HP EliteBook 840 G7 running openSUSE Tumbleweed

I was given an incredible gift by my former employer as a parting gift, an HP EliteBook 840 G7. I didn’t unpack it right away as I wasn’t sure how I was going to integrate it into my mess of computer equipment. I have been very happy with my Dell Latitude E6440 and decided my next system was going to be a desktop system.

Bottom line up front, I am surprisingly pleased with this system. The HPs I have used in times past have been less than stellar and this machine is not at all anywhere close to the same experience. This machine is pretty great and far better than any HP I have ever used. openSUSE Tumbleweed runs fantastically well on this hardware. Setting it up was trivial and it has been a fantastic experience.

Specifications that Matter

This isn’t a loaded up unit and based on this site from HP, it is on the lower end of the spectrum. Comparing to what I am currently using as my main machine, it has half the RAM and 1/8th the storage space.

CPU

Intel Core i5-10310U Processor – This is not the fastest processor and there are faster options available for this machine. According to HP’s knowledge base on this machine, it can accept as much as a Intel Core i7-10810U. The actual difference between the two, according to CPUbenchmark.net, is about a 20% improvement. This is good news is, I can potentially make this laptop even more useful in the processing department… that is, assuming it isn’t soldered on.

Memory

8 GiB DDR4 with 7.5 GiB available for use. According to HP, this can take up to 64 GiB of RAM. I think that is incredibly spectacular. That definitely means I can grow into this machine over the long term. My reckless use of system resource causes me to chomp through the 7.5 GiB available pretty quickly. It’s a bit light for doing video editing and CAD work but still doable, so long as I don’t have a browser with 20+ tabs open.

Bottom line, this isn’t great now but could be very great for a rather small investment. Just by swapping out one of the SO-DIMMS with a 32 GiB module would make a huge difference.

Display

This laptop comes equipped with an anti-glare, non-touch, 1920×1080 display. I am not sure exactly the characteristics of this specific display as there are a lot of options according to this listing. Whichever version this machine has, I am very pleased with it.

Ports and Interfaces

This computer isn’t what I would consider heavy on interfaces. I might go as far to say it is a bit light but it does have the ports that truly count. I am a bit disappointed it is missing an SD Card reader but lets focus on what it does have, not what it is missing.

The front and back of the computer are void of any interfaces. This works well for the back due to how the screen pivots. I have seen alternative designs for hinges that allow for access to the back but from a usability perspective, accessing ports on the back is an exercise in fiddling around blindly unless you decide to crane your head around the backside of the computer. Ultimately, I don’t care one way or the other on this one.

The left side of the computer has four interfaces interfaces:

(2) USB 3.1 Gen 1 port (1 charging). I have used both of the USB slots though one tends to have a Logitech wireless mouse dongle in it. I have no complaints in this department.

(1) Headphone/microphone combo jack, or sometimes called a “courage port” and although I tend to use Bluetooth for “quiet listening” I do think a headphone jack is necessary on a computer and to not have one is terrible.

SmartCard slot, it is a vital necessity to have a SmartCard reader for a computer. Without one, I would have to plug in a USB external and that is, frankly, a less than ideal situation.

The unnamed opening on the side is for that Kensington Security Slot. That is for the purpose of locking your computer to the desk… which makes it like a desktop.

Left Side

The right side of the computer contains five interfaces:

(2) USB 3.1 Type-C port with Thunderbolt support. I have tested this, running openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop, the ports do recognize and enable dock stations as well as charge from them. I didn’t test the external display capability but that will come in the future.

(1) HDMI 1.4 port. This is standard fare for a laptop purchased in 2020. I am not sure if HDMI is preferred over DisplayPort but it is what I have.

(1) AC power input port. Since I am still quite uncertain as to the reliability of the USB-C port for the long term, I do appreciate having a barrel jack for power. I do think this will likely last longer than the USB-C port.

There is a blocked off SIM card slot on this computer, presumably due to the lack of WWAN. This is a factory install option, according to HP. That is unfortunate as that would have been a nice add on. I’m sure there is a way to hack it together, maybe.

Construction and Aesthetics

The laptop’s chassis is made of aluminum. According to the HP marketing information, it is made of machined-aluminum. I find that a bit hard to believe as I don’t see evidence of any machining marks and that seems incredibly cost prohibitive but I am not the expert here, nor have I seen the manufacturing plant. It very well could be true and this could be an incredibly well designed machine with spectacular manufacturing processes. It does look very nice. It has nice, sharp lines and just feels solid. The test a lot of tech enthusiasts give a machine is holding it by a corner with the screen lid open to see if it creaks or flexes. This computer does not do that.

The keyboard is claimed to be made of 50% recycled DVDs. The other 50% isn’t specified and why only DVDs and not CDs mentioned. They are both made from polycarbonate plastic. Perhaps people are done throwing out CDs? Also, who throws away DVDs? I have so many questions here. I absolutely prefer that all materials are recycled so I love seeing that HP is making it a point to utilize recycle materials in new machines.

The bezel of the computer is very thin, much thinner than I am used to seeing on a laptop. I am sure there are smaller but my biggest concern is, how do I take this apart without cracking it? The screen is visually of great quality and has a kind of indescribable clarity that I really appreciate.

Serviceability

I am incredibly impressed that HP made this computer so easy to access the innards. The bottom is held in place by five screws. There are clips towards the front of the case so it needs to be swung open towards the front of the machine.

Very surprisingly, they used captive screws so you don’t have to set them in a magnetic bowl or end up brushing them off your workbench and spend hours looking on your cluttered floor to find them.

Inside reveals easy access to the memory, SSD or in this case NVME. I didn’t take the CPU fan and heat piping out to see if the CPU was easily replaced like my Latitudes. Another time, perhaps. I think the big take away here is, this thing is easily serviceable and upgraded. With very little effort, I can swap out the storage and add RAM to this thing, truly making this a machine that I can use for many years.

binary comment

I will be interested in seeing how long the battery on this thing lasts. It is only rated at 53Watt/hours but it does appear to be adequate at this time, based on how I have been using it.

Installation of openSUSE Tumbleweed

I gave Windows 10 a try on this machine. I got through the installation procedure, registered the computer with HP, read through the rather frightening EULA and was presented with a fairly standard Windows 10 desktop albeit with a few extra HP sprinklings. This computer had none of the “bloatware” that is common on PCs… at least… has once been common. After about 45 seconds, I decided i was done playing with Windows and it was time for openSUSE.

I have installed openSUSE on a few other new computers and there have been hangups or difficulties to work through, mostly with Nvidia. I was expecting for there to be a bit of a battle but because I have chosen Tumbleweed, I know that I will have the latest available hardware drivers and judging by the mailing list feed. I was glad to know that this Comet Lake Intel architecture is supported.

In order to boot from the USB, I had to change the boot order. For my own personal future reference, here are what the different F-keys do on POST:

F1 – System Information
F2 – System Diagnostics
F3 – 3rd Party Option ROM
F9 – Boot menu
F10 – BIOS Menu
F11 – System Restore
F12 – Network PXE Boot

In this case, you really only have to make the change in the boot menu to boot from USB. Since openSUSE is Secure Boot capable, there are no problems there. If you are like me, you want to dig into the BIOS menu and see what goodies are accessible within. I’ll tell you, it’s pretty standard stuff.

For the installation process itself, I didn’t do anything custom. I just let the installer do what it wanted and it very nicely read my mind to just wipe and install openSUSE with a single BTRFS partition. The only tweaks I made was to activate the SSH Service and open the port in the firewall. The rest was left as is. Thanks openSUSE! The installation process took all of 9 minutes and it was complete. For details on my installation process you can take a trip here.

Upon booting up the system for the first time, the only issue I had was a lack of sound. Going into YaST, I selected the sound module which informed me that the kernel module for snd-sof-pci had not been loaded.

This wasn’t an extra step I wanted to do, but I am grateful that the YaST sound module was able to walk me through correcting the issue. The positive takeaway here is, I haven’t ever actually messed with this before since it hasn’t ever come up, but now that I see how this module works, further play is necessary. Not for this machine but something that I am building.

Just three packages needed to be installed and the sound automatically configured itself properly and hasn’t been an issue since. What I find interesting here is that Plasma now has devices like HDMI left in an inactive state so you have to how the inactive devices when you don’t have something plugged in. This really clears up a lot of the previous irritation with how Plasma / PulseAudio handled the sound devices. The changes here are fantastic.

