Windscribe VPN on openSUSE

With all the talk of VPN (Virtual Private Network) services to keep you safe and my general lack of interest in the subject, I was talking to Eric Adams, my co-host on the DLN Xtend podcast about the subject. He was telling me that he was hesitant to recommend any service so he gave me some option to try out. The one I chose, after doing a little reading was Windscribe.

I am new to the VPN game so I want to be careful in saying, I am recommending this as the perfect solution but rather demonstrating how I set it up and how I am using it on my openSUSE Tumbleweed system. Much in the same way Eric informed me about it.

Installation

For starters, I navigated to the Windscribe website, https://windscribe.com/

It’s a nice looking site and I like they have, front and center a Download Windscribe button. I am always annoyed when you have to go digging around to download anything. I give a resounding, “boo” when I am forced to play a scavenger hunt game to find the download link. Thank you Windscribe for not making this part difficult.

Another well presented download for Linux button. No hunting here either. Although, I did notice that there was a lack of definition of my favorite Linux distribution. They have left out openSUSE and that makes me just a bit frowny faced. No matter, I am not a complete “noob” to the Linux-ing and since Fedora and openSUSE packages are like close cousins (in my experience, but I am often wrong), setting this up for openSUSE was pretty darn straight forward.

These instructions are easily adapted to the fantastic Zypper package manager. This is my adaptation of their instructions for openSUSE and is well tested on Tumbleweed.

1. Get a Windscribe Account

Create a free account if you don’t have one already

2. Download and Install the repo as root

zypper ar https://repo.windscribe.com/fedora/ windscribe

This is telling zypper to add the repository (ar) https://repo.windscribe.com/fedora and naming it “windscribe”.

3. Update Zypper

zypper refresh

4. Install Windscribe-CLI

zypper install windscribe-cli

5. Switch to non-root user

exit

6. Login to Windscribe

windscribe login

Follow the steps with your newly created account

7. Connect to Windscribe

windscribe connect

And that is all there is to it. You will be connected and ready to be part of the cool-kid VPN club.

Side Note

If you need further help about how to use the different functions of Windscribe.

windscribe --help

If you need further information on how to use these other features, please visit the windscribe.com site as I am just using the basic functionality of it here.

If the windscribe daemon service does not automatically start up, you may have to start it manually as root.

systemctl start windscribe

and if you want to have it enabled at startup

systemctl enable windscribe

Those may or may not be necessary for you, but just in case, there you go and your welcome!

First Run and Impressions

There currently isn’t a graphical tool for using windscribe in Linux, or at least openSUSE. Chances are, if you are using openSUSE and are hyper concerned about protecting your traffic, using the terminal is not exactly going to cause you to have heartburn. Installation to execution is truly as simple as I have outlined above.

You can take it one step further in the cool, fun, I am a hacker-poser-type if you run it in a terminal emulator called Yakuake. This is a drop-down terminal that is invoked, on my machine with Meta+F12. It looks cool and very convenient to drop it down whenever I need it.

For the free account, you are limited to 10 GiB of data. To check the status of your account usage, in the terminal type

windscribe account

That will give you an output, something like this:

——- My Account ——-  
Username: CubicleNate
Data Usage: 80.02 MB / 10 GB
Plan: 10 GB Free

There is a paid option, which, in my opinion is very reasonable, if you buy a year at a time and I think, if you travel a lot, this may be of great interest to you to protect your data.

If you buy a one year subscription for $49, you are benefited by Unlimited Data, Access to all their locations which they boast as over 60 countries and 110 cities, a Config Generator for OpenVPN IKEv2 SOCKSS which, to my understanding will allow me to use NetworkManager to access the service, and R.O.B.E.R.T. to block ads, trackers and malware. If that is all up your ally, and you like the free service, it all seems pretty well worth it to me.

What I Like

The installation was simple, using it is simple (so long as you are good with the command line) and the performance is very acceptable. Since I am using this when I am away from home, I don’t expect any break-neck speeds out of it, I just prefer that my traffic is at least somewhat protected. After listening to this episode of Destination Linux, I felt like it was a good idea to intact some sort of VPN when I’m out and about.

What I Don’t Like

There isn’t a graphical interface for the terminal-phobic folks. Not a problem for me or likely most Linux users, but there are some that just won’t use it. That’s just the way it goes.

I don’t like that I am not quite familiar with Windscribe. That is not a fault of the service, just the fact that I know so little about them. I will tell you that every email interaction with Windscribe has been amusing so that bodes well for what I think of them.

Final Thoughts

I know that my employer requires me to VPN in to do any real work so even they recognize the value of a good VPN, so maybe I should too. How often do I plan to use it? Not all that often, really. Maybe a few times a month, specifically when I am using an internet access point that I do not trust. I will especially use it if the access point is has “xfinity” in the SSID as I have little to no trust for them.

I appreciate how simple this is to use and should I get to the point where I am pushing my 10 GiB per month limit, I will go all in on an annual subscription. It’s not that expensive to put up one extra line of defense, especially one as convenient as this.

References

Windscribe.com Home
openSUSE Home
Destination Linux Episode 146 on VPNs
DLN Xtend Podcast
Eric Adams at Destination Linux Network

Dell Inspiron 20 3048 All-In-One Desktop SSD Upgrade

There comes a time in the lifespan of a computer where you decide that the performance becomes a little lacking. That was my case with this computer and the state of the drive was becoming a little dubious as it felt like it was getting slower and having periodic file system errors. Rather than just reinstall openSUSE on the same drive, I decided, I wanted to make an inexpensive upgrade so I purchased a Solid State Drive (SSD) for it.

After completing this write-up, I realized that this is very uninteresting… so… for what it’s worth, this is basically a blathering for my own records. If you find this useful, great, if you don’t care about this bit of hardware, this is not worth your time… so… go ahead and click that [X} in the corner now.

Installation

Since this computer hangs above my sink using a VESA mount, there is a bit of work involved in pulling it down. My preferred method is to use a

Since I have taken this unit apart before, I already knew what I was doing with it. The back of computer comes off but does take some time to get all the snaps to release. I would really prefer that this was held together with screws instead of snaps.

Upon releasing the back cover from the chassis, it exposes the 2.5″ drive which sits in the lower left corner of the machine.

The drive is held in a caddy that snaps in to the chassis, no tools required to remove or insert the drive. I think this is actually quite the clever design.

The last bit of assembly is snapping the back cover back together, with a little family assistance.

After hanging the computer back on it’s VESA mount, I proceeded to install openSUSE Tumbleweed once again, creating a 60 GiB Root partition

The one thing I can note is that the software installation proceeded so much faster on the Solid State Drive than on the traditional Hard Disk Drive. I didn’t time it but I can assure you it is noticeably faster.

Application Installation

After installation of openSUSE Tumbleweed, I began the setup of my applications that I wanted, specifically on this machine. Things to note, this computer has a touch screen interface, so I made some changes as compared to my more traditional desktop setups. For starters, I switched the menu to the “Application Dashboard” because it is more “touch friendly” than the “Application Launcher” and “Application Menu”. At least, from my perspective.

Some of my applications have shifted a bit from the original setup. Many are the same but the core set of applications I use, not likely to change, on this machine are as follows:

Kontact Personal Information Manager

Mostly for the calendar application and it works fantastically well. I use this to synchronize my activities using the Google Calendar plugin. I am not proud of using Google Calendar but I am sort of stuck with it for the time being.

