Archive for ‘linux’


Living with EL6: RHEL/SL6 tips and tricks

  • Add atrpms repositories:  (x64) (x86)
  • Install Dropbox, then delete the repo:  rm /etc/yum.repos.d/dropbox.repo
  • Install KeePassX from here.
  • Download and install NoMachine client and server here.
  • Install some handy packages:

yum install mc gconf-editor gimp vlc screen gstreamer-plugins-ugly inkscape

  • Enable compiz: terminal desktop-effects, or System -> Preferences -> Desktop Effects
  • Map Alt-Tab to all-windows:

gconf-editor /apps/compiz/plugins/switcher/allscreens/options/next_all_key <ALT> Tab

gconf-editor /apps/compiz/plugins/switcher/allscreens/options/next_key Disabled

  • Make the Compiz Cube unflold Mac OS Spaces-style:

gconf-editor /apps/compiz/plugins/cube/allscreens/options/unfold_key F5


    Living with EL6: Installing Nvidia drivers using elrepo

    First, enable elrepo:

    rpm –import

    rpm -Uvh

    Next, install kmod-nvidia:

    yum –enablerepo=elrepo install kmod-nvidia nvidia-x11-drv-32bit

    According to what I read, that should be enough.  However, I also had to disable the nouveau driver by editing /boot/grub/menu.lst and adding the following to the end of the kernel line:


    That’s it.  Just reboot and enjoy.

    If you’re not familiar with elRepo, it’s pretty cool.  You can read all about it here.  The short version is that it is a helpfui set of repositories that work for CentOS/Scientific Linux/RHEL 5.x and 6.  The repos exist only to enhance the stock EL kernels with new hardware drivers.


    Living with EL6

    With Red Hat’s recent release of RHEL 6, I will be posting tips and tricks that I find useful to making RHEL/CentOS/Scientific Linux 6 livable.  This is mostly for my own records but maybe you will find it useful too!


    Scientific Linux 6: RHEL for Research

    I am a long-time Debian fan.  As with many people in 1997/98, I started with Red Hat 4.2 and flipped between many Linux distributions before setting on Debian at home.  Ever since then, I’ve pretty much stuck to Debian-derived distros, from Storm Linux to XandrOS, Mepis to Progeny, and most recently Ubuntu.  I’ve been using Ubuntu at home and at work for years now and am generally very pleased with it.  Canonical has done more for end-user Linux than any other company by a country mile.  They’ve made Debian usable, and available on Dells, HPs, and many other laptops, netbook, and desktop machines.

    Scientific Linux on my ThinkPad X61

    However, I’m a full-time sysadmin.  On the server side, we have been moving very slowly from Solaris to Linux.  In general, we have a mix of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, CentOS 5, and Ubuntu 10.04 (and 8.04) on servers.  While RHEL is certainly less usable as a desktop, it makes a fine server OS.  Red Hat is also the strongest backer of the Linux kernel and other key parts of the plumbing that forms the basis for the Linux ecosystem we all enjoy and should support.

    All of this to say that, while I prefer Ubuntu on a day-to-day basis, RHEL is my reality for core servers.  So, I thought it best to use it for a while on the desktop as well.  The results have been surprisingly positive.  For this test run, I am using Scientific Linux (SL.)  It, like CentOS and White Box Enterprise Linux, is a community-supported rebuild of RHEL.  You can mix and match sources between these distributions, ending up with a remarkably flexible and well-supported base.

    I have been focusing mostly on SL6, a new rebuild of RHEL6.  Thus far, I have installed in on the following machines:

    • Sun Ultra 40 Workstation (Dual dual-core Opteron, 32GB RAM, Nvidia Quadra FX5500 video)
    • Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, 2.2GHz, 2GB RAM, 64GB OCZ SSD)
    • IBM ThinkPad x24 (Pentium III, 640MB RAM, 1.8″ PATA drive)

    I also tried unsuccessfully to install SL6 on an IBM ThinkPad X40.  The processor in this machine doesn’t support PAE, so I have reverted to SL5.5 on this machine instead.  This has given me the opportunity to test both major releases on a variety of hardware, from the low to the high-end.

    Overall, all systems have been remarkably stable.  SL6, being based on Fedora Core 13, is very straightforward to configure with Google Chrome, Firefox 4, LibreOffice, and all of the modern niceties that Ubuntu users take for granted.  SL5.5 is based on the much older FC6.  This means that adding newer versions of software is far more problematic.  That said, both can be very usable systems.

    I’ve also been impressed with Scientific Linux’s additions.  Flash worked out of the box, and adding support for MP3s and other file formats, while not as straightforward as Ubuntu, is easy enough to manage.

    Still, I miss Debian’s 10,000+ packages.  This is unfortunately a common find:

    Missing packages: Not an uncommon occurence

    Thankfully, I have yet to find a package that I need that isn’t easily installable. True, there isn’t too much in the repositories, however you can still find RPMs of most programs. For the example above, Cluster SSH is packaged here. In general, this has been my experience using an RHEL-based distribution for a week. Overall it is a bit more work, but is no big deal for someone who has been using Linux for a while.