After using this machine for a few days, I decided that I really loved it. I’m impressed by how solid yet light the chassis feels. That meant, I had to make this computer my own. I, of course, started by using my openSUSE Breeze Dark theme then I replaced the default system notifications with my preferred Star Trek: The Next Generation variety that I have cut up and mixed. It feels better that way.

My only issue that I have not yet worked out is that my brightness control for the screen just seems to trigger the mute toggle. My understanding is that there is a firmware fix from HP on this and this problem is not exclusive to Linux. More on this in the future.

The installation and first run of openSUSE Tumbleweed with Plasma has been simply fantastic. It has been over 10 years since I purchased brand new hardware to run Linux and have since stayed just a bit behind to reduce my frustrations. There are no serious frustrations with this machine, sure, a little issue with the brightness control and I had to take an extra step to get the sound working, but that is it. The battery life on this machine is extraordinary. I don’t have to think about having a power supply handy. I just take this laptop and go places. I can’t say I have ever experience such laptop computing freedom before. Truly, a tremendous openSUSE Tumbleweed laptop experience.

What I Like

The touchpad on this particular computer has a glass surface. I love how it feels and how easy it is to clean. Why is it that in 2020 I first experience this? Why hasn’t this been the standard in touchpads? It isn’t a full mouse replacement as it doesn’t have physical buttons at the bottom of the touchpad but if you press down on it, there is an audible click. By pressing in the standard respective locations, you do have all three mouse buttons.

The keyboard does have a TrackPoint where the G, H and B keys meet. This is something I have grown very accustomed to using my Dell Latitudes. I really don’t like being without but the downside is, with out that third button, I am not able to scroll like I do on my Dell Latitude E6440 so the usability of this component isn’t as useful as I would like. I am quite sure I can figure a workaround on this shortcoming.

Very importantly, the keyboard is of very good quality, I have written this entire post on this EliteBook and I am very happy with how the keyboard feels. This is nothing like the Zbook I have previously used where you had to hammer down on the keys to get the letters to type. These keys require just enough pressure to activate and since the chassis that it sits in is as rigid as it is, there is not a bit of flex in the keyboard.

On the incredibly rare occasion I tax this system, I am impressed by how quite the fan runs. There are two impressive aspects here. One, how little the fan actually runs and when it does run, how quite it is and how short it ends up running as it seemed to spin down when the CPU usage dropped down as well.

This computer has USB-C with Thunderbolt. I have nothing that takes advantage of this capability but now that I do, I just may look at getting something for that purpose. I do appreciate the fact that I can charge my computer from the USB-C port. This opens up a lot of power options for this computer. More on that at another time. It should also be noted that the Thunderbolt module in the Plasma Settings is very informative and I am sure that I will use this as my peripherals start to go towards this Thunderbolt interface.

Something that is incredibly important to me on a laptop is how easy it is to service the thing and what my options are when I open the thing up. The innards are incredibly easy to access so memory and storage upgrades are easy. There isn’t any memory soldered on to the board and since I have the option to stuff 64 GiB of RAM in this thing, that makes this laptop very forward leaning.

Amazingly, this computer has a built in SmartCard reader. This is huge for me as I need one regularly and using a USB device is not convenient. There weren’t any issues getting the device drivers and middleware set up in openSUSE. The wiki on that subject is well written and results are easily repeatable.

What I Don’t Like

The arrow keys on the keyboard are a little crammed. I am sure I’ll get used to it but I would say this is the weak point of the keyboard. I don’t have a suggestion as how to correct this whilst also maintaining the clean aesthetic. I think the layout of the keyboard is more about aesthetics than it is about functionality but it is in balance.

There is a little bit of squirrelly behavior of the Fn key for display brightness controls. After a little research this is not exclusively a Linux issue but is more common in Linux. There is a BIOS update to fix this problem, I just have to take the time to work through that solution with a non-Windows system.

As far as slots and ports go on this machine, there is a sore lacking of and SD Card slot. I do wonder why this feature was omitted from the design, especially over having a SIM Card slot that I can’t use without serious modification to the computer.

There is no Ethernet port on this computer. I guess they took a queue from Apple and omitted this too. This is one of those issues that can be easily fixed with a dongle or dock station. Thinking about it. I rarely use an Ethernet port on a laptop unless I am docked. I just happen to like having an Ethernet port and expect them on computers. I call this a nice to have, not a requirement.

Peculiar position for the Power button and airplane mode. I suspect this is to support the overall design aesthetic of the keyboard, having the nice clean lines and deck around the keyboard. The irritation with the airplane mode is that being on F11, I have triggered the airplane mode more often than I would like to admit. The media function keys utilize the F-row and by default are active. The only media keys I use often are the volume up and down keys so I have to determine if it is more important to have the F-keys, which I use very frequently, or the media keys as the default press.

Final Thoughts

Overall, very happy with this machine. It was a parting gift from my previous employer and about the time I completely forgot they were going to send it, the system arrived and I couldn’t be happier. I see myself using this machine for many years. Regardless of the lacking of SD Card reader, it does have the more important SmartCard reader. The arrow keys are a bit crunched but that seems to be a lot more common these days, which is incredibly unfortunate and the media keys are currently a bit squirrelly but there should be a fix for that in the near future. I really can’t complain at all as this is a fine machine and a very welcome gift.

Going forward, I plan to make this my on-the-go machine and will probably leave my Latitude at home more. This means, I will have to do some upgrades to this machine if I plan to make it my main, mobile machine. The 237 GiB drive is a bit small for all that I do with a computer and the 8 GiB of RAM seems to get filled up very quickly with my poor browser habits.

The HP EliteBook 840 G7 is a fantastic Linux machine. If this were offered with Linux pre-installed, I would consider this to be a prime, flagship, Linux experience. I haven’t tested any other distributions but I imagine they would be much the same. I really appreciate the work HP has done on this machine and the seeming forethought they had with ensuring Linux compatibility.

References

Dell Latitude E6440
HP EliteBook 840 G7 Specifications
HP EliteBook 840 G7 on NewEgg.com
Ubuntu on HP Elitebook 840 G7 Notebook PC

Element | Matrix Chat Client on openSUSE

All the kids have been talking about the wonders of Matrix as the future of decentralized, secure communication. I have known about it, seen bridges being used in the openSUSE discord and Telegram rooms. Most of my experience has not been great, generally there were significant delays. I have used a few clients, Riot.im on a web client, which I didn’t care for and I also used Quaternion a Qt based client but I have had issues with the encrypted messages bit. I found the user experience to be rather… lack-luster at best. Mostly, I found the whole thing quite confusing. Accessing new rooms wasn’t self-evident, understanding what Matrix is and isn’t was confusing and I therefore found it frustrating to use. My experience, has been that I really preferred Telegram for communication.

A revived curiosity came about when I heard of the splendors of Matrix being espoused by the folks on Destination Linux; Noah and Ryan especially. They really pushed the idea that this is the future of communication. I still mostly dismissed it, thinking that my Telegram experience was satisfactory. Then I heard Noah talk about how Matrix has revolutionized his communication workflow. Matrix has opened up functionality of which specifically, he described how he can text message, as in SMS, on Matrix. Now I was truly intrigued and decided that it was time to look into this once again. I could endure the pain of learning this to eliminate my SMS frustrations.

I know I could use the Element web client for Matrix but I don’t like web clients. If I have to have a browser open to use an application, I do not like the experience, it feels disconnected. Now if you wrap that web app in something like electron and make it feel like a part of the system, that changes things. They feel more complete like a real application and give me what is quite important an icon in my system tray that notifies me of activity. The emphasis here is, I want a system tray indicator of messages or activity. Any communication application that doesn’t give me this is immediately on the chopping block with a need to be replaced. Element meets my criteria and the process began again for using it. I checked the openSUSE Software Repositories and Snap Store, but it wasn’t available. It does, however, exist as a Flatpak (at the time of writing).

Setup Flatpak and Flathub Repository

The first step is to set up Flatpak and the main repository Flathub to get access to the Element-Desktop Flatpak. Generally speaking, Flatpak is set up on most distributions. At least, most distributions don’t make it difficult to get going if not already configured for you.

Though I am gearing this towards using openSUSE, there are instructions for other distributions available. You can go here for the Quick Setup for openSUSE or stay here and I’ll provide the quick, down and dirty ways to get it going. For those that prefer the click around and install, navigate here for the click to direct install method.

