Blatherings

Listing of my current and past projects, reviews, tips and other incoherent blatherings.

Tethering on KDE Plasma Desktop

posted Aug 26, 2017, 6:34 PM by Nathan Wolf

Tethering is a fairly common practice using a mobile phone data access to some other device like a laptop or tablet. It is very straight forward to on an Android phone, merely "flipping a switch" in the network settings. I'm sure it is similar on other like devices. Did you know it is possible to tether from KDE Plasma Desktop 5 to another device? It is indeed true and you have several tethering options depending on your hardware.

This feature is not unique to openSUSE but this was done on openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma version 5.10.3. This should work on any KDE Plasma 5 installation. 

Why on Earth did you need to do this?

I have, on more than one occasion, performed an install of openSUSE Linux on a computer away from home in a less-than-ideal environment. Unfortunately, there are still some hardware manufacturers that don't directly support Linux and additional 3rd party drivers need to be installed. The only case  wireless cards from Broadcom.

How I did it

Connected each computer from Ethernet port to Ethernet port.


You may see both computers start to auto-negotiate... you don't want the computer sharing the network connection to the recipient as a client. the Network Manager applet, select, configure the network connections...

Since I am sharing the wifi this computer is picking up to a wired connection, I need to configure the Ethernet to share the wireless network access through my wired Ethernet port.

On this dialog, select Wired Ethernet (Shared).
Not much more needs to be done here. I set the connection name to: Tether and restricted it to the single Ethernet port I have available on this machine.
In order to not have this connection automatically activate when I plug into a network, I deselected: Automatically connect to this network when it is available.
Nothing has to be changed under the IPv4 tab, just note that this Method is "Shared to other computers"
You have now successfully shared your network connection. Time to get that wifi driver working on the new machine! Here is a great resource for getting those pesky Broadcom drivers working

Conclusion

This is not something I have had to use very often but it is very handy to have when your options are limited. You can, of course, reverse this process and use your machine as a wireless access point for machines that don't have Ethernet ports like phones or tablets or poorly designed laptops.

There is such a sense of freedom and when you have the ability utilize the capabilities of your hardware such as this with just a few clicks. This is yet another reason why Linux is awesome and especially awesome on openSUSE with KDE Plasma Desktop. 

External Links

openSUSE.org

KDE Plasma Desktop

openSUSE Tumbleweed on Acer Aspire E15

posted Jul 10, 2017, 4:57 PM by Nathan Wolf   [ updated Jul 11, 2017, 7:03 AM ]


From time to time, I will get a request for help with someone with their computer problems. Most of the time it is to fix a Windows issue but I don't do Windows. A coworker brought me his laptop and asked for Linux to be installed on it. He expressed his dislike for Windows 10 and all the background nonsense with advertising going on.

Normally, I would set someone up with Leap, but seeing as how I work with the guy, I thought I would see how installing Tumbleweed would go for him. I have had such a good experience with Tumbleweed, I wanted to see how it would work for a Linux newbie. I realize there was a bit of a risk putting a rolling release on a completely-new-to-Linux dude but as he is a coworker of which I know well, so troubleshooting would not be an issue and he was fine with the added complexity. If I didn't put Linux on this, the machine was going to end up in the garbage.

Specifications

AMD Quad-Core E2-6110 @ 1.50 Ghz
AMD Radeon R2 Graphics
16GB DDR3L Memory
1000 GB HDD

He upgraded the RAM from the original 4GB to improve performance for Windows 10 but he claimed it didn't improve the system.

Install Process

The fist thing I had to do was to change the boot order. In order to get into the BIOS/UEFI configuration I had to hit
F2 to enter Setup.

Changed the boot order to look to USB first. I will change this back but it is good to know that UEFI boot works no problem with openSUSE Tumbleweed. I didn't have to disable secure boot either.

After the install was complete, everything worked but the wifi adapter and the touchpad. The wifi adapter is the Broadcom BCM3142. Since I was performing the installation in a location that I didn't have Ethernet access, I had to tether the newly Linuxed machine to my Dell Latitude E6440 to access the internet.

Installing the driver was no problem. It was as simple as add the Packman repository and install the broadcom-wl driver:

sudo zypper --gpg-auto-import-keys ar -f http://ftp.gwdg.de/pub/linux/misc/packman/suse/openSUSE_Tumbleweed/ Packman
sudo zypper ref
sudo zypper in broadcom-wl

Touchpad problems

The touchpad in the machine was not recognized by KDE Plasma. There was no input at all from the touchpad. I found it really odd as this was the first time I have experience this. I was determined to get it working for my coworker as he was quite enthusiastic about this operating system upgrade.

Doing a little digging on the Internet, I discovered that the touchpad was an Elantech Touchpad but oddly didn't show up even when I ran in command line:

xinput

I was very puzzled and after about an hour of additional information it looked like this touchpad driver should have been included since Linux Kernel 3.16. I didn't verify that to be true but read it in one of the many forums I read through.

I finally decided to give up and tell my coworker that the touchpad was the only thing I could not get working. To which, he responded, "Yeah, it hasn't worked in a long time, that's why I gave you the wireless mouse."

I felt a little dumb but it was good to know the Linux install was not the problem.

Making Upgrades Easy

Since the recommended update method for openSUSE Tumbleweed is to run this command in terminal:

sudo zypper dup --no-allow-vendor-change

I thought that running this command to be a little more than what I wanted a new user to do and I wanted to insure that he actually performed the updates at least every other week. So, I wanted to make it simple. In order to ensure that the correct command is initiated for updates I set up a little Bash script with a .desktop file sitting on the desktop itself that he could just click to complete the updates. I put in a little snarky statement to remind to reboot after the upgrade is completed. Keeping it simple was my objective and I call that method a success.

Final Thoughts

If you install Linux for a friend or neighbor, ask them if there are any issues with the computer. This computer, is a little large for my taste and the keyboard not my favorite to type on but makes for a great openSUSE Linux machine. I have new questions from time to time but so far it seems to be going well. I am hoping for a great Linux experience for this new user.