Qsyncthing Tray

I find using this has been a bit better experience on some machines than Syncthing-GTK. In a way it doesn’t feel like as polished of an experience but I feel like it has a better experience in the way of access to the system details with less digging. I use Syncthing to keep my drives synchronized between machines where there is no single point of failure. I am quite enamored with this application.

Gnome-Recipes

This hasn’t changed at all. I use this heavily in the kitchen and aside from the browser, I probably interact with this the most.

Telegram

This is my primary communication application. Basically, it is the only real-time direct access to me, even more so than SMS. Though, I can access my SMS messages through the computer, this is by far my preferred method and it would be nice if more people were on it.

Kronometer

This application is used daily. Not exactly related to kitchen activities but since it seems like much of my life revolves around the kitchen, to include my workouts, I use this application for timing my workouts and keep me on track. I am sure that there are some question marks popping up but this is very much the truth. I also use this application when I am smoking meat. I use the lap function and take notes on tracking temperatures over time of the smoker cavity and the temperature of the meat itself. So, this is a very handy application to have.

Falkon

I have mentioned this before, but Falkon is a better touch-friendly web browser. Though, as I think about this decision, I wonder if there is an extension for Firefox to make that experience better. Regardless. The browser is an important part and currently I am using Falkon more than Firefox.

Drive Performance

I’m not a benchmark nut, maybe I should be, regardless, I am a fan of the application Gnome Disk Utility which gives a nice breakdown about your drives.

The downside is, in GNOME fashion, this has the odd titlebar setup, but whatever. This gives you the ability to examine the health of your disks. I find this very interesting, but admittedly, I don’t know what it all means but so long as it says the Disk is OK, I’m going to leave it there.

The benchmark utility is interesting. I don’t run the benchmark on the write speed because it does give a warning about backing up your data, so… do that on an empty drive, I suppose. The average read rate of this drive is 443.9 MB/s with 100 samples. The access time is pretty great compared to the typical seek time of “spinning rust” hard drive platter.

I want to reiterate that I am not a benchmark nut but it is nice to see what they are, just to see. It’s also fun to compare with my other systems. This seems to be about on par with my other SSDs and more than 4 times faster than the HDD I use for my Virtual Machine images.

Final Thoughts

I resisted for a long time going to SSDs because, that seems to be my M.O. on new technology. I am glad that the SSD technology has come down in price and increased in efficiency. It has greatly improved the performance of this aging all-in-one and extended the life of this machine. The performance improvements of SSDs over HDDs is not in any way a revelation. The point I want to emphasize here is that by putting in an SSD, the machine is far more useful and the user experience is vastly improved. So, rather than chuck the old computer, swap out the Hard Disk Drive with a Solid State Drive.

References

openSUSE Home
GNOME Disks
Linux in the Kitchen Blathering
Dell Inspiron 20 3048 Details

Solaar | Application for Logitech Unifying Receivers and Devices on openSUSE

I recently purchased a new Logitech wireless keyboard for my kitchen computer because the Bluetooth keyboard I previously used was driving me nuts. Mostly for the keyboard layout and sometimes because it didn’t want to connect. Possibly due to hardware failure or bad design. It also doesn’t have media keys so I thought it best just to replace it.

I have previously used ltunify with success but I only used it because “L” comes before “S” so that was my first stop. Since I received feedback that I should try Solaar I did so this time. Since there isn’t an official Linux based application available from Logitech, the fine open source community has stepped in to make managing your devices simple and straight forward.

Installation

Since this application is in the Official Repository for Tumbleweed and Leap you can use graphical direct installation method or the more fun terminal way.

sudo zypper install solaar

YaST Software is also an option too.

Once it is installed, launch it using your preferred method, the menu, Krunner, etc.

Application Usage

Right off the cuff, this is a more user friendly application with some additional features. For starters, whatever devices you have connected to your Logitec receiver will display a battery status. In this case below. I have a keyboard and mouse already paired with the Unifying receiver.

Logical layout of the device listing, and verbose device information, device options and battery status. What is nice about this application is having the ability to modify the status of the device. My K400 Plus keyboard has the Function Keys and the media keys set up as such that by default, they are media keys. This is not what I prefer so I can Swap the Fx function here.

Pairing A New Device

My reason for using this application was to pair my new keyboard with an existing receiver. I don’t see the value in having more than one USB port populated unnecessarily. To Pair a new device is very straight forward, select the root “Unifying Receiver” and select “Pair”. The dialog will pop up and ask you to turn on the device you want to pair.

When you do that, the receiver will grab the new device, associate it and have it available to be used.

That is all there is to it. Each device will have their own set of options that are adjustable per your preferences. This Performance MX Mouse has more options than the value M175 Mouse.

That just about does it for Solar. There are some other fun features like getting device details but I don’t really want to post those here because I don’t really know if that is information I should be sharing!

Final Thoughts

Having Solaar in the system try is quite handy. Though, the reality is, I don’t need it all the time but having it to manage your devices is very handy. It’s nice to know that you can manage multiple Unifying receivers with this application. This is easy to use and has a great, well laid out and straight forward interface. I am glad I was recommended to try this application out.

References

Solaar on software.openSUSE.org
ltunify Review on CubicleNate.com

Fedora 31 | Review from an openSUSE User

Fedora is a Linux distribution that has been around since the beginning of my Linux adventure and for which I have incredible respect. I have reviewed Fedora before, and it was a good experience. Last time I used Fedora, I used Gnome and since I am kind of Gnome fatigued right now, I thought it better to use a different desktop, one that I can easily shape my experience to my needs, clearly, there are only two options but I chose to go with the primer, most easily customized desktop, KDE Plasma, ultimately, I want to compare my Fedora Plasma experience with my openSUSE Tumbleweed Plasma experience. I have no intention of switching distros but I do like to, from time to time, see how other distributions compare. Of all the distributions available outside of openSUSE, Fedora and Debian are the two that interest me the most but for different reasons.

This is my review as a biased openSUSE Tumbleweed user. Bottom Line Up Front. Fedora is a nearly perfect [for me] distribution that is architecturally and fundamentally sound from the base upward. It is themed just enough, out of the box, to not annoy me with any irritating impositions. It really feels like I have been given keys to a fantastic house, albeit a bit spartan, waiting for me to make it my own. Technically speaking, there is nothing I dislike about Fedora. I could get along just fine in Fedora Land but openSUSE Land edges out for me with the Tumbleweed convenience and the broader hardware support.

Installation

I want to be careful how I describe my experience here, I do not want to disparage the installer at all and blame any issues I had with it on me. What I appreciate about the installation process, I grateful that I can go right into the installation immediately.

There is something spectacularly simple and clean about the boot screen. No frills, no fluff. Just down to business. If that doesn’t say Fedora, I don’t know what does!

The next step will be to set your language and location. The next screen is an Installation Summary screen. I like this and I also don’t like this. I like it because it allows me to jump around, I don’t like it because I am not used to this layout. You can’t proceed with the installation until you complete all the steps, so that is good.

I started with the Root and User creation settings. This is very straight forward. I like the root options that are presented to lock the root account and whether or not to allow SSH Login with Password.

For the Installation Source, I am less impressed with this section, as compared to the openSUSE installation method. Maybe I don’t understand this part exactly, I was a bit confused. The correct choice would be “On the Network” from here and leave it on “Closest mirror”.

What I like about the openSUSE method is that it uses local and the remote sources together, not a selection of one or the other. This is entirely a preference thing but if the local packages are just as up to date as the remote packages, why not pull from those as well. I will admit, I don’t know whether or not this installer is doing that automatically, but my impression is that it is one location or the other. Again, not a big deal, just a head scratching moment.