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

or you can use the more fun method and install it in terminal

sudo zypper install flatpak

Next, add the Flathub repository, in terminal, as root run this. If the Flathub repository is already set up on your system, it will not add another (see the --if-not-exist bit on the command).

flatpak remote-add --if-not-exists flathub https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.flatpakrepo

Optional Additional step is to install the Discover graphical application explorer backend so you can graphically explore and install Flatpak applications.

sudo zypper install discover-backend-flatpak

Now you are set with installing Element or any other Flatpak for that matter.

Installation of Element

I am presenting three methods of installing Element on openSUSE. Though, the third method my make the previous instruction of setting up the Flathub repo redundant.

Method One – Terminal

The quick and easy way to install Element is from the command line because the command line is awesome.

sudo flatpak install im.riot.Riot

Unfortunately, Flatpak application names are kind of silly in comparison to Snaps but I am sure for good reason. Read through and agree with the changes.

Method Two – Graphical with Discover

The graphical way may indeed be less confusing. Since Discover, the KDE graphical application explorer has been pretty great as of late, I recommend it for exploring Flatpak applications. It is as simple as searching for “Element” and you will get the green and white logo at or near the top of the list, selecting it and install.

The nice thing about Discover is that you can scroll down and see the source of the package. If there was another source for Element available, you can very easily select the source repository. It’s a real nice feature of Discover.

Method Three – From the Flathub website

Finally, You can also use the install file from the Flathub website where you will be provided a *.flatpakref file that some application managers like Discover can unpack and utilize.

https://flathub.org/apps/details/im.riot.Riot

I didn’t actually test it but it should work… maybe… if it doesn’t, be sure to let me know.

With whatever method you choose, it installs and integrates quite nicely into your menu and is immediately executable. There is no funny business to be had, weird hacks or changes that are necessary to run the thing. It is simply, install and go.

First Run and Impressions

When I started up Element, I was greeted with the login screen. It has a clean and modern feel to it that looks like time was taken to give the right visual appearance.

Since I remembered my Username and Password using my brain-backup, Bitwarden. Next you are going to have to authenticate your session. If you have created a passphrase on your other session of Element, this is where you can enter it. If you haven’t done this, you can verify it later. I skipped this step for now so I can show you a really cool way you can verify your session.

After skipping this, you are presented with your Matrix session. Since I have been using it for a little while now, I have a few contacts and rooms to which I am connected. You are also given a notice that you need to verify this session.

Since I had been using Matrix on Quaternion, I didn’t think much of getting it all set up, but I was quite wrong. So it appears that I have not had any messages encrypted using Quaternion, it was all out there in the open. Since I wanted to ensure that my session is verified and has encryption enabled, I had to go through the process.

The method that I think is rather unique and easy to accomplish is to use the interactive emoji verification. Since I started with Element on the mobile client, for reasons, I begin the process on the mobile client to verify my Desktop session. To get there, go into your Settings > Security & Privacy > Show All Sessions. There you will see the sessions logged into Matrix.

Selecting the session titled “Element Desktop (Linux)” with the adjacent red shield icon will reveal some options. You are given two options to verify the “Not Verified” session. Manually Verify by Text and Interactively Verify by Emoji. The mobile will give you a spinning circle and ask you to “Please wait…”

On the Desktop Client you get a focus stealing Incoming Verification Request pop up in the application. Which is what you want to be able to have trusted end-to-end encrypted messages. A new dialog will display informing you of the incoming verification request.

Once the two devices have made their handshake, you are asked to confirm the emojis are in the same order on both sessions. Easy to do, hold the mobile up adjacent the monitor and observe that they match. I just happen to find this method to be clever and amusing.

That is it, you now have your desktop and mobile Element clients. This makes your security all green and your sessions trusted.

It would be advisable to set a passphrase or generate a security key for you encryption key. I did this in the mobile application and copied it to my Bitwarden for safe keeping. You can also use a Security Phrase as well. This will just help you should you log into Matrix from another Element client.

My original intent was to go into how to set up bridges to other services, and the like, but I am already bumping up against my self-imposed word limit. So, I am going to separate out and make a kind of series of blatherings about Matrix chat using Element. This is enough to get you going with your mobile and desktop machines having properly setup and trusted clients. Now, it’s time to do some searching for rooms to have conversations. I’ll figure out how to bridge my other things another time and get back to that place of a centralized communication client I once enjoyed about a decade ago.

What I Like

The Element client makes using Matrix quite enjoyable. Previously, using Matrix was a bit of a lack-luster, almost a science experiment kind of feel to it. Sure, it worked but it didn’t have the polish and great user experience I have using Telegram. I can say, with much confidence, using Element feels like a real product. It feels just as good as any other messaging client. It is still early days for me so it’s still all new and exciting.

I have previously talked about in on of my noodlings how it would be nice to consolidate all these different messaging services like the good ol days of MSN, Yahoo and AIM rather than have all these different chat clients scattered about. I don’t use MSN, Yahoo or AIM anymore but I do have several others. I find the breadth of available bridges rather astounding.

What immediately interests me most is SMS and Facebook messenger. Those are both services I loath using. I would consider using IRC as I can see the utility of being able to stay on top of chats going on there and possibly Discord and Telegram but I don’t think it likely that I will be replacing Telegram or Discord anytime soon. openSUSE does have Matrix bridges into the Telegram groups and Discord rooms so no more work needed there. I will be playing around with these.

Most importantly, I appreciate that there is a dark theme so that you aren’t forced to stab you eyes with the painfully bright light hues. This is essentially a minimum requirement for me at this point. If I cannot get a dark theme, I don’t want to use it (Ahem, Hangouts).

What I Don’t Like

Understanding how this whole encryption thing works, and how your credentials are stored on the main Matrix server. I understand that your key is encrypted at your end and stored on the Matrix server but what exactly does that mean, I am not sure. I thought the benefit of Matrix is that it is all decentralized.

It took me a bit of time to get my head wrapped around what Matrix was vs Element. I would hear, “Matrix is the protocol not the client” and I didn’t quite grasp it. I also don’t like it that some clients just don’t work that well. Now that Element is here, I can see it as being the main client to be used, maybe even universally. Parts of the setup of Element / Matrix are a bit dubious but much of that has been cleaned up quite nicely.

Next Steps

Where to, from here. Now that I have a client for Matrix that is pretty darn great, I am going to explore the other possibilities. I see a lot of potential in simplifying my life with communication. I loath using Facebook Messenger and the way I am using SMS has not been ideal. Matrix has the possibility of removing two irritations of mine and I look forward to making this happen. I have decided to break out the bridges to their own discovery experiences and will blather about those in the future.

Final Thoughts

Matrix is now a highly polished, accessible experience for secure communication on the Internet. It is a decentralized system but also has a centralized hub for simplicity of connectivity. It really appears as though they have the little papercuts worked out and have really made available a great system to be used by any.

It’s still early days for this Element Client but things are looking pretty good. I don’t expect I will get friends and family on it anytime soon as it is a bit more work than Telegram but for those other tech enthusiast out there and for simplicity of my communication platforms, this looks like the ticket. The real question is going to be, how reliable this and the bridges are to use long term.

Do I recommend Element as a Matrix chat client? Absolutely. I look forward to its continued use.

References

https://flatpak.org/setup/openSUSE/
https://software.opensuse.org/package/flatpak
https://element.io/
https://matrix.org/bridges/

Turn off Monitor using CLI

This is another gift to future me from present me. I made the mistake of not properly writing this down before so I had to search for the answer. The problem is, sometimes, it seems as though Plasma is not shutting off my external screens consistently. I can’t say why but I have a suspicion that it is due to a specific communication application as I can almost guarantee that it is preventing my screens from turning off. I don’t have definitive proof of this so I am not going to put it in writing.

My intent is to have a shortcut for turning off all my screens instead of just locking them and hoping that the desktop environment will do its job of turning them off. I do want to point out that when I was using Windows, both 7 and 10, I had this problem too so it is absolutely not an issue with Desktop Linux.

It is fun being able to understand how to talk to a Linux machine through the terminal using the CLI (Command Line Interface). The more you know about how to work with it, the more you will ultimately enjoy your journey in Linux. Here is my solution.

The Commands

The commands I found out there in the vastness of the world wide web lead me to this that I have tested on multiple machines. Two were running Tumbleweed with Plasma and the other Leap 15.2 with Plasma.

xset -display :0 dpms force off

The other command is to force the screen on. This is useful as I have had issues where after undocking my machine, my screen would forget to turn on. I can’t say the reason why but this could also use a Global Shortcut

xset -display :0 dpms force on

The Script

I created a little shell script for turning off my screen called screenoff.sh. I can’t say for sure how all distributions handle this but I have a bin directory in my home folder, so this is where I have chosen to place this script. ~/bin

Using nano, I created a bash script for this.

nano ~/bin/screenoff.sh

Then filled it in with this information

#!/bin/bash

sleep 1
xset -display :0 dpms force off

The purpose of the sleep 1 line is to give me a chance to get my hand away form the keyboard and mouse so I don’t inadvertently cause the desktop environment to wake the screen.