External Links

openSUSE Tumbleweed Download

How do get into Bios

KDE Plasma 5 Regional Settings Format Makes Me Happy Again

posted Jun 24, 2017, 7:07 PM by Nathan Wolf   [ updated Jul 2, 2017, 4:49 PM ]


Since my move from Windows to Linux, KDE has been my preferred desktop environment. I remember switching between Gnome and KDE for a while until I determined that KDE was for me (what I really wanted was Amiga Workbench). KDE's strength has always been its flexibility and ease of customization. I value options which is why I value KDE.

The transition from KDE 3.x to KDE 4.x was somewhat painful for me as for a while, many of the options that I became used to disappeared but later returned. Through the change, I never lost my ability to adjust how I wanted information displayed to me.

With KDE 5.x I was no longer able to properly customize the date format as you could in KDE 4.x and previously with KDE 3.x. I was rather frustrated. I played around with some of the configuration files but thought this was the pits. Why remove what gives KDE it's strength? Why take away entering the date format exactly how I want it for a series of drop downs that I have to search through to find what it is that I want?

I don't like the typical US format of MM/DD/YYYY I think it is all backwards and rather silly. Also, the whole AM / PM thing is dreadful as well. The 24 hour clock is far superior and eliminates confusion.
Although not an option here, I do like ISO format YYYY-MM-DD as that makes perfect sense. I use it very often when naming files to make for easy sorting using the file system but without the dashes: YYYYMMDD. 

The typical European format is less terrible with DD/MM/YYYY but I do get the 24 hour clock. The reason I find the date format undesirable is that it is too close to the backward US method of which I am more used to so at a glance, I get confused.
I have been using the European method for quite some time due to my inability to tolerate the typical US format, but now, by accident, I see that there is this "Default (C)" format available. If I select Detailed Setting and under "Time:" I select the "Default (C)" format. The time is expressed exactly how I like it. DD MMM YYYY along with the 24 hour clock. 

The best readable format that I appreciate the most is the DD MMM YYYY format. It is the clearest short format and very readable. 
My desktop date is readable again! This is very important to me in Kontact, the Personal information Management suite in KDE where I spend a lot of my time each day.

The desktop world is perfect, once again, for me.

Final Thoughts

I first became aware and addicted to the DD MMM YYYY format in 1992 when I bought my first Amiga, the A600. I thought it was such a great format and worked so well with my somewhat OCD personality. Since that time, I always write my dates in that format. I like seeing it displayed that way everywhere.

I should note that I am using openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma 5.10 and openSUSE Leap 5.8. I haven't run KDE Plasma 5 on any other distribution to know if the "Default (C)" option is available elsewhere.
 
Though, I would prefer manually entering the formats in KDE Plasma, like was once available but I understand their focus on making things "simple." I don't think going through a giant menu of options is the simplest method but at least I have my option to have it the way I want it.

External Links


 

Dell Latitude D630 Tumbleweed Refresh

posted Jun 22, 2017, 11:16 AM by Nathan Wolf   [ updated Jun 22, 2017, 11:16 AM ]


I am not quick to buy new things, though I did replace my Dell Latitude D630 about three months ago with a newer Dell latitude E6440. My plan was to deprecate the machine and put it on a "reserve only" status. In my process of setting up the E6440, I found that I used my D630 still but quite differently, it became my home station machine and my E6440 would be my mobile machine that would return back to "base" where I would have it connect as a client to the D630 for keyboard and mouse. It was a rather nice arrangement. 

Unfortunately, the hard drive died on the D630 and I needed to install openSUSE once again on it in order to continue to use my workspace as I have been. What is $50 on a new hard drive to restore my SuperCubicle, right? 

This time I decided to go for Tumbleweed instead of the usual Leap install. I was concerned about the need for the Nvidia drivers and a year ago when I tried Tumbleweed on it, it didn't go so well. The machine would have lock ups, shut down and occasionally get the flashing lights that indicated video failure from the open source Nouveau drivers. The proprietary drivers were at times problematic, even in Leap, but at least stable enough to get work done. 

I run KDE Plasma for my desktop. I've tried others but the customization options in KDE Plasma just  fits my personal tastes best. I have also been real happy with the speed improvements of KDE Plasma in the last couple years and especially those of KDE Plasma 5.10 on Tumbleweed as of late.

Thankfully this is a Latitude series so the actual process of changing out a hard drive took all of four minutes. The installation of Tumbleweed was also super simple, as expected. I added my Base Application Set to the machine for my multimedia goodies and Smart Card software.

Specification wise, it is nothing impressive, it is quite old. Good at the time this D630 has an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T9500 @ 2.60GHz, 8GB of RAM, 1 TB SSHD, Nvidia Quadro NVS 135M graphics card (known for burning out early in life) with the highest resolution screen available at the time of 1440x900. 

I have been using Syncthing to synchronize the files back to this machine. Although it has been slow it has been a problem free experience.

Suspend is seemingly working perfectly. Granted, I haven't put it through the paces of being a mobile machine but I have tested it enough to say that this feature is reliable enough.

The D630 has been operational for about a week now and it has yet to glitch out. It has had several rounds of updates come thru and they have all be problem free. My experience with the latest Nouveau drivers with Kernel 4.11.5 is that they are smoother and more responsive than the proprietary drivers. Although 10 years old, the D630 feels snappy and new, It is almost like I rolled its age back by 6 years considering how great this thing functions now.

Final Thoughts

Looks like I won't retire this 10 year old machine, for now. It will act once again as my main home machine, for administrative (not as much fun) type of work. Thank you openSUSE and everyone involved in the development of Linux and all of the related applications for giving me the gift of breathing new life into old hardware.

