Sabayon Linux | Review From an openSUSE User

Sabayon review title.png

In my quest to further cement that openSUSE is the greatest Linux distribution ever, I have kicked the tires of yet another Linux Distribution, Sabayon. What Surprised me about this distribution was that it was Gentoo based yet installed very quickly, performed its updates quickly and was configured pretty decently out of the box. I could use this just about as easily as any other distribution.

This was as part of a “Distro Hopping Challenge” with the BigDaddyLinux Community.  Here is my somewhat heavily biased review of Sabayon Linux from a deeply entrenched openSUSE Tumbleweed User.

Installation

Right from the beginning I was happy to see that you could install Sabayon from the initial boot. I find it to be an irritating extra step to go into a live session before starting an installation. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Sabayon-01-boot install

The installation of Sabayon was surprisingly easy. Not at all what I expected. I believe it is the same installer that GeckoLinux as well as several others use which is quick and easy to use. Not my favorite installer but quite possibly my #2 in all the installers I have used.

After a nice little greeting, you are asked for your location. Nothing complex here but I did wonder if it is picking up on my actual time zone or if it is just defaulted to “New York”. If someone knows, feel free to leave a comment.

The default keyboard selection was also correct for me and I chose to use the entire disk for partitioning. More on the default partition later.

Here you enter your username, password and machine name, which I must say, I do like how easy it is to name the machine, it’s not buried in some other layers of options, it’s easy and accessible. You are also given the option to have a different password for the “administrator account”. I would call it “root account” but that’s me.

You are given a nice brief (maybe too brief?) summary of your installation. This is your last chance at bailing out.

The installation was not nearly as slow as I was expecting for something Gentoo. That leads me to believe that it was not compiled on the fly but had already been pre-compiled for your convenience. That makes me think… what makes this flavor of Gentoo unique compared to just running Arch or openSUSE Tumbleweed.

First Run

From Grub to Login screen was incredibly fast. I wasn’t paying close attention to how long it took but it was within the time it took me to restore my Kontact window and check my calendar. So, pretty darn fast.

The default wallpaper is not really my preference. It’s too… warm but it isn’t unpleasant by any means. I would likely find an alternative wallpaper if I were to stay on Sabayon.

The Greeting Window to welcome you to Sabayon was pretty fantastic. I think this should be the standard in all distributions. This will get you where you need to go in short order for getting help or helping the project. Well done.

I did find that I needed to change the style of the application menu. The default Application Launcher is acceptable but not my favorite. I find the alternative Application Menu a better alternative and if I were in charge of the project, I would make it my default. I think it makes for a better Plasma experience.

Speaking of defaults, I would also make the default theme Breeze Dark. Default Breeze is just not cool looking. I suppose if you like the light colored theme, fly that flag and go with it but the dark just looks way better and does a better job of exemplifying the slick nature of Plasma.

I looked at the Tomahawk media player to see if it respected the dark theme but it did not. That would be a deal breaker if I couldn’t tweak this. I didn’t dig into as I wasn’t interested in adding media to this machine. It is a nice looking interface… outside of that bright white thing it has going on.

Another “attaboy” goes to the developers in enabling the firewall by default. I think it is such a poor decision to not have a firewall enabled by default. Sadly, every Ubuntu distribution leaves it disabled by default. If you are only using your computer behind your home router, maybe it is not a big deal but security in layers is never bad. Also, I do use my computer outside of my home and I would venture to guess so do many others. Sabayon does its users a great service in not only enabling a firewall by default but also providing an easy to use firewall for the unfamiliar.

Sabayon-20-Firewall

I wish more distributions had a distribution specific menu to encourage you to get involved in the project. The developers at Sabayon have a menu item, “Report Bugs” which is nothing more than a link to their Bugzilla page but still a nice feature.

The update tool was pretty fantastic. It actually might be my favorite update tool I have ever seen. Nothing against any other distribution but this should be the standard. I enjoy the light-hearted interactions.