Next I made the file executable. There are many ways to do it but since we are playing in the terminal:

chmod +x ~/bin/screenoff.sh

To test this out, using krunner or open a terminal and type screenoff.sh should turn off your screen. If not, something is wrong and maybe we can figure it out…

Custom Shortcut

It is not real practical to open up krunner or a terminal just to shut off the screen when I have the power to create a custom shortcut in Plasma. Here is how to do it. First open up System Settings and choose the shortcuts module. Your system settings may look a bit different but I am sure you can figure it out. I have faith in you.

Next you have to select the “Custom Shortcuts” submodule.

At the bottom of the list there is an Edit button with a down arrow. Select that > New > Global Shortcut > Command/URL

Name it whatever makes sense for you. I chose the name “Screen Off” to make it pretty clear. Set your shortcut. I chose Meta+Alt+O.

Next, Select the Action tab and enter the path of the script you just created. In my case, it is:
~/bin/screenoff.sh

Select Apply and test it out!

Final Thoughts

Plasma is real easy to customize to your liking. I am very happy with this small modification to make my desktop experience a bit more suited to my personal taste. I don’t expect that this is a very common use case but since I know I am an edge case in much of what I do, this helps me to remember and hopefully there will be at least one person that can use or adapt this to their own case.

I am not a terminal expert so if there is any way that this can be improved, please contact me or comment below

References

Terminal Applications
https://askubuntu.com/questions/62858/turn-off-monitor-using-command-line
https://unix.stackexchange.com/questions/16815/what-does-display-0-0-actually-mean

LG 29″ UltraWide | Monitor Upgrade and Configuration on Linux

I have historically made my hardware decisions based on price, generally I get what I can get for as low or as reasonable as possible. Basically, I go for free or near-free and fabri-cobble something together. After seeing some other computer setups, I have really thought that I want to be able to function more effectively and efficiently than I had been. One of the areas that I have been less than happy has been my monitor layout. I have been pushing 3 displays with my Dell Latitude E6440 and for the most part, it has been meeting my needs but there were some work flows that have not been working out so well.

What I had before was a kind of ah-hoc solution. I started with one monitor than wanted more screen real estate so I placed it off to one side because that is just what made sense at the time.

What I had here was a laptop screen with 1920×1080 (FDH) resolution. A monitor directly above with a resolution of 1440×900 (WXGA+) and off to the top right a screen with the resolution of 1280×1024 (SXGA). Both of those monitors I purchased for $10 each from a company upgrading everything. I was pretty happy as going from one monitor to a second was fantastic and adding a third made it even better.

The problem I ran into was that the monitor above was not Full HD and sometimes it made for some usability issues with certain applications. That was compounded by having a monitor to the right with a physically slightly taller display but pixel wise, quite a bit taller and it just made things weird when moving from monitor to monitor.

The solution presented to me by my e-friend, Mauro Gaspari is ultimately what I started to pursue when he sent me a picture of his screen setup on Telegram. What he had (probably still has) is a 1440p monitor. I had never seen such a thing, it was so clean and made so much sense, especially with the ability to tile windows. So, began my search and measuring to see what was feasable. Fast forward to about eight months later, I purchased the LG 29WK50S-P. This is a 2560×1080, 29″ with a 60Hz refresh rate.

Initially I wanted to go with a 3440×1440 (WQHD) screen but I couldn’t get one at the size and price I wanted. Since I don’t have a whole lot of space and the distance it will be away from my face, any bigger than 29″ diagonal would take up too much space. I also didn’t want to spend a whole lot so what I payed was $179.10 for this monitor and I am quite happy with the price. Sure, more than the $10 I spent on the last monitor but a heck of a lot more pixels.

Features

The description of this this monitor is a 29 Inch Class 21:9 UltraWide® Full HD IPS LED Monitor with AMD FreeSync. It has the following features

  • AMD FreeSync™ Technology
  • Dynamic Action Sync
  • Black Stabilizer
  • OnScreen Control
  • Smart Energy Saving
  • Screen Split to give you different picture choices with the monitor.

None of these features were all that important to me. What I was most concerned about was the resolution and VESA mount. The split screen feature, to which I mostly don’t care about, is intriguing as I could use the second display input and do some testing on other distributions with another computer.

I really wasn’t asking for much in a monitor, really. I am going to take advantage of the AMD FreeSync at this time either but it is nice to know it’s there.

Initial Setup

I have been spoiled in openSUSE Linux for years and years. I haven’t really had to fiddle with anything to get my computer to use hardware. I expected this ultra-wide monitor to be just as un-fiddly but it wasn’t. For whatever reason. The display didn’t recognize to computer its proper resolution.

I don’t know why if it is because it falls under the “other” resolution category or if there is some other issue. I am running Tumbleweed so I do have the latest drivers and since this monitor has been around for a while, I wasn’t expecting any issues.

The Plasma Display Settings didn’t give me the option of 2560×1080 at all, a quick DuckDuckGo search which brought me to the solution to my troubles here on the openSUSE forum. I started out by using some “old school” xrandr commands.

First I started out by defining a new mode:

xrandr --newmode "2560x1080_60.00"  230.76  2560 2728 3000 3440  1080 1081 1084 1118  -HSync +Vsync

Then I added a mode to the specific output.

xrandr --addmode HDMI-3 2560x1080_60.00

Then I sent the command to change the mode of the screen

xrandr --output HDMI-3 --mode 2560x1080_60.00

This worked but it is not a permanent solution as the next time I were to reboot, I would lose these settings. That made it time to do an Xorg configuration file for this monitor. Thankfully, it is just one simple text document.

Permanent Solution

Using the handy dandy terminal, once again, I navigated to the appropriate folder

cd /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/

Then instead of creating a standard type of file that could be overwritten like “50-monitor.conf“, I created a custom one for this particular monitor.

sudo nano 49-LG29WK50S.conf

There is not much in this configuration file, just the modeline and preferred mode along with the Identifier of HDMI-3:

Section "Monitor"
   Identifier "HDMI-3"
   Modeline "2560x1080_60.00"  230.76  2560 2728 3000 3440  1080 1081 1084 1118  -HSync +Vsync
   Option "PreferredMode" "2560x1080_60.00"
EndSection

This allowed for the Plasma Display module to now have the proper mode available in the drop down and for me to do arrange the screen properly.

And now doing something like video editing feels a lot cleaner and the width only makes this task so much nicer to accomplish.

It’s not a perfect setup but it is a more perfect setup than what I had. What is nice is that I can very easily tile windows and jump to different applications without playing the, “where did I go” game.

I don’t know if I have any games yet that take advantage of the ultra-wide screen layout but from a productivity standpoint, this is fantastic.

I have been using it as the monitor with which I do CAD and I do like the wider display much better as the side menus are never in the way of the model itself. Also, the extended design history is almost entirely seen on larger models too.

Final Thoughts

Although the DPI is not the same between the laptop and the ultra-wide, I am happy with it. I don’t even know if I would want this monitor smaller or if maybe it is time to go up to a 15″ laptops screen. That would make the DPI closer to being the same between the laptop and the monitor. I am happy with it after one day of usage and over time, I am sure I will find irritations with the setup.

I want to note that I didn’t go for the curved screen. I don’t think I am quite ready for such a “radical” idea of having a screen curved towards me. Would it have been better? Maybe, I can’t really say and maybe the next screen I purchase will be curved so that I can compare. The way I see it, going from 16:9 resolution to 64:27 (21:9) was enough of a jump. Adding another bit of unfamiliarity of a curve in the display might have just thrown me off (insert smile emoji).

I have more “testing” to do with the monitor but for the $179.10 I spent on it, I think it was worth it. The contrast is nice, the brightness is nice, everything is very pleasing. This might very well be one of the best technology purchases I have made. I much prefer this to the ad-hoc, fabri-cobbled setup I previously had.

References

Ultrawide Monitor Help on the openSUSE Forum
LG 29WK50S-P Ultrawide LED Monitor product page
Display Resolutions on Wikipedia

Noodlings | KDE Plasma 5.19, Partition Manager and a BADaptor

Really kicking it in to 3rd gear… not high gear yet.