External Links



openSUSE Tumbleweed on Dell Latitude E6440

posted Jun 13, 2017, 7:20 PM by Nathan Wolf   [ updated Jun 13, 2017, 7:21 PM ]


I needed a new computer and generally don't like getting new things. I'm not a very good consumer (unless I'm buying food, I love food) but I really needed a new laptop to replace my beloved, tried and true yet aging, Dell Latitude D630. It has been a great machine but has been come to the end of its service life. There is only so much you can do to a machine of nearly 10 years to keep it current and some of the surprise battery failures really chapped my hide.

I was very specific about the machine I wanted as my replacement. My minimum, must have requirements for this machine was, dock station capability, built in Smart Card reader, 1080p screen, a removable media bay and in a 14" platform. Certainly, this is not a popular setup for most but it is what I very much require. The machine that fit the bill was the Dell Latitude E6440. I realize, this is not a new machine, I believe they were discontinued in 2016 but it is just the right age for me as there will be no hardware surprises.

Preparing the Installation

I didn't have to do much here. The only task I was interested in doing was to have all the necessary updates, specifically the firmware and the like from Dell completed before I killed Windows 7. Primarily, I wanted to ensure that I wouldn't fiddle around with updates after I switched it to Linux.

After the firmware updates from Dell, I reset the machine and went into the BIOS to deactivate the secure boot and put it in legacy mode. My understanding is that it is no longer a necessary step but I didn't want to fiddle with it.

Installing openSUSE Tumbleweed

For most cases Leap is probably the choice I would make for most people. It is an "enterprise hardened" distribution that is super rock solid. I also have a desire to do more when it comes to testing and development, etc. I really wanted more up to date packages and I really wanted to kick the tires on a rolling release to see how it works for me. I had an expectation of stability issues and some reservation on whether or not this would be good enough for my personal "multi-tool" rig. Leap has been great but it was time to see how this rolling release would work for me.

Specifications (That Matter)

I don't typically stay on the cutting edge of technology as I don't want to bleed to death but I had some very specific requirements based on my experience with my previous primary machine. There were some features lacking that I really wanted and some features that I didn't want to give up.

These were my requirements. 14" chassis, 1920x1080 screen resolution, AMD GPU, Smart Card reader, back-lit keyboard, removable media bay, dock station capability, built in web cam and SD Card slot. I fitted it with 16GB of DDR3 RAM and am looking at doing an eventual SSD upgrade.

I have very specific reasons for wanting these specifications, all of which are likely uninteresting so I won't go into all my reasons.

For most of my day-to-day operation of my machines, 4GB is actually plenty. When I want to test something in virtual machine, I needed more space. It just wasn't practical, even on my 8GB machine to run my regular load plus a virtual machine. I needed more. I wanted 32GB but my size requirements trumped the memory desires so I had to settle for something with 16GB. 

Overall Performance

You can get benchmarks from anyone and as much as I like those numbers they are really pretty meaningless. What matters to me is how long does it take to boot up or return from suspend. How good is battery life on this machine under typical work loads. Sure,
I can monitor my power usage in Kinfocenter and watch the energy consumption and give you an analysis but my usage is likely to be different than yours. What I care about is making it thru a long meeting or half the day or whatever my needs are under specific work conditions. When I click-to-open something do I feel like I am waiting on the machine or is it snappy.

First, which is probably the most important issue is, how does it feel when I use it. This machine is running KDE Plasma and it has an incredibly smooth and silky feel to it. It is so incredibly buttery smooth and crisp that, in my perspective, looks better than what I have experienced on MacOS or Windows. I have yet to experience a situation where it feels laggy but I haven't run more than 2 virtual machines at a time. Things just pop, everything loads fast, running on a SSHD, I will be very interested in seeing how it works with a true SSD. That will come later.

I have seen benchmarks that show openSUSE Tumbleweed is faster than Leap in certain tests. I don't have a fair comparison between the two as I am not running Leap on this machine, only Tumbleweed, If there are some performance increases, that's great and I appreciate it but those nitty-gritty details are not real important for what I am asking my machine to do. I don't do much gaming and it is usually retro gaming. For my tasks, it is running superbly and has been very stable; a testament to the openSUSE project. 

I wanted a machine with good battery life and I certainly have that with this machine. It has a 9-cell battery, the age of which I am not certain but I am getting about 5 hours of battery life doing the basic tasks that I require. That includes working in LibreOffice, streaming audio or video, Firefox and Chrome with multiple tabs open. When running virtual machines it is obviously lower and when I am doing very simple tasks a bit longer but to say I get 5 hours is a safe and conservative estimate. I am quite pleased in the battery life of this machine.

What I Like

This machine is basically the perfect size. It is very portable, albeit a bit thick compared to the ultra portables out there but they did pack a lot into a small package. The speed of this machine, for everything I do, is phenomenal. I often run a couple virtual machines simultaneously to test software on installations of Leap and Tumbleweed in order to not bork my host system. Having a full 1080p screen is so nice to have. I know that there are sharper displays out there but for my purposes, 1080p is the sweet spot. I can adjust the size of text and icons perfectly. I have the perfect screen real-estate to do all that I need to do.

The built-in features including the optical media drive, which I have used several times and smart card reader are must-haves for me still and this machine just fits the bill perfectly to do all that I need to do. It is a perfect stand alone system that requires no dongles or accessories and I can accomplish 95% of my workload. I have 16GB of RAM in the machine, which is its maximum. It is, I suppose a little low for 2017 but I'm not doing anything at this time that pushes it. Maybe someday.

What I will purchase for this machine is what is called a "Battery Slice" that attaches to the dock connector of this machine and provides double my battery capacity. There aren't too many situations where I need more battery life but when those times do present themselves, and they will do so, I will be glad to have that extra run-time. 

The back-lit keyboard is really pretty great. They keyboard itself feels real nice. It has the perfect key travel and the right resistance that typing on it is very satisfying. Being able to use the computer in low-light situations by having the keys nicely lit up for me to poke at is very convenient. I do touch-type but getting those Function keys and remembering what symbol is on what number of the keyboard can sometimes escape me.

