like LibreOffice and start typing away. Switch the layouts through either the indicator or the keyboard shortcut. You’ll be happily amazed by how well it works across multiple applications.

A Little Video to Demonstrate

Mostly as an excuse to play with Kdenlive and SimpleScreenRecorder, I made a video of how to do switch your layouts on the fly and write. Unfortunately, I don’t have the physical character layout on my keyboard and I was too lazy to figure it out and demonstrate a proper Arabic sentence.

Final Thoughts

One of the features I have enjoyed for many years working with the Linux and KDE [Plasma] has been the absolutely fantastic flexibility to allow me to get whatever work done that is required of me. I have had to use the switching keymaps on numerous occasions and the dynamic switching to those keymaps is absolutely a must. It’s just another way that Linux has made my life easier.

Further Reading

openSUSE Linux

KDE Plasma

LibreOffice

Tuning Snapper | BTRFS Snapshot Management on openSUSE

BTRFS on openSUSE.png

Throughout my time helping users with openSUSE, one reoccurring issue that I have heard or read from some users has been the issue of system snapshots by Snapper filling up the root file system. Users have complained that their root file system fills up which ultimately locks up their system. This is often caused by setting up the root partition with an insufficient size, less than 40 GiB. Some users may not want to allocate that much space so a common course of action is to either use BTRFS without snapshots, use XFS or ext4.

There is this misguided impression that BTRFS is not a file system to be trusted but I can, with great assurance tell you that I have yet to have an issue with the file system. If you disagree with this than your perception is based on either a non-openSUSE implementation or if you had problems on openSUSE you did not satisfy its recommendation.

BTRFS with snapshots is a good option for newer machines but your disk partition size may be less than the recommended 40GiB for root, here is what you can do to adjust Snapper. As root open the following file in your editor of choice:

/etc/snapper/configs/root

Scan down the configuration file and look for the line #limit for number cleanup section. To limit the total number of snapshots, adjust the NUMBER_LIMIT and NUMBER_LIMIT_IMPORTANT lines.

I changed mine to the following:

# limit for number cleanup
NUMBER_MIN_AGE=”1800″
NUMBER_LIMIT=”2-6″
NUMBER_LIMIT_IMPORTANT=”4-6″

After this adjustment, I have no more than 6 total file system snapshots and it reduced the space taken up by snapshots by about 10 GiB. It should be understood that your mileage may vary depending on how much you fiddle with your system and how much software you have installed.

Final Thoughts

openSUSE is such a stable distribution, even the rolling release, Tumbleweed, that snapshots are almost not necessary. I personally look at snapshots as a kind of insurance policy but the fact is, as long as I have a working internet connection and a working terminal, entering sudo zypper dup (in Tumbleweed) will likely fix any issues I may have caused. As far as Leap is concerned, I haven’t seen an update that brok a system which would require a rollback. That doesn’t mean something couldn’t slip past openQA that may affect your system, I just haven’t seen it.

Also note, I have such confidence in openSUSE Tumbleweed with BTRFS, it is what is on my home server. In over a year, not one update has broken any of the servers or messed with any configurations. It should also be noted that I run older and generally Linux friendly hardware so my chance at issues is much less.

Further Reading

SUSE.com Snapper Cleanup

Rambox | Chat Message Unification Application for openSUSE

Rambox on openSUSE

Not long ago, I started using Franz, a chat messaging unification application and I had a good experience with it. I had talked to a few e-friends about it and some advised me that I should also try Rambox. Since I had just installed Franz, I wasn’t about to try something else, not yet anyway. After some time of very happily using Franz, something had happened and it wouldn’t start. Since I was using a community repository and I could have very well chosen another community repository and kept going but it was time to try this Rambox all the kids have been talking about. So I did.

Installation

Like anything else in openSUSE, the installation is easy, just search and install. Since I did that part, you can just check here:

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

Once the installation is complete. A menu entry will appear under the “Internet” category. Click there or whatever method you see fit.

How It Runs

The application runs well and it is as intuitive as one would expect. The difference that I noticed, as compared to Franz, is that having an account with an external service is optional. Franz requires you to sign into their service in order to use their software and in doing so, synchronizes all your systems that are running Franz. This is quite handy. Rambox too as this option but it is not compulsory.