“Repositories updated Successfully” with a single response of “Ok, thanks”

“There are 89 updates, What to do?” with a response of “Update”, “Show”, “Ignore”, “Srsly, ignore!” not sure the difference between “Ignore” and “Srsly, ignore!” but it did make me smile.

“There are 4 notices from repositories.” with the options, “Let me see”, “Stop annoying me” and “Close”.

I do like the embedded terminal display in the update utility. Much like the MX Linux update tool. This is a very welcomed feature that other distribution GUI update tools should have by default.

What I Like

Number one, the firewall is enabled by default. That is a huge win in my book. Since most of my systems are mobile, I do expose my computer to the scary internet on public wifi services. No software is perfect and that extra layer of protection should be enabled by default on all machines.

Having a Sabayon sub-menu to get access help features and bug reporting and getting involved is another fine tweak to the distribution. Since Sabayon is not like many other distributions, having those resources readily available is fantastic.

The fast boot time is great to see. Not that there are distributions that are painfully slow anymore but it is nice to see that this distribution is fast, crisp and very usable.

Maybe my favorite feature of Sabayon is the verbose Update Tool. It is a bit tongue-and-cheek, which reminds me of Linux of old and made my time using it with a perpetual grin.

What I Don’t Like

I started to get multiple welcome screen windows upon rebooting the machine. Nothing terrible just slightly annoying. I think it had to do with not closing the Welcome screen when I logged out / rebooted. Not a huge deal or worth a bug report.

Not a fan of the single partition for root and /home. This is very common and I wasn’t given a default, multi-partition option on the installer. I could have partitioned it manually so that is on me. No matter the arguments I hear form anyone, multiple partitions will always be the safer and more flexible option.

Final Thoughts

Sabayon is a well done distribution, no matter the underlying technology. In this case, Gentoo but the implementation of Plasma was done so well, I may not have even noticed it was Gentoo. If I were not so entrenched with openSUSE, this would be a serious contender for a daily driver.

If you want to try Gentoo but don’t want spend time compiling it, this would be a great way to go. It is very well done and worth giving a spin.

Further Reading

Sabayon Linux Home Page

BigDaddyLinux.com

MX Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

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Dolphin | My File Manager of Choice on openSUSE

Dolphin File Manager

Managing files is nothing new for me. Since my days on the Amiga Workbench of the early 90s, I have developed a preference for how I like to manage my files. My first real exposure to what I think is a fantastic file manager was “Midnight Commander” to which a mode of that was available using Konqueror in the KDE 3 days. It might have been there in KDE 4, I can’t recall because it was about that time KDE introduced the best file manager I have ever used. Dolphin.

This is my rather biased view on why I think Dolphin is the best file manager available. To give you an opportunity to bail out of this blathering here, I’ll sum it up in saying, this, Dolphin is the best file manager based on its flexibility, speed and KIO plugin functionality that allows me to manage files on remote machines with little effort. It just does its job in a fantastically reliable, smooth and intuitive manner that I really appreciate. It only lacks one function that does require me to go back to Konqueror from time to time.

I had originally planned to be a part of the discussion concerning File Managers on the BigDaddyLinux Live Show but was not able to participate. You can watch the discussion here.

Scope of this Blathering

I am not going to compare Dolphin to another file manager. This is not a persuasion to use Dolphin in any way. It is merely highlighting the features I use regularly and greatly appreciate. Ultimately, I believe you have to use what works best for you and your situation.

Briefly About Dolphin

Dolphin is the default file manager in KDE Plasma. It is simple and easy to use for basic functions that any user with even a limited understanding in file management can understand. The file manager’s left-side pane gives you quick access to places you visit, either local or remote at a click away. It contains, search functions using Baloo File Indexer that allows for very rapid locating of files. Another great feature is the ability to easily find recently saved items as well.

The main portion of the interface is where you interact with the files themselves with some useful hot-spots for selecting multiple files for those that prefer the single-click to open files and folders.