The overall design of the machine is very nice. It looks nice, is not flashy but has nice lines and coloring to it. Simple and elegant. It feels solid and quite well constructed. It is very easy to take off the bottom cover to do upgrades or serves the interior of the machine. It is as though there was a lot of thought put into the design of it. Not just the appearance but pragmatic details for those that have to keep these things running, replace components and do upgrades. I would say that this machine is an improvement over my previous machine in all aspects.

What I Don't Like

The weight but I have no room to complain here. It is a solid well constructed machine, it is only to be expected that it is going to have some weight to it. I am still on the fence about the newer keyboard layout of this Latitude. I really liked the D Series layout and I miss the menu key. I was probably the last person in the world to use it but I used it frequently. I am also on the fence about the position of the page up and page down keys. In a way, way more convenient, but I am just not used to it.

I'm not sure if it is a Tumbleweed issue or a hardware issue with this machine but plugging a headphones directly into the computer itself does not automatically switch the sound output, I have to manually move it over. However, when on the dock station, it switches the sound over to that headphone jack immediately. Not a huge issue, just kind of annoying.

Final Thoughts

The Dell Latitude E6440 is a great machine. It has everything I need and it is what I want out of a laptop. The perfect size for me. Yes, it is a bit heavy but I wanted the secondary drive bay for optical media. I also want the option to throw in a hard drive for testing other distributions and such on "bare metal" without messing up my main install.

I don't see a machine that is a direct replacement from Dell at this time and that does concern me but I think that this machine will last me for a few years before I outgrow it. My hardware needs will likely change over time. Right now, this fits the bill in every way. It is not the fastest, best on battery, most portable machine but it has just enough of the right features for me to get what I need done today at home, work or a remote site.

Great job on this machine Dell and great job openSUSE for working flawlessly on this machine.

External Links

Dell Latitude E6440 specifications


Crazy Awesome KDE Plasma Desktop Bluetooth Audio on openSUSE

posted Apr 30, 2017, 3:48 PM by Nathan Wolf   [ updated Apr 30, 2017, 3:49 PM ]


I often hear complains of Bluetooth on Linux and how it just doesn't work well. I scratch my head as I just don't understand the problem because I just cannot relate at all. Bluetooth in Linux has been a breeze! I don't know if it is universally this easy with KDE Plasma or the way openSUSE packages it all together but of any Bluetooth enabled device I have ever used, KDE Plasma on openSUSE does it right.

Adding the audio device in KDE is as easy as it is on an Android phone and more stable than my Chromebook. I have this CoolVox Kitchen Sound System as a part of my Whirlpool 5-Door refrigerator in my kitchen. It is a great sound system that I like to connect my tablet or laptop to listen to music or podcasts. There certainly is a "cool factor" in my refrigerator sound system. 

KDE Plasma Audio Volume Interface

Adding any Bluetooth device I have ever purchased has been easy with KDE Plasma and has been since the KDE3 days though it is more stable today than ever. I have never had an issue with Bluetooth keyboards or mice but only in the last 3 years or so have purchased any Bluetooth audio devices. After you pair the audio device, KDE automatically recognizes it as such and makes it available for use immediately. The default setting with my install of KDE is to NOT automatically switch running streams to a new output. 

That can be changed in SystemSettings > Multimedia > Audio Volume under the Configuration Tab. I prefer to not have it automatically switch. I like my system notifications to stay on the internal speaker system.

When there is an audio device available, Bluetooth or otherwise, it shows up right in the system tray audio control application. You can control the output of each device as you desire. It is a very straightforward and intuitive representation of your Playback (output) Devices as well as any Capture (input) Devices. I just have the built-in internal microphone / input device hooked up at this time.

The Applications tab will display what applications are actively Streaming Audio. Further fine control of levels can be adjusted from here. I find it to be a great feature to be able to just mute a stream. This is a nicely polished interface that gives you a snapshot of what has made a connection to the PulseAudio sound system.

Nine years ago, the PulseAudio / sound server systems were somewhat of a mess but today, things are pretty tip-top.

Stream Output Device Control

Here is the part that I think is really slick: If I want to move and audio stream to a different device, it is as simple as clicking it and dragging it to a different output. In this case pictured, going from my Coolvox Bluetooth speaker system to the internal speakers. To change it back, same procedure, select, drag and drop. I wish Android has such a convenient audio stream control mechanism. 

It really is crazy-awesome easy to use Bluetooth and has been stable to the point of forgetting that there was ever an issue with Bluetooth or Audio in Linux.

Final Thoughts

Even though I have heard recently heard that Bluetooth is a mess in Linux, it is certainly not the case with KDE Plasma on openSUSE Linux, with either Tumbleweed or Leap, nor has it been for quite a while. Other Desktop Environments or Distributions of Linux may struggle with Bluetooth on Linux, but that has not been my experience at all, for years. I hope that more Linux users can have a similar experience as I have had on KDE Plasma. Whether that is switching distributions, desktop environments or programming similar features into their desktop of choice and raising bar in one more area of the Linux Desktop.

Bluetooth loves openSUSE Linux with KDE Plasma and that is fantastic!

External Links


Syncthing on openSUSE

posted Apr 18, 2017, 1:37 PM by Nathan Wolf   [ updated Apr 19, 2017, 6:34 AM ]


As part of my quest for my illusion of freedom, I have been looking for an alternative to Dropbox and Google Drive to backing up and synchronizing the bulk of my data between machines. I am a user of Dropbox and Google Drive via Insync, that won't change for many of my needs. I still have a need to share data easily with other individuals. 

I also decided to stand up a replacement primary openSUSE machine to replace my nearly 10 year old Dell Latitude D630. I have done all that I can do to make this thing as fast as possible but it is time to change its role to a home-station only machine. 

I want to keep the old machine synchronized with the new machine so that I don't always have to pull the new one out of the bag and turn it on to do work. I don't want to sync everything up to Google Drive or Dropbox because, well, I'm not wiling to spend that much per month for synchronizing large volume, low churn data. I looked at several solutions but this Syncthing looked very promising and the more I acquainted myself with it, the more solutions I can see this fulfilling.