The Software Selection tool is blow-me-away fantastic. I love this, it is just super to use and makes perfect intuitive sense. Since I want KDE Plasma Workspace and some of the Software Categories, that is what I selected. I think this is a great feature.

You can do this with the openSUSE Installer and it is a bit more granular but not as approachable as this, in my opinion.

The Installation Destination tool is a nice interface. Select the destination and go with it. I didn’t do any complex partitioning but this interface is pretty great.

I can’t say whether or not this is as feature rich as the openSUSE Partitioner but I do prefer this to many other distributions.

Select to begin the installation, it will go through the process without any propaganda and when complete, select the Reboot System in the lower-right corner and you are ready to fire up Fedora.

First Run and Impressions

Fedora boots up with the stock Plasma Splash screen and a very stock Plasma desktop, beautifully stock desktop. A desktop that says, I am ready to be shaped to your requirements. That is a huge “thank you” to Fedora.

..mostly. The first order of business was to fix my menu. The Application Launcher is not my favorite to work with. That is altered by going to the “Show Alternatives” Where I switched to the Application Menu.

Fedora is running Plasma 5.17.4, same as Tumbleweed Snapshot 20200110 (time of writing). I really don’t know if Fedora keeps this updated or if it will be updated at Fedora 32. Either way, this is something I will keep an eye on.

The next step was to fix the theme. Like many distributions, Fedora goes with the odd Light theme which just looks too “Wonder Bread” to me. I prefer something with a little more awesome factor, so I go with Breeze Dark.

That slight tweak makes Plasma all that I want it and as I’ve said for every other distribution, dark should be default.

I may have missed it but I didn’t see the spot to set up the hostname through the installation process of Fedora. That is not a big deal, really. I did search to see if maybe there was an admin tool for this but nope. There isn’t a graphical tool as you would find in openSUSE but again, not a big deal.

Making the adjustment in the terminal is kind of a fun exercise.

A fun little command you can use to check this is hostnamectl

To change your host name, run in the terminal as root:

vim /etc/hostnames

Change the hostname there to whatever it is that you want.

To input text in VI, you will have to press “i” write whatever it is you want to make the hostname, press the “esc” key and type :wq to write and quit and you are done.

To verify the change, type hostnamectl in the terminal and make sure you are set.

Edit: Due to some feedback from those better studied than me, you can set the hostname during the installation process. I missed it. So, in case you miss it like me, you can fix your mistake as I have.

Multimedia Codecs

Setting up Fedora to do multimedia things is not difficult at all. I have previously demonstrated this and I will put it in here too. It is nice that this process hasn’t changed at all in the last two years.

There is a base recommended multimedia set of packages for the codecs:

dnf install gstreamer1-{ffmpeg,libav,plugins-{good,ugly,bad{,-free,-nonfree}}} --setopt=strict=0

If you prefer xine over Gstreamer:

dnf install xine-lib* k3b-extras-freeworld

For using to internet radio streams and things, you will need a few more packages:

dnf install gstreamer1-{plugin-crystalhd,ffmpeg,plugins-{good,ugly,bad{,-free,-nonfree,-freeworld,-extras}{,-extras}}} libmpg123 lame-libs --setopt=strict=0

This process is easy enough for a novice Linux user do on to set up, so long as they aren’t afraid of working in the terminal. If you want a graphical interface for this you will have to search elsewhere or perhaps not use Fedora.

What I Like

Fedora is a blank slate, an industrial grade system that will do its job and work. It doesn’t have all the wiz-bang tools like YaST that I appreciate and rely upon in openSUSE but that’s okay. There are plenty of resources and guides out there to get you though any of the core system configurations.

Multimedia setup on Fedora is very straight forward. Not any more difficult than openSUSE but is less convenient than how you accomplish this on Ubuntu. I understand and don’t fault why Red Hat and SUSE dictate the separation as they are very concerned about the potential litigious consequences of having it included.

Fedora is a solid, well thought out, well plumbed product that has a very robust installation system. The package manager, DNF, has very easy to understand syntax. The output from its interaction is very well formatted and readable as to what it is doing. It could use a little more color, like Zypper, but I am good with single colored text.

Fedora enables a firewall by default. Firewalld is not only installed by default but the interface is there, ready to be used. I applaud that as it seems like there are many distributions that do NOT have a firewall activated by default and whatever the excuse is for it, I don’t buy it.

What I Don’t Like

As nice as the installation system is on Fedora, there are some User Interface bits that are a little different and therefore takes a bit to understand what needs to be done. It is a nitpick issue as if I were in Fedora for an extended period of time, I would be fine with it. I just don’t like it as much as some others.

When using DNF, I find it isn’t as feature rich as what I accustomed to on Zypper. DNF is good, real good and there are ways to get around what DNF doesn’t have. For example. If I want to see what KDE packages are installed on openSUSE with Zypper, I would run zypper search -i kde. That would only show the installed “KDE” packages. There isn’t an equivalent command with DNF, but you can do it with the RPM command, rpm -qa | grep kde. I admit, I am not as well studied in DNF and there may be a way to do it but it wasn’t completely obvious to me.

Edit: I have been corrected on this point. DNF does have a search ability, although my method of using rpm does work, you can use the DNF method as such: dnf list installed \*kde\* This does indeed work as expected and gives a great resulting list.

Firefox doesn’t have the kfiledialog patch applied to it like you would have on openSUSE. I didn’t realize how much the default file dialog box annoys me until I had to use it on a non-openSUSE Plasma system. This is almost irritating enough to make me choose a different browser. This is not a hyperbolic statement, I am quite sincere. I don’t understand why Fedora and Kubuntu, for that matter, can’t apply this same patch that has been available for as long as I can remember, 10 years, maybe? I don’t know exactly.

Just a little thing, but the sudoer file is empty or rather, set up as such that I can’t “sudo <some command>”. I have to su than run some command as root. Not a huge deal, but just a minor annoyance.

Final Thoughts

Fedora with KDE Plasma is a great choice. All my issues with Fedora are just nitpicks and not show stoppers, at all. Though, I don’t understand why they can’t copy openSUSE’s use of the Kfiledialog patch. I will concede that perhaps it’s more complicated than I understand. What is absolutely clear to me is how the underpinnings are well orchestrated on Fedora as it is certainly well tested and usable.

I would absolutely recommend anyone try Fedora. Just understand, this is an industrial-grade Linux distribution that is not as heavily focused on the desktop experience. Fedora feels well tested which makes the final product for the user a great, solid and smooth experience. I don’t know if I would recommend Fedora for the “brand new to Linux” user unless they are already technically inclined. You certainly cannot be afraid of the terminal when using it but if you are good with it, it is an incredibly positive experience.

Would I switch from openSUSE Tumbleweed to Fedora? No, I would not. The reasons are very specific too. Number 1, I like the rolling model of Tumbleweed with the safety-net of the BTRFS snapshot system. Fedora doesn’t have this out of the box but I am sure you could incorporate it if you wanted. Fedora’s DNF is decent, has a great syntax but I don’t know if it is at feature parity to Zypper and it would take more time of me using it to determine that. DNF is newer so it is likely to get more features in the future. openSUSE seems to support more hardware than Fedora. I don’t blame Fedora for that as it is a very forward-leaning distribution. Lastly, I think openSUSE just has a more fun logo. I agree that it is a superfluous reason but none the less, I do like that chameleon.

