Noodlings | Commander X16, BDLL and openSUSE News

With this episode it is a 33% increase in podcasting content for you to… enjoy is not the right word. Tolerate?

Have a listen

Commander X16 a New Retro Computer

The mission of the computer. Similar to the Commodore 64 but made with off the shelf components. As far as the architecture goes, it is actually closer to the VIC-20 on board design but far, far more capable. I am rarely excited about new things, I like my old computers and really existing technology. I tend to drag my heels at the very thought of getting something new. This, for whatever reason gets me excited and I can’t exactly put my finger on it.

This all started out as a kind of pondering in 2018 and in February 2019 with a video from David Murray, the 8-bit Guy’s Dream Computer. the discussion started by the 8-bit Guy

The initial design started with the Gameduino for the video chip which had some technical hurdles and was based on an obsolete, as in, no longer supported, chip that doesn’t have a large pool of developers and hackers working on it.

After some discussions and planning, it was decided to base it largely off of the VIC-20 as most of the chips are still available today and it is a known working design. Some of the changes would be a faster processor, better video and better sound components.

One of the goals of this project is to make it easy enough for one person to understand the whole board to make it easy to program.

Some of the highlights out of the list of specifications are:

  • WDC 65×02 @ 8 Mhz CPU (8-bit)
  • 40K of “Low RAM” 512K of “High RAM” standard Expandable to 2MB
  • Two AY-3-8910 sound generators (stereo)
  • “Vera” Video chip specifications
  • 128K of internal video RAM
  • 640×480 @ 60 Hz analog VGA output
  • PETSCII font

The graphics are on par or superior with the Amiga 500 and VGA graphics of that time which, for an 8-bit or 16-bit system which should make for some very interesting games to be targeted against this platform.

There is an emulator that can be downloaded from Github and YES, there is a Linux build for it. There is nothing to install as it is a self contained application where you can start mucking about with it. I just tested it, wrote some very basic BASIC programs and demonstrated to my kids how much fun it is to write your own programs so easily.

What makes this project interesting for me is that it is a kind of rebirth of the Commodore 64 in a kind of VIC-20 board design. Although this is still in the works, it is looking to be a fun educational tool and hobby device that can be a target for game development that uses mostly off the shelf components. I would call this a kind of Neo-Retro system that will hopefully end up in my collection of retro(ish) hardware in the not too distant future.

Building my dream computer – Part 1
Building my dream computer -Part 2, Commander X16 Introduction Video
Commnader X16 Facebook Group
Commander X16 Forum
Commander X16 Emulator

BDLL Follow Up

Manjaro Linux has formed a company and although I could really care little about Arch, I am glad to see that someone is looking at Linux which is free software and making a living from it. Forming a profitable company around Linux can’t be a bad thing, so long as those working on it don’t lose the focus on the core reasons they got into Linux in the first place.

MX Linux 19 is the next BDLL challenge. I don’t look at this as much of a challenge as this is the other distro that I have

BigDaddyLinux European Edition 14 Sep 2019
BigDaddyLinux 14 Sep 2019

Latest from openSUSE

From the openSUSE Corner comes some rather exciting new updates. The YaST Development Sprint 84 has brought about several improvements to YaST. The first was to address YaST’s usage of Qt UI Event handling. It has been a kind of non standard method and they always kind of “misused Qt to hammer it into shape” and it recently broke with the latest release of Qt. Digging into it a little bit, I am not sure why they are using Qt in a “non standard” way, maybe to be accommodating to the YaST ncruses interface, I have no idea, I am sure there will be more to come on all that.

There are updates to the wireless networking portion to make it more intuitive. This is a welcome change as this is quite likely the only think in the YaST installer that has really been a glaring issue for many users. This change should come to Tumbleweed soon.

Enhancements to the Partitioner with encrypted devices has been ongoing work. There are some changes that will be trickling down to broaden the set of technologies and use-cases that the partitioner supports. Already YaST does a lot in this regard so I will be keeping an eye on this for future development.

https://lizards.opensuse.org/2019/09/16/yast-sprint-84/

Snapshots 20190905, 20190907 and 20190909

The exciting new bundles of software joy that has come down include KDE Applications 19.08.01 which contain improvements to Kontact, Dolphin, Kdenlive, Konsole, Step and more. This is the first I learned of Step and this is an interesting education piece of software that I haven’t ever heard of before. In short it is an interactive physical simulator that allow you to explore the physical world in a simulated environment. This is something I will have to try.

The anti-malware application Clamav received an update that addressed two vulnerabilities, the Gnome web browser package epiphany plugged another memory leak. Plasma Desktop received a minor update to 5.16.5 and fixed KWayland-integration builds with recent frameworks and Qt 5.13.

About 15 CVEs were addressed with Mozilla Firefox which addressed Mozilla’s JavaScript Engine, Spidermonkey. Kdevelop5 received an update to 5.4.2 and dozens of other updates came down the pike.

The snapshots, in totality, are all scoring in the low 80s being considered moderately stable.

news.openSUSE.org 20190913 Update
Snapshot Reviewer

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CubicleNate Noodlings | Episode 02 Desktops and Window Managers, BDLL and openSUSE News

Another podcast and after listening to the final thing… I sound a bit like cardboard. Maybe episode 3 won’t smell like wet newspaper.

Listen here, it’s only 10 minutes and 30 seconds of cringe-worthy material.