On the right, there is an optional panel that gives you details about the current folder you are in or whatever file(s) you have selected with even the option to add comments to things. If you want to preview some media, selecting the file and pressing play will in that pane provides that feature as well.

Everything in Dolphin can be customized to match your particular preference. There are limitations, of course but I don’t seem to bump into those too much.

Top Five Fantastic Features

1. The Interface

The look of Dolphin, especially with the Dark Theme I have chosen just looks good. It is clean and feels polished. It gives me everything I need to navigate quickly to whatever location I need to go to get what I want. As briefly described. The Places and Information side panes on either side can be easily turned on and off by pressing F9 or F11, respectively. F10 to create a new folder and several others I use. Function Keys are well utilized with this file manager and that makes for a pleasant and efficient user experience. Dolphin has tabs, tabs are just fantastic and when I was first exposed to Tabs in Konqueror in 2003, there was no going back to separate windows for each file location. It is such a fantastically clean way to keep your fingers on multiple locations.

Dolphin-01

2. Split Windows.

With a Simple strike of the F3 key, you cRather than open another Dolphin Window, there is an option to split the view into two views. This makes for easy comparison of files and folders within different directories and moving them around accordingly. I often have a Tab or two open that has the window split for easy management of files. This is a bit of a callback to the Midnight Commander days of old.

Dolphin-02-Split

3. Filter Bar

This is a feature I use often when I have those directories that have a lot of files in it and reading through each of them would take too long. To activate this feature, Alt+I or Control > Tools > Show Filter bar if you would prefer to click your way there. One such way I use this is to search through my media folders for specific artists of songs or movie title. I also use this to sort though my camera files for specific dates. This feature has spoiled me and I can no longer consider any file manager that doesn’t have this feature.

Dolphin-05-Filter

4. Search Function

This is heavily tied into the KDE Plasma file indexing agent and I don’t actually know if it works without it activated but the splendid feature is a great way to look for anything sitting in your file system. I have used this to locate old records of a specific title successfully countless times. I can’t say enough good things about file searching in Dolphin coupled with Plasma.

Dolphin-04-Search

5. Terminal

Last, but certainly not least is the ability to open up a terminal with a quick reach to F4 at the same file location of which you are working. To exemplify this feature, if I am in my CubicleNate directory the terminal opens to ~/Documents/CubicleNate and I can do whatever functions, in the terminal from my working directory. Also note, if I jump to another tab or the adjacent split window. The terminal jumps to that directory. It is hugely useful and a welcome feature. It makes the terminal even more accessible and another tool readily available to aid you in making your work more efficient.

Dolphin-03-Split with Terminal

Final Thoughts

Dolphin is a great file manager that works so well, I am not sure where they can go from here… except for one small feature that keeps me going back to Konqueror, File Size View. It is a graphical view of the working directory that visually shows the size of each file or folder recursively. This is a great way to visually see what is consuming your file system (I almost wrote hard drive). This is not a daily usage feature but it is something I go to from time to time to lean out some of my project directories. I can easily find backups or repeats of large backups of projects that can be weeded out.

I am not sure how well Dolphin would work on a GTK based system or if there are features in parity to what is available in Dolphin but I can say that Dolphin is my “killer app” when it comes to what drives my Desktop Choice. It is the best looking, feature rich file manager I have ever used. I wholeheartedly believe it should be the standard for which all file managers strive to propel Desktop Linux forward.

Further Reading

More about Dolphin from KDE.org

BigDaddyLinux Show on File Managers

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

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

Using Kwin on LXQt with openSUSE

lxqt-a-new-light-desktop-environment

KDE Plasma is a lot lighter on your system resource than it used to be. There are options out there that are even lighter. As of late, I have been acquainted with many light weight distributios, BunsenLabs, MX, antiX, PeppermintOS and more that are even lighter than a basic KDE Plasma. They are all fantastic distributions and have great implementations of XFCE, LXDE or mixtures of the two and use OpenBox or some other window manger. The default window manager in LXQt on openSUSE is OpenBox and it is a fine window manager but has a dated appearance to it and the beauty of Linux is to be able to mix and match components to your hearts content.