References

Fedora Linux Home
CubicleNate Fedora 27 Review

Kontact | Akonadi Reference

The killer feature of the Plasma Desktop has been the KDE Personal Information Manager, Kontact. I have been using it since 2004 time frame and although we have had a tenuous relationship over the years, specifically the switch to the Akonadi and the pain that came with it in the early years. I actively use Kontact on multiple machines for the feature richness of it and haven’t found anything in existence that I like better. I also exclusively use Kontact on openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma Desktop Environment.

I have decided to publish my reference concerning the maintenance it requires. I could be an edge case since I have five mail accounts and multiple calendar accounts as well. Historically, I have had issues where losing network connection, regaining it, suspending and resuming my machine over a period of time would cause the thing to have fits. So, here are my fixes, whenever the need arises.

One quick caveat, your results may vary and don’t hold me responsible for your data.

Problem 1: Akonadi Gets Stuck and Stops Checking Email

This is rare as of late but 3 or 4 years ago, this was indeed a problem. I think I have used this once in the last month (Jan 2020 at the time of writing) but this is what I do.

Solution

In the terminal or even in Krunner type the following

akonadictl stop

This will stop all the processes. Sometimes they can hang and this will gracefully shut the thing down. At this point, you can start it back up in Kontact or in the terminal or krunner type:

akonadictl start

If you do this in the terminal, you can enjoy the scrolling of all the activity going on and gain some appreciation for what it is doing.

After that, you should be good to go.

Problem 2: Clearing out Cached Data

From time to time, I notice that the Akonadi cache under ~/.local/share starts to grow an awful lot. Part of it is that I don’t delete emails, but there is a percentage of that data that is vestigial and can easily be cleared out. This requires two commands and a bit of patience on your end.

Start out by running a “file system check” on the Akonadi database in the terminal.

akonadictl fsck

This takes a bit and will display all found unreferenced external files and such. Once complete, run this:

akonadictl vacuum

This process will optimize the tables and you will recover a bit of data. I admit, this doesn’t make a huge change but it will clear things out. The last time I did it, I only freed up a few megabytes of data but but it’s something.

Final Thoughts

You know those stories of people that have these crazy habits that don’t make sense, things they do that don’t really help or solve a problem like making sure the spoons are organized in just the right fashion? Yeah, well that could be what this whole post is and my obsessive-compulsive tenancies are in full expression. So, take all that into account should you choose to use any of these references.

Feedback is very much welcome on this.

References

Kontact the KDE Personal Information Manager

Noodlings | Lighting the Emby Server with Kdenlive

Coming back strong in 2020… no… not coming back… I haven’t been gone, just delayed.

12th Noodling, a dozen, a foot or a cup and a half of crap?

AMD System from Yester-Years Parts

I recently posted about my computer build. In short, this is a computer build on parts that are in no way considered top of the line. They are all quite old and that did pose a few problems. One, this motherboard would not boot from a software RAID pool. I was able to bootstrap the BTRFS RAID pool with a separate drive and root partition. It did add some complexity to my system but I think it works out okay.

Building a system is something I have wanted to do for quite some time. As in, several years but time, finances and decision vapor-lock had kept me from it. What pushed me over was a fortuitous conversation at a Christmas gathering last year, I struck a nerdy conversation, with a computer store owner that ultimately gave me this giant Thermaltake case without a motherboard and a few weeks later, another fortuitous happening where I was given a bunch of old computer equipment and an AM3 motherboard was among the rest of the aged equipment which drove the rest of the build. My course of action was to stuff the most memory and fastest processor in that which is what I did and I am happy with it. I am not going to belabor that process as I have talked about it before and I have a link you can follow if you are interested in those details.

As a result of this, I had tons of fun, it was a great learning experience and that same guy gave me another case, not as big but far more robust in design with a water cooler. I now want to build another machine but I am thinking a more pure gaming machine and leave this current machine to be my server workstation. I don’t know when I would get to this but I think this one will be a project I do with my kids. Use it as a teaching opportunity and turn it into a kind of family event. Currently, the machine has a Core 2 Duo CPU platform of some kind. I think I would probably do another AMD build, something newer that can take advantage of these new fancy CPUs coming out. I still wouldn’t go bleeding edge but certainly something closer than what I have now.

Emby Server Summation

I have fully evaluated my use of Emby and given a little write up on it. I described the installation process, setting it up, importing my media files and so forth. I want to just summarize the highlights and the lowlights of my experience before I begin my next testing of Plex.

What I like

Emby is super easy to set up. It is nothing more than copying one line into a terminal and executing it. It is super simple and the script also seems to, at least on the version I installed, start and enable the emby-server service.

It’s super easy to add media libraries to Emby. The wizard walks you through it in the beginning and if you want to add additional libraries, that is very easy to do through the configuration tool.

Streams to just about everything in the house. Essentially, if it has a browser, you have access to the Emby server. I haven’t had any issues with the system in the approximately five weeks I have been using it.

Updating the metadata and identity of any movies is as easy as a click and search. You can change the cover images and so forth. Some of the movies I have ripped haven’t always been detected completely correctly. For example, there are three different Grinch movies and I had to manually define which decade they came from. It was super easy.

The Android application works quite nicely. I am actually impressed with the ease of use of the application. It also has quite the fine polish to it as well.

What I don’t like

This was an open source project that went closed source. I sort of have an issue with that and I am not alone with that assessment. It was at that point that Jellyfin was forked from Emby which is what makes me incredibly interested in Jellyfin.

I can’t stream to my Wii, though I don’t really blame the project for not supporting a 14 year old game console. There isn’t an app on the Homebrew channel though at the time of writing, I realized that there is a browser on the Wii so perhaps more investigation is needed. I will update this paragraph with any new information I learn as I investigate that possibility.

Updates will have to be done manually. The server does say it needs to be updated and to do so requires the same step as installation. That is really the only clunky part about this whole setup.

Final Thoughts

Emby is pretty great. Regardless of what I do not like about it. It is a great experience. If you are undecided on your media server and have a desire to try the different options, this is a good one. If this was my only option, I could easily get along fine with it. Since I have two others, I will check those out too.

I highly recommend you try out Emby as the shortcomings are nitpick issues. I don’t like that it went closed source but the project, closed or open, is sound. It is a great, well polished, experience.

This is my first media server review. I will have follow up articles to this in the near future. If there are any inaccuracies or areas I need to revisit, please let me know and I will take the time to make updates.

Kdenlive 19.12 Review

It did take me a quick start tutorial to get going. I do kind of wish there were more instructions on how to do things that weren’t in video form. I like video and all but it is too slow to go through. I would rather scan down a page and see little clips of how each effect is done on it’s own. I suppose there is nothing stopping me from doing that.

Kdenlive is easy to just get going with it. Once you understand the work flow, dump your videos, music, pictures and such in the “pot-o-media” and you are off to the races.

What I Like

Kdenlive is incredibly stable and reliable. Crashing is incredibly rare. I have spent many hours at a time editing and not once has Kdenlive crashed. In all fairness, it’s been hours of editing because I am not very good at it. I have used and rendered video on both my Dell Latitude E6440 and my “new” AMD FX-9590 system with out any glitching or issues. I am impressed by the stability and smooth operation of Kdenlive on openSUSE Tumbleweed.

The user interface of Kdenlive makes sense. The shortcuts, the ease of defining the effects and transition as well as previewing the video makes for an easy and enjoyable video editing experience. Even the scrolling across the timeline or through the tracks, all just makes intuitive sense.

The options for rendering videos or even just audio has a straight forward interface that makes it quite clear what is happening when you start that render. Also, when you start the render, you can continue to use Kdenlive. It does not lock you out of the application.