Desktops and Window Managers

I view KDE Plasma as the pinnacle of all things that are the Desktop and portal into your digital life. This is of course my own opinion but really, what else can do as much as Plasma, in as little resources and be as flexible as it is.

Xfce is the GTK desktop that is, in my estimation, the benchmark to which all GTK desktops should be measured against. It is what I would call a “classic” Redmond style interface that is familiar to nearly everybody.

i3 is a very interesting window manager, I would still call it a desktop of sorts though the “hard core” users of it may say otherwise. It uses Gnome so it is encumbered by the Gnome limitations. If it could somehow be Xfce based, it would seemingly make more sense. I did some searching and so far as I can tell, I have not been able to find a Kwin based Window manager as opposed to i3.

11 Best Tiling Window Managers for Linux

What this lead me to was a discovery that Plasma has the capabilities of being a pretty darn decent tiling window manager. In my case, I am using some of the power of tiling with the traditional floating window desktop, so, in effect having the best of both worlds there.

BDLL Recap

There is a lot of talk about bringing new users to Linux and Adam Grubbs set up an Ubuntu Laptop similar to what you might buy from an OEM. Adam wanted to see how a new user might get along with a brand new Linux desktop.

The key bit of the conversation was the user’s experience of setting up Lutris. I have historically used Wine or Crossover to install Windows games on Linux and Lutris wasn’t quite as obvious on how to use it.

There was some difficulty of getting going with Linux, icons were a bit different and, better curation of applications could be a benefit. For example, searching for Steam doesn’t necessarily bring up Steam in an application search.

What is the solution?

I don’t think that there is any one particular solution to solve this for everyone. I am also not sure how “user friendly” Linux needs to be. Where Linux would, most certainly benefit:

  • Documentation Improvements to make it easier to become acquainted with the Linux Desktop
  • Something like Clippy as a built in guide to help you out when you are stumped
  • Ultimately, the strength of Linux is the community, be open to help people problem solve their way through Linux.

The Current BDLL Distro Challenge is Endless OS. This can be downloaded from here.

openSUSE Corner

Snapshots 20190902 20190829

Multiple YaST Packages trickled down with updates.

Libreoffice 6.3.1.1 removed some patches.

The welcome window for openSUSE received more translations for global users with an update of the opensuse-welcome 0.1.6 package.

openSUSE MicroOS, specifically the core appliance buildier Kiwi, has been further updated, it added required cryptomount coding for for EFI boot.

openSUSE MicroOS is designed for container hosts an optimized for large deployments. It benefits from the rolling of Tumbleweed and the SUSE Linux Enterprise hardening and scale of deployment. It is optimized for large deployments but is just as capable with a single container-host. Uses the BTRFS snapshots for updates and rollback.

20190902 snapshot has a very exciting change that really was a long time coming with proper PackageKit integration with Tumbleweed. Unless you have a bunch of crazy repositories, PackageKit will now handle your updates just as well as you would have it in Leap.

Snapshot 20190829 received a moderate score of 90 while 20190902 is trending at moderate 86 and 20190904 at a stable score of 93.

What I am doing with openSUSE

I am working with a Linux community member to create an openSUSE Tumbleweed based replacement for IPFire or pfSense. This is still in progress but as of today, I am real excited about it and the prospect of having an openSUSE based firewall / router with all the flexibility and modularity that it brings.

References

Best Tiling Window Managers for Linux on TecMint.com
openSUSE Tumbleweed Snapshot Review
BDLL Regolith Linux and New User Experience
Adam Grubbs Site
EndlessOS Download
CubicleNate Noodlings | Episode 02

VirtScreen on openSUSE | Turn a Tablet into a Second Monitor

When I take my laptop and I go into a mobile mode, I’m often missing a second or third screen. Frequently, my need isn’t having full motion video or anything of that sort, it’s just the ability to have text displayed in some form, be it PDF or web page, beside my main screen. Most of the time, that is how I use my multi-screen layout. One screen is my main workspace while the others display reference information.

I came upon this long lost solution on the BDLL discourse from Eric Adams.

https://discourse.bigdaddylinux.com/t/use-your-tablet-as-a-monitor-with-virtscreen/104

Key difference in my implementation versus his, both of us using KDE plasma. His solution is probably more elegant and could probably better take advantage of my AMD GPU but my solution is quick and dirty but gets the job done.

Host Device

Since this package is not available in the openSUSE repositories, I downloaded the AppImage here:

https://github.com/kbumsik/VirtScreen

There are further instructions on that page but I am going to only highlight how I used it on openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma Desktop Environment. Looking at the system requirements, I had to install X11VNC

sudo zypper install x11vnc

Since I used the AppImage, I had to make it executable. To do that in terminal, navigate to the location of the AppImage and run this:

chmod a+x VirtScreen.AppImage

Alternatively, if you are using Plasma with the Dolphin file manager, navigate to the location of the AppImage, right-click, select Properties (or Alt+Enter when highlighted). Select the Permissions tab and select the Is executable button.

Upon Launching it, I set the resolution of my Tablet, which is my HP Touchpad that I set up with F-Droid. I made an adjustment to the Height to adjust for the navigation buttons that seem to get stuck in the ON position.

I selected the Enable Virtual Screen.

Next, I needed to Open Display Settings to arrange the screens.