Setup and Install

Like everything on openSUSE, it's real easy. My old machine is running Leap due to the need for the proprietary graphics driver as it doesn't not play well with the open source version. The new machine is running openSUSE Tumbleweed, the rolling release, as I would like to play with the newer software available.

For openSUSE Leap it was as simple as going to the openSUSE Software site and searching "Syncthing." Since I want the handy applet that sits in my system tray and not use a browser to interface with it, I am utilizing the syncthing-gtk version. I found it to be super straight forward to setup and use.

https://software.opensuse.org/package/syncthing-gtk

For openSUSE Tumbleweed, it was completely the same. The only difference, ensure you are downloading the "Tumbleweed" version as opposed to "Leap 42.2." Both versions are in their respective repositories. Thank you openSUSE for making it so straightforward and easy to install software!

Alternatively, if you like playing around in the terminal, which I of course like to do, you can type this:

sudo zypper in syncthing-gtk

Since this is in the Official Repository, you can be assured of updates.

Once installed run Syncthing from the menu. It greets you with a real nice "first run wizard" to get you started and also makes a note to tell you that your configuration files are in ~/.config/syncthing folder. If you would like to manage the Syncthing remotely, you can set up a username and password to protect from unauthorized access.

For my purposes, I am just having it listen to "localhost" only but if I were setting this up on a headless server, would chose to set up a username and password. I also wanted to open up port 21027 on my machines for local network discovery so communication would be more direct and not being relayed anywhere. 

Start up and synchronizing my first folder

Since I was new to this software but not new to similar services, I already had some expectations and understanding of how it should work. 

For testing purposes, I wanted to synchronize a rather large folder on my system called "Projects" between my old and new computers. There is far too much data in this folder to put on Google Drive or Dropbox unless I wanted to shell out a lot more cash per month. I also figured, if I'm going to break this application, this would be the folder that would do it. A pretty good mixture of large and small files mixed in a lot of folders. 

After several hours everything synchronized, everything worked great. I didn't test every single file on the machine to receive the files but what I did test and local scan on the folder indicated that the number and size of files were the same on both machines. 

Since that went so well, I decided to sync my files to a third machine and see how that would go.

Adding a new device is also very straight forward. Just add the "Device ID", give it a name and select which folders you want to share with it. Be patient it will take a little bit for the machines to tell each other "hello."

This machine was on a different network at a remote site. Although a bit slower, for obvious reasons, it also worked flawlessly. Same results on the number and size of files. No errors that I could detect. After that, I just went crazy and added numerous folders between machines and it has all just been a really positive experience.

The next task, see how it runs on my mobile and replace a third party service for backing up pictures. The Google Play store has Syncthing available for installation. Truthfully, I didn't have high expectations for this as they were far exceeded. I am very happy with the setup process, the performance and the time it takes to get new pictures from the phone to the computer. I set up the Camera folder as well as my Pictures folder on the phone to see how that would go. Again, works flawlessly. I do notice, that my phone will go "offline" according to the my other machines. Presumably this occurs only when it is on mobile network or the battery is low. I haven't fully tested all the conditions but my pictures are quickly available on my openSUSE machines. 

What I like

I have control over the location of my data. I know what machines are actually hosting my personal data. I don't have to worry about where some other company is storing my data, what they are doing with it and how they are looking to benefit from mining my information.

I have very fine control of what I share with what device or what person. In this case, I don't have a folder that is shared with a server and I am selecting what folders or files are shared with someone else. Though, that model does have advantages and has its place, this method of sharing a specific folder on my computer with a series of machines or a group of people and I know who it is I am sharing my data with.

I greatly appreciate that I don't have to sign up for a service to use this software. No company or organization is controlling access to this service for any systems or individuals. You can set up your own relay server if you so desire and for any synchronization on your own LAN, a relay server isn't even necessary. You truly don't have to be reliant on any external service. 

The fact that the size of shared folder limited only to the physical space on your systems is also a great bonus. Hard drive space is really pretty cheap today which also bodes well for this backup strategy.

It's great that local network discovery is possible when the proper port is open on the machines. I also find that the transfer rates are much quicker when they are talking directly to each other as opposed to through a relay server.

Associating your mobile device is quick and easy by scanning a QR code of the Device ID. You really can't ask for much simpler than that. If there was only as quick of a way to scan a QR code from my laptop... I'll have to look into that.

Another note, the Device ID itself is not a security risk to give out, as Syncthing still requires approval of each device to allow access. No one that has your ID can just access folders. Not only do you have to approve the device access you also have to approve the folder to be shared. 

What I don't like

This is not a straightforward "dislike" as I realize the design intent behind this software but desire the ease of use of a service like Dropbox or Google Drive. Your data is not available in a "cloud" out there so I can't just browse the data of which I am synchronizing between machines. You can create a method of accessing one of these machines remotely, but that is outside the scope of this article and Syncthing.

This does have a greater learning curve than aforementioned services but once you understand how it works, you are good to go. The basics of this service is, you are creating a bridge to another computer or series of computers to a specified folder on your file system, that is it. Once you understand basic workings it is very simple to expand your "hive" of machines sharing data. 

Use Cases

My primary use case is keeping my "home station" computer with my "mobile" computer synchronized. I have many gigabytes of information that I want to stay synchronized between the machines. It would NOT be cost effective for me to use Google Drive or Dropbox for this purpose.

Another place where I can see this being a useful Community of people sharing a pool of data, such as educational resources where Google Drive or Dropbox may be too cost prohibitive for all users to have an account. Also, if any members of the community have philosophical issue with utilizing a 3rd party service for storage of data, Syncthing is likely to fit the bill.

I am one of those that still buys CDs and have accumulated a large repository of music. I much prefer to rip my CDs and share them among my personal machines and this too is a case where you would get flagged by Google Drive or Dropbox.

Keeping a collection of family pictures shared between computers is another case I find Syncthing to be valuable. This is another case where I have many gigabytes of pictures that would be cost prohibitive to utilize a 3rd party service. 