Rambox-01-Start Screen

Rambox has many built in options for services for you to configure. In fact it has more service options than Franz does, most notably, Mastodon. If there is a particular service you want and it is not available, you have the option to add a custom service. This was particularly handy as Rambox does not have a Google Calendar service.

Rambox has several customization features to it. Notably, there is application behavior for notifications, a hardware acceleration feature and start automatically on system startup.

Rambox-02-Settings.png

The customization feature I do appreciate is the service bar location. I put the bar along the left, as opposed to the top… no speculation on that location necessary.

Adding a service is incredibly straight forward. Select the service you want and fill in all the necessary bits. After you add the new service to the application, it will appear on the service bar.

Rambox-03-Add service

The order of applications can be reordered to your hearts content and services eliminated if they are no longer desired in this application. It is incredibly flexible. In this manner.

Overall, this This application works very well and I intend on using it a bit longer and do some more comparisons to determine if I will continue using it or go back to Franz.

There are cases that a service doesn’t start or restart when network access is lost and reestablished. There is an option to Reload offending service or reload all of Rambox. Under the View menu.

What I Like

When comparing it to Franz, the feature that I appreciate the most is the ability to enter a custom service. In my case, I added the Google Calendar account related to my employer.

Like Franz, this is a fantastic message unification application. that has a lower memory footprint than using a browser. Rambox uses just under 1.8 GiB for 12 services which shakes out to about 150 MiB per service. I still think this is far too much for what they are doing but not being an expert in this area, I couldn’t tell you why.

Having one application that has all my messaging applications consolidated is very handy. It has a nice notification applet that lets you know when you have a new message on any of your services and mute the notifications if necessary. It should be noted, if you mute your notifications, you won’t hear anything within each service, like an inline video.

Lastly, the option to Synchronize your configuration or not is a handy feature. You can push or pull your configuration as you see fit for each machine. I didn’t try pushing two different configurations to see how that might affect each client.

What I Don’t Like

There is a lack of Dark Theme. I would much prefer that service bar have a dark background to fit the rest of my desktop theme but that is a small potatoes item.

The user interface on the application for the settings or adding another service just do not seem to have that nice modern look as you’d see on Plasma. When loading or saving, the application brings up the GTK File Dialog of which I am not particularly fond.

The biggest sore spot for Rambox is that it does not have a spell check. This is the one area where Franz excels. It is also the only area where Rambox falls short. Outside of that, it is a pretty fantastic application.

Final Thoughts

Rambox is a fine application that I enjoy using. It works well and is more convenient than using a web browser. It also seems to use less memory than a browser so that is also a plus. I don’t know or understand the mechanics as to why but even at approximately 150 MiB per application does seem a bit steep for something that just sends text messages.

If Rambox is an application that works well for you consider supporting the project or if it improves your work flow, try out the Rambox Pro. The application may be free but it isn’t free to make.

For the time being, I am going to continue to use Rambox on my primary machine and Franz on another machine just to see how it shakes out over time. If you are running multiple chat clients and don’t want to authenticate with a third party service, Rambox just might be the application for you.

Further Reading

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

Get Rambox Pro

Rambox App on Github

Coherent Color Scheme Creation for Qt and GTK on openSUSE

I might be pushing it just a bit by saying I “created” a scheme as I just took two color schemes, Breese Dark and openSUSEdarkalternate, and created one [subjectively] better theme based on those two. I happen to like the green accents in the openSUSE Workspace Theme and the Breeze Dark Theme looks pretty good but the mix of blue and green accents makes me less happy. I have been using the openSUSEdarkalternate theme for quite some time until I discovered an issue with one application.

Why take the time?

A couple reasons. For starters, the Breeze Dark GTK theme has been using blue highlights, which has been fine. The tipping point was when I was trying my hand in doing video editing with Kdenlive, I sort of bumped into a problem. The dark color scheme, openSUSEdarkalternate, did not play well so I had to switch it with the built in Breeze Dark scheme in order to be able to see all the icons and things. As nice as the stock Breeze Dark theme is, I really want those openSUSE green highlights and now more of my desktop was a mixture of themes. I was now compelled to unify the appearance of my desktop, especially after noodling around with ElementaryOS and seeing how much emphasis was put on its appearance. I wanted my choice of desktop to have a more unified but not exactly vanilla Plasma look to it. I wanted a unified openSUSE Theme.