Unfortunately, there was an error that caused the display settings to not open. I went into the preferences to see what the other options were. Since I know I didn’t want Gnome, I went with ARandR.

Since it wasn’t installed, I went to openSUSE Software and searched for it.

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

After installing ARandR, VirtScreen still could not launch ARandR. Thankfully, I was able to launch ARandR using Krunner (menu works too) and made the adjustment to the screen location.

The next step was to activate the VNC Server within VirtScreen by setting the password and opening up the appropriate port in the Firewall. Since the openSUSE default is Firewalld at the time of writing. You can either do so with the GUI, which is pretty straight forward or use the terminal.

To get the active firewall zone

sudo firewall-cmd --get-default-zone

Assuming you are only using the default zone, Public (adjust based on

sudo firewall-cmd --zone=public --permanent --add-port=5000-5003/tcp
sudo systemctl restart firewalld

If you are not running Firewalld you will have to adjust for your particular firewall.

The final step is to activate the VNC Server.

Client Device

The client device in my case is my HP Touchpad. The client software I set up that worked best from the F-Droid store was AndroidVNC. If you have one that you prefer, by all means, use that instead.

This is the easy part. Here, set the Connection Nickname, Address and Port. I did set it to the 24-bit color but would get better speed with a lower color depth but not so much as to make the the display much faster, it does, however, make the display much more annoying to look at.

Once you command the client to make the connection, and everything else is done correctly, the client will connect to the host and you will have a second, albeit a bit sluggish 2nd monitor to use for any low frame-rate functions.

I use this for displaying PDFs, web pages like wikis, chat clients or anything else that doesn’t require high frame rate. This is often useful when I am doing different admin types of tasks that require me to look at published documents and I am away from my SuperCubicle (home office). It is very, very handy.

Final thoughts

This is a great little project for making old tablets, such as my HP Touchpad, even more useful. It just doesn’t take much processing power by the client device to peer into a VNC host.

Issues I have noticed. On some Wi-Fi networks, I am not able to make the connection between the devices. I’m sure either ports or some sort of walking is happening that is preventing me from making the connection.

When you set up your VNC client on the tablet or whatever, you have to be sure that you take into account loss of screen real-estate due to whatever the client does on the boarders. Optionally, find a way to turn off the pointer on the client. If you don’t, you get weird flickering. Sometimes, the client or host will just disconnect. I have not yet tracked down the root cause of the problem but it doesn’t happen frequently enough for me to do anything about it.

Full motion video is not actually possible with this. I wouldn’t recommend watching any YouTube videos but more static web pages or using it for chat clients like IRC, Telegram, Discord, or the like is perfectly usable.

How often will I use this? Only when I have to and that is at least monthly. There are a few issues with the setup but it is perfectly usable with just a bit of fiddling. Hopefully this will continue to get attention and work done by the developer.

Reference

VirtScreen on GitHub.com
Use Your Tablet as a Monitor with VirtScreen on discourse.bigdaddylinux.com
HP TouchPad in 2018 on CubicleNate.com

CubicleNate Noodlings | Episode 01 openSUSE News and other Blatherings

A lot more work than I initially anticipated, I have decided to start a “podcast” but the term “podcast” seems to pretentious for me in the same way that “blog” does so these are nothing more than audio blatherings of what I have been noodling around.

Or Click to listen to the Podcast Here

In Tumbleweed News

Standout updates in the snapshots released in the last two weeks have been pretty plentiful. As part of the fun in running openSUSE Tumbleweed, you get a regular stream of well tested software updates.

Some of the most recent changes includes updates for Mesa 3D Graphics Library with version 19.1.3 that mostly provided fixes for drivers and backends. The Mesa-ACO drivers are now in staging so that will be available soon in Tumbleweed.

KDE’s Frameworks and Plasma have been updated. There have been multiple fixes for KTextEditor, KWayland, KIO and Baloo. Plasma 5.16.4 provides bug fixes and Airplane mode improvements.

The Kernel has been updated to 5.2.10, VLC version 3.0.8 to improve adaptive streaming and a fix for stuttering and low framerates. CVEs were addressed with apache2 where a malicioius client could perform a Denial of Serve attack.

HP Linux Imaging and Printing package, hplip is now at version 3.19.6 which adds support for new printers. MariaDB 10.3.17 is enjoying five new CVE fixes

Pending rating for snapshot 20190824 is trending at a moderately stable score of 87, 20190828 is trending at 86. Tumbleweed Snapshot ratings can be viewed at the Tumbleweed snapshot reviewer.

Xfce 4.14 has arrived in openSUSE

After 4 years in the making and a few more days of baking in the openSUSE Build Service. Xfce has been run through the openSUSE gauntlet of openQA, the automated quality assurance system and has been built, ready for Tumbleweed and backported to Leap as well. I tested it on version 15.1 and it has the same pzazz and vigor you’d see on Tumbleweed. 1After 4 years in the making and a few more days of baking in the openSUSE Build Service. Xfce has been run through the openSUSE gauntlet of openQA, the automated quality assurance system and has been built, ready for Tumbleweed and backported to Leap as well. I tested it on version 15.1 and it has the same pzazz and vigor you’d see on Tumbleweed.

The installation on Leap is about 443 packages when selecting to the X11:Xfce repository. Keep in mind, this is not the official repository but what is considered “Experimental” so keep that in mind, for what it’s worth.