Why

I like the features of Kwin, and the window decorations it brings along with some other usability features I have come to expect on my Desktop Environments. OpenBox is satisfactory and great for what it is but Kwin matches my preferences better.

How

These instructions are assuming you have installed openSUSE without KDE Plasma as the default desktop. If you have previously installed KDE Plasma and you are just switching the window manager, jump to the Switch Window Manager section.

Install packages

In terminal:

sudo zypper install kwin5 oxygen5 systemsettings5

Since you are installing a bunch of the KDE Plasma components you are going to pull down all the related dependencies. The oxygen5 package is completely optional but since that is still my favorite Window Decoration, I have included it. Feel free to punch in your favorite dressing there or remove that flavor all together.

Switch Window Manager

After the necessary Plasma components are installed, the next step is to switch out OpenBox with Kwin

In the system menu select: Preferences > LXQt Settings > LXQt Configuration Center

lxqt configuration center-01

Select Session Settings

lxqt configuration center-02

In the LXQt Session Settings window, Select Basic Settings and under Window Manager, select Kwin_x11.

Select Close, log out and log back in for the changes to take affect.

Customizing

Upon logging back in, you should immediately notice the system menu looks so much smoother. Should you decide to further tweak your window settings. That can be done under Preferences > KDE System Settings.

This will bring up the familiar and fantastic System Settings from the Plasma Desktop Environment. This will allow you to make further visually pleasing changes to your desktop.

Final Thoughts

KDE Plasma is by far my favorite desktop environment and it is pretty light weight (relatively speaking) these days under openSUSE. It will run pretty decent on older or limited hardware. However, when memory is limited, say, 1 or 2 GiB of RAM, an extra 100 or so MiB of RAM is kind of a big deal. LXQt is a real nice desktop environment and when compared to some of the other low resource desktops like XFCE, often doesn’t feel as mature, especially when compared to MX Linux or PeppermintOS. Making this little Window Manager switch makes, in my estimation, improves the user experience.

I run this setup on my netbooks and low end laptops. Kwin does use an addition 34 MiB of RAM as compared to OpenBox but I am willing to make that trade-off for the improved interface features. I think a larger smile when using my hardware is worth 34 MiB.

Further Reading

https://en.opensuse.org/Portal:LXQt

Manjaro Wiki on LXQt with Kwin

Sony Vaio VPCEB23FM E-Series Laptop with openSUSE Leap

openSUSE on Sony Vaio PCEB23FM-sm.png

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

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

Preparing for Installation

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

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

Specs that Matter

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

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

Mostly a decent system.

Installation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

core2 duo vs core i3-350m

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

Further Reading and links and things

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

https://www.cpubenchmark.net/

Dell Latitude D630

Multimedia Codecs and VLC Player

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

CubicleNate Biased Reviews

KDE Connect CLI | A gift to Future Self

terminal-icon

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

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

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

Installation

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

openSUSE

sudo zypper install kdeconnect-cli

Debian Based

sudo apt-get install kdeconnect-cli

Process to Pair Device

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

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

kdeconnect-cli -l

That will give you output something like this:

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

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

kdeconnect-cli -d device_ID --pair

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

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

How I am using it

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

Final Thoughts

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

kdeconnect-cli --help

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

kdeconnect-cli -d device_ID --ping

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

Further Reading

https://community.kde.org/KDEConnect

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

KDE Connect – Mobile and Desktop Convergence

MX Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

BunsenLabs Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

https://lineageos.org/

openSUSE Linux on a Dell Inspiron 3646 | Low Budget Multimedia Configuration for a Small Church

Churches generally have no budget for technology and frankly, I don’t think that a church should really avoid spending on technology as much as possible. I’m sure this isn’t a view many people share but it is my view. I believe it using whatever is available whenever possible and only making upgrades or purchasing new hardware when it is absolutely necessary.