15th Noodling of nonsense

KDE Plasma 5.19 Experience

It is another fantastic release with much attention being made to the finer details that enhance the usability experience without taking away from any of its functionality.

KDE Partition Manager

I have become quite the fan of Gparted over the years of my Linux life and I started wondering if there were other partition management options out there. Specifically one that is Qt based instead. This is not a light on GTK based applications, I just find that they don’t tend to look as nice and clean as Qt apps. In this off-hand search, I stumbled upon PartitionManger which is in official openSUSE Tumbleweed and Leap Repositories.

openSUSE Tumbleweed on an HP Zbook 15 G2 with Nvidia Quadro K2100M

I have reached the end of the road with this machine. We have been together for about three years and before sending it off to the ether, I wanted to try out openSUSE Tumbleweed on it. It was something of a question I have been asking myself since I was first assigned the piece of hardware. Windows 7 worked fine on it but how would it spin with the Plasma desktop.

Badaptor, DeWalt 20v MAX battery to Ryobi 18v One+

In 2019, I bought into DeWalt 20v MAX cordless tool platform as part of my mission to reduce complexity in and improve efficiency in as many aspects of my life as possible. This is a long term mission of mine with many facets but basic tools was at the foundation of this plan. DeWalt has a great line of tools to choose from, but they are aimed at the commercial, industrial or professional builder. I would consider myself an intermediate or advanced DIY-er with the occasional moonlighting as either a handyman or builder, so I wanted some of those higher end tools to be available.

BDLL Follow Up

UbuntuDDE Discussion

UbuntuDDE Review from an openSUSE User on CubicleNate.com

openSUSE Corner

  • Leap 15.2 upcoming release in only 7 days. One week from today
  • openSUSE + LibreOffice Conference Updates
    • https://news.opensuse.org/2020/06/17/opensuse-libreoffice-conference-update/
    • Organizers of the openSUSE + LibreOffice Conference have been slightly adjusted the conference dates from the original dates of Oct. 13 – 16 to the new dates of Oct. 15. – 17.
    • The new dates are a Thursday through a Saturday. Participants can submit talks for the live conference until July 21 when the Call for Papers is expected to close.
    • The length of the talks for the conference have also been changed. There will be a 15-minute short talk, a 30-minute normal talk and a 60-minute work group sessions to select. Organizers felt that shortening the talks were necessary to keep attendees engaged during the online conference. The change will also help with the scheduling of breaks, social video sessions and extra segments for Questions and Answers after each talk.

Tumbleweed

https://review.tumbleweed.boombatower.com/

  • 20200611 Stable 98
    • Alsa 1.2.2 -> 1.2.3
    • ffmpeg-4 4.2.2 -> 4.2.3 – Stable bug fix release, mainly codecs and format fixes
    • ncurses 6.2.20200502 -> 6.2.20200531
    • yast2 4.3.5 -> 4.3.6
    • 20200612 Moderate 72
    • iwlwifi broken in kernel-5.7.1
    • NVIDIA kernel module broken release
  • 20200614 Unstable 66
    • zypper dup from 20200609 to 20200614 and run into an infinite boot loop: https://paste.opensuse.org/89998412
      Hardware: Processors: 12 × Intel® Core™ i7-9750H CPU @ 2.60GHz Memory: 15,4 GiB Arbeitsspeicher Graphics Processor: Mesa DRI Intel® UHD Graphics 630
    • This was probably due to the move to GCC10
  • 20200615 Moderate 71
    • Fix building with gcc10
  • 20200616 Moderate 73
    • plasma-framework 5.70.0 -> 5.71.0
  • 20200617 Moderate 74
    • zypper (1.14.36 -> 1.14.37)
    • Mesa (20.0.7 -> 20.1.1)
  • 20200618 Pending moderate 74
    • PackageKit
    • flatpak
    • plasma5-thunderbolt
  • 20200621 Pending moderate 79
    • plasma5-workspace (5.19.0 -> 5.19.1)
    • snapper (0.8.9 -> 0.8.10)
  • 20200622 Pending moderate 78
    • gnome-desktop (3.36.2 -> 3.36.3.1)
    • libreoffice (6.4.4.2 -> 7.0.0.0.beta2)

Computer History Retrospective

Computer Chronicles – Computers in Education (1983)

Fear of computers replacing teachers and dehumanizing education
– I think in many ways this has happened but in a way, with the changes in multimedia, as opposed to the beeps and boops of computers in 1983, we have humanized computers a bit. With individuals creating tutorials and education personalities you can follow online have made more educators out of us as opposed to less
– Terminal becomes a kind of personal tutor
– Time at the terminal is more like a game
– Computer instruction was more like rote training
– Kids trained in logic
– Logo whimsical way to tell a computer what to do taught

Final Thoughts

If you are going to spread anything, make it love, joy and peace. You can’t ever go wrong with that

KDE Partition Manager on openSUSE

I have become quite the fan of Gparted over the years of my Linux life and I started wondering if there were other partition management options out there. Specifically one that is Qt based instead. This is not a light on GTK based applications, I just find that they don’t tend to look as nice and clean as Qt apps. In this off-hand search, I stumbled upon PartitionManger which is in official openSUSE Tumbleweed and Leap Repositories.

I should note, they both Gparted and KDE Partition Manager use the same icon.

Installation

Since this isn’t installed by default with the Plasma Desktop, arguably it should be, here is how you o about it. I noticed on the openSUSE Software Site, its short description is that you can Easily manage disks, partitions and file systems on your KDE Desktop. So I guess we will see if this holds true.

It is also described as being software that allows you to manage your disks, partitions and file systems that allows you to create, resize, delete, copy, backup and restore partitions with a large number of supported file systems. These file systems include ext2 ext3, reiserfs, NTFS, FAT32 and more. I am guessing you can also do Ext4, BTRFS and others.

It goes on to say that it makes use of external programs to get its job done, so you might have to install additional software (preferably packages from your distribution) to make use of all features and get full support for all file systems.

That’s good news as I am hoping it wouldn’t re-implement anything and just use existing tools.

To install in terminal:

sudo zypper install partitionmanager

or navigate here for the Direct Install Link

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

As expected, it installed very little, a total of 4 new packages:

  • kpmcore – KDE Partition Manager core library
  • libkpmcore7 – KDE Partition Manager core library
  • partitionmanager – Main Application package
  • partitionmanager-lang – Language support

Considering I have Gparted already installed, most of everything else is likely already there. I have a great respect and love for Gparted at this point, I am hoping that I am not losing any features by using KDE Partition Manager.

First Run and Impressions

Using the handy Plasma menu with the search feature, I started typing “Partition” and it popped up. I launched it and was given the dialog for root user permissions.

I am on the fence if I like that very detailed command being being shown by default. Instinctively, I say it is fantastic, but for a less experienced user, it could feel a bit overwhelming, perhaps.

After the root login requirement, I had this warning pop up which I thought was fantastic!

I have been using Gparted for quite some time and was having issues with an SD Card. My laziness, I just ignored it and now I see what the problem was. I needed the exfat utilities and now the world is right again. Adding this was as easy as running this in the terminal:

sudo zypper install exfat-utils

This automatically selected fuse-exfat package to be installed as well.

Once all this was up. I was greeted with a nice clean and familiar interface

What sets this apart from Gparted is that it shows you all the devices in a side pane instead of the drop-down. I will say, I much prefer the side pane to the drop down. It gives a better overview of what you are doing.

Gparted with the drop-down to select the device

I wanted to format a device and give it a label for my upcoming experimentation with Ventoy for keeping and testing Linux distribution ISOs. So that is what I did.

Mainly, I just wanted the appropriate label. I also took this as an opportunity to format that SD Card, also an easy success.

Final Thoughts

It works! I can’t say it’s any better than Gparted as they both seem to work the same and have a similar appearance and workflow. If you can use one, you can use the other. The biggest difference is the devices side menu. I do like that more than the Gparted drop down. It provides a better snapshot of the status of the storage devices on your machine. Outside of that. KDE PartitionManager as well as Gparted are fantastic tools and this is mostly an appearance preference as I am sure they are using all the same backend of tools.

References

https://software.opensuse.org/package/partitionmanager
https://www.kde.org/applications/system/kdepartitionmanager
USB or Removable Media Formatting in Linux on CubicleNate.com

KDE Plasma 5.19 on openSUSE Tumbleweed

It was not so long ago that Plasma 5.18 graced my computer and very excitingly, 5.19 is here now. Since Tumbleweed is my main Linux system I use, I decided to share my experience on openSUSE Tumbleweed but it should be noted that you can enjoy Plasma 5.19 on Leap as well using the backports repositories. Leap is not my preferred method but it is an option.