Final thoughts

I would not stop using Google Drive or Dropbox entirely and replace it with Syncthing but it is another tool for backing up my data and it does change how I keep redundant copies of my data. Most importantly using this for the redundant storage of family pictures and events that I want to remember. I can keep a LARGE collection of pictures synchronized between multiple computers that I do not want to lose. I also have a selection of documents that I don't feel comfortable storing on someone else's computer and just feel better about keeping on computers that I own. 

Everyone has there own acceptable levels of control by external forces. This is an area where I feel a sense of control and freedom over my data and I see this as another solution to get closer to that ideal of personal empowerment and self determination. 

External Links





Gateway NE56R41u openSUSE Install

posted Feb 15, 2017, 5:07 PM by Nathan Wolf   [ updated Feb 15, 2017, 5:16 PM ]

My efforts to spread the good news of Linux continues with this somewhat basic but capable Gateway laptop. The name is a little odd and not very memorable: This is the NE56R41u… sounds awesome… It seems that not everyone can have naming creativity.

Admittedly, in my hasty search on the web for other individual Linux install experiences, I didn’t see much positive. I expected there to be some fiddling around with the machine in order to install openSUSE Linux on the Gateway computer.

This is the second laptop I have converted for this particular family. The first one went so well for them, they asked if I could fix up their other broken PC. It is rather encouraging to know that they really liked it and wanted yet another machine with this “Linux Stuff.”

Preparing the Installation

Having previously used the SUSE Imagewriter to “burn” the openSUSE Leap 42.2 to a USB Flash drive. I wanted to start out by just plugging the USB drive in and seeing what happens on a cold boot. Of course, nothing happened as it booted to a broken Windows install.

I had to get into the BIOS but the designers of this machine felt it best not to let you know on screen how to get into the system firmware. A little research online gave me a few hints as to how to get into it and what ended up working was to press and hold F2 immediately after you power on the machine.

Within the BIOS configuration utility, I moved over to the Boot options and set the USB HDD as first on the boot order and attempt installation. The result was, the system would not boot from USB stick but rather just sat on the Gateway Logo splash screen. It appears that I cannot boot from USB with UEFI active. Thankfully, there is a toggle to switch to Legacy BIOS boot mode so that I can actually get the thing to boot from USB.

One little quirk that I don’t understand is, when you put the BIOS in legacy mode, you can’t change the boot order. Set the boot order in UEFI and switch to Legacy Mode. Not a big deal, just seemed a bit annoying.

Installation Process

The installation was extremely uneventful and not much to discuss. You can basically follow the step by step from there. I did setup the network so that it would pull the latest packages upon install. I didn’t care for the default partitioning scheme set up by the installer so I did make a slight customization:
- Increased Swap Space to 4 Gb instead of the default 2 Gb.
- Increased The / (root) partition from 10Gb to 30Gb. I do not like running out of space on the root partition.

I am a fan of using SSH for remote access and file transfers, so prior to committing the install, I opened the SSH port and activated the service so that I could remotely finish configuring the machine.

Upon initial boot, everything worked, there was not a single issue with any features or component of the machine. It all just worked without any tweaking or special configuration adjustments. KDE Plasma Desktop ran smooth and peppy, didn't have to tweak any of the desktop effect settings or deactivate anything to improve performance, I was very pleased.

Once the system settled after boot, I used my Base Application List for multimedia package install and added Google Chrome Browser to ensure that there would be no issues with the web experience. I also installed Telegram and I was done. Smooth installation process, smooth operation and it is better than new thanks to all the efforts of the contributors of openSUSE and related projects; simply splendid.


Specification (that matter)

Nothing inside this plastic shell is particularly impressive, it is a basic machine but runs very well and is a perfect fit for the needs of its owners.
- 64bit Dual Core Intel Pentium B960 @ 2.20 Ghz
- Intel Corporation 2nd Generation Core Processor Family Integrated Graphics Controller on a 1366x768 Screen
- 4GB RAM
- Realtek B/G/N WiFi Adapter
- Broadcom Corporation BCM57765/57785 xD-Picture Card Reader, MS Card Reader SDXC/MMC Card Reader
- Broadcom Corporation NetLink BCM57785 Gigabit Ethernet PCIe
- Intel Corporation 7 Series/C210 Series Chipset Family High Definition Audio Controller

Conclusion

openSUSE Leap 42.2 a perfect fit for this Gateway NE56R41u laptop. It has a terribly unmemorable name but functions very well. Through much testing, there were no issues using this machine. Everything is stable and rock solid. Though this is an older machine and would be the opinion of some that it should have a "light weight" desktop environment used, KDE with the default openSUSE configuration, runs very well with nothing turned off or disabled. It is only using about 655Mb of RAM leaving plenty left over for applications.

With the wide array of application availability, smooth installation and problem-free operating experiences, this is yet another reason why openSUSE should be your number one go-to operating system of choice for you and your friends or family. If you are going to help them with their computer problems, may as well make it as painless as possible for yourself.

External Links

openSUSE Leap 42.2

Create Live USB using SUSE Imagewriter

KDE Plasma Desktop

Telegram on Mobile and openSUSE

posted Feb 12, 2017, 7:09 PM by Nathan Wolf


Small Messaging Service, or SMS, is a very common and popular way to communicate today. It is a convenient way to transmit a short message. It has seemingly evolved into a way to carry on conversations throughout the day… but it is so 2007... 

I don't actually have a problem with the Small Message Service in itself. I think it is a fine service but I do have some issues with it: 

One, I don't have a great way of using my computer to utilize SMS from my phone. There are some 3rd party services, some are free, some are not. MySMS.com is a service I do use but it often lags as of late. I can use a remote desktop service like TeamViewer to control my phone and have the full keyboard. KDE Connect is close to being able to do it but is just not quite there. 