The Solution

First was to ensure that all my KDE Plasma applications had a unified look. My first step was to take screenshots of the different green RGB color-values used in the openSUSEdarkalternate scheme. The green in that theme is just the hue and vibrance that is subtle and pleasant so it was imperative that I used the same colors. The absolutely fantastic feature of KDE Plasma as well as the related desktops preceding it is the ability to customize it to your hearts content. The tools are already there and ready for you to tweak. A testament to what makes Plasma great.

To start, open the KDE Plasma SystemSettings, then the Colors module under the Appearance section.

KDE Plasma SystemSettings

The Application Color Scheme tool has several schemes from which to choose. My first step was to open the openSUSEdarkalternate theme and take note of the RGB values of the different green colors used. I cheated and used the screenshot utility Spectacle to accomplish this. There were a total of four different green colors used.

I then opened the Breeze Dark theme and started changed all the relevant blue colors to the equivalent green colors.

KDE Plsama Color Scheme Customize.png

I only had to adjust the Common Colors section. It seems that any of the other sections are using the same Color Identifications. When I was complete, I saved this scheme as openSUSE Breeze Dark and applied the changes.

It looked good, but then I was still left with the GTK theme to change. I planned to do similar in Plasma as I did for GTK. Unfortunately, customizing color schemes in GTK is not baked in like it is Plasma so it was time to do some searching and I came upon this application called Oomox. There is no official openSUSE package but the fantastic openSUSE community maintains the package and it can be installed from here:

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

Choose whichever community member maintained package you wish. Oomox does require one other package in order to run: gdk-pixbuf-devel

sudo zypper in gdk-pixbuf-devel

I was not able to import the Breeze Dark GTK theme so I just had to create what I wanted manually. It should be noted that such a feature has been requested. Good bad or otherwise, GTK color schemes are easier to create from scratch because there are fewer color in a theme.

Oomox Color Theme Customizer

Not pictured but there is a Roundness theme option so I modified that to match about what the Breeze theme is and set that parameter to 3. I thought that was an interesting setting to have and I quite enjoyed playing with it. Ommox is a very interesting piece of software and I recommend you to play around with it, just for fun.

It took four iterations of playing with the theme to get it right. I tested using Gnome-Recipes and Firefox to see that the scheme looked correct to my untrained eye.

Gnome-Recipes openSUSE Breeze Dark

My only criticism at this point is the GTK2 Theme is a bit blocky looking. I am not sure why, exactly. It just looks somewhat out of place against the Qt and GTK3 widget. I don’t think it’s a big deal but if anyone has any suggestions on that, I am open to anything you can offer.

Since I am happy with the theme and added to my openSUSE Linux page to download. I will eventually create a package hosted on OBS when I can take the time to do that properly.

Final Thoughts

Having exact color schemes hasn’t really been a thing for me, so long as it was close enough. Due to playing around with Elementary OS and seeing how everything is so well thought out, I started looking a bit more closely my desktop and thought, how can I make things look more deliberate? I am exceptionally pleased with the results and I think I may have also decided to go all in on Breeze Dark + openSUSE green. I even retired the Oxygen Window Decorations in favor of the Breeze Theme so that it better matches the GTK widgets. Everything seems nicely coherent. This is the most satisfied I have ever been with a desktop environment, ever.

Further Reading

openSUSE Linux | CubicleNate notes

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

Parrot Security OS | Review from an openSUSE User

ParrotOS review title.png

As part of a BigDaddyLinux Community challenge Parrot Security OS was selected to install and give it a test drive around the block. Parrot OS can be compared partially to Kali Linux in such that they are both Debian Based distributions that are targeted to those in the security and digital forensics profession. The difference with Parrot OS is that it is also has a “Home Edition” build for the casual user but keeps Security and privacy in mind. Unlike Kali, you can run Parrot as a daily driver.

This is a review of Parrot Security OS from the eyes of a biased openSUSE User. I am very happy where I am doing my “Linux-ing” but I like to explore and see how other developers, designers and artists scratch their “Linux itch.”

Installation

From the beginning, Parrot OS gives you  more options than I have seen when setting it up. I had to pause and really look at them all before I continued.

I decided to go for the more classic Debian Installer, one that just brings happiness to my heart. Not to digress here… but I’m going to… years ago I enjoyed playing with Linux on HP-Unix systems some years go… HP PARISC, that was fun…

I wouldn’t consider the Debian installer not a “user friendly” interface. It is a bit “Old School” looking but everything is very clearly spelled out. Just pause to read and you are tip-top.