Some of the changes that I find particularly noteworthy is that all the core components are now using GTK3. You can enjoy, potentially, a flicker and screen tearing free experience due to fully gaining support for VSync. If you have a High DPI monitor, your life with that hardware will be much improved and there have been some GLX compositor improvements. For more information on the improvements.

Changing the Chair of the openSUSE Board

Richard Brown has stepped down as the Chairperson of the openSUSE Board. He has been at it for six years and decided to hang it up. He wrote a nice letter to the community as a public statement and announced his successor, Gerald Pfeifer.

I saw a few social media posts saying he will be missed but I don’t think that is the case at all. He is still at SUSE and will still be a contributor to the project. It’s just that his role has changed back to working primarily on the technology and keeping his life in proper balance.

All good things must come to an end, I suppose but, again, not really an end, just a passing of the baton and the project keeps rolling. I personally wish Mr Richard Brown well on his endeavors.

Kata Containers in the Official openSUSE Tumbleweed Repository

Kata is container runtime similar to runC but focuses on security. The idea of Kata is a focus on security with an ease of integration with exiting container ecosystems. Kata should be used when running container images whose source is not fully trusted or when allowing other users to run their containers on your platform.

It is most common to see containers share the same physical and operating systems resources with host process. Host specific kernel features, such as namespace, are used to provide an isolation layer between the host and container processes.

Kata Containers, instead, run in lightweight virtual machines for added isolation and security to further reduce the host attack surface and mitigate the consequences of container breakout. Kata accomplishes this using KVM hardware virtualization and is configured to use a minimalist virtual machine manager (VMM) like Firecracker.

Kata can be used as a standalone as it’s intended to use to serve as a runtime when integrated in as a container engine

Uyuni version 4.0.2 is Release

Uyuni is an open-source infrastructure management solution, tailored for software-defined infrastructure. This is a fork of the Spacewalk project to provide more operating systems support and better scalability capabilities and now the the upstream for SUSE Manager.

The new features of Uyuni are monitoring, content lifecycle management and virtual machine management. It is available for openSUSE Leap 15.1

Other Thoughts

I have been playing with the Open Build Service to get familiar with the packaging. There is a lot yet for me to learn. Maybe someday I can actually become useful with it. Currently I am struggling with grasping some of the specifics but in this process I have grown to be very grateful to anyone that helps to maintain any and all software in any Linux distribution, let alone openSUSE

Final Thoughts

This is the first Podcast I have put together, it is without music or any effects. If I waited to put together the “perfect product” my first time out of the gate, everything I would have to update all my noodlings.

Feel free to send complaints or condescending comments to YouSmellLikeARottingFruitSalad@CubicleNate.com , if they are clean and family friendly and give me a chuckle, I must may read them.

References

News.openSUSE.org
Xfce 4.14 Lands in Tumbleweed
Xfce Official Tour
Xfce, a Model GTK Based Desktop | Late Summer Blathering
Richard Brown’s Announcement to Step Down as Chairperson
Kata Container Announcement on News.openSUSE.org
Firecracker microVMs Site
Version 4.0.2 of Uyuni is Release from News.openSUSE.org
Mesa projec Page
KDE Project page
https://cubiclenate.podomatic.com/

Broken and Fixed Virt-Manager on openSUSE

I am not a “Distro Hopper” but I like to try out other distributions of Linux or operating systems, for that matter. I don’t have much interest in wiping out my main system to find out I prefer openSUSE over something else. The alternative is virtual machines. I have found that QEMU/KVM seems to work better with openSUSE Tumbleweed than Virtualbox. I have previously described this issue here.

The issue I had today was that when starting a Virtual Machine Guest on may system, I received an error without any real hint as to the solution of the problem. A bunch of details that, frankly didn’t make a whole lot of sense so I searched the title of this error:

Error starting domain: Requested operation is not valid: network ‘default’ is not active

I found a reference that fixed the issue and so I made myself a little reference as another gift to future self. For you know, when I break something again.

Libvirt / QEMU / KVM Reference

Reference

Virtual Machine Manager with QEMU/KVM on openSUSE Tumbleweed

CPU Security Mitigation on openSUSE | Tuning it for Your Case

This is a little outside of my normal blatherings format but after stumbling upon a video from Red Robbo’s YouTube channel. I wanted to investigate his claims that maybe, just maybe the security mitigations that I have chosen they are a bit excessive for my use case. Recently, openSUSE has added a feature to make this easily user adjustable. Since they made it easy, obviously, someone far smarter than I am has decided that some of the mitigations may be excessive and not worth the performance loss for all use cases. I written about the mitigations some time ago and how it is fun to see all that is being implemented. Maybe it’s time to dial it back.

This is the video that made me pause and think about the choices I’ve made.

Red Robbo made the statement, “how many people are actually impacted by this, not potentially impacted but actually…”

Fair statement, what is my actual risk. not imaginary but actual risk. So that got me thinking. My setup has been to keep the mitigations on “Auto”. That seems fair to me. Let the system decide how many mitigations I need to have in place. Then this video came out and It got me thinking…

“How many mitigations do I really need to have to protect my system?”
“What are the threats against my main machine, a laptop, that does not run any services?”
“How much of a performance improvement would I have if I switched the mitigations off?”