What I Don’t Like

The text editor for title screens is a bit ropey. The cursor indicator isn’t always visible so I often have to make special effort to get to the right location which includes some delete and retype from time to time. The use of it is not as much fun as the rest of the application.

Not so much a fault of the application but doing video editing really needs more screen real-estate. One 1080p screen is not enough. Not the fault of the application but it is hard to see and read everything going on without excessive scrolling.

Final Thoughts

Kdenlive is a great application with a lot more features than I know how to even use. I don’t do any complex video editing. I don’t have good video equipment so I don’t have a real high level of motivation to create a lot of video content at this time. You can only polish a turd so much and I am often not happy with the video I shoot. I am happy, however, with what I can do with the video in Kdenlive. It does make turning the lack-luster video into barely acceptable video content. Editing with Kdenlive is easy to use and is enjoyable to turn the mess I start with into something more usable. I would like to make more excuses to do more video content because the great user experience Kdenlive provides.

I have heard of people complain that Kdenlive isn’t stable, well, that is a bunch of hooey. Kdenlive on openSUSE Tumbleweed works fantastically well without any crashing. I am very thankful for fantastic packaging and QA process from the openSUSE Project and I am very grateful for every programmer that has had a hand in every piece of this, from the Linux kernel to the Plasma desktop to the application itself. Thank you for all your time and efforts.

Linux Powered Festive Lights

Move from Christmastime to Wintertime. One of those I like a lot more than the other but by having “winter lights” it brightens up the space around me and pushes that gray, cold, dark sadness away. Thanks Linux!

Anything multi-colored and Christmas specific has been taken down. The strands of multicolor lights on my porch have been replaced by blue lights. The wreath and Santa are down but in Santa’s place is an inflatable snowman. Everyting is now white and blue around my house. Not as much fun as Christmastime but I think there is a rule about how much fun you can have at any point in time of the year and I don’t want to over indulge in it. I have to keep it for the designated times, be seasonally appropriate.

I have purchased a few other little things to add to my display. What can I say, I enjoy talking about it. More on that in the future.

AppImageLauncher Review

Of the three Universal package installers, AppImage is one of them. Historically, it has been my least favorite due to the more squirrely way of managing each application. Essentially, you had these files are scattered about your file system or shoved in a folder some place and if you wanted to put them in the menu, you had to do it manually. When you downloaded an update, because not all AppImages support updating, you had to recreate or edit the menu entry and lacks all sense of intuitiveness. It is just incredibly primative

Some AppImages would integrate themselves into your menu system and even perform their own updates. Most of them, however, do not implement those nice little features. Another step, before launching it, having to modify the properties to make it executable. Not a difficult step but it was another step that made it feel a little clunky to use. Combine all these anti-features together and it was my least favorite Universal package. Sill grateful, just least interested.

Step in AppImageLauncher. This throws a significant change in the Universal Package landscape. I have been favoring Snaps for many reasons: the central repository, the ease-of-use in the command line or graphical tools (I used the command line), automatic updates and vast selection of applications has made it my first stop in the Universal Package route. The next has been Flatpak. It has a pseudo Central Repository, nothing official, it integrates nicely with Plasma’s Application Explorer, Discover. Flatpak has recently been better about automatic updates and does a fantastic job of theming itself automatically to your desktop settings.

Lastly has been AppImages because of the rather ad-hoc nature and disjointed desktop experience they have provided. They would respect your desktop themes and are a great non-committal way to try an application but lacked a convenient and clean way to access them. I have used AppImageLauncher for such a short period of time but it is a game changer as far as desktop experience is concerned. The ease of installation and removal of your application in the menu and the automatic organization makes for a purposefully integrated experience. You really can’t tell that you are using an AppImage unless you are doing a right click in the menu entry. Now, on my openSUSE systems, AppImage is a first-class citizen beside my system package manager (RPMs), Snaps, or Flatpak. 2020 is starting of great in the software world.

So why would you use the AUR?

BDLL Follow up

Something that doesn’t seem to get enough attention is the BDLL Discourse Forum. There is a lot of great discussion going on there, not just because I am dumping everything I am working on there but because it is a great place to get help, talk about your Linuxy experiences and just have great conversation about interesting things in tech.

The Linux Half Top was a thread submitted by Steve (Mowest). He had a broken laptop screen and instead of dumping $100 plus into the machine for a new screen and touch panel, he took the screen off entirely, added an HDMI to VGA adapter. Steve gave credit to another community member Dalton Durst for the idea. It reminded Sleepy Eyes Vince of the Commodore 64 where the computer was in the keyboard and just needed a screen.

The whole idea was brilliant, simply brilliant and was an exercise in problem solving by looking for an entirely different solution. Well done.

I highly recommend you take a trip to the BDLL Discourse for some very interesting discussion, discoveries and ideas.

openSUSE Corner

Tumbleweed Snapshots 20191231, 20200101, and 20200103

postgresql10 (10.10 -> 10.11) 59 line item changes applied to PostgresQL

xfce4-terminal (0.8.8 -> 0.8.9.1) Respect the “Working Directory” setting when opening initial window, Fix invalid geometry on Wayland, and several other polishing improvements.

xfce4-branding-openSUSE (4.14+20191207 -> 4.14+20191230) several packages relating to openSUSE branding which included setting the default cursor to Adwaita

libvirt had CVE-2019-11135 addressed

ALSA (1.2.1.1 -> 1.2.1.2) several upstream fixes and UCM and UCMv2 fixes and enhancements. See Changes

NetworkManager (1.18.4 -> 1.22.2) Fix multiple issues in the internal DHCP client, including: wrong parsing of search domains and classless routes options, and failures in obtaining and renewing the lease with certain server configurations.

flatpak (1.4.3 -> 1.6.0) several fixes to include fixing some leaks and not to poll for updates in the portal when on a metered connection.

Catfish (1.4.11 -> 1.4.12) for Wayland and GNOME Shell support

Ffmpeg-4 numerous subpackage updates

SSHfs (3.6.0 -> 3.7.0) to give you higher max connection to improve responsiveness during large file transfers.

VIM (8.2.0000 -> 8.2.0063) 54 line item fixes

Tumbleweed Snapshot Reviewer:
20191231 – moderate 79
20200101 – stable 91
20200103 – moderate 85

Four more snapshots are in the pipeline and at pending stable scores

Computer History Retrospective

I was recently watching an episode of Computer Chronicles that covered the idea of “Simulator Software” recorded in 1983. They talked of the flight simulators of the time, simulations of architecture and urban design. Even in the 1980s they were saving money by doing virtual testing of an environment before you spend the time and money on the real thing.

There was a flight simulator used by the military in the early 1980s that by today’s standards, not so great but if I were running that on an Amiga or x86 based PC in the mid-90s, it would have been pretty darn impressive yet.

It is interesting to see now, the graphics capabilities have advanced. Any one modern graphics card has such incredible graphical capabilities, delivering fantastic realism. It’s something that is pretty amazing if you stop and think about it.

I can’t help but wonder how those ideas were sold at the time to punch information into a computer that by all accounts is not all that capable of calculating the vast sets of variables that are done today. Today, there is so much more that can be done with finite element analysis in software that you don’t have to pay for. Examples of this are, FreeCAD and Fusion360, one an open source application, the second a close source application but free to use for hobbyists.

This is a great episode of the Computer Chronicles if you are interested in seeing the early development of computer simulation in the early 80s. The excitement around it is pretty fascinating and we can thank these people for pushing the technology from which we enjoy the fruits today.