Bottom Line Up Front: It is another fantastic release with much attention being made to the finer details that enhance the usability experience without taking away from any of its functionality.

This release of Plasma is being called the “more polished Plasma” and I think this is absolutely correct. The transition for me has been quite delightful. New little bits of happiness have been sprinkled about my desktop experience. There is nothing particularly earth shattering going on here. Just continued refinements.

The Little Things

I will be the first to call me out and remind anyone that I would totally poo-poo on making a big deal about the little touches of a desktop environment. I will hold fast on my belief that function over form but when you can add some form to function, you really hit the sweet spot with me.

For starters, what really stands out is the Bluetooth connections applet that shows the status of a connection. It is just a small thing, a status icon on the disconnected devices.

Discover is becoming my favorite software center now. It has been working quite nicely. The only thing it is missing on openSUSE is access to the Snap store. It has been handling updates quite nicely as well as anything with Flatpak. I do have a propensity to use the terminal because I love the terminal but Discover is really eating into that a bit.

It’s easy to use, responsive and has been working very well for me when installing new applications. This is not the Discover of 2 years ago and if you haven’t used it in a while, now may be a good time.

The neatest feature that I think is noteworthy is how system settings are presented to you know when you call them up. For example: in Plasma past, when you opened the display settings using krunner or in the application menu, it opened up that specific module only. Now, calling the Display Settings, will open up the module but in the context of the system settings menu so you can Select < All Settings arrow back to all your settings and continue on with your modification of things as you may see fit.

This is just a little thing but it is a great little thing and quite welcome.

The Media Player applet looks a lot nicer now. Before it was fine but now it has a more appealing layout and you can adjust the volume of what is being played back right there, which is very nice.

There was some talk about improving the spacing to give a more consistent look but it must be so subtle to me that I am just not picking up on the differences there. I will say that the notifications are is far better now than it was a year or so ago where it would become an almost epileptic mess of dialog boxes and rendering other applets non-functional until Plasma was done telling you what it insisted upon telling you.

What I Like

All theses little tweaks and user experience enhancements certainly plays into the idea that this is mostly a “Polished Plasma” release. I would say, that these incremental enhancements are very welcome and further underscore why I enjoy using Plasma, day in and day out. It is as though the developers have my interests at heart when they do their fantastic work.

The Memory information is nothing new but I really enjoy just looking at it sometimes. I often wonder, what exactly is going on right now that the memory is fluctuating like it does. Regardless, it is just a fun informational display that really appeals to my nerdiness.

What I don’t like

Due to the nature of rolling distributions and enhancements, I do have a lot of updates in a week or if I wait, a couple of weeks. Because of this, I am often eagerly looking for updates to see what has rolled down. This means, when new things are coming, like Plasma, I am going around and updating everything excitedly to see the new shiny. Not is not a bad thing about openSUSE or Plasma but rather a problem with me as I have a hard time waiting to the end of the work day or weekend to see what great newness I get to play with. It has also made me very spoiled and when I do, on the rare occasion, have an issue I can forget how good I have it.

Final Thoughts

I would most certainly call this a “Polished Plasma” release and I am very content with it. I look forward to further releases like this. They make the time spent on my computer just a bit more enjoyable. Not just with new features but all the different usability and customization tweaks to which they give me such easy access. I hope they continue down this fantastic path for years to come.

References

KDE Repositories for openSUSE Leap
KDE Plasma 5.19.0 release notes
openSUSE Tumbleweed Download
Plasma 5.18 Release for openSUSE Tumbleweed on CubicleNate.com

openSUSE Tumbleweed on an HP Zbook 15 G2 with Nvidia Quadro K2100M

I have reached the end of the road with this machine. We have been together for about three years and before sending it off to the ether, I wanted to try out openSUSE Tumbleweed on it. It was something of a question I have been asking myself since I was first assigned the piece of hardware. Windows 7 worked fine on it but how would it spin with the Plasma desktop.

The Opportunity

Since I had received my ‘new’ computer and transferred everything over, I decided now was the time. I felt it important to wipe the SSD on it anyway before shipping it out so trying out somethings seemed like a good idea. In order to boot from the USB drive, I had to change the boot order. I went into the BIOS to access the boot option. To go into the BIOS I pressed F10 on the POST Splash screen.

Using the fantastic openSUSE installer, I set up the machine very easily. I realize, that at this point, this installer is like second nature to me so making it more “user friendly” would likely not be to my liking.

I did note that the default drive arrangement now is to have a single BTRFS partition with a Swap partition. That isn’t my preference but I went with it.

After setting up all the bits, it took about 6 minutes to install the standard KDE Plasma desktop. Fir reference, I am using snapshot 20200612 which includes Plasma version 5.19.

The initial boot took 32 seconds to get to the login screen. Not sure if that is “fast” enough for most people but I was happy about that. After logging in, it took another 7 seconds to a settled desktop… which is not to my dark-theme liking but easily remedied.

I have my color preference stored here but I really should put it out there as a downloadable theme… someday, perhaps.

Specifications (the ones that matter to me)

Using my favorite system info tool, neofetch, I installed that first.

sudo zypper install neofetch

and ran the thing to get the output of those little things that matter to me about the system

This basically told me what I wanted / needed to know

  • CPU: Intel i7-4810MQ, 8 thread at 3.80Ghz 4th Generation Core
  • Screen: 1920×1080 matte finish screen
  • GPU: Nvidia Quadro K2100M
  • Memory: 32 GiB
  • Storage: 477GiB SSD (no idea the brand, didn’t care)

This is by no means a new machine but it did do its job very effectively as a CAD machine.

Setup and Configuration

Since the secondary monitor was to the left, I had to use the screen selection hotkey Fn+F4 to get to the onscreen switcher, arrow over and done. Plasma is beautiful in the way it works like that. Sicne the dark theme was added as previously described, I had to install the Multimedia Codecs from here. It’s also good to check to make sure that my instructions are still valid. They are!

The next thing to fix was this single-click nonsense. Not a fan of this out of the gate but I understand that openSUSE likes to stay close to the upstream. Not my preference but thankfully that is an easy fix by going to System Settings > General Behavior and changing the Click behavior to “Double-click to open files and folders.

The other thing I wanted to do was to set the window decoration to have the “Keep below” and “Keep above” buttons on it. These are buttons I use quite often. Mostly the “Keep Above” and to not have it makes my titlebar feel… inadequate.

Next was to install the Nvidia packages to take advantage of this GPU. The easy way can be found here on the openSUSE Wiki.

I used YasST to do the installation as I was thought, why not.

There is more than one way to get to managing the Repositories. I did it through the Software Management tool under Configuration > Repositories…

Next, I selected “Add” in the lower-left corner of the window then Community Repositories. On the next screen, I added the nVidia Graphics Drivers.

When it begins the process of adding the repository, you are asked if you want to Import an Untrusted GnuPG Key. I of course will trust this because, this is the openSUSE community!

After the import was complete, I searched and selected the nvidia-glG05* drivers which triggered the other required dependencies.

I selected the final Accept and the installation began.

Everything seemingly installed properly but I couldn’t use my secondary monitor after my reboot. No idea why. I event tried the older drivers but nothing. I chalk that up to Nvidia being what Nvidia is… painful to deal with. Maybe another distro would have recognized it better but I wasn’t interested as my time was incredibly limited with this machine.

I also downloaded the LeoCAD app Image because, why not do some fun CAD on this machine!

Since that worked out fantastically well, I thought I would do the other basic tests that I would need to do like visiting my favorite YouTube channels and made sure I could watch Netflix on Firefox. It all went well and really, I wasn’t disappointed.

I did end up removing the proprietary Nvidia drivers and going with the open source option so I could use the secondary monitor. Not a huge deal, a bit of a disappointment but at this stage I just wanted the secondary monitor.

The Good

This machine feels super snappy. Fast boot times, used very little memory when settled. Seemingly things work fine, for regular user usage. Though, this machine was specifically set up from HP as a CAD focused machine. Having 32 GiB of RAM, and 8 threads is pretty great. I didn’t get the opportunity to really test the hardware out as I would have liked but what little I did do, was pretty great.

The Touchpad is of a nice size and I like that there are buttons above and below the pad along with the Trackpoint between the G, H and B.