According to SUSE, by leaving the mitigations to Auto, “All CPU side channel mitigations are enabled as they are detected based on the CPU type. The auto-detection handles both unaffected older CPUs and unaffected newly released CPUs and transparently disables mitigations. This options leave SMT enabled.”

It was time to explore this further. Do some, self-discovery, as it were.

In reading all the CVEs on the subject, they are worded as either, “Local attacker”, “In theory”, “…a possible approach”, “could be made to leak”.

I couldn’t help but think, golly, this is all… speculative… isn’t it. I now wonder what the actual threat is. I appreciate how the fixes were very much preemptive before any attacks were made but it almost seems like building my house so that it is meteor proof, just in case of meteor strike.

What I’ve done

So I did as Red Robbo suggested, not on all my machines, just the machines that that, I shut them off. I am not on anyone’s target list. I don’t run any kind of service that has tons of people in this system and it doesn’t often face the scary internet directly as it is going through a firewall that filters most of the scary traffic away. Making the change was really quite easy and underscores the beauty of YaST. To get to the right module, I go into YaST and select the Boot Loader module under System.

Within the bootloader module, select the Kernel Parameters tab and under the CPU Mitigations, I selected the drop down and the Off option.

After selecting okay and rebooting the system I can’t say I noticed any major improvement to performance. I tested Auto vs Off and I couldn’t actually tell the difference in performance. There may be some improvement but either I am personally too slow or nothing I do on a regular basis is affected by the mitigations.

Final Thoughts

For “desktop” machines, I am pretty confident that the other security features of Linux is quite adequate to keeping you safe on the Scary Internet. This desktop machine doesn’t provide any services to anyone outside of me as I am using it. I don’t have an Internet facing web service or database that has a risk in being compromised by bad actors.

For my personal server, that really doesn’t do a lot, I am keeping the mitigations to Auto. Although it does not face the internet, it is on all the time, I am not asking too much of it and it has a great chance at getting poked by something. Though, since I am not a target, the chances of that machine being compromised is also rather slim.

Your situation is dependent on your level of paranoia. Crank up your mitigations to 11 if you think it is best. As for this particular machine and the other little laptops and netbooks I use, I don’t see it as necessary.

References

SUSE.com Centralized CPU issue Mitigation document
Red Robbo’s Workshop YouTube Video: Improve Intel CPU performance on openSUSE
CubicleNate.com Spectre and Meltdown Vulnerability Status
TID 7022512 – Security Vulnerability: “Meltdown” and “Spectre” side channel attacks against CPUs with speculative execution.
TID 7022937 – Security Vulnerability: Spectre Variant 4 (Speculative Store Bypass) aka CVE-2018-3639.
TID 7023075 – Security Vulnerability: Spectre side channel attack “Bounds Check Bypass Store” aka CVE-2018-3693.
TID 7023076 – Security Vulnerability: Spectre side channel attack “Lazy FPU Save/Restore” aka CVE-2018-3665.
TID 7023077 – Security Vulnerability: “L1 Terminal Fault” (L1TF) aka CVE-2018-3615, CVE-2018-3620 & CVE-2018-3646.

Xfce, A Model GTK Based Desktop | Late Summer Blathering

In full disclosure, Plasma is my Desktop Environment of choice, it is very easy to customize and to make my own with very little effort. As of late, there isn’t a whole lot of customizing I do, it’s all pretty minor. A couple tweaks to the the visuals, make it dark, change some sound effects to make it more Star Trek The Next Generation, add a couple Plasmoids and set up KDE Connect. Then I am ready to go.

Since KDE 3 and later Plasma, each release adds and refines existing features, all of which seems as though they are doing so in a sustainable fashion. New releases of Plasma are always met with excitement and anticipation. I can count on new features and refinements and an overall better experience. I didn’t look anywhere else but then, Xfce wondered into my world and although slow to change has become that desktop too. Historically, Xfce has been [for me] just there, nothing particularly exciting. It has held the spot of a necessary, minimal viable desktop… but not anymore.

Previous Xfce Experiences

Using Xfce was like stepping back in time to an era of awkwad looking computer innocence, where icons were mismatched and widgets were a kind of grey blockiness with harsh contrasting lines. Such a great time… While KDE Plasma and Gnome moved on, working in new visuals and staying “modern,” Xfce did it’s own thing… or nothing… I don’t really know but it, in my eyes, became the dated desktop environment. It was always rock solid but wasn’t much to look at. To be fair, there were some examples of real decent looking expressions of Xfce but I unfairly dismissed it.

New Experiences with Xfce

I started to do a little distro and desktop hopping, not to replace my preferred setup, openSUSE Tumbleweed with Plasma, but to see what else is out there and to play with some other examples of desktop design and experience. One such example that I really enjoyed was MX Linux.

It is a clean and pleasant experience that doesn’t scream 2002. The configuration options are plentiful and easy to understand. Not to mention the Dark theme looks simply fantastic. Then there is Salient OS which has a slick and modern look. It didn’t look Plasma but looks like the present and doesn’t make you think of the traditional Xfce environment.

Then came Endeavour OS where, for just a moment, I thought I was using Plasma. It is truly a slick Xfce environment with some great choices for appearance.

Although, 4.12 was released in 2015 and some speculated the project as being dead, new breath life came to the users of this project and just recently (Aug 2019), version 4.14 was released.