Two, I would prefer to have some way of messaging seamlessly from the computer or the mobile device without relying on the phone itself. Utilizing any of aforementioned services, you don't have access to the full message history. With MySMS, if I send a message from that web interface from the computer, I can't see what I sent on the phone. The SMS service will not function unless the phone has an active internet and cell service connection. Internet alone will not work. I have been in many situations were I have an active Internet connection but have no cell service available. 

Three, SMS is, well, small, you can't send larger files to include pictures or audio clips. It is VERY limited and I have yet to have one of those, “Attachement not received, tap to download” or something like that actually work.

Lastly, I have chosen to use Ting for my mobile service provider, a pay-per-use type of service, I am charged per SMS, albeit a very small amount and there is no way I am going to spend more there than what I had been paying with a contract-type-of-service but my goal would be to use less of that service and instead use all the unlimited WiFi that I have access to throughout the day at work or at home. Squeeze that dollar as much as possible.

Google HangoutsOne solution I have been using has been the Google Hangouts messaging service, it works very well, and I do like it. I mostly like the Google ecosystem but I am starting to lose confidence in Google. Another solution for messaging has been Facebook Messager but I don't use that one voluntarily anymore. I REALLY don’t trust Facebook at all. I know that neither Google or Facebook are not shy about mining my data for advertising purposes. As much as I like Google and their services or tolerate Facebook, I don't necessarily want either publicly traded company to have all aspects of my communication. 

Why I am using Telegram
Telegram.org

Besides my primary reason for messaging convergence and satisfying my requirement to move between mobile and desktop interfaces, here are reasons for choosing Telegram specifically: 

Privacy: The people behind Telegram are not making money off of your data and take privacy quite seriously. They have received a “generous donation” by an individual and have quite enough money for the time being. Maybe eventually they will have a paid service but not now.

Light weight: I use older machines that don't necessarily have a lot of memory or processing power; consequently won’t work well with Google Chrome. Google Chrome is not the lightweight browser it once was which has prompted me to use Firefox as my browser of choice and now looking for something else to do my messaging. Hangout is great and I will continue to use it but it is just a bit heavy for a netbook of mine that I really enjoy using. 

Telegram has a much lower memory footprint than Hangouts, even on my 7 year old netbook, it functions stupendously. It doesn't lag or feel heavy on system resources to use. The chatting function seems to work pretty quick on any device I have tested it on.

GroupMe
Native Linux Client: I considered using WhatsApp or GroupMe but neither have have a native Linux client. I could use the web client but I don't like having to do everything in a web browser. It's fine to use a browser in a pinch but not for regular use. You could make the argument that I have a browser open anyway so what is the big deal... That is a fine argument but I would just prefer to have a dedicated client with a little system tray icon.

What I like about it

In order from the most important to "meh" importance, here is what I like about it: 

There is a REAL Linux client. No other service [that I know of] has a real Linux client  I can even download the client from the openSUSE software center, select openSUSE Leap 42.2 and do the 1-Click Install. It is not an official package but there are contributors that maintain the package for you. They are very kind and if you can, send them a thank you.

Should you like to try it out, go here:


As expected there is a Mobile Client but everyone makes one and that is no big surprise. They support Android, iOS and Windows Phone. Go to your 
respective "store" and download it from there. I have only used the Android version and It works about the same as others, perhaps a little cleaner and more lightweight feeling. It looks pleasant and modern and does what you would expect it to do... message. The client will parse your contacts and inform you as to who is using Telegram which is convenient. 

Signing up for the service is SUPER easy and painless. Quite possibly the most painless sign-up I have ever had for a service of this kind... EVER. It takes more time to download and install the program than it does to actually get going with it. I DON’T link it to my Facebook account like GroupMe

I have control over my message history. One of my irritations with Hangouts is you can't delete specific messages. You may ask me, "Golly, why would you want to do that?" Well, I have some very offensive friends and tho I might chuckle at what they say, I would prefer to make those less than appropriate messages disappear from my device without having to delete everything.

As stated before, Telegram is NOT controlled by any large corporation that is mining your data for ads. They are not trying to sell you anything or use your information for anything. They seem to be truly interested in your internet freedom and privacy. 

Telegram boasts that it is an encrypted chat application, although, I have read some articles saying the encryption is not as good as it claims to be, those are old articles and my fellow paranoid Linux users out there seem to still have faith in Telegram... and they would be some of the first to lose that faith in Telegram.

Telegram Cloud Service
Telegram is a Cloud based messaging service, What I see on my computer I see on my phone or tablet and I am not reliant on the phone to send messages. I like the consistency between interfaces and I like the flexibility of moving conversations from the mobile device back to the computer and back to the mobile device. This is extremely convenient and has in many ways become an expectation. 

Built in funny stickers, Okay, really it is a bit silly but I think that is the idea. You can download sticker packs that mean the same as some emojis and they just give me a chuckle. It is by no means important or really all that useful, I just like them.

There are a myriad of other reasons that you can check out here to see why Telegram is a good idea but these are the ones that grab me.

What I don't like about it

In the Linux client, there is no built in spell check. I'm not sure why, I have more investigating to do as I read that Hunspell should work for it. Really, not a big deal but kind of annoying. Spelling is not my strong suit.

There is no voice or video call option in this program. However, this is outside of the scope of what Telegram is, they focus on sending messages and files and do it incredibly, incredibly well. I do wish they would expand their service to have the very best calling service but I fully accept their position. As I am really intending on using this as an SMS replacement only so this isn't really a valid complaint.

Conclusion

In my quest to reduce dependency on the mobile phone for communication and reduce my SMS usage, this the closest thing to a perfect application out there. Signing up and utilizing this program is effortlessly spectacular. The "cloud based" message storage, like Hangouts, is great for continuity when moving from phone, tablet or desktop system.

I am particularly pleased that there is a Linux client, which put me over the top to choose this over others and I am especially pleased that they are not mining my data. Everyone is mining data for advertising purposes and knowing that there is an organization out there that does NOT do this is quite a relief and brings about a semblance of peace to my universe.

