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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

From Ubuntu (Jaunty) to Zenwalk

I have been using Ubuntu since Hardy (released on 2008-04-24). A year ago I migrated to Linux Mint, a derivative of Ubuntu. (Ubuntu itself is derivative of Debian.) Coming from a world of Windows it was quite a shock at first. I learned to appreciate the perks (package manager, workspaces, stability, ...) of the platform though and sticked to it.

My hardware, albeit a bit old now (Acer TravelMate 4502WLMi with 2GB RAM), worked just fine till Intrepid. Unfortunately AMD decided to drop support for Mobility Radeon 9700 and a wide range of other older cards in their proprietary driver. As Ubuntu Jaunty moved on to newer version of XServer it became impossible to use a version of the proprietary driver that works with the older cards with it (see this for more).

This meant that it became necessary to use the open source driver. The driver works just fine for 2D. 3D support is quite not there yet though. Using the open source driver gave me continuous issues with PyOpenGL (see bug report) and made it impossible to use.

I tried a newer version of the open source driver but it didn't quite work as well as expected. Furthermore it caused flickering in Blender making it unusable. I figured that it was about time to try out some other distribution.

By chance I happened to find something interesting, Zenwalk Linux. Before that I took a good look at Arch Linux but the installer scared the bejeezus out of me, perhaps I should look at it some other time again. Anyway Zenwalk was more like it.

The installer was rather archaic again (I'm used to smooth Ubuntu installers :) ) but it managed to do its job and now I'm happily running Zenwalk. One of the main reasons why I found Zenwalk interesting was that they had actually documented well how to get the proprietary driver work with the current version (they haven't moved on to the newest XServer yet apparently).

Not everything worked out of box. I had to enable CPU throttling separately. Memory card reader was unusable as well. To get my memory card reader working I had to uncomment lines "/sbin/modprobe tifm_core" and "/sbin/modprobe tifm_sd" in my /etc/rc.d/rc.modules. After peeking at my devices using lspci I figured out the model of my memory card reader. This lead me to a helpful thread which in turn helped me to figure out which lines to uncomment.

I yet have to figure out how to make my sound volume controls (Fn+up/down) work properly but I suppose reading this wiki page thoroughly will help in that. It was a bit surprising they didn't work out of box as they did in Ubuntu. Also CPU throttling, memory card reader and DVB-T receiver worked in Ubuntu out of box.

To get my DVB-T receiver (Hauppauge WinTV Nova-T USB version) work I had to check out what dmesg says and work based on that. I found the device on dmesg output and saw that it didn't find firmware. To fix this I did following: "cd /lib/firmware", "wget", "ln -s dvb-usb-dib0700-1.20.fw dvb-usb-dib0700-1.10.fw". After booting the device showed up in Kaffeine just fine and worked as expected.

Zenwalk provides Xfce based windowing by default. Xfce is nice and light compared to GNOME and KDE. After browsing available desktop environments I decided to give Window Maker (not Widow Maker) a go. So far it has proved to be more than adequate. It can seem a bit weird at first.

I have had two notable problems with it. To configure the time of the clock applet you have to modify the TZ environment variable! To close applets right click on the left part of the applet. More specifically you have to click on the left border (it's a bit wider than rest). Select "kill" on the menu to get rid of the applet.

Sadly the environment doesn't retain Iceweasel in session data although it manages to work alright with terminals. The way it implements workspaces is a bit different than what might be expected. You have to manually add new workspaces as you need them. You can do this by clicking middle mouse button on the workspace widget (it has a clip on it) and then by selecting "new".

I hope to keep this blog more as a notebook. As seen above it can take quite a bit of research to get things work. Hence it makes sense to have something to look at once you need to do something similar again.