AppImageLauncher | AppImage Manager on openSUSE

Right of the cuff, I should note that this will work on other Linux distros too, I am just focusing on openSUSE because, that is my jam. I have been using this on openSUSE Tumbleweed as of Snapshot 20200103. It should also work on Leap as of 42 and newer (that means Leap 15.x is good to go, in case there was any question).

The reason this application excites me so is that I use several AppImages on my system. Which ones you may ask? I’ll tell you, xLights, which I use for my Christmas Light display, VirtScreen that I use when I am remote and need to turn my laptop or phone into a second display. This is super handy as it will not only create links in my menu to the AppImages, it will also copy the *.AppImage file into a designated folder, in my case ~/Applicaitons which is the default. At first, I wasn’t sure about it but after noodling it around a bit, I am totally good with it.

Installation

The RPM for this isn’t in the repository and if you are interested in the non-root user installation, there is a “Lite” version but it is still new and not a recommended solution at this time.

Navigate to the GitHub page of the project for the RPM. I am using the 64-bit version and thinking about it, I don’t actually know if there are any 32-bit AppImages, at least, I wouldn’t likely consider running an AppImage on my 32-bit machines. Regardless, there are several packages to choose from. Pick the correct one.

AppImageLauncher on GitHub

Downloaded appropriate RPM for your openSUSE (or other Linux if that’s what you are into), at the time of writing the version I am using is:

appimagelauncher-2.1.0-travis897.d1be7e7.x86_64.rpm

Installation is very straight forward, I download all my RPMs to ~/Downloads/rpms and use the zypper command to install it.

sudo zypper install ~/Downloads/rpms/appimagelauncher-2.1.0-travis897.d1be7e7.x86_64.rpm

The installation didn’t pull in any other packages from the repository. Zypper does, however give you a little warning.

This is just telling you that it is not signed. That is a security concern, so, if you do not trust the source of the RPM do not trust this and you may as well bail here on the process because the rest of it isn’t going to work for you.

Assuming you are okay with this situation and want to proceed, type “i” and hit enter. That will complete your installation.

Side note, on most desktop environments in openSUSE, you can install the RPM graphically too, but I just happen to think the terminal is more fun.

First Run

When you first run AppImageLauncher, you are presented with some options. The important one is, where to put the AppImages you launch.

AppImageLauncher runs a service in the background and when you launch an AppImage you are given two options, to Integrate and run or just run once. If you Integrate and run, it will move the AppImage from the current directory and place it in the designated directory. Each AppImage you run will give you this option. After doing this once, the AppImage will be in your menu like any other application.

If you wish to remove an AppImage, that is easily accomplished, in the menu, right clicking on the application and you are given the option, right there, to remove it through the built in menu (I only tested this on Plasma). Note: When you remove the AppImage from your system, it is deleted, not returned to the original location or put in the Trash. So, take care in using this feature

If you are not happy about how you set up AppImageLauncher, you can make adjustments. Menu > Settings > AppImageLauncher Settings will present to you further options. I have not dug into these but here they are:

The first is a flag to to ask whether to move the AppImage to the applications directory and you can change the directory. I am interested in seeing how the AppImage updater works. I may end up trying more AppImages, just because.

The next tab, appimagelauncherd where you can select the auto integration daemon and to watch additional directories.

Firefox Integration

Once you install it, and download AppImages, you are given the option to open the AppImage with AppImageLauncher. So it is essentially not even necessary to set the AppImages as executable. Although, it does give you a few layers of warning. It does indeed work.

Something Else

This article was inspired by a video on YouTube created by Eric Adams. So, if you prefer the video form, like most people, here is a great video that covers this process. This write up is basically this video but on Plasma.

Final Thoughts

Universal package formats have been a fantastic development in the Linux world. Snaps and Flatpak have felt better integrated, AppImages where a bit more tedious with having to manually create entries for some applications or relying on Plasma to remember the application for others, which only worked sometimes.

Thanks to this fantastic project, AppImages are now a first class citizen on the desktop. I hope that this AppImageLauncher becomes standard on the desktop so that AppImages are first class citizens as a universal package format in Linux. If you use AppImages this is a fantastic addition to your system.

References

AppImageLauncher on GitHub
openSUSE Linux
Eric Adam’s YouTube Channel

Kdenlive 19.12 on openSUSE | Review

Making videos is not exactly my strong suit but it doesn’t have to be to enjoy it. Lately, I have been dipping my toes into the world of video content creation. Yes, most of it is into making videos as I haven’t really had the need. Recently, a need popped up for doing some video editing and I decided to give Kdenlive a try. You have to start somewhere and since many of the independently created shows out there use it, it is part of the KDE project and there are a LOT of tutorials on YouTube.

Keep in mind, I have some very basic needs, simply, chaining clips together, title screen and a little background music. These are extremely minimal requirements. The nice thing about Kdenlive is, it is easy enough to get going with it, but brimming with features to keep you dinking around with it continually and even if you have come to learn every feature the Kdenlive Project will come along and bring you an update.

Installation

Kdenlive is available in the main repositories for both Leap and Tumbleweed. To install the latest version for Leap, you will have to add the Experimental KDE:Applications repository. 19.12 is available in the official Tumbleweed repository.

To install it with the graphical Direct Installation navigate here.

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

For Tumbleweed, in terminal

sudo zypper install kdenlive

And that is all it takes.

Impressions

Right off the hitch, Kdenlive is a great looking application, it has a clean and pleasant interface that is incredibly functional. I use a modified version of Breeze Dark, what I call openSUSE Breeze Dark. The dark screen with the green tones make for a comfortably openSUSEy for extended hours of work.

I have been using Kdenlive for about a year or so and it has been great since day one. I must make the caveat that I don’t do anything terribly complex in Kdenlive. I mostly use fades and dissolves. In fact that is my primary usage of it.

For one video, I rotated the screen 180° because I purposely recorded it upside down so that I wouldn’t crash into the camera with by big stupid nose. In retrospect, this video of the hard drive caddy was probably a waste of time to do because it is so basic and elementary of a feature to highlight on the computer, but it was a good exercise in learning the some of the other various features in Kdenlive.

What was handy and very quick to do were my Christmas light musical sequence videos. I recorded the video and added the music as a post edit. Kdenlive made it easy to do. I just lined up the flashes with the appropriate spot in the music.

Kdenlive really has made all these little things easy to do and they made it possible without having to spend loads of cash for a nonsense hobby that fills the little voids and white-spaces in my life.

Other Use

Kdenlive is a very capable video editor but I have adapted it for another use. I also use it for non-destructive audio editing as well. Years ago, when I worked in radio, specifically in sales, I did some audio production work for commercials. I used this application call “SAW Pro” that would allow me to import audio and manipulate it in a non-destructive manner. Since I don’t have that application anymore I needed to find another way to do it and it hit me, Kdenlive can do these things. I can’t exactly build the library of reusable clips in the exact same way, but I can come very close to it. I have been using this for my under-performing podcast production.

What I Like

Kdenlive is incredibly stable and reliable. Crashing is incredibly rare. I have spent many hours at a time editing and not once has Kdenlive crashed. In all fairness, it’s been hours of editing because I am not very good at it. I have used and rendered video on both my Dell Latitude E6440 and my “new” AMD FX-9590 system with out any glitching or issues. I am impressed by the stability and smooth operation of Kdenlive on openSUSE Tumbleweed.

The user interface of Kdenlive makes sense. The shortcuts, the ease of defining the effects and transition as well as previewing the video makes for an easy and enjoyable video editing experience. Even the scrolling across the timeline or through the tracks, all just makes intuitive sense.