Next you’ll configure the keyboard and wait for it to load additional components.

Your root password is requested and confirmed on two different “screens”.

This is followed by your Name and Username on two different screens.

On the two following screens you will input your user password one initial and the second to confirm.

Personally, I think this could be done more efficiently if all the User information was done on the same screen. This isn’t a big deal but just as a point of improvement to the installer process.

The timezone selection is based on the language you select previously.

ParrotOS-13-Timezone

The next portion of the installer is setting up your disk partitions. I really appreciate the options here. Although I didn’t have anything previously on this virtual drive, I appreciate that it will guide you through and the process is clearly communicated.

I selected to use a separate /home partition because…. that is the only way to set up a drive if you care about your data…

I appreciate the partitioning overview before finishing the process. If you have a more complex disk setup, here is where you could make further adjustments. Simply fantastic.

You have one last shot at bailing out of the installation here. Once you hit yes, you will be prompted to install the bootloader to disk.

When you select to install the bootloader, you can specify the drive or partition, then the installation is complete.

Although it consists of many pages of of steps, the Debian installer is fantastic. It gives you the flexibility to shape your system exactly how you need it.

First Run

Right out of the gate, Parrot OS feels fast and the theme they have applied to MATE is fantastic. No complaints on the presentation whatsoever. The generally dark theme makes this a winner for me.

I do like the wallpaper they use for the login screen and would almost prefer that for the default wallpaper of the MATE desktop environment but that abstract parrot on the background is, visually, very interesting and has a pleasant contrast to the desktop color scheme.

Once the system settles you are asked to set your keyboard layout. This is a bit of a first for me to see in the Desktop Environment initial run. I would think that would be set in the installation process. Not a problem, just curious that it would be asked. The system will also prompt you if you would like to check for updates.

Once it has completed checking, a terminal will pop up that you will have to confirm the actions and the updates will commence.

Curiously, I had to specify again where Grub was to live on the disks after the update. After the reboot, there were no issues so I don’t see this as a problem.

I was a bit impatient with the updates, at no fault of the servers or Parrot OS. It was a “me” problem and I jumped back to the terminal to see how many packages were yet to install. I was expecting something like Zypper where you are explicitly told the package number out of the total number of packages.

openSUSE Leap Zypper Update
Zypper display of status during updates

I am unsure why they have a menu at the top and at the bottom. Feels like a decision made by the “Department of Redundancy Department” I couldn’t tell which one I liked better. I used them both, so maybe the idea is to give the user time to figure out what they prefer and remove the unnecessary bits.

ParrotOS-33-Top Menu

I do appreciate that the Tor Browser was included and didn’t require any fiddling to set up. I did go through the configuration portion but it didn’t really have to do anything because I don’t live in a country where Tor is censored.

I browsed around a bit and frankly I don’t know much about the technical aspects of Tor, I can’t really speak to this. I know it is a web browser that prevents people from learning your location or browsing habits by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays. To my understanding it will make it harder to be tracked but exactly how it uses relays to accomplish this, I do not know.

If Tor isn’t your thing, there is Firefox which comes equipped with Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin add-ons installed and enabled by default.

ParrotOS-32-Firefox

I am a fan of the Control Center on ParretOS. I played with a few of the tools but the tool I really wanted to mess with was the MATE Tweaks. I could fix the button location and I also saw that it had the ability to change the panel to Gnome2 or Fedora. Once I switched it to Fedora, the Gnome2 didn’t return it to what it was previously. The second menu on the bottom disappeared. A reboot didn’t bring it back either.

I didn’t test everything but the things I did test all seemed to work out well. Since the “Home Edition” seemed pretty decent, I am now interested in trying the Security Edition and see how that goes for me. Maybe I can learn a thing or three.

What I Like

Overall Theme is nice, the interface is crisp and has a kind of raw, efficient feel to it. That is often the impression I get form using any MATE desktop. A tribute to the work of all the developers involved in MATE.

I like the fact that Parrot OS includes the Tor Browser by default. This is the first distribution I have tried that has it ready to use by default.

The default application selection is perfectly fine with me. It seems like there are a few extra things there but I am pretty indifferent when it comes to the base installation set if it is something I am going to tailor to my needs anyway. It is pretty obvious that Parrot OS is not targeted at the new-to-Linux crowd so I expect a list of applications accordingly.