External Links








openSUSE Leap 42.2 installation on HP Stream 11

posted Jan 24, 2017, 6:05 AM by Nathan Wolf


In my efforts to spread the good news of Linux, I have been installing openSUSE Leap for anyone that says, "hey, can you fix my computer?" I tell them, sure, but I only do Linux and generally, that works out just fine for most users. Thanks (or not) to Chrome and web applications the need for Windows has decreased substantially. Web applications are more common which reduces the need for a specific underlying operating system.

Related image
One particular Laptop with which I helped a friend out was particularly interesting to me. This HP Stream 11 is nothing remarkable in respect to the hardware. It is a ver
y basic, inexpensive computer that doesn't have great specs but the build quality is real nice. It feels solid, keyboard is nice and the screen, although, not super high resolution, is also very acceptable.

For more about the hardware, see the full Hardware specifications of the laptop can be found here.

Installation process

Two general paths, Dual-boot or straight openSUSE Linux... really no choice as the Windows installation was completely non-functional. Despite the foreknowledge that the computer "didn't work" I wanted to give it a spin to see. To my surprise, it started up fine but every program I tried to open gave a cryptic error and it was unable to do... well... anything but sit there and look pretty. I could have probably taken the time to figure out what went wrong... but really.. why?

Time to go to work

My initial concern, based on the specifications from HP was that it just wouldn't have the "horsepower" to run a full featured KDE Plasma Desktop Environment. Regardless, I was going to give it a whirl and see what I thought of it.

Quick hardware review identified the only questionable piece of hardware would be the wireless interface. Fortunately, this machine had a Realtek WiFi driver that was already automatically supported by the kernel. Thankfully no slight-of-hand required to get it working.

I already had openSUSE Leap 42.2 on a USB Flash drive ready to install and the process was completely painless. There no need to set any special kernel parameters for video or hardware discovery issues.
This machine has UEFI enabled by default. I didn't want to mess with it, perhaps because I'm lazy, so I enabled legacy support and set the boot order to have the USB device boot first.
 
To begin, shut down your Stream 11... a REAL shutdown, not suspend to RAM or hibernate that the installed OS might kick you into. Before you start it up again, get your finger ready on the Escape key (upper-left-most key). It’s a very small window in which you can press the escape key while booting up to enter the boot options. Once the menu appears, press F10 to enter BIOS Setup.

That will take you to the hardware level interaction with the system. Don't mess around here too much unless you know what you are doing but if you DO mess it up, you can reset it to defaults so, no worries.

Using the arrow keys, arrow over to the System Configurations. Arrow down to Legacy Support to change to Enable.

Next you need to arrow down to Legacy Boot Order and move USB Diskette on Key/USB Hard Disk to the top of that list

Commit to the changes, save and exit, ensure the USB Drive with openSUSE Leap is plugged in and reboot the system.

Go through the installation process and make sure that you use the entire disk for you openSUSE installation. I am sure that the automatic partitioning setup is fine for most people but I like to have a bit more SWAP space available due to the limited available RAM (only 2 Gbytes). The limited available storage (hard disk / SSD) space is limited as well so I used XFS instead of BTRFS due to the snapshots chewing up memory and I didn't want to have to manually go in and delete snapshots from time to time.

For specifics on how to use set up the disk. Refer to the openSUSE Leap documentation on Advanced Disk Setup.

Since it is only a 32GByte drive there isn't much space for extras. I partitioned it as such:
- 7.84 MB for a required BIOS Grub partition
- 4.00 GB for SWAP
- 11 GB for the Root (/) Partition
- 14.11 GB (all that's left) for the Home (/home) partition

Commit to the installation process, sit and enjoy the show or come back later. You shouldn't have any issues whatsoever.

Overall performance

This machine is surprisingly snappy for it's lack-luster specifications. KDE was not sluggish at all, it worked well without any lagging or strange screen artifacts. I installed my typical Base Applications that I do for all openSUSE setups, had no issues with VLC or Chrome. I signed into Netflix to see if it would have any lagging issues but alas, not one glitch or hiccup. It flawlessly worked and was smooth as silk.

For a simple computer to do mostly web based tasks or office type activities, this system is perfect. I wouldn't use this if you run any memory intensive programs that push the limits of a computer.

What I don't like

Now some things I DON'T like about this computer. First, there is no Ethernet port available. Realistically, I think that MOST users would not need this anyway. I personally like to have one as I don't really trust the reliability of wireless networks... still... On the other hand, you aren't likely going to do anything with this computer that would require such high levels of quality of service from the network that a wired connection is necessary.

The screen resolution is a bit low for my liking. At 1366x768 is a bit low for me these days... would be amazing 15 years ago but today, just a little low. I would prefer nothing less than 1600x900 but I really am splitting hairs here. I am using this to do office and web based activities so it really is adequate, especially for the approximately $200 price tag new.

Top row Media keys default instead of Function Keys. This is more and more common but I find that the default setup is annoying to not have the function keys be the default input. I am probably in the minority on that so for likely everybody else, this won't be a problem.

No optical drive but that is kind of a thing of the past that I cling onto. I don't expect it to have this but I just happen to still play DVDs from time to time. NOT a big deal at all, I just wish it had it.

Final Thoughts

Tablets and phones are mostly useless when it comes to content creation, at least, that is the case from my perspective. You can add a case with a keyboard that has a kickstand to a tablet but that is WAY less useful than a real laptop. A nice lightweight laptop like this is a great step up from a tablet+keyboard setup. What I really like about this laptop and a few others in this class of compact, lower spec systems with full sized keyboards is that it is solid and very well built. It may be cheap but it doesn't feel cheap, I can take it with me and not worry about the consequences of it getting destroyed and I can actually get work done with it. The battery life is also very good and the suspending and resume cycle is very fast, on par with a smartphone.

Overall, my experience with this machine is very positive. openSUSE Leap with KDE Plasma Desktop is a great fit for this hardware. I would recommend the HP Stream 11 with openSUSE for anyone in need of a basic machine or something that is a step up from a Chromebook. This system is a great fit for any situation where ChromeOS is just not enough.

External links







1-10 of 18