There are several pieces of equipment in varying states of age and functionality. I haven’t sorted out everything, yet, and it is also not completely on my shoulders, as another tech and audio enthusiast in the church, Phil, has taken care of the audio equipment. It is all a work in progress.

My focus, for now, is to restore multimedia capabilities of the computer, Dell Inspiron 3646 and even improve it somewhat. Upon my initial assessment, I knew what my first steps were.

The Problems

Dell Inspiron 3646-04-System.jpgThe machine originally came equipped with Windows 10 which would annoyingly upgrade at the the most inopportune time and using it on under powered hardware is often problematic. The few times I spent any amount of time on the machine, it didn’t perform very well but it was working and I wasn’t really interested in thrusting the greatness of Linux on those not ready for it.

At some point in time, the system fell into disarray and I was recently asked to see what I could do to make the computer functional. Phil had already made the sound system functional enough to be used so it was my turn to make the computer functional.

Like it or not, sometimes your volunteers have things come up and just don’t make it in one day leaving the available workers short handed. Back in my days of childhood, multimedia meant slide show or overhead projector, but it’s hard to convinced a 20 something pastor that the right investment with no budget is a slide projector…

The Limitations

A budget of zero, or rather, whatever I am willing to dig up to make improvements. Since I had already been informed there is no budget for any upgrades or equipment, I was only going to do what was necessary to make the computer system as functional as possible. I already knew, with the power and capabilities of Linux, I could make substantial improvements very easily.

Here is the hardware I have to work with:

  • Dell Inspiron 3646
  • Intel Celeron CPU J1800 @ 2.41 GHz
  • 4GB RAM
  • Single Head Video Output
  • A bunch of other audio equipment with which to integrate

Preparing the Installation

I prepared a USB drive with openSUSE Leap 15.0. I downloaded the ISO from here and put the image on an ISO using SUSE Studio Imagewriter. Once the image completed writing, I inserted the drive into the Dell Inspiron 3646 and powered it up.

In order to access the BIOS, when the machine is going through the POST process and you are greeted with the Dell Logo, press F2. Since openSUSE is capable of handling secure boot without issue, I didn’t have to change anything. I just wanted to be sure that the BIOS was picking up the USB drive and I wanted to see the main screen so I could record the main bits of the hardware.

Dell Inspiron 3546-01-BIOS

I set this machine up with KDE Plasma because, is there really another choice? I mean, yes, of course there is but I didn’t want to have to fiddle with anything to get the features I wanted so my only real choice was of course going to be Plasma.

Since I like what I like when setting up the partitions, I did it manually to my preferences. I prefer the swap partition over the swap file and I am using BTRFS on root with snapshots enabled. BTRFS has been a rock solid performer in this capacity. I use XFS on /home. I was going to use Ext4 but the only reason for that would be for Dropbox compatibility and frankly, I just stopped using Dropbox due to their technical shortcomings.

Dell Inspiron 3546-02-partitions

After boot up, the system was all set. It required a few more software packages, firstly, the Plasma Browser Integration. In terminal:

sudo zypper install plasma-browser-integration

It actually may not be necessary to have to explicitly install this software package as the desktop it is supposed to automatically ask you if you want it installed.

Next I installed the Plasma Add-on for Firefox.

Plasma Integration Add-on

Finally, I installed all the Codecs and VLC into this machine using my multimedia codecs and VLC player instructions for Leap 15.0.

The last bit to configure was KDE Connect. Initially just with my Android phone, mostly for demonstration purposes. I also was presented with an opportunity to do a “live test” as well.

After some tests, it all worked just as expected and the machine performed much better than it did previously… exceptionally better… Not to belabor the point but before the machine was rather sluggish and I didn’t expect anything fantastic but this machine really does perform fantastically well.

