The Maimed Snake Optimus

As I was venturing through Bodhi Linux, already quite familiar with my surroundings, I decided to take a step into the more obscure regions of Linux capabilities. One of the reasons why I wasn’t as disinclined to switch from Windows to Linux was the tempting offer of running favorite Windows games on Linux. Not directly, mind you, but rather through a very robust app called Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator!). When I installed Wine, however, I quickly noticed that not everything was right. Some OpenGL libraries were missing and I could not locate them online properly. Apparently, my situation was common and Wine required me to install nVidia drivers for my GeForce GT 520MX, which then would provide the necessary OpenGL libraries. While this procedure is fairly painless on Windows, it can be at times problematic on Linux. The ‘root of all evil’ is NVidia itself, which decided not to support Linux properly. Thereby, the options for installing nVidia drivers for Linux are as follows:

  1. Use the well-established app called Additional Drivers (jockey-gtk) and let the system handle the whole installation process. The only manual aspect is running nvidia-xconfig once the installation has completed (though this is not always mentioned). Works under Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and its derivatives (Mint, Lubuntu, Peppermint, etc.). Supposedly was present earlier and then briefly discontinued, but as I joined the Linux family just this year I am unsure.
  2. Download the proprietary drivers from nVidia and install them manually. This requires linux headers for a specific kernel (often pre-installed with the kernel itself, but not always; available from official distribution repositories), basic Linux knowledge (using the terminal with the X desktop disabled) and running the nvidia-xconfig app + system reboot.
  3. Enable nVidia drivers through your package manager of choice. Ubuntu has Synaptic, ArchLinux/Manjaro Pacman and Gentoo/Sabayon – Portage. After all of the packages and their dependencies are installed/compiled, one again has to run nvidia-xconfig from the terminal and reboot.

In theory, all 3 options are more or less equivalent to each other, though the recommended solution for Linux users is to rely on jockey-gtk or package managers for most installations.

When I was fervently fighting with my computer to get the drivers to work properly, I had that strong feeling that I’m doing something inherently wrong all the time. I was half-right. After a bit of reading about nVidia drivers for Linux I reasoned that the installation procedure is very simple…if you only have one (nVidia) graphics card.

Typically, laptops come in two flavors – with an integrated graphics card and with an integrated graphics card + a discrete graphics card (ATI/nVidia), meaning hybrid graphics. Laptops without a discrete card are safe from driver issues, but also not well suited for heavy 3D rendering and gaming (although the new Intel HD 4000 is quite decent). I do both and probably that’s why I have to suffer a penalty (tehe…). Surprisingly, the discrete card is not directly connected to the screen and merely serves as a more powerful sub-unit of the integrated card. Because of that, it technically cannot function on its own. A means of switching between the two graphics cards was devised by NVidia in the form of Optimus Technology.

Windows users have it easy. The NVidia Settings platform allows switching between the integrated and discrete card or even setting up profiles for specific graphics-demanding software to improve battery life.

Linux users have it hard, to the point that even Linus Torvalds had to express his concern…

linus-nvidia-fu

Optimus for Linux has been introduced properly only last year as nVidia PRIME with the nVidia 319+ drivers. However, not by NVidia! The company decided to completely disregard all Linux users and Linus’ middle finger was definitely not an act of outright offense, but rather a response to NVidia’s stand on the matter.

Unfortunately, making Optimus work on Bodhi Linux was way beyond my capabilities and I had to abandon the tranquil forests of Bodhi…

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The Serene Trees of Bodhi – Part 2

Bodhi means ‘enlightenment’, I read on Wikipedia. That was exactly what I felt when launching my very first Linux distribution – Bodhi Linux 2.4.0.

I started with a complete format of my hard drive. I really wanted to cut the ties with my previous Windows-related life! When I launched the Bodhi Linux Live CD, I was immediately welcomed by an optimistic green leaf in the center. Actually, all of the Bodhi panels/menues were rich in natural accents. The installation concluded flawlessly and I could select my desired desktop layout. I decided to opt for a simple taskbar + system tray on top and a quick menu for software at the bottom.

I started off with an exploration of the desktop. Everything was different, alien…

Jungle-Vector

Fortunately, I quickly learned what I had on-board. There was the Midori web browser, already familiar to me from my past attempts to make Windows at least slightly lightweight. However, in Windows Midori had the tendency to crash almost on every website with scripts. Here however, it worked superbly! Praise Linux!