Xfce’s latest release didn’t take away features or trim out functionality. It only added new features and refined the the whole desktop. Most notably, a complete (I think) move to GTK3 from GTK2 which allows for better HiDPi support (great for those with the hardware), improvements to the window manager to have a flicker and tearing free experience. A “Do Not Disturb” feature was added to the notifications and many, many more things but these stand out the most to me. More can be read here at the official source for Xfce News.

Xfce on openSUSE

It was announced that Xfce 4.14 landed in openSUSE Tumbleweed. I wanted to see how that experience shaped up. A Telegram friend Mauro shared his Xfce desktop with me and I was blown away by how it looked. I sure didn’t think, Xfce, in the traditional sense.

Then, I wanted to see, how does Xfce on openSUSE look, right out of the gate, just as you log in for the first time. What is my vanilla experience. I installed Xfce direct from the YaST installer on a fresh disk but in case you want to try it on your openSUSE Tumbleweed instance, just run this:

sudo zypper in -t pattern xfce

After booting it up, it looked really quite respectable. I appreciate the new welcome screen, right out of the gate. This is a welcome re-addition to openSUSE. Something that drifted away about 4 or 5 years ago.

I wanted to see what themes were built in. How I could tweak it just a bit and make it my own. I must say, I am pleasantly surprised; ecstatic, really.

After adjusting the theme to something dark, I came to the conclusion that Xfce is fantastic, it is simply fantastic and I take every bad thing I have ever said about GTK back. Xfce is, in my opinion, the premier GTK based desktop. It is fully functional, easy to customize and respectful or system resources and incredibly responsive.

Everything about is easy to tweak to make my own. There wasn’t a special “tweak tool” that had to be installed not part of the regular settings, it was all there. The boot up time on an a Xfce only system is a break neck speed. I don’t know what they have done at openSUSE to make this happen but just wow and Thank You!

I didn’t make much in the way of tweaks to Xfce to make it the way I prefer. Like when playing Monopoly® with my kids, I like to have my cards laid out a specific way and as such, I made some slight changes to the panel along the bottom and added just a hint of transparency because, why not. I also did a bit of a tweak to color theme to make it to my liking, and I was ready to go. The adjustments took me all of 4 minutes and I was grinning from ear to ear. Like an 8 year old on Christmas morning, staring at the tree with presents beneath it, I was excited from my finger tips to my toes just ready to tear into the gifts I have yet to uncover.

Final Thoughts

Xfce is the GTK desktop environment that seems to have all the necessary elements, clean interface and the ease of customization that rivals KDE Plasma. This is “not your father’s Xfce” as it were. This is an Xfce that doesn’t “just get out of the way” it says, I am here, I am ready to give you a great desktop experience and I won’t mess a single thing up. It says, I am down to business but if it’s play time, I mean business about play time too.

I have now used Xfce 4.14 on top of openSUSE, MX Linux, Salient OS and Endeavour OS. They are all great examples of how Xfce should look, the crisp and immediate sense of responsiveness that insists on productivity. In my observation, Xfce is the model GTK desktop, the standard to which all others should be measured against. It’s stability, efficiency, easily customized and makes the desktop truly a personal experience.

References

Xfce Official Release
Xfce 4.14 Lands in openSUSE Tumbleweed
https://cubiclenate.com/2019/03/06/salient-os-review-from-an-opensuse-user/
https://cubiclenate.com/2019/08/20/endeavour-os-review-from-an-opensuse-user/
openSUSE Portal:Xfce

Back In Time for Data Backups on openSUSE | Retrospective

Backup-02

The lack of data security is something that has recently affected some municipal governments in a negative way. Atlanta in 2018 was attacked with a ransomware and demanded $51,000 before they would unlock it. Baltimore was hit a second time this past May [2019]. I am not a security expert but in my non-expert opinion, just keeping regular backups of your data would have prevented needing to spend a ransom to get your data back. It would also help to run openSUSE Linux or one of the many other Linux options on the desktop to reduce the impact of a user induced damage due to wayward link-clicking.

If you are interested in keeping your personal data “safe,” offline backups are an absolute requirement. Relying only on Google Drive, Dropbox, Nextcloud or whatever it may be is just not not adequate. Those are a synchronizing solution and can be a part of your data-safekeeping strategy but not the entirety of it.

I have been using Back In Time as my backup strategy, in this time, I have only had to restore a backup once but that was an elected procedure. Back In Time is great because it is a Qt based application so it looks good in KDE Plasma

Installation

For openSUSE users, getting the software is an easy task. The point and click method can be done here:

https://software.opensuse.org/package/backintime-qt

The more fun and engaging method would be to open a terminal and run:

sudo zypper install backintime-qt

It is, after all, in the main openSUSE repository and not playing in the terminal when the opportunity presents itself is a missed opportunity.

How it has been going

Since this is a retrospective on using Back In Time, you can find more about usage and other options backing up your system hereI am not going to claim that I was 100% disciplined performing weekly backups like I suggested. The sad reality is, I got busy and sometimes it was every other week… I may have forgotten to do it entirely in April… but for the most part, I was pretty good about keeping my system backed up.

Since Back In Time is really quite easy to use it is as simple as connecting a specially designated USB drive into my computer and I start “Back In Time”. Yes, in that order because I don’t I get a rather angry message.

BackInTime 04-Snapshots folder.png

Something else you have to do is either manually or automatically remove old snapshots. I didn’t pay attention and some of the snapshots completed “WITH ERRORS!” I am sharing this as a cautionary tale to pay closer attention to your backup medium, whatever that may be, to ensure you have enough space.