Changes and Upgrades

This machine has only one VGA output and it was previously set up with a splitter cable that when plugged into both the monitor and the projector, the output would shut down. I don’t know if that is how it has been used or not but I determined it needed a proper splitter. I picked one up, hooked it up and I now have a unified output between the screen and projector.

VGA Splitter.jpg

I actually thought that this machine was going to require more memory to function well enough but it isn’t necessary at this time. This machine isn’t being taxed at all. KDE Plasma, even with all the fun I was running did not tax the machine at all.

How it’s working now

I am sure that there are a few more “bugs” to be worked out, mostly with the human to machine interaction. Mostly, I need to properly document the process of turning it on and off the system properly as well as how to pair Android phones or tablets to allow other workers to use the KDE Connect features. I have helped two people completely unfamiliar with KDE Connect, use it and it be impressed with it.

The feature that stood out the most was the ability to share a YouTube URL from the phone directly to the computer to have it open immediately and play. A feature I have enjoy for quite some time and have become quite accustomed was new and exciting to the unfamiliar. The multimedia controls, also quite handy and when I demonstrated the ability to use the phone to switch slides on LibreOffice Impress using only the volume keys, all well received

I still need to create some documentation to allow anyone to be able to use it without my direct intervention. For now, I am going to make myself available to help people become accustomed to this “new” system.

Future upgrades

Since some of the volunteers do Add a dedicated “burner” tablet so that volunteers don’t need to install KDE Connect on their phones. After I was reviewing some of my photographs, I noticed that there is an HDMI port on this computer. I am going to see about adapting that port to VGA and for multi head capability. The next upgrade would be a memory upgrade. 4 GiB of RAM, although good enough for now it would be nice to to have just a bit more. I haven’t opened the machine up but I am guessing there are at least 2 slots and one of them filled and the other is open. Of course, I need to check for certain before I start buying hardware.

Not directly related to this computer, there is a need to make further refinements to the attached sound system and determine what the issue is with the lighting control system.

Final Thoughts

The Dell Inspiron 3646 is a fine machine that, in my estimation has many years of service ahead of it. I have to say, once again, how amazing it is how much more efficient Linux is than Windows on less capable machine. The  computer’s functionality would greatly improved with a second display.

The sound system to which it is connected and the lighting controller are going to need a bit more attention. I am not sure exactly where to start or if I should even be the one to touch it. There is an annoying 60 Hz hum that needs to be eliminated. Then there is the matter with the lighting controller. Currently, it does nothing, no lights work. I am not sure yet where the breakdown is but I will figure it out eventually.

This is only the first in many steps to slowly making the information system situation in the church better. This is not the “main effort” in the church which is perfect for me. No budget, no attention and no one else that interest in finding solutions.

External Links

openSUSE Leap Download

http://philoangelo.blogspot.com/

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power-on_self-test

Multimedia Codecs Terminal

 

Konqueror is Still Awesome

Konqueror logo.png

My first file manager on Linux was Konqueror. Compared to anything I at that time it was by far the best thing I’ve ever used. So many options, so many customization features and so many ways to find out information about your files. Looking at it today, I still think it is still by far the best file manager (plus) out there.

The basic openSUSE Tumbleweed installation does not include Konqueror by default but it is available in the main repository. To install enter this in the terminal:

sudo zypper install konqueror konqueror-plugins

Be sure to install the “konqueror-plugins”. Without the plugins, Konqueror doesn’t have that particularly special functionality so I recommend the plugins package.

When you start Konqueror, you are greeted with a pleasant little introduction which tells you a little bit about what Konqueror can do. The more you learn how this software works, the more you discover what you can accomplish with it. Click through the introduction to get acquainted with the product then get to work.

Konqueror Welcome Screen

Konqueror has all the fine functions of a file manager, web browser and can be used as a universal document viewer. More on that last part later. I want to initially focus on the file management capabilities of Konqueror.