Next up was the Enlightenment Window Manager. With it I was finally able to browse the contents of my hard drive. Luckily, it did not differ much from Windows Explorer.

The rest of the features were rather commonplace – an audio adapter, a network manager, etc.

Bodhi Linux taught me the value of simplicity. It let me rediscover the good old times when operating systems hosted only a handful of software and could run no more than 2-3 programs at a time due to RAM limitations. I no longer needed the heavy suites offered for Windows. Writing was simple, watching videos was simple. Life was simple…

However, Bodhi Linux was much more. I chose the 32 bit (x86) edition, but thanks to PAE (Physical Address Extension) I could still use all the RAM I had (4GB in total). Nothing more to expect…

The Serene Trees of Bodhi – Part 1

As I mentioned in my last entry, I decided to embark on a journey to the mythical Lands of Linux, because I needed something in my computing life to change. I was overly annoyed with the bloat-ish nature of Win 7 and was quite unwilling to try either Win 8/8.1 or Win 10 in the future. Mac OS X was out of the question for obvious reasons – costs. Linux seemed like a good, inexpensive alternative. It also potentially offered what I was looking for – lightness.

When I was browsing through the Internets I encountered an immediate roadblock on my path to convertion:

Linux is not a single operating system.

When it comes to computers and other ‘geek activities’ I have huge problems taking decisive actions…

Programming in Python or Perl?

Role-playing as a priest or a warlock?

My staff should give off a blue or a green aura?

And suddenly I’m forced to choose among hundreds of Linux ‘flavors’ (distributions). Completely confounded I decided (ha!) to limit my choices to so-called ‘lightweight’ distributions. Although not a category per se, many development teams strive to offer fully functional Linux variants for people using both old and new hardware. After a few hours of searching and reading I drafted a list of potentially worthwhile lightweight Linux distributions:

Crunchbang (Waldorf 11) – a relatively simple distribution based on Debian (the predecessor of the popular Ubuntu). It doesn’t really use a desktop environment, like Windows or a lot of other distributions do. Instead, it utilizes the incredible flexibility of the Openbox window manager. The desktop can be freely altered and adjusted. As it is based on Debian, it is very stable. Unfortunately, it also requires a basic knowledge of Linux commands, which I did not have. Probably not the best choice for a greenhorn like me.

– Lubuntu (14.04 LTS or 14.10) – a variant of Ubuntu designed for older computers. The LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) desktop environment looked simple, yet quite attractive. It had a feel very similar to Windows. However, Windows was something I wanted to avoid at all costs at that point in time. Nevertheless, as it is a branch of Ubuntu, it is bound to have great community and development team support, including regular updates. Thus, I decided to leave it for later.

– Peppermint Five (14.04 LTS) – a distribution based on Ubuntu Mint. According to common Linux knowledge – ‘the Lubuntu of Ubuntu Mint’. Just like Lubuntu it utilizes LXDE, however with added eyecandy. Peppermint is often advertised as an internet-centric distribution, meaning that most applications are related to Internet activities or rely on browser-based components (like Adobe Flash Player). Although, the developers claimed that one can use Peppermint locally as well. Later perhaps?

– Bodhi Linux (2.4.0 or 3.0.0 Release Candidate 1) – based on the current Ubuntu LTS (2.4.0 relies on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, while 3.0.0 on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS), Bodhi strives for lightness. It was clearly designed as THE lightweight distribution. It also had that underdog feel to it – like a rebel among other ‘proper’ Linux distributions. Interestingly, unlike Crunchbang, Bodhi didn’t sacrifice visuals for lightness. Bodhi Linux uses the unique Enlightenment (E) desktop environment. E17 shipped with Bodhi Linux 2.4.0 offers a number of themes to choose from initially, while additional ones can be found online. The moment I saw the beautiful Enlightenment desktop and read the Bodhi’s Path to Enlightenment guide I knew what my decision would be…

bodhi_tree_by_philosophyam

*To be continued in Part 2…*

This is Where I Leave You…

Every story has a beginning. This one is no different. My story begins in my early childhood, when I got my first Nintendo Emulation System (NES)…

…However, to be completely frank, it was not the original NES console advertised in the States with a happy family playing Super Mario Bros. (hilarious commercial, by the way, completely unrealistic), but rather a cheap knock-off produced in China, and shipped across Middle and Eastern Europe. It was modeled after the famous Bat mobile and called appropriately (The Batman!). Nowadays one would call it a ‘skin’. I think only the casing was different. The interior probably contained the same NES components as the original from Nintendo. Funny thing though, you cannot find The Batman on Google. It’s just THAT old!