From there, all I would have to do is click the Save Snapshots Icon.

BackInTime 05-Take Snapshot Icon-box

The application will evaluate the last snapshot against your filesystem and create an incremental snapshot. The first snapshot is the most time consuming, the subsequent snapshots don’t take nearly as much time.

BackInTime 01-Main Screen.png

With Back In Time, there is a feature to adjust how many snapshots it keeps. I ultimately decided to have it automatically delete snapshots older than 6 months (26 Weeks). For my purposes, anything older than 6 months is likely useless. I could probably reduce the length of time that I keep. I really just need the data should something catastrophic happen to all the machines that I keep synchronized.  Your requirements may vary, of course.

BackInTime 03-Auto-remove

I have been told that I should do a separate monthly and weekly offline updates but it is my opinion that for my personal usage, weekly is fine. I would also say that if you are responsible for an organization or business data, doing the separate monthly and weekly backups, maybe even daily would be better. I am not a professional here, nor should you take my advice on what is best practice for your organization. I do recommend that you do backups at some interval and find out what is best for you.

Final Thoughts

After fumbling my way through Back In Time a bit, adjusting it’s settings for my purposes, this has proven itself to be a fantastic application I can count on to keep my data “safe.” I can personally attest to the ease of backing up and restoring data. The way I use it isn’t necessarily the best way for you. Back In Time can do a LOT more than the limited way I am using it.

Even if you don’t use Back In Time, find an application that will help you make backups that is easy to do and sustainable enough to stay consistent. There isn’t a single downside to it.

References

Data Back Up | Better to Prevent than to Regret

Back In Time on GitHub

Back In Time Documentation

Back In Time from openSUSE

Atlanta Ransomware Attack from SecurityMagazine.com

Baltimore Ransomware Attack Article

Wavebox | Chat Unification Snap Application on openSUSE Tumbleweed

Wavebox on openSUSE

From time to time, I like to play around with the universal packaging available in Linux. It has mostly been AppImages and Flatpak but I wanted to Snap something into my system. After working out an AppArmor issue. Snaps were working fantastically well once again. The application I wanted to try was another Chat Message Unification Application. I had heard wonderful things about Wavebox so it was time to try it out. It’s described as, “A clever new home for cloud apps on your desktop bringing Gmail, Inbox, Outlook, O365, Trello, Slack & over 1000 more apps into a configurable client.”

You can look at the details here on the SnapCraft store.

Wavebox Snap 19

In a terminal I installed Wavebox from the Snap Store:

sudo snap install wavebox

Installation was a snap (haha) and it created an entry in the application menu of KDE Plasma, just as one would expect. It should also be noted that the system tray icon also looks great next to the rest of the icons sitting there too.

Wavebox Snap 20 System Tray.png

When the Application started up, I didn’t notice any lengthy start up time that has been complained about in the past with Snaps. It was delightfully… snappy… and when it settled I was greeted with a pleasant interface. There was no question as to what I needed to do, create an account.Wavebox Snap 2

Going through the process was really quite trivial. You begin by entering your name, email and password. I elected to setup two-factor authentication which did require me to install an application on my phone…

After you have logged in, you can add your first application. I went with Slack, specifically the Bad Voltage slack group. There is a convenient search box right at the top of the uncluttered interface.

I am not 100% sure what the “Pic a Colour” section does, entirely but it does create a ring around thee account on the side tab of the service. Setting up Slack was trivial and has the same basic feel of what you would have in the web browser.

What I think is interesting is the different customization features you can specify for each module you add. What is interesting to me is the ability to put a tab to sleep and stop it after some time of inactivity. I don’t know exactly what that means and how it is implemented but if that is what I am thinking it is, that should be more kind to your system when on battery power. I find with all the services running in either a browser or other Chat Unification applications, the CPU usage is noticeable.

Wavebox Snap 11

I wanted to install the G-suite of tools and began that process by selecting the Gmail icon when adding an application. There is a similar “Pick a Colour” selection then you can choose which services it loads into this “tab”. I didn’t test all the functions but the ones that did worked as expected. The Hangouts button doesn’t give me the hangouts configuration I prefer but it is functional, none the less.

Wavebox Snap 13

Setting up the account is much like logging in through a browser or even Kmail, for that matter. When you sign in, you then configure the default inbox configuration.

The display of the email is as you would see in a web page but the added benefit is that you have all the other services on a menu bar at the top of the Window. This is, by far, the best implementation of interfacing with the Google Services I have ever seen. It is far more functional than the Google defaults and even nicer than what I have been using on similar services.

Memory Use

It’s very easy to see how much of your drive is taken up by the application

/dev/loop11 156M 156M 0 100% /snap/wavebox/180

I don’t view this as outrageous at all. The application has another 181 MiB of storage on my home directory in the snap folder. I haven’t fully investigated the the contents of the folder but it does keep historical snap version configuration files, which is interesting.

Running the 10 Google Services, Riot and Slack, I am using about 490 MiB of RAM, so, 12 services in all on this so about 40.8 MiB per service. Combine that with the sleep function, this doesn’t feel too bad.