Konqueror File Manager.png

This isn’t anything that Dolphin, the default KDE Plasma file manger can’t do. In fact, in comparison, there are things Dolphin will do that Konqueror does not by default. To compare the two, Dolphin has side panels for quick links to places, recently saved work and details about whatever file has been selected. Konqueror does not have this.

Dolphin Home Folder.png

Most basic file management will work just fine in Dolphin. Where the difference really comes in is with the plugins and some additional or more advanced built in features. The feature that stands out most is the File Size Viewer, a graphical breakdown of files, larger to smaller and the size they take up relative to the overall whole of the directory in question. It sorts the directories by size so at a glance you can see what is taking up your disk space.

Konqueror File Size View

I have yet to see this particular feature in any other file management tool. From what I can tell, this feature stands alone and it is absolutely fantastic. It is not a daily feature but it often comes to play when I am analyzing the contents of a disk or when I have to periodically go through and clear out information from my Google Drive so that I don’t go over on my piddly 100GB allotment. I also use this to periodically look at what is taking up the most space. In my case, I have a bunch of VMs on my drive cluttering things up.

The next rather fantastic feature of Konqueror is the ability to make your time managing files productively enjoyable. It has the ability to split up the window into panes where each pane can be where ever you want it to be and view them how you want them to be viewed. You can even open up a Terminal Emulator. I have used this to monitor Rsync operations. If you do file transfers with webdav, ftp, sftp and so forth, this will give you a great way to manage files.

Konqueror Panes Terminal Emulator

But wait, there’s more!

Konqueror Panes Terminal Emulator 2.png

Each of those panes can be changed to show file locations as you see fit. I can have a File Size View, Detailed View or even just open up another terminal emulator. To the untrained eye, I can give the illusion that I am way smarter and more productive than I actually am.

Konqueror also has a real decent web browser. It is a very capable browser and can be another tab in the same window. It uses either the default KHTML rendering engine or optionally Webkit. I don’t use it as a browser so much lately as Falkon has largely taken that role away but when I want to look at a page with an alternate browser, Konqueror is the tool I use.

Konqueror Web Browser

The last bit I am going to cover is the ability to embed other applications within Konqueror. Applications like Okular, the document viewer, can open up a PDF or picture as a tab within Konqueror. Any application that supports KParts can be used within Konqueror. Combine that capability with the ability to split the Window into panes and your desktop really becomes like clay, a piece of digital organization art and productivity to dazzle the masses.

Final Thoughts

Konquoror doesn’t get talked about much and that is unfortunate. It is an awesome application with great capabilities. It is almost like what Chrome / ChromeOS is trying to be but just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Chrome’s version of a file browser is dismal at best. Konqueror does everything in these nice neat, little, flexible containers but with fewer system resources than what you would see on Chrome. With multiple tabs open of file management, web pages and an embedded document viewer, It is still using less than 300 MB of RAM.

Admittedly, I tend to use Dolphin and Falkon more frequently than Konqueror. Dolphin for the side pane functionality and Falkon tends to to a better job of rendering pages than Konqueror. When it comes to serious file management, where I really need to dig in and do some heavy [file management] lifting, Konqueror still reigns supreme.

Further Reading

Konqueror Home

Okular Document Viewer

Falkon Web Browser on openSUSE

USB or Removable Media Formatting in Linux

USB Drive-02.jpg

I am working on another project and whilst doing so, I was reintroduced to a kind of irritating problem with Desktop Linux. Nothing huge, just annoying enough. Formatting Removable or USB media. This is one area where I agree with the statement that Linux is not as easy to use as Windows. The Linux solutions work but it seems to lack some elegance.