When I got the NES console I was super excited to play the various games that my very first cartridge offered. 128-in-1, can you imagine? Quickly it turned out that there were only 20 or so unique games and the rest were just alternate versions (different colors, starting levels, etc.). Nevertheless, it was fun shooting ducks or discs and trying to beat Super Mario Bros. the 100th time (embarrassing, but I never succeeded…). I spent whole days playing and in time accumulated several cool gaming titles, like Darkwing Duck, Duck Tales 1 & 2, Ghost Busters 2 or Tom and Jerry. Then things changed a bit and my adventures with actual computers finally began…

My pops has a degree in Electronics & Engineering, and over the years has honed the necessary know-how to assemble fully functional CPUs. The very first computer I used was built from scratch by my father. Nowadays, thinking about it makes me incredibly proud of him… but also quite jealous! He had the opportunity to grow together with the very first PCs like Amiga, Atari or Commodore. I, on the other hand, only heard stories about those ‘miraculous machines’. My first computer was a Pentium, probably 32 MB RAM, with a Matrox 3D graphics card. Not too shabby for those times! I could play Electro Body, The Incredible Machine, Commander Keen, Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventures and other great DOS games. Apogee used to make fantastic platformers for DOS. Good old Win 3.11 also sported some nice pieces of software. As my computer was a standard desktop PC, together with my father we expanded it a bit, for instance by adding more RAM or switching to a better graphics card (my Matrox 3D was unintentionally overclocked at some point and burnt down). With those additions on board we installed Win 98′ and enjoyed one of the greatest OS’s ever created.

My next computer was already a Pentium IV, 2 GB RAM and GeForce 2 MX. Since all of the computers we had at home were self-built, we needed a new OS. Win XP with its different flavors (Home, Professional, etc.) was on the market, so we bought a 3-installation pack. I have to admit that if Win 98′ was stable and quite reliable, Win XP was The Real Deal. Frankly, I still have it on my desktop at home. Works like a charm. The only real problem with it is the lack of new security updates. Maybe some new pieces of software wouldn’t run as well (for instance, in 64bit format), but that’s about it. The majority of Steam games still support Win XP, even recent releases! It’s been 13 years already and despite Microsoft’s zealous attempts to eradicate their finest product (an arrow to the knee, as far as I am concerned…), Win XP is still quite popular.

Then it went dramatically downhill. Vista was an utter disaster. It was so annoyingly bad that my countrymen forged a very pejorative term for Vista from the words ‘Vista’ and ‘system crash’. Giving it some justice, it did bring DirectX 10 support for better graphics to the table, but User Account Control (UAC) made the average end-user’s life unnecessarily hard. Next up was Win 7. From the get-go I liked the system for its slick visuals and ease of use. The problem was that Microsoft decided to spend too much of their precious time on re-arranging menus, for instance in the Control Panel, rather than fixing existing issues or adding key features. When I first opened the Control Panel, I couldn’t adjust even the simplest settings. They were grouped into categories. First time I felt so powerless with a computer. Microsoft Office 2007-2010 suffered from a similar problem – new interface. According to one business study, introduction of the ribbon menu to MS Office 2007 significantly lowered employees’ productivity. Even if that’s not entirely true, the feature was pointless. There is a golden rule in programming: Don’t try to fix something that works very well and everyone is happy with it.

I had Win7 pre-installed on my currently used Samsung laptop and because of that I received a one-time ‘gift’ of free bloatware. Once I learned the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of my OS (required 2 clean installations and few DVDs to get things running properly), it finally came to me – I was not happy with it at all. Win 7 was not for me. It was packed with countless features I would never use, and I could not disable without potentially breaking the system. Each consecutive update added more bloat, seizing more and more of my only RAM cube. I managed to stop it at 1.5-2 GB, though I couldn’t go lower. Surprisingly, a fresh install of Win 7 64 bit used only around 500-700 MB RAM. Not so much according to current standards. However, I was still a bit unhappy. I needed something to change. Win 8 was out of the question with its god-awful desktop environment. Win 10 was on the horizon, but initial sneak-peeks showed a bizarre combination of Win 7’s functionality with an improved Win 8 desktop environment. Unfortunately, neither was my cup of tea…

The reflection was painful yet refreshing – I had to take a different route, a brave step into the unknown.

Into Linux…

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