What I like

The way that Wavebox bundles the Google Services into one tab and how integrated and purposeful it feels makes this application really quite special. There is a lot of thought and detail put into it. I would say that this is a far better “Google Experience” than what you would have on a Chromebook. It is, seemingly a much more efficient and integrated experience, really, the best I have ever seen.

The Sleep Tab feature is very interesting and I have not studied it enough to know exactly how it works because I have received email notifications while the tab was sleeping so it must check periodically. somehow. I would really like to run this on a long term basis and determine, or at least, better determine what it is doing. Maybe even do some CPU usage comparisons between Wavebox and similar services but I just don’t have the time for that.

The conveniences of having all the different communication and collaboration services in one window, everything unified, is very conducive to productivity. That feature alone makes this application stand out from others similar to it. I would determine that it is a better experience than what you have in a browser with a string of pinned tabs.

What I Don’t Like

Wavebox does requires a login to an external server someplace to manage your accounts. This is like the Franz application I have also reviewed. It was an area for which I didn’t particularly like. I do see the utility of it and since these are all services you are logging into, one more isn’t that big of a deal… really… but somehow that is still a sticking point for me.

Wavebox isn’t free. Not that I think everything should be free but I would rather spit out a one time payment for this application. It costs $48 per year to use this application. For my purposes, since my efficiency with any of these services is not a part of my job, (arguably maybe Google could be), it isn’t a good value for me to make the investment. However, if your work required you to communicate on numerous  services regularly, I could absolutely see this as being a vital piece for improved quality of [computing] life.

Final Thoughts

Wavebox LogoRambox and Franz are both similar applications I have reviewed, albeit with a slightly different lens, they are all really quite fantastic applications. Any one is a good choice and I am glad that they all exist. There are features from each application that I appreciate so each application has their merit. I would say that of all of them Wavebox does seem to have just a bit more polish than the rest. There are more tools and tweaks with this and the way all the Google Services are rolled up with a very convenient menu makes this the best experience for using G-Suite. Far better than even with Chrome or using a Chromebook. This is so nicely integrated that it makes a mediocre web application experience feel like a real, nicely polished, and purposeful, native application.

Wavebox is, undoubtedly, suited for the professional user, not so much a dude like me that can’t seem to stick with an application like this for more than 6 months or so. This is extremely well thought out and well executed. Features like the Sleep Tab make this stand above other options.

Another final thought, having access to Snaps (along with other universal packages) available on openSUSE Tumbleweed really opens up a very wide array of available applications for my use. Snaps seem to integrate well into openSUSE; just as long as nothing gets messed up with AppArmor again. Snaps are a great choice for application delivery for many cases and I am thankful that I have access to them.

References

Wavebox from the Snap Store Web Frontend

Snapd Resolved bug on Bugzilla

Rambox | Chat Message Unification Application for openSUSE

Franz | Chat Messaging Unification Application on openSUSE

Budgie 10.4 on openSUSE Leap 15.1

In my ongoing mission to ensure that I am keeping up on as many wiki pages for openSUSE as I can, I noticed that the information I put in for the terminal installation process for the Budgie Desktop was not right, I didn’t look through the history but I’m sure it was absolutely my fault. Regardless, I decided to test it out in a VM and see that it installs properly and I could play around in it without crashing. Sure enough, it seems to be working well and after switching things up to a dark them, I thought it looked pretty darn good.

A simple command in the terminal makes the magic happen:

sudo zypper install budgie-desktop

After Zypper does its thing, logging out and logging back in will give you a pretty darn decent implementation of the Budgie-Desktop. There isn’t any openSUSE customization with it, as far as I can tell, it runs well and feels clean.

Oddly, instead of a Budgie Logo for the menu it is a GNOME logo. I am not sure if that is the upstream default or not but it just seems odd to me.

Screenshot_opensuse15.1_2019-07-15_19:08:20

Though, I don’t much care for the light theme, that is easily fixed in the Budgie Settings. I went for Breeze-Dark with everything, just because I think that is the best thing going as of today. I must say that the settings are nice, neat and simple which I think works well for this desktop.

Screenshot_opensuse15.1_2019-07-15_19:10:13.png

I noticed that when I switched the icon theme to Breeze Dark the Plasma logo appeared on the menu icon. I guess if you have Gnome with the Adwaita theme it is only reasonable that you would have the Plasma logo with the Breeze theme. It still seems a bit odd to me.

I hung out here and played around, browsed the web, and tested out a few of the tools. I don’t feel like Budgie is quite right for my “home”. It’s a nice home, very well put together, from what little I experienced hanging out, it is just not one I feel compelled to move into.

Final Thoughts

The ease of installing other Desktop Environments (DEs) in openSUSE is super simple and I truly appreciate it. It is also nice to see that playing with other DEs doesn’t seem to mess things up at all. They all seem to cohabitate quite nicely on a single installation.

I am quite sure this is the vanilla configuration of Budgie that is just how openSUSE does Desktop Environments. I do, however think the Budgie Logo or the openSUSE logo would be preferred on the menu but that would be the only real change I would make.

Budgie is a nice, crisp Desktop Environment but it just isn’t for me. I think KDE Plasma has spoiled me. I also need to do a better job of keeping on top of the different wikis hosted by openSUSE. It is very easy to neglect them. Thankfully, I can play with it all in VMs for testing while I work on other tasks.

Dang openSUSE Linux is awesome!

References

https://en.opensuse.org/
https://en.opensuse.org/Portal:Budgie
https://getsol.us/