The options for rendering videos or even just audio has a straight forward interface that makes it quite clear what is happening when you start that render. Also, when you start the render, you can continue to use Kdenlive. It does not lock you out of the application.

What I Don’t Like

The text editor for title screens is a bit ropey. The cursor indicator isn’t always visible so I often have to make special effort to get to the right location which includes some delete and retype from time to time. The use of it is not as much fun as the rest of the application.

Not so much a fault of the application but doing video editing really needs more screen real-estate. One 1080p screen is not enough. Not the fault of the application but it is hard to see and read everything going on without excessive scrolling.

Final Thoughts

Kdenlive is a great application with a lot more features than I know how to even use. I don’t do any complex video editing. I don’t have good video equipment so I don’t have a real high level of motivation to create a lot of video content at this time. You can only polish a turd so much and I am often not happy with the video I shoot. I am happy, however, with what I can do with the video in Kdenlive. It does make turning the lack-luster video into barely acceptable video content. Editing with Kdenlive is easy to use and is enjoyable to turn the mess I start with into something more usable. I would like to make more excuses to do more video content because the great user experience Kdenlive provides.

I have heard of people complain that Kdenlive isn’t stable, well, that is a bunch of hooey. Kdenlive on openSUSE Tumbleweed works fantastically well without any crashing. I am very thankful for fantastic packaging and QA process from the openSUSE Project and I am very grateful for every programmer that has had a hand in every piece of this, from the Linux kernel to the Plasma desktop to the application itself. Thank you for all your time and efforts.

References

https://kdenlive.org/
Kdenlive 19.12 Release
openSUSE Tumbleweed Download
Kdenlive Download from software.openSUSE.org
Dell Latitude E6440
AMD FX-9590 Workstation

Emby Media Server on openSUSE Linux | Review

One of the main reasons I build a computer was for the purposes of hosting my video content on my system and serve it to other machines. I had heard about having something like Netflix or Hulu in the form of Plex. I have known others that have done this and have always been impressed by it. My first stop in exploring media servers in Linux was Emby. I chose it largely because I heard of Plex and wanted to try something that was open source based, more on that later. At the very beginning of this exercise, I decided I want to try out three different server products, Plex, Emby and Jellyfin.

This is my review, with no real expectations, other than to easily have access to my movies and TV shows from any device in the house. This is a review of only the free services, not the paid features. Bottom line up front. I like it and it has few issues.

Installation

The installation was surprisingly easy to do with Emby on openSUSE. Instructions for openSUSE were right there, ready and waiting for me to utilize them. Navigate to:

https://emby.media/linux-server.html

There is a nice little drop down where you can select “OpenSuse” very sadly cased incorrectly but that is a small detail, nothing terrible, I’ve made mistakes too in casing the project name.

There are 6 options from which to choose. Two are for the x86_64 architecture, the other four are ARM options. Since I am installing on 64bit x86 architecture, and I am not interested in beta testing Emby, I chose the first option.

The command uses zypper to install an RPM from a GitHub repository. This doesn’t install a repository or anything so at this point, I am unsure about how updates are handled. From what I can tell, I will have to install updates manually. I’m sure there is a better way.

After the installation, open a web browser to http://localhost:8096 to perform the setup of the service. Things like your user information.

The next step will be to set up your media library. You select your content type a display name for it, the location and other bits you and flags you find important, like language settings and metadata downloaders.

There are more library settings here than I really know what to do with. I filled out what made sense, set the language preferences to English and moved on with the process.

I added my movies, TV shows and Documentaries folders.

Then moved onto the next section where I again set the metadata language, configured to allow remote access. I haven’t actually set my firewall to allow remote access to test the performance of this remotely.

Lastly, you will have to agree to the terms of service and your done!

First Run and Impressions

Running this media server is as easy as navigating to http://localhost:8096 and signing into the service, not much different than you would a Netflix but each user has their own unique login.

The login is nice and you can add an avatar to customize your account appearance, because, why not?

The home screen is very handy, it is the starting point to go into your different media repositories and to continue watching what you have started or to search for a movie or show in which you are interested.

A nice touch, when you launch a movie, there is a still in the background and in the upper left corner of the player, is a logo representing the movie title. Super nice touch. This is certainly a nicely polished product. Other playback features include changing the resolution and bitrate. Probably more important when streaming outside of your home. All these are really nice features that demonstrate an extra set of care and polish.

What I Like

Emby is super easy to set up. It is nothing more than copying one line into a terminal and executing it. It is super simple and the script also seems to, at least on the version I installed, start and enable the emby-server service.

It’s super easy to add media libraries to Emby. The wizard walks you through it in the beginning and if you want to add additional libraries, that is very easy to do through the configuration tool.

Streams to just about everything in the house. Essentially, if it has a browser, you have access to the Emby server. I haven’t had any issues with the system in the approximately five weeks I have been using it. I have yet to have an issue.

Updating the metadata and identity of any movies is as easy as a click and search. You can change the cover images and so forth. Some of the movies I have ripped haven’t always been detected completely correctly. For example, there are three different Grinch movies and I had to manually define which decade they came from. It was super easy.

The Android application works quite nicely. I am actually impressed with the ease of use of the application. It has a surprisingly fine polish to it as well.

What I Don’t Like

This was an open source project that went closed source. I sort of have an issue with that and I am not alone with that assessment. It was at that point that Jellyfin was forked from Emby which is what makes me incredibly interested in Jellyfin.

I can’t stream to my Wii, though I don’t really blame the project for not supporting a 14 year old game console. There isn’t an app on the Homebrew channel though at the time of writing, I realized that there is a browser on the Wii so perhaps more investigation is needed. I will update this paragraph with any new information I learn as I investigate that possibility.

Updates will have to be done manually. The server does say it needs to be updated and to do so requires the same step as installation. That is really the only clunky part about this whole setup.

Final thoughts

Emby is pretty great. Regardless of what I do not like about it. It is a great experience. If you are undecided on your media server and have a desire to try the different options, this is a good one. If this was my only option, I could easily get along fine with it. Since I have two others, I will check those out too.

I highly recommend you try out Emby as the shortcomings are nitpick issues. I don’t like that it went closed source but the project, closed or open, is sound. It is a great, well polished, experience.

This is my first media server review. I will have follow up articles to this in the near future. If there are any inaccuracies or areas I need to revisit, please let me know and I will take the time to make updates.

References

https://emby.media/linux-server.html
https://www.opensuse.org

Building an AMD Server and Game Machine out of Yester-Year's Parts

Some time ago I started noodling around the idea of building a replacement server for my home. I wanted to make this an extreme budget build. I came to the realization that I have become rather disconnected with the state of desktop class video cards and really much of anything that was outside of the laptop world. I was hung up, for quite some time on the case and motherboard selection. I would browse Newegg and eBay but since I lacked a lot of information, I was in a constant state of decision-vapor-lock. What changed was when I received some hardware at no cost. An incredibly large case and an AMD motherboard locked in the portion of the project that I was unable to make any decisions and dictated the rest of the build. So, over a period of months, I slowly acquired rest of needed components.

The case, although in good condition, certainly looks like it was at some point out moded and just became a place that parts were thrown into. I would guess this case is as old as my Linux jouirney.

The motherboard that was given to me was an AM3/AM3+ motherboard. I was actually kind of excited about this as I decided I was going to do a complete AMD build. Sure, this is an older AMD CPU socket with a silkscreen date on the board of 2013 but that meant getting something on the cheap was certain. Also, since I don’t exactly buy new things, this fit the bill.