The Bad

The keyboard on this machine is just miserable. I am not sure what HP was thinking with this but the key-press is not consistent across the keyboard and they just don’t have a good feel to it. I feel like I have to use unnecessary forceful key presses to get the keys to recognize.

The arrow keys are of a silly layout and I often stumble a bit on it. Either hitting the up and down together or up and shift. It wasn’t meant for my long gangling fingers.

The Ugly

Nvidia didn’t play real well. It worked but not like I would have preferred. I wanted this to be a hugely bragging story about openSUSE and working well with Nvidia. I am sure that had I dug into it a bit, I could have ironed it out but I was less than happy. I have had other great success stories with Nvidia an openSUSE but this was not one of them.

… insert shrug emoji…

Final Thoughts

Outside of the Nvidia issue, which I may have eventually worked out if I had the time or the inclination, openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop was a nice experience. At least, far nicer than the Windows 7 experience and now that I am thinking of it. The graphics drivers on Windows were wonkey too. I often had to reboot the machine to clear things up. So, it is possible there may be something not quite right with the hardware. It is also possible the keyboard may have been abused before I obtained it so that might account for the poor keyboard performance too.

If I had more time, I would have probably tried a few more distros on it. Leap being one and Pop_!OS being the other. Just to see if the Nvidia issue was a hardware thing. Would I ever buy this machine for myself? Nope. Lots of little things I don’t like about it, really. I would call it an “almost” machine. Everything about it is almost great but just happens to fall short in a lot of areas.

References

Download openSUSE Tumbleweed
CubicleNate.com openSUSE dark theme
Cubiclenate.com Multimedia Codecs terminal instructions
Nvidia Drivers on the openSUSE Wiki
LeoCAD AppImage Download

KDE Plasma 5.18 on openSUSE Tumbleweed | Awesome-Sauce

I can’t help but think how the Plasma team seems to have an incredible sense of momentum behind the project. Every update has been nothing but smiles and happy dances. At the time of writing, I am using 5.18.1 which rolled down recently and although you can read all the cool new features from the horses mouth here, I’m going to tell you all the things that make my experience just a bit better.

GTK Theme Integration

First and foremost, the GTK theme integration is tremendously improved. Really, this is a little thing but many of the GTK applications just look better now. Specifically, Gnome-Recipes and Virtmanager have a nicer look about it. Some applications don’t seem to look quite right, like Audacity and Firefox are only pulling some of the correct colors but over all, it is an improvement. From what I can tell. If the application is GTK3, it looks right. If it is GTK2, not quite as right.

From what I can tell, the color information is being pulled from the Plasma theme. The GTK2 theme doesn’t seem to do the same but I am sure it is a work in progress.

It should also be noted that the shadows underneath GTK applications match the rest of Plasma. It is a very subtle thing, really and not that big of a deal to not have but overall, this does look a lot better.

Gnome recipes is still lacking on the button preferences I would rather have at the top but this is better, overall than it was. Some applications, like Virtmanager look as though they are like any other Qt based application. It should be noted that there are some color issues with Firefox and Audacity. The accent color does not match the rest of my desktop.

Night Color

The Night Color controller, which was given to us in Plasma 5.17, now has an icon that is in the system tray. Version 5.16 and before, I was using Redshift, which was well enough but having something a bit more integrated into the system is preferred. The only issue was that there wasn’t a tray indicator and occasionally, there would be issues with Redshift, nothing horrific, I would just have to toggle it or the “GeoClue” service would runaway and have to be killed. Night Color doesn’t seem to have any bugs but was introduced without a tray icon or indicator. Now there is a nicely sized icon in the tray that allows for quick activation / deactivation and access to the configuration options. Not that you are going to adjust it but a quick click on the icon and it will return the temperature to the cooler default when you disable it. Truthfully, I seem to much prefer the warmer look of the screen these days.

Memory Usage

I have a couple low specification machines and what impresses me is how the memory resources have further been reduced. This is completely colloquial and should not be taken as absolute for all cases as I have read more than once that Plasma will take advantage of extra memory when available. Regardless, Plasma, on my low-spec multimedia machine not hovers at about 370 MiB of RAM but doesn’t go beyond 420 MiB on a machine with 4 GiB (well… 3.8 GiB after being gobbled up by the GPU). It should also be noted that after many hours of use, there was not perceivable memory leak or weirdness. Not that one would expect it today, but I do think it’s worth noting and nice to see that there do not seem to be any issues.

Emoji Picker

A feature that is touted that looks cool in the pictures but not so useful in my setup is the emoji picker. I think my issue is that I am running with a dark theme and the icons being chosen are just as you see but it would be nice if it had the more traditional, multi colored emojis. Truthfully, I don’t use emojis much at all but on those rare instances, I would much prefer to have something more… colorful.

I don’t know if I care enough to even file a bug report or feature request.

Default Audio Device

If you are like me, and I hope not, you have multiple audio devices you connect and disconnect at any time. I have become quite the fan of using Bluetooth devices on Linux as it works very reliably. What is nice is the ability to tell Plasma that when it sees a device, to make that one the default and switch to it when connected.

In my case, I have a Bluetooth headset that when it connects, I want it to be the default device so that when I press the volume up/down keys on my laptop, the headset is what adjusts volume, not some other device. This works 100% of the time, so far.

Final Thoughts

With every release of Plasma, I have been quite pleased and happy to get the latest and greatest that they have to offer. I truly believe that this is how software updates should be. The steady progress of better performance, feature refinements and improved memory usage has made using Plasma a continual joy. I do admit, these are small refinements and tweaks, but that is a welcome method of introducing changes. There is nothing radical or earth shattering in Plasma 5.18, just refinements.

I very much welcome these improvements and look forward to the next round. Personally, I am hoping for further refinements to the GTK integration. Currently, I am quite pleased with the changes that were made for client side decorations. I am also hoping that this course of performance and resource utilization improvements continue. I do realize that it is likely “we” are bumping up against realistic limits but I do recall a time when Plasma 4 could run quite nicely on a machine with 512 MiB of RAM, so… that’s something.

If you haven’t tried Plasma in a while, 5.18 is not likely to disappoint. Running Plasma on openSUSE Tumbleweed is a great experience, not necessarily for the defaults as they closely follow upstream and a dark theme should be default. I haven’t had any of the glitching or strange behavior that Plasma has been known for in the distance past, Plasma runs great on 14 year old hardware as well as modern hardware. Most important to me, none of the changes in 5.18 are irritating. Sure, that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement but for me, there is no greater statement that can be said about a desktop as the changes are not irritating.

References

KDE Plasma 5.18 Release Notes
openSUSE Tumbleweed Download

FerenOS (2020) | Review from an openSUSE User

FerenOS undoubtedly focuses on visual aesthetics, user interface and user experience. The last time I looked at FerenOS, it was built on the Cinnamon Desktop Environment. At the time, the Plasma version was called “Feren Next” and and initially I was disappointed I didn’t use the Plasma version, but now I am very glad I did as I can compare this experience with my last FerenOS experience.

This is my review as an openSUSE User. To say this will be completely objective would essentially be a big giant lie. This will be quite biased as I enjoy openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop, day in and day out on multiple machines, including my daily driver, low end laptops and more powerful workstations and servers. I am happily entrenched but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to look over the fences from time to time to see what other parts of the community are doing. Plus, you can’t go anywhere without bumping in to “FerenOS Dev” on some YouTube chat, Telegram or Discord announcing his enhancements.

Bottom Line Up Front: FerenOS (2020) is simply fantastic. The way you are greeted and guided through your setup is brilliant. I am not keen on every design decision but that matters not as I am never keen on every design decision presented in any other distribution, to include my own. FerenOS is going for a look that is uniquely its own and is not afraid to experiment, cross toolkit boundaries and stray from the normal. I appreciate the design decisions, more than any other “boutique” distribution I have seen in a long while. Do I like all of them? No. Would I choose many of these? Also, No. But I think they do look great make for an enjoyable experience, just not one I would prefer.

Installation

The installation of FerenOS is very straight forward. It uses the Calamares Installer which is known for being straight forward. When you first kick on the installer, you are presented with your language selection.

I have noticed this is common with the Ubuntu flavors but not all of them. When FerenOS boots, it looks classy as they use the “flicker free” booting in just the right way.

When the system settles you are greeted with a fantastic welcome window that immediately detects you are using a VM. Although, neither of the two options fit my situation, it is still a welcome notification.

Another very cool feature is to set your theme and accent color to your desktop. Unless my memory fails me, I think this is the first I have been presented this on start up.