What I don’t Like

Using MATE tweaks, I changed from Gnome2 to Fedora. I couldn’t get the layout back to the Default Parrot OS look. Not a big deal as the Fedora layout was what I prefer anyway. I just don’t like that I can’t go back to the default. This is a minor issue.

This is not a Parrot OS specific issue, but I have decided, when using Parrot, that I prefer APT much less than Zypper. This is not saying APT isn’t good, it is just saying that I prefer the output I get from Zypper from doing installations or upgrades vs how APT does it.

Below are side by side comparisons. This is just preference, but I prefer how Zypper tells you what package out of how many it is working on in such a way that it is clear to understand at a glance where it is at in the process. ParrotOS on the Left, openSUSE on the Right.

Final Thoughts

If I were to do “data forensics” as a kind of a “side hustle” I would begin that journey using Parrot Security OS as the testing platform. Although I didn’t download the “Security Edition” I appreciate how they took the time to tailor a desktop for security which I am quite certain has been tested by the security edition tools. Just based on the level of thought and polish in the Home Edition, I am indeed going to be playing with Parrot OS further to conduct tests on my own personal network and learn the tools.

In the end, I had a pretty good time with Parrot OS, aside for a few papercut issues with the interface which I am sure I could smooth out understanding how to tweak the MATE desktop better, so that’s on me. I am going to play with the “Security Edition” and see if I can find areas of concern on my home network, you know, for fun.

Further Reading

http://bigdaddylinux.com/

https://www.debian.org/ports/hppa/

https://www.torproject.org/

https://www.eff.org/privacybadger

openSUSE Tumbleweed Community Challenge

SUSE Plush

Anytime I see openSUSE-news in the non-openSUSE channels, I am immediately interested. Good or bad, I am going to read it. It often seems as though openSUSE doesn’t get its fair shake of time in the public, open-source discourse. It befuddles me because openSUSE is a technically very sound distribution, not only in the static release, Leap but also the rolling distribution, Tumbleweed which is what I use quite happily and [mostly] problem free on my primary machine that is my daily driver.

e6440-01-sm

Jason Evangelho a contributor writer for Forbes.com has begun his 2nd Linux Community Challenge, to run openSUSE Tumbleweed. Previously, he conducted an Elementary OS challenge which, to my understanding, went fantastically well. I had watched from a little bit of a distance but I did kick the tires on ElementaryOS a bit but not the full two weeks.

opensuseAlthough I don’t consider using openSUSE for two weeks to be a challenge, I was intrigued by this and wanted to do what I could to be a positive engaging ambassador of the openSUSE community to this Linux Community Challenge. As I have been playing with a variety of Linux distributions lately, I am starting to understand more what could be the rub of going from an Ubuntu base distribution to openSUSE. Having had great experiences on many distros, I know that I could help “translate” some of the different “features” new users might have.

icon-packageOne such feature is the software management tool, zypper. It does things a bit different than DNF, YUM or APT and since I am familiar with all of them, I know that I can help with any command line questions there.

A very cool thing that has also happened is that the openSUSE community created a #challenge channel on their Discord server which is bridged to a Matrix channel that is bridged to this Telegram channel Jason Evangelho has set up. I had hoped that a few of the good folks of the openSUSE community would pop into the Telegram group but instead they brought the openSUSE community into the Telegram group through some clever bridging.

Final Thoughts

I am quite excited to offer my limited knowledge in helping others out with trying openSUSE. I very much believe that openSUSE is the perfect blend of “Done” and “Modify it to your liking” distribution of Linux and I hope that through this challenge more people will see the value, use and ultimately contribute back to this fine distribution.

I am quite interested in compiling what issues or difficulties people have with running a rolling distribution and the various tools. I am of the (possibly misguided) belief that if you have a basic understanding of what an operating system requires, you can run any version of Linux, some just take a bit longer to get it going, depending on how much time the developers have put toward hand-holding the user. openSUSE is somewhere in the middle of the pack, take your time and it is easy enough to get going on your Linux journey and yet the inner workings are well documented, accessible and you are encouraged to really dig into it, tweak it and make it your own.

Further Reading

About Jason Evangelho

Challenge Telegram Channel

Introducing The Linux Community Challenge #2: openSUSE Tumbleweed on Forbes.com

Get openSUSE Tumbleweed

DitchWindows.com

Elementary OS Community Challenge

openSUSE.org Portal:Zypper

ElementaryOS Home