    Overall, I’ll stick with SL6 on my desktop machines for a bit.  It’s no Ubuntu, but I try not to get too tied to any OS vendor.  I like Red Hat as a company and it’s worth trying to use their product (or at least a community rebuild of it) for day-to-day use.  I’m not a huge RHEL5 fan but it is very stable.  My biggest beef with Red Hat Enterprise Linux in general is the lack of upgrade-path.  I find it nothing short of stunning that there is no supported way to upgrade a server or desktop machine from RHEL5 to RHEL6.  Yes, it’s good that Red Hat is ready to support their releases for many years but upgrading OS releases is a problem that Debian solved ages ago.  Here’s hoping that Red Hat will tackle this with the inevitable RHEL7 release that is to come in the years ahead.

    Next up:  Tips and tricks for making RHEL6/SL6 usable as an end-user desktop.


    Firefox 4.0 Now Available

    Not to be outdone by Microsoft or Google, Mozilla has released Firefox 4.0, with beautiful visualizations to show the roll-out.

    Mozilla Firefox 4.0

    I’ve been using late betas and RCs for a while now and like what I see.  It has a nicely minimal interface and seems quite a bit faster than Firefox 3.  It still doesn’t load as quickly as Chrome 10 on older hardware, but Firefox is a champ, and is still my favourite all-around web browser.  Best of all:  Firefox 4.0 is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows (yes, even XP.) to say nothing of smaller, lesser-known operating systems and platforms.  (Firefox for Android seems to be progressing nicely.)

    Congratulations, Mozilla.  I look forward to your shorter development cycles.

    (Now, don’t forget Thunderbird.  It’s feature-complete to me but could certainly use some belt tightening.)

    Here’s to an open, standard, and competitive web!


    Living with Lucid: Monochrome Dropbox icons

    Here’s a quick little one:  If you’ve upgraded to Dropbox 1.0.10 or newer, you can download and use monochrome icons.  The .deb package is available here.


    Ubuntu Font for Lucid

    Ubuntu 10.10 is out. While I’m planning to stick to Lucid, I love the new Ubuntu font in 10.10.

    Of course, this is easy enough to add:

    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/ubuntu-font-family
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install ttf-ubuntu-font-family

    The default Ubuntu themes have also received nice, subtle improvements.  These can be installed by running:

    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:murrine-daily/ppa && sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install light-themes gtk2-engines-murrine

    And while on the topic of themes, you may wish to add the following:

    sudo add-apt-repository ppa:bisigi && sudo apt-get update
    sudo apt-get install bisigi-themes

    A pair of excellent Ubuntu blogs

    With the latest version of Ubuntu a mere 5 days away, I’ve been reading up on what’s new and exciting.  Two excellent resources for this are:

    There are some pretty handy tips in each.  I still haven’t taken the plunge to 10.10RC but following a few guides above, I’ve added a fresh coat of paint to 10.04 on my ThinkPad X60s.


    Living with Lucid: ThinkPad X60s works great!

    I’ve recently replaced my ThinkPad X40 with an X60s.  The X60s looks and weighs the same as the X40 but is a Core Duo, has a less problematic GMA950 graphics adapter, and has a full 2.5″ SATA drive, rather than the 1.8″ PATA drive in the X40.

    I’ve been using it in Ubuntu 10.04 for a month or so now and it’s just perfect.  The only problem I’ve noticed is that the machine still crashes on resume if an SD card is inserted.  This is an annoying but common problem in ThinkPads.  Anyway, lest anyone think that I only complain about Lucid on this site, think again!  The ThinkPad X60s is a champ and Lucid runs perfectly on it.

    Thank you Canonical!


    Living with Lucid: NIS/Autofs… Again.

    I love Debian.  I think Ubuntu is the best end-user Debian-based Linux distribution going.  Their innovative Netbook interface is fabulous.   However, having spent more time recently with RHEL, I can still clearly see that Ubuntu is focusing first and foremost on the end-user experience.  I’m trying to shoehorn it into a more corporate, controlled environment at Queen’s, and it’s a trick sometimes.

    Case in point, NIS and Autofs.  A mainstay of legacy Unix shops, including ours.  NIS and Autofs startup have been broken in different ways with each Ubuntu LTS that I’ve dealt with.

    In 10.04, the problem is that Autofs has been migrated to the new upstart startup mechanism and nis hasn’t.  This means that Autofs starts before NIS.  The problem with this is that NIS provides Autofs with automount maps.

    So, on startup, you can log in with NIS but your home directly isn’t automounted, because autofs isn’t able to read the NIS maps.

    This bug is logged.  My experience with Ubuntu releases would suggest that they won’t fix it.  Luckily, there’s a pretty easy workaround.  All you need to do is restart autofs again after NIS starts.  Do this by adding the following to /etc/rc.local:

    # BH 2010 – NIS starts after autofs, rendering it useless.
    # This is a hackish workaround.
    /etc/init.d/autofs restart
    exit 0