This is what ended up getting, mostly from eBay, so for you to replicate this selection at this price may or may not be possible.

  • Graphics Card Gigabyte Gammin g RX570 8GiB Graphics RAM – $89.95
  • Power Supply – RaidMax RX-1000AP-S Power Supply – $74.19
  • CPU – AMD FX-9590 – $119.95
  • CPU Cooler – Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus – $22.59
  • Memory – 32 GiB DDR3 1866MHz – $64.95
  • Storage – 6, Seagate 2TB drives – $149.70
  • 6-port SATA Card – $25.35
  • USB 3 All-in-one 5.25″ Front Panel Card reader – $19.99
  • Blu-ray DVD player – $50.00
  • 2x 3.5″ to 5.25″ adapter trays – $8.58
  • Serial DB9 RS232 9pin com port with bracket – $4.14
  • 6x SATA Cables – $9.48

That made a grand total of $638.87 invested in this machine. I went just a bit overbudget due to the CPU cooler. I was warned that the TDP rating on the CPU meant it was necessary to have an effective cooler.

This was the first time I have actually assembled from parts and pieces a computer. I have repaired and upgraded many but this was the first of this level of DIY. Since every part I had was untested and I had no way to verify if anything was working, as in, nothing else upon which I could conduct individual component testing, there were a lot of uncertainties in this.

When I kicked it on for the first time and had everything working, I was incredibly relieved that it all worked. There weren’t any issues at all with any of the components.

To see this machine actually start up and work in a kind of cobbled together state was not too far short of a miracle. I was very fortunate that all the used hardware actually worked.

Operating System | openSUSE Tumbleweed

There really wasn’t any other choice. I need long term reliability and I am not interested in reinstalling the operating system. I know, through personal experience, that Tumbleweed works well with server applications, is very tolerant to delayed updates and will just keep chugging away.

I have been very satisfied with the stability of Tumbleweed as a server for the last year on my “temporary system” performing that role. The issues I did have with that system, although minor, have been with video due to the Nvidia GPU. This build, I purposely avoided anything to do with Nvidia due to the dubious support they provide.

Storage Setup

This was an area that took me several months of research and reading. My criteria was that I had to have Storage Array BTRFS Raid 10. This afforded me a lot of redundancy but also a lot of flexibility. This will allow me to slowly upgrade my dries capacity as they begin to fail.

When deciding the file system, I did a lot of research into my options. I talked to a lot of people. ZFS lost consideration due to the lack of support in Linux. I am perfectly aware that the development is done primarily within Linux now but it is not part of the mainline kernel and I do not want to risk the module breaking when the kernel updates. So, that was a non-starter.

I looked at a few LVM options but if I wasn’t confident in understanding all the details of it and I didn’t want to risk any reliability due to my ignorance. Why I ended up using BTRFS is due to the reliability and flexibility of the file system. Anyone that says RAID 10 on BTRFS is not reliable is, sadly mistaken.

Since the motherboard I have wouldn’t recognize a software RAID and boot from it, I used a 7th drive to bootstrap the whole system. That, also running BTRFS for the root file system and I threw in some Swap as well.

Used a 6-port SATA card for the 6 drives of the BTRFS RAID array and mounted it as /home. At some point, I want to take advantage of the subvolume capabilities of BTRFS but that will come at a later time.

Additional Components

Prime 1 Bluray USB Media DashboardSince this is my new central computer, as it were, I wanted this to have all the faculties for doing the regular nonsense that I conduct in my SuperCubicle. Since it seems I have made a bit of a reputation for doing computer-y things, I tend to help other people out in data recovery, backing up their systems and so forth. I also like to mess with Single Board Computers and although I can stick an SD Card in my laptop. I wanted something with all the media cards in it and external SATA ports for plugging in drives as well. This already had some USB and SATA connections on the top of the case. The 5.25 Media Dashboard has SD, MS, MMC, XD, TF, M2, CF and SATA interfaces. There is also a power connector port and USB3. I have used many of these interfaces already. As a bonus, this has a temperature sensor that I attached to the CPU cooler that tells me what the temperature of that monstrosity is. It really hasn’t gotten real hot yet but I will see how hot I can get it after I really start pushing it.

The optical drive is also getting a regular workout as I have been dipping into the bargain bin of post-Christmas season movies to add to my media collection. All in all, this has been the perfect hardware build for me and my purposes. As it stands today, I only have 3 open bays on this machine so anything smaller, just wouldn’t do.

Current Activities

I didn’t just build this system to look old in my basement. I have had plans for this thing for longer than many of the parts. My number one task is that this machine is my central repository of all my data. Everything from records to movies. To that end, outside of the standard server functions you have by “flipping a couple switches” like Secure Shell, Samba, Syncthing, I wanted to go beyond this. Something “cool!”

Media Server

Currently testing Emby, PLEX and Jellyfin. This is probably what this machine does most right now. That and ripping the DVDs and Blu-rays I purchase using MakeMKV (Another blathering for another time). This function doesn’t seem to be very taxing on memory or processing power. Maybe if I had more machine drawing media from it it would but that is not an issue at this time.

Gaming Rig

Although I am not exactly doing much gaming, I think I played a game of River City Ransom: Underground with my youngest. I have also played Descent 2 (rebirth) on this machine, and it, of course, ran it extremely fast. At this point, I haven’t come close to taxing the video card. I am planning to do more Linux gaming with it and by that, I mean, anything that I can run in the Linux environment, so Wine and Proton, those are also fair “game”.

Video Rendering

Since this is the most capable machine I own, I’m using this to render video. It does the task in 1/3rd the time of my Dell Latitude E6440. Would faster be nicer, sure, but I don’t exactly churn out lots of video content for it to matter. I still tend to edit the video on my laptop but render it on this machine. Mostly because I don’t have great monitors for it yet. That will come later.

Planned Activities

I will be implementing a Nextcloud server and start playing around with some note taking applications that I can self-host. Not that I am unsatisfied with Simplenote, I just happen to like to keep my options open.

Another service I want to run is Home Assistant. I have these plans for implementing “smart devices” that are not cloud based going off someplace else. I want to have Home Assistant, manage all my devices and make my home just a bit more convenient. That is also another blathering for another time.

I had originally intended to make a video of the build of this, to include the installation process, but after reviewing the video and being bored out of my mind watching it, I have kicked that to the curb and will maybe turn that into an 1980s sitcom montage to music or something.

Final Thoughts

Although this computer has only been up and running for about two months, I am slowly adding more services and functions to it. For now, it is pretty light, but in a few short months, that will most certainly start growing. I am very happy happy with the sub-$700 build for a computer system that has met or exceeded my expectations. It was a fun first complete, from ground up, scrap-together assembly that really was a gamble. I am pleased with how well openSUSE Tumbleweed runs on it and that I have had no disturbances with any operating system updates.

Often, after a project, you will review it, have an “After Action Review” and ask yourself, “What would I do differently if I were doing this again.” I can honestly say, there is nothing I would change. I like everything about this machine. I would, perhaps, like more storage space as I have already gobbled up 2.5 TiB of my 5.5 TiB of storage space. Reviewing what I spent and the additional cost of the larger storage, I would have still made the same decision. So, back to would I change anything? No, I think I made the right decision. I do have upgrades planned for the future but that is a project for the fall. This machine truly fits my needs, even if much of the hardware is yester-years retired bits.

References

BTRFS Increase RAID capacity on ServerFault.com
openSUSE.org Tumbleweed Download
BTRFS wiki on Kernel.org
5.25 Media Dashboard on Newegg.com
Steam for Linux from openSUSE.org