Method #1: The Terminal

Before you start issuing any Format commands, be sure you know what the device name is. The way I prefer is by inserting the drive into the computer and and run in terminal:

dmesg

You’ll see a lot of text and toward the end look for something that reads like:

[109951.128820] sd 6:0:0:0: Attached scsi generic sg3 type 0
[109951.128995] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] No Caching mode page found
[109951.128997] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] Assuming drive cache: write through
[109951.135052]  sdc:
[109951.136745] sd 6:0:0:0: [sdc] Attached SCSI removable disk

That tells me that the device name is sdc and I know that it is mounted under /dev. So this USB drive is /dev/sdc

to verify run:

df -h

If your computer mounted the drive you can take a look at the listing. Somewhere you should see the last drive you plugged in along with the Size of the drive, How much is Used, How much Available, Use of drive as a percentage and where if anyplace it is mounted. In my case:

Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sdc        7.5G  946M  6.6G  13% /run/media/cubiclenate/XFER

For the following examples, replace the “X” with your particular drive letter.

Next you need to ask yourself, do you wish to share the contents of this drive with non-Linux machines. If the answer is “yes” than you will need to format in FAT or NTFS.

Format with FAT or in this case VFAT

sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdX

Format with NTFS (New Technology File System), more common since Windows XP

sudo mkfs.ntfs /dev/sdX

If this drive is just for you and your Linux buddies, go with a Linux file system. They are “better” in many ways.

Format with EXT4 File System

sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdX

Or, if you are feeling it, go with XFS

sudo mkfs.xfs /dev/sdX

This process isn’t hard just not as straight forward to a new user and if you don’t spend your life in the terminal, these commands can easily be forgotten.

Method #2: Quick USB Formatter

A more graphical, KDE Plasma, friendly feeling option is this USB Format application. This is not in the Official openSUSE repositories.

https://software.opensuse.org/package/quick-usb-formatter

What is nice about this application is that it is very straight forward. After installation, just typing USB will bring this up in the menu / quick launcher as “USB Format”. The executable is located here:

/usr/bin/quickusbformatter

USB Format-01

The interface is very straight forward, you select the device, in this case /dev/sdc and it will NOT allow you to select your system drives so there is no shot at making a mistake here. You can select the file system but XFS is not an option. There is a field to type in a label if you so choose as well.

Downside to this interface is that you can’t manage the partitions should you want to delete or add partitions on this drive. Also note, I am not able to format anything in the build in SD Card reader. If these are not a concern then this may be a fine solution for you.

Method #3: Gparted

Perhaps my preferred method for managing storage medium is Gparted. This is the Gnome Partition Editor and is one of the finest pieces of software I have ever used. It just does everything I need to do in a nice, intuitive, easy to use and extremely powerful tool for managing disks. It is described as an “industrial-strength” application for for creating, destroying, resizing, moving, checking and copying partitions, and the filesystems on them.

Gparted is available for both Tumbleweed and Leap, to install:

sudo zypper in gparted

This “do everything tool” for your disks will require root privileges and rightfully so. You can create space on disk for new operating systems, or even copy the file systems.Gparted-01-sdc

This has access to all the drives on the system, mounted or not. Also note that modification to SD Cards, as expected, is also not an issue.

Gparted-05-SD Card.png

This application is fantastic in how you an resize and move partitions around on a drive. The designers have taken great care in paying attention to the finer details of disk interaction.

After you are satisfied with the disk modifications, you commit to the changes by a check box labeled “Apply All Operations”.

Gparted also removes all ambiguity in what is supported with each file system. There is a great report you can review under View > File System Support.

Gparted-02-File System Support

Final Thoughts

Managing USB or Removable media isn’t exactly the most straight forward if you are new to Linux. This might not be true for all distributions or desktop interfaces but my experience on KDE Plasma over many years has been as such. Maybe it shouldn’t be a straight forward process as a user should know what they are doing before they start making any changes to any pieces of hardware and maybe it is also a non-issue as most removable media is already formatted and ready to go.

If you have any other thoughts on interacting with removable media. Please share, I am interested in knowing if there are other or better options out there.

Further Reading

https://software.opensuse.org/package/quick-usb-formatter

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