I of course went for a dark with a green accent color because that is my happy place. Interestingly, you are told to log out and in again for the changes to take affect on certain applications. I wonder which applications.

I appreciate how FerenOS tells the heart of its story, it’s reason for being, right on the desktop. “Passion led us here.” That, I believe is the corner value of this entire project. You can see the passion throughout the entire experience. It oozes through every design decision. Since I want to see how FerenOS does, when installed, that was my next step.

The installer is nice and respected, mostly, my dark theme selection. Step one, set your language. Step 2, set your Location. All very straight forward and you really shouldn’t get stumped on those particular questions.

Step 3, set your keyboard preference. In my case, I am going with English (US) and Default as I don’t have anything other than that… although… I am often interested in this Dvorak layout. It was the new big thing in the 80s, nice to see it’s taken off.

Step 4, set your disk partitions. In this case, I am utilizing the entire disk and the default, whatever it is, will be fine for this sort of experience.

Step 5, Set your username and password. This also includes the name of the computer. I really like that this is presented as such. I do not particularly care for having to dig for this option or setting it later. Sure, I will do it and probably won’t complain about it too much but I like for the option to be presented in the regular course of the installation process. No, that is not a dig on any other installer. Step 6, you are presented a summary to review your decisions. If you are okay with this, select Install. You will then be presented a kind of “sanity check” to be sure you are certain on this commitment.

Step 7, Install the system, or rather, let the installer copy all the files and configure your system according to the preferences you set. Step 8, select “Restart now” and click “Done”.

Then you are done. The system is installed and you are ready to stretch your legs in this new-car-smell of a desktop experience.

First Run and Impressions

Upon reboot, this is the only place it feels like Feren hasn’t taken any time to customize is the Grub screen that launches you into the operating system. Visually, this does not reflect the experience you are going to have and it, unfortunately doesn’t say “Feren OS” here. Not that seeing Ubuntu is unwelcome it is just a bit disjointed from the rest of the experience you are about to have.

After you log into the system, for the first time, you are greeted with the theme selection but with expanded options. You are asked if you want to add the 3rd-Party extensions to your system with a reasonable warning. Next you are given selection of desktop paradigms from which to choose. I went with the Feren OS default because I wanted to see the Feren preferred interface.

You will once again set your Theme mode and accent color. The first time was like a dress rehearsal, I suppose. I repeated my dark theme with the green accents.

Another nice touch to this first-run window is that it tells you about KDE Connect and gives you links to get the application for your mobile device. The option to set the feature to reduced eye strain is great. Many people may not even know it exist so well done on presenting this!

Once you get through that, you are done and ready to get going with Feren OS. Like any operating system, that is just a shell for getting your work (or play) done.

Getting back to the Welcome Screen is as easy as easy as a click on a desktop icon. This is real nice because here you can access many of those customization options once again.

Quite importantly is the quick access to install applications to the system. Both Flatpak and Snaps are readily available. No extra hoops to jump through which does seem like a stray from what is common with boutique distributions. It is a very user conscientious being made that is greatly appreciated.

Something else that I thought was kind of neat, was if you started to ignore the Welcome Screen, it will start to get restless and do fun things.

It is another nice touch that makes your desktop feel alive, not in overlord, dominate, closed sort of way but a fun and whimsically enjoyable fashion.

If at some point you decide you don’t like the theme you have selected, that is easy enough to change. You actually get a few other options if you visit the “Global Themes” so if a more traditional or “vanilla” Breeze Dark is your thing. That is an option here too. It is fun to play with the other themes and really, the Ubuntu Unity Layout isn’t a bad re-implementation of the Unity Desktop. It kind of makes you think, really…

The file manager choice of “Nemo” in Feren is one of two “weak spots” in choice, in my opinion. The Plasma default is Dolphin and really, any other file manager pales in comparison to it. It gets the job done fine but I don’t understand why.

Snap Support is just a click (or two) away from getting going with it. Flatpak is also readily available. The integration into the Feren Software center is also nicely done.

The first time you go into the software manager system. You will have to take a little time to configure bits and pieces of it. First the system snapshots then the mirrors.

The snapshots are very easily set up but the BTRFS option is not an actual option unless you have BTRFS as your file system. I didn’t test this but it would be nice if the option wasn’t there as it’s too late to select it at this point. This whole system reminds me of what is available on Linux Mint. I am guessing it is pulled from it with some modifications. I am not sure.

After you select your preferences for the Users Home Directories you are done with the snapshots setup. I chose not to have any snapshots taken for the home directory and I am not completely sure of the utility of it. I would prefer to make offline, incremental backups rather than use this method.

The next task you will have to tackle is the selection of your software sources, finding the closest mirror. I am curious as to why this isn’t automatic but not a big deal. It is easy enough to adjust.

Once all this is out of the way, you are ready to get to performing updates on your system. It is a nice update tool and it is a satisfying watch to see all the bits get installed on your system.

The Default Web Browser Choice is not my preference. Vivaldi is okay but Firefox is my preference with Falkon as my secondary. Whenever I use Vivaldi, it just feels… clunky but maybe that is due to my lack of experience with it.

Adding another web browser. is a trivial process. That can be accomplished with a fantastic little tool that allows you to install the browser of your choice.

Overall, FerenOS makes a great impression. It feels well thought out, well polished and very straight forward to use. Truly, a great, easily customized desktop experience with some great presets from which to build.

What I Like

Immediately, without any question, the welcome screen is the best I have ever seen. I am given the freedom to choose my experience right out of the gate. There is, quite literally, no digging required to tweak things out to the way I prefer but also the option to try out some great presets and tweak them to my liking. The over all look of each preset is crafted in that “Feren way”.

There are lot’s of little helper tools to allow you to make choices in the most painless possible way. Everything from accent colors to browser choices to where you select your mirrors is all easily accomplished. I realize that Feren is pulling from other projects to make this happen and is as such crossing toolkit boundaries but that is completely acceptable because he integrates the look and feel of Qt and GTK apps in such a way that they coexist quite nicely.

Throughout the entire desktop experience, there are these little touches that make Feren fun to use. Everything from the animated logo, the choice in defaults, the detection of using the desktop in a VM and so forth give the impression that it is focused specifically on a tailored desktop experience. I would say, without any hesitation, that Feren OS works towards making your computer a personal computer. I also want to note that no mater the “Global Theme” you use, the visual brand language is undoubtedly very Feren OS. Whether you use the Window, Mac or Unity feel, paradigm, it feels like Feren OS.

What I Don’t Like

The default file manager, Nemo, is not my favorite. One of the great features of Plasma is Dolphin. It is by far the best file manager available on any platform and I am a bit befuddled why the default would be anything but Dolphin. Nemo is not bad but it is much like the car rental experience. You are told you are getting a full sized, luxury sedan but you end up with a 4 year old mid-sized that smells like an ashtray but with low mileage as no one actually wants to drive this. Sure, it’s fine, it’ll get from point “A” to point “B” but you aren’t excited about it.

This is a total nitpick but the Grub boot screen doesn’t say Feren OS, it says Ubuntu. Sure, I know it is build on Ubuntu but shouldn’t it say Feren OS? This is not a big deal at all but it is just something that I think would be an improvement or at least reduce any confusion from someone that may not be as well informed.

Final Thoughts

Feren OS is a great visual experience that has a lot of care taken into making the user feel like they are using a commercial product. I would place Feren OS at the top of my list of Boutique distributions that has some serious legs to it. I don’t know what the long term strategy is for Feren but I hope that what he does trickles out into other distributions, not just Plasma based but all of them. He has an eye for design and user experience that is head and shoulders above anything else that I have seen on any operating system, ever. This is most certainly something to watch and keep an eye on.

Would I switch from openSUSE to FerenOS? No, I would not. As nice as it is, as well crafted as it is, it is not for me. I do happen to prefer the underpinnings that openSUSE provides and I prefer a few things to be just a bit different which lines up closer to my personal taste. So, whether that is on openSUSE Tumbleweed, Kubuntu, Neon or Feren, I am still going to tweak out a lot about the desktop to fit my needs.

I would recommend Feren OS to any new-to-Linux user and if you are even slightly curious about it, give it a try. You will have a smile of enjoyment on your face that is unique to this desktop and the more you dig in and see all the thoughtful care put into it, you won’t have a shred of disappointment.

References

Feren OS Home
BDLL Discourse Forum about Feren OS
BDLL Discussion on YouTube about Feren OS Part 1
BDLL Discussion on YouTube about Feren OS Part 2